All a lot of oysters but no pearls

All a lot of oysters but no pearls December 31, 2017

• “In some respects, the arrival of eight heads in Detroit was just another routine shipment.”

• December 28, 2017 was the 100th anniversary of H.L. Mencken’s bathtub hoax:

Partly to make a point that news organizations needed to be more careful, and partly because he was on deadline and didn’t have another idea, Mencken created out of thin air a story of the “first” bathtub in the White House, placed by Millard Fillmore (Mencken said) over the objections of experts like the American Medical Association (Mencken claimed). All hoax.

That summary is from Ed Darrell, who pretty much had to mark this centennial at his fine blog, Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub.

Time: “Evangelical Women Just Joined #MeToo – and They’re Urging Churches to Address Abuse

More than 140 evangelical Christian women published a statement this week calling on churches to support women who come forward with stories of abuse, and to address what they see as silence by many church leaders and congregations. Within about 24 hours of the statement’s release … it garnered more than 3,000 signatures.


• Related to the above, Jonathan Merritt reports on “Sexuality, race, and gender: 3 explosive insights about America’s 100 largest churches.”

It turns out that none of those “100 largest churches” welcomes LGBT Christians as full and equal members; 93 percent of them are led by white pastors; and only one has a female pastor (who serves as “co-pastor” with her husband). That’s all pretty dismal, but that’s not surprising given that the idea of a list of America’s 100 largest churches is something we’d expect to take us in a pretty dismal direction.

The depressing thing here is that some other churches who see bigness as the ultimate metric of success and of divine blessing will start to treat this as a kind of magic formula — as “3 Secrets for Making the Mega-Church Big League.” That won’t mean much, as most churches desperately seeking such mega-growth already have all-white, all-male leadership and they already slam their doors on the full humanity of LGBT Christians. But it’s still depressing that they’ll see this as confirmation that they’re on the “right path” to the Bigness they believe God desires for them.

My guess is that these “3 Keys to Church Growth™” might actually “work” in much the same way that the infamously anti-New Testament “homogenous unit principle” earlier “worked” to bring about big growth at the beginning of the mega-church movement. Exclusion and subtly enforced homogeneity can, indeed, produce dynamic “growth.” The problem is that the thing you’re growing through such tactics cannot rightly be called “church.”

Flannery O’Connor, 1960:

I hope you don’t have friends who recommend Ayn Rand to you. The fiction of Ayn Rand is as low as you can get re fiction. I hope you picked it up off the floor of the subway and threw it in the nearest garbage pail. She makes Mickey Spillane look like Dostoevsky.

That’s a bit unfair to Mickey Spillane. Also, now I kind of want to read a reworking of Crime and Punishment with Porfiry as a hard-boiled first-person narrator.

• “A lot of damage has been done in citing Proverbs 22:6 to parents,” Richard Beck says. That’s the verse about how if you “train up a child” properly you’ll supposedly guarantee that they’ll never stray from your fine instruction, and Beck is right about its long history abuse and misuse. It’s one of those many verses in Proverbs that work as intended — as general advice, but which become dangerously toxic when we try to treat them as Laws That Govern the Universe.

It’s weird that we do this with verses from a book called “Proverbs.” I mean, come on people, it’s right there in the title. There’s a really good reason the book isn’t called “Laws That Govern the Universe” or “Ironclad Rules You Must Follow.” There’s also a really good reason this sloppily edited almanac of advice isn’t given to us in isolation, but as part of a larger collection that places it alongside Psalms, Ecclesiastes, and Job — three books positively obsessed with the fact that the real world isn’t anywhere near as neat and tidy as the moral meritocracy of all those proverbial sayings.

Proverbs is like a high-school level introductory class in physics. It gives you the basic formulas — discounting friction and any other real-world complications that would make the math too complex. And it avoids all the weird stuff that happens on the micro or macro levels where the neat little Newtonian formulas melt away into quantum mysteries. The stuff you learn in that physics class is true, but only under certain limited, qualified conditions. It’s true, but not the whole truth.

• “There’s reason to believe maybe this year will be better than the last.” But that won’t happen automatically. We have to make 2018 better than the last. We have to keep working at it.

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