Saturday, January 14, 2012

HT Jared Wilson: Bearing with one another ...

Every writer needs an editor.  You can't truly edit yourself.  You may think you can and you may even be good at editing but if you think you don't need an editor you're probably still wrong unless your self-editing brings you regularly to the point where you reject an idea.  T. S. Eliot, some scholars have noted, was in key ways the kind of poet he was because of the material he decided wasn't fit to print.  Eliot demonstrated that you can become a remarkably important poet despite publishing a surprisingly small body of work compared to some other poets from the same time. 

One of the things an editor can (and must) do is to sit down and read what you've written.  An editor I worked very well with years ago explained the writer/editor relationship in the following way--as a writer I may be positive that I have said X and that I wrote exactly what I meant to say but the editor knows writing and knows where I'm coming from enough to plainly but tactfully indicate that what I have actually written is not X but Y.  A lot of what is intended as criticism in discerna-blogging anchors itself to the assumption that if a person wrote and published X then X could be the only possible meaning.  Having been a writer myself at different points in my life and having had my work published in a tiny handful of newspapers I've worked out that this is not the case and that it is the failure to make this rudimentary observation that has led not only discerna-bloggers but preachers to often fail to address things in more charitable (to say nothing of accurate!) ways.

The temptation to say the wittiest and swiftest thing in the moment of heat rarely ever produces any light.  As the makers of an Emmy award winning show once joked with more than a little confession, you never actually win the Emmy by going for the Emmy.  A lot of discerna-blogging and preacher responses to criticism all amount, in many cases, to going for winning the Emmy.  Maybe this metaphor is an attempt to squeeze blood from a turnip but it often seems that preachers and bloggers have been trying to win some kind of Emmy. 

It is important to read with some sympathy and it is important to write with some consideration.  Have I said what I was really aiming for?  Sometimes criticism is not an indication that what you were trying to say was wrong, it can be an indication that what you actually said is not at all what you thought you said.  One of my music teachers gave me some advice about composing and scoring that has stuck with me and the advice was this:  your job is not to be understood, your job is to not be misunderstood.  The point is not that I write a piece of music that the musician likes, it's that I write my music in such a clear way and with enough command of idiom and technique that there's no way that musician will play the wrong notes if the musician is competent.  There can come a point where the composer can complain about the imcompetence of musicians but there can come a point, if capable musicians say the score is sloppy, unclear, and that the music doesn't seem to make sense that this may not mean the composer's magnum opus is altogether bad.  It may mean the score was sent to the musicians with too little work done to make it clear.

HT Tall Skiinny Kiwi on reasons to not plant a church

2. The measurement criteria of the church planting project, focusing on numbers of attenders and momentum of new church launch, is too narrow, too shallow, unholistic and ignores more vital measurable signs of a transformed society in its various spheres (economic, environmental, social, impact outside the church environment, etc).

Some folks I know locally have discussed a creepy implication of exactly reason 2 with respect to African missions and evangelism.  How, exactly, is it that the boom in missionary outreach to Africa has yielded such huge numbers of conversions and yet, a couple of generations later the places that have the highest ratio of confessing Christians have the highest rates of HIV infection and the highest number of orphaned children?  If the Christianity Westerners exported to Africa has been nothing more than a franchise model for correct doctrinal confession and a private pietism informed by American style civic religion then our missions work to Africa and charitable work may have left them far worse off in real economic terms than if we'd left them to heathens. 

Then again, perhaps there's a kind of Christian faith and practice that leaves a lasting impact.  I consider now something Fearsome Tycoon remarked over at the BHT, that if you look at the non-Anglo Protestant missionary activities those groups don't seem to have cast off a Christian confession whereas if you look at the groups that were the targets of Anglo Christian missionary work how many of those groups will identify as Christian?  Stuff to mull over.  Certainly it may warrant consideration that a lot of groups that think they may be "contextualizing" the Gospel (TM?) may have contextualized a white Anglo-culture and a franchise model that does not necessarily lead to long-term changes. 

But I'm rambling about things that I admit I'm not necessarily informed about.  It's my friends from Africa who have begun to discuss how a lot of how Western missions and evangelism got practiced in Africa has not led to enough lasting change.  Does it mean the African Christians aren't "real" Christians or could it mean that the kind of Gospel Westerners brought to them was such a truncated Gospel it did not lead to any transformation in ethics or culture?  I'm not sure but since I'm on another rambling spree I'm throwing this out for consideration. 

A short overview of D. G. Hart's From Billy Graham to Sarah Palin

Hart's book is short and easy to read, well, it's easier to read if you haven't had the reading interrupted by cataract removal surgery but you could have guessed that.  I wrapped up the book a week ago and found it a helpful discourse on the history of conservative thought in American politics in the 20th century and how evangelicals who, despite imagining they have played a significant role in conservative thought and policy since the Reagan administration, have an overall history of not being conservative in any meaningful way.  An enjoyable polemic for me, not because I don't consider myself conservative but because I've come to realize that if I have leaned toward traditionalist conservative ideas and I'm around anti-communists then that could explain some things.

More to the point, Hart's book has helped me understand a bit better how certain conservative relatives have reacted to me as though I were another college-educated flaming liberal and maybe not even a Christian because I didn't back Bush 2 in the 2000 election and thought Sarah Palin was a miserable excuse for a Hail Mary last-minute electoral move on the part of the McCain campaign back in 2008.  That post World War 2 conservatives have included traditionalists, libertarians, and anti-communists may be the work of Captain Obvious but as a choir director used to tell some of us in the college choir days, never underestimate the obvious.

So to suggest at some length that the Reagan coallition ultimately has been unable to last since the end of the Cold War may "seem" obvious but it is a point that evangelicals, particularly, can seem to have overlooked.  Reagan happened to galvanize a trio of interests that have since demonstrated they would not have fit together otherwise.  Neo-conservatives with their committments to foreign policy and traditionalists will not agree with libertarians.  Anti-communists who have shifted their anti-communism to anti-Islamo-fascism will commit to the kind of powerful government force that works against a libertarian impulse to keep big government out of my business.  How could big government legitimately not wire tap you if your business involves import and export?  It becomes a matter of potential national security.  If liberals happen to have a problem of clinging to policies that conservatives consider damaging and radical liberals have, despite this, embraced ideas that are intenrally consistent even if they have a history of crashing and burning in the real world and even of being deployed in hegemonic and imperialistic ventures as much as they claim conservative ideas have.

I admit my interest in the book has been personal even more than academic.  I have wanted to know how it could be that a man who has not voted for a Democrat and has even read The New Criterion at any point in his life could still be called by a family member a college-educated flaming liberal.  Hart's book has helped me get a better sense of the historical, theological, and social movements within conservative politics and evangelicalism that have helped me get some idea how this paradoxical denigration can happen within a family.

Hat tip to Mere Orthodoxy for mentioning Hart's book and for the recent book title reference in a comment about marriage in Western Christendom.  It has been a very pleasant surprise that there are books getting mentioned that are in my local city library.  I may be unemployed but it's nice that city librarys in big secular liberal states still have such books available for check-out ... libraries that might not exsit if certain types of self-described conservatives had their way.  As a fellow conservative friend of mine joked, some people may consider city libraries to just be another brand of socialism.  I consider it to be an alternative to consumerism.  I don't need to buy thousands of books if I can check them out from city libraries.

Two intriguing links from Mockingbird

Molly Worthen reviews The Annointed.

The observation that evangelicals want to have it both ways is simple enough but it bears repeating.  We want to have our cake and eat it, too.  We'd like to have the intellectual chops to be at the grown up table in academia but then also be able to throw all of that off and hang out in our own circles. 

The battle between cessationist and continuationist approaches to pneumatology and ecclesiology can be considered in light of such a tension.  American Christians have two competing traditions that establish a foundation for church structure and authority.  One is the charismatic authority of a, well, charismatic leader (whether that leader is charismatic in the Christianese sense or a hardcore cessationist).  Another is the institutional authority that derives from committee-created chartering documents. 

People don't want a "dead institution" because that seems to have no power or attractional element and there is an aversion to formalism and tradition in American folk spirituality.  Yet the risks of the charismatic leader are nothing less than arbitrary despotism, nepotism, and other forms of injustice in which the accountability at the top has nothing to do with the expectations of accountability that flow relentlessly down to the bottom. 

The institution has stability and yet it lacks the kind of glory that many want to participate in.  If you've met adult converts to Orthodoxy or Catholicism you may notice that there's a kind of glory that is relocated away from individual leaders (broad-brushing here, I know, but bear with me) and toward institutions.  There are still cult followings and partisan mash-ups in these traditions but they happen, it seems, in a setting where the debate is whether this or that star really holds up the ideals of the institution.  In Protestant-land this also happens but what is more common today in terms of coverage is which super-star has the best street cred or school cred and "gets it".

By way of a digression something I've seen on the blogosphere lately is a question, the question is, if a person isn't able to preach on a topic until he has his ducks in a row how will he ever teach on the subject?  That's a fair question and an answer to the question steps back a few paces.  Let's consider that sometimes people will confess to a series of failings or sins that change our perspective of them.  Further, the person may confess these things in a setting where they explain that though they struggled with this and that issue they had "no one" they could turn to at the time because all the people they tried turning to had moral failure in their lives or had ideas that seemed really "unfair". 

If a man takes this approach then there may be good reasons for it but there is a risk that such a man is, well, not to put this too delicately, a kind of quasi-Donatist.  If you are only willing to confess to a sinless person then there's Jesus but in the flesh and blood world we live in where is "accountability" there?  If in reality you feel free to confess only to Jesus and not to anyone who could hold you accountable how is that "confess your sins one to another" that James talks about?  If you took the liberty to not confess to people who you decided weren't fit to confess to or take advice from because of moral failings then if you deign to teach on subjects about which you yourself have so often been a failure this runs a risk, of being a self-abnegating praxis once it is applied consistently not just as your rule for yourself but the rule others follow for you as you demonstrate it by example. 

John Horgan reviews The Folly of Fools.

Trivers calls deceit a “deep feature” of life, even a necessity, given genes’ brutal struggle to prevail. Anglerfish lure prey by dangling “bait” in front of their jaws, edible butterflies deter predators by adopting the coloring of poisonous species. Possums play possum, cowbirds and cuckoos avoid the hassle of raising offspring by laying their eggs in other birds’ nests. Even viruses and bacteria employ subterfuge to sneak past a host’s immune systems. The complexity of organisms, Trivers suggests, stems at least in part from a primordial arms race between deceit and deceit-detection.
Our big brains and communication skills make us master dissemblers. Even before we can speak, Trivers notes, we learn to cry insincerely to manipulate our caregivers. As adults, we engage in “confirmation bias,” which makes us seize on facts that bolster our preconceptions and overlook contradictory data. We wittingly and unwittingly inflate the qualities of ourselves and others in our religious, political or ethnic group. We denigrate those outside our in-group as well as sexual and economic rivals.       

Hmm, this last bit reminds me of the laments of nice guys that the nice guys finish last.  Maybe they do but maybe, as some women have at times noted, these "nice guys" do not realize they are not nice guys at all.  Does this justify the "jerks" being jerks?  Nah, but it might mean that in the arms race between deceit and deceit-detection once you've obtained the physical, social, financial, intellectual, and emotional resource you want then you stop worrying about whether or not you got this because you deserved it and focus on defending the legitimacy of what you have as deriving from the quality of your character and not, as Ecclesiastes warns us, a providential luck of the draw.

Peter Lumpkins, Real Marriage footnotes, and redaction

Peter Lumpkins has spent a little bit of time considering the possibility of textual redaction in the footnotes of Mark and Grace Driscoll's book Real Marriage, and considers whether or not the footnotes have not, in some cases, done a bit of interpolation in one case and excision in another.

If the Driscolls (or mainly Mark) like to throw in footnotes they're welcome to.  Adding a word here and cutting a word there that changes the meaning of some footnotes backing up some of the claims that the Bible endorses certain acts warrants some attention.

This wouldn't be the first time Driscoll has effectively made up something that doesn't fit the primary or secondary materials to get a point across.  The most easily documented claim was that the Targum Neofiti dates from the 2nd century BCE and that it shows some Jews read the Bible, believed what it said, and affirmed a Trinitarian formulation of Yahweh.  Uh huh.  So it's not an entirely huge shock that Mark Driscoll (because it's unlikely Grace has stumped for this over twelve years) has stuck with his citation and case for oral sex to be in Song of Songs since he got that idea about a decade ago. 

The thing is that most people don't pay attention to those small details.  They pay attention to the big picture and Driscoll knows people pay attention to the big picture.  So factual errors, misrepresentation, and bluffing aren't important or the people who focus on these small but sometimes telling errors as indicative of problematic patterns are, well, told these things are petty.  So if 1 Timothy 5 is habitually conscripted to say stay at home dads are in sin rather than focusing on the passage's discussion of widows, well, we're invited to not fret about it or people say that the whole thing is spot on because Mark Driscoll is going for an axiom or praxis we agree with. 

Citations and statistics aren't the end of every discussion.  Sometimes they are just the beginning. A citation to a "respected OT scholar" doesn't always lead to that citation proving the preacher was citing the scholar accurately.  Citing a commentator like Joseph Dillow does not in itself prove that Dillow knew what he was talking about.  If I cited Mark Driscoll authoritatively as having established that the Targum Neofiti taught the Jews believed Yahweh was a Trinity even before Jesus was born I do two things: 1) I prove that I trust a guy who has no idea what he's talking about but speaks authoritatively as though he has done meaningful study on a topic 2) more importantly, by shoe-horning an anachronistically Christian gloss on even this allegedly pre-Christian targum I have just trivialized the centuries of theological debate church fathers did about apostolic writings to arrive at the doctrine of the Trinity.  A guy like Driscoll can just pretend that the Church Fathers and Athanasius didn't have to do any real leg work to arrive at the Trinity because, hey, the Targum Neofiti was here! 

Except that it wasn't around until some centuries AFTER the time of Christ.  So if I invoked Driscollian authority about a targum I would be embracing two different levels of stupid, really three.  Sadly if Mark Driscoll would have us believe 1,000 members left during the 2008 Doctrine series as Mars Hill tightened up doctrinal requirements there's no evidence of more stringent demands on the part of Driscoll to make accurate quotes, citations, or historically compelling arguments about targums.  And the reality was that everyone's membership was cancelled out and people were asked to renew at that point.  It's all a matter of one's point of view.  Either 1,000 members "left" as Driscoll sees it or 1,000 members simply didn't continue renewing their membershp as they had in years past.  As Ben Kenobi told Luke, "What I have told you is true, from a certain point of view."  And for folks within that point of view, of course it's true, and because it's true in the important parts then fudging some footnotes isn't important. 

Gaslighting (HT to Becky Garrison over at Bill's blog)

If, as some people say, there are five love languages does this mean there are five different ways of gaslighting people?

Matthew Lee Anderson on Real Marriage--a lesson that we should not underestimate the obvious

I've made it clear (despite links from other bloggers that seem to have misunderstood what I have been writing) that I not only have not read all of Real Marriage but don't feel a need to. I have no reason to doubt other people will be genuinely helped by the book in some way.  I have written earlier on this blog about how I have found the confessions from chapter one depressing, particularly as someone who was actually part of Mars Hill from about 1999-2008. 

But I love reading (and writing) analysis and criticism.  You know what I mean (or should), the kind of analysis and criticism that is not "critical" in some pejorative sense but in the academic sense.  I like to think through connections and ideas and theme.  I loved threading G. K. Chesterton's observations about the lunatic from Orthodoxy into C. S. Lewis' observation about Eros as demon in The Four Loves to arrive at "Heart of Ice" and its depiction of Mr. Freeze in Batman: the animated series.  The best criticism is not an exercise in pedantry but a journey of discovery.

So tonight I turned to Matthew Lee Anderson's review of Mark and Grace Driscoll's Real Marriage and stumbled upon a moment of discovery.  There was something I was unable to put together about what I found depressing about the chapter and it's not necessarily something the chapter may indicate about the book as a whole.  No, Anderson gets to something that I realize describes my impression of the majority of public teaching Driscoll has done that I could remember from my Mars Hill days, all those years hearing Mark say stuff from the pulpit that retroactively has taken on significance with some confessions. 

But first I will note a few things out of Anderson's order for reasons that I hope are clear by the time I wrap things up.

Let me pick a specific problem that I think stands out. They rightly acknowledge that the effects of pornification on our culture and our views of sexuality. As they put it, “young people are increasingly likely to consider that which is pornographic to be normative sexuality” (143). Very true, and aptly put.

Yet there is no acknowledgment that the acts described in the infamous “Can we _______” chapter have been brought to the mainstream by the very pornographic culture we’re decrying. We might call it a genetic fallacy and say that the act’s okay, despite the culture that is normalizing it. But given Driscoll’s (and my own) interpretation of Romans 1 and homosexuality, that won’t pass muster. Culture and the acts they sanction are more interrelated than we realize, and if the tree is rotten the fruit might be questionable too.

The Driscoll’s are surprisingly unconcerned with the pornification of the marriage bed, and don’t quite seem to realize that the questions themselves might be coming from a people whose imaginations have been stunted. It’s occasionally worth challenging the premise of questions in order to reach beneath the surface and understand the problematic forces at work in our evangelical culture of sexuality. That the Driscoll’s do not is nothing if not a missed opportunity.

This is, to be very plainspoken, one of the things that eventually came to bother me even while I was a member of Mars Hill.  If the acts the Driscolls describe in the infamous chapter have been brought to the mainstream by the very pornographic culture the Driscolls warn against on what basis do people discern that they are within the realm of Christian liberty? 

Driscoll’s definition of lust seems to, well, miss the mark. He detours a whole lot of Christian history and witness describing lust as disordered or inordinate desires

Anderson goes on to explain that this is a problematic definition of lust at its base.  He spends time discussing that the problem with lust is not simply the object of the desire but the nature of the desire itself so far as sexual desire goes.  Now I have heard a pastor or two make a case that lust/idolatry can and does spring from a disordered desire but this association was not one restricted merely to sexual lust. 

In many passages in Scripture lust and adultery are descriptions of an impulse to non-sexual sin and as ways of talking about idolatry.  When I was at Mars Hill I saw some on-line discussions about whether or not it was even POSSIBLE for a person to lust after their spouse.  The idea was that since lust was defined simply as sexual desire that was impure that, no, this couldn't be true.  I, the single, never-married virgin proffered a drastically different way of discussing lust.  If "lust" is more globally connected in the biblical documents with idolatry and adultery is also associated with spiritual infidelity then it can be the easiest thing in the world for a person to lust after a spouse as though one were lusting after another god. 

God does not condemn lust for anyone that a person may have for a person who is not one's spouse, God condemns all lust as idolatrous.  It just so happens that some lust involves sexual idolatry and this can happen within a marriage.  But not all lusts that are idolatrous are adulterous in the most literal sense.  Some of us realize we can have a lust for what may be useless theological debates and don't always resist temptation like we should.  Well, I speak for me, not you. If you feel like going back to a concordance some time and finding some lust that God says is totally awesome and liberated and free and without shame you can get back to me and give me the chapter and verse sometime. 

But what Anderson mentions in part two of his review of Real Marriage that haunts me, now that I have read, it is this:

At the end of it, we may have seen the “truth about sex, friendship, and life together,” but it’s not clear we’ve seen the beauty. And therein lies a significant shortcoming.

This is what I find haunting, the realization that after hearing maybe a decade of sermons from at least one Driscoll touching on marriage and sex it has dawned on me that I've never heard anything that made marriage sound beautiful.  Driscoll can keep telling us it's beautiful (much more on this shortly) but that isn't the same thing as drawing out the actual beauty he says is in real marriage of Song of Songs.

If at this point Driscoll says that says more about me than his preaching or teaching I can just agree, and then ask: "Well, you've got one of the older love poems in the history of world literature.  You keep saying it is frank without being crass.  Yet if after ten years all you can wring from the poetry of the Scriptures are techniques and positions; a book full of lists of bullet points and grids about what is and isn't right to do in marital sex; various statistics backing up sweeping assertions that are sometimes true; and then you round things off with advice about a five year plan ... is it actually my fault I missed the bit where there might be some beauty and poetry in there?"  Well, maybe there's the tortured beauty of the cross that we evangelicals are so loathe to explore ... . 

It's the instruction manual that has one level of meaning and a practical application with bullet points.  It's the instruction manual that is first of all concerned with getting from point A to point B properly with the fewest digressions.  It's the instruction manual that lays out from the lesson plan where you should by year 5 if you've passed all your exams. 

It's the poem that can be enjoyed for thematic fluidity and even frivolity.  It's the poem that can revel in something that doesn't even mean anything but sounds pleasing.  It is the poem that invites swirling levels of meaning and association, nuances and images that take on different meanings at different times when the same poem is read.  It is the poem that alludes with a wink and subverts with a pun.  It is the poem that can elude and allude with the esoteric and opaque just when you think you have grasped the plain and only meaning of the text. To borrow a line from some poet I'm not sure Driscoll has read, it is the poem that is free to not mean but be. 

While form can follow function in the arts, as in architecture, when a chapter has a title like "Taking Out the Trash" could that not signal to us that some of the art or poetry at stake has a certain functionality like the beautiful ivory-toned lines of a well-functioning toilet with a sturdy toilet seat that has a fascinating seat cover that was created by, I don't know, the Rembrandt of toilet-seat cover art?  Such an artist must exist, really, and who could deny in the moment of dire need that a toilet can become, in that urgent moment, the most practical and necessary and, yes, beautiful of all domestic works of art?  But it has an art and beauty you don't bother to consider even when the thing functions as it should.  And when it doesn't function as it should you curse its failure. 

Mark Driscoll once joked that as members of the church body go he was (at least sometimes) the colon so perhaps Mark Driscoll is precisely such an artist for such a time.  But perhaps this, if true, confirms Anderson's concern. To continue with my mundane metaphor, the art of the toilet is a domestic necessity for the Western church yet the toilet is, well, apt to be stained by those very things for which it has been appointed to be eliminator, always carrying with it the whiff of toxins and human byproducts unless it is itself scrubbed free of that debris. 

Perhaps the observation of both sympathetic and unsympathetic critics is something as prosaic as this, if Mark Driscoll is the toilet of evangelicalism whose goal is to flush out all the waste that does not constitute the true Christian evangelical faith who, exactly, cleans the toilet?  Let's run with the supposition that Driscoll is the colon of the body of Christ as he has joked and this is a necessary role.  When does the colon need an enema? When does the toilet need to be cleaned? Are we supposed to believe that Driscoll is a self-cleaning toilet?  Is his wife a functional pastor?  But in marriage the two become one so this is still, at bottom, a self-cleaning toilet.  Let no one volunteer to clean the toilet that cleans itself. The consequences could be dire. If Mark Driscoll had never once referred to himself, even in jest, as the colon of the body of Christ I wouldn't have even thought of any of this.

It may be some of the critics have circled listlessly around certain observations they have not been able to make, perhaps, because the discovery is too prosaic for the words they want to use.  Perhaps they do not truly have words prosaic enough to meet the prosaic discovery on its prosaic occasion? Perhaps some only see the stereotype and missed that perhaps the Driscolls sincerely aspired to the gestalt.  Anderson remarks that the grittiness of the first chapter finds its resolution in a paragraph.  To wit, we must say the paragraph of resolution must be, as in any best-selling contemporary evangelical book, a pedestrian deus-ex-machina. 

As Mark Driscoll said so tersely about his relationship to Grace in a service about a decade ago, "We broke some rules, but God is faithful."  Duly noted but that didn't convey to me that there is poetry or beauty in marriage then anymore than a book seems to be conveying that beauty to even sympathetic readers now.  Driscoll has tended to be stronger about saying what we have been freed from than explaining what we are freed to do.  If anything what we are freed to do often ends up, in his hands, transformed into a "have to" no matter how many times he reminds us it's supposed to be a "get to".

But perhaps this sums things up for me as I've mulled over precisely why I found chapter 1 of Real Marriage depressing when I read it.  It's not just the grim realization that the high flown homilies on sex from the pulpit did not match the bitter and prosaic reality of the Driscoll's real marriage. It's that there was no beauty in the presentation Mark Driscoll did on those Song of Songs sermons all those years.  There was no poetry because there was in the end nothing more than poetry as a pretext for prose. 

Driscoll, as he's been so keen to tell us, is a man with a communications degree from a top tier academic program in America.  He has been inspired by stand up comedians, who traffic in stereotypes, generalizations, hyperbole, and statements backed by vehemence of expression rather than delicacy of observation or juxtaposition.  The public speaker is enjoined broadly as follows:

Tell them what you're going to tell them
Tell them
Tell them what you told them

And this Driscoll does quite well. 

But what are poets and storytellers so steadily admonished to do? We all know this one. Show, don't tell.  The Driscolls are both communications majors from a top tier university, as Driscoll is so pleased to have told us lately, but it seems that they utterly lack any poetic impulse since they are so busy telling us in various ways what the poetry is talking about they're not showing us much more than that they're telling us stuff. 

They do not, when I stop to think about it, even trust that a divinely inspired poem can show us enough of what we need to know for them to not tell us in an entirely new book what they say they have learned from that old book.  Whoever wrote Song of Songs really needed those Docent group statistics.  They've shown us how bad their marriage was and then comes the "working through core issues" and statistics about people you shouldn't be like. But perhaps by that point the use of the erotic poetry of scripture has become nothing more than a pretext for an agenda, an agenda that is so literally more prosaic than the poem could be in its worst translation we are compelled to ask what the point of introducing poetry into the discussion served to begin with.

So the goblet of the moon becomes the vulva.  The lover whose body seems one with the natural world, as it is one with the beloved through poetic juxtaposition and a physical and emotional bond, becomes someone who wants to try out some new positions and some brand new moves.  The person who whispers "Set me as a seal upon your heart" really wants to get down to the practical business of the five year plan to reverse engineer life with you and plan out the right Christmas memories for the kids this year. 

Over the last ten years nobody had to tell me the Driscolls have a power for draining the beauty from poetry, they've shown us over those ten years that they'd rather tell us what the poem means than to let the poetry show us how delicately yet eagerly it eludes and alludes.  Anderson's review has caught my attention.  He has shown me something ten years of Driscoll sermons can't quite tell--there are things about draining the beauty and mystery from erotic poetry that even a virgin can figure out if someone can just show him how it happened.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Internet Monk: What is a Song Good For?

I'm going to reframe a statement from one of Paul's letters in a way that I hope may inspire some thought.

No style of music is off limits for a Christian listener or a Christian musician but not all styles of music are liturgically useful or practical.

HT Phoenix Preacher: Geoff Surrat on five scary trends that could shipwreck the church

an update on Batman: The Agony of Loss and the Madness of Desire

For those of you who read parts 1 through 3 of the above-mentioned series I've been writing about Batman: the animated series for Mockingbird, fret not (if you were fretting at all).  I still have this project on the table and since 2012 marks the 20th anniversary of this revolutionary and classic childrens' program I will do my best to write about the series

You might have put together that the pending part 4, "The Wounds of Discovery" has been even tougher for me to write than part 3 ("Heart of Ice, Heart of Wrath").  As I mentioned here I only made the breakthrough I needed to finish part 3 by searching for a C. S. Lewis book and grabbing a G. K. Chesterton book instead.  Well, eye surgery and other off-line concerns have slowed down the completion of part 4 and part 4 is, I must confess, remarkably challenging. 

In the past I had many a fellow nerdy colleague with whom to discuss ideas for such essays.  I could brainstorm, bounce ideas off of people, mull things over, and this on a regular basis.  There's nothing like 26 months of no job and rarely seeing such nerdy friends to slow down the brainstorming process.  Life has a habit of happening, and sometimes life slows you down.  Beyond the huge interruption of cataract removal surgery there have been the matters of belated family holiday celebrations; the continuing search for something like a normal day job; and a recent writing project I've been tackling that involves having to watch what amount to think tank presentations that I have been able to tackle but not without the help of some caffeinated beverages.  Oh, yes, and the matter of getting my guitar sonata in f minor further along the path to getting published. 

I finished D. G. Hart's book on evangelicals and conservative political thought and though I'd love to write about it I'm no longer sure I'm going to.  I had some personal interest in taking up the book and its subject but because the subject is personal I'm not sure I want to blog about it any longer.  There are some things to be worked out in a thought-out way in public settings such as a blog or a book. 

But there are some things that are sufficiently personal that they do not warrant being blogged about or being transformed into a book that is used to promote a set of ideas and formulas (while being presented as though it were NOT a set of formulas).  I'm going to remain vague about things because there are some things to be worked out without dragging things into the public sphere.  If I were to cast about for a counterexample that has impressed upon me the importance of this principle I probably don't have name it if you've read more than two posts at this blog.

But I can be specific about "The Wounds of Discovery".  I'm half-way through and excited about what I have finished, and want to finish the second half and get to parts 5 and 6 this year. 

I haven't forgotten that I'd like to write some more about chamber music for guitar and I've got a CD by the d'Amore Duo I'd love to write about.  But since odds are very high you've never heard of them before I want to try to give an overview of this oboe/guitar duo from their three commercial recordings and perhaps discuss oboe/guitar literature at a broader level.  I am also mulling over writing something about a composer whose works for guitar have languished in obscurity for decades that are getting a small revival, a composer whose work I learned about thanks to one of the d'Amore Duo's recordings.  But I'm trying to save that for another time.  After all, if this blog mentions cartoons and classical guitar and I don't get to it I'm missing some of my favorite subjects!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Mark Driscoll, William Wallace II, and Pussified Nation part 269, another nation

And here I was just discussing street cred today.  There's more than one kind of cred to be invoked in public discourse and Mark Driscoll just played from another kind.

What we have here, folks, looks like a fantastic centrifuge full of centrifugal spin.  Mark assures us he got a communications major from a top tier American university.  So much for street cred when it's time to take down a journalist.  We're going from the blue collar kid who falsfied id to get his first job and lived behind a strip club to the worldly-wise educated college grad who can see through the facade of a fellow communications/media wizard and get at the real issues. Now is the time to mention that both Mark and Grace Driscoll have communications degrees from one of the top programs in the United States and we saved the British from Hitler, by the way. ;-)

British journalists married to women pastors are going to have agendas.  So far, so obvious.  Driscoll's team has given us nine reasons why singles should buy his book on Real Marriage.  That Mark Driscoll even has a website called PastorMark TV speaks of his having an agenda that is so obvious he's put his name on it. What Driscoll is providing here is simply counterspin to the first spin and in neither case am I inclined to take either seriously.  So a liberal British egalitarian journalist married to a woman pastor shows up with spin when Mark and Grace thought this was going to be an interview about, oh yes, the book they're promoting. 

Can't a megachurch pastor promote nine reasons single people should buy his book in peace without having some liberal egalitarian journalist grilling him about controversial statements he's kept making over the course of fifteen years?  Mark spent a whole conference hanging out with Doug Wilson even though he doesn't agree with Wilson about the Confederacy and the Civil War or the subject of the continual availablity of spiritual super-powers to Christians.  If Driscoll could do that for a few days surely he can withstand an hour with a liberal egalitarian journalist married to a woman preacher who is uncomfortable with substituionary atonement. 

I'm not a liberal UK Christian and don't land where they land so I'm not going to land there.  But I am also a communications major and do not take Driscoll's polemic seriously because I've discovered how he basically made things up about the Targum Neofiti and turned the book of Nehemiah into a typology about himself.  I do not at this point trust him to be the straight shooter to set the record straight just because some liberals don't agree with him. Some liberals are, frankly, more responsible scholars than Driscoll is.  I don't have to be a liberal to note this.

A blog post for the Brits is a rerun of the two things William Wallace II has been doing for a while now. First there's the ad hominem (the liberal British egalitarians who don't feel comfortable with penal substitutionary atonement basically aren't Christians anyway, so there) and a slightly less obvious reductio ad absurdum (if there aren't young men preaching in a red-blooded way then there might as well be NO men in the UK preaching the real Gospel right now because preachers who are actually Mark Driscoll's age in the present don't count).  Okay, but your agenda is selling your book, Mark.  Spin on top of spin is just more spin.  Going to Australia and telling them they're pussies isn't that different from saying in an interview that the British are pussies for not having a new Spurgeon. 

Exactly why there has to be a new Spurgeon 20-something rock star evangelical pastor is not explained, rather it is assumed.  It's smarter to say people in the UK should pray for a new Spurgeon because that's a sounder prayer request than writing something like, "Pray that the UK gets its own Driscoll."  But who says God wants there to be a new Spurgeon or Driscoll for the UK?  Was the apostle Paul in his 20s when he began his preaching career?  How would we know this?  If by Driscoll's estimation an either widowed or divorced guy transformed the world with his preaching, teaching, and epistles that make up most of the New Testament why would it matter that the UK lacks a 20-something evangelical rerun of his favorite preacher?  Answer, it doesn't actually matter but Driscoll wants us to believe it should matter.  Maybe preachers who are functionally Calvinist Baptists but don't want the denominational label just have a tunnel vision in which Anglicans and Presbyterians don't count. 

A guy who has spent fifteen years saying things like "I'm no pansy ass therapist" to media outlets shouldn't be shocked if reporters who have agendas dredge up past controversial statements.  A communications major should know this already.  So the interview was an hour long and adversarial.  Who has included adversarial statements about Twilight and Avatar and egalitarians any given hour's sermon from the pulpit every Sunday and have for more than a decade?  And we're supposed to feel for this guy and his wife after they've pontificated about the sinfulness of stay at home dads?  Meh. 

Something to consider now is that Mark Driscoll has not only played worldly wise school cred for himself by invoking his communications degree from a top tier American institution, he's done this for Grace Driscoll, too.  The humble housewife with five kids card has been taken out of play for today's polemic.  Now she's the media genius who is her husband's equal who knows how to see through the agendas of reporters.  Problem is this is a double edged blade that means we are tipped off that Grace Driscoll is able to spin with Mark and promote books, too.  If you're shrewd enough to see through spin and know when an agenda is being pushed it's because you know how the rules of the game work and have been playing it yourself.  She is officially co-opted into a media juggernaut otherwise known as Mars Hill and Driscoll has made it clear she has the credentials for it.  I'm going to assume Grace knew this meant, among other things, occasionally running into an adversarial journalist.  If she's willing to say on record that stay-at-home dads have sin issues then welcome to the public sphere.  You can't go back. 

So a liberal reporter from the UK feels uncomfortable with penal substitutionary atonement.  Back in 2005 Driscoll preached a whole series of sermons discussing all the other wonderful understandings of the atonement Christians can and should embrace and even mentioned a book by, of all people, a British theologian named John Stott.  There are other understandings of the atonement around which Christians can meet and agree.  Mark should know, seeing as he preached a christus exemplar sermon back in 2005.  Suggest that christus exemplar takes on new, deeper, and more beautiful significance if you embrace with that the penal substitutionary view and emphasize that if you reject one and accept the other you are short-selling the significance of the Cross.  He did that once, back in 2005.  As smart as Driscoll is implicitly and explicitly telling us he is it apparently didn't cross his mind to make the simple move I just outlined.  Thinking on your feet may just be tougher to do if your goal is to promote a book and somebody comes with "an agenda" that is actually different from promoting the book. 

But for the sake of today's polemic make sure to emphasize the liberal reporter with an agenda is uncomfortable with penal substitutionary atonement and is egalitarian to ensure the ad hominem is complete.  "Pussified Nation" rolls on and now we're invited to appreciate that it's the Brits who are pussies because they don't have a William Wallace II of their own. 

Since Driscoll's a communications major who studied in one of the top tier programs in the United States he'll remember some tricky concepts like "on the record" and "public figure" and "public record" and "internet".  This could let him remember that once something goes on the record you could get asked about it at any time even if you've pulled down the sermons; shut down the unmoderated Midrash; or dredged up intimate details about your marriage in a published book.  It's out there now and if you don't want to get asked about it by adversarial journalists there was always the option to have not broadcast it in a mass media venue.   

Just because I'm not a liberal Christian doesn't mean I can't identify spin in response to spin.  Nine reasons singles should buy Real Marriage?  Who is Driscoll kidding?  If Mark Driscoll wants to sell himself as the evangelical Dan Savage he shouldn't be surprised when not all evangelicals jump on the bandwagon and he should be even less surprised when non-evangelicals are even less sold on this publicity campaign.  I would have thought a communications major would have worked that out over the last two decades.

Slate: The End of Cred--officially about gangsta rap but potentially about rock star pastors

Something puzzling happened in the face of this exposéthe hip-hop equivalent, one might have thought, of a James Frey moment. Ross’ rap-world prestige only grew. On his solo debut, from 2006, he had seemed something like the Stone Temple Pilots to Young Jeezy’s Pearl Jam: a likable-enough instrument of record-label market-cornering. Like Jeezy, Ross commanded a gritty drug-slinging persona and matched it with a blunt, unfussy rapping style—gruff voice, magisterial slowness, abundant repetition, minimal wordplay—that doubled as ostensible proof of his authenticity. The absence of artfulness implied the absence of artifice. But whereas Jeezy had laid the groundwork for his major-label debut over several years with mixtapes and independent releases, building buzz from the ground up, Ross seemed to arrive from out of nowhere, and he was easy to dismiss as a one-hit sound-alike, rushed to airwaves to capitalize on the popular coke-rap tren.

There are superstars who slowly and steadily emerge through decades of honing a craft and honing a vision and there are others who after just a few years of focusing on a single thing explode on to the scene.  In rap this dynamic seems to take place one way, while in megachurch preachers it occurs in another way.

For instance, there are a megachurch pastors who become famous less for any one thing than for a more comprehensive approach to the overall work of pastoral activity and consideration of Scripture.  A Spurgeon, for instance, is not known for one set of sermons or ideas, is he?  A D. James Kennedy may be remembered for being conservative but not necessarily for a single memorably articulated message.  A Benny Hinn will get known for "the annointing" and healing services.  A Jesse Jackson will get known for his political activism. A Todd Bentley will get known for "fresh fire". A Mark Driscoll is known as "the cussing pastor" (even though this is not actually accurate) and as the sexpert pastor (as Real Marriage continues to establish despite the salvo in chapter one, no less,where Mark admits he spent a large amount of time in his marriage resenting his wife's frigidity and neither realizing he played a role in her feeling unable to trust him or that she had a history of sexual abuse)

But Ross’ success in the wake of the Officer Ricky scandal is more than a story of artistic improvement. It also demonstrates that hip-hop audiences have changed their valuation of street credibility from the requisite it once seemed to be to something far more fluid.

The stable fan base of Mark Driscoll even in the wake of his confessing he didn't live up to his pulpit spiel about a vibrant and unshackled sex life, may be a Christianese version of the gap between the posture of the gangsta rapper and the reality of the professional entertainer's normal life.  So after a decade of preaching about Song of Songs like this was what was implicitly happening in his own marriage it turns out that this wasn't the case at all with the Driscolls.  Oh well, the gangsta rapper may have been shown to have not been living the life he rapped about but that's not important, the rap is still compelling, right?  

The megachurch pastor street cred rap may be the reverse of the gangsta rap street cred in chronology and social/ethical trajectory ... but it may be that both come together to form a grand Moebius strip that plays out across white and black American pop culture.  The evangelical equivalent of street credibility may be as fluid now in its way as street credibility in gangsta rap may be more fluid now than it was twenty or thirty years ago.  It's not that the reality has to fit the stance or the posse in every single detail.  Thou doest have to say the magic words exactly, in theory, but in the end what we get is the reply from gangsta rappers and rock star pastors that, "Maybe not every tiny little syllable but, basically, I said `em.  Now send me home."

Now if you read my relatively recent blog post about the different approaches to sonata allegro form taken by Sor, Giuliani and Diabelli you would understandably conclude I have neither a strong interest in, nor any significant knowledge about, rap or R&B and this would be right.    Other than Cee Lo Green I admit I haven't remembered much of anything from rap or R&B that I've heard in the last ten or fifteen years.  But there are times when I like to read about styles of music I don't usually listen to when there's an interesting cultural commentary element to it.  Jonah Weiner's commentary on the shifting nature of street credibility as a foundational element to the personae of gangsta rappers seems to quite naturally bleed of the streets into the pulpits of megachurch rock-star celebrity preachers.  Carl Trueman was right to bring up what he called the aesthetics of plausibility.

So if Mark Driscoll admits in a book deal confession/marriage manual he spent maybe a decade not getting the sex he so ardently preached about from 1999 through maybe 2007, so what?  The book is called Real Marriage, we know it's about a real marriage because that letter L is tilted off to one side to tell us from the cover this is going to be vulnerable and real.  If we don't know Driscoll from Bob Barker that dangling letter L will make sure to spell things out before we even open the book. 

Gangsta rappers and rock star pastors ... some potentially interesting overlap.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

evangelicalism is a world without eunuchs ... or is it?

If there is a segment of Scripture about which virtually no evangelical would shout, "That'll preach" these days, Isaiah 56, with its poetic discourse about eunuchs, could well be one of them.  Women who blog about faith and sexuality and singleness have often (and we know how often if we've read even three such blog entries) about the plight of singleness.  There will also be some not altogether puzzling hand-wringing about "it is not good ... to be alone."  This shall often be followed by "wait on the Lord's timing."

This is where I say we get to the eunuchs because whereas women can look to the passage on Isaiah about the barren woman and indirectly apply that to single women today as a form of hope for marriage in this life a castrated royal servant has absolutely ZERO chances of a family "legacy".  Even though Jesus said some were born eunuchs, some were made eunuchs by men, and others made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom of God you will not find evangelicals, as a rule, preaching about eunuchs.  The whole point of the eunuch was his physical condition is not the kind of thing that could get reversed.

Thanks to the marvel of modern medicine it is possible for a man to get snipped and then unsnipped.  There's an episode of Scrubs in which Dr. Cox gets snipped, then unsnipped and then snipped again.  It's a comedy, of course, but the joke hinges on the reality that the medicine is practical in our time.  If you were living in the time of Haydn there was basically one approach to making a castrati and it had a high failure rate and as the boys who bled to death often discovered, this was an utterly irreversible procedure!  A barren woman could hope against hope that maybe a pregnancy could take and her husband could pray that things worked out.  In the ancient world a second wife might be taken up to make sure there was an heir to spare.  But if your testicles were crushed so you could serve in a royal functionary job ... well ... that wasn't exactly something where your situation was going to change. 

There are some passages in scripture that only make sense when you've gotten old enough and widely read enough to have any idea why the passage is significant.  Let me broadbrush things a bit from my own experience.  When you're a fifteen year old high school boy in America you can read Isaiah 56 and the prophet's discussion of eunuchs and have absolutely no idea what a eunuch is or why that's significant.  You might have "book learning" about what a eunuch was but you wouldn't be in a position to appreciate what it would actually mean. 

Isaiah 56 opens with a blessing on eunuchs.  "Let not the foreigner ... "leads into "Let not the eunuch say `I am a withered tree'."  The eunuchs who hold fast to the Lord will receive a monument and a name better than sons and daughters.  There is much to consider about this but I want to move on to the second part of the chapter.

Isaiah 56 closes with a denunciation of the watchmen and leaders.  These men are described as dogs who cannot bark and who only eat and sleep and accomplish nothing but seeking their own advantage.  The leaders are as bad, paying no heed to the flock and spending their days drinking alcohol and talking about how tomorrow's celebration will be greater than today's.  If you ever want to tackle a 20th century poetic rumination on how Isaiah may have come across to his contemporaries go dig up the poem about Isaiah by Canadian poet and songwriter Leonard Cohen.  It's a worthy read.

Now maybe when people are in their 20s and are sexually frustrated they can imagine that they just have to hold out for the right person or they just go for it with whomever happens to be close by. The idea that they will turn 30 and not have found "the one" or have lost their virginity may simply not occur to them.  Still less may it occur to them that whether or not they die virgins is actually not really all that much in their control.  They don't know what eunuchs are and the potential of being a eunuch in a less literal way because of circumstances they can't control simply doesn't occur to them.  Women in evangelical settings who aren't finding themselves "pursued" may be aware of this but this hardly means that men who have asked out various women only to get shot down haven't thought about it. 

But if we consider Isaiah 56 for a while which of the two groups of men would it be better to be?  The eunuchs with the Lord's favor or the watchmen who are mute and lazy dogs and the leaders who take no heed (not unlike the evil shepherds mentioned in Ezekiel 34 from an exilic setting now that we're on that subject).  There is good news for the eunuch and some very bad news for the watchmen and the wicked shepherds, the spiritual leaders and guardians of God's people.  Where the barren woman is promised by the Lord through Isaiah to have more children than she who bore them, the eunuchs are promised that if they remain steadfast to the Lord they will have a monument and a name better than sons and daughters. 

When is the last time you heard a preacher discuss the blessing promised to the eunuchs by the Lord through Isaiah?  When is the last time you heard someone even bring up the passage, let alone attempt to see how the situation of the eunuch might have anything like a correlation to the experience of men in contemporary society?  Some stuff to consider.

HT Mockingbird: When is low church a little too low?

"As a dream comes with many cares ... so a nightmare can emerge from existing worries

As a dream comes when there are many cares, so the speech of a fool when there are many words.

Now while a person may subscribe to the necessity of considering both parts of this verse in light of claims made by Mark Driscoll to get dreams from God revealing sexual infidelity years ago on the part of Grace I am not going there.  No, where I'm camping out today is in the first part of the verse.  I know a few bloggers and reviewers have considered with some horror Mark Driscoll's assertion that he had a dream in which a revelation was given to him that in the early months of his dating relationship with Grace she was sexually unfaithful to him.  Now setting aside that Mark himself had been a serial monogamist Driscoll recounts in Real Marriage that all his women were sexually unfaithful to him while he was faithful to them.

The analogy in Ecclesiastes 5:3 is predicated on the connection between the foolishness that comes from much speech (i.e. a stupid vow before the Lord in the broader literary context) and the connection that exists between a dream and brooding.  It was understood in ancient societies that dreams could emerge from worrying about something a long time.  While Mark Driscoll seems confident that the dream of Grace's unfaithfulness from the dating years was a revelation it is possible to take a more prosaic approach to such a dream.  By Mark's own account all his previous women cheated on him.  A nightmare in which even his own wife turned out to be unfaithful to him does not need a supernatural explanation even if we simply run with the simple observation of Ecclesiastes 5:3.  The dream could still feel like a revelation given the overall faithfulness of his wife and I certainly would not wish to diminish the shock of such a dream or that it had a foundation in actual relational problems.  However, I would stop short of saying such a dream, even if I had it myself, as necessarily being a supernatural revelation from God.  Why?

Well, the short and overly broad answer has to do with the overall biblical witness about dreams from the Lord.  They tend, overwhelmingly in fact, to be cases in which a dream warns of a future disaster to be averted at a personal or national level (often both).  Abimelech feard death because the Lord threatened to kill him for taking Abraham's wife.  Joseph had dreams in which he saw he was ruling over his family and though the dreams came to pass he unwisely shared the dreams and caused resentment.  Pharoah had a dream, as did two of his servants, and Joseph interpreted the dreams as referring to upcoming events.  The positive outcome for one of Pharoah's servants became the ground from which Joseph made an appeal for his release from prison.  This, in turn, permitted him to interpret the dream of Pharoah so as to anticipate a famine and establish policy that permitted the safety of people in the region.

I could go on, of course, but it will suffice to say that dreams of warning from the Lord as actually described in the Bible tend to warn of a problem that is about to occur, not about sins committed by one person against another years or even decades prior.  Without intending to diminish the significance of an unusually nasty nightmare Mark Driscoll describes I simply don't have to jump to the conclusion that the dream was a "revelation" simply because it turned out Grace had done what Mark dreamed about.  As Mark Driscoll might say of another's dream, "Maybe it was bad pizza."  That was Mark's way of fielding questions about the possibility that an unusual or disturbing dream might be from the Lord.  It might be possible but in practice it would be better to err on the side of finding another explanation first. 

In the case of Mark's own nightmare his earlier praxis of caution and skepticism would seem apt.  We can propose, in a very prosaic way, that given Mark's anxiety about the sexual unfaithfulness of all his prior girlfriends that it's not shocking that at some point in his marriage he might have at least one nightmare that even Grace was not faithful to him.   It is not necessary to appeal to a divine origin for the dream when a natural explanation is not only equally plausible but particularly when the natural association between persistent worry and a resultant dream is affirmed as a normal process even within the scripture itself. 

It isn't beyond providence that even such a natural dream can't take on a significant role, it's just a potential case of being over-eager to retroactively give a dream a divine status because the content of the dream happens to correspond with what turns out to have taken place.  If the author of Ecclesiastes heard Mark Driscoll describe the dream that gave him the "revelation" about Grace the author himself might not say "Maybe you had bad pizza." he might say, "Well, of course you might have a nightmare like that since that was the nightmare you lived out with all the previous women you were with, right?"  As a dream comes from much brooding ... .

By extension, given the anxiety such a dream caused Mark Driscoll it is not entirely surprising that in pastoral counseling roles he might read this anxiety into counseling others.  Recovered memory therapy has evolved along such a well-established script that secular psychological research, cognitive research, and medical practice have established how wildly unreliable and misleading it is.  At the risk of putting it in overly simple terms something as traumatic as being abused would be something you remember even if at the time it occurred you may not have thought of it as abuse.  Long-term memories of events earlier than the age of about four are now considered to be almost completely beyond possibility.  Actually a child even at the age of six may not remember something.  I found this out when I took one of my nieces to see Star Wars in Concert and, a year later, she didn't remember that she went with me and my brother.  Oh well, the important was she had a huge amount of fun at the time.  :)

I have already written at length about the "I see things" clip as a thing in itself and in the context of the four hour presentation Mark Driscoll gave on spiritual warfare from 2008.  Since the statement about the dream/revelation about Grace's unfaithfulness from the earliest months of their marriage got published in Real Marriage this year it constitutes, obviously, a new claim of a divine revelation.  It may be useful at this point, then, to urge some caution about Driscoll's claim to have a supernatural revelation by way of a dream because in pastoral settings early in the church when someone would talk with him about a weird or disturbing dream he would urge caution. 

Do you want to know how I know this?  ;-)  I, dear reader, had a very weird and troubling dream and ended up talking with him about it and his caution seemed like a useful warning at the time.  So you can think of this as me belatedly returning the favor of urging some caution about assuming a deeply troubling dream must automatically be a divine oracle.  In this case the caution is not "Maybe it was bad pizza" but, "Even Scripture says that the stuff that bothers you over your life will be stuff you dream about."  This 'may' be a revelation in as much as a man had a nightmare that corresponded to the reality of waking life but it can also simply be a nightmare born out of the pattern the man was largely aware of and anxious about in waking life without having to also be a supernatural revelation to boot.

Monday, January 09, 2012

more than a month has gone by since surgery

I hope to not need cataract removal surgery again, or at least for a very long time.  I could write a bit about the experience, though I'm not sure it would be for the faint of heart.  The part where in the preparation for surgery I got various doses of anesthesia culminated in two needles.  One punched through the base of my eye with a drug to kill pain and something to shut down the muscles around the eye.  The other, though my eye was dilated to the extreme, seemed to be a needle that punched through my pupil to insert a drug that would shut down my optic nerve. 

After a macular detachment and getting cataract removal surgery I have come to realize that I never have need to take hallunagenic drugs.  An old high school buddy was mortified to discover the things he saw dropping acid were things I saw with a retinal detachment while in his case the explanation was the roasting of his brain cells. 

Things have been healing up nicely.  I can still see the incision made in my eye if I move an eyelid and adjust my gaze.  No photos of the surgery or its aftermath.  Almost too bad.  I kind of wish I had photos of me after my scleral buckle operation but my family declined.  I said, "This looks kinda cool.  I almost look like Two-Face this way."  My family agreed, which was exactly why they never took photos because they didn't agree with "This looks kinda cool."  Oh well, such is life, huh?

When I wrote some friends and family to describe what eye surgery was like in more detail they said it came off as grim and scary.  I thought what I was writing was funny but perhaps the humor was dehydrated.  I am altogether glad that the surgery went well and I can see out of both eyes about as clear as one could hope to given my circumstances.  It sticks with me that the field of medicine that has permitted me to see is a practice that is not even a century old.  Obviously I'm not referring to cataract removal surgery.  J. S. Bach underwent cataract removal surgery and it went ... badly. 

I take some amusement from the realization that I have spent a few years working on a big contrapuntal cycle where the work was slowed down and interrupted by some problems that had to be dealt with by eye surgery.  If all it took to be a good composer was sharing J. S. Bach's eye trouble late in life then I'm overdue to be a good composer!  Of course that's obviously and naturally not how things work out.  At least one opthamologist has suggested Bach may have had a retinal detachment.  I'll have to consider that speculative for now. I know that a detachment can be a risk in cataract surgery and that Taylor, though widely lauded in his day, had methods that were terribly sub-par.  After all, Bach did die after two operations.  I'm grateful the surgeons who helped me out were centuries ahead of John Taylor in every respect!  I should probably be able to finish my contrapuntal cycle but can't imagine it holding a candle to Bach's work even on his worst day.

You don't realize how automatically your tear ducts respond to stimuli until you decide to cut four red onions in a cooking project and the tear ducts in one of your eyes ... don't ... quite work.  Normally cayenne pepper plays a substantial role in any of my cooking.  I eased back a bit in the month after surgery.  You don't have to make too many guesses why. 

I'm going to take a little digression here to consider the miracles Jesus performed.  N. T. Wright in his book Jesus & the Victory of God discussed how Jesus' healings restored people who were marginal citizens to an ability to live, work, and worship when they had been barred from participation.  If you go back and peruse the laws there were any number of physical defects that could limit where you could go and who you could be with.  There were also things that made you ceremonially unclean or unclean in a more blunt way, the way that had you outside the camp to prevent the spread of communicable disease and leprosy and all that. 

So while Jesus preached the good news and provide eternal life we can't skate past the economic significance of Jesus healing a man blind from birth, or a leper, or a man who was crippled for decades. People with disabilities, and particularly extreme disabilities, can find it challenging to find work and keep working even today.  Imagine how things would go two millenia ago if you were an otherwise healthy man who got a cataract.  In our day cataract removal surgery is a "relatively" simple affair despite it being a very invasive type of surgery.  If someone spends an hour cumulatively durgging up a third of your face before inserting an ultrasonic drill into your eye that's invasive! 

Some friends of mine have discussed what has to be considered a failure of missionary work in Africa.  The failure is not that nobody converted to Christianity.  No, the failure could be considered that the places where the greatest missionary success occurred in the last fifty years now have the highest incidence of HIV infections and the highest proportion of orphans in a given population.  If Jesus preached "good news to the poor" then exporting Western style Christianity, let alone American style Christianity, seems to have had some disastrous effects.  I could attempt to field what kind of "Christianity" Americans and Westerners exported to Africa but that should properlly be saved for some other time. 

What I do want to round up with is an observation that the healings Jesus performed were on people who would have been poor, in many cases, because they had physical deformities and troubles that fenced them out of normal society.  Hearing about "eternal life" was not necessarily the only reason people flocked to Him.  They heard He cured people.  A person born blind who is able to see is able to work in ways that weren't possible before.  A person crippled for decades would not be in a position to work.  We live in a society in which people with disabilities can work jobs. 

Rewind back two millenia and imagine what a bum leg could do in an agrarian society.  In a society such as ours that takes medical breakthroughs for granted we will tend to want to camp out on the "spiritual" and doctrinal implications of Jesus' healing work as a sign that He was God, from God, and teaching the truth.  We do not necessarily appreciate that the evangelists may have been explicitly linking physical healing with good news being preached to the poor as a unified campaign.  The physical freedom to work the kinds of jobs you could not have done before is still good news for the poor.  Is that a problem because that leads to "works"?  No, not unless you're such a Pharisee about "works" that you paradoxically have to shift attention away from an obvious implication of Jesus' life and work, that there is a freedom to work for the blind and deaf that would be able to lift them up ever so slightly from being poor. 

Yet there are Christians who can take a rather dim view of the medical profession.  I don't wish to get into all the reasons for that but it will suffice for me to have implied the various reasons why I don't hold to that view myself.  Jesus healed the blind and the blind were able to stop being beggars.  Eye surgeons have kept me from going blind and that has helped me (though not lately, I must admit) spend many years being gainfully employed.  It's not the fault of eye surgeons the job market is sketchy.  The physical healing that is part of the good news being preached to the poor goes beyond just words like "Your sins are forgiven."  Jesus Himself said that anyone could say "Your sins are forgiven." but to prove that He could truly do so He physically healed a man. 

Able-bodied people so often take that ability for granted they may not always appreciate the significance of bodily limitations.  Some may discover this at some point and lean toward an open theism in which God has a handicap so He seems more relatable when what is going on is that they are facing down aspects of mortality.  Others may go in another direction, discussing the spiritual significance of Jesus' teaching being the core of His message while forgetting the economic significance of Jesus' healings.  If Jesus had taught He was the Way, the Truth, and the Light and yet healed no one would this have been good news preached to the poor? 

Would such a Jesus who was unable to heal but preached what Jesus is shown preaching in the Gospels have garnered a following?  Well, maybe but given the claims attributed to Jesus by the evangelists Jesus would have been killed a whole lot faster.  Or Jesus would have been an ineffectual nobody.  Atheists, of course, have at times pointed out no third-hand independent evidence for Jesus exists but I'm not here to go into those various rabbit trails.  I'm here simply considering a problem in attempting to frame Jesus' life and teaching in a way that can overlook what the evangelists are implicitly telling us about the nature of the good news preached to the poor.  As James put it in his epistle, if you see a brother in need and in poverty and say "Be well fed, and keep warm" what good is that?  If Jesus had said "I am the Way, the Turth, and the Light" and healed no one what kind of light, way, and truth would He have been? 

Now that I have had two different kinds of eye surgery on two eyes I've had some time to mull over how the healings of Jesus sometimes seem to be a springboard for at least some Christians jumping straight from the healings to Jesus being God.  The bit about good news to the captives and good news for the poor ... that's a nice theological abstraction to share from the pulpit.  That good news for those captive in the frailties of their own bodies and good news for those made poor by those frailties is not simply a matter of saying, "Oh, well, believe on Jesus and after you're dead you get a resurrection body." Jesus did something.  We, as Christians, should be willing to do something, too, if it is in our ability.  I here refer not to supernatural means, obviously, but to a disposition to help those when we are able.  We may have to be careful about how, when, how often, and the like, but nobody said discerning those times would be easy. 

I don't intend this as a political or economic statement but American Christians who would like to talk about the spiritual significance of Jesus' healings and only assess that in purely doctrinal terms may forget that Jesus was giving people the power to work.  I'm biased, yes, because I'm unemployed and because I've had vision troubles that have precluded me from certain types of work. So I'm not going to pretend I don't have an agenda.  If Jesus' healings gave people in His day physical restoration that would let them work I'm going to steer you toward an understanding of what that could mean now. 
Good news for the poor" may not be "economic justice" in the way the left or right might use the term, but if I recast things by noting that the physical healings Jesus performed had economic consequences in the lives of those He healed that might at least be something to think about. 

Readings from an Epiphany service, Ezekiel 34 and John 10

The word of the LORD came to me: “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock?  You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals. My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them.

“‘Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, because my flock lacks a shepherd and so has been plundered and has become food for all the wild animals, and because my shepherds did not search for my flock but cared for themselves rather than for my flock, therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am against the shepherds and will hold them accountable for my flock. I will remove them from tending the flock so that the shepherds can no longer feed themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths, and it will no longer be food for them.

“‘For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign LORD. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.

“Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.

Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”
Rather than bother to expound upon these texts I'm going to just let them be their own thing. Their cumulative substance should "probably" speak for itself.

Not to be outdone, Ed & Lisa Young have their Sexperiment coinciding with Real Marriage

Perhaps the most troubling thing about "authenticity" is that we continue to discover that even the ostensibly authentic reveals itself, at length, to be part of an affectation. The heart is deceitful above all things, and who can understand it?