Monday, March 30, 2009

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Generosity...and Markets

There are two basic questions every society has to wrestle with: “How many of which things shall we produce today?” and “On what basis shall things be distributed?” Theologians almost invariably dwell on the second question to the exclusion of the first. The mindset is that material goods simply exist. The only obstacle to abundance is greed and lack of generosity. If we were just more giving, then inequities would just melt away.

But material goods do not simply exist....

The basic question is not generosity but how rather how do we create a mutually advantageous cooperative venture that both justly produces and distributes abundance. Generosity and markets are essential to such a venture. {full post}
[via Kruse Kronicle]

In Religious Dress

The Bible is a rich field of story and image, the most fertile bed of the imagination of the West. I have no problem with allegories and analogies drawn from Biblical models. But it seems to me a perverse misreading of the Bible to treat its stories as if they were themselves allegories of politics in religious dress.

I was once in a group of earnest young people wrestling with how to understand the mystical experience of God. One young man, not really in sympathy with the project, said it would be easy to find out: just go into the desert and fast for forty days. If you had a mystical experience, then it was real. This was such a perversely backwards way of understanding mysticism that we were left speechless. If you go into the desert and fast, but are not earnestly seeking God, you are not recreating the absolutely vital core of the desert mystics' experience. {full post}
[via Gruntled Center]

Friday, March 20, 2009

To An Impossible Situation That Shouldn't Last Forever

I'll give the pope some credit here. He's certainly right that getting men to stop cheating on their wives en masse - as is the custom in many African ethno-linguistic groups, especially those in which having sex with a nursing mother is a cultural taboo - would certainly abate the spread of HIV. As would ending the practices of polygamy, marrying off twelve-year-old girls, and the use of rape as a weapon of war.

But the pope doesn't know what he's talking about. Only someone who's never set foot in an African hospital would claim that condom use doesn't help fight the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Because it does. It works. When a country increases access to information about and reduces the cost of condoms, its HIV rate goes down. This is not in dispute. It works especially well when you hand out condoms in conjunction with campaigns that encourage teenagers to abstain and husbands to be faithful to their wives. But access to condoms is a key part of the strategy.

...The reality of the situation pushes aside ideals and pontifications from on high. It forces an immediate, imperfect response to an impossible situation.

It would be great if the pope's vision of fidelity replaced the need for condom distribution in much of sub-Saharan Africa. The cost-prohibitive nature of all forms of contraception and disease-prevention mean that these programs are almost completely dependent on donor financing. That money won't last forever. There will have to be long-term, local solutions to these problems. But those kinds of cultural changes take a lifetime to implement. Given that there is no evidence that condom distribution increases promiscuity - or the HIV/AIDS seropositive rate - in sub-Saharan Africa, it's ridiculous to claim that these programs do more harm than good. And the at-risk people of Cameroon and Angola and Kenya and the Congo can't wait for norms to shift. I wonder if the pope thought of that. {full post}
[via Texas in Africa]

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Stereotypes and Status

As many of you know, Mark Driscoll, pastor of the Mars Hill Church in Seattle, has been causing quite a stir among Christian writers, thinkers, bloggers, and church leaders. I thought I'd wade into these waters as a Christian research psychologist and offer up some thoughts on Mark Driscoll.

The aspect of Driscoll's ministry that I'd like to focus on is Driscoll's thesis regarding the place of masculinity within Christianity. This "Macho Man" emphasis is the most provocative and controversial aspect of Driscoll's ministry....

When you listen to Driscoll much of what he is talking about has more to do with traditional gender role interests than agenic personality. Changing the oil in my car, shooting guns, and loving NASCAR are, stereotypically, male gender role interests. And Driscoll has a point that none of this is intrinsically unChristian. The trouble comes when issues of gender role interest get confused with issues of agenic psychology. Loving Monster Truck rallies is a separate issue from psychological needs for power, control, and dominance.

Here's my point. People tend to confuse gender role interest and agenic personality motives. If "Joe Six Pack" shows up at church and gets the vibe that he "can't be a man" what, exactly, does this mean? That to be a Christian you can't drink beer or go to Ultimate Fighter matches? It seems to me that the feminine/child metaphors of Christianity are pushing back against agenic strivings rather then stereotypical gender interests. But this is not at all clear to many male believers. The two issues--gender role interests and agenic motives--are often conflated. This leads to a great deal of confusion about if "real guys" have a place at church....

A lot of the reaction to Driscoll isn't even about gender. We are actually talking about the little discussed fissure running through many churches: Education.

I see this everyday in my own church. The educated teach, preach, and have the public leadership roles. The uneducated are marginalized. Worse, if you are an uneducated male, you are force-fed those feminine metaphors. Educated males, being chickified, don't mind or even notice the feminine metaphors. But Joe Six Pack notices the metaphors. All this creates a disjoint in the church. Two groups of males who find each other alien and weird. So when Joe Six Pack wants to start a Wild at Heart study the chickified church leader just blinks uncomprehendingly. Or, if you are me, turns back to his knitting...

Let me offer up this little test for your reflection and experimentation:

If you hear a man trash Wild at Heart or Promise Keepers that person very often has a graduate degree. {full post}
[via Experimental Theology, HT: Notes From Off-Center]

Making Preparations

William P. Young's The Shack is one of those Christian buzz books right now, and in spite of the overblown comparisons by Eugene Peterson (it will not have the same effect on culture as Pilgrim's Progress? did for Bunyan's culture), I decided to read it in the interests of knowing what it is about and how to handle it. I was pleasantly surprised by the book, which presents a unique allegorical way of thinking about God. I would not recommend it as a theological text, but it is an interesting read for people who have traditionally put God in a box. It made me think about some of the ways in which I relate to God, and it is the kind of text to which I expect to return in the future, as I can see that it might have emotional or spiritual significance in various life contexts. But The Shack did make me think about the nature of allegory.
Allegorical texts always have a certain risk to them: will they will be appropriately subtle and crafted; or will they be limited by cultural expectations and concerns? There is always the possibility of this dichotomy in using allegory: Tolkien deliberately avoided using allegory because he wanted to infuse his texts with deeper significance, and he thought that allegory removed that possibility; Lewis used allegory because he thought it allowed him to reach those deeper truths. Some allegories have really spoken to me: {continue...}
[via Life of Turner]

A Few Lessons from THE WATCHMEN
[via Levellers]

Friday, March 06, 2009

Gaining Meaning

This may not be a year to observe Lent -- if you can help it. Lent is about self-denial, about giving things up. Many Americans, indeed, many worldwide, are being forced to observe this Lenten practice. {continue...}
[via Ponders on a Faith Journey]

When You're Going Bananas...

Oh the Bananamanity!
[via Picture is Unrelated]

Five Reasons Not To Give Up Something for Lent
[via ThinkChristian.NET]

Thursday, March 05, 2009

About My Ambivalence

So we are one week into Lent. I posted on Ash Wednesday about my ambivalence regarding how to observe the season this year. At this point in my life, I feel the need to build up faith instead of eliminate random habits in the name of discipline. But I really didn’t know how to do that. I finally decided to spend the season simply being more aware.

Now of course being aware could just be a euphemism for doing nothing - and it just well might be. It’s easy sometimes to open our eyes to the world around us and then fail to act upon what we see. That’s me most of the time these days. But when I’m at the point that my main goal some days is just to make it to the end of the day without having gone utterly insane from being trapped inside the house with screaming children - to open my eyes and get past my self-absorption seems like a good place to start.

So being aware…{continue...}
[via one hand clapping]

the difference between “i suck” and a truly humble heart
[via the carnival in my head, HT: Faith Dance]