Weekly Meanderings, 23 July 2016

Boom goes Sarah Condon:

Several years ago in a galaxy far, far away, in a diocese no one has ever heard of, I attended a conference for parish clergy and the keynote speaker told us we were idiots. Well, he was more subtle than that, but we all felt like idiots when he was done.

The speaker was a seminary professor who wanted to talk about where he thought ordained ministry was heading. His casual opening lost him the room: “Every year,” he began, “like clockwork, I have students come into my office to tell me that they want to be ordained, but that they do not want to be in parish ministry.”

And then he paused dramatically before asserting, “And they are always the smartest students in the class.”

So there I was sitting with a room full of Episcopal parish priests, wondering if I really had been as dumb as I felt in seminary. One of my fellow clergy leaned over and loudly whispered to me, “We are all stupid.”

I am not sure what seminaries intend to train people to do these days, but I am convinced that it has very little to do with actually running a church. What I know seminaries actually do is make the students feel very good about themselves. Every idea I had in seminary was allegedly a good one. I am fairly certain I went three years without hearing one critique. And this was not because I was some sort of a seminary superstar. I had some terrible ideas. I commuted from far away. Oh, and I had a baby.

The affirmation culture of pop psychology has made its way into the theological academy, at least at mainline Protestant seminaries. We are told that we can be the leaders who will fix the church and that all of our snazzy ideas are totally going to work, indeed, that they are “prophetic” (please stop using that word to describe anyone you know).

Of course, the problem with this system is that then our seminaries send these “prophetic” newly ordained people into actual churches with actual lay people. And the ability of lay people to spot bad ideas is very strong. This combination usually makes for a painful, short marriage. One need only glance at the numbers of clergy who last less than five years in parish ministry to know that perhaps that professor was right. Maybe we are all idiots for wanting to do ministry in churches; the smart ones got out ahead of time.

So long democracy in Turkey:

The Turkish government on Tuesday escalated its wide-ranging crackdown against people it claims have ties to plotters of last week’s attempted coup, firing tens of thousands of public employees across the country.

The dismissals touched every aspect of government life.

Turkish media, in rapid-fire reports, said the Ministry of Education fired 15,200 people across the country; the Interior Ministry 8,777 employees; and Turkey’s Board of Higher Education requested the resignation of 1,577 university deans — akin to dismissing them.

In addition, 257 people working at the office of the prime minister were dismissed and the Directorate of Religious Affairs announced it had sacked 492 staff including clerics, preachers and religious teachers. Turkey’s Family and Social Policy Ministry said it dismissed 393 personnel.

The firings come on top of the roughly 9,000 people who have been detained by the government, including security personnel, judges, prosecutors, religious figures and others. Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency said courts have ordered 85 generals and admirals jailed pending trial over their suspected roles in the coup attempt. Dozens of others were still being questioned.

[The BBC tops these numbers:] More than 50,000 people have been rounded up, sacked or suspended from their jobs by Turkey’s government in the wake of last week’s failed coup.

[Erdogan must have had a long, long list of undesirables because this has happened too fast to be the result of investigation.]

What a story!

Beijing (CNN)A Chinese migrant worker with no college degree has found a solution to a complex math problem — in what appears to be a real life version of the Oscar-winning movie “Good Will Hunting.”

Yu Jianchun, who works for a parcel delivery company, said he’d always had a passion for numbers and has created an alternative method to verify Carmichael numbers.
His solution amazed academics, who said his proof was much more efficient than the traditional one.
“It was a very imaginative solution,” said Cai Tianxin, a math professor at Zhejiang University.
“He has never received any systematic training in number theory nor taken advanced math classes. All he has is an instinct and an extreme sensitivity to numbers.”
Carmichael numbers are sometimes described as “pseudo primes” — they complicate the task of determining true prime numbers, which are divisable only by 1 and itself. They play an important role in computer science and information security.
Yu worked on his proof during his free time while building a new home in his village last year.
“I was overwhelmed with joy, because my solution was completely different to the classic algorithm,” said Yu.
Voting and science, by James Hoskins:

According to a widely reported study conducted by Matthew MacWilliams, a doctoral candidate at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Trump supporters share an affinity for authoritarianism. MacDonald’s argument, which appears to have some authoritarian overtones, fits nicely within this trend—and that should give us pause.

Authority is necessarily a part of the Christian faith. We recognize, for example, the authority of Scripture, the authority of Jesus, and so on. Science, too, is a legitimate authority for Christians (or at least it should be)—after all, God’s Creation “reveals knowledge,” as the psalmist says. Yet it is precisely because we recognize these higher authorities that we constantly strive for balance in the relationship between our human authorities and individual autonomy. If we are members of a church, for example, then we voluntarily submit to the spiritual authority of the pastors and elders there. But that does not mean that we can’t think for ourselves, or that we let them tell us who to vote for, or that we can’t respectfully criticize their political stances.

So when Christian leaders who have large audiences—whether they’re MacDonald, Falwell, Dobson, or others—begin telling their followers that they’re not capable of discerning for themselves who should be president, but their leaders are, and that we should therefore take their word for it and not criticize them, we should be concerned. Very concerned. To even suggest that we can’t critique our leaders’ social or political views is to invite a future with less freedom for everyone except those in power.

Science can’t justify a Trump vote, but it can help us understand why some Christian leaders are attempting to do so. And even though authority is a part of our faith, authoritarianism (in any form) should never be. When our Christian leaders misrepresent the legitimate authority of science or Scripture—especially in service to politics—they deserve to be challenged.

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