Words Of The Year

Merriam Webster, the dictionary publisher with a big online presence, has announced the most looked-up words of 2012.  The top two, tied as Words of the Year, are socialism and capitalism.  That Americans evidently don’t know what those two words mean helps explain the election.

Others in the top ten are Democracy, globalization, marriage, bigot, malarkey, meme, touche, schadenfreude, professionalism.

Last year the top word was austerity. The year before that, it was pragmatic.

That Americans don’t know the meaning of these words and so have to look them up explains everything!

 

via Merriam Webster’s Word Of The Year For 2012.

Ten myths about church growth

Have you noticed how quickly “the latest ideas” become the old-fashioned ideas?  Brian Orme is a Southern Baptist expert in church trends.  What were once the foundational assumptions of the Church Growth Movement he is now labeling as “Ten Old Wives Tales about Church Growth.”  Paul McCain usefully extracts them:

1. If You’re Not Growing, Something’s Wrong

2. The More You Grow, the Healthier You Are

3. Contemporary Music Will Save Your Church

4. Church Growth Can Be Manufactured

5. If Your Church Grows, Your Leader Is “Anointed”

6. If Your Church Doesn’t Grow, It’s a Problem with the Leader

7. Good Preaching Is the Answer to Growing Your Church

8. You Will Retain a Large Percentage of Your Visitors on Special Days

9. The More Programs You Offer, the More Your Church Will Grow

10. If You Build It, They Will Come

For Rev. Orme’s explanations of each of these points, go here.

Structure and freedom for kids

Washington Post education columnist Jay Mathews discusses some findings in Michael Petrilli’s book The Diverse Schools Dilemma; namely, that middle class and working class parents tend to have different parenting styles that impact education:

A middle-class, college-educated parent of any ethnicity is likely to be like me: Overscheduling children’s free time but preferring innovative instruction and informal discipline at school.

The research Petrilli cites says working-class and poor parents of any race are more likely to let their children amuse themselves as they see fit once their homework is done but tend to prefer schools with traditional teaching styles and strong discipline.

He cites the work of University of Pennsylvania sociologist Annette Lareau. She and her team closely tracked 12 families of different racial and class backgrounds. They found the center of life in middle-class families was the calendar, with what Lareau said were “scheduled, paid, and organized activities for children . . . in the two-inch-square open spaces beneath each day of the month.” But despite the forced march to improvement that characterized their children’s free time, those parents tolerated a lot of back-talk and often negotiated with children about what they wanted to do. They preferred teachers who did not give orders but encouraged creativity..

Working-class and poor parents, researchers found, left their children on their own on weekends and summer days but were more likely to set strict behavior rules. Those parents tended to like teachers who were tough and structured.

As a nation, we have been arguing for many generations about the best parenting styles. Those of us who prefer lots of scheduled activities but not much discipline should remember that many members of the revered Greatest Generation who won World War II were raised the way many low-income children are brought up today. . . .

Do loose school lessons teach more than structured ones? Does regular weekend soccer practice do more for our children’s character than roaming around with their friends? I don’t know. The research doesn’t say.

If middle class and low-income parents have different methods with their kids and different expectations for their schools, how do principals and teachers serve both populations?

via Do rich and poor parenting styles matter? – Class Struggle – The Washington Post.

So when middle class teachers go with a “creative” free-form approach to teaching, working class kids end up with no structure, either at school or in their free time.  Perhaps home-schooled middle-class kids tend to do so well because both their schooling and their free time are highly structured.  If this breakdown is correct, poorer kids would do really well if they only had more structure in their schooling.

As I recall, though we were middle class, my school was highly structured and my free time was my own.  That may have more to do with “greatest generation” parenting, times gone by, and local culture.  I think it’s good to give children some space for freedom and for pursuing things they enjoy on their own, rather than scheduling every minute with sports and self-improvement lessons.

Do you think this holds true?  Can you make a case for one of these parenting/educational styles over the others?  Are there other possibilities?

History as a study in irony

Michael Dirda reviews a new book by the distinguished British historian J. H. Elliott, History in the Making, which reflects on how historians exercise their vocations and the lessons of history for our own times.  Here are some quotations from the book, as put together in the review:

“If the study of the past has any value, that value lies in its ability to reveal the complexities of human experience, and to counsel against ruling out as of no significance any of the paths that were only partially followed, or not followed at all.”

Today, it is apparent that “the nation state, while remaining the standard form of political organization, has been under growing pressure both from above and from below. . . . From above, it has been compelled to yield ground to international and supranational bodies, of which the European Community is a prime example. From below, it has come under pressure from the suppressed nationalities, and from religious and ethnicities demanding their own place in the sun. As a result, what once seemed certain has become less certain, and structures that once had about them an air of permanence are showing signs of frailty.”

Certainly, contemporary history has shown us, with a vengeance, that “the stronger the emphasis on secularization, the greater are the chances of religious revival. The advance of science finds its antithesis in the advance of fundamentalism, and the supranationalism of a world of multinational corporations and organizations finds itself challenged by the upsurge of the irrational forces of old-style nationalism.”

Thus, as Dirda concludes, “The study of history is a study in irony.”

The more secularism the more religious revival.  It would follow that conservatism is not dead, any more than liberalism was a few years ago, that ideologies ebb and flow and take their turn.  I suspect the same is true of moral codes.  The sexual revolution will probably spur a counter-revolution.  Then again, world wars, totalitarianism, fascism, and communism will probably come back too.

via A historian’s Spanish lessons for modern America – The Washington Post.

 

Purging social conservatives from the GOP

As Christian activists are trying to think through the parameters of political involvement, some Republicans are thinking their party may be better off without them.  In an opinion piece that is attracting lots of party discussion, Republican consultant Mike Murphy argues that the GOP needs to drop socially-conservative issues like abortion and gay marriage in favor of a “a more secular and modernizing conservatism.”

The Republican challenge is not about better voter-turnout software; it is about policy. We repel Latinos, the fastest-growing voter group in the country, with our nativist opposition to immigration reform that offers a path to citizenship. We repel younger voters, who are much more secular than their parents, with our opposition to same-sex marriage and our scolding tone on social issues. And we have lost much of our once solid connection to the middle class on kitchen-table economic issues.

A debate will now rage inside the GOP between the purists, who will as always call for more purity, and the pragmatists, who will demand modernization. The media, always culturally alien to intra-Republican struggles, will badly mislabel this contest as one between “moderate” and “right-wing” Republicans. In fact, the epic battle we Republicans face now is a choice between two definitions of conservatism.

One offers steadfast opposition to emerging social trends like multiculturalism and secularization. The alternative is a more secular and modernizing conservatism that eschews most social issues to focus on creating a wide-open opportunity society that promises greater economic freedom and the reform of government institutions like schools that are vital to upward social mobility.

via Can This Party Be Saved? | TIME.com.

He goes on to make the case for the latter.  Never mind that the last two Republican presidential losers downplayed social issues and were not representative of the Christian right.

Bloomberg’s Josh Barro  argues that it was precisely the economic issues favored by establishment country club Republicans that alienated middle class voters:

The Republican Party’s key electoral problem doesn’t come from social conservatives or nativists. It comes from the economic policy demands of the party’s wealthy donors. Murphy allows that Republicans “have lost much of our once solid connection to the middle class on kitchen-table economic issues.” But his prescription won’t do anything to fix that problem.

What are the “kitchen-table” economic concerns of the middle class? They’re high unemployment, slow income growth, underwater mortgages, and the rising cost of health care and higher education. Democrats have an agenda that is responsive to these concerns. Republicans don’t — and they don’t because the party’s donor class specifically doesn’t want one.

For more discussion and links to other voices in the debate, see this post at First Thoughts.

So what do you make of this?  Would you support a “secular and modernizing” Republican party?

Forgive us our debts

University of Chicago theologian Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite says that when Jesus told us to pray (in some translations) “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,” he was calling for the forgiveness of economic debts.  She also says how Occupy Wall Street is “operationalizing” Jesus’s economic teachings:

The folks who brought you Occupy Wall Street have launched what they call “Rolling Jubilee.” By donating to Rolling Jubilee, individuals can give money to buy up distressed consumer debt that is normally sold to debt collectors for pennies on the dollar. But instead of acting like debt collectors, hounding folks for the full payment, you are giving to cancel the debt, that is, forgive it.

What Jesus taught as a prayer about forgiving debt (Matthew 6:12) has just been operationalized by Occupy.

Through prayer and deed, Jesus pursued an economic plan called the “Jubilee,” as I write in ‘#OccupytheBible: What Jesus Really Said (and Did) About Money and Power,’ my new book on how what Jesus really said about money, and what he did about economic issues in his own time that is just now launching as an e-book, and then in print.

It is critical that American Christians learn that Jesus really meant it when he asked us to pray, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” Conservative Christians would like you to forget that Jesus really meant debt forgiveness. The Religious Right would like you to focus only on specific, individual “sins” like homosexuality (something that Jesus actually never mentions), and ignore that Jesus was really concerned about structured economic inequality in his own time. To Jesus, systemic economic inequality was the “Kingdom of Caesar,” not the “Kingdom of God.”

Jesus starts his ministry (Luke 4:16-19) by standing up in the synagogue and reading from one of the key texts of his Hebrew scriptures on the biblical “Jubilee.” The biblical “Jubilee” is a time of debt forgiveness.

Rolling Jubilee is exactly what Jesus was talking about and doing something about throughout his whole ministry.

According to the Jewish tradition in which Jesus stands, and from which he preached, the Jubilee is a special year of “liberty” where every 50 years there was a kind of “reboot” of Jewish economics and social relations. As described in Leviticus, “And you shall hallow the fiftieth year and you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; you shall return every one of you to your property and every one of you to your family” (25:10). This 50th-year (or 49th-year) Jubilee followed seven “sabbatical cycles” where every seven years male slaves were released without debt, and land was allowed to lie fallow.

But that was millennia ago, some will say. How could the biblical Jubilee possibly be an economic plan in today’s economy, one that is far more complicated than in the first century CE?

It has never been more important to raise the issue of debt forgiveness and do something about it in concrete ways than it is in 21st century America.

via Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite: ‘Forgive Us Our Debts’: Occupy Operationalizes the Lord’s Prayer on Debt.

This reminds me of a preacher I heard, back in my pre-Lutheran days when I belonged to a liberal denomination, who taught that because Jesus proclaimed “release to the captives,” we need to empty our prisons by letting all of the inmates go free, a gesture of grace that would surely reform them all.

What do you think of Dr. Thistlewhite’s exegesis?  If you disagree, how would you answer her?   OR, does she have a valid point somewhere in her teaching?  What is the principle behind the Jubilee year?


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