Monthly Archives: January 2015

Corruptions of a Frenetic Culture

There’s much to be said about our frenetic culture of immediacy and its attendant follies. In this introduction to his essay in yesterday’s NY Times called “Among the Disrupted,” Leon Wieseltier laments various media-driven digital age cultural corruptions in this furiously brilliant jeremiad:

Everybody talks frantically about media, a second-order subject if ever there was one, as content disappears into “content.” What does the understanding of media contribute to the understanding of life? Journalistic institutions slowly transform themselves into silent sweatshops in which words cannot wait for thoughts, and first responses are promoted into best responses, and patience is a professional liability. As the frequency of expression grows, the force of expression diminishes: Digital expectations of alacrity and terseness confer the highest prestige upon the twittering cacophony of one-liners and promotional announcements. It was always the case that all things must pass, but this is ridiculous.

Meanwhile the discussion of culture is being steadily absorbed into the discussion of business. There are “metrics” for phenomena that cannot be metrically measured. Numerical values are assigned to things that cannot be captured by numbers. Economic concepts go rampaging through noneconomic realms: Economists are our experts on happiness! Where wisdom once was, quantification will now be. Quantification is the most overwhelming influence upon the contemporary American understanding of, well, everything. It is enabled by the idolatry of data, which has itself been enabled by the almost unimaginable data-generating capabilities of the new technology. The distinction between knowledge and information is a thing of the past, and there is no greater disgrace than to be a thing of the past. Beyond its impact upon culture, the new technology penetrates even deeper levels of identity and experience, to cognition and to consciousness. Such transformations embolden certain high priests in the church of tech to espouse the doctrine of “transhumanism” and to suggest, without any recollection of the bankruptcy of utopia, without any consideration of the cost to human dignity, that our computational ability will carry us magnificently beyond our humanity and “allow us to transcend these limitations of our biological bodies and brains. . . . There will be no distinction, post-Singularity, between human and machine.” (The author of that updated mechanistic nonsense is a director of engineering at Google.)

And even as technologism, which is not the same as technology, asserts itself over more and more precincts of human life, so too does scientism, which is not the same as science. The notion that the nonmaterial dimensions of life must be explained in terms of the material dimensions, and that nonscientific understandings must be translated into scientific understandings if they are to qualify as knowledge, is increasingly popular inside and outside the university, where the humanities are disparaged as soft and impractical and insufficiently new. The contrary insistence that the glories of art and thought are not evolutionary adaptations, or that the mind is not the brain, or that love is not just biology’s bait for sex, now amounts to a kind of heresy. So, too, does the view that the strongest defense of the humanities lies not in the appeal to their utility — that literature majors may find good jobs, that theaters may economically revitalize neighborhoods — but rather in the appeal to their defiantly nonutilitarian character, so that individuals can know more than how things work, and develop their powers of discernment and judgment, their competence in matters of truth and goodness and beauty, to equip themselves adequately for the choices and the crucibles of private and public life.


Silencing Women

Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant wrote this interesting piece in the NY Times on Sunday on the experience of women speaking up in professional settings.

When a woman speaks in a professional setting, she walks a tightrope. Either she’s barely heard or she’s judged as too aggressive. When a man says virtually the same thing, heads nod in appreciation for his fine idea. As a result, women often decide that saying less is more.

They cite several studies and share a number of anecdotes to support their contention. It ought to be considered widely, perhaps especially by church leadership teams made up of women and men.

I wonder what other women think about this. Have you or do you experience these kinds of dynamics? In what ways? Can you think of intentional practices you’d like to see leaders develop that would invite and encourage full participation?

Golf in 2015

There is indeed much about which to be excited in 2015 in the world of golf. The Open Championship returns to St. Andrews, Rory McIlroy is on a roll, and Tiger Woods apparently has things sorted out and will continue his quest to surpass Jack Nicklaus’s total of 18 major championships as a professional.

As Bob Harig notes, Woods is doing things a little differently this year. Rather than playing only tournaments at courses where he’s comfortable, he’s beginning his season at a course he’s not played for some time. It’s a good thing he’s challenging himself, though it’s not necessarily a sign of any sure success in the majors.

It will certainly be exciting to have a healthy Tiger Woods back in action, but as I’ve argued a few times (here, here, and here), even if he wins one or two more, he won’t catch or surpass Nicklaus.

Here’s an interesting article on the emerging rift between Phil Mickelson and Tom Watson leading up to the Ryder Cup debacle last September. For some mysterious reason, the Euros just absolutely own the Americans in this event. The U. S. won in 2008, but that was the year of the disastrous European captaincy of Nick Faldo. Tom Watson may not have been the ideal captain this last year, but in the end it’s up to the players.

Mystery & Hiddenness in Mark

Discussing Mark 6:45-52, Richard Hays sums up the hiddenness and mystery that surround Mark’s depiction of Jesus:

[T]hose who have picked up the clues Mark has offered will perceive that God is strangely present in Jesus, but their response—at least at this point in the story—will be one of reverent reticence. By refusing to trumpet the secret of Jesus’ identity, instead signifying it through mysterious symbol-laden narrative, Mark is teaching his readers to wonder and to listen more deeply before they start talking about things too wonderful for their understanding (Reading Backwards, p. 26).

Corrupted Ministry Motivations

This article in Leadership Journal is an excellent exploration of the factors that can pervert ministry motivations. It’s not merely revelatory of one church’s destruction but of how corrupting dynamics are at work in the hearts of ministry practitioners and those in church leadership.

We want to believe the best about ourselves and so we overlook or fail to recognize our true motivations. And we want to be effective for the Kingdom of God, so we don’t discern when destructive values (efficiency, growth, etc.) begin to orient and then dominate our ministry vision.

The article features Tim Gaydos. He and his family offered me generous hospitality when I took my son out to Seattle in September. We had several great conversations about the character of genuine ministry and how our hearts are so easily and subtly corrupted.

Loving our Neighbor in an Age of Terror

I had an interesting conversation with my son last night about the terrible violence in Paris. Among other things we talked about the increase of anti-Muslim sentiment in Europe and here in the United States. Life will be increasingly difficult for average Muslims who are law-abiding and peace-loving citizens of France, other European countries, and the U. S.

We wondered aloud about how to be faithfully Christian in a climate of violence, anger, confusion, denunciation, suspicion, and fear. Those are inevitable responses on the part of many citizens to what has happened. But what about Christians who belong to the Kingdom of God? How do we obey Jesus’ command to love our neighbor as ourselves?

I know how much I am grieved when I hear about Christians doing violence in the name of Jesus. I am ashamed of being identified with that sort of betrayal of the way of Jesus. I want to tell people that Christians aren’t like that; that our Scripture does not justify violence and murder.

I saw a Muslim family from our neighborhood in the grocery store a few days ago – two parents and two middle school-aged girls. I thought of them last night and wondered how they’re doing. I was thinking that being a good neighbor to them would entail doing to them what I would want done to me.

Are they fearful of now going to the store? Do they worry about being identified with murderous violence? Are they worried about how their daughters will be treated at school? Do they feel that others in our town now view them with suspicion? Do they feel that they want to tell everyone that they’re not terrorists? Do they want others to know that Muslims aren’t like that?

There is much that should be said and done in response to this act of evil. Certainly those nearer to the horror are able to help those affected.

But where I live, embodying loyalty to Jesus may involve being watchful of how such events can stir up emotions that confuse and perhaps diminish our fundamental loyalty to King Jesus and thus to love our neighbors as ourselves.