Weekly Meanderings, 7 September 2013

Margaret Manning on the human propensity for legalisms: “Why is it that human beings become legalists regardless of the rules involved? The desire to have clear boundaries, and a concern for decency and order to guide communities, is both necessary and prudent. Yet somehow rules meant to offer shape for community living often grow into gods we come to worship—gods who serve as judge and jury for all who fall short of their dictates. Clear boundaries become walls of separation dividing human relationships and community, and the enforcers quickly draw lines around the righteous and the unrighteous. Legalism prompts one to declare her “virtue” as the clearly superior standard.

Perhaps humans find it easier to love legalities because it is easier than loving people. People are inconsistent and imperfect, and are more easily controlled and confined by rules. Jesus, in his life and ministry, frequently shattered these easy definitions put in place by those legalists in his day. He upended expectations and eluded the tightly drawn categories of those who sought to control him. He often kept company with those deemed unrighteous—prostitutes, tax collectors, and others called sinners—and he earned the label of “glutton and a drunkard” by those whose laws drew clear boundaries around appropriate company. For those who had clear rules about the Messiah of Israel, Jesus eschewed political power and stood silently before those who would eventually order his crucifixion. And for those who wanted a “rebel” Jesus, wholly antinomian and defying every convention, he answered by challenging his followers towards a righteousness that exceeded that of the most religious-of-the-religious in his day. In his own words he told those who would follow him that he did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it.”

Allison Vesterfelt, on stuff defining us: “This is what happened to me when it came to my possessions. A few years ago I looked around my life and realized: I believe my stuff defines me….The worst part of all was I was miserable. Totally and completely miserable. So I sold everything. I’ve told the story here before, and wrote a book about the experience calledPacking Light that is available on Amazon starting today, so I won’t bore you with all of the gory details. But basically, I wanted to see what would happen if I gave up everything I was using as a measure of success in my life that was leading me in the wrong direction. I wanted to see if God would show me how he wanted me to measure success. I wanted to see if I could experience the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Yelling doesn’t work: “A tactic that doesn’t work is broadly called harsh verbal discipline, whether that’s shouting at teens, yelling, screaming, swearing, insulting or calling them names, says a study out today. In fact, those parenting actions increase the risk that the adolescent will misbehave and suffer symptoms of depression. Shouting and yelling are ineffective and can be harmful, says study’s author Ming-Te Wang, assistant professor in the department of psychology and the school of education at the University of Pittsburgh. “This may explain why so many parents say that no matter how loud they shout, their teenagers don’t listen.”

Google and M&Ms: “So in what could be called Project M&M, a special ops force of behavioral science PhDs conducted surveys of snacking patterns, collected data on the proximity of M&M bins to any given employee, consulted academic papers on food psychology, and launched an experiment. What if the company kept the chocolates hidden in opaque containers but prominently displayed dried figs, pistachios and other healthful snacks in glass jars? The results: In the New York office alone, employees consumed 3.1 million fewer calories from M&Ms over seven weeks. That’s a decrease of nine vending machine-size packages of M&Ms for each of the office’s 2,000 employees.”

Have you signed up for TwitterSpirit?

Fun, nice, just: “After having his beloved Raleigh hybrid lifted by a thief from right outside his apartment in the pre-noon hours of August 21st, Quentin Matheson resigned himself to never seeing the 13-year-old bike again. But the god of street justice apparently had different plans, because not three days later Matheson’s pal and bike mechanic Gordon Robb spotted the stolen bicycle on Bloor St. in Toronto and phoned Matheson up to let him know. After confirming “100 per cent” that the bike was Matheson’s, Robb, who had an emotional connection with the bike having spent the last five years working on it, threw a chain lock around it and the two men met up to discuss their next move. The following day, after securing the bike with a few more locks “for good measure,” Matheson, Robb, and a few other friends launched operation “Take Back the Bike.” First, they cut away the thief’s U-lock with a buzzsaw; then, they replaced it with a less practical cardboard cutout of a bike and “locked it up” with the now-broken U-lock; last, they attached a note letting the perp know the score…”

Educating non-conformist kids, by Elizabeth Weil: “This is when I began to realize we’d crossed some weird Foucaultian threshold into a world in which authority figures pathologize children instead of punishing them. “Self-regulation,” “self- discipline,” and “emotional regulation” are big buzz words in schools right now. All are aimed at producing “appropriate” behavior, at bringing children’s personal styles in line with an implicit emotional orthodoxy. That orthodoxy is embodied by a composed, conforming kid who doesn’t externalize problems or talk too much or challenge the rules too frequently or move around excessively or complain about the curriculum or have passionate outbursts. He’s a master at decoding expectations. He has a keen inner minder to bring rogue impulses into line with them…. I do worry about my little Sarah Silverman. She’s frenetic and disinhibited. My life would be easier if she liked to comply. But we did not send her to O.T. Parents make judgment calls about interventions all the time. What’s worth treating: a prominent birthmark? A girl with early puberty? Social and behavioral issues can be especially tricky, as diagnosing comes close to essentializing: It’s not your fault that you’re acting this way, honey. It’s just who you are. As one mother told me: “The insidious part is, you can start losing faith in your child. You go down this road …” Your child’s teacher tells you your child is not showing appropriate emotional regulation. You’re directed toward psychological evaluations and therapists. They have a hammer. Your kid becomes the nail. “The saddest, most soul-crushing thing is the negative self-image. We think kids don’t understand what’s happening, but they do. There’s this quiet reinforcement that something is wrong with them. That’s the thing that’ll kill.”

50 of the world’s most unusual churches: which is your favorite?

Twenty years for Albert Mohler: “For the last 20 years, Albert Mohler has led the flagship school of the Southern Baptist Convention, restoring it to more conservative principals [sic?] even though it meant purging faculty who were out of step with his beliefs. He expressed satisfaction with the transformation as he recently welcomed a new crop of students to the Louisville campus of stately brick buildings and perfectly manicured lawns. Donations, enrollment and the school’s budget have grown dramatically since Mohler took the helm, and there’s no sign of him leaving. “I’m going to do it until they pry my cold, dead fingers,” he said, making light of his two decades at the school. “There’s a right time for everything. But I’m 53 and I fully intend to be here for my adult life. I’m not going anywhere else. This is where the Lord’s called me and planted me.”

Is the new anti-path to tenure? “I believe in science, but I spend almost no time reading the academic literature where the science of my craft (journalism) has traditionally been published. I spend even less time trying to craft research that would get publishing in those outlets. For most normal human beings, this is not a controversial stance. As a tenure-track professor, this cuts against the grain of how you are normally told to proceed. In the Academy, professors traditionally are expected to do research and then publish that research in one of a number of peer-reviewed journals. A growing number of faculty, including myself, have begun to reject that road to tenure. The reason: the academic publishing system is built around a 1-2 year publishing process that requires the best and brightest minds to turn over all of their intellectual property without any compensation for that work.”

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • mwkruse

    Yelling doesn’t work very well in persuading adults either. ;-)

  • tanyam

    Would you recommend a good theological read about Syria, and the potential for US involvement there?

  • Keith Schooley

    Yelling implies that you’re out of control, slugging it out on your kids’ level.

  • Phil Miller

    ”I’m going to do it until they pry my cold, dead fingers,” he said, making light of his two decades at the school.

    I guess Mohler was joking here, but this is pretty much the sentiment I see with church leaders. People only leave if forced out, and they get their own little kingdoms. It’s not just in the Church, though, I guess. I’ve seen the same thing happen at secular universities. Once people get into a position of power they’ll do near anything to stay there.

  • Steve

    Love this in the article about legalism, “Perhaps
    humans find it easier to love legalities because it is easier than
    loving people…Jesus understood that the ground of the law was a love
    for God and a love for persons. To replace the love of persons with a
    love of the rules missed the point. Loving the rules for rules’ sake
    engenders self-love; loving God engenders love for others.”


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