Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The Haunting Of Hill House

I’m dusting off my Entertainment Reviews for a look at critically acclaimed show released on Netflix just in time for Halloween: The Haunting of Hill House, based on the Shirley Jackson novel of the same name. My reviews usually focus on worldview messages and themes; this will be no exception except for noting that it deserves its TV-MA rating, mostly for language and horror elements.

When I used to watch and read a lot of horror (that's a long story for another time), one thing became clear: there is a huge difference between a story that bathes you in blood or offers a nihilistic punch in the gut vs. a story that uses horror elements to tell genuinely thought-provoking stories about the world. I would have bailed on Hill House if it were one of the former. It's not. I'm not saying the show is perfect - as a Christian, I would have done some things differently if I were directing the series. Some elements could have been toned down without losing the impact of the story. But as far as using the horror genre as a vehicle for discussing something much deeper, The Haunting Of Hill House succeeds admirably in comparison with many of its horror peers.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Some Thoughts On Natural Disasters And The Mind Of God

“If a kid asks where rain comes from, I think a cute thing to tell him is, ‘God is crying,’ And if he asks why God is crying, another cute thing to tell him is, ‘Probably because of something you did.’” (Jack Handy, Deep Thoughts, 1992)

As America recovers from yet another massive natural disaster – or “act of God,” in insurance company lingo - the inevitable question resurfaces in Christian circles: Why is God crying? What is God angry about?  Why does it his some and not others? What did we do or not do right? I've written about this before, but I want to revisit this based on some conversation I know is taking place in Christian circles. 
This is a popular topic  in Christian circles every time a storm hits, especially if it hits where we don't live. Usually, the apparent target of God’s wrath is a particular situation or people group about which the person claiming clarity happens to feel very strongly:

  •  It’s the abortion doctors! 
  • It’s because of international policies! 
  • It’s the Middle East conflict! 
  • It’s liberal, feminist Marxists! 
  • It’s the greedy Wall Street 1%! 
  • It’s evolution in our schools! 
  • It's the President! 
  • It's megachurches (yes, I saw that one online)
  • It's for someone with whom I am displeased!”

There’s quite a list that gets generated in the aftermath of a disaster like hurricanes or tsunamis. Apparently, God has lots of options.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Reaping The Whirlwind

I was raised to believe that we reap what we sow. This does not mean that our history is our destiny in the sense that we can never rise above or move past things we have done in the past; it was simply an observation about how life unfolds. The Old Testament prophet Hosea raised the stakes even higher: “For they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind” (Hosea 8:7). In context, it seems to say that those who sow foolishness will reap disaster. What comes back to haunt us may be unfair in that the penalty will be disproportionate to the wrongdoing, but, once again, that’s how life unfolds. 

One of the things that strikes me in the Kavanaugh hearings is how we are seeing the principle unfold before our eyes. 

Monday, September 17, 2018

Crime And The Statistics That Clarify (Or Distort) The Issue

I started looking into statistics about crime for two reasons.

First, someone casually mentioned recently that there is clearly no racist bias shown by police since more white people are killed by police than black people. Sure, that’s true, but it’s not an honest truth. There are a lot of other factors to consider which make it almost impossible not to take the accusation of bias seriously

Second, I started looking into gang demographics in the United States. It turns out that quantifying the size of gangs is a really inexact science (in once city, estimates by various organizations ranged from 20,000 to 80,000). One of the reasons is that gang membership is often calculated with a “guilty by association” model.
  • Someone posts a picture on social media that includes a gang member. Police count all those in the picture as gang members.
  • People wears colors or sports-related clothing associated with a gang, and they are counted as being part of a gang. 
  • Some gangs claim local numbers (like area codes) as part of their brand; if someone innocently uses these numbers on clothing or vehicles, he is assumed to be in a gang.
  • I read one account of a young lady who dated a gang member. She was counted by local law enforcement as being in the gang though she had nothing to do with it. When she broke up and began dating another guy, the police listed the new guy as a gang member. 
This got me thinking about crime statistics. As the popular phrase goes, there are lies, damned lies, and statistics. So just for the sake of being better informed, I started diving into the numbers. Unfortunately, as I discovered, the statistics can sometimes be the thing that creates the problem. Here, with no further ado, are some things worth knowing about crime in the United States.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Believing in Something - Or Anything, Really

By now, you have likely heard the Nike ad: Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything. The meme-generating machine that is the internet has already provided loads of parodies, some of them humorous, some of them not so humorous. Rather than taking that route, I want to address the wisdom of the ad itself.

Believe In Something

Joss Whedon once offered a succinct paraphrase of a popular phrase: "Be yourself - unless you suck." In other words, saying "Be yourself!" to someone might at times be terrible advice. Same with "Express yourself!" or "Follow Your Arrow." One might say these things to encourage someone who is discouraged or shy, but not all expressions merit equal praise, and sometimes we shoot the arrow over our house, and hurt our brother.

I don't think "Believe in Something" is necessarily great advice. It can be; some things are worth believing in. But not everything is. One can believe in racial equality or white supremacy; one can believe men and women have equal value, worth and dignity or that one is superior; one can believe in God or no God or many gods; one can believe in creationism or evolution; one can believe the earth is a globe or flat; one can believe space aliens and Bigfoot live among us or that they are not real; one can believe that marriage is a cultural construct or a timeless institution; one can believe gender is fluid or not; one can believe the unborn is a human being or a blob of tissue; one can believe in global warming or cooling or believe it's not worth having an opinion.

Simply saying that believing in something is admirable is the same as saying that believing in anything is admirable - and surely none of us believe that, do we?

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Are White Farmers Being Genocidally Killed In South Africa? In A Word, No.

The question of how white South African are being treated has been in the news quite a bit lately. Specifically, I’ve seen the claim that there is a form of genocide being committed on white farmers. 

South Africa has a crime problem, and that includes a high murder rate. No one disputes this. The question is if the murder rate in particular reveals that a white population (specifically white farmers) is being targeted. 

This blog has become increasingly focused on trying to find the truth hiding behind click bait articles, fake news and biased perspectives. This seemed like a good opportunity to do some digging. I’m sure there is more to find; feel free to post links that would add further light to this discussion. (Note: the statistics available are not as tight as I would like. I work with what I can find.)

Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Up/Down Side of Labels

Labels make it easy to offer a quick identification: Christian, atheist, Buddhist, conservative, Republican, liberal, Democrat, evangelical, socialist, Ohio State fan. (O-H!) Labels also make it easy to apply all of our own bias and baggage to that overly simplistic identification - how many of you are still working to get past that Buckeye reference?

Is there a way to use labels well, or are they simply going to undermine our ability to understand each other? Can they ever be a helpful shorthand to help us connect more quickly, or will they always tend to create unfair categories that divide rather than unite us?

I've been thinking about this more often as a Christian in terms of what it means to have a 'brand':
“A brand is a name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s good or service as distinct from those of other sellers” (American Marketing Association). 
Businesses want brand recognition. This is often accomplished by iconic images such as the Coke or Apple logos. A brand is a shortcut: we see an image (or hear a jingle), and we are flooded with all kinds of instinctive connections - for better or worse.  There has been a recent push in church circles to more fully invest in purposeful branding so that people build a the kind of connection we want them to build between the name of a church or a church logo on a bumper sticker.

Everything is branded, intentionally or not. Everyone takes away impressions of  businesses, organizations, churches, schools, sports teams, car dealers, and products that build thoughts and emotions over time.

The question isn't if something is branded. The question is how it's branded, and what kind of impact that brand/label has on those who see it.

So, like I said, I've been thinking about what it means to have a 'brand' as a Christian.

What do people think when they hear someone say, "I am a Christian evangelical"?  That's a huge question already, but there are other labels that brand us as well: Republican. Democrat. Libertarian. Conservative. Liberal.

As a Christian, how concerned should I be about whether or not the labels I willingly apply to myself could be a huge roadblock to effective evangelism? I don't mean my identification as a Christian, though I think there is room to talk about the best way to boldly state our identity in a way that carries the least amount of baggage to those around us. (Should I say Jesus follower, for example?) I'm talking about anything else that I don't have to say to be true to my identity in Christ.

What is the brand of Trump, Sanders, Obama, or the Clintons that Christians takes upon themselves, intentionally or unintentionally? What is the brand of a Republicans or Democrats? What is the brand of evangelical? Conservative or liberal? I know what I associate with these people, parties, and labels, but what do others see when they see me branded with this? These are all brands, for better or worse, and it's just as important that I know what I mean when I apply it to myself as it is to know what others think when they see it branded on me.

This question has been haunting me, because it's not just about me. It's about the reputation of the church, and of Christ. I need to get this right. As a follower of Jesus, I am constantly branding myself when I freely choose labels, and I have to remember that what others see in me through their filters, they will project onto the faith community of which I am a part, the church I attend, and the God I serve. It might not be fair, but it's reality.

* * * * * 

Last week, Beth and I talked through this issue - well, we started to talk through it :) You can listen to Etcetera 22: The Up/Down Side Of Labels on Soundcloud or on various podcast apps (such as Podcast Addict or Stitcher Radio).  As always, Beth and I appreciate interaction with you! Feel free to comment on this blog, the Etcetera blog, or on the Etcetera Facebook page.  We value your feedback as well as any ideas for future guests or shows!


Political Labels, Political Identity, and Bias
Read the Label: The new political group No Labels shows why labels exist
Media: Label Whores
Are the labels 'right' and 'left' still useful shorthand for political belief?
Defining 'Evangelical'
No, Evangelical Does Not Mean "White Republican Who Supports Trump"

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Economic Trends Even People Like Me Can Understand

All the recent discussion of the U.S. economy has piqued my interest in an area that is notoriously hard to understand. Who gets credit, and why? How easy is it to establish cause and effect? As I have been researching, I am struck by how one can paint remarkably contrasting views of the economy by isolating particular areas, or particular time frames. To get an idea of how we are doing overall, we need to see the Big Picture set in the context of our history. Before I get to some specifics on both those things, a few thoughts that have lingered with me as I have been reading. 
  •  The world's economy and the U.S. economy are intertwined. Major events in one impact the other. Cause and effect goes both ways. 
  • “Acts of God” (hurricanes, volcanoes, drought, fire, etc) can have a huge impact in an economy. People are displaced, out of work, and in need of a lot of assistance.  Looks what's happening in California right now. The economy is going to be rocked (at least $300 million at last count). Hurricane Harvey cost $73.5 billion. Hawaii is out $12 million, not factoring lost tourist dollars. These all happen on some administration's watch, and there will be some kind of downturn, but it won't be their fault. 
  • Acts of mankind can be incredibly disruptive as well (assassinations, terrorist attacks, wars, banking regulations that cause a housing market crash, etc.) 
  • Presidential administrations inherit the previous administration's legacy, for better or worse. How quickly the new administration’s policies impact the economy is not entirely clear, especially since it can be influenced by the previous three things on my list. 
Now, for what it’s worth, here are some things worth considering when we talk economics. I offer these if for no other reason than to note that a five minutes news story or youtube monologue will almost certainly fail to do justice to the Big Picture set in the context of history.

So will this post. Do your own research too. Feel free to add to the breadth and depth of what I offer here (or correct me if I am wrong) for the sake of all of us learning.