Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

Lutherans in the Spotlight

November 17, 2021

Lutherans – and particularly conservative, Confessional Lutherans – don’t often make it into the public spotlight. That’s partially intentional. Still, people are noticing that our aversion to the spotlight doesn’t mean we don’t have ideas (Biblical, hopefully!) to communicate to the power-brokers and king-makers of Washington D.C. Here’s a brief spotlight on the unfortunate necessity of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod working to help shape public policy and the rule of law.

Swallowed by the Cracks

November 17, 2021

(Still a great jam all these years later.)

Unsurprisingly, being fully vaccinated (whether with Johnson & Johnson’s single shot or the two-shot program required for other vaccines) is likely going to be redefined to insist on at least an initial (and I believe eventually annual at least) booster shots. In other words, I don’t think it will be long before immunized or vaccinated status is a rolling status dependent on mandatory updates. Failure to stay up to date on boosters will kick someone into the legal status of unvaccinated.

This shouldn’t be surprising to anyone paying attention to the actual science of the vaccines and the changing understanding of how they work and more specifically, how long they work. If antibody generation wanes considerably after six months, only through additional boosters can the population hope to be protected long enough – by our current methods – for the virus to wane in prevalence and strength. Of course, since the vaccines only reduce your odds of infection and reduce the effects of infection, the virus may never really subside, a reality countries around the world are coming to grips with as they transition from pandemic footing to trying to manage the situation as endemic and ongoing, like the flu.

In the meantime, the reality of an even bigger problem will likely garner little more than passing notice by lawmakers and citizens alike. Indeed, as more and more states decriminalize not only marijuana but cocaine (and potentially other drugs), the number of people dying from drug overdoses continues to skyrocket. Just in the last 20 years we’ve surpassed the number of Covid deaths (if my math is mostly correct). That may seem like a long time but this year we just surpassed 100,000 diagnosed deaths by drug overdose, up from only 20,000 a year just 20 years ago. At this rate the potential death rate for drug overdoses could rival Covid deaths, with no magic vaccine available to slow it down.

Musicians and other celebrities continue to pass away at young ages but the role of prescription medications as contributing causes of death is ignored. Regardless of whether someone kicks the habit or not drug abuse can cause permanent damage, damage that shortens a person’s likely lifespan. Yet we continue to allow the glorification of drug use even as it continues to strangle young people at an alarming and growing rate.

What a waste. When we emerge from our government and media inflicted Covid paranoia (at least I hope people emerge!) will we rally to destroy this larger and far longer-term enemy in our midst? Or will we continue to demand increasing laxness regarding the issue of drugs in general, further contributing to mixed messages to our impressionable youth?

I was a kid when the war on drugs began, long-overdue at that point and really just at the beginning of the epidemic of harder drug use as a widespread issue. The deaths in this war far eclipse the deaths of all of our military ventures in the last 40 years and Covid – probably combined. Maybe we won’t properly start caring about it until our ICUs are overwhelmed. Then again most overdoses aren’t caught in time to attempt medical treatment so I guess that conveniently won’t be a problem.

Maybe we’ll have to wait for the cemeteries to fill up and the environmentalists to get pissed off before we recognize that legalizing for tax benefits drugs that are killing our children is not good public policy. We seem far more willing to protect the environment than our children.

Book Review – Muslims, Christians, and Jesus

November 2, 2021

Muslims, Christians and Jesus by Carl Medearis

Gifted to us by life-long Bible translators, this book offers personal insights in how Christians can meet and build relationships with their Muslim neighbors. The author speaks with confidence and experience in this regard, sprinkling the book with real life anecdotes about interactions with a variety of people in a variety of settings.

It’s clear Medearis’ overriding concern is to demonstrate that Christians and Muslims can co-exist, can be loving and good neighbors, and can engage in meaningful religious discussion based around common elements of Christianity and Islam. Towards this end he would much rather sidestep some of the most awkward conversation points that might arise, preferring to encourage his readers towards that common ground. This is important to keep in mind. If you’re inclined to see discussions with others primarily as an opportunity to engage in debate – whether academic, historical, or theological – you will probably be less than thrilled with Medearis’ approach.

For someone unfamiliar with the basics of Islam, the Qu’ran, or Islamic history Medaris’ suggestions might not raise any eyebrows. And even as someone with at least a passing familiarity with each of these areas, I’m willing and able to give Medaris a lot of latitude as his goal is not confrontation but conversation, and this is desperately needed at all levels and all over the world! Combatting an us-versus-them attitude is not only unhelpful but contrary to the command of Jesus to love our neighbor.

Medearis purports both anecdotally and directly an attitude that promotes the idea of spirituality against religiosity. Only by refraining from some of the broad connotations of spirituality and thinking of only the worst excesses and abuses of religiosity can I come close to sympathizing with his position, which I think I find ultimately to be either unhelpful to Christians or dishonest to them. I understand his emphasis on Jesus only to be particularly helpful in cross-cultural discussions, but it falls short ultimately as a way of living the Christian life. Only by attempting to live life as an isolated Christian without meaningful Christian community can such a Jesus only theology work, and such an isolated life is contrary to Jesus’ own practice and the direct instructions of the Bible.

Medearis does a good job at introducing the basic tenets of Islam, providing a brief historical overview of Muhammad and Islam and explaining differences between the three major sects of Islam.

This is a good starting reference for Christians who feel led, or interested, or realize they have an opportunity to build a relationship with a Muslim person. His insistence on doing so not as a means to an end but simply as a fulfillment of the command to love our neighbor is admirable. This doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for meaningful, deep, and sometimes complicated and difficult religious dialogue down the line. It just acknowledges that’s not where things should – or can – start.

Book Review (Partial) – A History of Modern Indonesia Since c. 1200

November 1, 2021

A History of Modern Indonesia Since c. 1200, 4th Edition by M. C. Ricklefs

Another partial book review, this time because I didn’t finish it. I barely started it, but it’s obvious it’s far more detailed and in-depth than what I need right now. While I feel I have a good, broad-brushstrokes familiarity with the major eras of Indonesia’s history, I need to better cement that foundation before filling in with the detailed academic treatment Ricklefs brings to this book.

By his own admission in the introduction he prefers to provide details and allow others to draw broader conclusions, an approach I resonate with. I’m just not ready for this level of work quite yet! Once I’m a bit more conversant in the overarching history of Indonesia I’ll undoubtedly go back to this as a more detailed resource!

Book Review (Partial) – Healthy, Resilient & Effective in Cross Cultural Ministry

November 1, 2021

Healthy Resilient & Effective in Cross Cultural Ministry by Laura Mae Gardner, D.Min

I call this a partial review for two reasons. The first is the copy I was gifted from long-term overseas Bible translators is a pre-release copy that only has the first eight chapters – roughly the first half of the book. Secondly, I only really skimmed it as it’s designed for sending agencies and those who oversee overseas workers.

From that perspective it’s an amazing book, even in the unfinished form. I have no doubt that folks in our own Office of International Mission have read this or other resources like it, as I recognize some of the recommendations from the book in how OIM is structured and the interactions I’ve already had with them. A fantastic resource (and the link above is to the finished Kindle version of the book – a print version of the finished book is here) for those entrusted with the recruitment, evaluation, deployment, management and ongoing care of overseas workers!

Book Review: Serving Well

October 25, 2021

Serving Well: Help for the Wannabe, Newbie or Weary Cross-Cultural Christian Worker by Jonathan and Elizabeth Trotter

Recommended by a friend who had it recommended to him, this is not my favorite read. The style is not one I’m very fond of, overly friendly and informal with useful tips interspersed with emotional self-disclosures. I think this book probably has some very helpful advice to the various groups the title highlights, but it’s the sort of helpful advice that isn’t really useful until you’re in the midst of a situation, and then you’ve got to figure out where that particular nugget of wisdom might be. Major sections are organized by what you might want to know or think or feel before you go, as you’re leaving, once you arrive, before you leave, and as you return to your country of origin.

There’s some good advice in here, or at least it makes sense. There’s also plenty of stuff that isn’t helpful for an analytical person like me. Others may find the personal and intimate approach very appealing.

If you like relational sort of heart-to-heart writing you may love this. And those of you with overseas experience already may find it really quite helpful. But it’s not going to be helpful to me at this point, and therefore probably not the first resource I would reach for down the line.

Catastrophic

October 23, 2021

This is the word Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor used to describe the Court’s refusal to block Texas from enforcing Texas Senate Bill 8 which went into effect in early September and made it extremely difficult – if not impossible – to obtain an abortion from either an abortion clinic such as Planned Parenthood or a licensed doctor’s office.

It’s a good word. But let’s flesh it out a bit.

Catastrophic can mean something that causes great damage and suffering. It can also mean extremely unfortunate or unsuccessful. It might also mean a sudden and large-scale alteration in state.

Great damage and suffering. Sotomayor means this to describe the suffering of women in Texas who are – at least for the time being pending Supreme Court review by early next month – possibly unable to obtain an abortion. Most statistics I found online indicate that there were in the neighborhood of 55,000 abortions provided in Texas in 2020. That to just under 4,600 abortions per month. For the sake of argument assuming numbers are constant, that means around 8000 women are potentially going to be prevented from obtaining an abortion from when the law went into effect until when the Supreme Court has promised an opinion on it.

That’s a big number. Then again, so is 596, the number of months since Roe v. Wade was finalized in January of 1972. I’m going to assume static numbers again, which I know is not entirely accurate since abortion numbers fluctuate by year, rising steadily from 1973 until 1996, when they began to decline. But since the fluctuation is similar to a bell curve it’s good enough for my broad brushstroke purpose here. 596 months of legal abortion, which adds up to – in Texas alone, and again based on generalized numbers – more than 2.7 million abortions in Texas. Think about that – 2.7 million babies legally killed in Texas alone since 1973.

I don’t know what Sotomayor’s rationale is for defending abortion. I don’t know at what point she believes the union of an egg and a sperm magically transforms from a non-human bunch of cells into a human being defended by other laws in our nation from being murdered. But if she thinks potentially delaying or preventing or causing greater cost or inconvenience to 8000 women who find themselves pregnant (despite presumably knowing that intercourse leads to a risk of pregnancy no matter what form of contraception you prefer to practice) is catastrophic, she hopefully can grasp how great a catastrophe over 2.7 million murdered babies in Texas is for those who based on clear science as well as religious conviction know that when that egg is successfully fertilized by a sperm, it is at that moment a new human life deserving of the full protection of our laws. Hopefully she can grasp that as catastrophic as she finds it that men and women should be inconvenienced by the biological results of their decisions, it is a far greater catastrophe to have redefined the meaning of life simply for the greater convenience of sexual liberty.

Extremely unfortunate or unsuccessful. Undoubtedly Sotomayor thinks of this in terms of the Supreme Court’s refusal to block S.B. 8 from enforcement until their review. However perhaps it should be used in this sense to describe the failure of a philosophy and culture of death that glorifies the sexual act but insists on stripping it of natural consequences and removing it from the sanctity of marriage. Nearly 50 years of Roe v Wade and undoubtedly for Sotomayor and those who share her philosophy and opinion it is catastrophic to think their way of thinking and their philosophy and their life choices could be found lacking, inappropriate, even illegal. There is the clear message from those who support legalized abortion that this is simply a fact of life now, a reality that must be accepted and protected as inevitable and unchangeable, even though it’s really just a legal decision rendered by a small group of people 50 years ago.

And legal decisions are capable of reversal. It is fully possible for a ruling to be recognized after the fact as inappropriate on any number of bases. In fact our judicial system is based on this recognition and insistence. People are flawed and therefore decisions can be flawed, no matter how passionately some people wish they were not. No matter how clearly science destroys the most fundamental arguments they use to support their position. The extremely unfortunate issue is that it has taken this long to threaten legalized abortion. That it has taken this long to begin to dismantle the idea that abortion is somehow some sort of human right the US government has an obligation to not just defend but actively promote.

Sudden and large-scale alteration of state. This is certainly true, and I suspect that Justice Sotomayor and I probably would agree in how we apply this definition. If Texas is successful there begins – because other states will follow suit – a formal recognition of the reality that has existed for 50 years – a huge portion of the US population believes abortion is morally wrong or intellectually indefensible. It means that supporters of abortion can no longer pretend it is a monolithic, universally accepted and desired option and that dissenters are outliers and a crazy minority.

Hopefully it will challenge the devastating effects of our liberal ideas about unfettered sexual behavior, though this is probably hoping for too much or, at the very least, will take a lot longer to come about. By continually denigrating the estate of marriage and the historic understanding of family, our country has fostered and perpetuated cycles and systems of poverty linked to unplanned pregnancies and pregnancies where the father is absent. The State has attempted to pretend the family and fathers don’t matter and that the State can replace these things with aid programs. It has failed miserably and those statistics are pretty quickly available. We’ve spent billions upon billions of dollars in the last 60 years on a philosophical and political model that has failed to save those it claims to save, and instead has consigned them and their descendants to a continuous cycle of poverty that is nearly impossible to break under current conditions.

Hopefully we can start to have dialogue again about the importance of understanding sexuality as something far too important to fling about casually with a disregard for consequences – something made possibly only by the continued support of legalized abortions and free or nearly free contraceptives and abortifacients. Hopefully we can begin to talk again about the value of human life instead of how to sacrifice some lives in order to make our lives more convenient.

Yes, the changes afoot – changes that hopefully will be sustained by the Supreme Court’s review – are catastrophic. But I’d argue in a good way, rather than the negative way Justice Sotomayor interprets them. That’s a lot of hope, but even for a realist like me, hope is critical. That hope is well worth the inconvenience of 8000 women. The lives of 2.7 million murdered Texan children deserve a little inconvenience by some at the moment, if the outcome could be the saving of 2.7 million Texans over the next 596 months and more.

A More Honest Defense

October 23, 2021

An article summarizing Bill Maher’s defense of David Chappelle. Nice to see some people are willing to talk about this situation honestly. Then again, Maher probably has less risk of losing his fan base than Jon Stewart does.

Still Watching Netflix

October 21, 2021

On the heels of my post last week regarding the controversy between Dave Chappelle and the transgender/LGBGQ+ community I took the opportunity to watch his special at the center of the storm entitled The Closer.

This is not for the faint of heart. Ever since my one – and only – live stand-up comic viewing nearly 30 years ago I’ve never understood the need to resort to the basest language and the exploitation of all manner of sex. Chappelle, while clearly far more intelligent and insightful than the average comic trying to win cheap laughs from an intoxicated audience (thanks to the drink minimums comedy clubs at least used to require in addition to cover charges), is not above snagging some easy laughs from simple crudeness. Likewise, if you’re averse to race-related language and criticisms you’ll likely not enjoy this either. Although I knew this all going into it and considered it more a research exercise than the sort of entertainment I would naturally gravitate towards, I found myself laughing out loud on several occasions. The man clearly knows his art.

The issue is what is that art? I’d argue Chappelle’s art is cultural analysis and critique. One may agree or disagree with his conclusions and assertions but that’s what he’s doing under a thin, and I mean very thin veneer of comedy. Much of his material is designed to elicit not just a laugh but the follow-up internal examination why did I laugh at that? Should I have? Is there something wrong with me? Am I part of the problem?

Everything about the show should clue the viewer in that Chappelle is up to more than simple entertainment.

This is the last of his contracted Netflix specials. He’s very clear that he feels not only the freedom but the obligation as such to say some things people aren’t going to like. He’s choosing specifically to be controversial in this special. And the entire special is bracketed within the somewhat comedic narrative arc of issues related to a black rapper named DaBaby.

Chappelle begins with commenting on the curious fact that DaBaby was involved in a Walmart shooting that left a man dead. He slapped a female fan who he claimed took a cell phone photo too close to his face with the flash on. He has an arrest warrant in Texas for a charger of battery. And he and his associates allegedly jumped a concert promoter they believed paid only 2/3 of the money agreed upon for a performance in Miami. In this altercation they stole a credit card, $80,000 in cash (almost 3 times what was originally agreed upon and far more than the $10,000 they were allegedly shortchanged) in addition to beating the promoter.

None of these events slowed down DaBaby’s career in any regard. The Walmart altercation where a man was killed eventually saw DaBaby pleading guilty to the misdemeanor charge of carrying a concealed weapon. The other situations all saw DaBaby posting bail and walking free within a matter of hours.

However DaBaby made a series of homophobic comments at the start of one of his concerts in July 2021 and at the demands of the LGBTQ+ community he was dropped from several concerts, a fashion collaboration, and his contributions on a popular song were edited out of the song, resulting in his removal of credits for the song. Effectively, as Chappelle notes, his career has been destroyed.

Destroyed not because of his violence and even killing a person, but because he hurt the feelings of the LGBTQ+ community.

This provides the crux for most of the material that follows. In this material Chappelle calls out the LGBTQ+ community for their power, and for their hypocrisy. He has garnered little love and much animosity from that community over the course of his career because of his insistence on mocking some of their ideological tenets (biological gender is a social construct rather than a biological fact, etc.). They’ve accused him of punching down on their community – a term that implies a level of superior social standing or other advantages inherent by Chappelle personally.

His counterargument – provided rather powerfully if often offensively – is that the LGBTQ+ community has achieved far more, far more quickly in their march towards equal rights than racial minorities in America. In the span of a few short decades it has become possible for this community to destroy the careers of multiple people opposing their demands not just for legal equality but for preferred treatment and depiction. Meanwhile Chappelle argues, minorities in America continue to deal with racism and discrimination.

The show closes with where it began, with his appealing to the LGBTQ+ community to lay off of DaBaby – and by extension Chappelle and anyone else who happens to simply disagree with them.

He defends his relationship to actual LGBTQ+ individuals while maintaining his stance in opposition to many of their ideas. He affirms his support for the biological reality of gender. And he observes that things have reached an unhealthy place when no dialogue is possible on these issues anymore. That any resistance to the increasingly wild assertions of the LGBTQ+ community simply results in financial ruin for the opposition. In such a toxic environment Chappelle maintains, there is no dialogue and therefore things are dangerously unhealthy. As such, he vows to make no more transgender or LGBTQ+ jokes in his shows until some sort of healthy dialogue is restored. It is not a cease fire so much as a refusal to engage with an enemy who insists he has no right to his opinion (or scientific fact) while he must not only agree but endorse every opinion offered by literally anyone within the LGBTQ+ community. Until this is rectified and acknowledged he will not pretend there is healthy dialogue when there clearly is not.

That’s a lot for a comedy special!

Unsurprisingly, the very situation he criticizes in this special – the inability to speak on the issue at all except in complete and total support and enthusiasm for LGBTQ+ assertions – is demonstrated through demands from LGBTQ+ employees of Netflix to not only remove Chappelle’s program from Netflix’s lineup but for Netflix to actively invest in more content that agrees with and furthers the ideas and demands of the LGBTQ+ community.

Ironically, the LGBTQ+ community claims this is not an example of cancel culture. They argue, hilariously, that this isn’t an example of cancel culture because they invited Chappelle to rupudiate his statements and embrace their ideals and demands and he refused. Therefore they’re justified in attempting to not just figuratively but literally cancel him.

Uh, somebody should explain the definition of cancel culture to these folks!

Friends of Chappelle struggle to not abandon him while not incurring the wrath of the LGBTQ+ community and facing very real financial and professional challenges as a result. Jon Stewart is reduced to simply asserting his love for Chappelle and his necessary belief that this is all just somehow a miscommunication. This is hilarious and pathetic all at the same time. The problem is not miscommunication, the problem is that Chappelle has dared to communicate too clearly and directly. And Stewart – who’s no slouch when it comes to mocking those he disagrees with – is reduced to simpering on the sidelines instead of calling this what it is, a hostage situation.

For whatever reasons (and there are plenty that should be examined) the LGBTQ+ community is in a position to financially and professionally and personally smear and destroy anyone they decide to if that person disagrees with them or fails to meet their expectations. Despite being a tiny percentage of the overall population, they are in a position to dictate to Hollywood to portray LGBTQ+ characters in huge disproportion to the general population. Judging by commercials and movies and other forms of entertainment, you’d likely come to the conclusion that LGBTQ+ folks comprise close to half of the general population, instead of under 5% (although recent studies indicate an uptick of reported LGBTQ+ affiliations by young people – hardly a surprise when this is actively taught in schools to developing minds and personalities).

Chappelle has indicated a willingness to talk with the disgruntled Netflix employees. He has also promised to launch a 10-stop American tour if his show is removed by Netflix. Chappelle appears more than willing to go toe-to-toe with the LGBTQ+ community on this issue. A man who has been vocal about the racism he perceives in our culture is equally willing to stand against and speak out against other forms of abuse. Whether you agree with his perspective on racism or not, he has a lot to say and is very capable and willing to say it, though in language some of us find distasteful and offensive. I’d be fascinated to sit down over a drink with Chappelle and just talk with him.

Netflix in the meantime seems to be wavering, with the CEO apologizing for mishandling the situation. So far they haven’t removed the special, and the disgruntled employee group has dropped that demand from their list of demands. Chappelle is one of the few people willing to speak out actively against these tactics though, and perhaps one of the few voices able to be heard by a large cross-section of people. It’s a shame it has turned out this way, but apparently everyone else has too much to lose, or is too afraid of losing what little they have.

That’s definitely an unhealthy situation, no matter how you feel about LGBTQ+ ideals.

Watching Netflix

October 13, 2021

I’ve watched very little Dave Chappelle. A few YouTube clips at most. I don’t have a feel for his comedic style or where he might be coming from in life. The little I know about him is just that – little. So I don’t have opinions or perspectives on the controversial material that has thrust him into the spotlight again. Opinions and perspectives expressed in comedic observations, but which directly conflict with or challenge the prevailing championing of transgender issues.

This has earned him the ire of those who once felt he was on their side. A small group of Netflix employees have demanded Netflix remove the show. Netflix has thus far refused to do so, claiming it supports the creative license of content producers, and noting that Chappelle’s work as a whole has been some of the most widely viewed material Netflix has produced. No official word on whether this latest offering from Chappelle, entitled The Closer, follows in that lucrative and widely viewed path.

Personally, I wonder what Chappelle is up to. Either he’s boldly taking a stance contrary to the currently dominant vocal minority, or he’s orchestrating a larger-scale comedic event, where he’ll reveal at some point down the line how he was trolling those folks who cheered his countercultural stance. In the long run, I’d argue that it doesn’t matter.

What does matter, and what we should all be watching for carefully, is whether Netflix caves to that strident but very, very small minority of voices within the company insisting Chappelle’s show should be removed because it conflicts with their personal opinions and ideologies. The rest of Hollywood appears to have mostly caved to such voices long ago, and set about dutifully creating content that supports and encourages the sorts of lifestyles and world views championed by this minority. Upcoming new releases include a son-of-Superman comic line where the titular character is bisexual. Another includes a reboot of the awful 80’s horror franchise Child’s Play, this time serialized on cable channels and involving the main character (other than Chucky) just figuring out he’s gay.

Certainly there are a few voices like Chappelle’s willing to challenge this tidal wave of gender confusing material aimed squarely at children and adolescents ill-equipped to make healthy sense of it. But those voices are few and far between, or at least sparsely covered. When they are covered countering opinions overwhelm the actual material the article is allegedly about.

How ironic that those who champion inclusivity and diversity are adamant that any voice out of step with their own ideologies should be silenced. That was one of their complaints when other voices were reflecting or directing our cultural opinions.

What’s at stake here is creative license, to be certain. The reality is that approval and assent to gender and sex redefinitions is nowhere near unanimous. The minority of liberal voices seeks to create the appearance that their views and ideas (which are always in flux) are the majority view. If contrary material is made available to the public and is commercially successful it will demonstrate this is not the case, threatening the control these voices now exercise.

I commend Netflix. Not for their ideology necessarily, but for being a company instead of an ideological power. Their job is to create content and earn money for doing so. The market determines whether they continue to produce certain kinds of content. I don’t personally like slasher films like Child’s Play, nor am I much of a fan of most comedians today, Chappelle included. The question is whether people should determine what is produced by spending their money on it, or whether companies should determine what people like by only producing a certain kind of material.

So far the latter approach is holding sway, and I believe history will judge that trend harshly – both as a business model as well as a sociological movement. In the meantime, be aware of what your kids and grand-kids are watching, and don’t be surprised if they come to some conclusions about the world and right and wrong that are starkly different from your understandings and beliefs.