Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

Legislating Reality

May 22, 2022

Getting a kick out of all the uproar now that people are finally doing the math (or having the math done for them) and finding out Laura Dern was 23 in the original Jurassic Park movie, cast opposite her leading man Sam Neil who was 20 years her senior.

A few interesting observations.

I’ll assume Dern and other appropriately anti-patriarchy folks talked with Amber Heard a scant seven years ago when she married Johnny Depp, who is 23 years her senior. In real life.

In case folks are worried this was just an example of Hollywood wanting a younger woman with an older male actor, the book apparently also indicates there is a roughly 20-year age difference in the couple.

Dern herself notes at that at the time it seemed “appropriate” to love her co-star despite the age-difference.

However with 30 years to look back on it, she no longer feels this ought to have been the case then, or should be the case now.

In which case, what would an appropriate age difference be between a man and a woman? Or is a 20-year gap acceptable so long as there are an equal number of similarly profiled pairings? So for every Heard-Depp with 20+ years on the guy, there needs to be another high-profile couple where the woman is 20 years older than the man?

Makes me wonder why it felt “appropriate” to her back then but not so now? It seems clear she has a good relationship with her co-star. I’m sure that made their pairing all those years ago much more natural and easy for her to believe. And which may lead one to the conclusion that it isn’t simply male-dominance forcing young women into relationships with older men, but rather there are situations where the age difference (in either direction) seems less important than the quality of the connection and chemistry.

I won’t argue Hollywood clearly has a bias favoring younger actresses paired with older actors. I won’t even argue this is problematic at some level. But what level? At a patriarchy level? What does that even mean in this context? Was it wrong of the author to conceive of such a relationship? Wrong for Hollywood to cast it? Wrong for Dern and/or Neil to accept it? What should they have insisted on instead?

As a father of a daughter, what should I tell my daughter? Certainly if she were to be courted by a significantly older guy I would have my concerns. But should I tell her he can’t be more than 10 years her senior? Five? Fifteen? Should I recognize that sometimes, love transcends age and it isn’t exploitation or the patriarchy or anything nefarious? I’d like to think that with my daughter – as well as my sons – the quality of the person they consider spending time with is going to factor more heavily than simply an age, while trying not to be naive about the risks posed in potential spouses who are considerably older. But to simply declare an arbitrary age as disgusting or inappropriate seems just as disempowering as whatever alleged patriarchy threats Dern imagines.

Some people age better than others, not just physically but as a person, making them attractive to a broader age-range of the opposite sex. Hollywood typically shows us younger women with older men, but I believe it probably happens the other direction just as frequently. The important thing in both the fictional and real world is that the relationship works. And that will necessitate additional efforts when there is a significant age disparity involved.

At least we’ve all got something new to be indignant about. Lord knows, that’s what we need.

Another Good Article

May 19, 2022

I think I’m going to continue to enjoy seeing posts from this blog site. The latest installment has to do with singing the psalms.

To be fair, I don’t think I ever sang the psalms congregationally for the first half or more of my life. Nor did a pastor or other person chant them in worship. They were often absent, or relegated to the printout of the readings on the back of the bulletin. I was vaguely aware that some congregations might actually incorporate them in some manner, but never thought much about it. That was ignorance on my part. That has to do I’m sure with number 2 on his list of why congregations don’t sing the psalms any more. We are culturally conditioned, and unfortunately our churches have allowed themselves to be culturally conditioned as well, so more ancient practices are less common or non-existent in many places. If the church doesn’t counter-condition members, then some beautiful things preserved for centuries get lost in a matter of a few months or years.

Nor do I think singing the psalms needs to be liturgically mandated. Again, I’m probably guilty of number 2. There are others who disagree with me strongly on this and I respect their position and think I understand why they hold it. While I’ve learned a lot about liturgical history I’m not positive we know exactly how Jesus sung them. What pointings? What tones? And Jesus as incarnate man was also culturally conditioned to a certain extent – a pious (to say the least!) Jew of the first century. We need to carefully think about whether his worship style and practice is descriptive or prescriptive.

But I do believe the psalms have an important and useful place in worship, and the more they are used – and used in their entirety – the better. I believe the appointed psalm for a Sunday should also be considered when preparing the sermon – just as I think all the assigned readings in a lectionary ought to be considered and not just the Gospel reading. A lectionary arranges these readings to complement one another to some degree (depending on the liturgical season), and to ignore this loses some of the depth possible in preaching.

When I was younger I didn’t like the psalms. Or more accurately, I didn’t think they offered much. I’ve changed my mind on that. Perhaps I’ll change my mind on the importance of chanting/singing them (and chanting/singing them a certain way). For now I’ll simply lend an amen to anything that provides the people of God with more regular and broad access to his Word and how it can be lived out in their public and private lives.

Why? Because it’s God’s Word, and this is supposed to make people uncomfortable and question their predispositions and assumptions about the world, their neighbors, and themselves. It should drive them to meditation and prayer and repentance regularly – ideally daily at least! And if Scripture is making us uncomfortable, it’s even more important to understand why that is.

Soft Peddling Drugs

May 17, 2022

I hate articles like this. I have no idea who this guy is and have never heard his music or witnessed his lifestyle. But he’s dead and probably didn’t need to die according to the tone of the article, citing past battles over the years with drugs and alcohol. But this is glossed over with the following statement he was clean and sober of late.

We’ve seen no shortage of luminous, talented celebrities dying before any of us were ready to handle their absence. And in no small measure, a stunning majority likely had their battles over the years with drugs and alcohol, even if they had eventually given up such habits or bowed to the necessities of age in growing more moderate. Without fail, the articles about their passing never condemn drug and alcohol abuse as true contributing factors in any substantive ways. Even if autopsy results credit drugs and alcohol, this is often chalked up to the celebrity lifestyle, as if talent is some sort of immunity against the very physical as well as mental and spiritual debilitations of substance abuse, prescribed or otherwise.

Until success is no longer viewed as justification for such abuse, deaths like this will continue to occur. None of us knows the number of our days, to be sure. But certainly certain practices up the odds that we will leave this earth sooner that we (or others) might prefer.

Granted, the Rolling Stones are a singular exception to this, but exceptions by no means invalidate well-defined rules and expectations!

So it’s too bad this guy died. Too bad he might have come to his senses too late, after apparently considerable damage had already been done, and I pray his hope and faith was ultimately not in his dealer but in his Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. I pray other rising stars take seriously these examples, and I pray the media-subset that thrives on celebrity lives and lifestyles would quit condoning and approving of such indulgences with a wink-wink-nod-nod sort of reporting style.

Abandoning the Field, and the Need to Redefine the Field

May 14, 2022

The last of my long-neglected articles is this essay by professor (former, now) speaker, thinker and writer Jordan Peterson.

This is a fantastic, no-punches-pulled essay. I believe Peterson has rightly diagnosed an extremely dangerous shift in our culture, one that I’ve been warning about for over a decade. It is not something that is going to go away any time soon. But there are hopeful signs that some leaders are fed up with it and willing to take a stand against it. The best example of this is Netflix, who seemed to be on the ropes last year with employees trying to hold the company hostage in order to force programming and production changes along the lines of what Peterson talks about. But rather than cave (and there was definitely wobbling last year), Netflix has decided that the honesty of artistic expression (and hopefully corresponding capital rewards) outweigh cancel culture. In a memo last week Netflix suggested employees who can’t handle any of the content Netflix produces or sells should consider working elsewhere rather than attempting hostage-techniques to wrest control of the company.

Not surprisingly, media coverage of this memo has been decidedly muted in comparison to the non-stop coverage of a handful of irate employees demanding sweeping changes and control of Netflix content last year. We can only hope more CEOs will follow suit.

It’s tempting to blame Peterson for abandoning the field. After all, if there aren’t holdouts against the rising order, can we ever hope for change? And wasn’t it exactly that tactic of gradual infiltration that ultimately turned American universities into bastions of radical liberal ideology? But I have to admit Peterson makes some good points. The very folks inclined to seek out his mentorship will be rewarded, no doubt, with bright scarlet letters atop their curriculum vitae in any academic HR department or before any hiring committee. He makes a good case that he’s actually doing limited good and by redirecting his efforts he might have a broader impact. Perhaps, within the echo-chamber of existing like-minded people.

But it seems Peterson should do more than lambast his peers who hide and curry favor in order to keep their jobs. Something different is called for, I’d suggest. A turning away from the increasing cycle of more and more years of public education and corresponding radical ideology. What is required is a re-thinking of whether universal university education is an expectation that provides any real degree of value. There will always be a need and place for people who do require advanced or specialized types of training, though I’d argue alternatives could and should be developed still to mandatory undergraduate and graduate degrees for doctors and other professionals. Peterson seems to accept the mandate that has grown unceasingly over the last 40 years – universal university education is a good goal and a benefit to both the individual and society.

But as pressure mounts to eliminate some or all student loan debt, this clearly is a flawed premise. Even when I was in high school in the early 80’s there was already a stigma against vocational education. Maybe more effort should be directed at countering this stigma and providing recognition of honorable work that doesn’t require a degree. While I’m not familiar with and therefore not endorsing everything Mike Rowe might be saying, I do respect his critique of the denigration in American society of vocational training and jobs as somehow menial and non-respectable.

Hopefully Peterson will find that broader platform he hints at. His voice is much needed. But one voice isn’t nearly enough.

Hospitality, Meals & Scripture

May 9, 2022

I’ve had a long interest in the intersection of hospitality, meals and Scripture. The Bible frequently uses the language of food and feeding to teach spiritual truths, and hospitality is not only repeatedly described throughout the Bible (Genesis 18, as just a single example), it is also prescribed (Hebrews 13:2 as just a single example and related most likely to Genesis 18).

I finally verified something I suspected for years – I have access to a theological database called Atla (originally short for American Theological Libraray Association). So now I can start to research what others have said on this topic as I continue to draw my own conclusions from the Word.

The first article I read can’t be accessed without paying for it (unless you also have access to Atla). It’s by a Presbyterian pastor in North Carolina by the name of David W. Priddy. The essay is entitled Eating with penitence: An essay on the local church eating responsibly (sic) and it was published in the Review & Expositor, a quarterly Baptist theological journal.

Priddy’s thesis deals with what the local church can do towards food reform and agricultural renewal. He posits three key issues. Firstly, a high regard for Word and Sacrament; secondly, examining the role of meals in Scripture (particularly the New Testament) and specifically in association with themes of judgement and a call to humility; and thirdly, the importance of continued remorse over sin (penitence).

Although at times abstruse, Priddy does a good job outlining these key issues, and I concur with most of the ideas he presents. Although we come from different denominational backgrounds I suspect we’d have a lot in common theologically, at least on this particular topic.

The only difficulty I had with the essay was his disdain for the history of some property owned by his congregation. His difficulty reflects modern notions of contemporary remorse (penitence) as well as potentially the appropriateness of some sort of compensation for past injustices (penance) although he stops short of such an assertion here. He relates how a 200-acre plot of land and large home was donated to his congregation well over 100 years ago (perhaps as long as 170 years ago). The problem isn’t the property per se, though Priddy has ideas about how it could be better put to use in food reform and agricultural renewal. The problem is the man who donated it to the church owned at least ten slaves and apparently sired children through at least one of them (and it’s implied that it was far more). The congregation’s fellowship hall is named after this man, something Priddy clearly finds offensive and problematic.

However in the little he says in the essay, it’s hard to know whether Priddy has investigated the donor’s penitence. The life of faith is indeed a constant one of confession and absolution, of contrition as well as accepting the gracious forgiveness of God, something Priddy highlights admirably in his brief discussion of historic liturgical formulations. Yet the presumed damning evidence of the congregation’s benefactor all those years ago leaves little room in Priddy’s words or spirit for the idea of forgiveness either sought or granted, the idea that the offending donor might have in fact been penitent, which may have spurred his donation of land to the church as an act of penance.

Priddy speaks a lot about penitence but very little about absolution and this is most clear in this real-world application. The Church must speak this loudly in the face of rising intolerance in cancel-culture. The irony is that culture has discarded Church, the Bible and God, and with it the only worldly assurance – and demand – for forgiveness and absolution. In lieu of this we are now daily on trial by a culture that rapidly evolves in it’s ideas about what is right and wrong, acceptable and unacceptable, and that views any past sins of either omission or commission as equally damnable and irredeemable. The psalmist might these days say If you, O Culture, should mark iniquities, O Culture, who could stand? (Psalm 130:3, modified). The answer is no one, and unfortunately Priddy conveys a similar unwillingness to accept the possibility of penitence or penance if the sin is great enough, and therefore denies effectively the possibility of forgiveness and grace – certainly in this world and if so, then perhaps in the creation to come.

Pastors and congregations do have an opportunity to encourage members to reflect more on the choices they make as consumers (in this case, specifically as consumers of food products). While I don’t have the basis Priddy apparently does to label the entire food industry as essentially evil, I recognize wholeheartedly there are some major problems that affect land and health. Congregations have the opportunity to read Scripture with an ear towards how these topics are discussed, avoiding the temptation to simply apply Biblically-specific verses and situations to modern-day issues, yet recognizing the Church is continually called to contrition and penitence as well as to joyfully proclaiming the forgiveness won for us in Christ. Failure to do either inevitably leads to darkness.

I’m excited by the prospect of continued research and academic engagement, and grateful my seminary provides this benefit to alum, particularly now that my work has taken me to places where obtaining physical books (including my own professional library in boxes in storage) is either impossible or unreasonably expensive!

Japan’s Hidden Christians

May 4, 2022

Offered here without commentary, but as an invitation for you to contemplate for yourself. How does this align with traditional, historical Christianity? Does it now? Is it necessary today simply because it was once necessary? Not nearly enough information here to draw strong conclusions on, but enough food for thought to stimulate personal reflection, hopefully.

The brief highlighting of this aspect of Christian history a few years ago was fanned into flame by both the book, Silence, and the movie. I’ve yet to see the movie, and I suspect it wouldn’t add much to the sparseness of the book. A reminder of the costs faith sometimes incurs, and the ways people attempt to deal with those costs.

As a further aside, this looks like a fascinating site for short videos on a variety of intriguing subjects!

An Important Reminder

May 3, 2022

Freedom of religion as a Constitutional creation is not the means by which the Church should protect itself from the world, nor the means by which the Church should push the world to conform. Other religions have and do make those mistakes. For the Christian, we have to be wiser than this, even if it means watching once-taken-for-granted morality basics redefined or eliminated. Seeking to do away with or redefine freedom of religion is therefore not a game we ought to be engaged in. This is a good essay reminding Christians where we profess our hope lies, and encouraging us to align our intellects as well.

A Gift That Keeps On Giving…

May 2, 2022

A bit late for the Christmas gift-giving scene, but perhaps an idea for birthdays or next Christmas? After all, it’s not often you can buy someone the gift of nobility!

That’s right, for an amazingly low amount (with a correspondingly low level of actual royal benefit!) you can purchase Scottish lordship or ladyship for someone. Since seeing this originally I’ve discovered there are other organizations with a similar model. But still, how cool is this?

Catching Up, Philosophically

May 1, 2022

Now that I have reliable Internet for the first time in almost three months, I want to catch up on a backlog of bookmarked articles to share or comment on.

First up (literally) is this article explaining the prevalence of scientism in the West, and noting the fundamental philosophical flaws that render it’s confidence problematic at best, dangerous at worst. If we’re honest with ourselves, all of us as Westerners raised in the 21st century suffer from this to some extent. Living in another part of the world for a while, I begin to realize the extent goes a lot deeper than I’d like to think. The author’s distinction of scientism zealots vs. agnostics is helpful in this regard.

Realizing that even in Christian communities there are a lot of folks who are effectively scientism agnostics even though they profess Jesus as Lord and Savior is complicated, to say the least. Examining our own ideas about things is a good place to start, both towards humble reconciliation with what we claim is Truth, as well as loving care and outreach to others struggling with these two irreconcilable ideas of truth.

Speaking Clearly

January 27, 2022

Though not Roman Catholic myself, I found this resource provided by the Archdiocese of Milwaukee to be well-written. It speaks as to Church teaching and policy on issues of gender and sexuality at a time when certain cultural minorities are seeking to redefine these concepts and demand universal acceptance of these redefinitions across all of society.

I appreciate the even tone that does not condescend or insult. It speaks clearly and with the authority of the Roman Catholic Church and two millennia of doctrinal development based on the revealed Word of God in Scripture. It makes no apologies for this Word or the resulting doctrines and practices, while still seeking to be considerate of those who may be confused in their personal experience of their gender and sexual identities. It speaks positively about what the Church does and has taught on these subjects rather than reactively against a particular situation or incident. In doing so it proposes to provide guidance going forward that must be of great help to various Catholic institutions grappling with these issues.