Saturday, October 17, 2015

over at New Republic, an author remarks that Gladwell is wrong to compare school shooters to riots and states young isolated males with a drive for recognition are at risk to shoot people
Thinking about shootings in terms of riots helps explain their contagious spread, but it also risks dismissing the phenomenon too easily as just an instance of copycat killing. If, as the evidence suggests, most shooters aren’t profoundly deviant but fairly normal Americans gone bad, then we have to ask why they turned. It’s not enough to say they were simply mimicking the true psychopaths. Indeed, why mimic them in the first place? What is it about life in 21st century America that has made nihilism such a compelling program? We overlook the root of the problem at our own peril. After all, as Gladwell is at pains to show, the shooters aren’t “them”; they’re us.
 Perhaps the best way to think about this is to invert the question: What would turn a potential copycat shooter away from killing? Gun restrictions would obviously go a long way in stemming the bloodshed. But it’s also worth looking at the structures of our society. Psychologists have argued that shooters across the spectrum are driven by a desire for recognition and respect. Eric Harris wanted, in typical psychopath fashion, to prove his superiority: “Ich bin Gott,” he wrote in his school planner. (German for, “I am God.”) But others seek acknowledgement too: Alvaro Castillo, who revered Harris, explained in his video, “All I wanted was respect… No one respected me.” Elliott Rodger wanted to punish women for not giving him the attention he thought he deserved. John LaDue, who was prevented from carrying out his attack when police discovered his cache of weapons last year, admitted that he had never been bullied. But he liked the idea of making people look at him and say, “I never knew he would do something like that.”

This recurring desire for recognition has led psychologists to conclude that communities need to do a better job of “help[ing] disillusioned youths find a place for themselves in society, something many of them feel they lack.” They suggest guiding would-be shooters to find jobs or activities at which they excel and encouraging them to discover ways to use their talents that will earn them positive attention. Building stronger relationships with others in their community is part of this: “When a youth establishes ties to people he cares about, he is apt to feel that he has too much at stake to act out his brutal dreams.”
 These proposed remedies indicate, if inadvertently, that something is awry in our culture: Young people feel increasingly isolated, lacking a sense of purpose and belonging. Religious and civic organizations that, in a previous age, formed the backbone of American community have fallen to the wayside, and we haven’t developed something to replace them. In Bowling Alone, Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam famously noted the tremendous decline in membership in community groups and associations: The number of people who bowl has increased, but the number of people who bowl in leagues has dropped precipitously. The metaphor is apt—Americans are alone, a dangerous state of affairs for young men above all.

All duly noted, although this boilerplate gets at stuff Mark Driscoll (yes, that Mark Driscoll) was working into sermons fifteen years ago.  The observation that if young men with an excess of hormones, physical energy, and a lack of social identity and potential legacy don't get a positive outlet for their anxieties they often turn to physical violence in its more antisocial forms was something Mark Driscoll used to talk about a lot.

As I've said before at this blog one of the paradoxes afoot is if progressives paid attention to what problems guys like Mark Driscoll and his fans SAY they're trying to solve they might find some overlap.  The conundrum is that historically the solutions for corralling the potential energy of potentially antisocial male tendencies toward violence and acquisition tend toward ... eh ... cult formation?  Yes, sometimes.

a piece in the Atlantic on pornography and how Playboy took it "out of the realm of the animalistic and into the realm of the aspirational" ... as if it was NEVER aspirational before?
In The Atlantic a few years ago, Natasha Vargas-Cooper discussed the rise of online pornography and argued that porn exists the way it does because male sexuality is guided, on a kind of primal level, by violence. There is something both immutable and dangerous, she argued, about the male drive when it is unfettered and left to its own devices, uncurbed by the softening forces of social constraint. And what is the Internet, she suggested, if not a kind of morally libertarian free-for-all?
Vargas-Cooper wrote with the kind of sad resignation that is the only logical tone for an argument that the male sex drive is both immutable and, for women, kind of terrible: We are animals, she suggested, and differing attitudes toward sex are a simple matter of biology that neither men nor women can escape.

Playboy, in its way, contradicted that idea. It framed male sexuality not in the manner Vargas did (which is also, really, the manner that so much of human culture has done)—as something animalistic and base and violent. Instead, the magazine treated sexuality itself—the identity aspect of sex—as something that, like food and cars and clothes and other commercial goods, can be bought. And also opted into and opted out of.

Which is another way of saying that Playboy was, in it way, an early adopter of the Buzzfeed listicle. It understood that what it was selling was not actually sex, but a sense of self. It took pornography—one of the longest-standing human art forms—out of the realm of the animalistic and into the realm of the aspirational. Andrew Derkrikorian, a 27-year-old former Playboy reader, told U.S. News and World Report that, as a teenager, he read Playboy—despite the ubiquity of naked women on pretty every other media platform—because, “besides just the nudity, there was a purpose behind every image.” And because, “compared to the girls in the photos today, that was art.”

There is a peculiar paradox at work in this argument, which is that collapsing sexuality into the public sphere allows it to be far more rigorously defined and policed than if it were nobody's business but the two consenting adults. It's the phrase "out of the realm of the animalistic and into the realm of the aspirational" that seems both on the nose and seems, at some level, almost curiously unaware.  Was it a good thing that pornography as one of the longest standing human art forms allegedly became aspirational?  Couldn't just about anyone propose that it was ALWAYS aspirational?

author of The Game now promoting a book about The Truth, proposes the threat with the pick-up artist is a distant father and a narcissistic mother

Having published a book years ago called The Game, Neil Strauss is now promoting another book ...


Gilsinan: But it’s interesting too, given the way the book ends, with you meeting this woman who is not impressed by any of this stuff, and then you end up with her. What do you think that says about the utility of the techniques for banging lots of women versus finding someone who likes you without your having to use tricks on them?
Strauss: Yeah, so if you’re going to talk to me today about it versus then, right? If you talked to me then about it, I would have defended the techniques as a way to learn courtship. If you ask me today about it, I’d tell you that anything that involves manipulation or needing to have a certain outcome is definitely not healthy in any way.


Strauss: It isn’t that I changed my mind. You said The Game was kind of a coming-of-age tale, but it was like coming to the age of adolescence at a late point. And I think The Truth in a way was coming to adulthood at a late point. Let’s just face it, I got so deep into that community and was seduced by it that I completely lost myself in it. It happens in the book. Why did I really stop writing for The New York Times, hang out with all these kids running around, you know, the Sunset Strip like a maniac in stupid clothing? I see those photos and I vomit in my mouth a little bit.

I even knew then that it was about low self-esteem. Even when I wrote it, I didn’t think it would be a guide. I thought it would be a book about male insecurity. But now coming out of the other side of it, I can see how there were maybe unconscious forces operating on me that made me so obsessed, and even when I thought “the game” was over, that it still had this hold on me. 

The Mallory Archer effect starts to get discussed here when Strauss talks about how the thread in the PUA scene is its champions had domineering/narcissistic mothers.

Gilsinan: A lot of the criticism was, well, men are afraid of women’s sexuality, and the response to that is, yeah, obviously. That’s not a new thing. To me at least, that’s entirely why this pickup community exists. It’s all about getting over fear of talking to humans.
Strauss: That’s exactly it. And I’ll go one deeper. To me, the biggest shock of my life, was how, myself who wrote The Game, Robert Greene who wrote The Art of Seduction, Tucker Max, who, well, is Tucker Max—what do we all have in common?
Gilsinan: What?
Strauss: We all have narcissistic mothers. So what happened? What happens when you grow up with your identity being squashed by this mother who never sees you but only sees herself, is you grow up with a fear of being overpowered by the feminine again.
Gilsinan: Whoooaa.
Strauss: Right? And so at that level you realize The Game was about being in this power relationship—ok, you’re safe because you’re in control, you’re not being vulnerable. Even the relationships you get in are maybe with people you feel safe with because you’re in control. There’s no way you can have intimacy from that. So when I would do seminars [about The Game], I would say, let me ask you, how many people here were raised with a narcissistic or dominant mother figure? Every time it was about 80 percent of the room. And then when you start to realize, ok, this has nothing to do with the world, it’s just me, I’ve got to get over it—that’s when everything kind of changes.

Then the spirit vs the letter of the Law quote that would be a highlight over at, say, Mockingbird:

Strauss: Here’s an example, even in The Game. There’s an idea of never buying somebody a drink. I remember, I was on a date with someone and I was just so excited to be with her, she was just so great. We each had one drink. The bill came, and it got awkward. I’m like, I’m never supposed to buy her a drink and now I have the bill, what do I do? Then I said, let’s split it. It was for two drinks, and I looked like such a cheap douchebag. That was a case where I just should have said, it’s no big deal to get it. The idea is that there are rules, but the real idea is that there are reasons why those rules exist. If you understand the reasons, you can throw out the rules and recognize that they’re just guidelines. [emphasis added]

the metaphorical ghosts of Crimson Peak, the great live-action Scooby Doo episode on film this year. ;)

First off, having seen it this weekend I don't hesitate to say that Guillermo del Toro's Crimson Peak is the best feature length live-action Scooby Doo story I've seen.  Formally presented as a ghost story the protagonist Edith Cushing telegraphs that it's a story that happens to have a ghost in it. It's a Gothic romance, as has been said, and it's a story full of ghosts but at which the evil center is utterly mortal.

Whether wax cylinder recordings, ghost images on film sheets, hints in portraits, or unrecovered letters, the imagistic ghosts can be seen as physical revenants, testimonies left unnoticed. Edith eventually discovers through familiarizing herself with Allerdale Hall's chaotic material the cycle of desperate conning and killing the Sharp siblings have conducted in a feeble attempt to recover the reputation and prosperity of their house and household. Reduced to a literally and metaphorically incestuous bond that failed to preserve their family line, Thomas and Lucille Sharp scour the Western world for girls of no family but financial means to seduce into funding a boondoggle-ish mining project. 

There are ghosts aplenty in the film, but in the end the evil is the thoroughly flesh and blood Lucille.  Jessica Chastain chews through the film, shifting from contemptuous icy formality to apoplectic fury.  It's a performance fit for a cartoon (in fact Chastain had moments where she reminded me of the gloriously creepy Azula, for those who know who that character is). Lucille is loyal and determined and if she had virtues beyond those she'd be a more heroic character. :) 

But she's the central villain of the story and the story is not so much about the overly formal marriage Edith Mia Wasikowska) has with Thomas Sharp (Tom Hiddleston) as about the conflict between Edith and Lucille.  Early on Lucille announces to Edith that everyone has a place and that she would ensure Edith would find hers.  Having done the grifter cycle for four or five marriages in a row Thomas begins to feel genuine affection for Edith but is too co-dependently bound to Lucille to do much more than issue a few private expressions of regret and provide a couple of reprieves once the full nature of the siblings' legacy of murder and deceit is finally discovered.

In ghosts stories it has been conventional that the ghosts represent the malign or unsettled souls of those whose lives were cut short and exact punishment on people. In Crimson Peak the role of the ghosts is benevolent.  Though they bear the grisly wounds that dispatched them to the grave, and seem only to take visible form to speak for short moments, from start to finish the ghosts of Crimson Peak are witnesses. The ghosts can appear and then briefly turn Edith's attention to the physical world around her in which and through which clues to the cycle of murder and deception can be discovered. Signaling subtext and text was pretty on-the-nose within the first third of the film and the story overall feels pretty conventional but there's not ultimately that much winking and nodding at the audience.  Sometimes old stories are worth retelling because the stories worked.  Crimson Peak evokes Poe without being so obvious about it as to be a straightforward retelling of "Fall of the House of Usher".

I don't know if I'd go see it again or necessarily suggest you go snap this film up on disc when it gets that far.  I found the remake of Evil Dead more personally fun and intriguing with its thematic re-envisioning of Sam Raimi's splatstick film as an exploration of drug addiction and a family with a history of mental illness; but Crimson Peak is still a solid matinee experience. Wasikowska is fun as the lead and Hiddleston is ever reliable whatever he does but it's Jessica Chastain who seizes the film and runs with it. I liked reading Dana Stevens' joke in her review of the film that Chastain at length tired of playing characters who save guys like Matt Damon and wanted a character who has agency and drives the plot.  Boy, does Chastain's Lucille drive the plot!  The majority of ghosts in the film are of those she has killed. 

At the end of the film Edith declares in voice-over that ghosts are real, this she knows.  Of course the ghosts remain metaphorical in the film and if it seems that by dint of this the film manages to eat its cake and have it, too, well, that's the kind of movie it is. If the ghosts in the ghost story disappoint because they are not trying to harm Edith but to seek her as a witness on their behalf to the crimes committed against them it's worth noting the people who have worked on this film have been explaining that it's a story with a ghost in it first, and that the ghosts are metaphors. It's not like we weren't told in the first act.

Friday, October 16, 2015

a year ago, Mark Driscoll resigned pastorship and left Mars Hill. A brief index of tagged posts discussing the resignation and the variant narratives presented in the last year to explain it.

One Vanderbloemen wasted no time to crank out a piece about how the resignation changed "everything"

Some of us were not convinced anything at all was necessarily going to change.

Well, Mars Hill at that point was doomed to formal dissolution and the liquidation of its assets by way of the BoAA but it remains to be seen who can account for where the millions in the sale of alluded to assets may end up or where they have ended up already. 

But people can be wrong.  For instance, there turned out to be at least six distinct stories about how and why Mark Driscoll resigned his ministry and his membership.  If you want to read a diachronic survey of those stories ...

If you want to read posts tagged on the Gateway performance

If you want to read posts tagged on the Thrive performance

If you want to read the duet performance for Brian Houston

It's worth noting that during 2014 there was no point at which Mark Driscoll said "God told me X with respect to resignation".  It was more of "I'm not planning on going anywhere".  Then Driscoll resigned.  It was in 2015 on the conference circuit that Driscoll began to explain, about half a year after his resignation, that he heard God audibly release him from ministry.   If we scour the Bible for literary or historical precedents for God audibly conveying release from ministry to someone divinely appointed to a task the precedents are not hugely encouraging.

King Saul, for instance, was explicitly appointed and then "demoted" from the role he was called to in Israelite community.

In case you wondered, "performance" is the preferred word because the man is not in any way a pastor at this point since he quit, and rambling stories about kids and personal anecdotes while theoretically talking about biblical texts seems more accurately described as a "performance" than a "sermon".

POSTSCRIPT 10-17-2015

There's never been an explanation what "a trap has been set" could mean.  When a prophetic warning was issued to Ahab by Micaiah that was not about a trap that could be worked around. Ahab tried to disguise himself and still died in battle in a way that proves the soldierly joke, "Don't worry about the bullet with your name on it, worry about the bullet labeled `to whom it may concern'."

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

HT Jim West--Tim Bulkeley posts on ways the prophets and prophetic literature can be misunderstood.
This begins sensibly enough, as a warning that the neat slogan which explains that the biblical prophets are not foretellers but forthtellers is simplistic. Of course, in this Motyer is quite correct. The prophets often do look to the future. They consistently warn of danger threatening people who consistently transgress God’s standards. They also often point to glorious future hope. My beef with Motyer is that he calls this future focus “prediction“. The term is useful to Motyer (I think) because it links his point with traditional language about prophecy. This is a comfortable point for a conservative scholar to make – his article will be less threatening to its likely readers, sounding more like the many sermons and TV religious gurus they have heard speak about biblical prophecy.

But is he right? Do the prophets predict? Or do they rather warn and encourage? Prediction, insofar as it is different from mere warning, implies saying in advance that a certain event will happen. Is this what the prophets in the Bible do? It often seems so, the messages God gave them often involve future events. Thus
when God commissions Jonah the second time he instructs: “Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” (Jonah 3:2) This Jonah does. (Jonah 3:3) The message he proclaims is:  “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” (Jonah 3:4) But, if this message is intended by God as a prediction, then God is mistaken, for Nineveh is not overthrown in forty days. It is turned upside down, almost immediately, by Jonah’s message, in repentance. But ironically, this repentance leads to God sparing Nineveh (Jonah 3:10).

This is quite clear. Either God’s message is a prediction – in which case it is false, or it is a warning – in which case it succeeds. [emphasis added]

Motyer does not cite Jonah, rather he focuses on Elisha (2 Kgs
4:27) and Amos (3:7). The first (like my example) is a narrative, Elisha, in the verse Motyer cites, states that God has hidden and not revealed to him [the child’s death]. Do Elisha’s words suggest that he understands his role as predicting such events? Or could it be rather that having given the miraculous child as a reward Elisha feels God “ought” to have warned him of the coming disaster? In Amos 3:7 the prophet declares: “Surely the Lord GOD does nothing, without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets.” Verse seven however is not the point of the passage, that comes in verse  eight: “The lion has roared; who will not fear? The Lord GOD has spoken; who can but prophesy?” Amos’ point is not that Prophets are predictors, but that prophets must declare the message God gives them, even when the warning is of destruction. As we saw in the example from Jonah, what God “plans” is not always what God does!

In many cases what preachers and teachers claim in general to be the case about prophets and prophetic activity seems to be, well, wrong.  A perspective I've found helpful in anchoring prophetic activity to a judicial role has been Frank Crusemann's, and Crusemann noted two simple things. First he noted that while divination was forbidden to the priests it was not explicitly forbidden to prophets (and we can see some prophets, such a Elisha, did make use of techniques that could be associated with divination such as trances induced by music and symbolic rituals). Second, the prophet had no predictive role designated by Deuteronomy 18 but a judicial role. Priests were not to resort to divination but if a judge or priest didn't have an answer a prophet could be consulted. 

A way this could be formulated so that Americans can appreciate the doctrinal and political significance of this is that there was at least a precept of separation of powers. If it seemed that King Saul wasn't nearly as bad a man as David was overall that would be true based on what we see in the Old Testament narratives. But to try to express an idea within the biblical narratives in a way that is clear for contemporary American thought, Saul could be considered the worse of the two kings because of his attitude toward royal power. He was more apt to be swayed by "the will of the people" but so long as whatever they willed coincided with what he already wanted.

Nathan's confrontation with David may be instructive in expanding upon Bulkeley's observations about ways we can misunderstand prophets.  Nathan doesn't make much of a prediction. It would be pretty easy to establish from the way David began a war for personal glory rather than the benefit of the people that things were not going to end well for him.  The warning from Nathan "could" be read as some mechanistic prediction but taking up Bulkeley's ideas I think another way to interpret what Nathan was telling David is to say Nathan was saying this, "Look, David, you've sown the seeds of death and discord that will bring your reign to an inglorious end and now those seeds have not just taken root, the plants are blooming."

Something I have pointed out to some friends over the years is that, if you think about it, a majority of the prophets to Israel failed in their lifetimes.  This has been met with "No, because they predicted Jesus."  That's a post hoc Christian interpretation of the prophets.  Let's consider that Jesus rhetorically asked "Which of the prophets did your ancestors not kill?" Jesus' warning/encouragement was that if you end up getting pilloried by those who think they're doing God a favor know that that was how the real prophets were treated, too. That's not some epistlemologically airtight formula, of course, but it leads nicely into my next observation, if the Israelite prophets whose writings were preserved had been effective in warning the people away from injustice and unrighteousness there wouldn't have been an exile in Babylon and abroad, would there?

Yes, I know perfectly well that in light of recent popular theories that a majority of the Bible was not only assembled but written from the Persian exilic period on somebody could say "yeah, the exile was where all the Bible got written". You can still get the rhetorical case, that the prophets and the literature bequeathed to us in the Judeo-Christian canon can be considered the unheeded warnings of dissident literature from prophetic communities. One of Jesus' warnings of woe is that if everybody speaks well of you and praises you, watch out, because that's how it went for the false prophets.

There might be a triple irony in the Amos 3 passage.  Consider Amos 7:10-17

10Then Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, sent word to Jeroboam king of Israel, saying, “Amos has conspired against you in the midst of the house of Israel; the land is unable to endure all his words. 11“For thus Amos says, ‘Jeroboam will die by the sword and Israel will certainly go from its land into exile.’” 12Then Amaziah said to Amos, “Go, you seer, flee away to the land of Judah and there eat bread and there do your prophesying! 13“But no longer prophesy at Bethel, for it is a sanctuary of the king and a royal residence.”

      14Then Amos replied to Amaziah, “I am not a prophet, nor am I the son of a prophet; for I am a herdsman and a grower of sycamore figs. 15“But the LORD took me from following the flock and the LORD said to me, ‘Go prophesy to My people Israel.’ 16“Now hear the word of the LORD: you are saying, ‘You shall not prophesy against Israel nor shall you speak against the house of Isaac.’ 17“Therefore, thus says the LORD, ‘Your wife will become a harlot in the city, your sons and your daughters will fall by the sword, your land will be parceled up by a measuring line and you yourself will die upon unclean soil. Moreover, Israel will certainly go from its land into exile.’”

When ordered to go the seer business elsewhere Amos' reply is something like, "Look, man, I have a day job. I herd animals and tend trees."  Amos did not identify himself as a "vocational" prophet but, if you will, an occasional one.  What Amos 3 "could" introduce is a sarcastic element (and it's not as if there's ever been a precedent for sarcasm in Jewish literature, is there?)

If you tell a real prophet of the Lord "stop doing what you're doing" you may find your house collapses; your family gets broken up; and you're miles and miles away from the property you once called home because in your folly and defiance of the Lord's warnings you can end up ruined.  So even within Amos there seems to be a sarcastic recognition that even should God announce in advance what will happen through a prophet God's people are so stubborn and hard-hearted they ignore the warning.

DG Hart "If you bring up the past, be prepared for the boomerang".
Perhaps the more important lesson here is the way that Americans want their history. We won’t tolerate any sin or injustice (don’t think the Old Testament). Mix any sordid parts of human exploitation in and you better close down the museum or rename the holiday. In other words, deep down Americans all want a Chamber of Commerce version of history. The right thinks of America as only great all the time. The left wants greatness but can’t handle anything less.

But related and not without significance is apologist’s argument that uses on history to vindicate a specific Christian communion. If you bring up the past, be prepared for the boomerang.

No cherry picking.

As Hart would know by now having written a chapter called something like "The Search for a Useful History" cherry-picking a history based on ideological commitments in the here and now for an ideal future is the American way. :)

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

over at Mark Driscoll Ministries re:cycling continues and features a video update.

4. Keep one ear open and one ear closed (7:5-6)
Solomon rightly reminds us that both wise and foolish people are happy to tell us what they think. But, if we want good for our lives, we have to have one closed ear turned toward the fools, and one open ear turned toward the wise.
How do we know who the fools are? Solomon gives us a two-fold test. One, a fool treats everything with a levity that is unfitting. Not everything is funny, not everything is a joke, and not everything can be dealt with by a sense of humor. Fools tend to be shallow and unable to swim out into the deep waters of life. They splash around the shallow shore and treat real matters like they are simple and not worth fretting over.  A fool can be fun in the good times, and downright annoying in the tough times. Two, a fool fades fast. Like a fire made with dried thorns, they burn hot and fast with a lot of passion and energy that is gone quickly. A fool will show a lot of emotion and make a lot of promises in a loud volume at the beginning of a lengthy trial but are gone before the real work even begins. Fools don’t really count the cost of walking with someone through a hard season, so they say a lot, do a little, and are nowhere to be found after the first trip to chemo or the divorce attorney.
Which may be as good a reminder as any that Mark Driscoll resigned from being pastor at Mars Hill after a year and a half of controversy surrounding ... well, thematically point 5 covers this in a way, taking shortcuts. Driscoll kept promising he wasn't going anywhere and then when real controversy hit he not only bailed but claimed he got direct authorization from God (just this year, not last year) to do so.
We've got a diachronic survey of the various stories about how and why Mark Driscoll quit here:
and since the personal story can sure come off like a sacred and indisputable power appeal not just for a Mark Driscoll but for a Rachel Held Evans, there's a potentially useful overview of that covered by Alistair Roberts that we discussed over here:

That's just for point 4 of Driscoll's recent update.

There's an ironic observation from Driscoll lately, about shortcuts being dead ends.
5. Shortcuts are dead ends (7:5)
In life, when money is short and deadlines are tight, it can be tempting to cut corners, take a shortcut, and do things that are unethical if not illegal. A bribe is when we decide how much we are willing to sell our integrity for. When we take a bribe, if reveals that we are lovers of money and worshippers of money, which means at the bedrock of our soul is not a love of God and worship of God. In this way, money is a good way to gauge our soul. These “shortcuts” ultimately prove to be dead ends in God’s economy.
These bribes and dead ends can include fudging on our billable hours, overbilling, increasing our profit margins on an item, stealing from our employer (including time), and covering for others who are skimming the company in some way. We can make a lot of excuses for why we take what is not ours, or take more than we’ve got coming – but all such dealings “corrupt the heart”. Since the heart is the seat and center of our lives from which all of life flows, poisoning our soul for a few bucks is never a good return on investment in the eternal economy of God.

Had Mark Driscoll not taken so many shortcuts in how carefully he cited the works he drew upon for ideas in his published works; or took a shortcut for how (let alone if) he'd ever end up on the New York Times bestseller list, he might still be in Seattle (or, er, Woodway) this year giving a video update.

If Driscoll had shown substantial evidence in his life an actions he'd ever lived these precepts out in the last five to ten years it'd be easier to take him seriously when he insists on sharing them with others. He may be completely incapable of seeing any irony in formulating a catchphrase to describe being a good Christian as "be a good dog".

Monday, October 12, 2015

at the New Yorker, on Thoreau "Pond Scum", the American transcendentalist author as a smug self-satisified moralizing scold? Alright.

I was long drawn more to Melville than Emerson or Thoreau.  I landed pretty squarely in the anti-transcendentalist camp by high school, more or less. My affection for the music of Charles Ives withstanding, it's difficult not to see the sentiments of the American transcendentalists as more juvenile than genius.

So with that out of the way ... :

 Perhaps the strangest, saddest thing about “Walden” is that it is a book about how to live that says next to nothing about how to live with other people. Socrates, too, examined his life—in the middle of the agora. Montaigne obsessed over himself down to the corns on his toes, but he did so with camaraderie and mirth. Whitman, Thoreau’s contemporary and fellow-transcendentalist, joined him in singing a song of himself, striving to be untamed, encouraging us to resist much and obey little. But he was generous (“Give alms to everyone that asks”), empathetic (“Whoever degrades another degrades me”), and comfortable with multitudes, his and otherwise. He would have responded to a shipwreck as he did to the Civil War, tending the wounded and sitting with the grieving and the dying.
Granted, it is sometimes difficult to deal with society. Few things will thwart your plans to live deliberately faster than those messy, confounding surprises known as other people. Likewise, few things will thwart your absolute autonomy faster than governance, and not only when the government is unjust; every law is a parameter, a constraint on what we might otherwise do. Teen-agers, too, strain and squirm against any checks on their liberty. But the mature position, and the one at the heart of the American democracy, seeks a balance between the individual and the society. Thoreau lived out that complicated balance; the pity is that he forsook it, together with all fellow-feeling, in “Walden.” And yet we made a classic of the book, and a moral paragon of its author—a man whose deepest desire and signature act was to turn his back on the rest of us.

Peter Leithart and Carl Trueman on this thing about blogs and the press and Christian controversy--don't ask "Is Jesus honored by ... ?" tell us what theory of the press you have before asking rhetorical questions
by Peter J. Leithart
9 . 28 . 15
Members of the Corinthian church were filing suits against one another before the Roman courts, and Paul was livid. Saints will judge the world. Saints will judge angels. Since the saints are destined for that level of judicial authority, “are you not competent to constitute the smallest law court?” (1 Corinthians 6:2-3).

Is there, Paul asks, “not among you one wise man who will be able to decide between his brethren, but brother goes to law with brother, and that before unbelievers?” (vv. 5-6). Is there not one Moses among the Corinthians, or even one man qualified as judge? (cf. Exodus 18; Deuteronomy 1).

Paul urges that it is better to be defrauded and wronged than to take a brother to court: “It is already a defeat for you, that you have lawsuits with one another” (v. 7). Paul urged the Corinthians to follow Jesus by suffering shame, rather than seeking vindication before unbelievers.

Many Christians today are resolved not to take a brother to a civil court, but try to solve disputes through arbitration or through church-courts. That is highly commendable.

Yet many Christians are perfectly content to take disputes with their brothers to the web, presenting them before the court of public opinion, before unbelievers.

What should we say about that? Does that come under the same Pauline strictures? The web, after all, is not only filled with unbelievers but is a notorious free-for-all. Civil courts have rules of evidence and mechanisms to confirm or refute allegations. The web has none of these controls, and taking a case to the web is like taking it to a court where everyone is judge, jury, and executioner. People who have no right to have an opinion get to express an opinion. Is that a good place for Christians to be wrangling with each other?

Is there a difference between public theological debate and public airing of grievances and complaints against a church or a pastor? Am I contradicting my own principle by blogging about this?

I understand the temptation to take it to the Court of Google. Resolving disputes through church channels is laborious, slow, unsatisfying. Church boards and courts make mistakes, and, as in civil courts, decisions often leave all parties frustrated and unhappy about the outcome. Many churches in the United States are nondenominational churches that don't present any obvious way of resolving conflicts that are unresolved in a local church.

We want vindication, and the web seems to provide the opportunity. That's not really true, because web disputes are more inconclusive than any court case could be. No internet dispute is ever over. People just move on to inspect the next crash site.

That laborious, flawed, church-based way of resolution seems to be the method Paul lays out. We may do it badly, but God has entrusted the judgment of the world and angels to the saints, so we had better start getting some practice.

The fundamental is: Is Jesus honored when Christians take one another to task before a watching world? 

I'm afraid that Doug Wilson's got too long a track record of wanting to eat his cake and have it, too, on this kind of thing. I've been incubating a set of posts that would review the biblical literature generally and the prophetic literature in particular; and get around to an overview of the writings of the reformer Heinrich Bullinger on the office and activity of the prophet as providing a doctrinal and literary precedent for what is now called watchblogging ... but stuff takes time.  In the interim, here's a few lengthy quotes from another contributor to First Things.  Yes, you saw in the title it was going to be Carl Trueman, and so it is.

A free press is basic to the health of democratic culture in the civil sphere because it offers one line of public accountability for those in public office. Those who perform immediate public acts should expect to be subject to immediate public scrutiny. And what is true for the culture at large is also true for its various subcultures. A free Christian press is also important for the Christian subculture: it keeps leaders and organizations accountable.

Of course, as with the mainstream media, there is the ideal and there is the reality. The ideal is a fiercely independent media seeking the truth in a disinterested and objective way. The reality is that everyone is owned by somebody. Every radio station has its sponsors. Every newspaper has its proprietor or shareholders. Every Christian organization has its theological confession and its constituent base. It is naive to think that this does not impact how these groups respond to events and seek to portray reality. And there is a sense in which they have every right to do so. The alternative—-state control—-is distinctly undesirable.

Where the situation becomes sinister is when one group attempts to police the activities of another, or where one Christian organization or leader uses their personal power or share of the market to prevent others, with whom they are not formally connected, from speaking freely and asking the hard questions. At that point, things take a very sinister turn indeed.

 the health of the Christian subcultures in our society depends to an important extent upon the freedom of the Christian press; and that in turn depends upon having plenty of public voices and different groups presenting their different perspectives without the threat of being silenced by those with power and money. I need voices that criticize me and so does everyone else who operates in the public Christian sphere. Of course, I do not like being criticized; but it is necessary for the health of public life that it be so. It would be a disaster for us all if one or two organizations or individuals came to wield such influence that dissenting voices were eliminated. If that were to happen, there would less accountability for public figures, the news would be very carefully stage-managed, and we would all be impoverished. That is one reason why the Caner case is so incredibly important and, depending on the reason for the removal of the material, why the Mefferd controversy might yet prove to be very significant indeed.

As John Milton said regarding truth: “Let her and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter? Her confuting is the best and surest suppressing.” I am with Milton here: The freer the press, the less the innocent have to fear and the more the guilty need to be worried.

For people who haven't studied theories of the press this here is a good primer to the basics of the libertarian theory of the press.  There's a modified form of that theory called social responsibility theory that I sort of prefer but Trueman's made it clear which theory of the press he's working from. 

What he's highlighted in the last few years in the wake of the Driscoll controversies is something I'll quote at length:
by Carl R. Trueman
3 . 14 . 14
The recent revelation that Mars Hill Church in Seattle paid an outside company to boost sales of its pastor’s books has raised questions not simply about personal integrity but also about the very culture of American Evangelicalism.

As an English Presbyterian living in the States, I am never quite sure about whether I am an “Evangelical” by American standards. Back home, I am Evangelical without question, but here it is more complicated. I certainly hold to a traditional, orthodox Protestant faith with a strong existential twist. But American Evangelicalism is more (and sometimes much less) than that. The political commitments of the movement are, on the whole, a mystery to me. And, while the celebrity leadership of the movement is comprehensible to me in sociological terms, I find it distasteful and arguably unbiblical. It too often seems to represent exactly what Paul was criticizing in 1 Corinthians 1.

For those unfamiliar with recent American evangelical history, some background: Six or seven years ago, Calvinism became cool. More than that, Calvinism became so cool it started to become a very marketable commodity and to attract big money. A broad, eclectic, and dynamic movement emerged, dubbed that of the “Young, Restless and Reformed,” after the title of a book by Collin Hansen. Calvinistic churches seemed to be thriving as mainline churches continued to struggle. Recruitment at Reformed seminaries remained buoyant even as it declined elsewhere. Young people read serious theology and sought to connect their faith to all areas of their lives.

As a professor at a Reformed seminary and as a pastor of a Presbyterian church, I certainly rejoice in the renewed interest in the teaching of the Reformers which this movement helped to generate. I have personally benefitted from the movement in many ways. Its advent was at the time most welcome. As the poet said, “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, / But to be young was very heaven!”

Yet the movement, such as it was, soon started to show signs of strain. Mark Driscoll and James MacDonald shared a Christian platform with T. D. Jakes, a prosperity preacher and a minister in a non-Trinitarian denomination. As a result, they stepped down from the Gospel Coalition, the movement’s flagship organization, with best wishes for their future ministry but with strong hints that behind the scenes the departure had been less than amicable. Then, other issues came to light: It emerged late last year that Mark Driscoll used ghost writers to produce some of his books, and that material had apparently been taken from other authors without citation. Finally, last week, came the revelation that his bestselling marriage book had been made into a bestseller with the use of more church funds than many congregations have in their entire annual budget.

Mark Driscoll is one person, a uniquely talented individual. Yet he is also a function of structural problems within the new Reformed movement itself. Despite its distinct and in many ways sophisticated theology, the “young, restless, and reformed” movement has always been in some respects simply the latest manifestation of the weakest aspects of American Evangelicalism. It was, and is, a movement built on the power of a self-selected band of dynamic personalities, wonderful communicators, and talented preachers who have been marketed in a very attractive manner. Those things can all be great goods but when there is no real accountability involved, when financial arrangements are opaque in the extreme, and when personalities start to supplant the message, serious problems are never far away.

The overall picture is one of disaster. Within the church, I suspect most pastors look with horror at the amount of money involved in some of these projects and will turn away in disgust. Outside the church, people know sharp practice when they see it, no matter what the strict legality of such might be. The reputation of the church suffers, and sadly it does not suffer in this case unjustly.

And then, finally, there is the silence. The one thing that might have kept the movement together would have been strong, transparent public leadership that openly policed itself and thus advertised its integrity for all to see. Yet the most remarkable thing about the whole sorry saga, from the Jakes business until now, has been the silence of many of the men who present themselves as the leaders of the movement and who were happy at one time to benefit from Mark Driscoll’s reputation and influence. One might interpret this silence as an appropriate refusal to comment directly on the ministry of men who no longer have any formal connection with their own organizations.

Yet the leaders of the “young, restless, and reformed” have not typically allowed that concern to curtail their comments in the past. Many of them have been outspoken about the teaching of Joel Osteen, for example. In their early days, when the Emergent Church was vying with the new Calvinism for pole position in the American evangelical world, they launched regular, and often very thorough, critiques of the Emergent leaders. In retrospect, however, it is clear that these were soft targets. Their very distance made them safe. Problems closer to home are always much harder to speak to, much more likely to earn opprobrium from one’s friends, and thus much more likely to be ignored. The result, however, is that some leaders become very accustomed to always doing things their way. All of us who are thought of as Evangelical or Reformed now live with the bitter fruit of that failure of leadership.

If John Piper wants to say Mark Driscoll's resignation was a defeat for Reformed theology John Piper has to concede his responsibility and agency for that satanic defeat, more or less.

Anyone remember Robert Morris' complaint about how these bloggers wouldn't have a platform unless they piggybacked on somebody with a name?  We can call that the authoritarian theory of the press and these sorts of people tend to be in or work for the elite that controls the means of production and distribution of media content and they work from the conviction that only those people in such a cabal have any business distributing content or managing what is available in the mass and social media. Not perhaps the most nuanced way of formulating the authoritarian theory of the press but since people who seem to lean so strongly on this theory don't seem to have any room for nuance in discussing what bloggers do and how they do it, well, sometimes a fool must be responded to according to his folly is in the Bible, after all.

I would suggest the real question Peter Leithart and others may need to address is not "Is Jesus honored when ... ?" but "What theory of the press are you tacitly invoking when you ask these rhetorical questions?"  If we had an opportunity to pin down what guys against bloggers think about the level of freedom and opportunity people should have to use the power of the press I think more than just a few of them would turn out to have elitist and authoritarian views of who should be able to participate in mass and social media.

from NewMusicBox, on the trouble with secondhand music and its potential longterm impact on how we think about it (i.e. generations of commercially enforced background music may have primed the piracy culture, thanks recording industry)

A few lengthy and fairly self-explanatory excerpts here. It's a bit more inferred than directly stated but if the commercial recording industry hadn't spent the better part of two or three generations imposing background music on the culture the culture might not have formulated a subculture that sees music as so intrinsically the background soundtrack of life people see paying for it as optional.  Whether that's true ... eh ...n ot sure I'd commit to that but that "seems" to be where the case could potentially go.
Perhaps some of you remember the case of Metallica v. Napster back in 2000. Metallica, a highly successful heavy metal band, accused Napster, a rapidly growing P2P (peer-to-peer) file-sharing company, of copyright infringement. That is, people were downloading Metallica MP3s through the service without paying for them. I was 21 at the time and firmly on the side of Napster. I didn’t have much money in high school or college, and so liked the idea of free access to music; I felt it was in the spirit of the internet itself (which I’d been using since 1995) that content hosted there should be free. (Though I never did use Napster back then because of the hair-pullingly slow download speeds for large files.) Some even claimed that Napster’s users spent more on music precisely because they were able to “preview” albums before making a decision about whether or not to trade their money for the recording artist’s musical services. And I don’t think I was alone in the feeling that when I made an album purchase the majority of my money was going to record label execs and not the artists anyway, so file sharing wasn’t really hurting anyone.

It never occurred to me back then to consider why this file sharing was happening in the first place, the answer to which I believe is twofold: 1) People can be ravenous when it comes to recorded music. Our appetite for recorded music often far outstrips our “entertainment” budgets. 2) A complete disregard for, or in some cases an ignorance of, the real, hard work that goes into recording an album. This idea that music is something musicians do “for fun,” that performing music is easy for those who are gifted, and that music making is mystical in some way all render music valueless in the context of a capitalist economy. In essence, what musicians are faced with is a society that cannot get enough of our painstakingly cultivated skill set while simultaneously treating our desire to participate in the economy (namely, by trading our services for money) as unreasonable, delusional, or even despicable.

Needless to say, fifteen years later, my views as well as the music industry have changed considerably. As a recording musician, I absolutely want to be in charge of when people may download my music for free and when they must trade money for it. But to many members of society music just happens, a constant soundtrack created by an unseen hand, so the idea of paying for the musician’s services seems redundant.

Is the idea that musicians should be allowed to participate fully in our country’s economy unrealistic? I hope not;

It’s arguable that over-saturation has been with us always, and that the only question is of degree. But degrees count, as does context. Back in the ‘60s, according to the ostensibly with-it zeitgeist of the counterculture, advertising was lame and phony, and the rock of the ‘60s was a direct affront to it, considered by its makers to be unassimilable to the needs of consumerism. What we got as aural environment in its stead was Muzak.

Who remembers Muzak (also known as piped music, weather music and/or lift music)? Founded in 1934, the Muzak Holdings Corporation distributed background music to retail stores and was the predominant playlist in elevators and public spaces. Meant to be unoffending and innocuous, it was deemed an assault to the senses and sensibilities of ostensibly serious music lovers. But it had
its place, as they say.

While Erik Satie’s concept of “furniture music” (musique d’ameublement—or, more precisely, background music) gave both the composer and the music lover something to ponder in terms of rethinking ambient music sources, I’m not sure anyone could have envisioned that, as Muzak was phased out and pop, New Age, and ostensibly “light” classical were increasingly fed into the places where Muzak once reigned, that all music might be transformed into background music. Since 1997, the Muzak Holding Corporation has used original artists for its music sources, except on its Environmental channel. This may have rid the world of bland and boring arrangements of current popular tunes (which was the effect of Muzak’s generic orchestrations), but it also sped up the process of making the original source music itself into background chatter.

Of course, there’s advertising. There’s always advertising. And as hipster corporate gurus like Malcolm Gladwell (“I like advertising. I think it’s cool.”) realigned our relationship to advertising, the floodgates opened. Once advertisers got wise to the potentially positive effect of a licensed pop song rather than a bland underscore, record companies, managers, and indie bands were all trying to place their songs in the next car commercial. This may have created a licensing boon in the short term, but as new web media outlets like YouTube, Hulu, and Netflix began to displace primetime TV’s market share, the revenues for song and music placements started to dwindle. But not before they contributed to the overall saturation effect.

Copyright and fair use have become hot catchwords with the advent of new technologies. And many pundits wonder if the Copyright Act of 1976 should be amended or completely scrapped given the new media landscape. But I would argue once again that it’s not just the march of technology that’s creating this new look at copyright. Could it also be that the dissemination of music everywhere makes it harder for bar owners, restaurant managers, and club owners to understand the importance and complexity of copyright law? In other words, the complete and successful infiltration of music everywhere has created its own parallel universe: Music is everywhere. Why should I have to pay for it?

The forced incorporation of music into every conceivable context is taking turns into the realm of the absurd. Even the ancient practice of yoga isn’t safe, with “power yoga” classes (which could only have arisen in Power America) pumping out playlists to match increasingly aggressive yoga postures. And it begs the question: are people uncomfortable with, or just plain unaccustomed to, being alone with their thoughts? ...

Ted Gioia at Daily Beast--as with cheese, so with musicianship, he's proposing artisinship is the way to go.
 Forget crafted beers and artisan cheeses. The real artisan movement is happening in the music world. The first stirrings can be heard in almost every genre, and the long-term implications are far from clear. But this tectonic shift has the potential to shake up the entertainment business, and shift the balance of power among the various labels.

Even as synthesized sounds and samples are available to artists at the click of the mouse, a growing number of million-selling performers are embracing old school values of craft and musicianship. The power brokers in the music industry ought to pay attention—or a paradigm shift could once again catch them napping.

You don’t want to be a musical Monsanto in this brave new world! A smarter strategy is to establish street cred as the Whole Foods of the record business.

The analogy to food trends is appropriate. After decades of processed products and tech-created additives, the public rebelled and showed that a large market existed for natural and organic alternatives. The same thing is happening now in music, but the movement is still in its early stages. Yet similar forces are at work in both fields: a growing sense that that reliance on processing and tech additives may have gone too far, and that a return to core values might produce better long-term results.

The discerning listener can now hear this new paradigm emerging in every corner of the music business. Lady Gaga may have surprised fans with her unexpected collaboration with Tony Bennett and various associated jazz players. But check out Ms. Lauryn Hill channeling Nina Simone on her latest album. Or look at Queen Latifah doing the same with
Bessie Smith on HBO. Or consider the implications of the unexpected ascendancy of sweet soul over in the U.K., where Adele showed that you can sell millions of albums without massive Auto-Tuning—and helped kick off a whole British neo-Motown movement.

How did Britain manage to steal the soul/R&B sound from Detroit? The answer is simple: artisanship. ...

So ... if artisanship and music is being compared so assiduously to cheese by way of contrast ... is it okay if I plug for the Mass for double choir by Swiss composer Frank Martin?  This is, if you will, Swiss cheese of a particularly savory kind, at least for me.

Seriously, I love this piece, got the score for it years ago and it's a fantastic Mass.  And for those who track the other topics that creep into this blog once in a while Frank Martin was a Swiss Calvinist.  You know, just in case you did or didn't want to know that. :) 

That doesn't have anything more than tangents on tangents to do with Gioia's article.