Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

Just Cute

December 5, 2019

It could easily be maintained that I have no heart, based on my typical posts that veer (successfully or unsuccessfully) more towards the cerebral than the emotional.

But just to prove I am somewhat human, here is an adorable example of how something can be done well without resorting to excessive expense, profanity, nudity, sexuality, or any of our  other popular marketing gimmicks.

Take a few seconds to watch this if you’re in the mood for something wholesome and sentimental.

Meme-able

November 8, 2019

Memes are arguably what runs  the Internet, or large portions of it.  A meme is something that spreads between people in a culture.  Internet memes are generally static images with text overlay, often humorous.  The picture reinforces or makes visual the text, or visa versa.  The word itself has anchors in Greek, where variations of it have to do with imitation, but the word as we know it was first coined by Richard Dawkins 40-some years ago in his seminal book, The Selfish Gene.

Memes are often human-based,  meaning the images used are of actual people.  Sometimes celebrities and other well-known figures.  But sometimes just photos from stock photo collections.  Models, in other words, from all walks of life.  But models are people, and people have stories aside from any one particular image of theirs.  So I found this brief essay by someone who has become a major Internet meme figure over the last decade to be fascinating.  A reminder that we are all more than just our image conveys, particularly a momentary image.

More Thoughts on American Christianity

November 4, 2019

Thanks to Bernie (not Sanders!) for forwarding me this opinion article last month.  The author seeks to revisit the common notion of American Christianity’s drastic decline in the past decade and nuance that broad brushstroke description with some points that might alter the overall picture.  He makes three main points:

Lukewarm Christians are falling away in high numbers, but not more committed Christians.  I think this is very true, and I’ve seen other surveys indicating of those who worship at least once weekly, there has been practically no dropoff in numbers or activity over the years.  Hardly surprising.  Those willing to commit on a weekly basis to public worship clearly prioritize their faith and are willing to do so in tangible ways, such as their time allocation.  As Christianity (especially conservative Christianity) continues to become less and less compatible with cultural trends, there will be less and less incentive for nominal Christians to maintain their ties to the Church.

The decline in American Christianity has more to do with Baby Boomers than Millenials.  Also true.  The issues in the Church today began with the Baby Boomers.  They were the ones to first walk away from the faith or at least regular public worship in appreciable numbers, and this only made it easier for subsequent generations to either walk away or never affiliate in the first place.  I’m not sure I would agree with the author’s generalization that church attendance fluctuates by time-of-life.  Statistics seem to indicate that increasingly, those who leave the faith or regular worship as they leave home are not returning later in life.

The decline of American Christianity may be more of a Catholic issue than a Protestant one.  An interesting idea, and one that makes sense in light of the long-running abuses perpetrated, covered-up, revealed, denied, and now being called to account for in the Roman Catholic Church.  But whether or not the decline in affiliation and participation is more Roman Catholic than Protestant is unclear to me.  Definitely non-denominational and Evangelical churches have grown at the expense of more traditional denominational ones,  I still think there’s an overall decline in Protestantism as a whole.

Interesting also are his observations that there is still a strong enough Christian presence in America to forestall for the time being increasingly antagonistic anti-religious or anti-Christian movements and legislation.  Not an entirely optimistic observation, but something to be grateful for while it lasts!

 

Religious Trends

October 28, 2019

Here’s another article about the ongoing trend of millenials  (those born between 1981 and 1996) away from religious life and particularly Christian religious life as defined by a corporate/communal worship service.  This isn’t anything new, but it does remind us that things are not changing, and are not going to change anytime soon.

The title of the essay is problematic, as there’s no exploration of why millenials are trending this way at all, other than a passing reference to being in the stage of life where family, finances, and career tend to overwhelm all other priorities.  But this is hardly anything new or unique to millenials.  Every generation has to balance and manage these demands during this time of life, and for far larger percentages of our population, this was done alongside (or perhaps more accurately enabled through) active, sustained, committed participation in a religious faith community.  Primarily Christian.  The Church.  This isn’t so much an issue with religion in general in America, but with Christianity.  According to this data, 70% of Americans consider themselves Christian (not including Mormons).  Non-religious make up almost 20%, which leaves only about 10% of the population that follows other religions.

So blaming the demands of work and finances and family doesn’t cut it as the reason millenials are no longer participating in churches as earlier generations did.  But the article does point out some of the ramifications of this change.

Yes, people are lonelier.  But let’s draw a few more tangible connections, please.  Loneliness is likely a high contributing factor to rising levels  of both depression and suicide.  More pertinent to this is the recognition that Christianity and the Bible offer something in very short supply these days – hope.  A reason to continue on in the face of periods of bleakness or sorrow.

The article also references lower levels of sexual activity among young people as another aspect of the pressures on millenials.  But what about some  deeper analysis, please?  Could reduced levels of sexual activity be linked to less attachment to Christian community and  a much decreased emphasis on the value and beauty of marriage?  Dating apps may be decreasing in popularity, but they are also being singled out as likely culprits for increasing rates of sexually transmitted diseases.  And of course if traditional Judeo-Christian teachings on sexuality are being increasingly ignored, then the overwhelming prevalence of pornographic access at the click of a button with virtually no safeguards or obstacles also is likely to play a big part in changing levels of sexual activity.

Of course the article doesn’t deal with the biggest issue of all – as rates and levels of regular worship continue to drop, there is a very real risk (likelihood?) of people abandoning not just worship but the faith.  Rather than temporal mental health or social health, Christianity posits that what we believe has eternal consequences.  That’s not something most articles like this want to deal with or know how to.  The reality is that increasingly these people may not simply be lost to the Church for the time being, but eternally.  That’s a huge deal.

Millenials  aren’t coming back to church.  How many of them were really there before?  How many of them were raised in worshiping families where weekly worship was a priority, no matter how hard the work week had been?  How many of them were isolated from actual worship in youth ministry bubbles where fun and games eclipsed actual engagement with the Bible and Christian teachings, and where discussion of how faith applies to life were limited to purity rings and other one-off experiences?

We can look at lots of factors contributing to why young people are less and less interested in church, even if they still consider themselves to be Christian in some less-easily defined way.  But I think we need to include the Church itself in those factors.  Somehow, the faith was not transmitted to millenials (and the generations following them, don’t doubt it) in a meaningful and applicable way.  If most  younger Christians are essentially moralistic therapeutic deists, the Church has to wonder if it contributed to this tragic mistake?  If church is about being nice, can’t people get that other places?  School programs, work programs, TED talks, any number of other options.  What makes church unique if not the very message and heart of the Bible and Jesus and faith?

No, the youth aren’t coming back.  Not for a long time.  How is the Church going to adapt to this and plan to deal with it?  Especially given the reality the article notes, that collection baskets have suddenly gotten lighter?  And how does the Church attract a younger demographic that is going to see – and not entirely incorrectly – that a sudden surge in interest in evangelism is driven perhaps less by actual love of neighbor and more as an effort to prop up and sustain a model of doing church that is less and less sustainable as membership levels continue to drop?

Again, it should be noted: these are large scale trends.  There are (thankfully!) always exceptions to the rules, both individual congregations and even larger communities where this is not the case.  But it does mean that sooner or later these larger trends will begin to affect these places that may not really notice the change right now.

 

Picture Language

October 24, 2019

Here’s a fascinating image gallery of anti-Christian propaganda posters produced during the time of the Soviet Union.  Hopefully it isn’t lost that some of the same caricatures of religion as backwards compared to the progressive movement of the State are being utilized today.

In our own country.

 

A Desk

October 15, 2019

I inherited a very nice office when I accepted my current Call.  A large, dark wood desk with an accompanying side piece – I don’t even know what to call it – that has another large flat surface as well as cabinets above.  Both pieces have large, deep drawers with plenty of hanging file space.

It’s a beautiful desk – though I rarely see it because of my clutter.  I rally every so often to clear away the ministerial detritus which accumulates there naturally layer by layer.  There is a great – if fleeting – satisfaction to seeing the top of my desk.

But even as I admire it, I recognize it is not an ideal desk.  It is very much a desk of a different age, before the proliferation of devices and cables.  Phone and computer cords trail off of it in a rather unappealing fashion.  I could rearrange my office layout somewhat to compensate, but I don’t really care about it that much.  The multi-outlet surge protector lays on the floor beside it, also relatively unappealing aesthetically.

A desk for today would have options for cable management so they aren’t trailing across the top of it like anorexic octopuses.  It might even have a place for the surge protector to be mounted underneath, reducing cables across the floor.  And while large file drawers are still helpful, in this age of digital storage it seems somewhat superfluous.

It isn’t that the desk is bad.  It’s a good desk that accomplishes good things.  But it shows it’s age.  Not in terms of how it looks, but rather the functions it does and doesn’t incorporate.  The fact that wires and power outlets are more important these days than file folders doesn’t mean the desk was bad for its time, but rather a demonstration of how many things we take for granted also adapt in subtle or not so subtle ways to changing environments.

I was talking with a parishioner a few months ago who is trying to divest himself of his now-deceased mother’s furniture.  Lovely, sturdy, probably hand-made.  And yet despite being well-kept and lovely, he’s had almost zero interest in it.  Folks are more inclined to order something new and sleek off of Amazon, or take a trip to the nearest IKEA mega-store to pick up something full of contemporary functionality – even though it will never last as long as his mother’s furniture.  I love my desk, but the fact that I love it may not mean anyone else will.  They think of desks differently perhaps than I do.  We use the same word but have slightly different ideas in mind.

It isn’t that people are going to quit needing desks.  But they are going to look for different features in desks, and desks will increasingly adapt themselves to those needs and wants.  It shouldn’t compromise the core purpose and identity of a desk.  It isn’t as though desks will quit featuring flat tops to work on.  It wouldn’t be a desk any more!  But in other ways manufacturers will increasingly figure out and incorporate ancillary preferences and needs.  In the process, looks will change, although I have no doubt there is very fine, traditional-looking office furniture that provides for cable and power management and other modern niceties.

It’s probably time to clean my desk off again.  Time to admire the classic lines and finish.  I’m willing to deal with the minor inconveniences, but  I know others might not be.  I just have to keep that in mind, should I ever decide I want or need a new desk and want to sell this one.

Palimpsests

October 10, 2019

In the generally cool category, this article describes the discovery of some surprising things written on parchments, then erased so something else could be written on them instead.  And, we also get a new vocabulary word to describe these parchments – palimpsests!

The idea is that an isolated monastery in Egypt at one point was not able to easily procure fresh parchment, and turned to erasing some existing manuscripts to provide parchment for new copying.  A variety of previous texts have been discovered through the use of specialized cameras and lighting, and some of those texts were previously unknown or written in languages we have few extant examples of.

What a cool use of technology, proving that while we in the digital, Internet age know that nothing really disappears online, it might be true to a certain degree for people 1400 years ago as well.  Fortunately, it appears to all be textual and no compromising, hand-drawn selfies of monks.

Whew.

The article also provides a link to a site where photographs of the overlaid texts can be viewed, which is also very cool.  If my Greek was better, it might be tempting to try some translations of my own, but I’ll leave that to more competent folks!

Book Review: Preaching and Culture in Latino Congregations

September 20, 2019

Preaching and Culture in Latino Congregations

Edited by Kenneth G. Davis &  Jorge L. Presmanes

 

I culled this from  the cache of Catholic texts I recently inherited.  I’ve had some experience in cross-cultural preaching, but not much.  During my seminary program seminarians are paired with a local congregation and pastor to gain some regular, practical pastoral experience.  It’s theoretically  a nice off-set to  the very academic nature  of the graduate program, though in reality mileage varies significantly based on the pastor(s) at the congregations.  I was blessed with an eccentric but open pastor at a small and mostly dead congregation.  Founded in the 1920’s, the congregation experienced the White flight out of the inner city in the 60’s as a major freeway was put through town just a mile or so away.  Less than a dozen Anglo members remained in this parish ensconced in an overwhelmingly African American neighborhood.  They were in discussions with a small Vietnamese congregation a couple of miles away about merging.  In addition to some experience working with those Vietnamese congregants, I had the opportunity to preach (with a translator) to the combined congregations.

But I didn’t give a lot of thought to the cultural nuances to be considered  in such a situation.  The Word of God, after all, is the Word of God, regardless of the culture it touches.  And while this is true enough, understanding a different culture a bit better can help the preacher articulate the Word of God in a way more easily received.

That’s the premise of this book.

The collection of essays focuses more on culture than specific preaching recommendations, but is very helpful for thinking through issues and backgrounds in a Latino congregation that would be significantly different from an Anglo or Vietnamese congregation.

The essays here vary in their usefulness (as is typical with these sorts of books), but overall were insightful in revealing or confirming ideas about Latino peoples and therefore congregations.  The first essay was a bit of a shock because it was very steeped in liberation theology, so that often the Gospel seemed more a means to an end than the end in itself!  But the other essays were more helpful and a bit less radical.

While this book comes from and is geared towards Roman Catholic parishes the material would be helpful and adaptable to anyone who finds themselves in a cross-cultural ministry situation.  The book was published in 2000 so some of  the examples are from the 80’s and 90’s, but the core material remains helpful, though I wonder if another 20 years has mitigated some of the identity issues mentioned here, particularly as second and third generation immigrants give way to fourth and fifth generations that likely identify far more as Americans than as Latinos in some sort of self-imposed exile.

 

Book Review: Marriage and the Public Good: Ten Principles

September 7, 2019

Marriage and the Public Good: Ten Principles

From the Witherspoon Institute

I’m positive I’ve read this before but I was too impatient to search out more carefully if I’ve blogged about it.  This is a pamphlet more than a book, only about 50 pages.  And it reads like something out of a time capsule, from the ancient past.  However in this case the ancient past is 2008, before the sweeping judicial decisions that rushed same-sex marriage into public law across our country.

This is a fantastic resource.  It reads very easily, and lays out the basic argument for the primacy of marriage in a democratic and free society, and specifically a traditional understanding of marriage as between one man and one woman for life.  This is not a religious argument, but an argument grounded in research and science.  Research pertaining to the health and welfare of children, and research related to the health and well-being of men and women, married and unmarried.

Against the clamor of  it will be just fine! if we radically redefine marriage stands this brief summary soberly warning that it will not be fine.  A good body of research over considerable periods of time bears witness to the fact that men, women, children, and therefore the society they are a part of are all better off when marriage is upheld, supported and encouraged both privately and in public policy.

I strongly encourage you to consider having this resource on hand.  It’s a reminder that traditional marriage definitions are not simply a religious preference but a time-tested means of ensuring the best for as many people as possible in our society.

 

 

 

Born This Way – Not So Much

August 31, 2019

A large study garnered attention this week.  This study attempted to identify genetic influences on same-sex experiences/behaviors (which I understand to be different than homosexual behavior in terms of frequency).

The study concluded that there is no “gay-gene”, a single genetic marker that determines sexual orientation.  Rather, it asserts that a variety of genes may influence sexual behavior and sexual preferences.  It also asserts what most studies for decades have shown – there are environmental factors that also determine – and likely more heavily determine – same-sex behavior or experiences.

In effect, this study reinforces most of what is already known – environmental factors (nurture as opposed to nature or  genetics) play a big role both in whether someone dabbles or experiments in same-sex encounters or whether they identify as exclusively non-heterosexual.  As such, there have been plenty of responses by LGBTQ people either associated with the study or reviewing  it, claiming that the study might be unnecessary and actually dangerous to LGBTQ causes since it doesn’t affirm a clear genetic determination for sexuality.  They fear  – reasonably – that people will interpret this to mean sexuality is a choice rather than something hard-wired.

Which of course, is what the study is saying.

A complex genetic interaction provides “significant” influence over sexual behavior, but it appears to be far from clear-cut exactly what this means, and by relegating the genetic influence to 8-25% (a pretty impressive spectrum!), my take-away  is non-genetic issues provide the greatest impact on how open a person is to same-sex experiences or – by extension – a same-sex lifestyle and identification.

Sexual behavior is complicated, the study essentially affirms.  And certainly, if there are no guidelines or rules along which to be guided, it would be strange if anything other than the mass confusion characterizing our cultural sexual landscape emerged.   Right now we seem as a culture interested only in normalizing that confusion at whatever cost.  History I think we see this as a curious and unfortunate time, whether in terms of science and how it is allowing itself to be co-opted by a particular sector of the population, or how the mental health and well-being of future generations was sacrificed to justify the decisions of a small segment of the generations before them.