Saturday, August 10, 2013

An answer to questions you probably didn't ask

Every so often a blog post or two goes up here at Wenatchee The Hatchet that includes something that inspires a person to ask "WtH where do you find this stuff?"

You didn't ask that question, of course, but perhaps someone else has. 

The answer to "Where do you find this stuff?" is always sitting right there in the body of the post so perhaps that's not the real meaning of the question as it has been asked.  Whether it's to material in a blog, a newspaper article, a news broadcast, a tweet on someone's Twitter feed, a LinkedIn profile, a corporation listing on a government website, an email, or a document published on a social media platform it's always pretty straightforward where everything comes from.  The source of the material/information is going to be pretty easy to reference. 

In fact it seems to insult the intelligence of readers to answer questions that are answered in each individual post. If the real question is not "Where did this come from?" but "How on earth did you get this?" there's only two basic answers to that. 

The first answer deals with the nature of stuff linked to on anything that is publicly available.  LinkedIn profiles are publicly accessible as are articles in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer or a Mark Driscoll sermon.  Putting together the rest to figure out what the link about a former pastor and Andrew was last year was simply a weekend and some spare time.  Consider it the kind of work that can't be handled by computers because computers lack the capacity for spatial reasoning and associative memory by social-relational patterns that the human brain was (some say) built to do.  Or the more pious Christian bromide would be to say we humans are made for relationship right up to the point where this would explain why we read gossip magazines ...  or actually use Twitter and Instagram to showcase the cool stuff new friends or neighbors provide ... to put some blame back on the production side of things.  It's hard to be indignant about people reading celebrity gossip if you use twitter to begin with.  But I digress.

Then there's the second answer to "Where do you find this stuff?"  Here's the part where writing teachers say you should show rather than tell.  To show rather than tell both for the second form of the question and its answer, a quick scroll-through can be done here, here, here, here and here. If that doesn't make any sense then, well, that probably wasn't your question. 

links (some borrowed from Alastair Roberts)

We can't all be original and no linkathon by its nature will be.  But thanks to Alastair Roberts for an intriguing list of links from which to draw a few excerpts. 

Salon has a piece called "The 1 percent ruined love: Marriage is for the rich"

It's in Salon, so of course the 1 percent are to blame but the piece is less shrill than expected for a piece that appeared in Salon.

The gist that money challenges make marriage difficult for anyone not in the upper-middle class or above is still worth noting.  Also of note is the observation that once traditional gender roles are in flux or questioned then the foundation of marital stability becomes something like "keeping that spark alive".  More traditional marriages in which spark was considered a fringe benefit if you even had it might be stultifying journeys in mutual inertia but that was just the trade-off of not depending on "spark". 

Alastair Roberts also links to Roy Baumeister's old lecture. At the risk of linking to old work I've done.

here's my old sprawler
Roy Baumeister, the disposability of men, and social meaning for the unattached male

For those who only read this blog for a Mars Hill Church connection there's a few anonymous case studies of guys who used to be there.  We live in a society that so values eros that those who have not or can't pair off may discover how disposable they are regardless of gender but this old essay just happens to address males.  The consumerism of "family" however it gets defined, may be more foundational to the economy than some self-styled social conservatives may realize.

And as consumption and production goes, Alastair Roberts links to RibbonFarm with this intriguing piece called "You are Not an Artisan". The sexy jobs are of conspicuous production, production of things like hand-crafted mugs that sell for $20 rather than the fifty cent mugs manufactured overseas. 

We're treated to a distinction between the artisan and the tradesman, between the bard and the chimneysweep and the case is that the bard may be sexier because of upward social mobility, ease of initial learning and enjoyment of the activity, and gives us stuff to blog about.  But the chimneysweep, unglamorous though he be, is doing more productive work.  Let's playfully suggest that if the only goal is go upstream where "culture gets made" you're sure to not change the culture at all.  Regime change is faster than culture change.

As RibbonFarm puts it, people want sexy work not truly creative work because the creative part can be removed and so long as people have jobs that permit upward social mobility and status development the actual creation part is less important.  This is how movie stars can keep making millions by essentially recycling all their most successful bits decade after decade.  This is how novelists keep mining "themes" when they have not come up with ideas that are actually all that new compared to what has come before in literature or even compared to what they have done in their own work.  It's also how some pastors recycle their ideas and make a point of asking their buddies in the guild to recycle their own best stuff for an audience that has probably downloaded the sermons before.

Here's a little pull quote from an already lengthy summary of a lengthy piece:

If you actually look at the work computers leave for us — supporting algorithmically unscalable information work — you will see that it is a far larger category than the “sexy that can be packaged as creative” subset that we are racing desperately to save. It may still not be enough to keep everybody productively employed, but there is certainly more to do than we think there is.

There's more but that's enough on this link.

In other links, someone at Slate may not realize that evangelicalism has had a robust progressive streak for some time.  Given the author it's hardly a surprise but we'll try to be nice. Elsewhere in the venue, it's noted recently that among free-thinkers and atheists there's still sexual harassment.  This is no surprise, seeing as in evolutionary terms there's no observable difference we could prove between our brains and that of people who existed even six-thousand years ago.

Finally, Terry Teachout links to one of the few interviews Paul Desmond gave.

Friday, August 09, 2013

Mockingird: Capon on the temptations of the Devil

Excerpting from The Third Peacock Ethan Richardson quotes Robert Farrar Capon on the temptation in the wilderness.  The Devil, it turns out, tempts Jesus to do things that Jesus later will do.  Satan tempts Jesus to turn stones into bread and Jesus later feeds five thousand, for instance.  Capon asserts that the things the Devil tempted Jesus to do had to do with the nature and use of power and that the Devil was tempting Jesus to do things that were not only sensible in their way but even good things where the benefit of humanity is concerned.

Which gets me thinking of The Grand Inquisitor chapter from The Brothers Karamazov, as these sorts of discussions will tend to do.  It's been a while since we've had a link to Mockingbird here at Wenatchee The Hatchet and this one was too intriguing not to link to. 

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Jeffrey Burton Russell's Dissent and Order in the Middle Ages: The Search for Legitimate Authority

Ecclesiastes 1:9-10 (NIV)
What has been will be again,
    what has been done will be done again;
    there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there anything of which one can say,
    “Look! This is something new”?
It was here already, long ago;
    it was here before our time.

People familiar with the work of Jeffrey Burton Russell may know him best for his fantastic five book series on the Devil in Western thought.  The entire series is well worth reading.

Russell is a medievalist by specialty and has a small and worthy book on ecclesial and doctrinal battles called Dissent and Order in the Middle Ages: The Search for Legitimate Authority.  While not a long book a good deal could be written about it.  This won't be a post where that "good deal" gets written.

Instead I'd like to highlight just a few things.  Russell mentions that order and dissent are competing engines that shape cultures and institutions.  If there is too much order a culture becomes stratified and dies out but if there is too much dissent the ensuing chaos gets you to the same place.  For a culture or institution or philosophy to survive it has to balance the competing needs for order and dissent.  Russell provides a synopsis of how this creative tension emerged in Western European Christianity. 

Along the way Russell notes that there were not really serious academic or systematic considerations of the nature of Eucharist until the eighth and ninth centuries.  This eruption of controversy did not merely happen to emerge as criticism of clerical authority and power began to emerge.  The basic idea of Real Presence emerged as the dominant view and those who espoused a mostly or even wholly symbolic meaning to Eucharist were branded as heretics.   (see pages 17-18)

Paschasius Radbert wrote a treatise circa 831-833 that, according to Russell, was the landmark attempt in the West to define the Eucharist.  The accepted idea up to that point was that Eucharist was the central act of worship and that Christ is present in the bread and wine when the community consecrates the elements.  Until Paschasius' treatise, Russell writes, no one in the West said much beyond that it was important the community consecrated the elements but that once theologians began to think about what that entailed they began to discuss Real Presence and what it entailed.

Paschasius came down on the side of what we'd generally call Real Presence and that the bread and wine were Christ corporeally.  But not all the monks who discussed the matter actually endorsed this view.  Ratramnus, another monk of Corbie like Paschasius, was aghast at the formulation of Real Presence and went nearly all the way to the other side to say that the meal was symbolic to a point where Real Presence was fuzzy.  Russell mentions that as early (or far back) as 838 the monk Amalarius was condemned by the Council of Quierzy as a heretic for asserting the Eucharist was completely allegorical.  So Jeffrey Burton Russell managed to establish that debate about whether Eucharist was to be considered a corporeal presence of Christ or a symbolic remembrance managed to happen as soon as anyone in the West attempted to discuss it.  Jim West, a big Zwingli fan, may be heartened to know that Russell has shown us that the symbolic memorial take emerged alongside the real presence view and that it wasn't just in the 1500s that the debate emerged.

So there, there's the stuff about Eucharist.

What's also interesting and discussed throughout the book is millenarianism, how the Roman church spent time discreding both premillennial and postmillennial views and attempts to interpret the millennium mentioned in Revelation in either of those two directions.  People are bound to dispute Russell's blanket statement early in the book (page 14) that from Augustine on the West universally condemned millenarian views.  But that premillennial dispensationalism is anything but a historically grounded iteration of Christian eschatology in the West or East is a topic for others to debate.  This is just a "little" write-up on a little book. Viewing the millennial reign as a thing to look forward to in the "pre" or "post" sense was popular with dissent groups that Rome labeled heretical.

Then as now there was a tendency to employ talk of the millennium from Revelation as really referring to whatever particular advocates had in mind about themselves, at the risk of reaching wide of Russell's general observations.  As an aside, it's worth noting that anyone who has read Walter Martin's writings on various cults that emerged in the United States since its foundation may recall how many of those cults developed out of eschatological predictive misfires.  Historically the Church in the West and East has seemed to conclude that the best way to avoid those generationally narcissistic readings is to reinforce the observation of the chiefly symbolic nature of apocalyptic idioms.

While there's much that could be written beyond these two particular points the book is worth reading and it highlights the clash between establishment and grassroots movements in Western Christianity that are instructive to consider at any time.  If we survey the literature on cessationist and charismatic theology Jeffrey Burton Russell's work suggests that this is essentially the same kind of debate that was erupting in the medieval period.  The real debate is about what institutions and movements have legitimate authority and which ones do not.  The propensity of yesterday's underdog rebels to become today's oppressive establishment was, well, the same back then as it tends to be today.  It's a useful and brief overview of medieval European Christianity prior to the Reformation that lets us know that many of the debates that emerged in the Reformation were not really new ones, what was arguably most new about the Reformation was that the landed aristocracy had gained enough political, financial and military power to lend assistance to dissent groups and began to find it more compelling to do so than in earlier periods.  But that's an admittedly sweeping gesture given for conversations elsewhere (because it's apparent people don't get too chatty in the comments here at this blog the majority of the time). 

Russell's book is a solid overview that doesn't drown a reader in endless footnotes but provides documents for further reference and future reading.  The book is slim and modestly priced which makes it very easy to pick up and if you want to you could go through this thing in a weekend.  But if you want to benefit from the book, little though it may be, you'll soak it up slowly and see how the issues and debates Russell recounts from medieval European Christianity may be playing out all over the place in our own time.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Meet 5 men who have helped shape Mars Hill who are all doctors and have never been members of the church

...  During August, I’ll be taking some vacation time with Grace and the Fab Five. But because Mars Hill people are the best, I called up some of my best friends and asked them to come visit our church and preach their best sermon while I am out of the pulpit. ...

Then there's the list.

Dr. Paul Tripp
Dr. Bruce Ware
Dr. Wayne Grudem
Dr. Larry Osborn
Dr. Eric Mason

Which of these guys (doctors all) has ever actually been a member of Mars Hill Church? 

If we were to look at five men who have helped shaped Mars Hill that were ever at any point members of the church and were not simultaneously Mark Driscoll then the list might include these guys. 

Mike Gunn
Lief Moi
Jamie Munson
Tim Smith
Scott Thomas

And others but five is such a necessarily arbitrary number.

Practical Theology for Women has a few posts on love and respect and the genders

It's been a while since we've linked to Wendy's writing at Practical Theology for Women.  Part of me wants to write extensively about how I think the evangelical Protestant canard about men wanting respect and women wanting love is a canard (really) because it ends up being a distinction without a difference. 

But it seems too self-evident to me that love and respect are too intertwined to treat as though men want one and women want the other.  If you don't respect a person how much do you love them?  If you don't love a person what level of respect will you really pay to the person?  There are kinds of respects that, some say, must be earned and there are kinds of respect that, some say, are inherent but even this raises the question of how and why one would distinguish between different kinds of respect.  Why would one respect be intrinsic and another have to be earned?  That would depend on the nature of the relationship being defined.  I don't have much interest in blogging at length about those matters, however.

I will, however, share a little story.  A relative of mine was working for a supervisor who decided something that my relative, having worked in that workplace for years, considered a bad call.  When my relative stated his opinion his supervisor asked, "Are you questioning my authority?"  The reply, "No, I'm questioning your judgment."  Tact is not necessarily one of the great strengths of the family. 

You see, dear reader, some of us do not necessarily "salute the uniform".  Whoever has the uniform may get respect by dint of that position nominally bearing some authority but if that person in that office makes a stupid or harmful decision the character and judgment of that person is not above question.  Let me rephrase this in another way, respecting a person does not necessitate I agree with everything they say or do.  It's possible to truly respect a person while vehemently dissenting from a particular decision and the grounds for that decision.  If you've been reading this blog as far back as 2006 then you already know (probably) what scenarios I have in mind.  Yep, those scenarios.  I can respect a man overall without reservation while considering his decision in particular set of circumstances to be terrible, reprehensible and indefensible.  Yes, I put it that strongly.  No, it does not mean I can't respect men and women I consider to be good and honest people who make horrible mistakes. 

So, I hope, when I say that I think X decision was horrible, misguided, cowardly, uninformed or something like that then if I respect person A then person A will know that I'm objecting to X decision, not to person A as a person.  People on the internet have a propensity to conflate objection to decision X with making a sweeping judgment about person A, especially when no background or broader knowledge of the person A is either possessed or wanted. 

To end with a potentially tangential thought, there are men and women who, despite having made terrible mistakes have earned my unreserved respect over time because they have never commanded it.  There are others, by now, who have commanded respect who will potentially never get it because they have either not earned it or they have conducted their lives in a way that has divested them of any reason for me to ever respect them again (until things change).  I'm sure I've been the same way to more people than I can imagine.

Anyway, I'd be remiss if I didn't link to some of Wendy's recent posts on love and respect and genders.

Contra Jim West, Alastair Roberts explains why his posts are so dense and lengthy

Roberts composes posts so long that they can sometimes make Steve Hays at Triablogue seem positively pithy.  Not that I'm complaining that posts get too long, mind you.  I've written more than a few monster-sized posts with piles of primary documentation that don't spell things out out of a desire to avoid insulting a reader's intelligence.

But to go by some reactions I've had from some readers and observers there may be something to be said for insulting the reader's intelligence a bit more.  :)

As someone who also writes in a particular style with a particular length to defuse the level of zeal and fury associated with blogging on certain topics, my own variation/explanation of how I blog on some things got posted here.  Two very different sorts of writers can arrive at comparably emotionally-detached styles through virtually opposite foundational motives.  But they may not be so opposite in the end if Alastair and I attempt to write in a way that presupposes truly neighborly interaction.