Wednesday, September 14, 2011

an update on writing in general and life

I have intended to write a lot, and I do mean a lot. I have, however, had to deal with real-world, off-line concerns about my vision. Back when I discovered I had cataracts I was grateful it was "just" cataracts I've had for a decade or more. But that was before I found out two doctors think it would be a very good idea for me to have the cataracts removed. By the way, I'm still unemployed. Nevertheless, I am attempting to do what I can to see if I can get cataract removal surgery.

The last time I had a major problem with my eyes was some fifteen years ago when the macula of my right eye detached. I've never had things go wrong with my eyes at particularly wonderful or opportune moments. Not that there are GOOD times to have things like growing cataracts or macular detachments but I've had what have felt like the worst times to have these kinds of things happen to me. When you already have been unemployed for 23 months and nobody seems interested in hiring you and you're not sure what you're doing wrong that makes nobody want to hire you finding out that your vision is failing (again) can be depressing. Perhaps in an unfortunate way there's a peculiar value to this kind of experience to provide a perspective in some of the stuff I have been trying to write.

Such writing as I can bring myself to do under the circumstances has mostly been devoted to a few running comments discussions but, more importantly, in attempting to keep producing new material for Mockingbird. The DCAU project is still on-going. In fact I haven't gotten to the stuff that most excites me until just now. I wrote about Superman this year, and about 1980s cartoons and how many of them stunk. I have been writing on Batman: the animated series and going back and forth with David over at Mockingbird on finding the right way to explore several themes but to do so in a way that is compact and readable.

This project has exploded in scale and scope since we first kicked around the idea of an overview of the DC animated universe some time around last christmas. All things considered this is no surprise, I've been attempting to summarize what now amounts to close to twenty years of narrative continuity surrounding some of the most beloved characters in the history of American pop culture. Along the way I have struggled a lot to discern and articulate what I believe are the core themes and concepts in some wonderful shows.

I normally try to steer clear of stating things in personal ways when I blog. This hasn't kept some of my family members from saying that I blog about stuff they'd never feel comfortable writing about in public but I have frequently seen what I share here as more ideas than feelings, more ruminations than a lot of personal history. There's plenty about myself and my life I don't discuss. However, I have realized along the path of writing about the DC animated universe for Mockingbird that there have been some significant points where how I have written about cartoons is informed by my life in ways I hadn't previously stopped to consider.

Let me take what I wrote about Superman as an American icon at war both with and for his legacies. Superman/Clark Kent is not just the last son of Krypton but the son of an American farming family. He is, to put it in a tacky and perhaps outdated way, the product of two races. He has two legacies. Well, that I'm even alive is due to the result of an interracial marriage. Unsurprisingly this has informed me in all sorts of ways I hadn't stopped to consider but I have, at least, realized, that the reason I've come to love Superman: the animated series as much as I do is because Dini and Timm got a thread to tie together Superman stories that I can relate to, the opportunities and challenges of figuring out who you are when there's not strictly one heritage you could be (or should be) defined by.

Superman spends a lot of time doing battle with rogues who believe that their own race ought to be given priority at the expense of others, whether it's Jax-Ur and Mala choosing to subjugate humanity to preserve the Kryptonian race and their sense of entitlement that goes with that, or Lex Luthor's suspicion of Superman as the Kryptonian who comes and plots to subvert everything he loves about his society and his position in it. Superman could be considered the ultimate illegal immigrant that Lex Luthor thinks has no right living in America. :)

And then there's Batman. I have been looking forward to writing about Batman: the animated series for months and now the moment of truth has come and it's kicking my butt like I'm Riddler and Batman just outsmarted my last, best deathtrap. I wrote "moment of truth" a sentence ago but it would be more apt to say there is a process of truth. It's helped that I've read Grant Morrison's book Supergods with help from a generous friend, but when Morrison writes that Batman is a character that lacks originality but makes up for that lack with soul and staying power I think that fairly opens up the question of what that soul and staying power consist of. Setting aside that I think Morrison's kinda crazy (yet another thing I will blog about later, maybe) I think that Morrison's on to something when he says that there has always been something of madness to Batman and his quest. Morrison is spot on in saying all of Batman's villains are embodiments of mental illness. But what about Batman himself?

This is all, by now, obviously a teaser rather than a spoiler for what I've been working on for Mockingbird. I don't intend to give away everything but I am willing to throw in a potential spoiler by providing a title for the upcoming series. Loyal readers (all twenty of you?) keep your eyes peeled and before too long you should start seeing some installments of my next series for Mockingbird--Batman: The Agony of Loss and the Madness of Desire. You probably can't quite imagine how stoked I am about this project or how daunting it is.

And Jamie Munson has stepped down from executive eldership

Yeah, I saw this ... though I confess I have more pressing things to consider in many ways. When Driscoll says Munson has always been above reproach I wonder if he just pretends that Munson never said "There are no righteous poor in America" way back in 2002. Somebody told Munson that was a skunk thing to say because a week afterward Munson said "There are righteous poor in America," and then with a slight smirk in his voice, "I just don't think there are very many of them." Thanks, Jamie, it was nice to hear you thought there were at least some righteous poor in America after someone obviously talked to you about your categorical denial from the previous week.

Then again, considering that one of the big spiritual influences in Munson's life has been Mark "The real issue under a lot of issues" Driscoll what chance did the guy have? It's not like Driscoll thought he actually had to apologize for this year's bit about effeminate worship leaders. For that matter a lot of Driscoll's apologies have amounted to "I'm sorry that I said something that was offensive to you." The apologies have not always been of the "I was wrong to have said or even thought what I just said." Driscoll's not even the only person I've met who is a master of the "I'm sorry you're offended but not for what I said" apology; one of the other masters of the form has sworn off churches without realizing he shares the non-apologetic trolling nature of the church leader for which he's sworn off churches. Anyway, with a spiritual mentor like Driscoll around would it have been any surprise Munson would go from "There are no righteous poor in America" to "there just aren't very many of them"?

But I don't see any reason to subscribe to a conspiracy theory that Munson got the boot. He may have really resigned. I don't have much to say here on this blog about that. I know people make mistakes and I mention some because not all mistakes are intentional. I do think it is useful to keep in mind that despite a propensity in neo-Calvinist land to assume sin is motivated by pride and is conscious that a lot of sins are motivated by fear and are inadvertant. Since I have written at such length on that elsewhere in this blog I won't repeat myself too much there.

I do, however, have something to say about "The numbers aren't important but we're restructuring to reach the next growth barrier." When Driscoll blogs this it's a puzzle. I have said for years that my concern about Mars Hill (back when I was an attender and now even when I'm not) has been simple--the church has a history of committing to exponential growth of a sort that constantly outstrips 1) the competence of its leadership and infrastructure and 2) the stability of a well-cultivated donor base.

When the Lake City campus closed due to a diffusion of church members to both church plants and Anchor Church (don't misunderstand me, I REALLY like the folks I know at Anchor, they're wonderful people) it pretty much proved my point. A church that devotes itself to non-stop growth will do so at the expense of the financial viability of campuses. I've seen friends lose jobs because Mars Hill couldn't simultaneously afford to keep them employed while pursuing new campuses and renovating existing properties. For a few years in a row I'd hear news of a wave of lay-offs due to not making budget all while the pastors kept up the growth strategy. In terms of church growth it can come off like the pursuit of a "too big to fail" church in a recession that may be double dipping into a depression for all we know.

But Driscoll assures us the numbers aren' t important, though he has a vision of 25,000 people. You know what? That makes about as much sense as some guy telling me, "Hey, I don't have to marry a woman who looks like a supermodel ... but I want the girl I marry to look kinda like so-and-so [insert name of supermodel here]." There was a guy who used to say he wanted to marry a woman with measurements along the lines of 36-32-36 who wore a size 7 dress and had a D cup. God only knows how such a woman could exist in real life. My brother met this guy and once asked aloud where they even make such women and a woman he was friends with said, "You're right, they make those kinds of women." But I've already written about the kind of man who can aspire to that sort of woman as his ideal who then complains about the shallowness of women. Well, if Driscoll can keep shilling his stuff I can try to emulate his example. If you'd like to read an article by an actual nobody talking about the plight of nobodies who have discovered they're never going to be even as famous as the nobody who wants to tell you about somebody ...

Link: Open letter to the Child Star of PastorMark TV

Years ago Mark Driscoll said that the sign of an errant pastor was that when you'd go to look for the pastor's church the pastor's name was the domain name for the church. Okay, fair point, I suppose.
So what am I then supposed to make of Pastor Mark TV? What am I to make of Driscoll presenting his daughter Ashley as a model for other Christian teenage girls to emulate?
Spit take, this is how stories like that of Francis and Frank Schaeffer may begin. I've never met Ashley so it's not like I assume this is an inevitable outcome but Driscoll and company have been using Ashley at convenient times for years and at some point she may look back on these moments with, if not regret or anger, at the least some ambivalence.
Let's take the cutesy photo of Ashley smiling in Reformission Rev from 2006 with the caption "Thank you for buying my daddy's book." If prompted any child who loves her parents might say something like this and it may be harmless as far as things go ... but, it can also be taken as a sign that where public relations, image-promotion, and branding go that Ashley has been a useful PR/marketing tool for Mark Driscoll's image as father and family man. He wouldn't even be the first dad I've come across who has used his children as a point for boasting about the rightness of his ideas, ideals, and practices. He's just more obvious about it.
Now Driscoll fans have wanted to have things both ways. It's fine for him to be a celebrity preacher and say crazy stuff to get people's attention and say this is focusing on the "real" issues. So it's fine to say the author of The Shack is promoting heresy and say that because calling out false teaching is a public matter Matthew 18 doesn't apply. If Driscoll invites people to share stories about the most effeminate anatomically male worship leaders out there then people say he's confronting a real problem in the church. Driscoll himself will say that he's dealing with the "real" issue under a lot of issues. If Driscoll says that video games are stupid pursuits of vicarious victories that don't matter in contrast to building a legacy for Jesus (which, of course, we must assume he thinks he's doing) then Driscoll fans will come up with a way to exegete Driscoll's rant against video games as a way of saying he isn't saying video games are stupid so they can keep playing video games; the idea that Driscoll has pursued stupid vicarious victories that don't matter by watching a single baseball game just wouldn't compute.
Then the other shoe drops and Driscoll fanboys told MacArthur he needed to contact Driscoll privately abou this concerns and John MacArthur pointed out that he'd been doing that for some time. So when Driscoll rips into some public figure by name or by implication he's either speaking the truth or else he's doind something like engaging culture. When people speak up against Driscoll the fans tend to get nervous or angry because these people just don't know Driscoll's heart. Strange how they so readily know the heart of others. Since the heart is deceitful above all things I'm not quite sure why anyone trusts his or her own heart, let alone presumes to speak up with certainty about what's in the heart of another.
Now this is not hypocrisy because hypocrisy is advocating a standard that you don't live up to or even try to obtain yourself. There's a difference between hypocrisy and having a double standard. When I observe Driscoll fanboys I don't see a case of hypocrisy in which Driscoll is actually immune from criticism--Driscoll has at times conceded his critics have important things to tell him. What I observe in Driscoll fanboys is a double standard. They excuse in Driscoll what they cannot tolerate for twenty seconds in someone else because they judge Driscoll by a different set of criteria than what they apply to other people.
So if Ed Young Jr. or Benny Hinn or some other pastor outside neo-Calvinist land had his fourteen year old daughter contributing blog entries to a website named after the pastor how would neo-Calvinists take this. What if, say, Casey Treat had a child posting comments about what it's like to follow Jesus and be a kid in today's culture? How would Driscoll fans react to that? Is there some reason Driscoll can take his wife on tour to promote a book he wrote with her but Ed Young is crazy for having a sermon series on sex where he sits on a bed with his wife? Driscoll and his wife fielded questions on anal sex so this looks like a distinction without a difference ... or at least it would be if no double standards were ever involved.
You can think of it this way, once a person becomes a public figure libel and slander laws become far more lenient. I shouldn't really have to spell out what this means, do I? I don't think we really need to spell out how this could apply to a teenage girl of any kind? By bringing his wife Grace and his daughter Ashley on to Pastor Mark TV and by creating a book with Grace and setting up a thing like a "Real Marriage" tour for 2012 Driscoll is putting his wife and daughter into the public sphere as public figures.
If, as he indicated during some of his spiritual warfare talks in 2008, Driscoll screens emails so Grace doesn't get to see some of the nasty stuff that might be said (because she's sensitive about that stuff), why bring Grace into the public sphere herself? Maybe she's developed a thicker skin in the last four years? Okay, she's an adult. Ashley is still a minor. Minors who are children of controversial public figures and celebrities get things said about them. Let me rattle off a few non-random examples: Bristol Palin, Chelsea Clinton, George W. Bush (technically he fits), Frank Schaeffer (again). Then there are the famous child stars I don't really need to mention. Alisa Harris has a point worth considering, a man who would seek to protect his wife and family would have a legitimate basis for refusing or postponing a daughter's request to blog about how other people should live and using herself as an example just because she sees daddy doing it so much of the time.
And at the risk of indulging in my fondness for N. T. Wright (who I know for certain Driscoll has read), in the book Jesus & the Victory of God, Wright points out that the Pharisees were not people with tons of formal political power. Some of them, yes, had substantial influence but they were in many cases public figures by dint of their passion for the Torah and Israel's identity. THey could be likened in many cases to journalists and pundits. Or, to borrow Driscollian vernacular, people blog. Now if it is bad for people who are self-appointed experts on how other people should live why invite one's daughter to join the Christian blogosphere at such a young age? Not to speak too dismissively but the most brilliant fourteen-year-old is still a fourteen-year old. If our Lord Himself did not enter into public ministry until he was in his thirties as is traditionally described what's wrong with suggesting that a boy or girl imitate Jesus and wait a bit before deciding to jump into the public speaking and teaching game?
Now I'm not saying kids can't or shouldn't get before the public and do things they love to do. I mean, I own too many Hilary Hahn albums to make some categorical statement like that! I also own too many Stevie Wonder albums to say that a talented child shouldn't be out there doing things to entertain people and enrich their lives. At the risk of seeming like a callous person, does Driscoll think he has a Hilary Hahn or a Stevie Wonder on his hands in the form of Ashley Driscoll? Is she that comparable level of great, brilliant, and disciplined? Is she that great at theologian? Paternal affection is frequently cool and all but that doesn't mean that Ashley Driscoll is ready to have a primetime slot.
Okay, you know, if she did a discourse on problems in Nestorianism or unpacked the significance of allegations of Montanism in contemporary Pentecostal thought then MAYBE I would grant she's the theological whiz kid Driscoll has bragged about from the pulpit. But even if she is, what is the value in having her out on the internet now where, as the daughter of a public figure megachurch pastor, she will be inculcated into the same pasttime and vocation. The trouble is that if she doesn't go crazy at some point like teenagers will do she could just be getting groomed to be a Pharisee of Pharisees.
If that doesn't happen, Ashley Driscoll is still wading into the realm of blogging and being the celebrity pastor's kid. Given how the internet has a habit of bringing out a lot of peoples', er, not-so-inner Driscoll quipper mentality, is putting Ashley into this cyber-world at the age of fourteen a particularly great idea? Obviously I don't personally think it is. She's not my kid, you may say, I grant that, too. It's just that, well, I saw the picture of Ashley with that caption "Thank you for buying my daddy's book" and I thought it was cheesy, manipulative, and kitsch back in 2006. I don't yet see giving Ashley a platform to show off the great theology her daddy thinks she has as a fourteen year old is necessarily any different. It's a way for Driscoll to brag about how your family should be like his family but it doesn't mean Ashley deserves or needs to be part a new website shilling Driscoll stuff that she contributes to chiefly on the basis of nepotism.
I can't really overstate this concern--if this wasn't the fourteen year old daughter of a celebrity megachurch pastor who's gunning for 25,000 members even though numbers don't matter, would anyone give a crap what the fourteen year old girl had to say about theology? If this were just a fourteen year old girl nobody had heard of who had a father nobody had heard of no one would even know she was in a position to write. To be a Driscoll-level of blunt about this, the only reaoson Ashley Driscoll would have any platform at all is due to plain old nepotism and at this tender age in her life Driscoll has more to benefit from having Ashley blog than Ashley will gain from it unless Driscoll's going to use Ashley's blogging as a way to invite instructive and constructive criticism to her about how to make a sustained argument. Like anyone who would read a Pastor Mark Driscoll's daughter blog is likely to be allowed to do that anyway.
Once it's on the internet it can stay up there for a long time. Consider that there are folks who still remember Pussified Nation. If anything it would be useful if one day Ashley Driscoll could grow up to see Pussified Nation and see the kinds of stuff William Wallace II wrote. If there was something Driscoll can look back on (and should) to tell Ashley about what to do and not do on internet discussion he could turn to Pussified Nation from the unmoderated Midrash and say, "Honey, whatever you do, don't do what I did."
Nah, in Reformission Rev he sold his actions as necessary to get the young men in line. Oh, that'd be the other 20-something men who thought they were going to change the world. If Driscoll makes any claim to have regretted started into ministry too soon and before he was really ready then it would be on the basis of THAT that letting Ashley become a celebrity blogger by nepotistic proxy ... on the basis of that he might just be a teensy bit of a hypocrite. Or maybe just a double standard.
I guess I should look forward to Ashley Driscoll's review of William Gurnall's The Christian in Full Armour then. Or maybe her review of the cases for and against paedobaptism and why she thinks Calvin was wrong to advocate paedobaptism. If Driscoll was serious in saying a lot of young people are wrongly and idolatrously obsessed with the Christian conference scene why is he not only going on a tour with his wife to promote a book on "Real Marriage", but also assimilating Ashley into the borg-like world of neo-Calvinist blogging? I mean, if I had a life, which I don't quite have, I might blog a whole lot less. But Mark assures us that his baby girl is a great theologian and who am I to doubt his paternal affection?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Links from Mockingbird: The imcompetent bloodshed of the Locavore and inauthentic authenticity

Two separate blog entries but their overlap is intriguing. I do not value authenticity so much as I value honesty. Authenticity is not really, to put it crudely, a Christian virtue or any virtue at all. Authenticity is simply the fruit of your life growing on the vines or branches for people to observe. You will always be authentic but you may be an authentic honest person or an authentic liar or an authentic ditherer.
A quest for a locavore lifestyle is a sort of Seattle thing. It does not confer upon a person a connection to 'real' or 'authentic' living. If anything it is, within Seattle, an extension of a kind of consumeristic obsession with status that speaks not of authenticity or simplicity but of a luxury of convenience that leaves a gap that permits the person aspiring to locavorism to see himself or herself as part of a solution to a problem. "Sustainability" is not necessarily a terrible thing but in our day and place it is more realistically described not as a vocation but as a hobby that aspires to an authenticity that in earlier epochs arose from the bluntest pragmatic and practical concerns.