Saturday, July 14, 2012

Christianity Today: "When are we going to grow up?" Is this a serious question or just a rhetorical one?

I consider articles like this with a certain amount of skepticism. That's the nice way of putting it. It's been easy to say young people these days are mired in adultescence and don't want to grow up.

The final step in the process was the transformation of American adulthood itself. Older cultural conceptions of adulthood encouraged responsibility, self-denial, and service to others. In the first half of the 20th century, most people clearly entered adulthood in their teens or early 20s by virtue of getting married, getting a job, and having children. More recently, the passage to adulthood has been delayed and rendered more subjective for most middle-class Americans.

For instance, let's take this paragraph.  Okay, so many people are said to have entered adulthood in tehri teens or early 20s by virtue of getting married, getting a job and having children.  This idea that this is happening later and later for most middle-class Americans needs to account for how we define the middle class and if there is one today that would correspond in some way with middle classes of the past.

But let me back up a bit to an observation earlier in the article:

Torrey Johnson, the first president of Youth for Christ (YFC), spoke for many when he said, "If we have another lost generation … America is sunk."

The Lost Generation could be defined as those who came of age in the United States during the World War I years.  Think Hemmingway and Fitzgerald.

One of the problems with attempting to locate a problem in American evangelicalism with a response to the development of a youth culture is that this does not account for how and why youth culture developed to begin with.  The teenager as we have known the teenager to be in the last sixty to seventy years did not actually exist in the time that gave us the Lost Generation of the 1920s, if memory serves.  It becomes difficult to sustain a case that teenagers led to a juvenalization of the church if we don't consider the significance of teenagers within the context of American culture overall.  How and why did what we call adolescence even develop?

Two centuries ago a 17-year old male might have apprenticed or worked with a father in a trade and would not have gotten much more education than was available in the home.  We should be mindful that relative to the mortality and life-expectancy rates of people living today what we may consider a "crisis" in evangelicalism of any number of stripes may not necessarily be as simple as people won't grow up.  Public education did not always exist in the way it has existed in the last century.

Relative to the life expectancy of the time are we sure that this plague of "adultescence" is a plague of people not growing up?  Or are we seeing correlation that is not so easily explained by a causation of "people won't grow up"?  For instance, what if the median age of first marriage in the last sixty years has been steadily rising?  Is it because people don't wish to marry? Or could it be because in a recession as rough as the one we've dealt with since the housing bubble of 2008 happened times are rough?  Or is it possible that relative to life expectancy the stage at which males marry (or enter their first marriage) is not actually as different today as from nearly 100 years ago as some would like to propose?

You see, Christians who write about the decline of marriage prefer to only go back half a century rather than go to the first half of the 20th century, unless certain authors are mining the early 20th century for proof that people won't grow up today.  Not everyone agrees that the middle class of 2010 can be meaningfully compared to what the middle class would have been in 1925.  The median age of first marriage for American males may have gone up but before "adultescence" gets offered as an explanation consider that the age of first marriage for an American male today, as a percentage of the life expectancy of a male in this time and place, may still be lower than the age, as a percentage of life expectancy, of a male who married for the first time in the United States in 1930 just after the notorious 1929 stock market crash.

In other words, I'm suggesting that it's too easy for evangelical baby boomers to worry that kids these days just don't want to grow up without thinking through the implications of how the very existence of adolescents has come about due to a nexus of policies and circumstances unique to the United States.  If you've ever had friends who have grown up in African or other non-Western lands then you may have heard the observation that there are not teenagers in Africa most places.  There are boys and men and the transition may be swift and unceremonious at the age of 13.

So on the point of marriage as an indicator of "adulthood" it's not entirely clear that people are slower to "grow up" now than they were relative to life expectancy.  Instead of Christians lamenting adultescence we might be grateful that by God's providential grace through advances in medicine people can live long enough that the time at which they may marry has risen yet has largely stayed within the summer rather than the autumn of life.  Sure, fewer and fewer people may seem to get married these days but given the economic situation and the possibility of an education bubble that may follow the old housing bubble should we be shocked?

The juvenalization of evangelicalism has to consider whether juvenalization of the American culture wasn't dependent on policies implemented without regard to intergenerational effect.  A lot of kids were put in public schools so that they weren't in the job market, which could open up job possibilities for older professional men.  Or so I've heard.  Securing the greater odds of employment for older working men in the Depression may have created the "adolescent" subculture that has for generations become a bugbear amongst evangelicals.

It's easy for some evangelicals and conservative Christians to lament adultescence; to complain that people aren't growing up (by this they mean getting married and buying real estate and "going upstream").  But I'm not sure I buy this entire line of argument and assertion.

Internet Monk: Mark Galli on Transformation

Batman: The Agony of Loss and the Madness of Desire Part 5b has gone up

For those who have been following this large series of essays on the DC animated universe today is the day a new installment goes up.  Part 5c should be up next week in time for The Dark Knight Rises to open.  You won't have to wonder why this new set of essays is called "At Night All Cats Are Gray" by then if you haven't already figured out who's going to be showing up later in this series.  I'll let you use your detective skills to work out who may be showing up in the series next week when the Dark Knight rises.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Sausage returns at City of God

Sausage returns and among the links is this fun little piece about lying liars who believe those lies.

PastorMark TV "What's Next for Me" in March, Church Update in June
From Mark Driscoll's update "What's Next for Me" from March 28, 2012 at Pastor Mark TV

... Literally, it seems everything is flourishing.

... Going forward, I will be preaching on Sundays at Mars Hill Downtown Bellevue where my friend Pastor Thomas Hurst will continue as the lead pastor overseeing the mission on the Eastside. 

We believe that the greater Seattle region has a massive growth opportunity, and so I want to devote the upcoming years to helping grow that church, as well as Mars Hill Sammamish with Pastor Alex Ghioni, and plant other churches around them.  

Thankfully, Mars Hill Ballard is doing very well under the leadership of Pastor Bill Clem, and the other churches on the west side of the city are doing so well it frees me up to focus some energies on the Eastside

So as of March 28, 2012 everything seemed to be flourishing, according to Driscoll.
As of June 10, 2012 what did this flourishing look like? What does Mars Hill Ballard doing so well it frees Driscoll up to focus energies on the Eastside and move live preaching there?

Estimated 42% of adults attending MH gave

                              the weekly loss          % adults who gave
Rainier Valley            -$3.39                      27%
Portland                   -$3.74                      42%
Federal Way             -$4.71                      42%
Ballard                     -$4.81                       41%
Everett                    -$5.73                       45%
Bellevue                   -$6.14                       54%  
Albequerque             -$7.16                       38%
Downtown               -$8.29                      24%
Olympia                   -$8.35                       59%
Orange County         -$8.65                       32%
Sammamish              -$9.75                      64%
West Seattle              -$11.55                    66%
U District                  -$11.82                    29%  
Shoreline                   -$18.02                    67%  

Budget Update
                              past          present      future
Weekly giving
per adult                 $30.25       $30.25      $35.00
Church costs         -$14.20      -$11.82     -$10.00
facilities costs        -$12.37      -$8.81       -$10.00
central costs         -$22.69       -$16.07     -$10.00
expansion              -$3.60        -$0.99       -$3.50

Margin/Loss         -$22.61         -$7.44      $1.50

So was this the situation about which Driscoll wrote "Literally, it seems everything is flourishing"?

What did Driscoll mean by saying that the churches on the West side were doing well? Let's consider these just as candidates for being campuses on the west side.  Does this look like a set of campuses on the west side of the Seattle area that are doing well?

                               weekly loss           % of adults who give
Ballard                     -$4.81                   41%
Downtown              -$8.29                   24%
West Seattle            -$11.55                  66%
U District                -$11.82                  29%  
Shoreline                 -$18.02                  67%

Yet in March 28, 2012 Driscoll wrote " ...and the other churches on the west side of the city are doing so well it frees me up to focus some energies on the Eastside."  

Confronting the Law of gender roles in Brave

A link from last week at Mockingbird discussing the newest Pixar film.  The title for this post has an admittedly sharper and more deliberately polemical edge than the title in the actual article, though.

from Phoenix Preacher, a make your own application.

Sometimes, fear can blind us to solutions.
Sometimes, the group we are in is as blinded as we are.
Sometimes, someone bigger than you will take a big stick and help you see clearly.

This is a teaser for reading the whole story.

I could provide my own application but it's too extensive to bother summarizing at all.  Often that big stick is providence and it takes a while to realize the big stick has nudged you into a position where you see things differently.

Matthew Lee Anderson on the trouble with talking about "Our identity in Christ"

When it comes to explaining the Christian life, these days the premier conceptual tool that evangelicals are deploying is that of “identity.” And in doing so, we’ve turned the affirmation of people’s “identity in Christ” into a cliche, neutering it of its force and stripping “identity” of any meaningful, positive content that people can actually understand and interpret their lives through.

... But these days, our affirmation of people’s “identity in Christ” is more often a sort of negative theologizing, a way of stripping away all the unhealthy and sinful forms of life and practices that are contrary to the plans and purposes of God. Work too much? Thankfully your identity isn’t in your job, but in Christ. Struggling with sexual desires (of any sort)? Well, good thing that your identity isn’t in your sexuality, but in Jesus. Wrestling with some “daddy issues,” or some other family problem? You’ve been rescued out of all that and your identity is in Jesus.

Unfortunately, the positive content of our “identity in Christ” rarely gets filled in much beyond that. Instead, we are left with a void, an empty hole that can neither guide nor instruct us in how we should live in the world. Our “identity” may be “in Christ,” but given that every dimension of our lives has been separated from that identity we are left with no imaginative possibilities for conceiving of what our new lives in Christ might actually look like.


In short, it seems we should get to our “identity in Christ” by a road other than negation. Suppose, for instance, we say something like we are “children of God.” That fills things out quite a bit more, for to be a child is to be something. There’s a social role there that can be filled, a role that imposes duties (play!) and obligations (play nicely!). One of my concerns with the language of identity is that by separating out the reality of our union with Christ from the roles, duties, and obligations that seem to constitute identity-bearing things, we actually create conditions where sanctification and the recognition of our real responsibilities to conform every part of our lives to that of Christ’s is more difficult than it would be otherwise.

These are excerpts, extensive excerpts I admit, from a piece worth reading.  I could write at great length on this topic but it might not be as succinct or interesting as what Anderson has written.  In the last few years I have begun to wonder if 'identity in Christ' is a bromide that is trotted out by saying we should not do but be when the real goal of using that language is still, ultimately, behavior modification. Why not jump straight to behavior modification? :)

I'm going to risk tossing in an errant citation from Adolf Schlatter here.  He remarks that anyone who thinks Paul made a serious appeal to conscious having a significant role with respect to applied ethics in Pauline thought misreads Paul.  Paul noted that the conscious can alternately accuse or excuse but this is not the same as the judgment of God.  Paul did not necessarily even consider himself acquitted by his own clear conscience about his approach to teaching and evangelism.  Schlatter observed in his commentary on Romans that Paul did not call for a change in praxis through a restored conscience but a renewed mind.  I'd blog more about that if I didn't have other things I wanted to get to, like reading more Schlatter not so coincidentally, to read what he has to say about the relevant passage on mind renewal.

HT Reformed Anglicanism: Back to Basics--a book on suffering

... In the seventeenth century, if life was not always short then it was almost always nasty and brutish at some level. It was, after all, a time before analgesics and antibiotics. This is one of the reasons why attitudes to suffering seem to have been different among many Christians then. Today, suffering is a problem: whether we are thinking of a massive crime against humanity, such as the Holocaust, or the stillbirth of a single child, suffering tends to provoke the question, 'Why?' Looking at Owen and Baxter, it does not seem to have had quite the same effect.

Owen rarely mentions it. It is not that he did not know suffering. He had eleven children, ten of whom died in infancy and all of whom predeceased him. It beggars belief to think that this did not take a heavy emotional toll on him; yet he never mentions any of these losses in his voluminous works. I suspect he simply regarded grief as a private matter and of no public interest.

Baxter too knew suffering. In particular, the loss of his beloved wife Margaret devastated him. She was much younger than him but utterly devoted to her husband. Indeed, when Baxter was imprisoned, she took her bed into the prison and joined him in his suffering. When she died, he fully expected (hoped?) to follow her swiftly to the grave. He did not, outliving her by a long, lonely decade.

After she died, Baxter wrote an account of her faith and piety, Breviate of the Life of Mrs Margaret Baxter. It is a moving work, containing both her own writings and Baxter's reflections on her. It drips love and devotion from every page. What is perhaps most stunning is that there is not a hint of self-pity or of challenge to God in the whole text. The great modern questions, "Why me?" and "How can a God of love.....?" -- you know, the kind of questions you and I even dare to ask when we lock our keys in the car or hit our thumbs with a hammer -- do not feature anywhere. While Baxter grieved more publicly than Owen, one suspects that both men regarded suffering as something to be expected in this fallen world and thus to be treated as such.

I'm going to respectfully suggest there are simple reasons why suffering becomes more of a problem for us in our day than it would have been in the time of Owen and Baxter, there are kinds of suffering that are preventable, preventable enough that we can wonder why it wasn't prevented.

Now it is easy to observe that we seem to have a lower threshold these days for any kind of suffering because we have access to painkillers in modern societies.  Yet we also have access to levels of education that would have been impossible in earlier times.  We may as an age be less tolerant of suffering as the normative lot of life both because we have ways to prevent or alleviate suffering medically and we have enough informational resources to prevent other kinds of suffering that emerge from bureaucratic stupidity or the inertia of foolishness.

Or so we'd like to believe.

It is not only possible for a believer to pray for God's aid in the midst of adversity that has been caused by the long term effects of the believer's sin but we have a terse and poignant example of such a prayer in the scriptures themselves.  Maybe you've read Psalm 3 some time in the last five to seven years?  There it is.  Understanding the full context of a prayer like Psalm 3 necessitates grasping the canonical background and context of the prayer.  So we need to know about David and Bathsheba, the killing of Uriah, the confrontation with Nathan, the rape of Tamar by Amnon, David's failure to right that wrong due to parental favoritism and neglect, Absalom's murder of Amnon and eventual insurrection against his father with David's reactions.  We can have a visceral emotional reaction that is quite simple in the wake of circumstances so complex it would be tough to summarize them.  There is nothing quite so visceral an emotion as fear to suspend any and every rational function we think we have in our brains and there's nothing quite like the prospect of immediate, awful, and possibly prolonged suffering to get our so-called lizard brain dominating our thoughts and feelings.

I have been pondering in the last few months how it can seem as though American Christians have reflected on suffering in ways that can seem sex-congratulatory or self-pitying.  I'll tip my hand here, at Phoenix Preacher in Linkathon reference was made to ten reasons pastors quit too soon.  Michael observed that none of those reasons listed are really reasons that are unique to pastoral work.  Another person observed in a comment that the work of the pastor can be shown to be self-selected.  In other words these guys are calling it quits for suffering that can, in many ways, be described as self-selected suffering.

I'm far more bold in spelling this out in the "how" and "what" because it's something that has stuck with me.  It's possible for church leaders to speak or blog or tweet or preach as though they are dealing with a rough season (and it's always a season in American evangelical jargon even if "season" lasts for some indefinite time).  But sometimes the self-perceived suffering of a church or its leadership is the result of reaping what has been sown for years.  Does this mean there's no room for any sympathy in the midst of that kind of suffering?  No, of course not.  It's entirely possible to read Psalm 3 with sympathy for David even while realizing that he had to realize (and did realize) that this disaster had befallen him as the Lord had forewarned.

There are times when we have to accept that a disaster is really a disaster and that it has come to us providentially due to the long-term effects of things we have said and done.  We can still pray the Lord will deliver us in the midst of this self-caused and self-inflicted disaster but notice how David ends Psalm 3 by asking for a blessing upon God's people. But this has quickly become a post that began on one topic and mutated into another so I think I'll call it a day on this post and move on to others.

Slate: Investigation of Sandunsky's child abuse implicates Penn State's top leadership

The scattered evidence that Spanier and his colleagues were thinking first about bad publicity, second about Sandusky, and hardly at all about the children involved, goes back to 1998 and continues up to the moment they lost their jobs. That, of course, followed the indictment of Sandusky for dozens of counts of sexual abuse in 2011. He was convicted of 45 counts last month. Through his lawyers, Spanier still avows that he was never told about the 2001 incident in which assistant coach Mike McQueary said he saw Sandusky rape a boy in the locker room showers. It’s hard to believe him and in some ways it hardly matters.

What comes through, even in the elliptical emails of an administrator who knows better than to write too much down, is their concern about negative attention, legal liability, and pesky oversight committees. [emphasis added] Schultz’s handwritten notes from 1998, when he first heard about Sandusky showering with a young boy on Penn State’s campus, ask the following haunting questions: “Is this opening of pandora’s box? … [O]ther children?” Freeh believes that Schultz, Spanier, Paterno, and Curley cared more about their own reputations than the answers to those questions—that “to avoid the consequences of bad publicity, the most powerful leaders at the University … hid critical facts relating to Sandusky’s child abuse from the authorities, the University’s Board of Trustees, the Penn State community, and the public at large.”

This scandal and this ruling is a disturbing reminder that many of us would like to claim that we would do something different. Some of us, most surely, would.  But considering the reputation of an institution and its leaders more precious than the exploitation and abuse of people is obviously always going to be a temptation, a temptation that too many people still succumb to and will succumb to in the future.  

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Internet Monk: An Author of Note

The Gilderoy Lockharts are not always as easy to spot as we might think they should be.  It can take years to figure out that someone who passes themselves off as an expert on something is actually imcompetent in the subject.  It takes eating a lot of humble pie to both realize and admit that someone you may have respected as knowing a lot about something is actually not really all that informed.  I don't want to name names and I won't need to for faithful readers of this blog, will I?

Martian budgets past, present and future: Driscoll shares stats on Mars Hill's finances

Estimated 42% of adults attending MH gave

                              the weekly loss % adults who gave
Rainier Valley -$3.39 27%
Portland                   -$3.74 42%
Federal Way -$4.71 42%
Ballard -$4.81 41%
Everett                   -$5.73 45%
Bellevue         -$6.14 54%
Albequerque -$7.16 38%
Downtown -$8.29 24%
Olympia -$8.35 59%
Orange County -$8.65 32%
Sammamish -$9.75 64%
West Seattle -$11.55 66%
U District      -$11.82 29%
Shoreline    -$18.02 67%

"For the next year our intent is not to start any new Mars Hill churches"
07:42 in the Youtube clip

Fr. Andrew S Damick has a dry joke at Driscoll's expense

Mark Driscoll@PastorMark 19 Jun 12
What do you call a guy expected to do what he cannot do with resources he does not have? 


Fr. Andrew S. Damick@FrAndrewSDamick 
@PastorMark I suspect that most pastors would be overjoyed to have your variety of resource-poverty. (What's your budget, again?)

Unsurprisingly Fr Damick's response was expunged from Driscoll's twitter feed.  But since the internet is the internet it's there for people to read elsewhere.

Christopher Tolkien speaks with Le Monde

Joyful Exiles has new content and Driscoll has another woodchipper reference

Most of the audio is stuff you'll have heard before.  There is, however, a new segment in this audio you wouldn't have heard in the audio Chris Rosebrough posted at Fighting for the Faith.

"I've read enough of the New Testament to know that occasionally Paul put somebody in the woodchipper, ... you know?"

So Driscoll was into making woodchipper references in September and October 2007, it seems.  Not that you'll find either woodchipper reference in the downloadable materials available at Acts 29.  Andy and Wendy Alsup include a reference to "The Man", the Acts 29 presentation in Raleigh, NC in which Driscoll talked about putting a pastor through the woodchipper and talked about how he was like a fart in an elavator.  Acts 29 saw fit to excise that segment of the sermon some time after the Alsups made reference to it.  However, it happens that Re:Fund, a rather sparsely populated blog, includes an extensive citation of the same Acts 29 presentation, significantly more extensive than the quote from Wendy at Practical Theology for Women.

I documented their documentation and noted the apparent circumcision of Mark Driscoll's "The Man" in a blogpost earlier this year:

Matt Redmond has a new blogging location and some new stuff--forgiving your circumstances

and another link about "the busy trap"

I forgot where I stumbled upon this but I'll link to it.  As regular readers may have noticed the output has dropped substantially.  There are actual reasons for that.  Contrary to the canards of bloggers who blog indignantly about other bloggers, bloggers do have actual lives.  :)

I hope to blog a bit more about a few fun things as occasion permits but, to put it dryly and obliquely, there are times and places in which it's good to not have quite enough time to blog some things.

another linky link--are megachurches real churches?

This morning I came across a story about a Singapore Mega-Church director who has been arrested on suspicion that he used $23 Million dollars of church funds to aid his wife’s music career. Ironically I heard Kong Hee speak at an AOG church conference way back in the late 90′s. The only thing I remember of his talk was that for years his church sat at around 1000 people. He said God was teaching him the importance of having a healthy church. Since then the church has grown to over 20’000 people. A number I personally find incredibly hard to fathom.

In his usual loving, warm and kind way Jim West has provided comment on the situation.  ...

That last sentence made me laugh out loud because I happen to read Jim West's blog from time to time and I saw what he wrote. :) I'm not going to link to that post, though.  I leave it to you, dear reader, to go look up Jim West's blog for yourself.  It's thanks to his regular commentaries on commentaries that i picked up a fantastic commentary by Martin Shields on Ecclesiastes for a very low price, a commentary I hope to blog about a bit later this year. 

Locavores do more harm than good?

Now I admit I have some biases, and my biases are that the locavore back-to-nature stuff is a luxury obsession for people who can afford it.  You may already know where this link has been discussed in other places and if so I won't repeat all that.  Seeing as I live in Seattle it's impossible not to run into people with locavore ambitions.  It's something that people who would otherwise never associate for political or religious reasons can actually agree on in this town.  I don't happen to be a locavore myself, though.  Some food being local is great but I'm for imports, too.