Monday, March 27, 2017

Some Ways to Discern Real/Fake News per Science Mike (The Liturgists)…..and #3 will shock you!!

Another great episode by The Liturgists.  Below is Science Mike’s methodology (paraphrased) for testing news claims as told on the Liturgists recent episode: Fake News & Media Literacy (starting at about the 16 minute mark).

1 – Legitimate news media will name the author and contributors to any post or article that they publish to create accountability.

If there is no author listed, lower the confidence that you put in the quality of the article and/or the truthfulness of it’s claims.

2 – Where was this published? 

Have you ever heard of this publishing institution or organization?  (Not to say that you’ve heard of every legitimate outlet, but do your due diligence.)

Do they have an editorial review board that holds journalists and authors accountable for the words they write?

Does this institution publish corrections, retractions, or letters to the editors?

Is there some means for the readership to publicly hold the institution accountable?

Who owns the publication?

3 – Date of publication?

Fake news generally doesn’t put a date of publication, so people often won’t realize how long the story has been out.

Fake news will often massage the language to make it appear as if it’s happening today.

4 – Trustworthy media cites specific sources.

It names names, names specific organizations, studies, etc.

Are the specific sources named or unnamed?  Must understand that you cannot fully substantiate news that comes from unnamed sources.  Stay alert, but don’t draw conclusions or take specific actions.

Does a news article state that “studies say” without citing a specific study or institution?  If that's the case, dig deeper.

Note that statistics/charts/graphs can be used selectively (though not necessarily inaccurately) to support a narrative.  Example, compressing (or expanding) a statistical time frame to illustrate the degree to which something has increased or decreased over time.

5 – Is the article well-written?

Typos, grammar mistakes, poor punctuation, and ALL-CAPS are huge red flags that you’re not dealing with trustworthy content.

*6 – Does anything in the piece make me angry or afraid?

Be aware that emotions aren’t good for analytical decision making and of your own propensity for confirmation bias.

Be aware of the capitalistic drive for media to create and profit from confirmation bias, sensationalism, and emotion.  In these cases, there is an obligation to dig deeper before accepting or sharing information.

Be aware of genre (e.g. satire!)

And if this is too much to remember, listen to Mike's rap at the end of the episode (lyrics here).  Brilliant.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Theodicy, Death, and the Laws of Nature (Thomas Lynch)

I'm reading Thomas Lynch's The Undertaking for Lent this year.

No way around these haunting realities:
But my father had seen, in the dead bodies of infants and children and young men and women, evidence that God lived by the Laws of Nature, and obeyed in statues, however brutal.  Kids died of gravity, and physics and biology and natural selection.  Car wrecks and measles and knives stuck in toasters, household poisons, guns left loaded, kidnappers, serial killers, burst appendices, bee stings, hard-candy chokings, croups untreated - he'd seen too many instances of His unwillingness to overrule the natural order, which included, along with hurricanes and meteorites and other Acts of God, the aberrant disasters of childhood.
The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade by Thomas Lynch, p 45-46

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Meaning of the Trinity for the Communal Life of Faith?

I wrote a series of posts several months back about the question “Is God Primarily Angry?”  (My answer to that question is “No” btw.)

One of those posts had to do with the Trinity.  In it, I invoked the image of perichoresis – “dance” or “rotation”.

Now, I didn’t intend to try to work out any sort of “doctrine of God” or to “explain” the Trinity.  I know now more than ever that I am not able to do so.  I mentioned in the post itself that the image that I started with was anthropomorphic and, essentially, to not get too caught up in it.  

My goal in appealing to the doctrine of the Trinity in my approach to divine wrath was really threefold:
  1. To establish that God is not lonely and doesn’t have needs (as in God doesn’t need “wrath” to display some aspect of Himself that might not be possible without someone to punish). 
  2. To question and clarify what is intended by the word “wrath”. 
  3. To argue that God doesn’t have “parts” (as in “primarily” angry).
Essentially, my intent was to view and define divine “anger” (or “wrath’) through the lens of protology (origins and first things).  In other words, what is original within God?  Is the sort of hostility that characterizes the typical construal of wrath an eternal ‘attribute’ of God?

I still think my questions/points about “primary anger” are valid, that a protological imagination is essential to how we address them, and that the Trinity shapes Christian protology.  Attack the metaphysics of that post if you like, but don’t let them detract from the intent of the post and the validity of the line of thinking therein.  

But since the release of Richard Rohr’s book The Divine Dance (which I haven’t read) and The Shack (which I haven't seen), there seems to have been a spike in discussions of the Trinity (along with an associated spike in heresy hunting).  I’ve read several in-depth blog posts & discussions, most of them by some really smart guys.  

It's been...interesting.  Sobering.  A bit disorienting.  

The terminology is often inaccessible, necessarily anthropomorphic, and riddled with semantic equivocation.  People use the same words but mean different things.  When it comes to Trinitarian thought, the definition of “person” is enough to make your head spin.  So as far as the Trinity goes, to be forthright, I’m not sure that I have any idea what I’m talking about.  Looking in on some of these discussions makes me realize just how much I don’t know.

So there’s that. 

But that’s only part of what I wanted to say in this post.  The other part has to do with the place of the Trinity within the spiritual life of the Christian faith that I currently find myself in (of the evangelical variety).  What is it’s meaning for the life of faith?  

At best, the answer is not self-evident.

We do not say the creeds.  Our “liturgy” rarely invokes any traditionally Trinitarian language.  Even if it did (per more liturgical traditions), there is no clarity as to what it is that we’re talking about or why such things matter beyond dogmatic identity and association.  Evangelists occasionally reference the necessity of intellectual assent to the proposition “Jesus is God”, but their reason for doing so is to avoid the terrible fate that will come as a result of not making such a confession.  We may take a few steps into the realm of meaning in asserting that “to see Jesus is to see God”, but that hardly validates the metaphysical complexities, intricacies, and anathemas seen in the history of Trinitarian thought.

Sure, a few of the theologically minded may discuss some of the finer points of Trinitarian thought.  But other than a passing reference to the Trinity being “confusing” (the most common reference), as a religious badge of identity over against “non-Trinitarians” and their “misunderstandings” (“they think we believe in 3 gods!” we say incredulously) or in the rhyme of contemporary music, it holds no particularly vital or life-giving place in the spiritual life of the Christian community of which I’m a part.

I don’t know what to make of that.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Reflecting on 'The Love That Matters' by Charles Featherstone (2) Alone

Being the father of a young daughter, there's a lot about Charles' childhood years that stuck with me:
“I did tell my parents once, not long after it started.  It was at dinner, we were sitting around the table, and I remember my father’s response; “People are going to tease you.  You just need to learn to deal with it.”  Not helpful.  My mother’s advice was even worse; she told me I needed to understand that the people who teased me probably had hard lives at home.  Why that was supposed to explain their teasing me I wasn’t sure.  But I quickly determined that my parents could not be trusted.  I may have mentioned the problems a time or two, but I never really talked to them about this again.  In fact, no adult could be trusted.  No one in a position of power and authority could be trusted.  Because they didn’t want to know.  Or because if they knew, they didn’t care.  And they certainly weren’t going to do anything to help.  I was alone.  I was on my own.  This much was clear.”   -p32
“There were a lot of mornings when I would wake up wondering, “Why?  Why do I bother going through all this?  What if this is all there is?  What’s the point of going on?”  Because at the age of ten, I was afraid, truly afraid, that this life of loneliness and fear, and having to deal with abuse on all sides – from kids and adults alike, at home and at school – was all there was ever going to be.  So what was the point of going on?  If this was all life was going to hand me, there was no point.  No point at all.   -p35
“I was simply not wanted by the world in which I lived, by the people who lived in and ran that world.”   -p38
"They sometimes spoke nice words, words of caring and concern - "I Am Lovable and Capable!" - but they never meant it.  Ever.    -p38

My wife, daughter and I were at a birthday party for a 7 year old boy a short while ago, the son of some close friends of ours.  Lots of boys and girls, some still in diapers, running around yelling, screaming and farting.  It was loud and it smelled pretty bad just about everywhere.  It seemed like there were about 50 kids, but in reality there were more like 15. 

Like a lot of 7 year old boys, the birthday boy is into Star Wars.  He’s not just into Star Wars toys books.  He’s into Star Wars in a way that he wants to be IN Star wars.  He doesn’t just want toys, he wants the whole costume.  So we got him a Darth Vader costume – jumpsuit, cape, helmet – the whole deal.  He took a quick break from opening his presents, went in his room to put on the costume, and came back out and finished opening his presents.

Putting on the costume, a little boy simply HAS to play the part of a servant of the Dark Side.  The commanding walk and intimidating presence, the trademark breathing.  The power.  Naturally, sides are going to be chosen and leading to some sort of fun conflict.  In this case, Darth Vader was putting kids in "jail".  Jail was a bedroom with the lights out.

Being one of the smaller (and more persuadable) toddlers, my daughter was thrown into "jail".  Put into a dark room, closed door, no lights.  By Darth Vader.  For the fun of the party.

So she is in the room crying desperately.  My wife and I thought we heard crying, but there were lots of kids running around and everyone seemed to be having a good time.  With all of the noise at the party, we just didn't think much of it.  Crying came and went.  We certainly didn't think the cries belonged to our daughter.

We don't know how long she was in there.  Though it probably felt like an eternity to her, it wasn't more than a few minutes.  Other people heard her crying as they walked by the door of the "jail".  They opened the door and she came running out.  These folks brought her to us, and we picked her up and comforted her in her tears.  You know the type - the hard tears where the person gasps for breath.

She calmed down fairly quickly.  The birthday boy's dad chastised him for what he did, he apologized, my daughter and Darth Vader made their peace, and things mostly went back to the way that they were.  But my daughter still talks about this.  She hasn't forgotten.

Pretty anti-climactic.  So why do I bring this up?  

I don't mean to compare a bit of out-of-control birthday party fun in a healthy environment with friends to Charles' hellish experiences growing up.  They're decidedly not the same thing.  But I just wonder, what would it have done to my daughter if she had been in that room for 15 minutes?  30 minutes?  But what if she'd been locked in the dark and nobody cared?  In the midst of having a good time, what if nobody had really wanted to hear or respond to her cries?  Her parents, the ones tasked with safety (and not just her physical safety) being either aloof or indifferent?  Principled to the point of looking the other way?  And the same with everybody else....a sort of survival of the fittest social environment?

Would she start to lose faith in people?  Could it have been the sort of moment in which a bit of innocence is lost, the moment where a child realizes that the world is not an entirely safe place?  That she might just be on her own?  That her pain was a sort of inconvenience to the ethos of the party?  No doubt moments of loneliness and pain come to all kids, but what do parents do when they come?  She was able to find comfort, but what if there wasn't any to be found?

What if, in her trauma, we had just calmly explained that "this is the way birthday parties are"?

Now remove the particularities, and imaginatively transpose these metaphors to the constant existence of a 10 year old boy.

As the father of a 3.5 year old, the sort of constant fear that characterized Charles' elementary school years breaks my heart.

I recognize that I can’t protect my daughter from everything.  Up to a point, I can’t protect her from struggling because difficult situations may emerge from the best of environments and intentions.  My wife and I have made conscious decisions to let her interactions with other kids play out, up to a point.  We want her to learn to have a humble self-confidence, to stick up for herself, to learn to work through difficult situations with other kids.  

When kids are mean (nearly always unintentionally at her young age), we often tell her that we want her to be nice even to the people that are mean to her.  A "treat people as you want to be treated" Golden Rule sort of thing.  I think it's a good thing to strive for, this proactive growing of the internal capacity for love and good will towards others.

But I think about what Charles needed as a child.  First and foremost, he didn't need practical relationship advice, solid and time tested principles, reality checks on the way things are, lessons in empathy, etc.  He simply needed to matter to someone.  To be known and heard.

As a parent, I really need to remember that.  I'd like to think that I always will.  Hearing Charles' story, however, I cringe at my capacity to offer false comfort.  Things are fairly easy now from an interpersonal standpoint because usually her little issues with other kids are accidents.  She's 3.5 years old.  She has an innocence about her, a pure and joyous way of seeing the world.  I can tell her that sometimes kids just play rough or mean, or that she should try to remember that other kids sometimes have things going on that make them act out a little bit.  It is easy to do this because she is so young.  It is easy because the kids she hangs around are generally good kids.  But it will not always be so easy.

My role as a dad cannot be reduced to abstract "ideals", words of wisdom that float above the fray of actual existence.  The pain or loneliness experienced in the life of an actual flesh and blood person cannot be reduced or dismissed as an occasion to tout principles or learning opportunities.  For a child - for my daughter - to be loved is to know that she matters, in her joys and successes but particularly in her pain, her perceived insufficiency, her failures, loneliness, rejection and heartache.  There's no substitute for that, no program or "life-lesson" that can render unnecessary or fundamental that innate need of value and worth.

You know what?  I don't think we ever really outgrow that need.


Monday, March 13, 2017

Reflecting on 'The Love That Matters' by Charles Featherstone (1)

I’d like to devote the next few posts to a book that I recently finished reading -  The Love That Matters: Meeting Jesus in the Midst of Terror and Death by Charles Featherstone.

I first became aware of Charles’ (Charles's?) story via a blog post/interview with the author over at Internet Monk.

That interview led me to his website.  And from there to an essay by Rod Dreher entitled "Love Opens a Door", the meat of this essay being Featherstone's response to one of Dreher's earlier essays.

Featherstone's first words hooked me:
But there was a dismissive tone to [your Time essay], to your “Yes, God is love, but…”
And that bothers me. Because it is no small thing to say, “God is love.” Or “God loves you.”
That line grabbed me then and it still grabs me now.

It is no small thing to say God is love.  Thank you for saying this.  Only overfamiliarity and an impoverished imagination make it so.  In the end, eschatologically that is, we suspect that perhaps this love might not amount to much.

I'm talking about myself as much as anyone else here.

I finished the essay and ordered the Kindle version of "The Love That Matters" right then and there.  And it sat in my ever-growing list of unread books since then, gathering digital dust.  But with my recent explorations of Muslim/Christian relations, radicalization, etc. (topics to which I'll return to in future blog posts when I work through another book I recently read - Allah: A Christian Response by Miroslav Volf) my fuzzy recollection of Featherstone's experiences as a practicing Muslim renewed my interest in reading his story.  And at this point it must be clarified that this is NOT a "I was once a Muslim but now I'm a Christian" memoir, the type that crusading Christian apologists love to love.  Featherstone's experiences as a practicing Muslim are indeed a part of the story.  A big part of the story in fact. But they are not THE story.  It is more complex than that.

So the posts that I’ll devote to this book are not a “review”.  I’m not “reviewing” the book.  I wouldn't know how to do so with a book like this.  I’d simply like to acknowledge and attempt to think through a few things from the book that stood out to me.

Having given that disclaimer, a few brief thoughts.

Charles is a very good writer.  His journalistic background is displayed in his ability to craft a sentence and tell a story.  These skills have manifested themselves in a deeply personal and honest book.  It’s not easy to write with honesty and vulnerability.  In fact it's downright hard.  When Chaplain Mike over at the Internet Monk selected Sufjan Stevens’ “Carrie and Lowell” and his “Album of the Year” for 2015, he said “Not since Bon Iver’s devastatingly plaintive For Emma, Forever Ago have I heard an album bleed like this one.”

It bleeds. 

To me, that’s one of the highest compliments that can be given to an artist.  And I think it’s true about this book.  It bleeds.


Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Lent 2017, Day 1 - What is Lent again?

Well that was quick.  I didn’t even get through one day.  What the hell is Lent about again?

A few days ago, I read a post over at Internet Monk – Another Look: Lent is not about getting better.

The 1st 2 sentences:
"Lent is not about getting better.Lent is about preparing to die."

The post proceeds to question the narrative of Lent as primarily a 40 day exercise in spiritual recommitment.
"Dubbed “adventures,” “training,” “journeys,” “discipline” or “formation,” the focus was more on getting better, stronger, more mature, more capable.  Casting off death so as to become more alive.  Stripping off the sin that so easily besets us and running a good race to the finish.
I don’t know."
Me neither.  I really don’t.  These dubbings are fine as far as things go, but Lent has to be about something other than 40 days of trying extra hard, right?  What possible purpose could a mark of ashes serve in that narrative?  None as far as I can tell – any connection is superficial.  No, effort and intentionality are not the enemy.  But our trying, our plans, our good intentions, our self-improvement projects – none of it alters the fact that the bodies through which we perceive existence are going to die. 

Ash to ash.  Dust to dust. 

And if Lent is about that instead, well, then maybe our attempts at devotion (noble as they may be) are out of step with Lent’s meaning.  Maybe they’re even counterproductive when it comes to the particularity of Lent because Lent is about something else.  I know that a well-intentioned giving-something-up-for-Lent has a liturgical history, but can it actually get in the way of that “something else”?

Enter the Walter Bruggemann Lent devotional that I’m reading this year – A Way Other Than Our Own.

Right away, a different vision and Lenten purpose is presented:

“But this is a God to whom a turn must be made, a God of demand, a God of demand ready to be a God of grace…not just hard demand, not just easy grace, but grace and demand, the way all serious relationships work.” 
“The imperative is around four verbs, “seek, call, forsake, return,” good Lenten verbs.” 
“Lent is a time to consider again our easy, conventional compromises and see again about discipline, obedience, and glad identity.”
Sigh.  I can't help but hold these two hermeneutics in tension.

In past years, I might’ve brushed off the Internet Monk approach as morbid and pointless in favor of Brueggemann’s approach.  This time around it’s pretty much the opposite. 

Are these two approaches at odds with one another? 

What the hell is Lent about? 

Is this not knowing part of it?

I can’t say why, but as I pondered this a post from a few years back by the always perceptive Richard Beck came to mind – Love is the Allocation of Our Dying.  The post had nothing to do with Lent.  Not directly anyways.  It was posted in mid-September.
“Life is a finite resource always slipping away.  Every minute that passes is a passing of life, a movement toward death.  Every moment we are being expended and used up.”
“Because to love other people in small but tangible ways over a lifetime is a way of dying.”
Maybe this is how these two seemingly contradictory viewpoints can be held together, even if only loosely.  It seems misguided to suggest that Lent is intended as a season where we simply sit around and think about death (although such sober meditation is far from unnecessary).  No, there is the matter of being.  Of existence.  What shall we do?

After the hope of advent and the vision of epiphany (and maybe Lent isn’t supposed to make sense except that it proceeds from these?) we resolve to love as the allocation of our dying.  It is the form that our dying takes, and the form that reveals just how much we don't want to die.  This is hard.  Sometimes it is pleasant and sometimes it is not.  We will fail.  We will both lack the imagination to envision what such an allocation looks like and will fail to do what we can imagine.  Even our successes are usually riddled with the anxiety of death or ego.  

Our own successes cannot save the world.  Or ourselves.  

We face this.  We allow ourselves to dwell in that for a moment.

I don’t know.  Just thinking out loud.
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