Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Christian Carnival II – September 29, 2010

Since the inception of this blog, I’ve been participating in the Christian Carnival II Blog Carnival, and for the first time, I’m hosting it. Thanks to everyone who contributed and waited patiently for my Pacific Time Zone posting. Here is this week’s blog list in a not-so-randomly generated order:

“The Lost Proverb: Where are all the True Men?”
Great question. First up is this amusing retelling of Proverbs 31 on PB Jung, submitted by Peter Jung, a new member of the group. I’m not too keen on the idea of having competition in the kitchen: “He is like a professional chef preparing exquisite dishes and selecting choice wines, he gets his ingredients from afar.” But I predict my sister will like this new version: “He exercises (self control), he girds himself with strength (spiritual, mental, physical) and makes his abs flat.”

“Fear and Loathing in America the Beautiful”
Over at Funny about Money, the author of this post discusses her puzzlement over her father’s bigotry and coming to an understanding about his fears real and imagined.

“Lost in the Weeds”
Having only ever seen about 10 minutes of the Showtime series Weeds, I found Dave Taylor’s review over on Inside the Fish very informative. It made me wonder if the show is essentially doing for marijuana what Will & Grace did for homosexuality. The election’s closing in on us, you know…

“Don’t Be a Fish While Fishing”
Andrew, from Rely on God in Your Personal Development, takes an unusual point of view on the devil as a “fisher of men.”

“Copan on the Canaanite Genocide”
Parableman Jeremy Pierce joins in a web-wide discussion about morality, divinely-ordered genocide, and the Israelite conquest of Canaan. I’ll have to find time to go back and read the others’ posts to catch up on the details.

“Life is Beautiful”
On And She Went Out..., Michelle talks about life and the special meaning Psalm 91 now has for her.

“Jewish Thoughts on Wealth”
Free Money Finance offers a short critique of The Jewish Phenomenon: Seven Keys to the Enduring Wealth of a People by Steven Silbiger, a book that contrasts New Testament discussions about wealth with medieval Jewish teachings.

“Psalm 145 - The Missing Nun”
Dust always makes me wish I could figure out how to learn Hebrew. This post, part of Bob MacDonald’s series on the Oxford Psalms Conference (September 22-24, 2010), tackles the Masoretic text’s “missing nun verse” that the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Septuagint, the Peshitta, and other manuscripts have intact.

“What Do I Identify With Too Much?”
A Clay Pot’s Crystal Rodli writes about “giving it all up” for Christ. How this type of sacrifice affected Paul’s identity is something I realized I hadn’t thought about much before.

“10 Ways To Encourage Your Minister Today”
On Money Help For Christians, Craig Ford discusses some of the stress and discouragement church leaders face and how might we as members of their congregations improve things. Tip no. 4 cuts to the chase: “Ask your minister, ‘What are two things we could be doing differently as a church to minister to you?’”

“Friday Reflection: Trevor and Love”
Take a look at the simple but profound wisdom from a comic strip on My Jarrol Spot. Deano tries to put God’s powerful love in proper perspective.

At Who Am I?, Barry Wallace looks to the Puritans for a better understanding of Christian contentment.

“The Thunderous Sound of Praise!”
LOSWL on INSPIKS talks about W2W Soul’s 100 Days Praise Challenge.

“Scarabs and Sheep”
Discussing how non-Christians try to shame us out of Christianity, Scottyi, on Sacred Raisin Cakes, looks at how the dung beetle can actually be a positive description. Anyone up to appropriating the image?

“My GPS”
On Ridge’s Blog, Ridge Burns talks about allowing God’s Word to steer you in the right direction.

“Potiphar’s Wife”
Russ White, from Thinking in Christ, looks at the connection between lust and anger using the Bible’s most famous seductress as an example. This was a timely read for me, since I’ve recently read the Qu’ran’s version of the story, which paints this woman in a more positive light.

“What’s Your Goliath?”
Kaleb from W2W Soul “interviews” David about his experience and having faith in God’s power to destroy the enemy.

“Democrats in Trouble, Republicans the Answer?”
At Random Musings on Anything and Everything from a Biblical Worldview, Chris Price responds to common arguments given for supporting Republicans in political office. In response, I’d ask, how do we set about “cleaning house” since Christians refusing to vote for major party candidates doesn’t seem to be getting us anywhere.

“When ‘Equally Yoked’ Really Isn’t”
After all of that, if you still have some time, please contribute your thoughts on my recent post addressing the “missionary dating” fad.

Hwyl fawr.

Monday, September 27, 2010

When in Boredom, Talk about the Weather

Around noon today, I was running some errands, and had a bit of trouble getting out of the bank’s parking lot. Why? Because two men from the office building nearby were standing in the middle of the driveway, one snapping pictures of the bank’s giant digital clock. Maybe they’d never seen triple digits in OC before. But we’ve certainly been feeling them lately.

To me, it’s Phoenix that will always be the “Sun's Anvil.” I think it was during our 1994 family roadtrip, hanging out with my dad’s uncle and aunt, that’s torched into my mind. We were leaving the Pizza Hut – you know, the old pizzeria kind that went extinct? – and I’ll never forget seeing across the street the 111 complete with a pretty sunset backdrop. Yes, it was 111 degrees at 7:15 PM.

But we have our fair share of miserable weather here in So Cal. I remember a particularly hot August years ago during my tenure in the Pacific Chorale. There was a last minute need for more participants in the PSO’s September 11 concert. I volunteered since I like singing Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (even though my German hasn’t improved much since I was three, as I’ve blogged about before). The dress rehearsal was on location at the outdoor Verizon Wireless Amphitheater.* The heat was terrible, and the big white digital clock by the director’s stand was a constant reminder just how terrible.

It seemed like every two seconds we took a minute break and just sat there. I asked another alto what was wrong. Three or four replied that the musicians, upset about playing in 100+-degree heat, had lobbied to get the breaks into their contracts. So with temperature fluctuating between 98 and 101 degrees Fahrenheit, and a union representative onstage, we had to stop every time it broke 100. Me? I would’ve asked for 90.

*Yes, that’s its real name, and yes, there’s more than one of them.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

When “Equally Yoked” Really Isn’t

Every so often, someone suggests, sometimes jokingly, sometimes seriously, “missionary dating” as a solution to my ongoing singleness. For those who might be unfamiliar with this concept, it usually refers to the active attempt to convert someone through some sort of romantic relationship. As a ministry strategy, it has a number of problems, especially since many a new convert has found himself or herself unexpectedly dumped as the “missionary” begins a relationship with another lost soul. That’s “defrauding” at its worst.

However, there’s another form, often promoted as a marriage strategy. The official “dating” may take place after the conversion, but the central goal of the believer is to turn someone of choice into an approved prospective spouse. My own parents’ relationship began somewhat similarly, and there are no doubt other successful conversion-marriage pairings. However, in general, I would not recommend this approach. Here’s why not.

The idea of two Christian individuals being “equally yoked” in marriage is grounded on the Apostle Paul’s instructions in 2 Corinthians: 6:14 (ESV):

Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?

During Old Testament times, there was concern that an unbelieving spouse would lead a believer away from God (Exodus 34:15-16, Deuteronomy 7:3-4, 1 Kings 11:4, Ezra 10:18-44, Nehemiah 13:25-27). This still concerns believers today, as weaker Christians agree to support their spouses’ religious preferences and have their children raised Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, etc. First-century Christians were taught to remain with their unbelieving spouses in hopes of converting them (1 Corinthians 7:10-16, 1 Peter 3:1-6). However, even then, it was deemed better to end the marriage if the spouse was unwilling. One’s loyalty was to God was more important than family relationships (Deuteronomy 13:6-8, Micah 7:6Matthew 10:35). The uncomfortable truth is that, when it comes to someone’s relationship with God, there is no middle ground (Matthew 12:30, Mark 9:40, Luke 11:23); you and your spouse must be on His side (John 14:6-7). Uniting with an unbeliever becomes a sort of treason.

Today, devoted Christians are passionate about being “equally yoked,” so much so that there’s an online dating service with that as its name. However, this commitment has led to problems finding desirable spouses. Religiously-mixed marriages are prohibited, but the plain truth is that many Christians just aren’t attracted to each other.* So many feel that the best solution is to lead someone more suitable to Christ. (Note the words “more suitable”!)

As mentioned earlier, the official “dating” may take place after conversion to avoid the appearance of disobeying Paul’s instruction, but the ministry is carried out with the goal of marriage in mind. This is essentially cheating. It’s an attempt to find a loophole in God’s Law. It’s “following the letter” while neglecting the “spirit” of the Word, as Jesus Christ accused the Pharisees of doing (Mark 2:3-28; 3:1-6). Just like people back then would dedicate their possessions to service for God to avoid supporting their needy parents (Mark 7:9-13), I believe that Christians are converting desired partners to get out of marrying someone who could truly bare the same yoke.

Now, I’m not suggesting that none of these conversions are genuine (although I’ve seen cases that have proven not to be). I’m also not suggesting that a long-time Christian can’t marry a new believer. What concerns me is the newly-converted spouse’s potential dependence on the other. We’ve all seen it happen: The youth pastor or mega-church preacher who struggles in sin or wrestles with unbelief. And many previously led to Christ weaver or even abandon the faith because it relied on the support of a fallible man. Individual converts carry the same risks.

I’m of the opinion that “equally yoked” must mean that one’s spouse can stand on his or her own two feet spiritually. When a Christian stumbles, a spouse who’s a mature Christian or a new Christian brought to the Lord by someone else would be more capable of bearing the burden. However, a stumbling Christian might easily pull his or her own convert down too. That’s particularly a serious risk when the spouse hasn’t been a Christian very long at all. Yet this sort of “missionary dating” pushes quickly towards its marriage goal, not allowing much time for a “baby Christian” to grow on his or her own or learn from other Christians.

Another problem is the whole idea of fashioning one’s spouse. Everyone knows women are eager to make-over men, and men are notorious for targeting impressionable women and women from “more submissive cultures” in hopes of creating their own devotee. It’s no wonder then that people would desire a spiritually-dependant spouse whose beliefs and views can be easily swayed, a spouse who’ll cower to another’s claims of seniority. In other words, “missionary dating” takes on a sinister, self-serving nature. Rather than working out a relationship with another believer, which might require compromise and admitting that the other is correct, the Christian seeks out someone who can be controlled. In any dispute, “I led you to Christ, so know more about the Bible than you do” is likely to make a covert appearance.

From what I can see, “missionary dating” as a marriage strategy should be a last resort…such as if there were just two humans left on earth, and the Christian didn’t care to make an exception. “Missionary dating” just can’t produce an “equally-yoked” marriage if one spouse’s faith is dependent on the other’s. What’s worse is that, by doing this “mission” work, the “minister” shows no genuine concern for the lost. Expected marital benefits, not joy of seeing someone saved, is the primary motivating factor for making the disciple.

We Christians don’t need to preach to our future spouses. We need to preach to the world. If every person engaged in “missionary dating” spent even half the effort trying to convert relatives, friends, coworkers, and others, we’d see revivals like never before. And as the number of new Christians grew, no doubt, there would be increasingly more potential spouses available anyway. Then a believer looking for one to marry could find one spiritually-independent and capable of bearing the same burden.

*In Christian circles, however, it isn’t “politically correct” to say this. So if you don’t fancy a brother or sister in Christ who approaches you, it’s recommended that you instead accuse them of being “desperate,” “forward,” or “impure.” They’ll eventually go away.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Communicating Love

When a friend of mine handed me her copy of Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages, Singles Edition and told me to take the “quiz,” I thought she was crazy. If there’s anything I detest it’s a psychological test. Yes, many were developed from anti-Christian theories and constructed to force complex humans into neat little categories. However, my strongest complaint is that, instead of using these as helpful tools for identifying personality traits and analyzing behavior, I’ve known many people who treat them as infallible tests, producing the absolute truth rather than a generalization and even having the capability of identifying “spiritual gifts.” But Chapman’s “love language” categories seemed to have a more practical function, based on empirical observation rather than constructed to fit some sort of mass program. It also helped that he doesn’t have a degree in Psychology…

At any rate, I took the quiz. My friend wasn’t surprised by the rankings:

1. Physical Touch
2. Quality Time
3. Acts of Service
4. Words of Affirmation
5. Receiving Gifts

After thinking about what I tend to expect and desire from those I interact with, I realized that the outcome appeared rather accurate. And taking the test made me think more about what others expected and desired and how they differed from me. It made me more sensitive to how my hugginess was a turn-off for many people, and motivated me to start praising and complimenting them instead. I tried to look for clues as to what people really wanted rather than what I would want in the same situation.

As for my own needs, I did expect a change as I aged and shifted my goals away from an intimate relationship and towards family relationships and friendships. Today, almost two years later, I retook the online version of the singles’ quiz, and compared with the previous one. Exactly the same ranking, although the scores are further apart now. Before #1 and #2 were fairly close and lower, and #4 and #5 had the exact same higher score. Now the distribution is spread evenly across the spectrum. Looks like I’m becoming more set in my ways as I’m getting older. I’ll have to take the test again in another two years and see what happens then.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A New Statistic

No doubt I’ll make some enemies saying this, but I think Sex and the City was a terrible and extremely depressing television show. Yet I’ll forever be grateful for its offspring, the relationship self-help book He’s Just Not That into You and its key message: “You’re not the exception.” If I’d learned that lesson fifteen years ago, I might have been spared considerable heartache and frustration. And if today’s young girls, especially African American girls, learn it now, then they might save themselves from heartache, frustration, and the trap of baby-mama-dom.

No one likes being a statistic. They’re everywhere, and you’ve probably heard them: Low marriage rates. High abuse rates. High clinical abortion rates. High unwed pregnancy rates. High rates of STD contraction. If you’re anything like me, your instinctive reaction is to think positively and reject the doomsday prophecies about your future. You believe in your heart that Mr. Imperfect will change for the better. Maybe he doesn’t like you, so you bend over backwards and do headstands to please him. Maybe he says he doesn’t want to marry you, but you know that once he sees how perfect the two of you are together, he’ll be dying to commit. Maybe he doesn’t support or spend time with any of his other kids, but your pregnancy will miraculously turn him into a responsible human being, complete with job.

Girl, it’s time for a reality check. The “it” in “It can’t happen to me” happens all the time. Pretending it won’t is the worst defense. Here’s an alternative strategy: Hold your ground. A man might try to sweet talk (or trick or pressure) you into sex, unprotected sex, an indefinitely-long non-marriage, or any number of other things that go against your morals or would jeopardize your health or goals in life. Don’t put up with it anymore. Doing so will only work against you.

Yes, it’ll be difficult, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. I can’t promise you that your post-jerk-boyfriend life will be perfect. I can’t promise you that you’ll find the man of your dreams, kind and loving, ready to make any sacrifice for your wellbeing. But you’ll be a new statistic: a woman who can walk away from a dead-end relationship before it ever starts. That’s a future worth fighting for.

This post was written for the 2010 No Wedding, No Womb! movement, created by Christelyn Karazin to promote marriage and family to young African Americans. Please stop by the NWNW website to read contributions by other bloggers.

The Greatest Generation

Back in March, I went to a screening for Legacy: Black and White in America (site) held at the Getty Center.* It was a crowded event with probably every Southern Californian member of the National Council of Negro Women in attendance. The film featured the recently-deceased Dorothy Height and a number of other famous blacks – academics, entertainers, activists – discussing the way things were during the Civil Rights Era and how far the black community today has and hasn’t come.

Those who fought segregation, discrimination, and oppression during the Civil Rights Era, in this film and in general, are sort of like icons. They were and are known for being deeply religious, family-centered, community-oriented, highly motivated, and in possession of fierce determination and a strong work ethic. Every medium available has been used to praise the accomplishments of these individuals.

Yet for all the praise, the story continues as a depressing one. The documentary presents this clearly. For all the struggles undertaken, successive generations continue to fall further behind the pre-Civil Rights ones.** While the interviewees discuss the wisdom and encouragement to succeed passed on to them from their parents, churches, and communities, they lament the unmotivated and demoralized youth of today. They contrast the “greater vision” they had for their own futures, despite the terrible conditions growing up, with more recent tendency toward peer-sabotage (i.e., criticizing those who do try to better themselves or hold to higher standards and thwarting their plans). One participant attributed it to a widespread fear to hope for something better and work towards it.

Perhaps the greatest irony of the Civil Right Era is the fact that, despite its accomplishments, the heritage has become one of failure. A lot was destroyed after the fight for freedom, although I don’t know if anyone has researched on whether it was “because of” or “in spite of.” At any rate, films like Legacy are bitter-sweet. As we continue to honor the heroes of the past, I wonder if it serves as a sort of “opium of the masses.” Talking about the glories of the 1950s to 1970s allows us to forget the present.

*What does this have to do with art? Nothing. The art panel discussion following the documentary failed to make any meaningful connection. Actually, the 100%-non-black panel failed to do anything other than bore the audience with their political rants.
**There are numerous examples backed by statistics, but here’s a personal one: In high school, my maternal grandfather earned a C grade in Trigonometry. Note, however, that that actually required him advancing far enough to take the course. Today, many students try to get by learning as little Algebra as possible.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Old Testament Grace: Daniel 1:8-14

We Christians often think of “grace” as something God gives us, but people can show grace towards each other. In fact, passages like Matthew 5:48 and 1 Corinthians 11:1 tell us to imitate Christ, and that would include showing favor to those under our care. For Hillary McFarland’s Journey to Grace project, I’m going to look at the Septuagint’s use of form charin in Daniel 1:8-14 (ESV):

But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank. Therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself. And God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs, and the chief of the eunuchs said to Daniel, “I fear my lord the king, who assigned your food and your drink; for why should he see that you were in worse condition than the youths who are of your own age? So you would endanger my head with the king.” Then Daniel said to the steward whom the chief of the eunuchs had assigned over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, “Test your servants for ten days; let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then let our appearance and the appearance of the youths who eat the king’s food be observed by you, and deal with your servants according to what you see.” So he listened to them in this matter, and tested them for ten days.

Directed by God, the chief of the eunuchs bestowed grace on Daniel. Rather than taking a “Do as your told” approach to management, he carefully explained his own responsibilities to the king and the risks he took having one of his charges underperforming. Rather than responding with anger that his orders weren’t followed, he listened to Daniel’s defense and agreed to a reasonable compromise. Tyranny isn’t God’s way for those in authority to rule (Matthew 20:24-28, Mark 10:42-45, Luke 22:24-26), and the chief of the eunuchs, an unbeliever, knew how to exercise compassion on those entrusted to him. Those of us who aim to be perfect like our Savior should do the same, giving undeserved grace to those under us because God has given grace to us (Matthew 18:15-35).

Sunday, September 12, 2010

More Burger for Your Buck

If there’s anything Christian that’s been successful mainstream and lauded by the liberal academia, it’s In-N-Out Burger. Although it’s generally analyzed from a secular economic or business perspective, it actually can serve as an important model for Christian behavior and relationships.

The fastfood industry has both perfectly competitive and monopolistically competitive characteristics. Firms rely much on advertising, unique menus, and other tactics to distinguish their products from everyone else’s so that they can exercise some control over the market. However, the restaurants are subject to severe price competition since patrons are often quite willing to substitute one burger for another.

Economics is all about self-interest, meeting the individual’s wants. Although a number of Christians have criticized this outlook applied to both business and personal life, very many, following the tradition of Gary North and other Christian Reconstructionists, see the price mechanism as God’s way for managing market activity. For them, it’s all about competition, and its natural result is producers putting downward pressure on wages to cut costs so they can offer goods and services at competitive prices. Critics of the minimum wage see its legislation as destructive to businesses’ ability to compete and the economy’s ability to operate efficiently. Despite a majority of Christians coming from the working class ranks of society, Christian economic theology has leaned away from the idea that business owners, whether entrepreneurs or large firms, owe their employees a “living wage.” The business’ success is at stake, and that’s the priority in the Christian, as well as the non-Christian, economist’s mind.

What does this have to do with In-N-Out Burger? Well, despite intense competition from other burger joints, it has managed to stand quite firmly on the principles of high quality food and a high wage. Just like the claim “not made in a sweatshop” helps the reputation of firms in the clothing industry, In-N-Out Burger attracts both workers and customers because of its “associate” salaries. Paying every employee in any state above even the City of San Francisco’s minimum wage, the stores out do the average starting wages at competitors like Burger King, Carl’s Jr., McDonald’s, and Wendy’s. Even sister-in-Christ Chick-Fil-A, specializing in chicken sandwiches instead of burgers, doesn’t come close.

Now In-N-Out hasn’t become a far-reaching empire as other chains have, but it’s profitable and well-liked wherever it does goes.* What more could a Christian want than to be successful at his job, appreciated by his customers, and known for motivating his workers to care about producing quality work? Yet, many Christians prefer the rhetoric that people are worth only the going market price and value success in the eyes of the world rather than the admiration of those that toil for them.

*And as any member of a large family of picky eaters knows, they’ll always get your order right!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Donor’s Wishes

Before ever taking on any financial role in a non-profit organization, I had two good role models that, perhaps unaware, taught me that my duties were more than just proposing a budget and signing checks. My father had been a financial officer for our local church while I was young. He worked very hard to convince the board (elders) that it was important for a small organization to prioritize use of its limited funds. Rather than spreading the money thinly across a large number of projects, they could maximize the success of these projects by concentrating on a few instead.

The other influence was an elderly lady who spent a number of years as treasurer of the local Colonial Dames XVII Century chapter. For a tiny person, she was a force of steel when it came to upholding donors’ wishes, even when they were long deceased. As I would listen to her reports, I learned how to assess projects to determine whether or not a donor’s original intent truly was being followed.

In any non-profit setting, a clash between the donors and others is inevitable. Someone will always want to use the funds, assets, or resources for some grand scheme (honorable or not) that's in conflict with both the letter and spirit of what the original owner wants or wanted. Locally, there was a potential lawsuit involving the Santa Ana Zoo not keeping their end of a land agreement. The recent non-profit corporate takeover of the Barnes Foundation and last great private art collection, was documented very well in the film The Art of the Steal (site, imdb), which I saw back in March. Even small organizations and individuals have trouble with colleges and universities following rules set down for tiny scholarships.

Why does this happen? It stems from people’s insistence that they know what’s best to do with other people’s property, and some will go through all the legal hassle necessary to get their way. This is worse than taxing people for causes which they have no desire to be part of because it’s done in the name of promoting those people’s own interests. No one cares that they’re, in fact, stealing from others. Makes me want to yell, as a protester does in Steal, “Just wait ‘till it’s your own will!”

Youth and Politics

Last week, I gave one of my classes an off-the-cuff example relating to the national minimum wage. When discussing how a lobbying group might solicit support from members of the US House of Representatives, I discovered that not one soul in the sea of 150+ students knew what congressional district they lived in or who their representative was. I guess this wouldn’t be too surprising. My classes are made up of primarily freshmen who are slowly adjusting to the adult world. Even most college students who bother registering to vote probably only do it to get the free pizza or other goodies handed out by whatever on-campus organization that's collecting registration cards.

I’m attempting to remedy this situation, not by nagging them into voting as many of my own professors did,* but by giving them an extra credit assignment (borrowed from a Political Science teacher). I asked all of my students to look up their representative, if they didn’t know who it was, and write a short paragraph about that person’s views on some macroeconomic-related issue, requiring a trip to his or her official website.

Despite the widespread disinterest in politics among young adults, the students in my class this morning seemed to be getting into it. They were volunteering zipcodes while I was showing them how to look up their congressional district, and they asked questions about the assignment after class. Of course, they just want the extra points towards their final grade, but maybe this will be the first step towards greater political literacy.

*I’m not sure why students who don’t regularly vote are told to do so when they obviously don’t care enough about what’s going on to do so without prodding.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Modesty: Femininity Deemphasized

Without even taking a poll, I’d say that Christians (especially members of the homeschooled factions) love to talk modesty (in the context of non-sexually-provocative female dress, that is). I planned to stay away from the topic precisely because I doubted that there was anything really new to the age-old discussion about what Christian women should and shouldn’t wear. However, something I read this week resurfaced some concerns that I’ve had over the years, so I decided to drop them here and see what kind of feedback I’d get.

Early on in Hillary McFarland’s new book Quivering Daughters: Hope and Healing for the Daughters of Patriarchy, she includes a journal entry from her girlhood about her father’s reaction to what she wore one day:

“So you were out running around the fair, shirt tucked in, showing your crotch and butt.” Dad kept going on about clothes, getting raped, and guys staring at one’s crotch and butt. (p. 11)

This didn’t surprise me. Hillary’s father, like other members of the modesty movement, focused on covering up the female body with loose-fitting clothing that deemphasized female anatomy. Although I don’t know the details of his views on this, the aim of most is to, at the same time, promote “feminine” dress. The result is some sort of weird Marxian dialectic where the modesty subculture ends up who knows where.

Logically, dressing “femininely” would involve emphasizing that which makes us women fundamentally different from men. The features most easily noticeable and, therefore, most often chosen throughout history have been the breast and hips (meaning thighs and buttocks). However, those are the precise areas that people prefer to cover up, hiding to the point of not even being identifiable.

Receiving the contradictory message of promoting one’s “femininity” while covering one’s female anatomy, Christian women then try a different approach: “Femininity” as a universal concept is redefined and cast in terms of highly variable and external characteristics.* Being “feminine” now means hiding one’s bust, a universal symbol of womanhood and motherhood, under high, pleated necklines, and instead outfitting oneself with flowered prints, lace, ruffles, pastel colors, soft fabrics, and ringlets and ribbons in the hair. The feminists’ division of “biological sex” and “socially-constructed gender” is then realized.

My question is this: How can a woman prize her God-given feminine identity when it’s reduced to man-made images rather than natural beauty? Perhaps the real problem is that there has been a drive towards finding practical applications while the theological and philosophical side of the discussion has been neglected.

*An obvious example is how the 1950s-1960s housewife look (e.g., June Cleaver and Laura Petrie) has become a symbol of proper dress to many. I suspect that that can be attributed to the personal taste of those who spent their young adult lives during that era (e.g., Bill Gothard).

Old Testament Grace: Genesis 18:3

This is my second contribution to Hillary McFarland’s Journey to Grace project, continuing the survey of “grace” (charis) in the (Greek) Old Testament. The Septuagint’s second instance of the form charin, translated as “favor” or “grace” in the NT, appears in Genesis 18:1-8 (ESV):

And the LORD appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day. He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing in front of him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth and said, “O Lord, if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree, while I bring a morsel of bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on— since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.” And Abraham went quickly into the tent to Sarah and said, “Quick! Three seahs of fine flour! Knead it, and make cakes.” And Abraham ran to the herd and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to a young man, who prepared it quickly. Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them. And he stood by them under the tree while they ate.

Abraham wanted to offer his hospitality to God appearing in the flesh, but he knew that he was unworthy. It was God’s grace that allowed him to serve Him. This story reminds me of the woman who washed Jesus’ feet (Luke 7:36-50). Although she was a sinner, He accepted her offering of washing, kissing, and anointing His feet because He recognized her faith. However, Jesus warned during his Sermon on the Mount that it was necessary for people to settle disputes with others before approaching God with their gifts (Matthew 5:21-26). God is gracious enough to allow us to approach Him, but requires that we do so on His own terms.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Stalin: Americans Confident, Others Not So Much

Time for another update on my WWII Political Leaders Opinion Survey. (Again, I’m providing these updates at the request of participants, but to minimize the biasness in the results since the polls are still open, I won’t be sharing data on the major questions. Please contribute if you haven’t already done so.) So far, more American respondents claim to be very familiar with Joseph Stalin than respondents from other countries. Is this due to a small sample size? Or are Americans just more confident about their knowledge of Russia’s dictators? My guess is both, but we’ll probably never know for sure unless I can get grant money for a real survey.*

Now for a brief word about history’s most famous Caucasian: Once upon a time, I took a graduate-level course in Marxian political economy. That opened my eyes firsthand to just how much Marxism resembles Christianity.

Very few self-identified Marxists ever purchase a copy of Capital (Vol. 1, 2, or 3**) let alone actually read it. Most prefer touchy-feely inspirational reading like The Communist Manifesto. Some, however, master the original languages, especially German, and spend many hours arguing over correct interpretation of the scriptures. There are “conservatives” and “liberals” when it comes to beliefs about how accurate Marx’s teaching were.

Some adherents promote orthodoxy, preferring intellectual discussion to actually doing anything, while others promote orthopraxy, creating piety movements loosely based on the theology but able to actually promote change in the real world. And yes, there’s a restoration movement advocating a return to “original” Marxism, while others follow the teachings of late-dating denominations and cult leaders. One cult leader, of course, was Stalin.

My professor, a traditionalist of sorts, would tease one of my classmates about being a “Stalinist.” A Stalinist is a Marxist who, rather than wait for eschatological promises to be fulfilled by the natural process of historical materialism, tries to bring about the kingdom on earth prematurely by his own works. Instead of achieving a communist paradise for the working man, he fights for a fiefdom controlled by the lucky guy on top (until he’s betrayed and killed). Purists don’t have much respect for Stalinists.

Although the idea of Stalinism nauseates me, I couldn’t but help but see my Stalinist classmate’s side of the debate. While the rest of the class (anthropologists, economists, and philosophers) planned on getting comfy desk jobs that would allow them to debate all day long on the intricate points of Marxism, he actually had a calling to preach the good news and initiate real change in the world. Scary, but admirable.

*I’m joking…really!
**I collected all three!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Answering the Cry for Material Help

I just read “What of ‘Social Justice’?” by Don Veinot* and felt an urge to write about Christians’ ideas about the “deserving poor.” On the side Veinot challenges are those advocating “social justice,” characterized by elaborate state-sponsored welfare programs. On the other side are those, generally politically against government welfare, who quote Leviticus 23:22, Deuteronomy 24:19-21, 2 Thessalonians 3:10, and 1 Timothy 5:3-16 to justify not liberally sharing what they have. Although politically I agree with the latter’s view on taxpayer-funded handouts, over the years I’ve become more wary about the biblical arguments used.

What’s the “deserving poor”? Are they like deserving sinners, who do all the right things so that God will so graciously bestow salvation upon them? We really need to ask ourselves why our excuse for withholding charity (a biblical obligation) is that people don’t deserve it!

It’s easy to tell people that they have to do X, Y, and Z to eat, but is that reasoning really in line with the Scriptures? Passages like Deuteronomy 24:10-15, Isaiah 58:7, Ezekiel 18, Matthew 18:21-35, Matthew 25:35-36, and James2:15-16 teach that we should be meeting others’ needs and taking pity on them. Even the main point of Leviticus 23:22 and Deuteronomy 24:19-21 is missed: It’s not about making people work for their food. It’s about giving up the benefits (our own filled bellies or profit from sales) that could be had by gathering every last bit.

We Christians are guilty of refusing to meet people's needs because it's inconvenient. We’d rather argue about whether someone deserves our help or not instead of feeding and clothing them. We’d rather drag our feet with excuses: “They’ll use it for illegal purposes!” “They’ll buy booze!” “They’re lazy!” We need ways to encourage and teach people personal responsibility. We need workable solutions that allow us to fulfill our duty but also clear our consciences of concerns about not being good stewards with what we have. But while those details are being worked out, we shouldn’t delay in getting the real job done.

*I highly recommend his book A Matter of Basic Principles: Bill Gothard and the Christian Life.

I’m Gonna Live Forever, Part 2

In an earlier post, I discussed people in their 20s and 30s today who dreamed of living to 200 years old. My arguments against the likelihood of this actually occurring were based on assumptions that life expectancy at birth is converging to 80 years old and that there is a maximum attainable age at approximately 120 years. I concluded admitting that there hasn’t been enough time to observe the aging process of those born after the great strides were made in health and sanitation. However, as I will discuss below, we can evaluate additional data on life expectancies that I believe support the convergence view.


In Figure 1 (above), we can see that most of the gains in men’s average lifespan are in the earlier years. For example, a man born in 1990 is expected to live nearly twice as long as the average man born in 1850. However, comparing two septuagenarians, the expected difference in years left dwindles down to less than four:

So, after a century and a half, all we have to show for a doubled life expectancy at birth is that the much of the advantage disappears after you’ve reached the age of 5. I don’t mean to trivialize the gains made combating infant and child mortality. However, the predictions are that old men fifty years from now aren’t expected to live any longer than old men born in the 1800s. Figure 2 (below) shows a similar pattern for women:


While a woman born in 1990 is expected to live twice as long as the average woman born in 1850, this advantage also shrinks later on in life. A thirty-nine-year difference at birth becomes a six-year difference at age 70:

Thanks to modern medicine, improved nutrition, and better sanitation, the average baby today doesn’t have to face the hostile environment that was responsible for killing millions of infants in history. He or she can expect to live decades longer than babies in the previous century. However, the elderly of the future aren’t predicted to live more than a few years longer than the average elderly person of the past. Adults who fancy themselves invincible should take note: The definition of “old” hasn’t changed. They put their trust in a scientific miracle being repeated when it never even occurred in the past.

*FIGURES 1 and 2: Data series constructed from “Table Ab656-703: Expectation of life at specified ages, by sex and race: 1850-1998,” Historical Statistics of the United States Millennial Edition Online (2006). Cohorts: Individuals grouped by birth year (14 groups). Horizontal axis: Specified age. Vertical axis: Life expectancy in years.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Primitive Economics

Some days, the most random conversation topics come up. For example, yesterday, my brother-in-law introduced to my sister and me his theory of how ancient people figured out how to cook bread. As we discussed possible scenarios, my Economics Anthropology course during my junior year of college came to mind. After watching a film about slash-and-burn horticulture one some island far away, a friend taking the class with me whispered that she couldn’t understand how primitive people would’ve ever figured out that ashes could fertilize the ground, increasing productivity.

However, it didn’t seem unrealistic to me at all. People back then were just as smart and creative as people now. They would’ve been observant, looking for cause-and-effect relationships everywhere and experimenting as much as their hand-to-mouth lifestyle allowed. Maybe it took them lifetimes to make discoveries, as did many of the scientific advancements of the 19th and 20th centuries.

There’s also a matter of priorities. Most of us don’t think about food 24-7, while their subsistence culture demanded that they concentrate primarily on making it easier to feed their families. We might focus our creative energies on producing YouTube videos and developing Facebook applications, but they were looking for more efficient ways to grow crops and hunt down game. Seen from that perspective, their accomplishments are a lot less surprising.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Double Standard

“My husband’s so stubborn, thoughtless, and cruel!”1

“You throw a ball like a girl!”2

“You don’t deserve any credit. We’re going to reward a woman instead!”3

“If you do this, you’re going to look really stupid!”4

“You can’t perform as well as that other guy!”5

“Go cut yourself!”6

Shocking isn’t it? Open attacks on a man’s manliness. It brings tears to many women’s eyes as they muster up a defense. Others are outraged. And a message is heard across the Christian blogosphere: Commence the Great Remasculinization. Feminism has destroyed manhood, and it’s up to Christian women to help men regain it by promoting femininity.*

What follows is a whole new set of problems. Women are placing the blame on women, as man has done from the beginning of time (Genesis 3:12), socially alleviating men from all responsibility for their actions and inactions. Does a man feel insecure about his manliness? It must be because women aren’t wearing dresses. Does a man feel threatened by women’s abilities? It must be because women are going to college. Men are now victims, and our maternal instinct encourages us to coddle them so that they feel better about their diminished manhood. Heaven forbid that a woman might criticize a man, let alone say anything that might be construed as an insult to his manliness.

Insulting a woman’s femininity, however, is considered fair game. Women proudly – viciously! – tell each other when they fall short. There are thousands of articles, books, interviews, and surveys (courtesy of concerned males) devoted to this cause, instructing them on godly womanly behavior and begging them to stop causing men to sin. It seems that women will do whatever it takes to put dissenters in their proper place. No words are too harsh for members of the weaker sex to dole out on each other.

But why is it that way? Attacking a women’s femininity is supposed to encourage her to become more feminine? But the same doesn’t hold for men? Instead, shielding a man’s masculinity is deemed necessary lest his delicate ego be bruised. Does God care more for the feelings of the effeminate man than those of the masculine woman?

Manliness isn’t sacred, and men certainly are in no need of protection from women. If men avoid their duty, then they’re every bit as wrong as women avoiding theirs. Women who try to shelter men from criticism are preventing much-needed improvement. That’s not to say that we should insult them. But rather than ignore faults, we are called to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15-16) and correct in “gentleness” (2 Timothy 2:23-26). Favoritism has no place among us (James 2:9). When it comes to correcting our Christian brothers and sisters, equal respect is what’s required of us.

1Paraphrase of 1 Samuel 25:3, 25.
2Paraphrase of Nahum 3:13.
3Paraphrase of Judges 4:9.
4Paraphrase of 2 Samuel 13:12-13.
5Paraphrase of 1 Samuel 18:6-8.
6Paraphrase of Galatians 5:10-12.
*Ironically, women are expected to act feminine despite a dearth of masculinity, but men aren’t expected to reclaim their manhood unless a powerful infrastructure of femininity is in place. That is worth a blog post all by itself.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

A Day at the Battlefield

Today was the first day of this year’s Civil War Days Living History and Reenactment, hosted by the Huntington Beach Historical Society. My sister and I spent the better part of this afternoon touring around Huntington Beach Central Park, watching demonstrations and chatting with other history buffs. A member of the 5th New York Volunteer Infantry pretended to be offended when I asked him about his “funny pants.”*He insisted they were a “chick magnet,” something which I wasn’t in a position to refute.

During the first battle, my sister and I were situated a little too close for our ears’ comfort to the Confederate cannon artillery, but we got to see a lot of the infantry maneuvering on both sides of the battlefield. Although, there wasn’t any indication that particular historical battle was being reenacted, it must have been First Manassas. If my memory serves me correctly, that’s the only one that included picnickers (in this case, those with soft drinks and junk food). Afterward, when the lines ceased fire and stood at attention for Taps at a spot pretty much where they began, my sister asked me who won. No one, I assumed. The early afternoon had passed with no gains (in land) and many losses (in lives). Seemed historically accurate to me.

*Apparently, the French recommended that the Americans adopt their Algerian Zouaves’ look. I wonder what their motive was.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Elizabeth Esther’s August Saturday Evening Blog Post

This evening I decided to participate in fellow Californian Elizabeth Esther’s blog list for The Saturday Evening Blog Post. Please take a moment to check out the others.

Old Testament Grace: Genesis 6:8

This is my contribution to Hillary McFarland’s Journey to Grace project. I’ll be looking verse-by-verse at “grace” in the Old Testament. Since the New Testament was written by those who were familiar with and constantly referring to the Greek Old Testament, that seemed to be the best place to begin a study about how charis was understood during the first century. The Septuagint’s first instance of the form charin, translated as “favor” or “grace” in the NT, appears at the end of in Genesis 6:5-8 (ESV):

The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the LORD said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD.

What was so special about Noah? The following verse, Genesis 6:9a (ESV) says:

Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God.

Noah’s faithfulness to God, made evident by his righteous behavior (James 2:14-26) in the midst of deprived humanity, resulted in him receiving the saving grace of God (Hebrews 11:7, 2 Peter 2:5), setting him apart from the rest who were destroyed (1 Peter 3:18-20). Although the world might tempt us to turn from God, it is our responsibility to remain faithful, continually following His Word. Learning from Noah's example, we shall not be ashamed in our confession of Christ (Mark 8:38, Luke 9:26).

A Not-So-Weird Evening

Yesterday evening, I took an opportunity to view the Bowers Museum’s Weird and Wonderful: Celebrating 75 Years of Collecting that opens this weekend. The exhibit appeared to be just a hodge-podge of artifacts from their permanent collection. This was unfortunate since some of the pieces, like an old photograph of Orange County’s only known lynching,* obviously deserve their own time on the center stage.

Quilts: Two Centuries of American Traditions and Technique was also open, so I peeked into that for a few minutes. While gazing at the familiar patterns I’ve seen before on family members’ work, I chuckled to myself remembering my feeble attempt at quilting as a child. I wasn’t the only one. As I moved around the displays I overheard a number of older women comment similarly.

After taking a break from the museum to listen to a few blues numbers by 3rd Degree, I headed over to Gemstone Carvings: The Masterworks of Harold Van Pelt. Absolutely heaven! It’s fascinating how he’ll incorporate the stones veins, which I’d always seen as flaws, into his designs. My favorite piece was a jar made from petrified wood that was absolutely gorgeous. If I had my own house and an endless decorating budget, I’d definitely hire the man.

*My interest springs from having read Ken Gonzales-Day’s Lynching in the West: 1850–1935 and seen The Ox-Bow Incident starring Henry Fonda, which touch upon an often ignored part of American history: the lynching of white and Hispanics in the “Wild West.”