Weekly Meanderings, 11 August 2018

Weekly Meanderings, 11 August 2018 August 11, 2018

A huge thanks to JS this week for some of these links. This week has been a week of grieving in our home as we grieve what has happened and is happening at Willow Creek. Pray for Willow. It’s not over by a long shot.

Flat out one of the finest posts I’ve ever read and one of the best pieces of wisdom on leadership and churches I’ve read. Maybe the best.

Kristin du Mez

Debates over who is and isn’t an evangelical have become commonplace among scholars. Some of these debates have played out here at the Anxious Bench. Should evangelicalism be a theological category, à la David Bebbington? If so, people of color deserve a prominent place within evangelicalism. Or, is “evangelicalism” a cultural movement—one defined by its whiteness and its politics as much as (if not more than) by any particular statements of belief? Should we think of evangelicalism first and foremost as a global movement? As one represented by such luminaries as John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, and William Wilberforce? Or as the politicized, white, God-and-country movement best represented by Robert Jeffress and the Duck Dynasty clan?

What if the answer is all of the above?

For scholars, perhaps the time has come to set aside our quibbling over definitive rubrics and our attempts to dictate, once and for all, who is and who is not an evangelical, and instead begin to consider evangelicalism as an imagined religious community.

There are, in fact, many evangelicalisms, and each is imagined with a different center and different boundaries.

If we consider “evangelicalism” an imagined religious community—imagined as inherently limited, bounded, with insiders and outsiders—we must pay close attention to questions of power.  Individuals, communities, theologians, organizations, leaders, and distribution networks all imagine evangelicalism in different ways. (One person may even imagine it in conflicting ways simultaneously, using each for different rhetorical purposes, identifying with or against different imagined constructs.)

The primary question, then, isn’t which definition is “correct,” but rather which imaginings have more power to shape other people’s imaginings. When LifeWay decides you are no longer an evangelical, it matters. At least if you want to sell books. When the evangelical left claims the mantle of evangelicalism, it matters rhetorically. Does it matter beyond their own circles? Perhaps. This is a question worth exploring.

[SMcK: here’s the challenge. Until the official organs who speak for evangelicalism open their doors to more than their type, this imagination will not take hold.]

Bodies vs. screens

A rooster crows and awakens my family at the farm where we are staying for a long weekend. The air is crisp, and stars twinkle in the sky as the Sun rises over the hill. We walk to the barn, where horses, cows, chickens, pigs, dogs and cats vie for our attention. We wash and replenish water bowls, and carry hay to the cows and horses. The kids collect eggs for breakfast.

The wind carries the smells of winter turning to spring. The mud wraps around our boots as we step in puddles. When we enter a stall, the pigs bump into us; when we look at the sheep, they cower together in a corner. We are learning about the urban watershed, where eggs and beef come from, and how barns were built in the 19th century with wood cauls rather than metal nails. We experience the smells of the barn, the texture of the ladder, the feel of the shovels, the vibration when the pigs grunt, the taste of fresh eggs, and the camaraderie with the farmers.

As a parent, it is obvious that children learn more when they engage their entire body in a meaningful experience than when they sit at a computer. If you doubt this, just observe children watching an activity on a screen and then doing the same activity for themselves. They are much more engaged riding a horse than watching a video about it, playing a sport with their whole bodies rather than a simulated version of it in an online game.

Today, however, many powerful people are pushing for children to spend more time in front of computer screens, not less. Philanthropists such as Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg have contributed millions of dollars to ‘personal learning’, a term that describes children working by themselves on computers, and Laurene Powell Jobs has bankrolled the XQ Super School project to use technology to ‘transcend the confines of traditional teaching methodologies’. Policymakers such as the US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos call personalised learning ‘one of the most promising developments in K-12 education’, and Rhode Island has announced a statewide personalised learning push for all public school students. Think tanks such as the Brookings Institution recommend that Latin-American countries build ‘massive e-learning hubs that reach millions’. School administrators tout the advantages of giving all students, including those at kindergarten, personal computers.

Good read.

In 2014, George Barna spoke about a study he was conducting on conservative American pastors. He found 5 factors that the pastors consistently used to rate the success of their church: attendance, giving, number of programs, number of staff, square footage. According to these measures—Willow Creek is wildly successful. Tohatchi Baptist Church is wildly unsuccessful.

Except it isn’t. The smile on the little girl’s face as she hugged my knees spoke volumes about the success—the true success—of Tohatchi Baptist Church.

I find Barna’s insight about these five measure of success—attendance, giving, number of programs, number of staff, square footage–rather interesting. He said, “all of these things are good measures, except for one tiny fact: Jesus didn’t die for any of them.”

As I laid on my lumpy cot in the multi-purpose sanctuary (did I mention we spent the night there?), I thought a lot about the difference between Tohatchi Baptist Church and Willow Creek. I have been a Christian for thirty-five years. I have been in ministry for twenty-two years. I get the church. I get why middle-class Christians are more comfortable dropping their kids off in a safely protected children’s unit that has computers and electronic cards checking you in and out than a small room with stained carpet and only two volunteers. I get why middle-class Christians like comfortable chairs and pretty bathrooms to accompany their well-orchestrated services. I really do understand that there are dedicated Christians serving Jesus at churches like Willow Creek just like the dedicated Christians serving Jesus at Tohatchi. I know this because I was one of them (not Willow Creek, but a similar style church). I get it, but I am becoming less and less comfortable with it.

I am also having more and more trouble understanding why Christians at any church idolize pastors and allow pastors free rein without accountability. As one of my good friends once said, when you build your pastor a privacy suite and give him all the keys, why would you not expect trouble?

The pulpit at Tohatchi points away from the pastor. “Sir, we want to see Jesus.”  But when Bill Hybels resigned, his congregation groaned and shouted “No!”. When Bill Hybels denied the allegations against him, his congregants stood up and cheered him. His elders rallied around him. When Andy Savage confessed his “sexual incident” with a teenage girl, the people gave him a standing ovation. Despite the outrageous behavior of Mark Driscoll and his clear abuse of his pastoral position, people are still attending his new church and reading his Patheos blog.

Haven’t we had enough already?

Pastors, like all Christians, should point to Jesus—not to themselves. Churches should hold pastors accountable—not idolize them as saints.

Give me the churches like Tohatchi any day. At least for the time being, I am done with the Willow Creeks.

Great instincts:

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — A 12-year-old boy is recovering and remains hospitalized days after he jumped several [SMcK?] feet from an overpass and a police officer jumped to help him Friday.

“Everything happened so fast and I think my adrenaline was pumping so high” said police Officer Jessie Ferreira Cavallo, of the Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y., police department over the weekend.

Ferreira, who was on her way to work in the village, was one of a few passers-by to stop to help. She said she jumped after the boy and helped him after he was unresponsive on the ground.

Ferreira said she immediately parked her car on the shoulder, stuffed her pockets with first-aid materials from her car and then jumped after the boy, who she said looked like a young teenager.

“I wasn’t thinking too much,” she said. “I just knew, when I looked down and saw him … he looked dead. I couldn’t see anything other than blood. I thought to myself, ‘He needs help. I need to help him.’ “

She said another woman, in a military uniform, also stopped to help.

“Both me and her together, we were able to aid him and assist him,” she said.

The boy was unresponsive, she said, and they put a neck brace and a splint on him, and checked his airway.

After some time, the boy opened his eyes, but was mostly non-responsive, Ferreira said.

“I was talking,” she said. “He wasn’t really responding back.”

The boy, who went to the hospital with a broken arm, broken nose and leg injuries is expected to survive, said Kieran O’Leary, a Westchester County, New York, police spokesman on Monday.

Good essay on Kafka.

Wes Hill on ReVoice:

At a time in my life when I wondered whether it would signal defeat if I said simply, “I’m gay, and I don’t expect that to change, and I want to be celibate,” an older single friend of mine wrote a letter to me—one that I now look back on as a turning point in my thinking, illuminating an unexplored possibility:

Perhaps the real question is not how to make unfulfilled desires go away, but rather, what they teach us about the nature of our lives, what is ultimately important. … This, I suspect, is much akin to Paul’s own discussion of the thorn in the flesh in 2 Corinthians 12. Paul prayed but it did not go away. God allowed it to remain in his life that he might know the surpassing greatness of God’s grace in ALL circumstances. Likewise, unfulfilled desires point us to the only eternal source of satisfaction—God himself. … [T]hey help us identify with the true nature of the human condition of all those around us who are suffering [things] over which they have no control. It is an immediate bridge for ministry to our fellow human beings.

Reading those words was a revelation. In their wake, I began to ponder questions I hadn’t known I was allowed ask: Might there be some divine design, some strange providence, in my homosexuality? Might my sexual orientation be something God does not want to remove, knowing that its challenge keeps pulling me back towards Him in prayer? Might it even be something through which more empathy and compassion for fellow sufferers are birthed?

Asking these questions let me abandon my fevered search for some cure for my gayness and prompted me to look instead for what C. S. Lewis once called the “certain kinds of sympathy and understanding, [the] certain social role” of which only those who aren’t straight might be capable. Homosexuality, I continued to believe, is sinful insofar as it represents a thirst for acts that Scripture forbids, but I came to see that it is at the same time—like St. Paul’s thorn—an occasion for grace to become manifest.

Exploring that grace was the point of the Revoice conference. It was the first theologically conservative event I’ve attended in which I felt no shame in owning up to my sexual orientation and no hesitation in declaring my sexual abstinence. At Revoice there was no pressure to obfuscate the probable fixity and exclusivity of my homosexuality through clunky euphemisms. Nor was there any stigma attached to celibacy, as though my embracing it were simply, as the ex-gay leader Andy Comiskey once wrote, “a concession to same-sex attraction.” There was, instead, a kind of joyful and creative moving on. “Yes, we’re gay, and yes, we’re committed to historic Christian belief and practice,” everyone seemed to be saying. “But that’s just the boring preamble. What we really want to talk about is where we go from here.”


High school girls in the United States are 56 percent more likely than boys to suffer a concussion in sports that are played by both genders, a recent study says. The largest discrepancy was found in the concussion rates for girls’ softball, which were four times the rates of concussions for boys’ baseball.

Nearly 8 million U.S. high school students participate in sports every year, with more than 2 million competing in the sports where concussion is common: football, ice hockey, lacrosse and soccer, the study team writes in Journal of Athletic Training.

Participation in sports is one of the leading causes of concussions among the student-athletes, the study says. Researchers were interested in learning about who was getting concussion and how they might have originated.

Ocean Clean Up:

SAN FRANCISCO – On Sept. 8, an ungainly, 2,000-foot-long contraption will steam under the Golden Gate Bridge in what’s either a brilliant quest or a fool’s errand.

Dubbed the Ocean Cleanup Project, this giant sea sieve consists of pipes that float at the surface of the water with netting below, corralling trash in the center of a U-shaped design.

The purpose of this bizarre gizmo is as laudable as it is head-scratching: to collect millions of tons of garbage from what’s known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which can harm and even kill whales, dolphins, seals, fish and turtles that consume it or become entangled in it, according to researchers at Britain’s University of Plymouth.

The project is the expensive, untried brainchild of a 23-year-old Dutch college dropout named Boyan Slat, who was so disgusted by the plastic waste he encountered diving off Greece as a teen that he has devoted his life to cleaning up the mess.

 Along with detractors who want to prioritize halting the flow of plastics into the ocean, the Dutch nonprofit gathered support from several foundations and philanthropists, including billionaire Salesforce founder Marc Benioff. In 2017, the Ocean Cleanup Project received $5.9 million in donations and reported reserves from donations in previous years of $17 million.

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