waiting

•April 8, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Christmas Day this film will release

 

In the meantime I shall read this...

Relief

•March 21, 2012 • 1 Comment


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Unclean: Meditations on Purity, Hospitality, and Mortality
Richard Beck

“Then it happened that as Jesus was reclining at the table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, ‘Why is your Teacher eating with tax collectors and sinners?’ But when Jesus heard this, He said, ‘It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’” – Matthew 9

Richard Beck, and experimental psychologist, wrote this book in response to Jesus’ application of the Hosean text, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice,” when talking to the Pharisees. However, instead of primarily using a theological critique, he drew from his own background and evaluated the context of the passage through the lens of disgust and contamination psychology. I had no idea such a field existed until now, actually… But what interested me with this book is that he approached the passage with questions a psychologist, for example, would ask of the Church: “Why do people find particular theologies so appealing?” “Why does a theology continue to resonate with the masses when it’s rationally been debunked?” From this, Beck hones in on the passage from Matthew as he looks at the tension between Levitical sacrifice and prophetic mercy – a tension that was not only apparent in the first century and prior, but very much so now, within the lives of our own church communities. By this, I mean the often accidental dichotomies placed between social and relational purities on what Christians can do and whom they can interact with. We are told to be “holy, as your Heavenly Father is holy,” (to be complete as He is complete) correct? So does that mean we are to be sacrificial and pure in what we avoid, or to be merciful and present in what we touch?

Before I provide you with an onslaught of quotes I feel capture at least part of the message Beck is attempting to convey, I want to note what I’ve appreciated about this book. I suppose one could say I’ve become more “liberal” in my faith over the past year, and though that concept doesn’t perturb me as much as it once did, I do have fits of discomfort in thinking I’ve compromised on my faith too much. I think a considerable amount of that is due to the guilt of foregoing mainstream evangelical thought while still living within the environment, but some is in me wondering if I’ve swung too far on the pendulum. And though this book was by no means a cure to my questioning anxiety, it did provide perspective on how my supposed liberalism may in fact be liberating me to living out the Gospel in a more nuanced and beautiful way. So right now I’m simply trying to lean into that, and see where it takes me. And this book has often been in the back of my mind while doing so.

“We find magical thinking at work in Matthew 9. If sin is “contagious,” extending hospitality becomes impossible. This is the psychological dynamic at the heart of the conflict in Matthew 9. What worries the Pharisees is Jesus’ contact with sinners. This worry over proximity is symptomatic of the magical thinking imported into the religious domain through the psychology of disgust.”

“…consider the attribute of negativity dominance. The judgment of negativity dominance places all the power on the side of the pollutant. If I touch (apologies for the example I’m about to use) some feces to your cheeseburger the cheeseburger gets ruined, permanently (see above). Importantly, the cheeseburger doesn’t make the feces suddenly scrumptious. When the pure and the polluted come into contact the pollutant is the more powerful force. The negative dominates over the positive.

Negativity dominance has important missional implications for the church. For example, notice how negativity dominance is at work in Matthew 9. The Pharisees never once consider the fact that the contact between Jesus and the sinners might have a purifying, redemptive, and cleansing effect upon the sinners. Why not? The logic of contamination simply doesn’t work that way. The logic of contamination has the power of the negative dominating over the positive. Jesus doesn’t purify the sinners. The sinners make Jesus unclean.

Negativity dominance is problematic in the life of the church because, in the missional moment, when the church makes contact with the world, the power sits firmly with the world as the location of impurity. According to the logic of negativity dominance, contact with the world defiles the church. Given this logic the only move open to the church is withdrawal and quarantine, separation from the world. In short, many missional failures are simply the product of the church following the intuitive logic of disgust psychology.

What is striking about the gospel accounts is how Jesus reverses negativity dominance. Jesus is, to coin a term, positivity dominant. Contact with Jesus purifies. A missional church embraces this reversal, following Jesus into the world without fears of contamination. But it is important to note that this is a deeply counterintuitive position to take. Nothing in our experience suggests that this should be the case. The missional church will always be swimming against the tide of disgust psychology, always tempted to separate, withdraw, and quarantine.”

“What is being illustrated in Matthew 9 is the mutual incomprehensibility that can occur when individuals disagree about the applicability or appropriateness of purity metaphors. Using the purity metaphor the Pharisees see the situation one way. We, standing with Jesus and eschewing the metaphor, see the situation very differently. Moreover, we come to the exact opposite conclusion. The Pharisees, seeking purity, pull away from the sinners. This action is consistent with purity entailments (disgust is an expulsive psychology). Jesus, seeking fellowship, moves toward the sinners. One group frames the issue of table fellowship as an issue of purity, the sacrificial impulse. The other group frames the issue as one of mercy. And, thus, a religious disagreement, with important missional implications, emerges.”

Half the Sky

•February 25, 2012 • 4 Comments

Having entered a post-idealistic lull since graduation, I’ve found a healthy rally point for advocating social change within the book, Half the Sky, recommended by Danni Reaves. As harrowing as it is uplifting, each chapter tells the story of a different woman, and her fall and rise within societies strictly governed by male partisanship. Co-written by a married couple, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, they brilliantly piece together a book that aptly tells of experiences many of us have heard, but paid little heed to.

So what makes this book different?

It provides tangibles. It doesn’t naively triumph over its own shock value. If shared time and again, it has the power to be catalyze a revolution against terrorization of women.

Perhaps this short, anecdotal excerpt will encourage a read-through:

———-**———-

While sitting in the border shack, Nick began talking with one Indian officer who spoke excellent English. The man said he had been dispatched by the intelligence bureau to monitor the border.

                “So what exactly are you monitoring?” Nick asked.

                “We’re looking for terrorist, or terror supplies,” said the man, who wasn’t monitoring anything very closely, since one truck after another was driving past. “After 9/11, we’ve tightened things up here. And we’re also looking for smuggled or pirated goods. If we find them, we’ll confiscate them.”

                “What about trafficked girls?” Nick asked. “Are you keeping an eye out for them? There must be a lot.”

                “Oh, a lot. But don’t worry about them. There’s nothing you can do about them.”

                “Well, you could arrest the traffickers. Isn’t trafficking girls as important as pirating DVDs?”

The intelligence officer laughed genially and threw up his hands.

                “Prostitution is inevitable.” He chuckled, “There has always been prostitution in every country. And what’s a young man going to do from the time when he turns eighteen until when he gets married at thirty?”

                “Well, is the best solution really to kidnap Nepali girls and imprison them in Indian brothels?”

The office shrugged, unperturbed. “It’s unfortunate,” he agreed. “These girls are sacrificed so that we can have harmony in society. So that good girls can be safe.”

                “But many of the Nepali girls being trafficked are good girls, too.”

                “Oh yes, but those are peasant girls. They can’t even read. They’re from the countryside. The good Indian middle-class girls are safe.”

Nick, who had been gritting his teeth offered an explosive suggestions: “I’ve got it! You know, in the United States we have a lot of problems with harmony in society. So we should start kidnapping Indian middle-class girls and forcing them to work in the brothels in the United States! Then young American men could have fun, too, don’t you think? That would improve our harmony in society!”

There was an ominous silence, but finally the police officer roared with laughter.

                “You’re joking!” the officer said, beaming. “That’s very funny!”

                Nick gave up.

                People get away with enslaving village girls for the same reason that people got away with enslaving blacks two hundred years ago: The victims are perceived as discounted humans. India had delegated an intelligence officer to look for pirated goods because it knew that the United States cares about intellectual property. When India feels that the West cares as much about slavery as it does about pirated DVDs, it will dispatch people to the borders to stop traffickers.

 

Page One

•February 18, 2012 • Leave a Comment

My house and I watched this the other night, and highly recommend it. Times are changing (no pun intended), and I really hope the NYT can keep up and not be drowned by the collective, compromising amateurization of the blogosphere.

ignorance is bliss?

•February 16, 2012 • Leave a Comment

In my seasonal bout of deciding upon a career path (or simply grad school), this month I’ve decided to inquire into the life and study of a behavioral economist. I was lent the book Predictably Irrational, written by Dan Ariely, nearly half a year ago, and finally took the time to lend an ear.

Challenging the commonly held notion that humanity is irrevocably rational, Ariely conducts a multitude of sensible, enlightening, and comical experiments proving the contrary. In summation, he states that we are so irrational in our actions that we are, without fail, predictable. Hence the title of his bestselling book.

In his closing pages he writes:

“Behavioral economists, on the other hand, believe that people are susceptible to irrelevant influences from their immediate environment (which we call context effects), irrelevant emotions, shortsightedness, and other forms of irrationality…

If I were to distill one main lesson from the research described in this book, it is that we are pawns in a game whose forces we largely fail to comprehend. We usually think of ourselves as sitting in the driver’s seat, with ultimate control over the decisions we make and the direction our life takes; but, alas, this perception has more to do with our desires – with how we want to view ourselves – than with reality.”

For example, and this was referenced in his book, think about when you first started taking the product Airborne. Maybe in high school? Earlier? It was created in the early 1990s and started hitting large-market shelves by the end of the decade. However, in 2008 a $23 million lawsuit was put against the owners and distributers of the supplement who “made false claims that Airborne products are clinically proven to treat colds. Turns out the tablets are merely filled with loads of vitamins (which, as one would rationally perceive, would be good for you, when in reality the absurd amount of vitamin C, for example, oxalates and is hardly absorbed into the body), with no clinically proven studies to back up the claims of their ability to prevent and alleviate sickness.

So does it actually work? Or does one’s misperception, wishful thinking, or sheer will to believe it so grant the credibility? Studies show the mind to be so powerful that once conditioned, it can cause the body to react in a way it typically wouldn’t when presented with a familiar stimulant. In other words, those that took Airborne with the conscious expectation it would work, may have conditioned the body to produce chemicals it wouldn’t have otherwise in order to combat that creeping cold; thus rendering the supplement just useful as a sugar-filled placebo.

That said, it begs the thought of whether those who believe what I’d just written above – while not having heard about the Airborne lawsuit – can still use Airborne with the same results. Or is it now just a quasi-functional tablet? Because Airborne, though under different management, still has zero endorsements from medical professionals for whether or not it cures or prevents illness.

This claim, of course, rests under the belief that the medical field is the true and only arbiter of what can and cannot cure us. Which makes this argument humorously ironic, now that I think about it, as I am using whatever rationale I have to justify the claim of human irrationality…

In all seriousness, however, this concept of irrationality (if you want further examples, you can actually just check out the wiki page for this book, as it summarizes many of the experiments) has me curious about medical ethics. At the end of the book, Ariely poses the question of whether or not our irrationality benefits or wounds us; though he offers little words on the matter. But say you have a mortally ill patient who conjures an irrational belief that if they exercise, take a pill, eat a certain food, or avoid particular activities that they may live for two years past the one-year ultimatum you have already informed them of. An ultimatum that has never proved wrong, with one year being a generous maximum of life expectancy. Do you try to break through the irrationality? Or will it actually matter as their death will silence the irrationality indefinitely?

There are, of course, other factors that play into this, but it’s a question strong enough to make one wonder. Perhaps irrationality can be welcomed in some contexts, while in others it needs to be debunked.

Lastly, and I am realizing this right before I make the post: I think the words above cater more to behavioral psychology than economics. At least, the example I gave did. In fact, the two are inseparable, but if you want more clear-cut examples that cater to economics, look at nearly all other instances within the book or wiki page. However, whether it is market economics or psychology of the individual, both have themes that speak to the everyday decisions we make, and how they aren’t as conscientiously driven as we initially thought.

November 20, 1977

•January 20, 2012 • 2 Comments

Recommended by Chaunce, and gifted by Sarah’s mom, The Violence of Love has become a devotional of sorts as I’ve woken up to these snow-filled mornings. The book consists of quips and excerpts from the multitude of homilies Oscar Romero issued via radio while serving as the Archbishop of El Salvador from 1977-1980, before being assassinated. As stated by Chaunce, if you want to know true liberation theology, look to this man.

I’m not looking to discuss liberation theology, however. Instead, below is an inspiring passage both for myself and those who sometimes wonder at the purpose of their working life, or simply their life in general. For myself, monotony is more present now than it ever was in school, and with the day-to-day grind, I’ve slowly become numb to daily routines.  But that numbness doesn’t have to exist, especially with the value that each day holds. Though the context to which Romero is speaking is different from my own, he nonetheless provides a lucid picture of what it means to witness:

“How beautiful will be the day
when all the baptized understand
that their work, their job,
is a priestly work,
that just as I celebrate Mass at this altar,
so each carpenter celebrates Mass at his workbench,
and each metalworker,
each professional,
each doctor with the scalpel,
the market woman at her stand,
is performing a priestly office!

How many cabdrivers, I know, listen to this message there in their cabs;
you are a priest at the wheel, my friend,
if you work with honesty,
consecrating that taxi of yours to God,
bearing a message of peace and love
to the passengers who ride in your cab.”

the humble(d)

•January 14, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Referenced by several friends as of recent, here’s a quote I greatly enjoyed from an interview by a significant blogger within my favored blogosphere community (Context being an interview with a gay Christian):

From Dawn: Given all the nasty rhetoric that has been aimed at the LGBT community — and in that sense, at you personally — by Christian and Christian political leaders, what is it about Christianity itself that’s so compelling that you haven’t been turned off completely by so many of its messengers?

One word: Jesus.

The church is human, and we make mistakes. Sometimes we don’t represent God very well at all. But Jesus represented God perfectly as the incarnation of God. He loved the people his culture didn’t love, he interacted with people he wasn’t supposed to interact with, and he refused to distance himself from the people others called “sinners.” Jesus’ harsh words were aimed at the religious leaders of his day who, in their zeal for correct doctrine, were pushing people away from God. He didn’t run for office or yell at sinners through a bullhorn. He loved, healed, and fed people, and then he let them beat him and hang him on a cross.

That’s my God.

____________________________________________________________________________________

I grew teary-eyed after reading that last line of humanity’s love and betrayal of our Savior. I still do now. If there are any people to help put in perspective the great depths of God’s love for us, found in the incarnation of Jesus Christ, it would be the ostracized, outcasts, minorities, oppressed, and poor. For they are the ones who show us just how much we need that love to thrive.

Glory is found in the humble(d).