Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Self-Destruct in 3,2,1...

What happens to the society that has everything?  In our happiest daydreams, we think that this society would philanthropically solve the problems of the world.  But in the grimmer pages of history, we find time and again that such a society turns to imperial domination of others and, at the same time, self-destruction.

The Roman Empire, that pinnacle of ancient civilization, the melting pot of every culture it encountered, slowly conquered the known world and blazed trails into the unknown.  At the same time, its cities were filled with aristocrats and peasants, all alike seeking entertainment.  The peasants still had to work hard for their living, but in the off-time, they watched blood sport and sought the exotic or the supernatural as sold to them by the upper classes.  The upper classes, though seemingly in control, themselves succumbed to their own wealth, channeling their energies into ever evolving debauchery.

The British Empire, on which it is said the sun never set, took a slightly different approach.  They took for themselves the luxuries of the cultures they subdued, then sought to impose their own culture as far as possible. It was not the obvious excesses of riotous living which was their moral fault.  Their own refinement and sense of superiority, their arrogance and the delicacy of their frivolity were all manifestations of their peculiar Achilles' heel.  They had attained the height of civilization, they thought, and thus they spent their energy demonstrating their own superiority.  But it was not barbarians who overran this Empire.  It was other empires, other nations, and sometimes the colonialized peoples themselves.  Each chipped away at the construct of this superior race, until it collapsed in on itself.  Britain's own superiority complex demanded that it grant the human right of freedom to the subjected nations, and so it retreated, little by little, dignified as always, surrounded by the intricate refinements of its cosmopolitan civilization which offered it no salvation.  This was a decay in style much different from that of the Romans, but in essence the same: in her very strength was her downfall.

And now, the United States and its cultural brotherhood across the world has reached advances of affluence and technology never before thought possible.  Our imperial domination is more low-key than Rome or Britain. We expand cultural homogeneity through corporations, throw around our weight with big weapons and bigger dollars.  And each and every American is given the chance to waste his or her life away on entertainment, frivolity, and an ever-expanding list of the latest and greatest developments of sex, drugs, and labor-saving gadgets.  Being Americans, we are not content with the refined superiority of Britain.  We are more like the Roman empire, a teeming mass clamoring for violence and sex, the richest and the poorest alike addicted to the "bread and circuses."  The average American, statistics tell us, is richer than most of the people who live or ever have lived on this earth.  And the average American is proving once again that those who have it all choose self-destruction and waste.

Perhaps this is why we are all so fascinated by each impending apocalyptic scenario the entertainment complex sees fit to throw at us.  Zombies, aliens, global warming...  If only the whole world blew up, if we were overrun by the uncivilized, if the constructs we were born into crumbled around us, we might all be motivated to get up off our fat asses and become the heroes we know deep within we could all be.

The good news is we might just get our apocalypse after all.  At the rate technology is advancing, especially in places like Iran, we could all get blown away sooner rather than later.  And our ancestors might rise from the ashes wiser and better people than we were.  One can only hope.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Politics 2012: Some Predictions

I’m not a political analyst.  I’ve taken some political history classes and a political communications class, but I don’t have the background of paying very close attention to the news which would help me really say something extremely intelligent on the topic.

Still, as we begin to gear up for the election next year, I have a few thoughts (as usual).

I think the main thing that politicians need to keep in mind is that the American populace feels unrepresented.  From the Tea Party movement to the Occupy movement, people who have something to say feel that they must say it with their own voices.  People with power, people chosen to represent the populace, are apparently not saying what their constituents want said.  The government is stalling on details of economy bills and wasteful foreign wars, gridlocked in a powerplay, and so the chaotic voices of the discontent must take to the streets and call attention to themselves.   A politician who wishes to make a truly successful run for office must demonstrate that she or he will accurately represent the concerns of the American public.

It’s true that there is debate among political theorists whether a politician is supposed to accurately translate the voices of the populace or is supposed to do what she or he believes is the best for her or his constituents, but Tea Partiers and Occupiers are interested in the former.  Personally I think a politicians’ job is a mixture of the two, but in this particular opinion climate, it seems that Americans are tired of experts, and just want their voices to be heard.

Unless a particularly polarizing candidate emerges from either side, I expect that third parties will see a surge in popularity.  Not, perhaps, enough to actually disrupt the election (the two-party focus has too deep a hold on America to be disrupted by only a few years), but enough to cause worry for Republicans and Democrats.  Especially with the younger generation, a faith in one particular party seems to be waning. 

Unfortunately, the average American is hardly the driving force behind politics.  Perhaps that is why many average Americans are expressing so much disillusionment with the system.  In a world where money is power, we know that politics is driven by corporations, banks, anyone with enough cash to back increasingly expensive campaigns or to wine and dine the elite.  This is also, perhaps, why we distrust politicians’ attempts to levy harsher taxes on the wealthy – we feel that the powerful always grow more powerful while those in the middle or on the bottom like us are just a vast sea of nobodies in the grand scheme of Washington.  Ultimately, politicians will choose to make things uncomfortable for us rather than for the wealthy and powerful whom they do not wish to estrange.

So although a really successful campaign could be run by someone who supports the American populace, it’s doubtful that such a campaign would have access to the money it would need to really compete with the big dogs.  I don’t believe that 2012 will see any earth-shattering differences from earlier elections.  I expect reasonably insipid candidates spouting non-answers to non-issues and crowds of frustrated voters who feel they have no good choices.  Hopefully we can avoid the mud-slinging three-ring-circus we’ve seen in the past few elections, but I doubt it.

Am I cynical?  Yes.  But I think that’s the way we all feel, now.  So, politicians of America, what are you going to say to a group of disillusioned, cynical people who are desperate for their voices to be heard?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


I spent most of my life as a judgmental, narrow-minded, self-righteous person.  My beliefs led me to feel that I had a corner on truth which, sadly, the rest of this benighted world did not understand.  I would sanctimoniously make sure that my doctrine was correct, while my attitude ate away at my relationships with those different from myself.

To all of you who were, at one time or another, hurt by this attitude in my life, I offer a sincere apology.

Recently, I have been considering how one’s belief system informs one’s life.  And I realized that no matter how many tight logical arguments you can use to back up your views, if your life is not like Christ’s there’s something wrong. 

I used to spend so much of my time obsessing over being entirely correct that I became very self-focused.  I held myself to impossible standards that I or others in my life had invented, and spent hours yelling at myself in frustration when I failed to live up to those standards.  Although I labeled some parts of my system “grace,” there was no grace present.  Every time I messed up my own invented standards, I begged God to forgive me and hastily promised to do better, burdened by the nagging fear that if I didn’t grovel enough or beg quickly enough, I would be forever damned.  Although I said I was grateful for God’s unconditional love, I pictured it as a love which was withheld when I messed up, a love which God bestowed grudgingly, rolling His eyes at my weakness and wondering how many more times He would have to deal with my sinful ways.

And the entire time, I was totally obsessed with my own behavior, my own thoughts, every second of every day.  When my focus was entirely on my own behavior, whatever that behavior was, it was actually very difficult to spend time doing things Jesus says to do, like loving other people or not worrying or being at peace in Him.

Jesus said once that “by their fruits you shall know them.”  So I don’t care how long a history some doctrine has, or how many logical arguments you can use to pull it out of a handful of Scripture verses, if holding to this belief makes me an ungodly perfectionist, it’s not right.  Or maybe, I'm not right.

As I have grown and learned more, I have started to believe in God’s love.  I mean a real love, a love that is all-embracing and radical.  A love that isn’t withheld or bestowed grudgingly.  A love that I only missed out on because I didn’t choose to accept it.  I used to be too busy judging myself and other people to really believe that unconditional love could exist.

And once I understood God’s love and the way that He wants this world to be, I began to let go of my self-obsession.  I do enjoy exploring my own talents and abilities, but I also love those times when I get an opportunity to be a conduit: to spread even just a little love or joy or peace into this world, the love and joy and peace that I’ve received from God.

I remember once when I was very young, my dad was talking to me about the importance of “getting saved” as soon as possible because I didn’t know if I would be alive tomorrow or if I would have said no to Jesus one too many times.  I’m a little scared, now, wondering what would be in any parent’s mind that would prompt them to frighten their child into salvation like that.  But at the time I pictured Jesus standing at a door that He was closing, and I was practically hysterical praying that He would let me in before He closed the door all the way.  And He kept closing it, because He was skeptical of whether I was really sincere.  I could see the disappointment in His eyes that I wasn’t taking Him seriously enough.  I was actually crying by that point out of pure desperation, wondering what combination of words would make Jesus want to let me in that door instead of closing it.

Now I see Jesus the way the Bible describes Him – taking on humanity, walking down dusty streets touching the sick and the broken, dying with his arms outstretched to receive everyone, even me, because He loves that much.  And I see Him as John pictures Him, partway through His life: “On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.’”  He is standing in the busiest city of his nation, on the day when pilgrims have packed the city for a religious festival, and he is crying out at the top of His voice for everyone, everyone to come to Him.  He would never shut a door in my face, and when I construct doors and walls, He knocks and calls my name, begging for me to let Him in.

And if I believe in this Jesus, there is no way I can stop the love of people, the love of life, the joy that is inside from overflowing.

And so this is why, even though I no longer cling tightly to every doctrinal particular I used to believe, I am more in love with Jesus than I ever used to be.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

On The Necessity of Revisionist History

I seem to recall, in my “Intro to History” class, an entire class period on the unreliability of revisionist history.  While I appreciate the professor’s conservative viewpoint and his concerns about the objectivity of such history, I am convinced that projects of revisionist history must take place.

History is not written objectively.  Historians, even those doomed to write elementary-school textbooks, each have a battery of personal biases which color their writing.  Sometimes they try to correct these biases by sticking with time-honored traditions of history.  There are enough facts to back up nearly any interpretation, so this isn’t obviously doing bad history.  But historians in this situation forget that the original writers of the time-honored traditions had their own biases, many of which have been manifestly proven faulty.

Have you ever had that moment in your life when you learn one thing which entirely changes your perspective on a past situation?  Such “moments” occur on a collective level as well, though they usually take a while.  If history were still being written with all the perspectives of the 1800’s, modern readers would find it obviously faulty.  For instance, a modern history book which approved of the racist attitudes of early Americans would be morally execrable.  Although people scorn “revisionist history,” it is in fact inevitable.

Of course what is feared by anti-revisionists is not the new philosophy itself, but the selective fact-checking, guided by that new philosophy which the revisionist historian in question adheres to.  But here’s a news-flash for the non-historian public: ALL HISTORY IS MERELY INTERPRETATION OF DATA.  There is far too much data available, and an unknown amount of data which we simply have no way of knowing, for every historian to take into account every piece of data.  Like any other scientist, social scientist, or communicator, historians have theses which they set out to prove or refute.  Whether or not you agree with that thesis isn’t the point.  The historian, like any other academic, is making an argument.  Like any other argument, the historical claim stands or falls on the strength of the data and warrant.

Even at the time of their occurrence, historical events were perceived in multiple ways.  Such multiplicity of experience has inspired most postmodern writers to question the knowability of “what actually happened.”  Given piles of historical evidence and layers of historical interpretation developed over intervening decades or centuries, it really should not be any surprise that an objective telling of history is impossible.  But this does not mean that there aren’t better or worse ways of “doing history,” and when a better way of “doing history” develops, whether it is better methodology or a better interpretive framework (though there is of course greater difficulty in proving a better interpretive framework), revision is necessary.

My concern would, of course, be sparked if it happens that a new revision of history is not critiqued, discussed, or challenged.  If the entire historical community jumps wholesale on a new bandwagon without questioning it first, that bandwagon may be suspect.

But don’t worry.  We historians are a diverse crowd.  There are crotchety old folks who have been writing history for the past half-century and young people who come up with new ideas every week.  There are historians of every period, every aspect of history, from every perspective you could imagine.  And we are zealous guardians of our own particular research specialty, ready to rip apart discreditable sources which infringe on our territory.  There has, of course, been completely bogus “research” which has slipped through the cracks, but for the most part I think peer-approved revisions of history have earned respectful consideration.

So fear not.  Though history is just an interpretation of a compilation of interpretations, it can be held to certain standards, and it can evolve into “better” history.  Really, I think the realization that human knowledge is flawed offers a certain freedom.  Our understanding might be wrong, but it can be improved.  Our interpretation might be sketchy, but it can be corrected.  And sure that correction will not be perfect, but it will hopefully be headed in the right direction.

The postmodern age has questioned the knowability of history, but there is real data out there waiting to be interpreted.  We can still learn from history, and we can still enjoy those unbelievable stories of the past which are, as they say, stranger than fiction.  So don’t give up on historians.  If you don’t like something we say, argue with us.  We’ll argue back.  It’ll be fun.

Still a dedicated history nerd,

Sunday, September 25, 2011

"Wretches and Kings"

This afternoon I skimmed a New York Times article talking about some protestors marching on Wall Street.  And again I was faced with a question which deeply troubles me: could all of these countercultural lifestyles exist if it were not for the very structures which they’ve dedicated their lives to protesting?

First of all, it is the Western, capitalist America which has provided the education which first opened many of these peoples’ minds.  Any serious social critique has, at some point or another, been advocated by people in the top levels of academia.  And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that most protest movements have found a wide base of support within the student community.  I’m not saying that education could not exist outside the current system, but the current system is responsible for the education which these protestors received.  It’s doubly ironic: “the system” breeds those who question it, and the questioners are deeply indebted to “the system”.

Second, everyone who questions American democracy and capitalism, from whatever viewpoint (Christian, Communist, anarchist, hippie, or whatever else is out there) still depends on so many of the benefits this system provides.  That’s not surprising – it’s basically impossible to live in this country and not largely depend on such benefits.  I am just curious to know how many of these people would be willing to give up as much as possible and truly try to live out what they’re espousing at a deep level.  I’m not saying that they all wouldn’t, but I think a lot of people need to choose between tempering their rhetoric and radicalizing their lifestyle.

I am not saying that there isn’t sometimes a disconnect between belief and lifestyle.  It happens.  It especially happens when you’re busy trying to figure out how your beliefs can be expressed in your lifestyle.  But I think there are a lot of people (maybe even myself included) who spend days pointing fingers, saying what the government ought to do, how the system ought to change, when they really should take a long look in the mirror first.

There is absolutely a place for marching in protests.  There is a place for having opinions.  But I think many times we like to substitute talking about things and doing all the classic “slacktivist” activities [buying the T-shirt, donating a couple of dollars, protesting, calling your Senator, updating your facebook status] for a lot of actual lifestyle changes which we know we should really implement.  If we aren’t living our lives according to our beliefs (even if those ideals may, after all, be tempered with a bit of pragmatism), any activism will really only go so far.

I’m not claiming to be even remotely perfect in this sense!  Trust me, I know my life is hardly exemplary of all the ideals I like to espouse.  But I am working on what will no doubt be a long and messy process of trying to be more integrated and less compartmentalized.

It takes courage to live what you believe.  It also takes wisdom and love and humility and patience.  God grant us grace.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Positive Differences

This weekend I was reminded of the great value of friendships (my life is definitely blessed; I get reminded of this a lot).  And here is one of my favorite things: I love being friends with people who are not exactly like me.

I love hanging out with friends, shooting the breeze about random stuff, sharing inside jokes.  I love the fact that my one friend and I could both feel the same about the little kitten we tried to rescue.  I love that moment when you’re like, “oh yeah, me too!”

But I also love that feeling when I’m talking to someone who looks at life differently than I do.  I’m thinking of one incident in particular, where I was catching up with a friend of mine whom I hadn’t seen in a couple of months.  I started telling him about some things I had been thinking related to my future, the sociological research I want to do.  And because my friend is more conservative than I am, he asked some really insightful questions that I hadn’t necessarily thought of.  Even just the process of explaining to him my ideas, I found myself balancing out some of the things I had been thinking.  It isn’t that I thought he would judge me or be unhappy with my original thoughts.  But bringing my own ideas into this interaction with someone different than myself helped me to think in a different perspective than I had been thinking.

My favorite thing about having good, solid friendships with people whose viewpoints sometimes differ from mine is that we are still such good friends.  In our world, people often think that disagreement is necessarily hostile.  I think, if it’s on a foundation of love and caring, as part of a good relationship, disagreement can actually be a very positive experience.

It’s so valuable to have friends with diversity of experience, diversity of opinion, diversity of skill.  If the community you bring around yourself is homogenous, you’re missing out.

Thank you, everyone in my life.  You have built into me in ways that you don’t know, maybe even in ways I don’t fully know.

With gratitude,

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Why I Love America

At present, patriotism is an emotion which I cannot seem to muster up within myself.  A lot of people, especially in the nationalistic decades early in the 20th century, found lack of patriotism to be “unnatural.”  So if that’s the case, I guess I’m “unnatural.”  I even wrote an essay last year arguing that Christians ought to reexamine their priorities, placing loyalty to God’s kingdom far above patriotism.

But some recent work that I’ve been doing on an article about sexual harassment law in America has led me to reflect on some of the truly good things about America.  I’m no proponent of American exceptionalism, but in the course of human events it just so happens that I was born in America, so I know more about how these particular qualities have been exemplified in the United States.   It’s not for me to say whether or not any other nation on earth has done a good job with these things.  I dare say some have done better than America, some worse.  But for what it’s worth, here are some reasons that America is really a great place to live.

I said once that America was founded on the idea that all white land-holding males are created equal.  And I think that’s irrefutable.  But although the founding fathers made some classist, racist, sexist assumptions, they created a system in which the ideals of liberty, justice, and civil rights could be expanded, explored, and exploited to their fullest potential.  The battle for true equality has been quite ugly at times, but within the American system there is space for that battle to be waged.  Since the late 1700’s, the narrow concept of civil rights and liberties originally subscribed to by our founding fathers has been expanded beyond all recognition.  There is still so much work left to be done, but America is a place where such work can be done, indeed where we expect that such work will be done.

The first amendment to the Constitution has not always been consistently upheld.  But in general, America is a place designed to allow for and even celebrate diversity.  Diversity of opinion, diversity of practice, indeed for the most part any diversity which isn’t an actual national security threat, is part of the American tradition.  I’m not saying that we’ve perfectly stuck to this ideal, not by a long shot.  But I think we’re getting better at it.  Homogeneity is boring, and let’s face it, in a country the size of the United States, it’s basically impossible.  So I’m glad Americans enjoy embracing diversity, even if it’s more often than not a watered-down pop cultural version.

And finally, I am grateful that America is in general, safe.  As a rule, the police and the military do a good job of keeping the average citizen’s life relatively safe, while not intruding on personal freedoms.  I’m not saying our system is perfect, but at the same time, I don’t really fear that I’ll come to harm as I go about my everyday life.  And that is something I shouldn't take for granted.

So, though I’m not terribly patriotic, I am grateful for these benefits of the American system.  We’re not perfect, and there are plenty of things we could do better.  But this country is a pretty great place to live, so I’m thankful that I was born here.

(As a side note, if we think America is so great, why are we so stingy about letting other people in to share this place with us? *ahem* immigration reform *cough, cough*…but that’s another post for another day.)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

A Poetic Hiatus

I wrote the following a couple of years ago when studying political communications:

Voices, speaking
Ten thousand billion words
Until we’re dead
Of American opinions
And buried under newsprint
Running red
Ideas’ blood
Some empty, some pregnant
With something like eternal truth
How can we find it?
Amid electrical impulses
Flickering through wires
Through nerves
Through brains and city lights
Amid the sounds
From throats and stereos
Megaphones and coffeeshops
The breaths we take
The last few
Spent searching for what’s right
A choice that leads to life
Lungs expand
Harder, faster
As we move closer
Through the newsprint in the dark

Monday, September 5, 2011

Why Christian Young Men Are Undateable

This is something which has really been bothering me lately: why are so many conservative Christian young men impossible for a self-respecting young woman to date?

Well, aside from the fact that I know for a fact many very conservative (read: borderline fundamentalist) young Christians have been taught that self-respect is a psycho-babble way to make pride look acceptable, thus smuggling the worst of all sins into our lives.  I’ll write about this in a later post.

What I’m worried about here is the high concentration of douchebags I’ve met at Christian university.  I didn’t really think there was a relation between the douchebag quotient and the amount of solid conservative Christian teaching until recently, and then it struck me in all its simple obviousness:

When a man is taught all his life that women were created specifically to submit to him, he has a pretty narrow chance of growing up with a positive view of women.

I had already been dealing with the flip side, that women will have a hard time growing up into independent, self-respecting people if they are taught that their highest calling and only proper role in life is to submit to a man.  Yes, that’s an oversimplification of the current complementarian view, but when you’re a kid you don’t go with subtleties.  You hear, “women submit” and you figure that therefore it’s impossible to fulfill your role in life if there is no man in your life.  I know, I know, can open, worms everywhere.  But let’s get back to the men.

I understand the Biblical exegesis which backs up complementarianism.  I understand why so many conservative Christians think egalitarianism, let alone feminism, is totally unbiblical, mainly because I myself believed that until about two years ago.  But I have seen so much un-Christlike behavior from men, stemming from the attitudes planted in them by the gender-role teaching they’ve received, that I think the current permutation of complementarianism in conservative Christianity is indefensible.

In conservative Christian circles, men are used to seeing leadership positions filled up solely by men.  Men are used to being told that it is their responsibility to lead (and women’s responsibility to submit).  The books approved by conservative Christians are written by men (unless they are written for women, in which case female authorship is permissible).  Although the world of business and politics and academia is noticeably more equal in gender representation than it was twenty or thirty years ago, the church remains solidly male-dominated.

So Christian young men grow up expecting that they will spend their lives in positions of leadership, responsibility, and authority, while women will be doing things like organizing potluck dinners and teaching kindergarten Sunday School classes.  In other words, while men engage in complex issues of theology, breadwinning, and soulwinning, women will be doing things behind-the-scenes, womanly things that require no higher education, no special cognitive abilities, and no substantive interaction with men outside of the home (the lack of substantive interaction only reinforces the supposition that female intellectual activity is inferior – men don’t often encounter evidence to the contrary).  The men will spend their time after church doing an in-depth theological criticism of the church down the street, while the women will spend their time talking about the various developmental milestones their infants and toddlers have reached.  For the most part, a woman will receive biblical instruction either from the pastor or from her husband.  Woman-to-woman biblical instruction takes place strictly in small group settings, usually accompanied by pastries and assisted by pastel-colored devotional books written by theologically correct but not terribly substantive Christian women approved by the male leadership of the church.

In fact, at a certain church I know well, the whole paradigm is aptly captured in the baffling fact that the speaker for the women’s conference is always a man.  I wish I were joking.

No matter how much the advocates of this sort of complementarianism insist that their view does not demean women at all, it still ends up giving the impression that men are in some sense more important or more valuable than women.  The (male) leadership in these Christian circles spend a lot of time convincing women that their God-given gifts and abilities are really being used to the fullest possible extent within the home and in various not-too-visible service positions at church.  If a man believes his wife’s talents suit her for cooking dinner and teaching the children to read, while his talents suit him for anything from engineering to Biblical ministry to consulting to…well, just about anything anyone in the world can dream up, he’s not going to really view her as an equal.  If she was created only and solely to help him and support him and submit to him, why should he consider her just as valuable as himself?  (I know the objections these men will raise: They will say that I am measuring value by the world’s standards.  Although a woman’s role may seem less important, it is really equally valuable, just different.  To which I say: Good to know that “separate but equal” is still alive and well somewhere.  Have fun living in the 1950’s.  Send me a postcard.)

And this goes back to the un-Christlike behavior I was talking about.  I recall a lot of stories where Jesus spoke to women as though they were his intellectual equals, capable of spiritual reflection and independent thought and action.  This was especially radical, of course, in a world where women were viewed as little more than property.  I recall no stories in which Jesus told a woman that her place was to submit to him.  And Jesus never treated a woman in a utilitarian fashion, as a means to an end.  In fact, in the famous story of Mary and Martha, he had a perfect opportunity to do so.  Yet he was much more interested in serving Mary by discipling her than in asking her to go fulfill her culturally-approved female role of serving him.  I have yet to see anything like this in a conservative Christian home.  In typical hospitality situations, the husband will sit in the living room, talking theology or some other edifying topic with the guests, and the wife is free to join them of course – after she’s finished making sure dinner is cooked and the table set.  I wonder what would happen if the husband went into the kitchen and said, “Hey honey, let me put the finishing touches on that casserole and set the table – John and Cindy have these really good thoughts they’ve been sharing about Deuteronomy and I want you to have the chance to be a part of that conversation.”  Complementarian?  Not entirely.  Christ-like?  Totally.

Sidebar: for an excellent treatment of Paul’s writing on submission, I would refer you to Rob Bell’s book “Sex God.”  If you don’t have the time to read it, or if your friends will cast you out as an unbeliever and a heretic if they find out you’ve been reading Rob Bell, here’s the summary: it’s in the context of all believers submitting to one another, it is addressing the woman as an equal individual with the free will to choose, and Paul does not move on to tell men that they must force women to submit but rather to tell men that they too must live so sacrificially in relation to their wives that it is likened to dying.  Next time a man tells his wife to submit to him, try asking him when was the last time he laid down his life for her.  Chances are, the situation he thinks can only be resolved by her submission could be resolved just as well if he chose to live sacrificially.

I’m not even going to address all the numerous parallels I’ve had thrown at me in my life between a child’s submission to a parent and a wife’s submission to her husband.  Garbage of that sort hardly even merits derision, much less an actual response.

And so, considering the view of women advocated by the typical really conservative church, it comes as no surprise that I, a young woman with a positive self-concept and a decent respect for her own intellectual capacity, would find it difficult to date a typical conservative Christian young man.

But what really makes me sad is when I see young Christian women, women with deep spiritual insight, servant’s hearts, and great intellectual capacity deny all of that because the man they’re dating wants them to step into a box he’s labeled “submission.”  And it’s a vicious example of circular reasoning: he is the spiritual head of the relationship, so he gets to define what submission means, and she has to do it because after all he is the spiritual head of the relationship.  If these women were not Christians, they would likely be able to pursue careers where they would affect the world in countless positive ways.  Since they are Christians, dating Christian young men, they will give up any really great career because they must not outshine their future husband, and they will eventually give up any career at all in favor of being a “keeper at home.”  Everything inside them that says they should be leading a ministry to homeless teens, should be painting masterpieces that speak to the human experience, should be writing theology books that could rival John MacArthur’s, is labeled antithetical to a meek and quiet spirit.

I think that if all the good abilities and gifts God has brought together into the unique person that is you are being suppressed and shuffled aside so you can fit into someone else’s idea of submission, you’re doing it so, so wrong.

Maybe I’ve exaggerated a little, or maybe you haven’t been exposed to the manic streak of gender-role rhetoric I’ve had to endure.  But from what I have seen, this is a huge problem.  I watch it stalk around the campus of the university I graduated from every single day in the form of men who have been told they’re kings of the earth from day one and women who stop up their ears at any mention of “equality,” lest it taint their joyful and submissive spirits.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Meet My Dear Friend, Sarcasm

…and its uptown cousin, irony.

I introduce you to these two concepts now because I will be using them liberally in the future.  And why not?  All of Western civilization has bequeathed to me this rich heritage.  Who am I to deny the power of an expertly placed snide remark?

Of course real irony takes a touch perhaps more delicate than mine.  So mostly I will be using sarcasm.

I think that irony and sarcasm, especially as tools of social critique, are the privilege of…well, of the privileged.  Social critique requires being able to take a larger view, to place oneself outside of one’s circumstances, at least long enough to craft that particularly barbed sarcastic phrase.  For the most part, the desperately poor are too busy surviving to achieve that distance.  I think this is why sarcasm and irony have been so prevalent in Western society for the past two hundred years at least, and why it’s hardly the predominant form of humor in the majority of third-world countries.

Furthermore, practitioners of sarcasm and irony are usually fairly well-educated.  I don’t know if this is because the current Western intellectual tradition emphasizes skepticism, a sort of ivory-tower second-cousin to irony and sarcasm, or if it’s because a broad view of the world encourages cynicism.  It’s a sad fact that the broadening of the mind frequently leads to the crushing of innocent ideals, just as surely as the broadening of the American freeway leads to the crushing of innocent woodland creatures.  And when those ideals are crushed, the young and educated turn to irony, if they are talented, or sarcasm, if they are not so talented, and go on their way.  (And for some, it's possible that irony and sarcasm descend on them in that moment when they receive their diplomas and realize that, underneath the cap and gown, they are now just one more tally-mark in that statistic that tracks jobless youth living in their parents' basements.  But that's just another ideal being crushed, the ideal that a four-year-degree guarantees a completely fulfilling, productive, and economically secure life thereafter.)

I’m not sure if my generation has really taken irony to its apogee.  After all, in that field, we’ve mostly just produced a bunch of hipsters.  We haven’t produced a Charles Dickens, or an Oscar Wilde, or an F. Scott Fitzgerald.  At least not yet.  However, I’m pretty sure America has never been so full of the reasonably well-off, well-educated, wielding sarcasm which is sharper than the proverbial two-edged sword.

And I’m not ashamed to join their ranks.  Some might say that sarcasm is ingratitude, or laziness, or evidence of a bad attitude.  But I don’t think so.  I think it’s just our way of taking a step back and poking fun at ourselves.  We’re the world’s most affluent culture and hence a little ridiculous.  Why refuse to exploit this goldmine of potential hilarity simply because our mining implements are also used by every wise-mouth middle-schooler trying to circumvent a history paper?

Spending the night with irony’s non-elitist cousin,

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Not As Dangerous As Jumping Off The Empire State Building

Basically, "everyone's doing it," so why  not?  My mother hates that particular argument, but in instances which are not potentially lethal, I think it can have merit.  At least, in the instance of starting a blog, it has some merit.

As a college student, I have learned the importance of small things.  Besides the covert nod to a random quotation from one of my favorite comic strips, that's sort of what the title of this blog is about.  Because when you're a college kid, a dime is like, "oh my friggin' gosh, it's ten cents!!!!!!!!  I could maybe buy a stick of gum!!!!!"  (which is a bigger deal than one might think, because every time you want to chew a stick of gum all of your friends ask for one too).  Also the whole "10-cent lottery" thing is about how when you don't have much, you don't have much to lose, but you also don't have much with which to play the game.  And that's about as philosophical as I feel for the moment.

This blog is a place for me to get some of my opinions out of the stuffy confines of my computer hard drive and air them out on the internet.  It's unlikely that I'll write many navel-gazing posts, because venting my inner feelings to the blogosphere isn't really my game.  I might post a few poems though, so be prepared to be underwhelmed by that experience.

Well, here goes.  Look out below!