Oprah, Osteen, Gaga, or Beck? Whose Celebrity Faith Do You Relate To?

Near the end of 2011, I had heard rumors that media celebrity Oprah Winfrey was visiting the Osteen family who lead the largest church in the United States: Lakewood. Lakewood is near downtown Houston and more than 40,000 attend the worship service each Sunday which is broadcast in over 100 countries to millions. This is the megachurch of megachurches in the US (still fairly small compared to Yoido and other super-ultra-mega-churches around the world. So it makes sense that Oprah, perhaps the most influential woman of color, would spend some time to get to know what it’s like to be one of the most influential Christian figures in America today.

I watched this interview recently on Oprah’s new cable channel, OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network – how cool is that for an acronym brand, no wonder she’s rich!), which emerged since she stepped down from her widely syndicated show in the spring of 2011. My sociological curiosity was piqued because Oprah herself is indirectly known for her faith which these days gets dressed up in the phrase “spirituality.” Oprah was raised in a traditional African American church and is now a fairly “inclusive Christian,” a Christian who is fairly accepting of most other religions, and sees Christianity as merely one path to an integrated spirituality (or whatever term she uses).

There was nothing that surprised me in the interview I have to say, but maybe it’s because I had read a little here and there about the Osteens and their brand of Christianity. Their messages are ones that convey [Read more...]

My Faulty Moral Standards (Which I’d Like to Think are Better than Yours)

I’ve been thinking about personal standards lately, and one of the people I know with the highest standards about anything is UConn Women’s Basketball Coach Geno Auriemma. Here’s a story to illustrate. A couple weeks ago the team was playing West Virginia—a physically tough Big East opponent, and UConn was up by a comfortable margin. West Virginia’s center got the ball in the low post, and UConn’s center, Stefanie Dolson reached around and batted away from her, to one of UConn’s guards for an easy layup at the other end. As Dolson ran by the UConn bench, Auriemma chewed her out. Why? Because from his view on how basketball should be played, Dolson shouldn’t have given up the low-post position in the first place.

Auriemma has a clear vision of how the game should be played, and he won’t settle for anything less. It doesn’t matter if the team is up 50 points (which happens regularly) or down 10 points (which happens less regularly). As a result, he’s a hall-of-fame coach, Olympic coach, and has a winning percentage of 86%. (His teams have lost 6 games in the last four years). He wants his teams to play to a standard, not the situation. As a result, they have not lost to an unranked opponent since 1999! (In fact, I’m sure that my blogging colleague Jerry Park at Baylor will agree with me that UConn WBB has the best team this year).

When it comes to morals, which may even be more important than UConn basketball, I spend a lot of time watching the scoreboard. By that I mean that while I ascribe to high moral statements, when push comes to shove, I’m usually pretty happy if I’m doing better than other people or if things are going well in general.

Social psychologists explain this in terms of [Read more...]

God and Suffering: Remembering the Haitian Earthquake of January 2010

January 10, 2012, marks the 2nd anniversary of the earthquake that devastated Haiti. Having spent much time in Haiti and among Haitian migrants, the tragedy struck me in the heart. Tears rolled down my face when I heard the Archbishop of Port-au-Prince had been killed in the collapsed cathedral.

One of the major themes of my Faith Makes Us Live: Surviving and Thriving in the Haitian Diaspora was about Haitians’ resilient faith. In my initial reaction to the tragedy, I doubted my own confidence in Haiti’s ability to recover, my own hope for Haiti’s future.

Then I saw on the news that the Auxiliary Bishop of Port-au-Prince celebrated Mass outside the ruins. The songs they sang reminded me of the same church songs I sang in the Haitian choirs during my research and brought back my hope, my ability to imagine a better future for Haiti.

Just a few months later, in March 2010, I visited [Read more...]

Why I’d Rather Do Research than Publish

For whatever reason I get stuck at the same point with many of my papers–right before a submission (or resubmission) to a journal. From a rational perspective, this makes no sense in that a little extra work will get the manuscript to a journal where it might be published. In thinking about why I have this tendency, I realized that what I enjoy about sociological research happens *before* submission to a journal–formulating the ideas, analyzing the data, and putting together in draft form. From there out it’s just work. The problem is that the professional rewards don’t start until *after* journal submission (and acceptance).

Here’s a graph that illustrates what I mean:

I love research because I’m very curious about the world, but when it comes to getting things out the door, then it’s more just plain-old-discipline.


When it comes to Death, we’re the Biggest Liars

I’ve always been the kind of person who reads the obituaries in the local newspaper. I don’t believe I have an unhealthy curiosity about death. I just think it registers and I pay attention to it. It could be that being a PK provided me with elevated exposure to the reality of death. And I lived for 12 years about 50 feet from a cemetery, next to the country church in Iowa that my father served from 1972-1984. It didn’t much bother me, except of course on those nights following a burial. (For the record, nothing ever happened.) Regardless of the exact etiology of it, I’m an obituary reader.

Obituaries often hide the cause of death, leaving readers to speculate (sometimes wildly) about the nature of the death and life of the deceased. And, to be honest, whether their own choices played a role in bringing about their death. As I get older, this part interests me more than it used to. Most of the time, we’ll never know. We say they “passed away,” as if death is typically painless and gentle. Hardly—having witnessed it twice. (Even my mother-in-law, God bless her, was telling a slightly different story about it within hours of my father-in-law’s death.) Now many people just say “passed,” as if they’re not even “away” at all. In the local newspaper yesterday, there were at least three references to passing away “peacefully” or “quietly.” While preferable no doubt for the dying and grieving, I’m not sure this is information for the public. Nor have I ever read of someone dying “painfully” or with considerable aggravation, even though it’s a safe bet that those occur with a great deal of regularity. Speaking of peaceful, suicides are sometimes subtly indicated by phrases like, “John is finally at peace.” (Is he? How would we know?)

So obituaries tend to lie, or at least harness the truth and run off with it. Sometimes they report that the deceased “never met a person he didn’t like.” (Obviously he didn’t get out much.) I recall a student here who died a few years ago in a car wreck; while his obituary spoke of [Read more...]