Saturday, January 21, 2012

Now here's a little rumination on Ruth

I stumbled upon this blog of Tim Bulkeley's through my various readings at Scotteriology.  In the hands of some teachers Ruth is presented as a case study on dating and marriage.  You can't possibly imagine who might have done that?  Well, never mind then.  That's not important.

Now this is fun, and here's something that I found fascinating.  Ruth is billed as a love story, a story of mutual romantic love.  Bulkeley remarks that as sweet as it may be that it really is in there that's not the main point of the book.  Consider, particularly, the second paragraph I quote regarding Boaz' affection for Ruth.  I'll emphasize it for good measure.

... However, I do not think the book of Ruth is about love. It’s about חֶסֶד hesed (an amalgam of faithfulness to family or covenant relationships and great kindness). This virtue was a primary family and social value in Ancient Israel. Love was a luxury, but חֶסֶד hesed was what made the world go round.

So, did Boaz “fancy” Ruth? Probably – notice how he assumes that any of the young (and he is not young, so appreciates the value of youth) men of the village would have wanted to marry her (Rt 3:10). Why? She was a foreign (strike one) widow (strike two) who was childless after ten years of marriage (strike three). Boaz has to be imputing his own motives to them ;) Did Ruth “fancy” Boaz? Perhaps – notice how she teases him in the field (Rt 2:10,13)! But that’s not what the story is about, it is about the much more significant issues of חֶסֶד hesed.

There is a love story in the Bible (at least in the Song), but Ruth is not it, even though it may allow its heroes to experience love as well.

You see, dear reader, those bolded points.  Ruth was really the last sort of woman an Israelite would choose to marry.  A widowed Moabiite who had never had children despite ten years of marriage would NOT be the prime candidate for an Israelite marriage. Deuteronomy 23:3-5's prohibition against Moabites entering the assembly of the Lord it would appear Ruth, as a woman, didn't quite count under this prohibition, particularly as she was obviously a proselyte. 

Still, she could hardly have been considered the most eligible bachelorette in the village as things stood and Boaz, to marry her as kinsmen redeemer, would be doing so to continue the line of Elimelech.  The nearer kinsmen redeemer wanted to preserve his own familiy legacy and could not marry Ruth without compromising his own inheritence.  Yet we know of Boaz because he chose to marry Ruth. As I have blogged with amusement and seriousness over the years we must be cautious and careful about how, when, where, and why we bandy about a concept like "legacy". 

It was "legacy" and "a name" that inspired people to go to the Valley of Shinar, after all.  And it was to preserve and pursue a legacy that a kinsmen redeemer did not marry Ruth the widowed Moabite who had borne no children in ten years of marriage.  And, really, who could blame the nameless fellow? It was simply not that awesome a deal for him to fulfill a levirate responsibility for some dude named Elimelech who went to Moab with his family and ended up dead.

Yet Boaz in taking Ruth as his wife not only had sons whose names gave him a legacy, the old man obtained a legacy better than just plain old sons and daughters, he became part of the lineage of David and ultimately of Christ despite not necessarily being aware that in simply playing the role of kinsmen redeemer he was entering into this legacy.  Perhaps the most beautiful and amusing irony may be that Boaz simply loved a younger widowed woman and was not imagining that his legacy would be what we read about.  The man who was consciously looking after his own legacy doesn't even get a name while the man who chose to continue the line of Elimelech (by marrying Mahlon's widow) was the ancestor of David. The nameless man looked after his legacy and Boaz is celebrated for his character. Now there's an irony to mull over.

D. G. Hart--Speaking of Leithart and Language

... In the haste to assert that Christianity goes all the way down and claim a victim status for believers who live under oppressive secular governments, Federal Visionaries, transformationalists, and neo-Calvinists make the world safe for thinking that Christians are so different that they speak in ways that other people can’t understand. In other words, they pave the way for those Christians who really do think they have a Christian language — Pentecostals. 

ha ha ha ha ha ha ha

Well ... Doug Wilson did have Mark "charismatic with a  seatbelt" Driscoll over for a conference recently.  Hart may just have a point there. And even if he doesn't this is a very fun punchline for me.

Friday, January 20, 2012

just because ...

Something to kill some time if it's snowy where you live or you have nothing else to do.

about the voice of Bane in the Dark Knight Rises trailer

I don't understand why so many people think that Tom Hardy's Bane is as hard to understand as Kenny McCormack from South Park.  Just throwing that out there for pretty much no reason.

Cinemagogue tackles Underworld (and other films and shows)

Some of the film presentations from the early, early days aren't listed (Akira, Dracula 2000, Magnolia, Profit, Perfect Blue, or Rope for instance) and some more recent presentations about the Lonnie Frisbee documentary aren't in the catalog.  But all the same the catalog is still a pleasingly comprehensive survey of all the films and TV shows James has discussed or written about over the years serving in ministry at Mars Hill. 

I mention James' site because I like it and because James and his wife were the people who showed the pilot Justice League at one of their parties.  James and his wife are also, not coincidentally for me, the first people I ever met in my life where they threw parties that don't suck.  No offense to people who invited me to parties earlier intended, and I've met other folks in the last ten years who throw great parties.  It's just that in my life the first people I met who threw awesome parties have been Harlemans.  I stand by that.  I've been very happy and honored to know them over the last decade and hope for the best for the future of cinemagogue and James' work there.  Feel free to peruse Cinemagogue and I hope you have fun with it.

the double down
Jim Jacobson on January 19, 2012 at 7:16 pm said:

Mark does readily confess his failures, but then he goes and doubles down on the same things. He should say what the bible says on sexual things in my opinion. Where it is silent, he should be as well. That would take away about 50% of what he has to say.

Of course this is just a celebrity variation.  Admitting to a mistake is hard and what we often prefer to do is not even admit a mistake.  Actually, admitting to not understanding something or not having communicated something in a clear way is difficult, too.  In such situations the temptation is to double down.  Not only did I not make a mistake or lack for clarity in what I was saying or doing I'm going to make sure I double down just to prove you wrong.  It's tough to admit that something seems unclear whether because I didn't track what was stated or that what I stated didn't come across.  The risk of doubling down is that this can create a spiral in which it's safer to stand by what I said then to set that aside with the goal of reaching a shared understanding.  I don't mean agreeing on everything, far from it, I mean something more mundane, simply getting each other in a discussion.

Communication is not a contest even when the goal of communication is to persuade. Effective communicators remember this even if they do not always accomplish this. The goal, and this may be idealistic of me, is to gain mutual understanding. If I talk with you and we don't get each other than once we finally understand each other, even if we don't agree, communication has been successful and we can move on to other points of discussion.  If I talk with a politically liberal friend and we don't agree on X but we do agree on Y I want to proceed from Y so that there's some chance we can discuss our way to some agreement on Z. 

As Bill Buckley put it decades ago, though the liberal and conservative might disagree on the how of policy and on the why of government they can still agree on the what.  This was, in short, why Buckley considered the Randian approach problematic, because it introduced a combative definition of government that, if accepted, would change the nature of discourse.  Now if you think Buckley was totally wrong about that that's not exactly what I'm discussing.  I trust you know I'm simply using Buckley's point as an example. If a liberal and a conservative disagree on how the government should play its role in society they did, at least (forty years ago or so) still broadly agree on what the job of the government with respect to the citizenry actually was. That times and thoughts have changed I'll take as a given so nobody feels like spamming me about that.

The kind of mentality and discourse I would like to avoid, having seen more than a bit of it, is summed up in "I love you but you're annoying" discourse.  There are two reasons.  The first has to do with that word "annoying". Years ago when I was on the moderated Midrash someone posted a remark and someone wrote "I love you in Christ but ... ." The fellow who posted the remark asked, "I see this `I love you in Christ but ... ' stuff.  What does that mean?  I replied, "It means someone's saying they find you annoying."  That's as close to the words I wrote as I can recall. It's not necessarily a nice or fair thing to say but it is blunt and direct. There are times when "I love you but you're annoying" has a place. That place is not necessarily outside a continuing relationship.  It is also not even particularly appropriate within a continuing relationship. 

Then there's the second, more important reasons. Relationships do not thrive so much in the setting of "I love you but ... " regardless what word follows "but".  Were Jesus to relate to us in this way, well, you get the idea.  Husbands and wives, if they want to stay married, can't afford to live that way.  If the setting is an interview as a public figure with a professional journalist then there's no context for "I love you but ... "for anything.  It merely becomes a rhetorical flourish like talk of friends who are conveniences.

There's no point in pretending we love people we don't love in the common usage of the word.  But this does not mean we don't have the opportunity to be patient, kind, gentle, hope-filled, considerate, and so on. Communication is not simple simply because we take it for granted.  It does not become simple even if, say, we got a degree in communication.  It does not become simple because it isn't simple. Any discussion operates at multiple levels of perception and meaning. 

It is possible for a person to discuss something at level A while another discusses at level B.  The person at level B is not necessarily at level A but if a person does not communicate at level B this does not make a person more effective as a communicator.  For instance, if an adult explains something to a child and the child does not understand the adult could decide, "He's just a child so he can't get these things." Maybe that's true, but that does not make the adult a competent communicator simply for deciding that. The adult has still failed to communicate to the child.  That failure won't be a moral failure or an intellectual failure, of course, but it is still a social failure and a communication failure that will, at length, have moral and intellectual significance if the adult does not find some way to learn from the situation.  What happens next, ideally? Well, heh, to quote a certain Amy Grant song love (real love) will find a way. ;-)

Yet Mark Driscoll happens to be a case study of how we may not want to approach all of these things, whether in public discourse or private life.  There is an opportunity to learn from Mark Driscoll's communication as a negative example, something which is a very biblical thing to do. As Jacobson has observed, the man will apologize and then double down.  The pattern is this, he may apologize for how he says something but he will double down on what he was saying later on. It's the difference between saying "I'm sorry about what I said because it was wrong and I hurt you", for instance, and saying "I'm sorry you were offended by what I said and maybe I should have said things in a more winsome way."  For the already convinced the latter reads as though it should be received as the former. 

Now beyond this there are substantical implications and consequences to a man like Mark Driscoll being selectively strict constructionist.  I could write at some length about this but I don't feel like doing so right now in much detail.  For now I will merely note that a strict constructionist permission of sex act X because it is not explicitly condemned vitiates the possibility of condemning social scenario Y when it, too, is not directly and explicitly condemned by a biblical text.  Doubling down is only a good move if you really understand what cards you're playing and to be honest I'm not always sure Mark Driscoll knows what cards he's really doubling down on.

In other words, if Mark wants us to accept that anal sex is all good in the hood because the Bible doesn't directly condemn it then he has concede that if in ancient times there was not direct condemnation of a guy like Jacob wanting Leah and Rachel to participate in a three way that it wasn't condemned.  Was that totally icky?  Yes (sorry about that).  Was that unnecessary?  Not if we seriously attempt to address the problem of Mark Driscoll's selective strict constructionism about biblical prohibitions on sexual activities within marriage.  A man like Driscoll, so apt to employ reductio ad absurdums, sometimes needs to be the recipient of what he doles out to others. The Bible does not explicitly condemn stay at home dads any more than it explicitly prohibits anal sex so if Driscoll wants to play the "I'm a Bible teacher" card and invoke a selectively strict constructionist take on what the Bible prohibits he should think through what this kind of position and method entails. 

 ... and it just dawned on me what a terrible pun is in that last sentence. 

Jared Wilson: Shepherd the flock you've got, not the one you want

Not that I'm a preacher or anything, but I agree. One of my music teachers gave me some advice as a composer that sounds similar, write music for the musicians you actually know, not the ideal musician you want.  Of course with musicians and pastors the difference may be this--there comes a point where instead of just asking someone else to do something you have to also be willing to do it yourself.

Oh ... wait ... never mind.  That's not a difference at all. ;-)

at last, some progress

I've completed parts 1 through 3 of, erm, part four, aka "The Wounds of Discovery".  When DZ suggested I tackle writing about the DCAU it had not dawned on me that I'm basically writing a book's worth of criticism and analysis of superhero cartoons helmed by Paul Dini, Bruce Timm, and company.  But so it has been.  Parts 4 and 5 need to get written and there's a bunch of other stuff I want to tackle, too, that I keep alluding to but not actually discussing here. 

The title is turning out to be an exercise in dry irony as my examination of different villains is revealing that these thugs and schemers don't actually discover anything about their own broken moral compasses.  But their maladaptive reactions to injuries and insults real and imagined certainly helps them discover that they want things they are willing to pursue in villainous ways. 

A memorable villain often wants something that is good but for a bad reason or is willing to use terrible methods to obtain that good.  It is axiomatic that a great villain thinks he or she is actually a hero.  I've tried knocking out parts 4 and 5 but this has been a very challening series to work on even if I discount the off-line/real world distractions of holidays, family events, eye surgery, job hunting, recovering from eye surgery, and the continuing process of getting a musical work published.

But I'm more out of steam than I thought I would be and here I was going for another writing marathon.  So much for that.  Now there's the process of a hundred visions and revisions before the taking of toast and tea and all that.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Priestly Rants--two links on Jonah

I think just the links will suffice here.  I could write a bit about the significance of sermons on Jonah in my life but that would take a while and I'm hoping to conserve my writerly momentum for other topics. Perhaps I can write more about Jonah later or perhaps just these links will suffice.

Link: Guitar & Lute Issues: Matanya Ophee on Performance Practice of 19X guitar music

A fun article, at least for me. That Segovia was a great performer and a powerful personality does not necessarily mean that at all points he was the truest interpreter of music by Sor.  There's audio and score samples in case you're worried there won't be anything but words and more words about music.

HT Phoenix Preacher: Jenell Williams Paris responds to Mark Noll

I could write a thousand or so words on this but I'm just linking, again.  If I'm going to be writing thousands of words right now I've got other subjects to write about.  I've been making some happy progress on "The Wounds of Discovery" and have some other writing to get to.  Being snowed up in Seattle would be pretty terrible if I had a normal job and had to use public transit all the time.  But for a job-hunting free-lance writer ... the snow's not so bad and weekly meal plans are handy.

But after a marathon of writing several thousands words in the last ten hours (not all of which has actually made it on to this blog) now might be the time to get some shut eye.

HT Mere Orthodoxy: We are All Witnesses

Merely linking to this will suffice for me now.

Theology for Women: Wisdom vs the Law on womens' issues

Once again Wendy has articulated a theme I have come to appreciate more fully as I get older and keep reading the Bible.  Wisdom is not the same as the law.  While Wendy may be discovering this as a wife and mother I have discovered it as an unmarried man.  There are many people who try to teach wisdom as though it were law (Law). 

Wisdom is not Law and if anything a huge chunk of the Wisdom literature teaches this.   Does Ecclesiastes teach that we are even that good?  That which is crooked cannot be made straight, that which is lacking cannot be counted.  The race is not to the swift nor victory to the strong nor riches to the wise but time and chance happen to them all.  Yet how many people talk about 'biblical' principles of financial success (a.k.a. `stewardship')? 

How many people believe, down to the soles of their feet, that Job really was disciplined by God for having fear in his heart or nursing some unjustifiable attitudes toward the Almighty?  Does God Himself say about Job to Satan, "He has not rejected me even though you have incited me to punish him without cause?"  Well ... see because of original sin Job really deserved to be in Hell and so what God did was holding back.  Never mind what God said after all. 

Then there's Song of Songs.  This is poetry in which beauty is placed at such a high premium that translating the poem is a challenge.  Given all the debates about what the poems are even supposed to mean we may have to set aside the whole thing about erotica this and typology that and consider that maybe the reason the poems got canonized was because of something English translations can't convey, beauty.  That beauty certainly would have a difficult time coming across if Song of Songs were transformed into a marriage equivalent of a user's guide to Windows Vista.  Don't forget to run as Administrator on this stuff or the programs won't work. 

And then there are the Proverbs themselves. I have written enough about how the book introduces us to its theme by remarking on how the goal is to instruct the naive in wisdom and to give the wise insight into riddles. We may lean too much on the former and not enough on the latter.  The fear of the Lord is beginning of wisdom and this means we trust and do not lean on our own understanding.  Humans are a riddle that humans can never fully figure out.

Orthocuban on the power of stubborn small-mindedness in large groups

When Father Orthoduck was in basic training, he remembers a drill instructor giving us some advice. He said that the Army has a rule book. As long as you follow it, you will not get in trouble or be court-martialed. But, if you break the rule book, two things can happen, one bad and one good. If you break the rules and you win a great victory, they will give you a medal and re-write the rule book. If you break the rules and either something goes wrong, or you do no better than if you had followed the rules, then they will throw the rules at you and court-martial you. The lesson was obvious, you had better follow the rules.

HT: J.S. Bangs: The Road to Dongguan Pier

A linky link for those who might want to read it.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

snow toons

Over the years I have been writing off and on about cartoons.  I have written about Pixar films that I own and enjoy.  I have been writing about the DCAU (aka Timm-verse) and am even now refining "The Wounds of Discovery" this week as part 4 of my Mockingbird series Batman: the Agony of Loss and the Madness of Desire.  I have every episode of the Powerpuff Girls and watch it even if my nieces aren't with me.  Though I don't like Scooby-Doo I shall never begrudge Frank Welker his meal ticket and Shaggy is admittedly one of the most enjoyable voices in the history of toon'dom. The voices of Megatron and Bumblebee have surely paid their dues to the natural fact that cartoons are their own art form.

Got Wallace & Gromit.  I've got Coraline.  I made a point of seeing The Nightmare Before Christmas because no self-respecting fan of animation can have missed what was arguably one of the most important stop-motion animated features of the last twenty years. Got Miyazaki films.  I've got Satoshi Kon's Perfect Blue with plans to one day pick up Paprika.  I've picked up Grave of the Fireflies though I don't have the emotional energy to watch it probably more than once a decade!  I managed to pick up Night on the Galactic Railroad on DVD.  I was one of a few people who saw what was probably one of the only legal showings of Oshii Mamuro's Angel's Egg presided over by the director himself.  I await the opinion of friends about Persepolis. In sum, when I at times drop hints that I'm a cartoon nerd here and elsewhere trust me that I'm not bluffing. 

I am also, I admit, kind of snobby about cartoons, too, which is why when I became completely hooked on Psalms of the Planets (aka Eureka Seven) my nerd ego and snob ego took a few hits along the way.  Some people have rightly described the series as what you might get if Neon Genesis Evaneglion had pink explosions and swirling rainbows. Ha!  When my brother told me about the premise of the show, that people operated mecha that ravelled around on flying surfboards I replied that this sounded like the most lame-ass premise for an anime in the history of anime.  My brother merely replied that, be that as it may, the show was still worth watching.  He wanted me to at least sit through the first five episodes before passing a final judgment.  Okay, so I did. 

The characters were all stock, the music was often goofy in the way that J-pop is ... well, you know.  There were all sorts of maudlin bits about the power of belief and having dreams.  It was the sort of thing where thematically it was making me bristle with the remorseless sentimentality, gooey music, and the beginnings of what looked like a standard-fare emo romance as a certain friend of mine put it at the time.  Yep, all there.  So why was it that by the end of episode 5 I decided to keep watching?  The hazing episode (episode 6) had lots of deliberately awkward and forced humor that on first viewing not only wasn't winning me over but was grating.  The central character, Renton, seemed self-involved, self-pitying, and more than a little annoying.  Yet he also had this embarrasing naivete and trust that, I hate to admit this, I remembered having a bit of in my own earlier teen years.  The character was embarrassing to watch because he sorta reminded me of me from about that age.

But over episodes 6-10 I began to realize that there were hints that this was a wind up for some reveal.  That Eureka was not human was obvious within the first two episodes.  Anyone could have figured that out.  That tossed off characters remarked that Renton's heroes were basically just a bunch of worthless mercenaries, traitors, criminals and thugs was the sort of thing that seemed unimportant in the first few episodes.  By episode 10-12, however, the show had tipped its hand.  An earlier moment where a 14 year old girl makes the huge mistake of disciplining a 5 year old girl who ran off by slapping her in the face was played for laughs at first but soon enough the series revealed that what was played for laughs early on was priming us for learning how and where these characters learned to relate to each other like this. 

And that was what hooked me on the series because the "how" and "where" turned out to be the series theme--what was billed as an action-adventure romp dealing with mecha and flying surfboards turned out to be the pretext for exploring how intergenerational and culturally engrained child abuse is sustained, justified, and assimilated by the recipients and perpetrators of said abuse. When Eureka considers that she deserves to be pelted with food stuffs because she was "a dog for the military" she doesn't stop to consider that there might, possibly, have been anything wrong with adults making her kill hundreds and thousands of people.  She just accepts that she did kill those people and deserves some punishment for it.

When Renton discovers that his childhood hero Holland Novac turns out to be an emotionally distant, short-tempered child abuser the let down isn't just a let down, it's almost stomach-churning.  I began to realize that the characters who were annoying to me because of the tropes they fit into had, by a weird writerly amalgalm, been revealed to be characters who were tropes not "just" because they were story cliches (though, surely, they are) but the back story each character got helped to explain how each character's otherwise rote traits sprung in part from their being consigned certain roles they didn't ask for. 

And along the way stock characters were revealed to be stock in part because they were hiding from themselves.  The initially stand-offish and "cool" Holland is soon revealed to be pathetic, insecure, and prone to compensate for his insecurity by beating others.  The initial impression of his girlfriend Talho as a petty, mean, vindictive woman dressing on the lesser side of modesty turns out to be one of the few characters with an almost strangely consistent moral compass in the series' narrative universe.
As I became hooked on the show and watched all fifty episodes I began to realize that despite the rampant sentimentality and the maudlin aspect of it all I was drawn into the show anyway.  I now hesitate to suggest the series because some six years later I can say, intellectually at least, there are plenty of other anime out there that are more "important". 

But at another level I would say I hesitate to recommend Eureka Seven to just anyone because if I did so I would have to do something that is a bit "politically correct" by some measures, I'd have to include the caveat of "trigger warning".  That is to say that the series directly shows or implies pretty much every conceivable form of abuse and neglect an individual or social unit can possibly afflict upon a child.  If the scenes of Renton's hero Holland kicking him off a platform in a rage are disturbing the things in the backstory of a supporting character like Anemone, if you let them sink in, are simply horrifying.  Call me squeamish but I can't even bring myself to write about those things on this blog.  It is to the credit of the creators of the show that they decided to imply and telegraph rather than unload all of that stuff on the viewer. 

The otherwise rank sentimentality of a cartoon in which a character chooses to love someone and help him stops being a merely sentimental trope if a character chooses to save someone who has punched him in the face, kicked him in the stomach and tossed him off a platform, insulted him, and abandoned him, and breaking a dozen or so promises along the way.  The series moves along and shows us that if one of the good guys is a short-tempered child abuser the bad guys are not necessarily better for including an affable husband and wife team of mercenaries who are kind and sweet yet in the midst of that even more cruel and callous then the child abuser. 

The show Eureka Seven ends on a happy and remorselessly sappy note with a "love conquers all" motiff.  By the time the series wraps up all the gooey sentimentality reaches its apotheosis in such unabashed treacle I don't know how anyone could have written the ending that way without laughing.  Yet, for some reason, it still "works".  Why?  Well, perhaps the best way to attempt explaining this is that if even across religious and secular cultural divides we humans could agree that love hopes all things, believes all things and endures all things then Eureka Seven forced its central characters to endure enough misery (often self-inflicted and even more often inflicted by the people they love and trust) that the profession of mutual love does not seem cheap by the time it is finally expressed. 

When I express my abiding cynicism and skepticism about evangelicals pontificating about how evangelicals don't look into depicting "the tortured beauty of the Cross" I think it's because too many evangelicals look at the cross as an abstraction, even when they attempt to somehow "make it real". It's because the effort of "make it real" is part of a rhetorical procedure in which there is an obvious goal. The goal is to make you feel bad about your failures enough that you make a decision for Christ or rig up the pious water works. It can't be real in that setting because you know you're being played and if you don't you'll soon have your suspicions.  Maybe evangelicals would be better at exploring how love endures all things in the arts if we endured almost anything at all in our day-to-day lives.  I don't mean inconvenient streetlights, obviously.  But enough of that digression.

Not everyone who uses or abuses children will ever repent but by the end of the series one of them does.  One of the things that sticks with me about the series is that a supporting protagonist like Holland can recognize that he has killed too many people to atone for those killings.  He also recognizes that the way he used and abused the children who had been put in his care was wrong and decides that even if he can't stop walking a path where he has to kill to do the soldierly work that is about all he's good at, he can at least kill so that the kids he has taken on to his cause don't have to.  Holland turns out to be the metaphor for an abusive father or father figure who experiences remorse and repents of his abusive ways. 

By way of natural digression this leads to the question of why Holland would be a child abuser.  His girlfriend and (spoiler alert) eventual wife Talho figures it out long before Holland does, Holland finds it easier to "run away" from his own overwhelming sense of failure by taking out his anger on a child than admitting what he was trying to do was a failure.  By the end of the series, despite Holland's best efforts everything he attempted to do turned out to be a failure in terms of what his goals in the formal narrative were.  But in the emotional arc of the series he has stumbled upon salvation by being capable of feeling remorse.  He may have lost the battle he was fighting but by refusing to place victory over human dignity or a willingness to concede utter defeat and failure he ends up still being one of the heroes of the series. 

By contrast, his older brother and nemesis literally gains the whole world at the expense of his own soul and chooses to destroy everything in a bid to, as he sees it, atone for human failure to preserve its own dignity.  There's still that happy ending but I don't feel like spoiling everything.  Dewey Novac creates a team of children trained to kill without hesitation or regret and who are excited to help him orchestrate the death of tens of millions to right the wrongs of a dynastic regime that put its own convenience and power above truth and principle. Trouble is that Dewey does not recognize that his own pursuit of principle and truth is even more cruel and destructive. 

There are also a few asides and implied activities of Dewey I don't really feel like getting into.  My brother endured the film follow-up and let's just say that if the series had the good sense and good taste to avoid spelling out obviously what an alert viwer can put together the film made the grievous mistake of telling and removing all doubt.  There are times in which taking the high gothic horror approach of hinting, suggesting, and implying is far more effective than the low gothic horror route of just having a "gotcha" moment where the monster shows up and you smack the audience in the face with the ugly stuff.

The series never refrains from seizing every possible moment of positively eye-rolling sentimentality or garish humor.  In fact whole episodes are practically built on seizing every possible moment and then forcing in several impossible ones!  But, as John Woo once told an American journalist, it could just be that in Asian story-telling the melodrama has never fallen out of intellectual or cultural fashion.  It was maudlin and is maudlin, it's saccharine in all sorts of places and yet when the show is dark the show is unremittingly dark in ways that stick with me.  I guess that's what the Dostoevsky and Kafka fan in me found intriguing about the show.  The show wasn't going to show us the best and brightest without dragging us through the worst and darkest, often by dragging us through the worst and darkest of even the most sympathetic characters.

I don't know if I feel like explaining every last personal detail but the first time I managed to watch the whole series was in late 2007.  The show had been broadcast in the U.S. on Cartoon Network enough that my brother and a friend of mine told me about it.  The show ended up on DVD and I began to catch up on the show.  By now long-time readers of the blog probably don't have to work too hard to figure out what was going on in later 2007.  That was merely a side story to other more personal things that involved some family difficulties that at that time were on-going and some very big stresses I had at my job. 

Without getting much more detailed by the time I got to episodes 42-46 I was at a point in my life where I was emotionally drained and this was around August 2007, I think.  The cumulative story lines and character arcs all came together in a moment where through happenstance or providence the series hit every raw nerve I had at the same time so hard and fast I had no emotional defenses for it.  I managed to watch the episodes and found them compelling story-telling one weekend and then a whole day later the cumulative effect of the story-telling hit me and I had a three hour long melt down.

Three hours is a long time to have an emotional breakdown.  It was quite unlike anything I experienced in my life before or since.  The significance of it is something I have left in the domain of close friends and some (though not all, or even most) family members.  In fact I'm sort of at a loss to explain it now, even five years or so after it happened.  It's possibly the height of embarrassment for a person to admit to having a three hour melt-down triggered by watching a cartoon but there you go.  It happened to me and I had no idea such a thing was even possible.  In terms of snob appeal or intellectual credibility I don't know if anyone on earth would want to admit to having a meltdown triggered by such a cartoon and the personal significance is something that, frankly, I think would be impossible to share.  As Proverbs puts it the heart knows its own troubles and no other shares its grief (or joy, depending on which translation/reading we're working from).

When I end up snowed in during the winters I drift toward stuff like The X-Files or Eureka Seven or Batman: the animated series.  There's probably some thematic reason for that but I don't feel like writing about that at this point.  This blog entry is quite long enough.

text and context

... When the Lord isn’t talking to this man, kiddingly called a short-fused drama queen by his wife, his critics are blogging about him. Some of the sharper barbs make it difficult for Driscoll to hide the hurt.

When asked why a few of his pastoral peers got worked up over his recent series of sermons on the joy of sex within marriage, Driscoll popped back “because they’re looking at porn.”

No laughter. No chuckle. Not even a smirk. Just a stunned radio host and a few thousand listeners who probably couldn’t believe what they’d just heard from this very misunderstood father of five.

The above article was published in March of 2008 before The Peasant Princess began and after the Scotland sermon on Song of Songs from November 2007. 

Let's consider "because they're looking at porn" for a bit.  No doubt some of them are and some of them were.  But what about John MacArthur?  What about John Piper?  If these men took issue at any point with certain aspects of how Mark Driscoll interpreted Song of Songs in either style or substance would Mark Driscoll legitimately have a basis to say that pastoral peers taking issue with his handling and interpretation of Song of Songs could only be doing so because they were (or are) looking at porn?  This is the kind of response that is nothing more than a personal attack.  If anything that Mark eventually decided the 2007 Scotland sermon should get taken down because it offended some fellow believers might be construed by some of those pastoral peers as a concession that maybe, sometimes, kinda some of those pastoral peers with some criticisms might have kinda, sorta had a point and that dismissing them as porn junkies wasn't the only possible way of interpreting their concerns about Driscoll's teaching.  Or not. 

The Real Marriage sermon series and book tour is gearing up and so there's plenty of time for other people to find out if things have changed. If Mark has had a change of heart about sex as a god, though, it's impossible to glean this from his decade-long insistence that Song of Songs 2:3 refers to oral sex.  One would think that if one had made a god of sex and idealized marriage that repenting of this might completely re-educate and re-inform a pastoral exegesis of a text but that isn't what happened, at least not in the case of the most controversial interpretations of Song of Songs that Mark Drisscoll continually stands by.  There may be little liberty as to what constitutes masculinity in a "biblical" domain for Mark Driscoll but there is a great deal of liberty in the bedroom for those willing to use it.  It would seem that what the Bible does not explicitly condemn in sexual conduct in marriage is free for us to enjoy just so long as a man isn't a stay at home dad or the woman earns more money than he does even though neither of those things is explicitly condemned or forbidden in the scriptures that I can recall.

Mark has a history of doing this sort of thing, this "they're looking at porn" kind of defense, a history long enough that as regrettable as a great deal of the personal attacks on Mark Driscoll's character have been if Mark were observing this sort of ruckus in connection to some other preacher he might connect some dots and suggest that there is a point where you reap what you sow.  For that matter it's not just Driscoll critics who have, at times, said the man has some character flaws.  Observe what Mark's own wife has said about him in the Thor Tolo piece linked above.

If Grace regrets saying her husband is a short-fused drama queen, and if she regrets telling Mark he's Elimelech (listen to the first Ruth sermon from 2007 if you're curious about that and I've written about this elsewhere on this blog) then I'll understand she regrets saying things that ended up in the public where she made fun of her husband's short-temper, drama queen ways, and propensity to assume he's got such a great plan he doesn't have to pray or consider whether God is really behind it.  That's not me taking Mark Driscoll out of context, that's referring back to a sermon Mark preached in which he described an unpleasant truth about himself his wife told him straight.

Have certain folks and particularly ex-Mars Hill members sometimes had a field day ripping on Driscoll in public?  Yes.  Is it unfortunate that sweeping generalizations, reductio ad absurdums, and ad hominems are getting thrown about by Driscoll critics with abandon?  Yeah ... but name me the one good, young evangelical Bible teacher from Britian that is known the world over.  You can't, and that's a problem.  And the problem, the real problem is, that after fifteen years of sowing this kind of seed how exactly do Mark Driscoll and his fans manage to be this surprised by the harvest? What makes the adversarial reactions of anti-Driscoll bloggers so frustrating for me is that when they attack him at a personal level and assume the worst about him we can see what they're doing, they are responding to Driscoll's worst rhetorical flourishes and personal attacks with Driscoll's worst rhetorical flourishes and personal attacks.  Folks, this is not the way to make a case that a person has gone off the rails. 

I'm an unabashed nerd so here goes, when Captain Kirk is about to say or do something stupid who has a better chance of talking him out of it?  Dr. McCoy or Spock?  Often Spock.  Kirk needs both McCoy and Spock on his team but he needs Spock to point out "Captain, that is illogical." A Dr. McCoy could hear Kirk say "The results and numbers are on my side" and say, "That's not proof that what you've done is the right thing." But it takes a Spock to point out that, in fact, here and there are the cases where the results showed that the premise is false, that the results don't prove the method right, they just prove the other people got lucky and that the Captain should not presume on results from the past as proof that something in the present is justified. 

If a Mark Driscoll says "Look at my results [my numbers]" the measured response is not merely to say "Numbers aren't everything" because in Driscoll's mind that admits defeat.  The response is to say, "Well, since Joel Osteen has better numbers than you he's the better pastor if your argument is actually true." We know Mark Driscoll has pilloried Joel Osteen from the pulpit.  It just remains to be shown that when Mark defends his ministry by looking to sheer numbers as results that any one he has denounced in the last ten years who at some point had bigger numbers and more of a draw than him could legitimately say the exact same thing. How can big numbers be proof that Mark Driscoll's doing the right thing but it can't be taken as proof that Joel Osteen is doing the right thing? In fact Ben Irwin points this out right over here:

But even if, for the sake of discussion, we assume that the huge numbers are actually a sign of divine favor this is not the end of the matter.  If a Driscoll wants to tell a British Christian that the results derive from the core difference in approach how do we know this is not, at root, a Corinthian fallacy.  Paul had recurring credibility issues with the Christians in Corinth because he was considered a lesser speaker and thinker than super-apostles, and his authority was sometimes questioned by those who were drawn to form factions.  Paul wrote to warn against the factionalism that was characterizing the Christians in Corinth where some were saying, "I am of Peter" and others were saying "I am of Paul" while still others were saying "I am of Apollos."   There are a lot of people today who are saying "I am of Mark Driscoll" and others who are against that.  This is not how it should be.

And as to the numbers themselves, consider this. Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth he mentioned this:

For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?

What does Mars Hill have that it did not receive?  And it if was received on what basis can Mark Driscoll boast about it to a British journalist as though it were not received as a gift?  How did it become a boasting point in which Mark Driscoll could say that if we look at his numbers and the numbers in British churches that we look at what the obvious variable is for the difference in numbers?  How is this really a nobody telling everybody about Somebody when that nobody is telling another nobody what a somebody he is for the results he's obtained?  The catchphrase can begin to feel as telling and caculated as, well, a catchphrase.  A catchphrase sounds cool when Bruce Willis says it before he kills somebody but it's not necessarily the sign of a shepherd but an action hero, isn't it?

There are people who have begun to put together that Mark Driscoll says odd stuff on record, stuff that cannot be dismissed as merely being taken out of context.  Mark has attempted to do some damage control on making sweeping statements about British pastors that he hopes will alleviate any concerns from his fan base that he might have said something foolish.  Not everyone will let him off the hook, frankly there's no reason he should be let off the hook.  I don't think people need to inveigh about how he shouldn't be in ministry. 

On the other hand, there comes a point where how you treat people and relate to people in public discourse sets a precedent in which they can (and often will) return the favor. If you sow a particular seed of speech over a fifteen year period and the harvest emerges harvest time is not the best time to complain about the kind of fruit you're seeing in your farm.  If the nobody who wants to tell everybody about Somebody finds it aggravating that things he said six years ago are "taken out of context" he should just remember that if there is anything good that has happened through Mars Hill that's all Jesus and if there's anything bad in Mars Hill that's him.  It's what he advised members to consider over the years and it's not bad advice.

HT Mockingbird: Kathryn Schulz On Being Wrong

When Schulz asks, "What does it feel like to be wrong?" she gets answers such as, "Embarrassed".  Then she explains that these are not answers to the same question.  These answers are answers to the question, "What does it feel like to realize you're wrong."

It is possible to go on for quite some time being wrong but never feel wrong and to, in fact, be certain that you're right.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

well, it snowed in the Emerald City

Last time we got a big snow storm in Seattle I nestled into my computer desk and watched that X-Files episode where Mulder and Scully are in that episode tribute to Carpenter's The Thing.  It was a fun episode and there was nothing quite like being snowed into the neighborhood to make me feel like watching an episode from the first five (actually good) seasons of The X-Files.

Might have to watch "Tooms" this time.

evangelicals, poetics, and sex
Some links from Matthew Lee Anderson with a handful of quotes

As religion reporter Mark Oppenheimer wrote way back in 1999, “America is in a golden age for Christian sex manuals.”
from Peter Leithart
... Christians today often read the Song as lusty celebration of sex. Some try to wipe away the prudish poetry to peep at the sex acts of Solomon and his Shulammite. Such an approach simply projects contemporary obsessions into an ancient text. It assumes that we already know what real sex is. We have outgrown romance and now know that sex is no more than a clash of bodies and an exchange of fluids. There is no magic, no mystery, only friction, only technique. Reading the Song as disguised pornography reinforces and sacralizes the sexual confusions of our age.
Even as an erotic poem, the Song has much to teach. Robert Alter observes that in much of the world’s erotic literature, “the body in the act of love often seems to displace the rest of the world.” By contrast in the Song, “the world is constantly embraced in the very process of imagining the body. The natural landscape, the cycle of the seasons, the beauty of the animal and floral realm, the profusion of goods afforded through trade, the inventive skill of the artisan, the grandeur of cities, are all joyfully affirmed as love is affirmed.” Solomon is no courtly lover who abandons the world and all to chase after his bride. When he turns from the world, he rediscovers his world in her. That insight alone is enough to justify the Song’s inclusion in the wisdom literature.
The poet John Donne would later transform this poetic elision of lover and landscape into, "Oh my America, my Newfoundland. ... how I am blest in thus discovering thee!"

When Donne wrote that poem the New World was still being explored and discovered in all sorts of ways.  Perhaps Donne's metaphor has lost all its power now that we can buy topographical maps of almost any detail in America now?  We can work out the annual rainfall per state and know the cash crops of each particular region.  There's even a weather channel or two and we can use satellites and GPS to navigate all sorts of places. America, perhaps, has ultimately risen to the occasion of completely demystifying the metaphorical force of an English poet's use of America as a metaphor through evangelical instructors on sex and marriage.

Psyblog writes about anticipatory regret as a guide to decision-making. Ouch!

The odd thing is that some psychologists argue that anticipated regret may be stronger than the actual regret we would feel if our choices don't work out.

Anticipated regret is such a powerful emotion that it can cause us to avoid risk, lower our expectations, steer us towards the familiar and away from new, interesting experiences.

Anyone ever been on a job hunt longer than two years?  Then you know what this feels like! 

Monday, January 16, 2012

hands down the best satire of beauty products I have ever seen

Thanks to the non-blogging Totoro Man for spotting it. 

Carl Trueman: On Media and Messages

A few years ago, I was on a panel discussing the Puritans. A member of the audience asked if I could provide `a few bullet points' to summarise Puritan theology. My mind immediately went to those passages of John Owen and Richard Baxter where they give the reader the fifteenth point of the seventeenth qualification of the twentieth application of a doctrine or passage. `No, I'm afraid I can't.' I replied, `The Puritans were not bullet point people in the modern sense.'

Of course these days there are pastors who love providing a few mere bullet points to some door-stopping book like William Gurnall's The Christian in Full Armour.  If I were trapped in Seattle on a cold night without gas or electric heat and had to keep myself warm then if I lit the unabridged Gurnall book on fire it would probably keep my feet warm for maybe five to ten minutes, a while for a ream of paper anyway.  I've seen a summary of Gurnall's teaching that spanned 120 pages but not a few bullet points.  And this, mind you, is just one Puritan.  J. I. Packer gave a roughly ten hour overview of the Puritans for anyone who'd really want the "a few bullet points" version.

Amusingly enough Trueman links to the following article with a fun title.  PG-13 language alert for the readers here.

Never apologise, never explain. And you have 109 characters left...

We can all sympathise, I am sure, with the predicament of Diane Abbott MP last week. "White people love playing 'divide & rule'. We should not play their game," she tweeted. Put under pressure to clarify this, she hastily explained: "Tweet taken out of context. Refers to nature of 19th- century European colonialism. Bit much to get into 140 characters."
Yep, we've all been there. There you are wanting to tweet a nuanced disquisition on ethnic communities under the white 19th-century imperial hegemony and, damn it, Twitter's wretched character limit has gone and cut you off before you've barely begun.

... For ever since that "pretty straight kind of guy" Tony Blair arrived on the scene, we have come to take it almost for granted that when our politicians swear blind they're telling the truth, they are lying through their teeth. And that, of course, when they claim they've been quoted out of context, they meant every single ugly word.

Mockingbird: Neophilia: why new is never enough

Ha!  I was checking the Mockingbird site as I was wrapping up my last entry to see if there was anything new to read.  I'm savoring the various levels of irony in that.  Turns out what they were posting about neophilia tied in with what I just wrote about my personal journey of discovering that the things I thought I was working on that could be new are not that new and how Rebay's work is being recovered.  More on Rebay later.  I'd love to write about my impressions of his music but I have other things to be writing. 

The excitement of the not-new

Long-time readers of this blog may be interested in or utterly bored by my occasional ramble on "classical" music.  If you come to the blog for stuff about Mark Driscoll or about what happened to Lief Moi then I understand that's the sexier set of terms in a search engine than, say, Anton Diabelli's guitar sonatas or a question about how such and such articulation markings on an English horn may have been selected by Castlenuovo-Tedesco for his Ecloghues.  That's all fair.  And if you're into the former and not the latter you probably just skip out entirely on blog posts reflecting on how the art of contrapuntal writing in choral literature by Tallis or Byrd or Palestrina would inform a guitarist trying to complete 24 preludes and fugues for solo guitar.

I hope to write in a way that skips the sea of technical minutae and instead write about the process of discovery I have made over the last ten years.  One of the things about history is that history is a sea you cannot possibly navigate in its fullness no matter how swift or big or broad you may think your mind is.  In other words, when Koholeth wrote there is nothing new under the sun this was a warning to those who thought they were so innovative they sincerely believed they were doing something no one had done before.  Is there something new?  See it has already existed in times past.

When I began working on my giant cycle of sonatas for guitar, woodwinds, strings, and brass I had the impression no one had even attempted such a cycle before.  Well, a guy in his twenties can be forgiven for not knowing anything about the fifteen chamber works for guitar composed by Ferdinand Rebay!  I have only been introduced to Rebay's works within the last few years thanks to some of William Feasley's recordings, particularly the d'Amore Duo CDs I still intend to write about this year.  Rebay was able to publish arrangements of Beethoven and Korngold and was a prolific composer but he lost his teaching position in the Anschluss and died in poverty and forgotten.  It has only been since about 2005 that his works have started getting even some attetnion again.

Only scholars of the most esoteric and specialized knowledge would have had any idea that Ferdinand Rebay even existed, let alone have heard his music.  What this means at a personal level is that a big lifelong project I've had of composing a cycle of chamber works for guitar and assorted instruments is not new. Even back when I thought it was possibly without precedent this merely proved that not only I but a majority of classical guitarists just didn't have enough history in hand to realize this was not the case. Fortunately the impetus and inspiration to create music does not require that one ever be innovative! 

When I began working in 2007 on a cycle of 24 preludes and fugues it was because it seemed like a fun project.  I had not heard of such a cycle being composed before but I could not bring myself to believe that in the centuries of the guitar's existence that no one had even considered such a project.  In time I was introduced to Castelnuovo-Tedesco's 24 preludes and fugues for guitar duet.  I also discovered Igor Rekhin's cycle for solo guitar.  Neither composer could be called a guitarist and so I thought, well, this means I might be the first guitarist to tackle such a project ... which seemed odd considering how many thousands of guitarists there are who must be better than me.  And last year I read Koshkin has finished his cycle, which makes him the first guitarist to compose a large contrapuntal cycle in the history of the instrument. 

Now if my ego were inextricably tied to doing something no one had done before I and the rest of us would all be miserable people indeed.  I had a friend in college who remarked in frustration about a fellow college student of ours, "He writes about sex like nobody has ever discovered sex before."  Well, okay, you know but as the axiom has it, everyone has a first time.  We know that doesn't literally mean everyone of course but you get the idea. Something may be the most mundane and provincial thing on earth but for a person who has never had sex before and is in love sex appears to be a big, big deal.  A person who has never ridden a bike before won't care that millions and millions of people have ridden bikes before. 

There are freedoms, opportunities, and experiences that are not new and ultimately will not be new that may be new for us precisely because someone who has come before us fought the battles and undertook the struggles to make what is, for us, a still ultimately mundane experience to be normal, even as pedestrian as it must be to be taken for granted and not perceived, in its way, to be a miracle.
I am able to see because countless men and women refined the procedures of cataract removal surgery and scleral buckling to a point where I can read despite having had a very nasty cataract in one eye and a macular detachment in the other.  I have benefited a great deal from not having to be the first patient to have needed such care!  There are times when there is something new under the sun and you don't want to be involved in that unless it is the accidental necessity of what ends up being called history.

There are many ways in which we can regard the past.  One is to only ever regard the past as full of human evils that must be transcended.  This is a resolutely foolish and useless way to see history and people.  You will never ultimately transcend the foibles and fallacies of previous generations even if you pierce through the veil of their cognitive biases and uncover ways to overcome those.  You are the offspring of that generation, after all.  You will still have cognitive biases and shortcuts of thought.  You will still make some horrible mistakes based on almost inexcusably terrible oversights, underestimations, overestimations and accidents of historical blindness. 

Another is to consider the past brilliant and worthy of preservation but in this case you are not preserving the past, you are looking to the past and reading yourself into it.  The people who often seem most likely to do this, of course, are the people who are convinced of their power to change history now.  Think of any number of Republican candidates who will try to sell themselves as continuing the legacy of Reagan these days.  Consider any number of Democrats who would attempt to convince us that Camelot will return.  Or, to be a classical guitarist about it, how many guitarists who I'm sure you've never heard of before have released press copy talking about how so-and-so carries on the great tradition begun by Segovia. 

It probably goes without saying that I don't consider either approach to be very wise.  There is a way to embrace the past without overlooking its horrors just as there is obviously a way to consider the new not only with some caution about how new it truly is but to consider that the new may not always be good.  The new that is pursued is usually pursued, in the end, for some old reason that a lot of people could agree upon.  That's the thing even about the truly new, the truly new when it comes, pleases us for the oldest of possible reasons.

Tall Skinny Kiwi: The English Church that went up a mountain and came down a hill ...

Worth it just for the cartoon alone.  The dry joke about why more people are actually coming to church is well worth the laugh it should bring you if you don't take your ideas of church (and the reasons you tell yourself people should be attending yours) too seriously.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

HT: Practical Theology for Women: Tebowmania as the worst of American Christianity

Can't improve on this recent blog post by Wendy over at Practical Theology for Women. 

"in context" is not just about paragraphs on a page

I have noticed that when the situation of Ted Haggard comes up Drisccoll and his supporters say he gets taken out of context.  He never talked about the Haggards.  Yes, this absolutely true given what I saw published at the time.  Driscoll critics need to bear this in mind and abandon the canard that Mark Driscoll said Ted Haggard hired a male prostitute and did drugs because Gayle Haggard had let herself go. There are far, far too many lazy people who have run with this canard and I fear that no matter how many times I may attempt to correct that it won't matter. People committed to thrashing Mark Driscoll via blogging will just keep doing that.

But it's no less true that when the situation of the Haggards was made known Mark Driscoll took time to say that some pastor's wives really let themselves go.  And what was the context for mentioning this observation that had nothing whatever to do with the wives of pastors who "let themselves go?" Oh, that's right, the Ted Haggard scandal.  In other words, even if Mark Driscoll wants to have his cake and eat it, too, he can say the remark was taken out of context in terms of paragraphs and bullet points but the context in which the statement was made was still in response to the news about Ted Haggard having spent time with a male prostitute and taking drugs.

So, unfortunately. it is only at the most woodenly literal level that Driscoll can say his statement was taken out of context.  There is, as I hope to illustrate, a significant difference between a literary context and a historical context.  Bible scholars must surely grasp this as necessary to understanding what a biblical text and a biblical author are getting at.  Yes, in a purely literary context Driscoll said nothing about the Haggards and wives letting themselves go as having something to do with gay prostitutes and drug use. 

Yet in historical context his statement could not have been taken out of context if he had never used the downfall of Ted Haggard as a pretext for deciding to "take one for the team" (which team was that?) and make a remark about sexually unavailable pastor's wives.  A man who spends so much time telling guys they need to think about legacy, you would think, would have thought about this a bit more.

If he had exercised some self-restraint in that hour this quote about wives who really let themselves go wouldn't be around to be taken "out of context" at a purely literary level five or six years later when the historical context has remained fresh in the minds of anyone who bothered to read what Driscoll published.

Mark Driscoll may comfort himself with the idea that his critics keep taking things he says out of context and if he wants to keep thinking 1,000 members "left" when their memberships got cancelled in late 2007 and they were asked to "renew" then it makes sense that he could decide that a question about something like "wives who let themselves go" is "out of context" because it was connected to Ted Haggard and that was taken out of context. After all, what Mark Driscoll has told us is true from a certain point of view.  If we were given the opportunity to interview the 1,000 members who didn't renew their membership they might provide a different story than the rather vague one Mark Driscoll shared with the Gospel Coalition about members who "left". 

As for the remark about the wives who let themselves go it's small consolation that Mark Driscoll did not happen to speak to the situation of the Haggards.  It doesn't matter that he didn't speak to that situation.  He still used the Ted Haggard moment as the occasion to "take one for the team" and say a lot of pastor's wives really let themselves go. They put on weight, are not sexually generous (maybe I should rephrase that as "visually generous" but some guys that are married and pastors may be blind).

There seems to be something Mark Driscoll doesn't always get, that context is not just retroactive but cumulative.  The trouble with a guy like Driscoll saying he's taken out of context is that the most problematic stuff he says is usually something that is problematic even when taken in context. Why, exactly, did Ted Haggard's revelation of drug use with a male prostitute become the opportunity to even mention that some straight male pastors felt trapped in their marriage to wives who were not satisfying them in the bedroom?   As the downfall of a Haggard goes remarking on the wives of pastors that aren't Ted Haggard is a non-sequitur.  Even those of us who were at one point very happy Driscoll supporters were scratching our heads wondering, "Why on earth did he just publish that!?"

Well, thanks to the abundant sharing of the Driscolls it seems now we may finally know.  Real Marriage gives us a new context in which to understand the things Mark Driscoll has said and published in the past and the remark in the wake of the Haggard scandal about wives not being sexually generous is no exception. To go by the confessions in chapter 1 of Real Marriage it would appear Mark wasn't just thinking about other pastors who at some point felt trapped in a marriage to a wife who wasn't being sexually generous.  He may have been remembering how wanting in sexual generosity his own wife might have been at the time, possibly even the day he decided to "take one for the team".

Here's a bit of unsolicited advice from one communications major to another. There's this thing called "on the record" and it means that what you say in the public sphere gets remembered. There's this other thing about the concept of "in context". If you're a professional minister "in context" does not merely mean that sentence B is considered in light of sentence A and sentence C. It means statements are considered in the broader context of your life in ministry, particularly if you end up being a public figure. If you said something in public five or six years ago about wives letting themselves go and then this year publish a book admitting you resented your wife for not being sexually generous the problem is that the new book provides a new context for understanding the old quote.

And now "in context" means that what the Driscolls admitted about their marital history sheds a new light on how and why Mark Driscoll would, on the event of Ted Haggard's downfall, seem curiously concerned about straight male husbands who were pastors who had wives that had them "trapped" in the marriage and let themselves go or were not sexually generous lovers.  That concern (even if we agree it is a legitimate one) had pretty much nothing to do with a man hiring a male prostitute and taking drugs. As such, the only way to make sense of why a married man like Mark Driscoll would choose that strange occasion to "take one for the team" about sexually ungenerous wives may, at length, have finally been given some context by Real Marriage.

Mark Driscoll and the poker tell

I  see Mark Driscoll has had a go at my old country. Well, not really. Only foreigners really talk of 'Brits.' Those of us from the UK never think of ourselves in those terms: we are English, Welsh, Scottish or Irish, especially during the Six Nations. To have a go at the old country, you have to be a bit more specific, I am afraid.

I am surprised at the offence his comments have apparently caused. I cannot speak for the Celts, but the English take a certain pleasure in being hated and rubbished by everyone else. The nation -- like the man -- who has no enemies has, after all, no honour. Nevertheless, there is one quotation which is worth noting:

"Let's just say this: right now, name for me the one young, good Bible teacher that is known across Great Britain. You don't have one - that's the problem."

Notice the three important elements of this sentence: the definite article, 'young' and 'known across Britain.' The Great Man, youth and fame: not high on the list of Paul's priorities; and three basic elements of celebrity culture.

A bit of a poker tell, is it not?

a haiku

Today I got a
fortuneless fortune cookie.
Have I no future?

Link: J. S. Bangs reviews Destiny Disrupted

Self explanatory here and it's a concise overview of a book that might interest folks. 

HT Jim West: Who Were Those Demon-possessed swine?

HT Practical Theology for Women: Esther providentially subverts stupid and wicked men

I've linked to this intriguing post from Wendy at Practical Theology for Women. But the problem is the link is a bit wonky right now and won't lead you to the text.  I also can't tell if there won't be another link that pops up by the time I link to a general site.

I have no commentary to add to what Wendy has written except by adding an emphasis that isn't in her original. You'll know it when you read it.

Thursday, January 12, 2012
How Should Christian Women Who Value Submission Think of Vashti and Esther?

I've spoken in times past of my concerns about the things some complementarians say that I think actually undermine the position. As a Christian woman, I have learned to strongly value the words help, submit, and respect—at least when those terms are used the way God intended when He used them first in His Word. The more I embrace these words in my home, the more annoyed I get with teachers who are sloppy with the terms and sloppy with Scripture when trying to defend these concepts. And one place we do that is with the story of Vashti and Esther in the Old Testament.

So I ask the simple question, how SHOULD women who are IN Christ and IMAGE BEARERS of God read the book of Esther? Well, first, the way I've worded the question sets me up as an authority that I am not. Second, it sounds like you are obligated to agree with my analysis, but that's not true either. As I often say, this blog is just a lecture to myself, so I'm really only answering the question how should this Christian woman (me) who values submission think of Vashti and Esther. Maybe I'll say something here that the Spirit causes to resonate with you, and that's good too.

There are a few principles that help me navigate the story of Esther. First, I must remember with any story in Scripture the very great difference in DESCRIPTIVE and PRESCRIPTIVE passages. Many, many times in the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, we are given stories without commentary that we are not ever intended to embrace as examples to us. Don't cut up your concubine and spread her remains around the camp of those who murdered her. And please don't kill your daughter as a sacrifice just because she's the first one to walk out a tent after you make a vow to God. It's not a good idea to lay down in the middle of the night at the foot of the bed of a man whose attention you are hoping to land. And we don't prescribe that all widows move in with their mother in law and marry their husband's cousin just because the book of Ruth describes that scenario.

Second, Scripture is the best commentary on itself. We know from Genesis 2 that woman was created to be a strong helper in the image of God. That certainly reflects on Esther—she was strong for the children of God, helping to protect them by potentially sacrificing her own life to get the ear of the king. We also know from Genesis 3 that the curse among other things is that man oppresses woman (see here and here). Well, boy howdy, that certainly reflects on the story of Vashti and Esther. There is no indication of any virtue in the king towards women in that story. God's people are basically in captivity and the king demonstrates no faith in God. He's not the worst of kings, evidenced by the fact he didn't kill Vashti. But he's obviously feared—Esther keeps the fact she is Jewish secret from him at the start. And he is willing to wipe out an entire people, male and female, based on Haman's flimsy reasoning of their threat to his kingship. The king has a harem and concubines. There is nothing about him that reflects virtue or goodness.

In terms of Ephesians 5 and wifely submission, Esther does submit, but not to the king. She submits to Mordecai, who is neither her husband or father—when he says don't tell the king you're Jewish, she doesn't. When Mordecai encouraged her to defy the king's orders by approaching him about sparing the Jews, she does. In the end, there is nothing about Esther's story that can be reasonably construed as having anything to do with wifely submission in terms of Ephesians 5. [emphasis mine]

Here is what Esther teaches us as Christian women who value submission.
1) Nothing about submission.
2) Everything about the sovereignty of God.

Esther is a beautiful book, much like Ruth, on God's supernatural moving behind the scenes to preserve His people, particularly the line of the Messiah. To this end, Vashti's refusal is as much a part of God's sovereign plan to move Esther into the place where she could advocate for God's people as Esther's promotion to queen.

If you want to understand what God prescribes about help, submission, headship, and respect, don't read Esther for advice or example. However, the book of Esther has much to teach us about our sovereign Father in heaven who wrote a story before time began and declared it FINISHED on the cross. When we face uncertainties in life, the same God who is never mentioned in Esther is the same one flying under the radar at times in our life. He holds it all together though, and His plan will be accomplished: 

Colossians  1: 16 For by him (Jesus) all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together