Sunday, January 20, 2019

Toxic Men, Toxic Women, And The Toxic Cultures That Nourish Them

Gillette, in an oddly incongruous act of virtue signaling [1] - or, more generously, cause marketing -  has recently released a controversial ad about what has been called "toxic masculinity."  You can watch the video above; here is an (imperfect) script based on my notes from watching the video:
"Bullying, the #metoo movement, violence, pornography, sexual harassment... Is this the best a man can get? Is it? We can't hide from it. It has been going on far too long. We can't laugh it off. Making the same old excuses (group of men: "Boys will be boys..."). But something finally changed (female news anchor: "Allegations involving sexual assault and sexual harassment..."). And there will be no going back. Because we ... We believe in the best in men (Terry Crews: "Men need to hold other men accountable." Two other clips show guys stopping other guys from harassing/catcalling a woman).  To say the right thing. To act the right way. Some already are, in ways big and small. (Clips of men playing with daughters, connecting across racial lines, and stopping bullying). But some is not enough. Because the boys watching today will be the men of tomorrow."
There are a number of things worth addressing in this cultural moment, so here we go.


I think we have to in order to even have this discussion.  The Atlantic quotes a bunch of studies that  think so:
“In a 2008 study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, a group of international researchers compared data on gender and personality across 55 nations. Throughout the world, women tend to be more nurturing, risk averse and emotionally expressive, while men are usually more competitive, risk taking, and emotionally flat. But the most fascinating finding is this: Personality differences between men and women are the largest and most robust in the more prosperous, egalitarian, and educated societies. According to the authors, ‘Higher levels of human development—including long and healthy life, equal access to knowledge and education, and economic wealth—were the main nation-level predictors of sex difference variation across cultures.’" 
In other words, men and women are different. [2] This does not mean all men or women fit neatly into a particular mold. My wife and I are exhibits A and B of this. It's simply an acknowledgment of generally correlative characteristics that emerge in men and women. I know this is a hotly debated topic, but we can't even talk about something that is uniquely, toxically masculine (or feminine) without at least have some kind of foundation that acknowledges gendered differences. As a friend and fellow pastor/blogger noted:
"In order for us to rail against toxic masculinity we have to admit there is such a thing as healthy masculinity. Any bad is dependent upon the good. Any evil is a deprivation of the good or a violation of a good purpose. You must have a good purpose before you can violate it. Yes, masculinity exists, or else it couldn’t turn toxic."


There is no universally accepted definition, but the explanations I found follow a general theme.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Jerry, Jeffress and Jesus

On January 1, Joe Heim published an interview with Jerry Falwell entitled“Jerry Falwell Jr. can’t imagine Trump ‘doing anything that’s not good for the country.’” Last week, Robert Jeffress made headlines for defending President Trump’s wall by comparing it to Heaven’s wall. 

I am offering a response if for no other reason than to let those outside evangelical circles know that these two men do not speak for all of us, and that their application of biblical principles is suspect at best and deeply problematic at worst.

I am not eager to step into this mess. I just can’t not say anything.

Monday, December 31, 2018

My 2019 Wish List

1. We value life - all life. It starts in the womb, and it continues until death. The question of personhood and humanity looms ever larger as science reveals more and more about the life of the unborn. We must figure out how to exercise justice and mercy at our southern border to those who are born. Speaking of doing better, we can also do this by looking more carefully about the context in which crime flourishes. We value life when we value all of life.

2. We address the causes of the #metoo movement at the core. Specifically, how do we create a culture that trains us from the time we are children on how to honor others sexually? We appear to be doing a terrible job. I suspect the two biggest culprits are families in which honor is not modeled and entertainment that is remarkably crude, shallow and selfish when portraying relationships, sex, and sexuality. Morality, character, integrity. They matter. Oh, and pornography is a monster.

3. We reject materialism as the standard for the good life. "But the economy is good!" has become my least favorite phrase of 2018, as if having money in my pocket is more important than anything else. I want leaders and policies that model and promote truth, generosity, justice and mercy for all people, even if the achievement of these goals literally costs us something. The United States has plenty of money. We have room, as a nation and as individuals, to exercise what Timothy Keller calls a 'generous justice.' 

4. We give up caustic, abrasive, confrontational public discourse. Obnoxious people and/or mean posts get headlines. It's ruining our ability to have meaningful conversation about just about everything. I would love to see this modeled from the top down, beginning with our president and all other elected leaders in Washington.  If politicians never used Twitter again to make an argument, vent, or explain something, I would consider 2019 a win.

5. The entertainment industry listens to itself and watches itself, and makes the connection: what they celebrate, their audience will do. If you want better people, make better entertainment. Write songs and tell stories that bring out nobility in people. You reap what you sow.

6. Christians remember that our kingdom is not of this world. Our citizenship is in heaven. Our allegiance is to Jesus. We do not owe allegiance to Trump, Obama, Clinton or Sanders. The Republican, Democratic, and Libertarian parties are not to be revered. In 2019, may we feel increasingly uneasy in a world that is not our home. May that unease inspire us to holy engagement with everyone and everything around us, and that includes holding said politicians and parties accountable when they contribute to the brokenness of the world.

7. All of us recommit to the pursuit of truth. Fake news is a problem from the Right and the Left; calling real news 'fake news' just because we don't like it is just as problematic. We need to do our own research: go to primary sources; absorb perspectives from multiple viewpoints; read, watch and listen widely; filter opinion from fact. The truth is there. It's just harder than ever to find it. Do work.

8. The church - which I love - becomes a compelling community of salvation, truth, love, generosity, justice, mercy and hope that truly reflects the character and nature of Jesus.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

"Gotta Be Who You Are In This World": Some Thoughts On Purpose

There's a scene at the beginning of The Equalizer where a young lady named Teri asks Robert (The Equalizer) what happens in Hemingway’s story, "The Old Man and the Sea." Robert tells her that the old man catches the fish. She asks, "Why didn't he just let the fish go?" Robert replies, "Old man's gotta be the old man. Fish has got to be the fish. Gotta be who you are in this world, no matter what."

In the context of the story, I don’t think it was a statement of fatalistic resignation or some silly version of, "You are perfect just the way you are!" Robert was pointing out that we are all made for a purpose, with a role to play. We have to find that purpose and live it. It's an acknowledgment that we are made for some things and not others. It’s a Hollywood discussion of telos - the idea of design and purpose in the world and in our lives. I often hear this described as flourishing. I like that description.

I read two books recently that spent some time focusing on the issue of telos. A quote from each of these books will be the springboard for further discussion.

Friday, November 30, 2018

A Presidential Christmas Proclamation Quiz

The claim is going around that President Trump has returned "Merry Christmas," a phrase apparently verboten for some time, to the White House. Is this true?  In the interest of pursuing truth, I ask that you take a little quiz about which one of our last four presidents said the following things on the occasion of Christmas or the lighting of the Christmas tree. I'm not trying to make any type of political point. My interest is in knowing truth.

* * * * *

A. "Warm greetings to everyone celebrating Christmas. The Christmas story is dear and familiar to us all—shepherds and angels, Wise Men and King Herod, Mary and Joseph, and, at the heart of it all, a Child. This Child was born into poverty in a city too crowded to offer Him shelter. He was sent to a region whose people had endured suffering, tyranny, and exile. And yet this Child brought with Him riches so great that they continue to sustain the human spirit two thousand years later: the assurance of God's love and presence in our lives and the promise of salvation. Each year at Christmas, we celebrate these gifts with family and friends. We place candles in the window as a sign that there is always room for Christ in our homes. We put angels and stars and twinkling lights on the Christmas tree to remind us of the glory and mystery of Christ's birth. We sing the old and beloved Christmas carols to express the joy filling our hearts, and we share special gifts with those we love, just as God shared His Son with us. And, in contemplating the nativity scene under the tree or in a neighbor's yard, we realize that children hold a special place in God's heart, since He sent His only Son to us as a little Child."

Monday, November 26, 2018

The Birthday of the Sun/Son: How Saturnalia Became Christmas, Saint Nicholas Became Santa, And A Holiday Became A War

How did Christmas start? Why do we celebrate the way we do? What do all the symbols mean? Is it a Christian holiday or not?  Why is there a "war" every year? And should there be?

For better or worse, here is my attempt to sort through the history of this popular holiday. Keep in mind that there is a LOT of competing information out there about the history of Christmas. I have worked to find the truth, but my presentation is only as good as my sources, which I hope are reliable. 

Thursday, November 22, 2018

The Discipline Of Thankfulness

We are blessed here in America in tremendous ways. If I forget to be thankful here in beautiful Northern Michigan, it’s because I get distracted by and used to good things I shouldn’t take for granted. In other places and in other times, this easy thankfulness is challenged because there are circumstances that make the good in things hard to find.

Recent events remind us that this world is in need of repair (California fires, the war in Yemen, the shootings, the Caravan). We don't have to watch TV to know this is true. Our own communities, our own homes, our own souls remind us this is true. As I say this, my cousin’s husband is recovering from a horrifying farm accident. The unfolding of human history, while full of beauty, has also been pretty grim. Bankruptcy. Divorce. Death. Illness. Depression. Loneliness. Pain. Suffering. Persecution.

Paul once wrote to the persecuted church in Thessalonica to give thanks to God no matter what circumstances you find yourself in.  When we talk about thanksgiving, or giving thanks, we are not just talking about an emotion or feeling (though it can be that). I wonder if more often than not thanksgiving is a decision, a perspective, a commitment to finding God in our story, a search for God in every memory. It’s being thankful for what God has done in us in the midst of all these things. 

A very short poem caught my eye a while ago.  After his barn burned down, Japanese poet Masahide wrote, "My barn having burned to the ground, I can now see the moon." That's brilliant. I’ve read other similar perspectives along the same lines.

“I thank Thee first because I was never robbed before; second, because although they took my purse they did not take my life; third, although they took my all, it was not much; and fourth, because it was I who was robbed and not I who robbed.” - Matthew Henry, on the night he was robbed.
“Oh, what a happy soul am I although I cannot see, I am resolved that in this world contented I shall be. How many blessings I enjoy that other people don't. To weep and sigh, because I'm blind? I cannot and I won't.”- blind hymn writer Fanny Crosby

On Thanksgiving at least, I want to take Paul seriously. I want to find God in the story of my life, to revisit the places where some kind of barn burned down. I wanted to know if, after the smoke cleared, the moon (or perhaps the Son) would bring even a little light to that dark corner of the world. I want to be a more disciplined kind of thankful this year, the kind of person that commits to finding God at work even in the chapters of my life that I don't want to re-read.  

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.