Capitulating to Our Culture

I was doing a quick shopping run the other day for my wife when I ran into this set of books prominently displayed at our favorite grocery store:

I was immediately leery, as book publishers seem to have certain ideas about what boys need to know versus what girls need to know about the same general topics. The covers are fairly innocuous – sailboat versus horse, diving versus jumping rope – nothing too offensive. Of course, inside the books was a different story:

Full disclosure: That’s the first page I opened to in the boys’ book. I flipped around the girls’ book briefly to find a page that corresponded – fun summer idea on one page and an activity on the other.

So boys are told they can skip stones and solve puzzles, and girls are told they can look good … and lie on the beach. Note also the actual text – “a girl has her image to think of” … “be a beautiful beach babe” – and the unnaturally skinny, bikini-clad preteens in the girls’ book, as well. And I would be remiss as a typographic nerd if I didn’t point out that the boys’ book has a strong, bold headline font compared to the girls’ frilly, cutesy font, which along with giving the boys’ book a better design also reinforces the subtle message that boys are to be strong and adventurous while girls should look pretty.

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Hating Religion, Loving Jesus, Accepting Imperfection

You’ve likely seen Jeff Bethke’s YouTube video that juxtaposes Jesus and religion in a poem/rap. If somehow you’re not one of the nearly 20 million people to watch it, check it out above. Certainly it exploded across my Facebook feed this winter, and the reactions raised from undying adoration to dismissive antipathy.

I confess that after I watched it, I felt more of the latter than the former. My objection, like many others, centered on Bethke’s seemingly poor understanding and/or lazy use of the word “religion” and its cliched juxtaposition with Jesus. “Jesus came to abolish religion,” Bethke stated, and it’s the curse of the journalist-academician to want to correct the sentence to add: “some forms of”.

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The Church’s Trouble With Women

If anything has been made clear to me this month, it’s this: Christianity has a gender problem.

First there was the kerfuffle over John Piper’s comments about the “masculine feel” of Christianity. The fact there even was a kerfuffle over them is encouraging, but let’s face it: John Piper’s influence far exceeds 100 angry blogs’.

Then there was the craziness over President Obama’s effort to make sure all women covered by a health insurance plan have access to free contraception – an important goal because access to birth control is a constitutionally protected right, it has health value beyond its stated purpose, and its stated purpose is far preferable to unplanned pregnancy, 30 percent of which end in abortions.

Well-intentioned people can disagree about whether the initial proposal was a good idea – it would not have forced a single Catholic to use birth control, so the reaction to it seemed a tad overwrought to me, especially since many states already had the exact same mandate without religious institutions falling into the abyss – but the compromise worked out by the Obama administration exempted religious-affiliated hospitals and universities while requiring insurance companies to provide it for free in those cases. Issue solved, right?

Well, no.

The bishops want every Catholic employer everywhere to be able to opt out of the contraception mandate, but this is another example of Christian leadership evincing a position that oppresses women – one clearly not supported by the women affected by that position.

This is the problem with hierarchalism in our church. My wife and I have three children; I’ve been an eyewitness to three full-term pregnancies and three labors, each with their own unique challenges and difficulties. I know as well as any man how hard it is to carry a baby to term and deliver it. Which still means I know just about nothing about being pregnant or having a baby. 

The much-ballyhooed figure is this: 98 percent of Catholic women have used birth control. Even assuming that number is a little high (it’s actually 98 percent of sexually active Catholic women who are able but not actively trying to have children, so nuns, the elderly and the pregnant, among others, are not included), it indicates yet another divorce between the assumptions of the men who run our churches and the women whose fealty they demand.

It seems wrong to me that a group of celibate men should call the shots on reproductive health for sexually active women, so let’s see what the women think.

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‘Blessed Are the Laptop Shooters …’

By now you’ve surely heard of or seen the video above, in which an angry father, disrespected on Facebook by his 15-year-old daughter, empties a clip from his handgun into her laptop. As of this morning, it has nearly 24 million views. The day Tommy Jordan released his video, numerous friends of mine posted it to their feeds, all of them with some variant of, “This is awesome!”

I agree it’s awesome, assuming the definition of “awesome” is “extremely impressive or daunting; inspiring great apprehension or fear” and not “extremely good; excellent.”

Yes, it’s a fun video. Who hasn’t wanted to do something like this? We’ve all felt disrespected at some point or other, and the idea of enacting irreversible, humiliating public consequences touches a nerve. It’s cathartic, in a way. But here’s the thing: That’s not how we’re supposed to parent. We don’t discipline because we’re angry or feel hurt. We don’t punish to soothe a primitive desire for retribution.

We do it because we love. And while I get that love looks different in different families, I have a hard time coming to grips with violence as an expression of it.

This is why I’ve talked so much about the genocidal passages of Judges and 1 Samuel. Jesus ascribes to God the qualities of a parent in the Sermon on the Mount, and viewed through that lens, it’s impossible to see how love – even our imperfect, incomplete, human view of it – is compatible with slaughter and bloodshed.

Emptying a round into a laptop isn’t the same thing as ordering ethnic cleansing, of course, but the video and the many positive reactions to it reaffirm that we have a violence problem in America. Unfortunately, as we’ll see, the problem stems largely from Christianity – more specifically, how Christians have traditionally read and interpreted the Bible.

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The Radical Femininity of Christ

Correlation may not equal causation, but I see a connection between this statement …

I conclude that God has given Christianity a masculine feel. And being God, a God of love, He has done that for our maximum flourishing both male and female… He does not intend for women to languish or be frustrated or in any way suffer or fall short of full and lasting joy in this masculine Christianity. From which I infer that the fullest flourishing of women and men takes place in churches and families that have this masculine feel.

… and this one:

No population group among the sixty segments examined has gone through more spiritual changes in the past two decades than women. Of the 14 religious factors studied, women have experienced statistically significant changes related to 10 of them. Of those transitions, eight represent negative movement – that is, either less engagement in common religious behaviors or a shift in belief away from biblical teachings. … The only religious behavior that increased among women in the last 20 years was becoming unchurched. That rose a startling 17 percentage points – among the largest drops in church attachment identified in the research.

That first quote is from John Piper, the well-known evangelical minister, and it’s been making the rounds the past few days. The second is an excerpt of findings from the Barna Group published in August. (By the way, men showed no corresponding drop in church attendance.)

Conservative Christianity, especially evangelicalism, has long had trouble with the issue of women’s roles – in church, in the home, in society. Piper’s quote is evidence of that struggle – if there was no debate, he likely would have felt no need to discuss the matter – as are the litany of controversial comments from uber-male Mark Driscoll. Somehow, the church has a woman problem.

But that’s not quite true; women aren’t the problem. Rather, the church has a history problem.

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Merry Xmas!

It’s probably not surprising to you that I’m not particularly agitated by the so-called War on Christmas (and the horror induced by using the ancient Christian shorthand for “Christ” is pretty funny). I think Jesus can handle it if there’s not a crèche on the courthouse lawn this year, or if the state house calls it a holiday tree instead. I think he cares much more about how we treat those around us, especially those for whom Christmas is not a gift-filled or joyous time.

That’s all I’m going to say about that. Because Christmas should be a time for unity, as we all, whether conservative or liberal, remember the birth of our king and eagerly await his return to set right everything that is wrong with our world.

A lot goes wrong on this planet every day. But one thing went right more than 2,000 years ago. And that’s the only thing that really matters. Merry Christmas, faithful readers. See you next year!

‘Keep Making Money’

If you haven’t been keeping up with the latest twists in the personal life of Kim Kardashian (it’s OK to admit it), she and her husband of less than three months, Kris Humphries, have filed for divorce.

This isn’t normally a topic worthy of consideration for this blog – although Kardashian does sound like the name of an ancient Near Eastern ruler, come to think of it – but reading stories like this one about the insane amount of money thrown around Kardashian’s ultimately meaningless wedding is sobering:

Kardashian’s divorce could be good for her “business”, which for the uninitiated precious few includes multiple TV shows, clothing lines, and brand endorsements of products ranging from perfume to booze.

Well, she certainly made her wedding work for her: while it is said to have cost $10 million, it was all paid for by sponsorships and tie-ins, from freebie $20,000 Vera Wang gowns (she wore three) to a deeply discounted $2 million Lorraine Schwartz ring. …

As for Kim Kardashian herself, she’s laughing all the way to the proverbial bank. The New York post pinned her earnings from the wedding at $17.9 million, a figure derived from adding up her various sponsorship deals and freebies. That’s overly simplistic, given the amount she’d have had to shell out to Jenner and various agents for their cuts. But this is a woman who made $12 million the year before her wedding extravaganza and charged $2,500 entry to her birthday party, so we can’t underestimate her money-making abilities. Using the $17.9 million figure as a crude estimate, Kim raked in just under $250,000 a day, and over $10,000 an hour, for her 72-day marriage.

And her brand won’t suffer either. Her next E! series on life as a married woman is already in the can, and as executive producer, she has the ability to go back and edit that footage to cast herself in a positive light. “Kris Humphries will look like a complete jerk,” Piazza predicts. “That’s what will end up saving her brand. It doesn’t matter; she’ll keep making money.

Is there anything that screams, “America!” more than that last sentence?

A couple of somewhat related thoughts came to my mind while reading this article.

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