Friday, March 02, 2012

Part 4B, "The Wounds of Discovery: Ultimate Fighter, Ultimate Humiliation" up on m-bird

The latest installment of Batman: The Agony of Loss and the Madness of Desire has just gone up over at Mockingbird. As my friends over at Mockingbird would put it, another week ends.

Practical Theology for Women on the Dysfunctional but Cherished Church

You cannot say to Jesus, “I like your Head, but your Body disgusts me.” It is His BODY. God chose this picture to communicate to us something deep and beautiful about His people.

Probably this quote sums up the overall point most succinctly.  This can be taken further into Ivan Karamazov's legendary comment that he had no particular problem with God, he just refused to accept God's world. Maybe play with the overlap between those two ideas a bit and think about them; I don't feel like writing a huge amount about them even though I've thought about them for years.  This is just me throwing out a few ideas for your consideration.

Roy Baumeister on egotism and aggression

In his 1999 book Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty Roy Baumeister devotes a chapter to dispelling the commonly held idea that violence emerged from low self-esteem.  He referred to a variety of studies and sources showing that where there is real low self-esteem violence and aggression are not common.  Yet those with very high and stable self-esteem are also not prone to violence. To put it in superheroic terms we all know Superman is not a guy who wants to be violent because Superman!  He's nearly indestructible and so good-natured only a sociopath would want to cross him. Superman is the ideal high ego person who actually lives up to the hype and is well-regarded. 

Of course Baumeister eschews fictional depictions of good and evil in favor of case studies and research and historical figures. He notes that the people most likely to commit violence or to act aggressively are those who have a high but malleable (even volatile) self esteem.  People with bipolar disorder tend to be most violent and aggressive not in their depressive cycle but their manic cycle. Income and status inequality are huge leading indicators that domestic abuse will happen, most especially when men "marry up".

Baumeister is careful to note that when men from low economic and social strata marry up but turn out to be hugely successful (think the high school graduate who becomes a millionaire, corporate tycoon, or success somebody) the odds of abuse significantly drop (six times less likely to happen by Baumeister's account).  Abuse is far more likely when the wife is of a higher social or economic status than the man and the man has a "good" education and particularly if he considers himself to have a lot of potential. Physical abuse ends up being a temptation succumbed to a partner who wants to even the playing field.  The reason I now use "partner" instead of husband is because Baumeister in his chapter on egotism and revenge points out that in lesbian couples status inequality is even more indicative that domestic abuse will happen.

So here I can't resist being the single guy who puts this terrible Christianese spin on the warning to not be unequally yoked.  The usual Christianese argument is that Christians shouldn't date non-Christians but let's play with the idea that even among believers an unequal yoking is a foolish idea because of the potential for future abuse within a marriage.  A combination of status inequality between a husband and a wife, particularly in marriages where the man believes the man should be king of his castle, status inequality within the marriage is a strong predictor of physical and emotional abuse.

Nowhere is the tendency to resort to verbal and physical violence in response to status threats more evident then in young men.  Surprise?  No, of course not.  As Baumeisterhas put it not just in his book but in subsequent presentations men tend to creature cultures and social systems in which honor and prestige become zero sum games.  Attempting to create social units in which there can never be a zero sum game works in family settings but the rest of the world simply does not, will not, and probably cannot function at that level all the time.  Inequalities will invariably exist. In men there is so much honor to go around. 

What Baumeister drives home in his chapter on egotism and vengeance is that high but unstable self-esteem is where most violence and aggression often come from. What this means at a practical level is if a man, for instance, is in a setting where he controls the social conditions and terms of interaction he can be very friendly, generous, thoughtful, considerate.  No sooner has his competence been questioned, however, then he gets into what Baumeister and others have at times called the "badass" mode.  The stance of the badass is not necessarily to always be fighting but to win select fights to establish prestige and influence.  The goal of the stance of the badass is to AVOID fights except for the ones that retain his prestige.  Should he come across a fight he knows he can't possibly win then playing the cool customer who's above the fray may be a wiser move, if he's got a modicum of self-control.

But if people he considers beneath him, even slightly, question his competence, fighting ability, or social status, the kid gloves come off.  If the fight is over a specific act there is a danger of escalation, if a fight is over a perceived injury to one's pride or self esteem then it can spiral into a retaliatory act that has little to do with the actual occasion of offense.

Let me pick a story from 2 Samuel. You probably know the one, David and Bathsheba.  David sends for Bathsheba and has sex with her. She turns out to be pregnant and David arranges for Uriah the Hittite to be killed in battle.  When Nathan confronts David about his sin he confronts David about taking a man's wife and killing him.  Bu tnotice that this is not where Nathan stops. Nathan explains that because David privately exploited the power and influence of his position over Israel to please himself the punishment would be public disgrace?  Why?  Because David's role was to be as a leader of God's people and to fight battles for Israel. 

That he abdicated going into battle himself "in the season when kings went to war" and stayed home already bodes ill within the narrative. David's private use of his power to take what he wanted and kill people who were obstacles to his having his way in secret would lead to public shame, disgrace, and an insurrection. If we merely look at what Nathan said as a mechanistic declaration we'll miss that Nathan was addressing not merely the incidents with Bathsheba and Uriah the Hittite but a problem in David's attitude toward the throne itself.  He'd done worse than merely "get soft" by not going to battle when he could have, he'd become selfish. He also did not always succeed in administrating regional justice. 

This was an issue not merely in the egregious failure to punish Amnon (his son) for raping Tamar (his daughter), it became an issue in David's rule as a whole which Absalom would eventually exploit. Readers who wish to simply declare that God made things stink for David big time because of the Bathsheba incident.  I would propose that is not taking the entire narrative of Samuel/Kings quite seriously enough.  To say the sword would not depart from the household of David was saying that strife would span generations, not merely that David's own reign was going to hit some bumpy times.  Now if OT scholars correct me on that point that's cool.  I am writing as a layman here. 

David's failure became public because of a piling on of failure after failure in public. In fact if anything we could suggest, at a purely narrative level, that part of David's problem was that he trusted that because he did that one thing the sword wouldn't depart from his household and that enemies would arise within his own house.  But did he keep any of this stuff in mind when Amnon raped Tamar?  Can't say for sure.  Did he keep any of this in mind as things went south with Absalom?  He was still reluctant to have anyone harm his son. Absalom does seem to embody a vengeance in which he murdered his brother for raping his sister. A crime of that nature warranted punishment, a punishment David wasn't willing to mete out, but we are not necessarily told that Absalom's punishment was just.  Absalom, like Saul, was willing to make a monument to himself. Perhaps, to be a bit speculative here, there are more than a few figures in the Bible who could be said to have very high but unstable egos and, perhaps not too shockingly, they tend to be violent men who use violence to solve their problems. Of course let's not forget some of them were men who loved the Lord.

Now, back to the modern-day badass, the man who is apt to resort to aggression to restabilize his ego, Baumeister proposes that if a man rates himself as a 9 or a 10 on a scale of 1 to 10 but people repeatedly assess him to be somewhere around the range of 5 or 6 then he will constantly be reacting aggressively to slights against him. Baumeister emphasizes this is not a reaction of someone who has low self-esteem.  This is the reaction of a man with inflated self-worth, an exaggerated self-esteem, a man who may be construed as more hat than cattle.  People with stable high self-esteem or stable low self-esteem don't have an incentive to fight.  They know they rock or they know they suck.  But people who are sure they rock and are better than you but whom you make a critical remark about, those folks are going to fight.  Their ego very much depends on fending off any sense of attack on credibility. If you disrespect the man he'll make you pay for it. If you're accomodating and go along with things and let him be the master of the hour he could be a very nice guy. Question him or show him up on anything his ego is seriously invested in, though, and beware. He might physically or verbally attack you. 

Baumeister notes that violence and aggression are even more likely to happen in cases where men with high but unstable self-esteem are in settings where others are watching.  He describes a case in which a small younger man was physically jabbed by an older man.  The young man gave the older man an aggressive stare and quietly (this part is important) asked the older man what he wanted.  The older man dropped his head.  The young man explained that he knew that in a straight up fight he'd lose so what he did was make sure to confidently address the older, bigger man privately so that there would be no crowd to egg on a fight. There are conflicts that can be resolved privately amongst dudes because no one's ego has automatically been put on the line.  If someone's ego is vulnerable enough in a public setting they might even resort to, say, a pre-emptive attack. Baumeister says this is because a true threat to one's ego is dangerous enough to the bully that he will be inclined to attack at the slightest provocation. If it seems like you're ABOUT to attack his ego he'll attack you whether or not what you said or did was anything like an actual attack on his ego.

Now the thing is that if you don't present a threat to the ego of such a man, he will come off as warm, inviting, sociable, even friendly. If you meet a man who seems humble and generous and friendly when he meets you in some setting he agrees to you may not be dealing with a truly humble man.  If you meet with a man who is willing to meet with you on terms that are not helpful to him or that do not make him look particularly good or in control or comfortable you may not be dealing with a humble man but the odds are better that a man who is willing to meet you in circumstances that aren't entirely of his choosing is a tiny bit more likely to actually be humble than the man who meets on terms of his choosing.  I wonder how Christians might consider this idea in terms of the Incarnation ... .
Baumeister and others have done a lot of work to point out that the idea that bullies have low self-esteem is emphatically false.  They are frequently egotistical and consider themselves to be better people than we would.  They are apt to become aggressive and violent when our report of them, or our response to them, tells them we don't think they are as awesome as they've been convincing themselves they are.  In one of those peculiar paradoxes of how egotism can spawn aggression and violence violent men can often justify their violence by citing that they have been disrespected by people who needed to know their real place. When it comes time to put someone down or downgrade their assessment of themselves history has shown that the bully will almost always prefer to put someone down if he thinks he can get away with it.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Cinemagogue on Wile E Coyote's grasping the wind

I like to think of Coyote as willingly bringing upon himself a punishment like that of Sissyphus but that may highlight how different my approach is from James'. James is the extravorted big picture guy able to provide an overview of the big themes and key characters for dozens of films.  I'm the introverted guy going episode by episode for a few shows to exhaustively explore story structure, specific character arcs for supporting roles, and seeing how every piece of a puzzle fits together.  James is great at making things accessible and I unabashedly revel in the arcane.  We tackled a couple of films together in Film & Theology over the years.  Those were good times. :) I still try to go to events when I can.

Anyway, enjoy this little musing of James' on Loony Toons.

What could Andrew Breitbart have to do with The City?

What lesson were we supposed to learn? Back when he staged the JournoList intervention/inquisition, he was trying to tell me that the gatekeeper media was dying. No one could control the news cycle anymore. No one trusted the press anymore. Just declare your bias and get to work, because anybody with a camera or an Internet connection can take you out or show you up. [emphasis added] I don’t think Breitbart won his culture war. The political media culture we’re living in now, though, is the one he made.

Even a proprietary platform used to keep things "private", on the internet, is still a few clicks away from being public. This is why information in an information economy is simultaneously obscenely cheap and obscenely precious.  You can tell yourself you're preserving your privacy without realizing you tweeted and blogged it all away through social media and social networking sites without realizing it.  By now we have learned that if it ends up in The City there's no reason it couldn't eventually end up in front of The World.

It may be that what we've seen is what some people say about Marvel continuity about the X-Men, history may not repeat itself, but it definitely rhymes. Time will tell if the rhyming will produce a couplet or a limerick.

Robert Cargill posts culminate in "On Being Wrong as a Scholar"

All three links are conveniently back to back posts but I link to them all separately so you can see this quick sequence of posts and how Cargill's post "On Being Wrong as a Scholar" reads within the blogging context of what Cargill wrote earlier.

I might only add, not as a professional scholar but as someone who studied journalism that retractions and new statements indicating you changed your mind also help.  A pet peeve of mine over the last fifteen years has been that I come across people who will argue ardently for position A.  Then at some point they change their mind and then argue for position B as though it were always what they thought.  Or they will pretend they never held to position A or dismissively avoid discussing how they got to position B in terms of evidence for or against.  Or in other cases folks argue for position A when it turns out B has been the reality.  You might be able to guess from this I've seen this a bit, particularly in some church settings. .:) 

So, anyway, some blog entries from Cargill for you to peruse today.

Reboot Christianity on Prophesy and the Silence of God

Michael Belote stakes out a view sort of like the one I've come to about prophecy after spending months digging into Deuteronomy 16-18, we should keep in mind that when people ask, "Why doesn't God speak to us the way He spoke so often to people in Israel or the apostolic era?" the answer is, "Go back and look over the Bible and you'll see that God didn't talk as much as you might think.

In many cases the cessationist/continuationist debates seems more and more a debae about the basis for institutional authority within a contemporary church than a debate about how ancient Israelites and early Christians would have actually understood the role of a prophet or prophetic activity.

And if you have a lot of time here are a few blasts from the past where I discussed different things as I did reading and background reading on Deuteronomy 16-18 in the wake of a belated blog freak out a video clip from you-know-who.

HT Frank Turk The Ruling Elder on Mark Driscoll, the Trinity, and W. G. T. Shedd

Shedd says that those who make the claim that the attempt to define the relationship between the persons of the Trinity is misguided are not the strongest defenders of the Scriptural doctrine of the Trinity, nor have such men been the most successful in keeping clear of Sabellianism. Mark Driscoll is a man who thinks such definitions are misguided. He was interviewing a man who is a Sabellianist (Sabellius being the founder of Modalism which is the ancient form of the modern Oneness view of the Trinity). And guess what? Driscoll did not show himself to be a strong defender of the Scriptural doctrine of the Trinity! Shedd was right.
I'd quote more but I don't feel like it.  I've sometimes wanted to wade into Driscoll and Jakes but I've had other things going on like the continuing search for work and tackling a few free-lance projects this month. Blog entries like the above remind me that there's always someone else better situated to address some things than I often am so now that Elephant Room 2 has come and gone I don't have much to add.  I had thought, naively, Driscoll was actually going to ask the really tough questions but I mistook Driscoll the persona for what Driscoll the man opted to do. Now Driscoll probably knows that the Eastern Orthodox do not hold that the Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son and thus wishes to avoid continuing disagreements within Christian thought and practice he doesn't have any time or interest in fielding.  At a purely practical level I can get that.
But if he wants the kind of long-term influence he's obviously shooting for he can't keep forestalling these kinds of discussions. Assuring us Jakes is not a modalist has not convinced me Jakes isn't a modalist. Folks can agree with creeds that don't work themselves out in practice or teaching. But as I have plenty of "real world" concerns I leave it to other people to tackle all that stuff at this point. 

PsyBlog: How the Mind Really Works--10 counterintuitive studies

The summaries all speak for themselves.  I sometimes wish the placebo effect worked on me.  In the rare cases when I get a headache and take something it takes ten to fifteen minutes for me to feel any different, sometimes twenty. Plus there's no placebo effect for cataracts or retinal detachments, trust me.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Really? This was a Sesame Street special?

Someone got an air date for this one?  I remember watching old school Sesame Street but I don't remember seeing THIS Sesame Street special.  Major language warning alert for folks not into hyperbolic profane-laden discourses on pop culture. I've linked to Grant Morrison interviews before, folks, so you've been warned.  Still, the account is weirdly funny.

Not gonna say where or how I found out about this.  That's for the mysteries of the pharoahs. ;-)

Roy Baumeister on the myth of pure evil

In his book Evil: Inside human violence and cruelty Roy Baumeister opens early with an observation that many people operate with what he calls the "myth of pure evil".  We know what he means without his even having to define the phrase but he defines it anyway, that this myth is predicated on the assumption that evil people know they're evil. They revel in their evil, cackle like supervillains and so on. But people who commit terrible acts very often are conflicted about their acts or find ways to justify their actions to make the decisions seem less terrible. In most cases these evils are not epic but pedestrian yet cause significant relational damage. 

If a man, for instance, hires a friend because of friendship and discovers the friend is not able to perform the work adequately the man may fire the friend. The friend may feel betrayed and the man who fired him feels guilty for having hired someone he realizes he should not have hired. Who is evil here?  The fired friend may feel the friend is evil for having dangled the false hope of steady employment. The man may feel guilty for having hired his friend without being fully aware of his friend's lack of competence for the job. In this case the man may have to defend his firing on the basis of poor job performance but he may have to decide his friend was less than honest about his competency in order to justify why he hired the friend to begin with.

The friend, meanwhile, may feel an emotional pull to consider the man dishonest for having hired and then fired, either dishonest wth the friend or dishonest with himself.  In both cases the men may be tempted by their desire to defend their own competence and good will by developing a narrative in which the fault mainly lays with the other.  Or both men could admit that the hiring decision was ill-advised and a bad fit and help each other come up with a better alternative.

Baumeister (in chapter 1) mentions that crucial to any evil act is a magnitude gap.  That is to say the magnitude of an act as perceived by the perpetrator and the victim is considerable.  The victim will perceive the act as heinous and possibly unforgivable while the perpetrator considers the decision or action, if not pleasurable, then difficult but necessary. A father who doesn't really know what's going on the lives of his children may keep up appearances of having a lot of open and honest communication in his family that outsiders might consider dishonest but for the father this is not deceit, it is putting faith in the good will that if he were actually home enough to converse with his children his children would want to talk with him. 

The children, by contrast, might feel that his being out and about all the time suggested either that he didn't want to speak with them or presumed to know what was going on already.  But to an outsider this could all come across as the whole family being dishonest or phony when it is not really the case.  Still, it is a small and convenient explanation of a magnitude gap that almost any of us can observe a few times in our lives.  Who hasn't concluded that a family of people wasn't fake and keeping up appearances? What seems like dishonesty to one person may be perceived as politesse and kindness within the social group.

Baumeister points out in chapter 1 that the myth of pure evil can be used to inspire utterly fraudulent stories that appeal to people because of that myth.  He cites the case of Susan Smith who falsely claimed her children were kidnapped by a strange black man who made off with them.  The child was eventually found dead and Smith admitted to having killed her children. In a sick irony a fabricated story appealing to the myth of a pure evil (the evil strange of a different race) was used as a way to distract from an actual evil, killing two children. A mythic narrative of evil has often been used to commit real evil.  You're going to Godwin this anyway so I'm skipping past that one since we all know it here on the internet.

What can happen within institutions is that scapegoats can become useful.  An institution may encourage abuse or misuse or the use of people. Rather than consider the institution itself to have systemic problems and weaknesses a few chosen scapegoats are permitted to embody evils that are considered bad and are disposed of.  So, an institution may have problems with competently handling some process.  Maybe the institution made the news for this problem, whether it was environmental effects of production processes or the discipline of employees or club members. The institution may decide that the best thing to do is mention that some people got retroactively canned for abusing authority even though the actual limits and guidelines of the use of authority may not have been defined to begin with.

To get archly political about it sometimes the trouble is not the deed, at least within a social setting, but the cover-up.  The history of journalism is full of stories where some company did something they considered to be just fine that outsiders considered evil and the response?  Fire whoever got in trouble by risking public exposure. Someone who may have been doing what was considered normal and acceptable within a social system may get punished not for having done anything that was considered legitimately wrong in the social unit at the time but simply for being caught or inadvertantly getting the attention of outsiders who wondered what was up.  Or as Caiaphas told the Sanhedrin in John's gospel, better that one man die than the whole nation be destroyed. 

Baumeister's observation that people who commit evil do not see their actions as being as significant as those harmed by the actions is an obvious point but, as a teacher of mine used to say, don't underestimate the obvious. In most cases people who say and do evil things are convinced they are doing the right thing. The reaction of many people to televangelists or megachurch pastors or politicians is to operate from within a myth of pure evil in which those other evil people are the people who roast babies for breakfast while we are the ones who save innocent children.

The reality is far more disconcerting and scary, that any of us is capable of immense evil but, in our daily lives, most of the evils we do we consider trivial things other people should just get over or things we nurse grudges about or just ignore.  The smaller the magnitude gap, ineffable as it generally is, the easier it is to overlook an offense.  Someone cut you off on the commute from work to home.  That's aggravating but you get over it, right? Someone kills your friend in a drunk-driving incident, you don't just overlook that, do you? In the myth of pure evil one is evil and the other is nothing but in the reality of life we may consider things to be a continuum on a scale.  Or, as Jesus put it, whoever is faithful with little will be faithful with much, and if you can't be trusted with things that belong to others who will entrust you with that which is your own? Evil, as well as good, is often found in the smallest places and acts.

The magnitude gap between an action and its perception is the gap within which we defend ourselves or attack others.  I may have said some tough stuff but you over-reacted.  I'm just passionately making my case for why I'm right and you're making things up that I didn't say.  I'm being attacked by people who take things I said out of context.  I'm being pilloried for being willing to decide what I want to do with my own time.  That I could have said something terrible and offensive; that I wasn't taken out of context; that I am receiving fair criticism for misrepresenting things in making my case; or that I'm being criticized for having priorities that dehumanize someone are things I may not want to concede. I might concede all these points if the relationship in which this flare up occurs is one I want to keep, with a friend or a family member.  But if it's someone "out there" you and I generally dismiss things, don't we?

Most of us, when we do things that offend others, realize that these things are on a much smaller scale than a Stalin or a Mao.  Yet a brother offended is harder to win over than a fortified city, isn't he?  And contention is like the barred gates of a citadel. Doesn't Proverbs 18:19 say that?  Why, yes it does. Consider for a moment that the bars and the gate of that citadel may often take the form of what Roy Baumeister has called the "magnitude gap". This is certainly where many real wrongs become apparent and I'm certainly not suggesting wrongs not be addressed but it is also a place in which the temptation emerges to indulge the idea that whomever has wronged you or people you like is pure evil. The trouble with this can be summed up both directly and obliquely by the Preacher:

Indeed, there is no one on earth who is righteous,
  no one who does what is right and never sins.
Do not pay attention to every word people say,
  or you may hear your servant cursing you—
  for you know in your heart
  that many times you yourself have cursed others.
Ecclesiastes 7:20-22

Mockingbird: a quick Calvin & Hobbes

more little bits from Adolf Schlatter

from page 22 of Romans: The Righteousness of God by Adolf Schlatter

... The distance between the Reformation and the text resulted from the exclusive desire to hear what the believer was to receive. That he needed righteousness was clear; since he was a sinner , what type of righteousness would this be? It could only be an imputed, bestowed one, and precisely thereby it was God's righteousness. Here the reader's need gave the impetus to what Paul was supposed to have saidin fulfillment of his longing. By contrast, Paul expresses how God reveals himself to the individual as the one who saves him. The interpreter began with his own self while Paul began with God; the interpreter's protasis was his own dilemma, whereas Paul's was that of the mission of Christ, his death, by means of which the indebetedness of humankind is removed, as well as his lordship that will render him the giver of life for them.

... when Luther and Calvin express how the fellowship of God with humanity came to pass, God's righteousness all but fades away and is replaced by God's mercy. The assertion that it is God's mercy that grants us fellowship with him expressed that it was our exigency which leads God to us. This assertion is still closely related to synergism, for God's relationshp to us now arises from what the peson is, not from his merit ... but from his sin and his msiery.  For Paul God's work arises from God's work.

Thus in the churches of the Reformation there quickly emerged another righteousness of the individual, not the righteousness of one who works but that of the one who knows, one 'who believes all the articles of faith." Because words alone do not avail, this righteousness was then replaced with that of the bourgeoois virtue or with the claim of heroic feat.

Is it me or could Schlatter be talking about the development of pietism?

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

more from D. G. Hart: IS the Gospel Sufficient to Govern Culture

Very short answer, no.

So how sufficient is the Bible to govern a society composed of diverse religious adherents and non-believers? We already know that the Bible has not been sufficient to yield a unified church. Now it’s supposed to give us a platform for cultural and political cogency and coherence in a diverse and religiously free society? 

The objections to Frame and Leithart are not simply empirical or based on United States law. They are also theological. Appealing to the Bible as a norm for non-believers places those who don’t believe in an odd situation, at least according to theology that stresses the anti-thesis. How are those hostile to God going to submit to GOVERNMENT based on the Bible? I have asked this many times and I’m still lacking a decent answer, one that actually does justice to the Bible’s prohibitions against idolatry and the United States’ legal toleration of what some of its citizens consider idolatry. Another question is this: doesn’t a proposal for the Bible’s sufficiency as a rule for culture and society mean ultimately that only believers will GOVERN? After all, if fallen human beings cannot understand the Bible aright without the illumination of the Spirit, then only the regenerate may GOVERN because they alone have the discernment to apply Scripture to society and culture.

Perhaps some people are so busy trying to "get upstream" and "influence culture" they haven't bothered to think through how they should handle things once they get in those positions?  Perhaps this is because the odds of this ever happening are near zero?

The lesson is that 2k (aka SCET) is really more faithful to Reformed teachings (which are biblical) than are 2k critics’ constant charges of infidelity and deficiency. Those who think the Bible sufficient to GOVERN culture or society must either form a political body comprised only of church members or they must cut and paste biblical teachings to make it fit a religiously mixed society. Either way (Massachusetts Bay or liberal Protestantism), we’ve been there and done that. Time for 2k’s critics to come up with their own proposals for GOVERNING and transforming culture that are not blinded to their own insufficiencies. 

Of course I know there are people who would say that two kingdom theology would not allow someone to stop Hitler.  The Roman church didn't stop Hitler and it doesn't seem to have always propounded two kingdom theology.  As Mark Noll noted, lots of evangelicals who would have agreed we should all use the Bible couldn't work out the same answers to the questions of race and American slavery and weren't listening to the Papists and Jews who actually had some ideas on how to field that because they weren't Christians or weren't real Christians.  There have been some people who are upset about the secular state we have and I'm not suggesting there aren't things to be unhappy about, but the thing about trying to get MORE religion into civil society is that you can't be srue that YOUR religion is going to be the one that makes it.  As various people fretting about, say, the Islamization of America are discovering, just because you want "God" back in America doesn't necessarily mean it's going to be a foregone conclusion that your god will get more public endorsement.  It's why liberal secularists consider conservative evangelicals and Muslims pushing for sharia to be on the same moral playing field.

Not that I'd consider myself a liberal on theology or politics but Hart's got some points. His book From Billy Graham to Sarah Palin was an informative survey of evangelical approaches to politics. It's worth checking out just for the chapter called something like "The Search for a Useful History".

HT D. G. Hart: Open Letter to Praise Bands

Normally I don't take much interest in the Christian blogging convention of open letters.  In many cases open letters in Christian blogs tend to be so rote in their obdurate praise or blame they tend to not be open letters so much as special formalities for previously expressed opinions.  In fact I drafted a generic one-size-fits-all "open letter" for Christian bloggers a while back on the critical side a while ago.

But in the case of this particular open letter I agree.  I'll even reproduce the bullet points.

1. If we, the congregation, can't hear ourselves, it's not worship.
2. If we, the congregation, can't sing along, it's not worship.
3. If you, the praise band, are the center of attention, it's not worship.

Point 2 was a particularly salient issue in a couple of settings I can recall.  I've been in churches where the music was performed well and was memorable and sometimes even good.  But the thing was that the songs were not always easy to sing along with and I couldn't hear much beyond the performance of the band.  Or in other cases everyone else who had music to read from could sing along to songs that were completely unfamiliar to me.  I couldn't work out the text or the melody well enough to sing along.  What made the situation worse was that I personally used to jam with the church musician who wrote this music!  Nothing personal at all, I always liked this particular musician but there is something to be said for being willing to go for a lower common musical denominator.  Even volunteer church musicians who show up for a service and haven't had coffee or gotten quite enough sleep will not always be able to sing along with every new song.

Back when I was at Mars Hill there was a big ruckus years ago because some people complained about a particular band.  The complaints were the music was too loud and the music was not to everyone's taste.  Leadership circled the wagons.  It was strange to hear a pastor rebuke the congregation for the fact that some people expressed what could be legitimate concerns.  If the band is too loud and the songs are too hard to sing along with then it's a concert venue and not congregational worship. 

Does that seem like a liturgical SLAPS test?  Yeah, I know, it does seem that way, but the idea of church musicians should be that they should SERVE THE CONGREGATION, right?  If I want to experiment with sharing preludes and fugues for solo guitar during communion or offering when no one is expected to sing along (and my pastors are okay with it) then I'll have fun.  But when it's me in the congregation or playing anything else I'm happy to follow the advice of a music teacher who once told me the first rule of making music in the real world is that it can never be too easy.
Neo-Calvinist musical culture has not, in my experience, had any real interest in humbly serving the congregants and has a very ardent interest in performance. 

Of course I don't agree that a bulls eye would be doing away with bands altogether.  Church fads come and go regarding musical practice.  The major/minor key system I've seen some people call "robustly trinitarian" is barely more than three centuries old.  At one point castrati were sought after for their voices and women were not necessarily getting any place in public music in the local church.  The kinds of arguments I've seen against instruments in public worship from Dabney look more like appeals to tradition of the sort that would make sense coming from Eastern Orthodox defenses of tradition.  It makes sense from the perspective of the Eastern Orthodox, but the trouble with a regulative principle or other precept that precludes instruments is that the Psalms instruct us to praise the Lord with instruments.  It takes a peculiar application of a concept to insist that actually doing what the Scriptures instruct us to do shouldn't be done.  But then since I'm linking to a cheeky allusion to a gentle open letter I'm not going to bore you with more and more in this post.

James Harleman is a glutton for cinematic punishment

As in he watched Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance.  But, hey, friends watch terrible movies so you don't have to (even if I could afford to watch new movies).

James touching on theological points reminds me of something I noticed years ago (as in 15 or so), that when people feel they're making a good theological point in an attempt at "Christian" art they often just get straight to the point and don't do anything to make it art.  I know, that will seem unfair and all but Harleman's observations about a few theological ideas in this Ghost Rider film that aren't bad are used to reinforce how bad the movie still is.

And for the record I enjoyed Face/Off even though it's goofy and is not one of John Woo's best films. 

Monday, February 27, 2012

so there's a new Studio Ghiblie film out

And I can't see it, unless someone were generous enough to treat me.  I may have to find out if someone can find it in his or her heart to take me to see the new film.  Since it is January and not February where studios dump most of their stinkers this could be a fun lower-profile film.  I hope so, anyway.

Meanwhile, I look forward to finding out why Bane wears a C-PAP machine mask on his face that makes his dialogue slightly resembles the speech of Kenny McCormack from South Park. 

gave a little premiere of some of my studies in harmonics

The local classic guitar society has open mics at the end of each month and at the most recent one I decided to play studies 8, 9 and 11 in harmonics from my set of 12 studies in harmonics.  Fortunately I got through them all without making mistakes.  I would not describe myself as a gifted performer.  Performance is, eh, I can play in front of people but it's not something where I feel I have any flair or pizzazz.  But I can get the job done when I'm practiced. 

The audience, which was maybe a dozen people, liked the studies.  I've made a point in studies 7-12 to use traditional tunes as the foundation for arrangements; it's meant to be a contrast to the original compositions I made for studies 1-6.  Taken together the dozen studies should take about eighteen minutes and it's all harmonics all the time.  However any of the studies may be played as individual works and in the case of studies 7-12 another goal is that they may be used in liturgical settings (thus tipping you off as to what kinds of traditional melodies I've used).  I can't help it--playing classical guitar in a church orchestra over the last year has inspired me to find ways to make as many pieces as I can have at least some potential for being incorporated into a liturgical setting.  Should I manage to record or film myself playing my Prelude and Fugue in B flat major for solo guitar that may show you better than I can tell you what I'm getting at.

But this is supposed to be about the Studies in Harmonics.  The new ones were well-received and a couple of guitarists who heard my other work have told me these are my best pieces. I'm glad to hear the complement since I picked some of the most indestructible and charming hymns I could find.  And I'm glad that all those years I spent singing in choir before seriously studying classical guitar have been of some use.

If I'm able to get some of the things I want done I should be able to post some videos on-line eventually.  For now there's just the news of the evening post.

I know I keep saying I'm going to write about Rebay

And I will but I want to absorb more of his music before I do that.  I obsess over musical form and the way musical ideas develop.  I don't just want to share that Rebay writes this sort of music or that. I'd like to share, if possible, observations about his approach to musical form. I also have a paucity of biographical information on him at the moment and hesitate to go by what Matanya Ophee once referred to as liner notes musicology.  But I have been absorbing Rebay's music and plan to have things to write about it in a week or so.

But I also have job leads I've been pursuing and births and birthdays to celebrate.  As often happens the real world offers various distractions from the internet and I don't want to always be at a computer.

Internet Monk: Transforming the Original Wilderness

I liked it enough to link to it and it's Internet Monk, which means it speaks for itself.

Mars Hill clarifies church discipline; another pastor name has dropped from current roster

In the two cases that have recently received media attention, we want to remind readers that there are always two sides to every story. As Proverbs 18:17 tells us, “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” Unfortunately, in most of the articles and blog posts published in recent weeks, with the exception of the recent Slate article, we were not contacted by the authors to verify the facts or seek explanation regarding those cases prior publishing their articles. Out of sensitivity for all involved, and a biblical mandate to handle such matters within the church, we do not wish to comment publicly on those specific cases and drag into public what should be private.

The Stranger did contact Mars Hill and got a response from Pastor Jeff Bettger. So more media outlets than just Slate contacted Mars Hill about the situations of recent months.

Note: This article has been updated since its original posting to reflect Mars Hill's new statement that two of its leaders were removed as a result of cases unrelated to the two that drew recent media attention.

The article quotes the original form of the discussion of disciplinary action:

In both cases that have been brought to light, things did not go as they should have, and well before they were ever written about in a public setting by bloggers and journalists, Mars Hill leadership stepped in to investigate. As a result of those investigations, it was determined that the leaders involved had a pattern of overstepping their authority. As such, they were released and are no longer on paid staff or in formal leadership in any capacity at Mars Hill Church. [emphasis added] Again, these actions were taken months ago, prior to any public exposure. … We're reviewing our current church discipline cases to make sure all our local leaders are operating within the spirit of love intended to be present in our existing policies.

The updated version at MH reads as follows:

 [Updated 2/16] In both cases that have been brought to light, things did not go as they should have, and well before they were ever written about in a public setting by bloggers and journalists, Mars Hill leadership stepped in to investigate because we take the care of our people seriously. As a result of this investigation, we are taking steps to streamline our church discipline process to ensure that it is applied in a biblically consistent manner across all of our churches. In addition, in two separate instances, we have removed the staff members involved and they are no longer on paid staff or in formal leadership in any capacity at Mars Hill Church. Again, we began taking these actions months ago, prior to any public exposure.

In this case "in two separate instances" is apparently supposed to tell us that in neither the case of Andrew or Lance was the disciplinary process problematic. It was in the case of two unrelated staff members that it was decided, apparently, that there was a pattern of overstepping authority ... ?

But, wait a minute, what constitutes overstepping authority when the by-laws seemed to suggest there was no appeals process in church discipline? How can you overstep spiritual authority if there's no clear limit as to what you can't do or decide as a pastor disciplining a member? If there was a pattern of overstepping authority how long did this pattern take to make itself known? A few months? Four years? Six years? We don't know.  How would the pastors overstepping authority themselves even know?  Given what has been publicly stated by Mars Hill about church discipline is overstepping spiritual authority possible? 

What I wrote in the last few months that Slate linked to may have been misunderstood. I didn't say Driscoll used cultish leadership methods. I wrote that I had, four years ago, come to completely doubt the competence and good will of counseling pastors at Mars Hill in the months before I stopped renewing my membership.  I was disturbed by the way pastors handled a long-standing relational conflict I had with fellow members who, in 2007, had stopped being members of the church. On their way out they shared by letter they were willing to work with a MH pastor to reconcile with the understanding that as they were changing churches they would not be under the spiritual authority of the MH pastors. One pastor knew of the situation and the letter and said nothing to me about its contents. Another pastor was involved in trying to ameliorate the situation for a while and then got fired. Naturally since non-profits don't usually pay into unemployment the fired pastor was busy trying to rebuild his career after getting canned. We're all good in the hood.

There was another pastor who was on the counseling side of things who held that because the former members withdrew their membership they were not interested in reconciling with me but only wanted control. He would not state the reason for this but just declared that it was so. He declined to answer my questions as to how and why he came to this conclusion. Finally, a whole year later, due to a misunderstanding no less, I approached yet ANOTHER pastor to finally mediate the swamp that the web of relationships had become. He understood that the former members were under the spiritual authority of another church and he was fine with it. Thankfully things got worked out! My story, at least, had a happy ending.

But by then my confidence in the competence and good will of counseling pastors at MH was completely shaken. The pastor that made the call "they only want control" didn't apologize for or explain anything. That's not necessarily overstepping spiritual authority for a pastor, is it? For those who have read my blog over the years you might be asking, "Who was in charge of counseling and stuff at Mars Hill back around the time you left?"  Well, department names change from one thing to another.  For a while there were counseling pastors then biblical living pastors and the like. Whether or not one of the people released from paid staff and pastoral authority has anything to do with Andrew or Lance or the story I shared I don't know. I can discuss that there was, at least, once a pastor in charge of Redemption Groups who isn't a pastor anymore.

Remember how years ago I blogged about the disappearance of any reference to Lief Moi in public documents and websites from Mars Hill? If not, well, here you go:

Well, a pastor has dropped off the list of pastors at Mars Hill but there is still a bit of material available that attests to his pastoral role. Which pastor? James Noriega, a name that will probably mean nothing at all to anyone who wasn't part of Mars Hill over the last six years. Nevertheless, it's easy to establish that he was once a pastor and is no longer a pastor. Whether or not he was one of the staff who was removed for "overstepping spiritual authority" I can't say. However, because he was at one point in charge of the Redemption Groups and was mentioned by no less than Mark Driscoll and A. J. Hamilton it's easy enough to establish Noriega's now former role as one of the leaders of the counseling branch of Mars Hill.

This material is not only easy to access it's probably going to stay up for a while because one of the sources of information about this pastor is direct mention from none other than Driscoll himself in a sermon. Another source is from Pastor A. J. Hamilton who refers to the man in his description of when Mars Hill became a multi-campus church.

First the content from Pastor A. J. Hamilton

In the above document Pastor A. J. Hamilton wrote the following:

In early 2006, Mars Hill first became a multi-site church when we launched the Shoreline campus with live-streaming over the Web. This meant that at times, the sermon would look like a badly dubbed Samurai movie or Pastor Mark's image would explode into a messy digital kaleidoscope of color. We also increased the number of elders from 15 to 24, adding Pastors James Noriega and Bill Clem from Doxa (a former A29 church plant that is now our West Seattle campus). Campus planting took off for a season and Bellevue, Downtown, Olympia and Federal Way launched and continue to grow, relaunch into new facilities and plan for further expansion through new works.

Hamilton names a Pastor James Noriega. And it seems Noriega turns out to be the "James" Mark Driscoll refers to in the sermon "Joy in Humility" from the Phillipians sermon series that he preached on November 4, 2007. He refers to the Board of Directors that was reconstituted in 2007. He makes mention of four men who were appointed to that board who were new men added to the board at the time. He describes these as men who were pursuing humility. As Driscoll put it:

I’ll give you an example. In the middle of our reorganization as a church – we go to multiple campuses – we’ve just reconstituted what we’re calling a Board of Directors. It is sort of a senior level of eldership that oversees a lot of the policies and procedures for the whole church, and I was meditating on it this week. And I could tell you about all the men on the board. I’ll just tell you of a few. These are new men that were recently added to this board, and the one common thread which I see weaves all their stories together is this, humility. Not that they are humble, but they are pursuing humility by God’s grace.


The last one is James. He was running a drug and alcohol treatment center, I think for the Union Gospel Mission. He was an elder at Doxa Church in West Seattle. He and Pastor Bill were there and I approached them and said, “I think we should partner together,” and turned that building into Mars Hill West Seattle. I don’t know what the building’s worth – $4 million, whatever. He said, “Well what’s the deal?” I said, “Give us the building, resign as elders, work through the membership process, work through the eldership process. I guarantee you nothing – no power, no job, no eldership. If you meet the qualifications and the men vote you in, we’ll make you an elder, but I guarantee you no job. Nothing. If you believe it’s right for Jesus, give us the building, resign, give up all power of authority, give up your position. Walk away from it all for the cause of Jesus.”

He said, “Okay, I think it’s best for Jesus.” He resigned, voted to hand us the building and the people. Humbly went through the eldership process. After he finished the membership process, oversees our drug and alcohol addiction recovery. We just voted him onto the Board of Directors. Why? Because God opposes the proud and he gives grace to the humble.

Between Driscoll's 2007 sermon and A. J. Hamilton's description of how Mars Hill first went multisite it's apparent that James Noriega was appointed to the Mars Hill Board of Directors in 2007 and put in charge of the drug and alcohol recovery groups. So between Hamilton and Driscoll's mention of Noriega in 2007 it would seem Noriega had been promoted to an important role in the counseling/biblical living branch of Mars Hill ministries. What can we find out about this guy?

Well, here's something from March 17, 2009 written by Nate Ellis

As of March 2009 Noriega described himself as Co-Pastor of Redemption Groups and Biblical Counseling. That seems to fit what Driscoll and Hamilton mentioned about him.

Of note is that Noriega describes Jonathan Edwards as a man who understood the human heart when there was no psychology. He leans on the Puritans a bit such as Edwards and Owen.  I don't know if he read Richard Sibbes. Ed Welch's Blame it On the Brain gets a nod and Welch is described as doing a good job of distinguishing between chemical imbalance and sin.

Of particular note Noriega responds to a question as follows:

Q: What are you looking forward to seeing God do in this ministry?
A: Uncovering more of the enemies schemes, that the church actually becomes a real healing ministry, that we do not have to rely on outside sources to help our people, and that the church is seen by the secular world as a place where real change that glorifies God is going on.

Interesting, "that we do not have to rely on outside sources to help our people". I'm not sure what that actually means and that Mars Hill added Justin Holcomb to the team suggests that whatever Noriega's idea of "we do not have to rely on outside sources to help our people" it would seem that adding Holcomb to the team  The Holcombs's writing on abuse and sex trafficking would sure look like outside sources brought in to me.

Well, anyway, in Pastor Tim Beltz' currently posted profile/quiz he's asked for a list of books that fueled his thinking or challenged him in the last few years. The first material he lists is Pastor James Noriega's Biblical Counseling Class Materials. There's even a hotlink to Pastor Noriega's profile with the West Seattle campus.

But if you click on the link to Noriega's profile you get a 404 error. So where'd he go?

Well ... let's consider a little device for tracking old websites called Internet Archive, aka The Wayback Machine:

With a little help from The Wayback Machine on the Ballard campus we can discover that a cached copy of the site for Mars Hill Ballard lists James Noriega as a Biblical Living Pastor. There were 14 captures between June 28 2008 and December 18 2009. This would correspond with the above-mentioned link to an interview with James Noriega describing himself as pastor co-leading the Redemption Groups, though from that information you would not be able to necessarily establish that he was a Ballard pastor since Noriega's long-time connections to the West Seattle campus were well-established within Mark Driscoll's November 2007 sermon. Perhaps he was moved to the Ballard campus and his West Seattle campus profile just became a dead link.

So at one point James Noriega was listed as a Biblical Living Pastor Mars Hill Ballard. But he's definitely not listed as a pastor at Mars Hill Ballard now:

What's more he isn't even listed as a pastor on staff at West Seattle, either, which was the church he used to be elder at before Driscoll asked him to step down, jump through the hoops of eldership for Mars Hill, and this with no promise of getting any job or anything out of the process.

James Noriega does not appear to be listed as a pastor in any capacity at Mars Hill anywhere. If Mars Hill explained recently stated some staff were released months ago over the issue of persistently overstepping spiritual authority was James Noriega one of those? Noriega was described by Driscoll as a man pursuing humility who was not humble. Noriega was also described as being put in charge of rehabilitation/recovery groups and Noriega's own acccount was that he was co-pastor of the redemption groups. Driscoll also described him in 2007 as having been elected to the Board of Directors. Now there's nary a trace of Noriega's name in the current leadership roster.

So since the documentation of Noriega's pastoral role is attested by no less than Driscoll and Hamilton; and since the sermon in which Mark mentions Noriega is easily accessed and it's obvious now that Noriega isn't listed as a pastor anywhere at MH; here's a new/old question--if James Noriega isn't a pastor now when he used to lead the Redemption Groups and was praised by Mark Driscoll for seeking humility, what happened? He's not even listed as a pastor at the West Seattle campus that was the Acts 29 church plant he was part of. He may still be a member there, perhaps, but he doesn't seem to be referred to as a pastor anywhere. In fact he stopped being listed as a pastor on staff, so far as I could tell, as far back as November 17, 2011. He has content from March and July 2010

He was also part of a conference in 2009.  The content may have tapered off a bit after Driscoll's public introduction of the Holcombs but I leave it to others to research that.

And Noriega's on Twitter which has the profile description:

Pastor at Mars Hill Church Seattle. A lover of Christ, the Holy Scriptures, my wife, and my children.!/jamesnoriega

And he links to this blog which has been up and running since October 2011

So Noriega, it appears, is no longer a pastor at Mars Hill that Mars Hill know about but his Twitter feed still lists him as one. Perhaps an update of the twitter profile is in order?

If Noriega is no longer co-leading pastor of Redemption Groups what happened? Now I'm not going to pull punches here, Noriega seemed to have a prominent role in influencing the approach of counseling pastors at Mars Hill during late 2007 on that I thought had a deleterious influence on the situation I was dealing with at the time. He's a fellow Christian but I wasn't sure why he got promoted to running Redemption Groups. Was it just because Driscoll decided Noriega was seeking humility? Driscoll made a point of referring specifically to Noriega in his "Joy in Humility" sermon in 2007. A. J. Hamilton made a point of referring to Noriega as one of the pastors at Doxa who were brought on (the other was Bill Clem). Only one of these two is listed in leadership at Mars Hill now.

Lief's name and references to him got scrubbed pretty thoroughly a while back. I have a feeling that discussing these things related to Noriega's absence from the elder roster is best brought to light now since MH still has so many documents publicly attesting Noriega's role. I'm not suggesting that if Noriega is no longer a pastor at Mars Hill the elders as a whole had no good reasons for removing him. If there's anything I've tried explaining to watchbloggers critical of Mars Hill over the years it's that the place is more complex than you think it is and there's more than just Mark Driscoll's personality influencing things.

If Mars Hill has explained that the staff who got removed were not the ones that were involved in the cases of Andrew or Lance then, okay. Since it appears Noriega got removed (or resigned) I don't need to suppose the reason was necessarily good or bad. There could have been fantastic reasons elders decided at some point in 2011 Noriega was no longer going to be a pastor. Or the reasons could be terrible. Or Noriega might have decided to resign for very good or very bad reasons. I'm not proposing an actual answer or explanation myself, I think it's more important to raise the subject that Noriega seemed to get a bit of press from Driscoll in 2007 and isn't listed as a pastor at Mars Hill now. It's just a matter of reviewing the documents in the public record and realizing there's a question. Four years ago the question was "what happened to Lief Moi"? Well, maybe this year the question is "what happened to James Noriega?"