‘A time to break down, and a time to build up’

“To everything there is a season,” the teacher writes in Ecclesiastes 3. “A time to break down, and a time to build up.”

I was reminded of that by this wise discussion by John Fea of Tracy McKenzie’s talk at the Conference on Faith and History:

Academically trained historians must teach the church with care and sensitivity. For example, they cannot go into an adult Sunday School class and start dropping historiographical bombs in an attempt to kill off cherished myths about the past. Such a practice may be quite common at academic conferences and history graduate programs, but it will only alienate a church audience. In fact, I would even argue that sometimes historians speaking to church audiences must be willing to listen and converse before debunking and correcting false understandings of the past. They must gain trust by behaving more like a Christian than an academic. I have found this approach absolutely essential (although I have often failed in applying it and have learned a lot of hard lessons), especially when speaking to a group of churchgoers whose knowledge of American history does not extend past David Barton or Peter Marshall.

That’s both kind and shrewd. “Dropping bombs” risks breaking a bruised reed. A gentler, more gradual, approach based on relationship over time may persuade many who might only become more rigidly defensive if confronted directly by facts that challenge their “cherished myths about the past.”

So there is certainly a season for that approach. But there is also, I think, a season for dropping bombs, for direct confrontation and direct challenge.

Some of those “cherished myths” nurtured by Barton and Marshall and the like are not innocent or harmless. A lot of them are, at best, self-aggrandizing and chauvinistic. Many others are much worse than that.

Some myths appeal to noble impulses and noble desires. Others are intrinsically unappealing to the better angels of our nature. The appeal of those myths — reassuring tales of tribal and national superiority — is such that they only take hold when less noble impulses and desires hold sway. As such, I don’t think they can be regarded as matters of mere misinformation. Such myths were not embraced due to reason and gentle teaching and it’s unlikely that such methods can dislodge them.

There is a time to build up and a time to break down. When we encounter those clinging to cherished myths due to ignorance and misinformation, then gentle, gracious persuasion seems both kind and prudent. Those who do not know the truth can be gently introduced to it. But when we encounter those clinging to cherished myths due to a preference for such lies over the truth, well … bombs away.

* * * * * * * * *

Warren Throckmorton is back in the saddle, blogging-wise.

Here he is, reassembling a quote from John Adams to show how it was distorted and disconnected by David Barton to claim something Adams never said.

And here he is showing how Barton’s “Founders Bible” cites pro-slavery sources as evidence that America is a “Christian nation.”

It’s good to have him back.

I also want to highlight Throckmorton’s “Thank Yous” post.

His heart attack and subsequent triple-bypass surgery had many Christians praying, asking God to bring him a full recovery. Throckmorton thanks us for our prayers and expresses his gratitude to God as well. But first he thanks, by name, the many doctors and caregivers whose skill and good work saved his life.

We Christians too often fail to do that. If your kayak capsizes and you find yourself stranded in open water, then by all means pray. But when the Coast Guard rescues you, don’t just thank God for answering your prayers — thank the Coast Guard too.

* * * * * * * * *

Via Ed Stetzer, I learn that the Next Big Thing for big-time evangelical evangelism consultants is something that may sound familiar to long-time readers of this blog: Hospitality.

The discussion includes some bumpy phrases, such as “strategic hospitality” — which strikes me as potentially one of those phrases in which the adjective negates the noun. But for the most part, and certainly in the conclusion, it presents hospitality — an accommodating love for the stranger — as an end in itself and not as a manipulative means toward some other goal. Good to see.

  • Aaron Heiss

    His heart attack and subsequent triple-bypass surgery had many Christians praying, asking God to bring him a full recovery. Throckmorton thanks us for our prayers and expresses his gratitude to God as well. But first he thanks, by name, the many doctors and caregivers whose skill and good work saved his life.
    We Christians too often fail to do that. If your kayak capsizes and you find yourself stranded in open water, then by all means pray. But when the Coast Guard rescues you, don’t just thank God for answering your prayers — thank the Coast Guard too.

    Absolutely, and this tendency to thank God and nobody else infuriates me. It is offensive and ungrateful to be the recipient of others’ efforts and not to thank them; it is all the worse to thank someone else. Whatever part God may have played (and as an honest atheist I will not deny the possibility that divine intervention played a role), it almost certainly involved less effort and attention and dedication and training — in short, less personal sacrifice — than that played by more-proximal human agents.

  • hidden_urchin

    McKenzie: ” They must gain trust by behaving more like a Christian than an academic.”

    I was unaware those were mutually exclusive categories.

  • Matri

    I was unaware those were mutually exclusive categories.

    *points to the right-wing*

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_2CUJHSQSQYTYT4DPZSKTVESYNQ B

    Re: thanking God and no one else:  One of my all-time favorite clips from The Daily Show:

    http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/thu-august-4-2005/miracle-by-the-highway

    “Can’t someone take some human credit for a job well done?”

  • Jessica_R

    One thing I’ll always like Letterman for is after he nearly died from heart trouble, when he got back in the chair he brought out the entire cardiac staff who’d taken care of him on the show to thank them. 

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    The “thank the doctors” thing reminds me of the old joke about the guy who’s in a flood, begs to get saved from it, and then gets told by God what he did to help when he’d ignored it all.

  • http://ifindaudio.blogspot.com/2010/02/joe-hill-sung-by-paul-robeson.html Murfyn

    On the subject of David Barton, see http://www.liarsforjesus.com/.  

  • http://thatbeerguy.blogspot.com Chris Doggett

    I always hated that joke, because really… who sent the flood in the first place?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Eddy-Ohlms/1729860863 Eddy Ohlms

     Heh. I have heard that joke many times but never thought about it that way.

  • LL

    RE Throckmorton: Yes, I’m always amused when people who have been saved by some medical intervention thank the Almighty first (and sometimes only), as if the Almighty had the larger part in their continued good health. You know how people say there are no atheists in foxholes? Well, I guess the obvious corollary to that is there are no true believers in the hospital. 

  • LL

    Another thing that strikes me about the “thank yous” is how many names of the doctors are distinctly “non-traditional” American names. Rao. Azouz. I mention this because one of our (advertising) clients is a hospital system. And there are tons of doctors with names that are not Smith or Jones or Miller (this is a hospital system in Oklahoma, by the way). In fact, one of the most famous doctors in Oklahoma is named Nazih Zuhdi. He performed Oklahoma’s first heart transplant in 1985. Dr. Zuhdi was born in Lebanon. I think of him and all the other “non-white” Americans when I hear/read Republicans talking about how people who look like him are probably terrorists and hate America. I doubt Dr. Zuhdi or any other doctor would go to the enormous efforts that they do on behalf of a country they hate. It’s really quite striking, how many people there are in this country who contribute tremendously in the worlds of medicine, engineering, academics, etc., people who wouldn’t be here at all if it were up to many Republican voters. Not that we should only allow people to remain if they can do something for us, like perform heart surgery, but the point is, they contribute extremely valuable things that we wouldn’t have if not for their presence here. Oh, and they value science. They’re elitists that way. 

    Maybe irrelevant, but just a thought. 

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    The point of a joke is to set up a punch line, not try to logically deconstruct like fucking Derrida.

  • http://thatbeerguy.blogspot.com Chris Doggett

    The point of a joke is to set up a punch line, 

    Yeah, and who are we laughing at? Is  humor being used to prick the mighty, or kick someone who’s already down? I don’t like taunts, I don’t like bullying, and I don’t think “hey, it’s just a joke” is acceptable cover for either.
    …not try to logically deconstruct like fucking Derrida.
    Who put 24-grit sandpaper in your undies?

    “It’s just a joke, don’t take it seriously” is not the quality of response I’d expect from you, frankly. When someone says “I don’t find that joke funny, I find it offensive”, around these parts I wouldn’t expect the response to be “get a sense of humor” or “lighten up” or “don’t be so politically correct”. 

  • Guest

    Too often it’s people (or at least it’s people turning the flood from a natual phenomenon into a disaster). Destroying wetlands and riparian habitats, channelizing rivers and streams, destroying mangrove forests and eroding coastlines, building on floodplains (especially if it involves putting poor or other vulnerable communities out there while better-off communities hold the higher ground), paving over land so that it can’t aborb precipitation, the failure of poorly-built or unmaintained dams, dikes, and levees…

  • Jessica_R

    I love that Daily Show bit so much, “Look, God was trying to kill that guy.” 

  • http://thatbeerguy.blogspot.com Chris Doggett

    Destroying wetlands and riparian habitats, channelizing rivers and streams, destroying mangrove forests and eroding coastlines, building on floodplains… paving over land so that it can’t aborb precipitation, the failure of poorly-built or unmaintained dams, dikes, and levees…

    And I get cussed at for over-thinking the joke? 

    Go read up on the joke

    It never starts with “a man living in a floodplain near a channelized river looked over the recently-deforested plain now paved over to the un-maintained levee…” It starts with “a man is threatened by a flood”. Now tell me, in a story where God actually shows up to chide you, just Who decided it should rain in the first place?

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    The laugh is on the dude who keeps yelling “God will save me!” to all the human beings God sent in the first place.

    The point is to illustrate that assuming God will divinely beam you up from trouble instead of working indirectly through human beings is not usually that good of an idea.

  • LL

    Man, it’s never a good sign when you have to explain a joke to someone. Or explain the concept of “joking.” 

    But I guess on almost every site there’s at least one of those “that was deeply offensive to me” people who feels the need to regulate other people’s language. Usually under the guise of trying to curb “bullying” or “sexism” or somesuch nonsense. 

  • EllieMurasaki

    Is it true or false that bullying and sexism are serious problems that need to be addressed?

    Is it true or false that words are capable of inflicting damage?

    Is it possible that, if words are capable of inflicting damage, words can be used to bully and to be sexist? Is it possible that one method of addressing bullying and sexism is to work to eliminate bullying words and sexist words?

  • http://audioarchives.blogspot.com/ spinetingler

     Now, you know that It’s (usually) more complicated than that.

  • LL

    It is convenient when someone makes my point for me. Thanks. 

  • EllieMurasaki

    I have no idea what your point is. Answering my questions might be a good way to make that clear.

  • Guest

    I am well aware of the joke. It never starts with “God sent a miraculous flood at a man” either. It is merely an ordinary flood, following the same rules as real floods. When real floods happen, societies can throw up their hands and say, “Oh, act of God, nothing can be done.” Or societies can say, “This was a tragedy, what can we do differently to make sure this doesn’t happen again?” You can say it’s all God’s fault sending a flood, or you can listen to geologists that say that low-lying areas are at a high risk for floods, or the historians who point out that this area has had several floods in the past, or the hydrologists, engineers, and any number of other people who say that this is the information we have available to use, let’s use it, and as a result not been hit by a flood in the first place. It’s the moral of the joke, writ large.

  • Mrs Grimble

    On the subject of thanking humans instead of God: Thank Goodness!”

  • wthrockmorton

    Fred: Thanks for the shout out and for noting the Thank You post. I think you and your readers got my intent.


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