Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Universal Embrace

“This is what I like about Americans,” is what I think my student said between sniffles. I had just offered her a hug after she broke down crying. She accepted and then proceeded to tell me what I’d heard a number of times before: that Vietnamese culture doesn’t allow for that sort of comforting. She appreciated my willingness to do what she said people close to her refuse to do.

For a “huggy” person like myself, it’s often hard to imagine what life is like in a society where physical contact is kept down to a minimum, even between parents and children, even when someone is experiencing emotional trauma. We’re so concerned about those living in developing nations with inadequate food supplies, poor water quality, and substandard health care. Yet there are people, not just orphans, that seem to be suffering from a prolonged oxytocin deficiency that is easily curable, relatively speaking.

I’m not saying that Asian cultures that respect the individual’s personal space have no value. (If I did, I wouldn’t have spent so many undergraduate years studying the historic Chinese American community.) However, I do question whether or not they provide a healthy environment, especially when so many women – even older ones – I’ve met have voiced dissatisfaction with it.

This is final exam week, so my student will be off to Vietnam soon to be with her family over break. Will she tell them how she feels? I don’t know. If she did, would they hug her and let her cry on their shoulder, as she seemed eager to do with me? I don’t think so. And when I remember the look of loneliness in the girl’s eyes, I worry…a lot. She’s literally starving, and like with anorexia, too many people believe it’s a good thing.

Friday, December 2, 2011


I decided to commemorate 4:59 AM on Friday, December 2, 2011 by sleeping in. It’s been a tough week dealing with cheating students. I’m not looking forward to seeing any of them on Monday.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thoughts on Numbers

“Hills of Gilead” (David Bjorgen, Wikipedia)
Most Christians don’t like the idea of a God who’s flexible, sometimes letting believers have their way. In fact, it’s a favorite pastime of church leaders to frighten people out of doing anything for fear that it might conflict with “God’s will.” (Apparently, they believe it’s super easy for people to mess up and prevent God from getting His way). Instead they assume that God sets a highly detailed, fixed, permanent seventy-year plan for the average individual, and any attempt by the said individual to make modifications constitutes damnable sin.

Reading Numbers has always been a bit of a chore, even for someone like me who worked as a demographer, analyzing census data. What stood out to me this time around was how Moses, or God for that matter, responded to the Reubenites and Gadites’ request to settle in Gilead instead of the “Promised Land” of Canaan (ch. 32). The people of these tribes cared about their economic prospects and asked that their shares of Canaan be exchanged for shares of land more suitable for livestock.

The request initially upset Moses. He was afraid that losing the fighting strength of Reuben and Gad. Weaker numbers in battle would discourage everyone, jeopardizing the other tribes’ chance to inherit Canaan. When the shepherds promised not to abandon their brothers in their conquest, Moses approved their request and even let one half-tribe of Manasseh join the Transjordan settlement.

What struck me about this passage is how Moses never lectured these tribes into accepting what they really didn’t want. If he were a typical preacher today, we might expect a sermon about how greedy people are for asking for what they want rather than being satisfied with what God has already given them. We’d also expect the before mentioned warnings about crossing God’s plans by zealously seeking anything more in life.

Although I’m not settled on the matter, I wonder why Christians are discouraged from petitioning for whatever they want in life and from actively pursuing those things. No doubt there will be disappointments and failures, and God rejecting sinful requests shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone (James 4:3). But this passage in Numbers makes for a good case study: God wants us to make requests (Matthew 21:22, 1 John 3:21-22), and He enjoys fulfilling them because He enjoys seeing us happy (Matthew 7:11, Luke 11:13).

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Shameless Search for Lesbian Martyrs of the Homeschool Movement

I was nineteen years old when I first discovered people’s eagerness to gain from others’ sexual orientation. A fellow college student, Mr. Popular concluded that I was “gay” because that was the only logical explanation his conceited self could make for my disinterest in him. Ms. Social Butterfly was the only friend – now former friend – who believed there was enough corroborating evidence for the rumor. She wanted to be compassionate by publicly accepting me. But she had an ulterior motive too: Having a lesbian friend would complete her social circle and make her appear more open-minded. A couple years later, Ms. Black Woman Power, whom I only knew by sight, persisted in believing that I was dating my sister, despite the constant refutation of other students. She was too busy celebrating black women’s independence. Facts and others’ feelings took second place to her socio-political goals.

One thing that all three of these experiences had in common: The primary instigator can be generally described as Christian. In other words, Christians were perfectly willing to use others’ real or imagined homosexuality to further their own ends. I reached this conclusion years later after seeing more of that nonsense in the “secular world” with non-Christians and genuine homosexuals. The script was very similar. Use someone else’s deviant sexuality to boost your public image.

So a few years ago, I was not surprised when a (married) survivor of the Quiverfull Movement and anti-homeschool activist began hinting that the key to resolving my singleness would be to enter a lesbian relationship. She wasn’t interested in hearing me deny being attracted to women. She didn’t care about my theological views on the topic. What she did care about was destroying conservative Christian homeschooling by having its key product (i.e., patriarchal-minded women) fail.

The conservative Christian homeschooling movement is infamous for declaring all men unmarriageable but a select few, leaving hundreds of women waiting decades for a non-existent perfect husband. A few concerned homeschool graduates had predicted that an epidemic of lesbianism would result, but to my knowledge no cases had been actually found. (Homosexual homeschool graduates tend to be from less religious or non-religious homes.) So someone decided to create one. The suggestion sickened me for a number of reasons, but primarily due to the realization that someone wanted to use my disappointments in life to further a personal cause against Christian homeschooling. I wonder how many homeschool girls are being used this way…for the good of the movement.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Is the King James Version Only Crowd Causing Others to Sin?

“Frontispiece to the King James’ Bible, 1611” (Wikipedia)
Because of my economics course assignments, I rarely get a chance to cover market structure, but when I do, one of my favorite monopoly examples to use is the British Crown’s perpetual copyright over the Authorized Version of the Bible (i.e., the King James Version). Needless to say, American rebels fighting against the Crown during the American Revolution really didn’t care about going through the appropriate legal channels for printing political tracts, let alone Bibles. Today, some effort is usually made to follow the copyright restrictions of American publishers when using and copying the text, however few people know or care about the Crown’s claim.

Unless you own a copy made by an approved printer, like Oxford or Cambridge, then you’re pretty much an accomplice in stealing. No, you’re not committing a crime here in the United States. From the perspective of our Federal government, the text has been in public domain for years. However, the interests of the owners have been pushed aside by our government. You might argue that your use of the KJV is solely for honorable purposes. You might claim “fair use,” but keep in mind that American publishers are selling the text, whether for profit or not.

You could argue that God’s Word can’t be owned. How convenient! Deny people right to their product, developed through years of people’s studying, copying, translating, and so on. This argument creates a problem for any human output. Why? Because it implies that there can’t be property rights over anything produced with God’s raw materials (i.e., any and all natural resources). Yes, many political conservatives, libertarians, and anarchists have argued against protecting intellectual property. Although I agree that the patent system has been corrupt and inefficient, I rarely give credence to claims that copyrights or patents are inherently wrong. They usually just echo the weak arguments calling for the abolition of physical property. In addition, the movement is filled with hypocrites who file or declare copyrights (even on Facebook profiles) or utilize Creative Commons, in attempt to limit other people’s infringement on “their” property. The whole situation just stinks of covetous protestors trying to get their greedy hands on other people’s stuff.

The fact remains that millions of American Christians possess illegitimate copies of the King James Bible. Worse, the “King James Only” movement encourages this. Americans are encouraged to purchase these unauthorized Authorized Bibles, due to some belief that reading any other English translation, even one based on the same Hebrew and Greek manuscripts or translated with the same ecclesiastical biases, is immoral. Adherents then patronize publishers who are essentially stealing from the British Crown. Any way you look at it, disagreements over politics and religion doesn’t make something any less of a sin. There’s to be one law for believer and unbeliever. I challenge the “King James Only” crowd and their leaders to take responsibility. They should denounce the purchase of unauthorized copies. Maybe they should consider burning them, since they probably are an abomination in the sight of God. Anything less would be collaborating with the Evil One.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Thoughts on Mark

When it comes to charity, there are generally two prevailing, conflicting thoughts on the issue: we have to obey the Scriptures by giving freely and generously, but we also must be “good stewards” of our resources, discriminating between worthy and unworthy causes. The result is bitter disputes among Christians, trying to figure out what’s required of them. Should we tithe or donate to a “Christian” organization whose leadership commits terrible offenses? Should we actively prevent others from doing so? That could make things bloody! I don’t have a good answer, but I’d like to cite a case before more Christians render their judgments.

A few months ago, I tackled the Gospel of Mark (assumed to be the Apostle Peter’s perspective) and was startled by a familiar story: “The Widow’s Offering” (12:41-44). I’ve heard about the widow who gave all she had since I was four years old. I’d read the story in and out of context a million times. Yet, something struck me as rather odd: this woman gave money to an apostate temple!

Consider the broader context: After His triumphant entry into Jerusalem, Jesus Christ cleanses the temple, calling the priests and their staff of money-changers “robbers” (11:15-19). Then He continues to tell off the religious authorities in chapters 11 and 12. Jesus even warns that they parade around for the benefits while breaking the commandments to care for widows (12:38-40). After observing the generous widow, Christ then informs His disciples that the pretty-looking Herodian temple they were gushing over would be destroyed (13:1-2).

Now consider what would’ve happened today: Christians publically denounce churches and para-church organizations for not staying true to biblical doctrine. And anyone who’d dare render a tithe, offering, or donation would be chided or even harassed for their decisions to give. But Jesus Christ didn’t even try to stop the widow from giving all she had to the Lord, even though the earthly benefactors were those he constantly denounced. Maybe the heart of the one doing the supporting really does matter more than who gets supported.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Diamond Blues

From about age 6 to 8, I had the misfortune of being forced to play softball. “Children’s Church” during evening service was made up of nearly all boys. I guess the parents of the girls I’d see Sunday morning weren’t as faithful attenders in the evening as my parents were. Most of the time, the teacher, was either unprepared to give us a lesson or just didn’t have enough backbone to say no to the preacher’s and elders’ sons. So, as long as it was light outside, we played softball.

I hated it with a passion. I was afraid of the ball. I couldn’t see it coming, so I never hit it, even when “Coach” (what we had to call the teacher) tossed it up in the air in front of me. He tried very hard to get me a hit, but it never happened. I’d drop the bat and duck, much to the disgust of my “teammates.” On my lucky days, I swung and missed. To make things worse, I literally threw like a girl, bringing down laughter and ridicule upon myself whenever I made any effort. And no one bothered to explain the rules to me, so I walked even when I struck out.

The parking lot was not the great equalizer. It merely unflavored me, the girl who’d never watched baseball, while favoring the roughhousing boys. Worse, while inside I could keep up with the older kids, singing praise songs, memorizing Bible verses, and playing games, outside I was picked on, even by boys younger than me. I was friendless and absolutely miserable.

Then one evening, we were playing softball. As usual, “Coach” was pitching. One of the older boys who I’d always admired was the catcher. One by one, different boys went up to bat. I recall someone hitting a “homerun” that required awhile for someone to retrieve the ball. It seemed like hours to me.

At some point, I was up to bat. I’d been practicing. I was determined to hit the ball. “Coach” was encouraging me. Everyone was cheering me on, even whoever was the “Manager” who got stuck picking me that day. Everyone was rooting for me! Me, the girl who couldn’t hit the ball to save her life!

The adrenalin was rushing through my body. I was going to hit it!

I stood ready to swing.

“Coach” threw the pitch.


Everything was silent. I remember looking up. I remember the catcher’s horrified face. I remember “Coach” fumbling with words.

I was in shock. HOW COULD HE HAVE HIT ME?!!! I had trusted him so much. For two years, he and all the male hoodlums had chided me for ducking. And now, I had a bruised head.

I didn’t cry. Maybe I was too afraid to.

I was walked.

If I hadn’t been a shy, obedient, intimidated girl, I would’ve screamed all evening. If I’d known what suing was, I would’ve threatened to take them all to court. Thinking back, I’m not sure if “Coach” told my parents about it. (When I’ve mentioned it, they don’t seem to even recall us playing softball, but this was a long time ago.)

I do recall one thing. I was never forced to play softball again.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Thoughts on II Samuel

The second half of the Book of Samuel is usually thought of as the story of King David’s reign over Israel. I’d never really thought about how it might provide some insight as to how Christians are supposed to behave. However, when I reread it earlier this year, something stood out to me. We’re presented with a number of stories that feature individuals giving and taking of advice: Good council. Bad council. Subjects reasoning with superiors. Women reasoning with men. The stories highlight how sympathy, inflated egos, desire for peace, desire for revenge, and imperfect and incomplete knowledge about the situations at hand can render desirable or undesirable results.

The women of II Samuel give good advice, yet in one case it’s not accepted. That’s the lot of Tamar, David’s daughter, as she tries to prevent her half-brother Amnon from raping her. Despite his love for her, Amnon ignores her warnings and suggestions (ch. 13). David didn’t love the wise woman who appealed to him, yet he listened to her even though he saw right through her story (ch. 14). The wise woman of Abel-Beth-Maacah was to be an insignificant war casualty, but despite her boldness, Joab listened to her (ch. 20). Amnon, however, makes for a strange case in that his regard for his sister in no way prevented him from violating her. And in the end, perhaps because of a guilty conscience or bruised ego caused by her rejection of him, he begins to hate her.

I can identify with Amnon in the sense that my humiliation can easily breed contempt for those who’ve witnessed it. But what’s interesting about his response is the Septuagint translators’ use what most of us consider extremes: ἀγαπάω (agapeo, “to love”) and μισέω (miseo, “to hate”). (The forms specifically used in the Greek are ἠγάπησεν, ἀγαπῶ, ἀγάπην in vv. 1, 4, and 15 and ἐμίσησεν and μῖσος in v. 15.) These are exactly the same words used to contrast God’s conduct toward Jacob and Esau, by Paul in Romans 9:13 (ἠγάπησα and ἐμίσησα in the Nestlé-Aland 26) and by Malachi in 1:2 (ἠγάπησα in the LXX). In no way do I mean to suggest that “love” and “hate” can’t each have a variety of meanings, but that that the words, as used in other Bible passages contextualize Amnon’s radical change in feelings.

For Christians, “love” and “hatred” are extremely powerful words, used throughout both the Old and New Testments. God is a great hater of our sin, but our salvation is made possible by God’s great love for us (e.g., John 3:16). It’s amazing to think that someone might love someone else so completely and yet still turn against them. We are repeatedly told not to hate but to love each other, and this becomes a lesson on changing our attitudes about those we already have ill feelings towards, such as our enemies (e.g., ἀγαπᾶτε and μισοῦσιν in Luke 6:27). However, I’m beginning to realize how important it is to protect those we love from our hatred also. That might be the point behind Colossians 3:19 & 21, which tells husbands not to be harsh with their wives and fathers not to provoke their children. A man might deeply love his family, but that love won’t necessarily stop him from hurting them physically or emotionally. Amnon, despite being one of the most unpopular Bible characters, can serve as a constant reminder that those we love are also in danger of being hated by us.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Social Security Reform…Through Student Loan Reform?

Raise your hand if you’ve ever looked at your paycheck stub and let out a groan. Social Security payroll withholdings are so depressing. We can’t spend the money on food, rent, and car payments now. We can’t borrow from this imaginary life savings account and repay it later. Worse yet, we’re coerced into contributing to the common pot with no guarantee that we’ll ever have a chance to eat from it.

The mainstream view of Social Security seems to be that it’s been a tremendous flop. Beneficiaries are living longer than they imagined as youths, collecting more than they initially contributed. The Federal government is tempted to use designated funds for other welfare projects, an action which, if committed by a non-profit organization, could result in serious legal trouble. With a track record like that, it’s no wonder that the current labor force generally distrusts the system. Americans constantly are told to take charge of their retirement savings with the expectation that Social Security won’t be around much longer.

Try as some may, no movement to eliminate or privatize Social Security has been successful. Legislators are reluctant to change, obviously because senior citizens and near-retirees make up the largest voting demographics. Stop collecting the Federal Insurance Contributions Act tax, and who’ll feed the “Baby-Boomers” who’ve contributed so faithfully to the cause? Yes, we might agree that the system is overdue on a major structural overhaul, but we need a feasible solution…that is, one that doesn’t cost anything to our elders who rule the voting booth.

As of now, what does the younger generation of workers do in face of a pending Social Security crisis? Work. Pay necessities. Repay college loans. Try and fail to save privately for retirement. And continue to pay for someone else’s retirement. No wonder most give up and party instead. No wonder few are interested in settling down and raising a family. Something must be done.

My suggestion? Allow one particular deduction from future payouts: student loans. Right now, “Gen-Xers” are too busy scrambling to pay for their post-secondary education to save for their own retirement. Eliminate that atrociously large debt burden that’s squishing a significant percentage of the young working population, but don’t change their tax contributions. Workers would be free to begin saving privately earlier. Retirees won’t feel threatened by a loss of payments.

I do recognize that the system can’t be changed overnight. This would require some serious coordination among the Department of Education, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the Social Security Administration (SSA), and possibly other government agencies. And the Federal government, like private creditors, isn’t going to jump at a chance to lose interest payments on loans. However, as a potential means for Social Security reform, I think that it might have some promise.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Thoughts on 1 Corinthians

Involuntary celibacy is on the rise. No one wants to do anything about it except advocate waiting, and waiting is a grossly inadequate policy rule. As I write this post, hundreds – thousands? millions? – of never-married believers are suffering from chronic sexual desire. Like many Keynesian-sympathizers who see deficit spending as the solution to economic woes, Christians – regardless of sex, race, and marital status – recommend patience as the only honorable choice for singles. As a short-run Band-Aid, waiting can work; but it hasn’t proven to be a viable solution in the long-run.

In my opinion, the biblical support for singles waiting is shaky. Yes, there are passages instructing us to be patient and persevere, but persecution and vengeance are generally the concern, not husband (or wife) hunting. We have the example of Hannah in 1 Samuel, but she was praying for a child, not a husband. We have Adam being put to sleep in the Garden of Eden, but his wait had an expressed divine purpose. (And if you ask a young-earth creationist, he’ll insist that Adam was asleep for, at most, a few hours.)

I’m not suggesting that patience isn’t a quality worth pursuing. It’s just being misapplied. Many Christians see waiting as part of a paradigm, sort of a worldview in which one’s marriage prospects are solely divine business while people exercise freewill in hunting for food, a job, a house, and everything else in life. Its advocates, although well-meaning, are generally naïve about temptation too. A single facing temptation to use pornography or sexual experiment is rightly told to flee (1 Corinthians 6:18; 2 Timothy 2:22; cf. Joseph and Potiphar’s wife in Genesis 39). This eliminates the immediate danger, but doesn’t solve the problem of having unmet sexual needs. Rebounds just encourage onlookers to lecture even more about fleeing and waiting.

It’s very suspicious that the Christians advising this are, more often than not, either married (i.e., have a legitimate sexual outlet) or admittedly uninterested in sex (i.e., asexual, voluntarily celibate, or in possession of a naturally low sex drive). And they generally don’t even stop lecturing a moment to put themselves in others’ shoes. Rather than give up belief that fleeing and waiting is the only solution, many even accuse struggling singles of neither trusting God nor attempting to control themselves.

The Apostle Paul was more sympathetic. He outright says that he wishes everyone – married and single – could be celibate, yet he admits that it’s a “gift” that few have (1 Corinthians 7:7; cf. Jesus discussing eunuchs in Matthew 19:12). To those who can’t control their sexual urges, he offers one and only one prescription: marry (1 Corinthians 7:2, 9, & 36). He doesn’t say to wait. In fact, he conveys a sense of urgency, something that Christians have failed to take seriously.

Uncomfortable as it might be to accept, the biblical solution for involuntary celibacy is marital sex. The flee-and-wait approach to life will never satisfy one’s God-given cravings. As Paul suggests, it just makes things worse. I know that from personal experience, as do many others. It’s not surprising that so many Christians succumb to sin when their fellow believers make light of their situation and the cure. Until the Christian community makes a conscious decision to change the way we address singles’ sexual needs, it will continue to lose the battle against pornography and fornication.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Thoughts on Proverbs

We humans, as a rule, enjoy seeing others look bad. Give us a good scandal and even just an embarrassing scenario, and we’re all set. Why else would a race spend so much time and money on the National Enquirer, American Idol, Dr. Phil, Judge Judy, and other venues for public humiliation? Why would fictitious characters, like Hercule Poirot and Perry Mason, be admired for their ability to tease out embarrassing facts about even the most immaterial witnesses? I can’t imagine many things worse than having my love life analyzed by a homicide detective or litigation attorney who’s obviously bored with his job. But one person’s living nightmare is another’s entertainment, and as long as we personally aren’t the target of gossip, we believe everything’s okay.

I wonder if commercialized humiliation desensitizes us to its severity. If we laugh at someone on television, maybe it’s easier to use each other’s deepest, darkest secrets for our own gain. Whether through a well-planned slip of the tongue or well-timed public announcement, knowledge is power, and it can help us boost a case – weak or strong – in our favor. King Solomon warns against doing this. By far, Proverbs is my least favorite book of the Bible, primarily because it’s unclear just how wise sayings are supposed to be interpreted and applied in our lives. (And it’s also partly because early on I realized that I’d be a very “quarrelsome wife”!) But I think that Proverbs 25:7b-10 (ESV) provides a practical lesson:

What your eyes have seen do not hastily bring into court,
for what will you do in the end, when your neighbor puts you to shame?
Argue your case with your neighbor himself, and do not reveal another’s secret,
lest he who hears you bring shame upon you, and your ill repute have no end.

I suppose there are a number of ways to interpret this passage, but I’d like to focus on the third line. The NIV says it even better: “do not betray another’s confidence” (v. 9). That might mean refraining from gossip or settling potentially-embarrassing suits out of court whenever possible. It also would prohibit taking cheap shots at your opponent by revealing information irrelevant to a case brought before the court. There are plenty of opportunities do damage to another’s reputation in divorce cases, paternity suits, and other legal annoyances. However, we shouldn’t take advantage of a single one. In other words, we’re not to mimic the antics found in courtroom dramas. Every precaution should be taken to avoid the needless embarrassment of others.

That’s a whole lot to swallow. To start, maybe we need to ask ourselves why someone’s secret needs to become common knowledge. If we as Christians truly cared about the other person, why expose them? Why intentionally betray their trust? “For their own good” is my paraphrase of a popular answer. The dissenting view begins with a reference to Christ’s conversation with the Samaritan woman (John 4:1-42), arguing that people need to hear the awful truth about themselves. This argument has no foundation. Jesus actually follows Solomon’s instruction by talking to the woman one-on-one about her messed up life. He didn’t wait until the well was crowded with other young women collecting water.

The same applies to the times when a prophet condemns a king in the presence of his friends and advisors, or when the apostle Paul refers to the sinful behavior of particular church members in his letters. Those people were accomplices or parties relevant to the situation. No one was hearing anything about which they didn’t already know. They were directly involved somehow, such as in asking Paul how to deal with a rebellious fellow believer.

I don’t deny that there will be times when private information is accidentally revealed. I also don’t deny that there are times when secrets must be shared in public for a problem to be resolved quickly and completely. However, I’m concerned about our own motives for cutting each other down. When winning at any cost is the goal, we justify a “take no prisoners” approach. But that’s easy. Too easy. Having real compassion, however, is a challenge, one that far too many people prefer to avoid.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

When the Price Is Too High

I teach basic economics to college freshmen. When the supply and demand model is first introduced in my lectures, invariably there’s a question about those poor souls who are unable and/or unwilling to pay the market-determined price. How can a situation that results in many people going without food, clothing, or cellphones be efficient when it’s clearly not socially optimal?

The same question might be asked about the relationship market (or the marriage market, as the case may be). Depressingly low sex ratios, high rates of male incarceration, and a number of other factors create a society in which women, regardless of race, religion, or socio-economic status, feel pressured to “put out” more than they would like to just to gain a nanosecond of masculine attention. What does it take to bring about a more preferable outcome?

There are a number of ways we can go about to lower the price. Eliminating the competition is one option. During the Middle Ages, many baby girls received a one-way ticket to a convent (to be used when they were grown, of course). Today, Christians admonish each other to give up the search and instead to “be content in the Lord.” Some feminist-leaning academics try to change consumer preferences by reciting all the reasons why men are defective goods. Yet, the end result is generally not decreased consumer demand. Demand stays put, and the only change is that would-be buyers feel guilty about going shopping.

Another option, of course, is increasing the supply. The market is opened up to foreign producers. Women start shopping for men outside their racial, religious, and socio-economic preferences. The requirements of “tall, dark, and handsome” are replaced with “breathing and not currently in prison.” Some women discover that what they thought they didn’t want is what they really wanted all along. Others “settle” with something less desirable. And others still leave empty handed, muttering about the prices. Why? For every new sub-demographic of men considered, its female counterpart is there aggressively bidding up the prices. Instead of finding yourself competing with two women for one man, you’re competing with ten women for three men and pretending that your odds have improved.

By now, dear reader, you’re protesting that I’ve reversed gender roles. However, please bear in mind that every buyer is a seller, and every seller a buyer. For the men, they are looking at high price tags too: their freedom. When an average woman starts singing “Put a Ring on It,” from the perspective of male shoppers, they’re being asked to “cough up a lot of dough” for a product that they didn’t really want. Solitary confinement starts looking really good.

So, we’re back to square one. There are too many men and women left single, unable and/or unwilling to pay the price it takes to find someone special in today’s unregulated market. What do we do about it? Appeal to the suppliers’ consciences, urging them to pass up opportunities to profit and instead provide discounts for low-income buyers? In other words, compel people to enter relationships on unfavorable terms in a spirit of sympathy and self-sacrifice. Men wouldn’t demand sexual favors. Women wouldn’t demand fidelity. We’d have an alternative universe filled with irrational people unmotivated by wants and profit. Any takers? I’m guessing not.

People desire intimate relationships. That’s the way we were made. Unfortunately, romantic attention is more often than not a scarce good. It’s like water in the Sahara. When the price is too high, we’re forced to either pay up or abandon the market for this basic necessity. Is it any wonder why some will risk “life and limb” to “spend an arm and a leg” for it?

This has sad implications for today’s young women. There’s nothing more heart-wrenching than being a perpetual wall-flower in the dance of life. Onlookers – often comfortably attached themselves – just shake their heads in disbelief, watching girls making unwise exchanges: (unprotected) sex for brief attentions. Yet, given the current state of things, this behavior is rational. They are freely paying the going rate – perhaps higher than they’d prefer – for something they desperately want. Unless and until key factors within the market fundamentally change, we can’t realistically expect the girls to change their behavior. Whether it’s Tickle-Me Elmo, Nintendo Wii, membership in an exclusive club, or a first kiss, it’s difficult to convince someone something precious to her is not worth fighting for.

No Wedding. No Womb.

This post was written for the No Wedding No Womb 2011 Campaign, organized by So Cal’s own Christelyn Russell-Karazin. The purpose of this mega-blog event is to spread awareness about out-of-wedlock births within the African American community and inspire black girls and women to initiate change. Head over to the NWNW site to catch other bloggers’ perspectives on this issue.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Sic semper amatoribus, or The Romance of the Breakup, Part 1

Caroline County, in northeastern Virginia, certainly has an exciting past. Like most of Virginia, there’s all the Colonial, Revolutionary, and Civil War history. William Clark of the Lewis and Clark Expedition was born there. General “Stonewall” Jackson died there. Richard and Mildred Loving decided to challenge its anti-miscegenation laws by living there. And, most importantly, John Wilkes Booth (or his doppelgänger) was apprehended there. I have to single out that last one because, back in mid-August, I chose my title because the stars were Virginians. It wasn’t until I read up on the local history this afternoon that I made the connection with the Garrett farm near Port Royal. Now the title seems even more appropriate.

Are lovers tyrants? Emma J. Arnall and her short-term pen pal E.L.R. Dunn were certainly playing a control game with each other. It appears that the two Chilesburg lovers disagreed on the best way to handle a secret love affair and an embarrassing scandal in a small community. They relied on secondhand information from local gossips, which tore apart what little they had in a relationship. The girl appears to have been a spoiled brat, bored with her would-be lover. The guy seems to have been the possessive and jealous type, too oblivious to realize that the reason why she ignored his requests was because she genuinely disliked being his girlfriend. But I’ll get to the letters’ content later. The big question for today is who were these people.

I hope that an Arnall family member will stumble across this and set everything straight. The sketchy records that I’ve found so far suggest the following story: Emma (b. Sept. 7, 1855) was the eldest child of Richard D. Arnall (1829-1916) and Sarah E. Arnall née Mitchell (b. 1833). Emma’s paternal grandfather, farmer Richard Arnall, was born in Hanover County in the 1790s and lived there with his growing family until after the 1830s. He might have served as a private in the Virginia Militia during the War of 1812.

Around 1853, Richard D., probably Richard’s oldest son, married Sarah Mitchell, and both sides of the family were residing in Caroline County. In 1860, Richard D. worked as a wheelwright, supporting a wife and three little girls. He must have done well enough financially. His daughters learned how to read and write, and like his parents, he could afford to own a mulatto slave girl, presumably to care for the house. It’s possible that he followed his father’s military footsteps by joining up with one of the area’s many Virginia Militia units fighting for the Confederate Army, but there’s also indication that certain names, like “Richard,” run at triple time in the extended Arnall family. By 1900, Richard D. was working as a carpenter in Henrico County, widowed and lying about his age. Living with him were his daughters Emma J. and Delia (or Delila) C., both their forties and still single. As Emma the spinster worked as a dressmaker, I wonder if she ever thought about the man she’d scared away as an inexperienced girl of seventeen.

E.L.R. Dunn, affectionately called “Dolie,” is a mystery man. The letters seem to suggest that he moved around a lot, but I have reason to believe that, like Emma, he had roots in Caroline County and spent most of his life in that area. Given that only initials were used in the letters, my investigation of Dunn’s background was extremely difficult. However, by utilizing every possible clue in the lone letter from him to his daughter, I was able to unravel a story from the censuses. (I hope members of the Dunn-Melcalf family can fill in the holes.)

In 1850, Dolie’s father Edmond J. Dunn (b. c. 1820) boarded in Hanover County with the widow Maria Anderson and her children. (Her son Robert, a farmer, is probably the “Mr. Anderson” mentioned in one of Emma’s letters.) By 1860, Edmond J. had his own farm in Caroline County, two slaves, a wife Isabella L. (or S.), and a five-year-old son. Dolie must have inherited something from his mother: self-consciousness. Between the 1860 and 1870 censuses, Isabella (b. c. 1827) only aged seven years. E.L.R., however, eventually grew accustomed to his secret name: Eldorus (or Eldoris, depending on which enumerator you choose to believe).

Dolie (b. c. 1854/1855) was 17 or 18 when he started writing to Emma in 1873. Maybe she thought he wouldn’t amount to anything as a farmer. He must have taken the break up well since, by 1880, he was married to a Mary (b. c. 1857) from New Jersey and had an eight-month-old baby girl, “Hester.” Esther would have to wait until the 1910 census for an enumerator to get her name right. In 1900, her five-year-old brother Leroy must have answered the door and informed the government man that his 18-year-old sister’s name was “Essie.” (Yes, I made that up. If that’s true, he eventually got his in return, the later censuses butchering his name into “La Roy.”)

In 1900, Dolie was a postmaster in Bowling Green, perhaps drawn to that position by Emma’s earlier complaints about the mail service. Esther was a postal clerk. It’s possible that, not too long after, she attended the historic Virginia Commonwealth University. She had been staying in Richmond in an apartment near the campus for a while when her father wrote his “Essie” in 1906. Judging from the letter’s contents, he was an attentive and generous father. It’s not likely that he lived long enough to see her married to someone named Melcalf. By 1910, he left surviving a widow, son (who was possibly drafted for World War I), and married daughter. Leroy would eventually marry a Maude S. and have three daughters of his own…keeping up the family’s presence in Caroline County, Virginia.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Thoughts on Matthew

Even though I read the Bible in a haphazard manner, skipping around and such, I’ve noticed that, of the Gospel accounts, I always end up beginning with Matthew (c. AD 40-65). This time was no different. My journal notes contain thoughts on a number of passages, but today I wanted to discuss the infamous passage on judging others:

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” – Matthew 7:1-5 (ESV)

There’s a hint at a difference in the quality of the two sins by Jesus Christ’s choice of words (e.g., “speck” and “log” in the English Standard Version; “tiny particle” and “beam of timber” in the Amplified Bible; “mote” and “beam” in the King James Version/Authorized Version). As many a children’s Sunday School teachers has pointed out, we should be aware of our hypocrisy and self-righteousness when we’re tempted to criticize other sinners while still wallowing in our own sin. However, as 7:5 says, our sin doesn’t preclude us from judging others at all, but only that God requires our own self-reflection and repentance before correcting others. In addition, I’d argue that the verse says that those who have healed from “worse” sins have a right – an obligation – to correct those with “minor” ones.

On the surface, that might not bother many people. However, in practice, things don’t always work out that way. Most Christians seem unprepared to accept godly criticism from each other. Maybe there’s one acceptation. We expect the woman who used to sleep around and had six kids out of wedlock to tell the junior highers to save sex for marriage, but that’s about it. If the same woman pulled you aside because you were being rude, prideful, or something of that kind, would you listen? Or would you be thinking, She used to be the town slut. I think most would fall in the latter category.

Ignoring the fact that we Christians are quite willing to take instruction from Christ-denying Peter and Christian-persecuting Paul, we’re quite insistent that the rest of humanity should feel their guilt and do perpetual penance for their mistakes, looking to those who haven’t committed comparable sins as spiritual superiors. However, Matthew tells us that these former sinners have something to teach current sinners, regardless of how their faults are compared. It would take a special kind of maturity to bite one’s lip, show humility, and acknowledge a judgment from another Christian. Their success in overcoming grave sins deserves our respect and a willingness to reexamine ourselves in light of their accusations.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Thoughts on Hosea

I’m baffled by those who’d turn over the award for Best Romance to Ruth or Song of Solomon. Ruth isn’t romantic at all. The men who say so are fooling only themselves. It’s all about opportunism of a divinely-sanctioned sort. And the variety of romance found in the Song of Songs isn’t anything with which anyone nowadays can – or cares to – identify. Of course, that might be the case simply because no one’s quite sure what the storyline is.

Now take Hosea:

“Therefore, behold, I will allure her,
and bring her into the wilderness,
and speak tenderly to her.
And there I will give her her vineyards
and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.
And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth,
as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt.
- Hosea 2:14-15 (ESV)


But like the best romances, this is a tragedy (only one with a promise of a happy ending). God uses the maternal affairs of His prophet to illustrate His own love for His people who have turned away from Him (i.e., “played the whore”). The pain felt along with the longing to set everything right is present in the text. There is tension between justice and mercy, punishment and reconciliation (cf. Matthew 1:18-25).

Interestingly enough, God doesn’t share His woes to solicit pity. He demands empathy. The “children of Israel” are no more faithful to each other than they are to their Lord. The daughters are prostitutes, dragging the family name through the mud, and the wives commit adultery, la traïson. God uses these examples to show how much the Israelite’s infidelity insults Him. Those who are unfaithful to God do not deserve justice when others sin against them (Hosea 4:14). Taken from a different perspective, as told in “The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant,” we owe others mercy precisely because God has shown us mercy (Matthew 18:21-35; cf. Luke 17:3-4).

That’s probably one of the most difficult lessons in the whole Bible: taking the “Golden Rule” (Matthew 7:12; Luke 3:31; etc.) and its negative form to a natural conclusion. God offers us forgiveness with the expectation – dare I say, under the condition – that we reciprocate by offering it to our fellow man. This is one of those principles that sounds great in church but doesn’t make it out the front door after the service lets out. We each have our own list of unpardonable sins. My own list concentrates on episodes involving heartbreak, public shame, childhood trauma, and devastating long-term consequences. As petty as these might seem from a larger perspective, these are serious obstacles to completely healing my relationships with others.

The question running through my mind is not “why,” since I know I must forgive others, but “how.” When we have to live with the repercussions of others’ poor judgment, it’s difficult to forgive. When others perpetually sin against us, we argue that they’re not genuinely repentant and therefore undeserving of forgiveness. Showing mercy on others becomes a daily chore of astronomical proportions. We’re obligated to do this, but how can we bear it?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Thoughts on Revelation

Last night I finished the Book of Revelation (c. AD 68-70). In my teens and early twenties, I was literally obsessed with eschatology, reading tons of material promoting and critiquing the dozens of different viewpoints Christians have on the “end times.” Sometime around age twenty-five, I lost interest, and Revelation became a really tiresome book. However, this time I did get a fresh look at it.

The one thing that really stood out to me was an apparent parallel between the apocalyptic plagues seen in John’s vision and the ten plagues of Egypt discussed in the Book of Exodus. In the past, while my attention had been directed towards arguments about the proper interpretation of the seven angels, seven trumpets, and seven bowls, I had overlooked one key phrase found amongst it all:

“…and their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city that symbolically is called Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord was crucified.” - Revelation 11:8 (ESV)

There’s a clear association made between Egypt and Jerusalem. I had to kick myself for not realizing the relationship before, but then I wondered why, out of the many preachers, authors, or speakers I’ve come across, I can’t recall one ever pointing out a connection with the Egyptian plagues. Did they not notice it either? Or was it just dismissed it as unimportant? Taking a fresh look at the text now, I wonder why that story from the Old Testament Law hasn’t played a stronger role in the development of “last days” theories.

Does everyone else see what I’m seeing? (Or am I forcing too much into the text?) Is there a way to account for the missing matches? Has someone written about this?

Egyptian Plagues
  1. Water Turned to Blood (Exodus 7:14-25)
  2. Frogs (Exodus 8:1-15)
  3. Gnats (Exodus 8:16-19)
  4. Flies (Exodus 8:20-32)
  5. Egyptian Livestock Die (Exodus 9:1-7)
  6. Boils (Exodus 9:8-12)
  7. Hail [Thunder, Lighting] (Exodus 9:13-35)
  8. Locusts (Exodus 10:1-20)
  9. Darkness (Exodus 10:21-29)
  10. Death of the Firstborn [by the “Angel of Death”] (Exodus 11; 12:1-32)

Apocalyptic Plagues

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Photos Not Re-Touched

“Is that really you?”

No, it’s a pixelated image of me.

Recently, I was thinking about how I need to do another photo shoot since the pictures I’m using are way past the one year mark. (It’s been one and a half years to be exact.) That brought to mind an exchange that took place when I had the old ones taken. I’d decided (during a brief period of insanity) to reenter the online dating arena and, having been dissatisfied with my earlier makeup-less pics taken with my point-and-click digital camera, wanted something more professional looking.

I scheduled an appointment with a local photographer (who has a great report with his clients, btw), and let his stylist do whatever with my face. Looking back, I know I should’ve spent more time prepping (primping). And something appears to have gone wrong the either the makeup or the lighting. But all in all, the results were satisfactory. I was happy with photos, and everyone I showed them too loved them.

That said, I was still advised to have them re-touched. As I sat at a computer looking at the dozen or so photographs, the retoucher guy was telling me about all the changes “we” should make. I was a bit taken back by this. It wasn’t as though the idea was new to me. I’d “photoshopped” an image or two to because of red-eye or poor lighting. But manipulating a photo to hide physical blemishes and imperfections seemed like overkill.

I’m not a professional model whose only purpose is to sell something. I’m a real person who’s keenly aware of what goes on on dating sites. Everyone has a tale about meeting someone who didn’t look like his or her picture, either because it was an old one or a fraud. Maybe I was paranoid, but it seemed dishonest to paint myself a flat tummy when I not motivated enough to make it a reality.

Twelve years ago, I sat in a class on the history of jazz music. The professor talked about the one-shot recordings. In the 1920s, bands like Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five didn’t have the luxury of cutting and pasting their six best takes, and rerecording was expensive. So the listener is treated to what amounts to a live performance, flaws and all. But we tend to love the genuineness of those early recording…sort of like the old movie swordfights: real skill, no special effects to make people look cooler than they really are.

But wait! Don’t makeup, hair dye, and undergarments of steel create an ideal that will never materialize? Can’t clothing, lighting, and well-selected camera angles hide flaws anyway? Where do we draw the line? It’s impossible to second guess anyone browsing your profile. Who knows what will offend someone.

On the other hand, do guys ever even notice?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Thoughts on Jonah

I’ve blogged about Jonah before (or more specifically, the “Jonah Syndrome”). I like the book because of how it shows God’s patience and mercy (3:10; 4:2). From earlier Old Testament history, when the Israelites are warring against the Canaanites, it might seem as though He doesn’t care about all the lives (human and animal) and property destroyed; but this book shows that God is very calculated – even economical – about His judgments. He shows pity on the repentant Assyrians of Nineveh and chooses to spare them and their livestock (4:11; cf. 3:7-9).

Another important part of Jonah’s story is that of God’s mercy on the runaway prophet. Despite being a “type of Christ” in both calming a storm while at sea (1:4-6, 15; cf. Matthew 8:23-27; Mark 4:35-41; Luke 8:22-25) and being in a fishy tomb for three days and nights (1:17; cf. Matthew 12:39; Luke 11:30), Jonah disobeyed the Lord. So, like King David, he cried out to God for help.

If I knew more about Hebrew literature and the prayer's construction, I would know whether or not to call it a “speech,” “poem,” or “song.” Regardless, I’m often surprised that no Christian musician seems to have ever bothered to set it to music. Is it because we’ve decided that David’s psalms are aesthetically superior? Or is it because putting Jonah’s words into our mouths would be a blatant admission of our own guilt? As “sinners in the hand of an angry God,” why not sing it? Doing so has already literally saved one man from “Hell” (2:1).

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Thoughts on I Peter

The first Petrine epistle (c. AD 64-65) is popular among those hailing from the Stone-Campbellite churches because of its strong message about baptism (3:21). But among the rest of Christiandom, 3:1-6 (or 3:1-7, as the case may be) gets the most airtime. The verse about Sarah calling Abraham “lord” (3:6) seems to be a particular favorite of men across all demographics. When rereading this book recently, I was reminded of a number of bitter discussions over the apostle’s commandment for wives to be subject to their husbands. However, the proper interpretation of this passage is not what I wish to draw your attention to this evening. I’m concerned about how we as believers of the Word determine context.

From 1 Peter 2:11-3:9ff, the author looks at Christian conduct and reputation and, in a Pauline fashion, admonishes his readers to watch their behavior so that they may be better witnesses to unbelievers. He gives three examples of case law, if you will: how Christians in general should treat unbelieving civil authorities (2:13-17), how Christian servants should treat unbelieving masters (2:18-25), and how Christian women should threat unbelieving husbands (3:1-6). In all three, forms of “to subject one’s self” (ὑποτάσσω) are found: Ὑποτάγητε (2:13) and ὑποτασσόμενοι (2:18, 3:1). Even in translations where different English words are used, an obvious connection is made. The author intends for his readers to defer to the earthly authorities placed over them in a like manner.

What bothers me is not so much the way “subject” is defined and defended, but the way the definitions are so consistently applied inconsistently. Many Christians are quick to argue the strictest interpretation of “subject” in the case of wives to their husbands, but then outright deny any responsibility of men to their governments. Worse yet, once confronted with the biblical text, they stubbornly refuse to provide any explanation whatsoever for why they insist that 2:13 is obsolete but 3:1 still in effect. It’s picking and choosing your Scripture at its worst.

The simplest interpretation seems to me that Peter had in mind one definition for ὑποτάσσω and purposely created the three consecutive, parallel passages to show his readers how to carry out his instructions in 2:12. That would mean that those who take a very strict view of wives’ duties to their husbands (e.g., no recourse in cases of physical abuse, adultery, nonconsensual sodomy, or abandonment) should also advocate complete submission to all taxes and laws imposed on them. On the other hand, for those who insist that they have a right to “alter or abolish” their governmental system, a more liberal stand on marriage is in order. It’s my opinion that many of the unrealistic (or outright dangerous) interpretations would disappear from the debates on wifely submission once men are required to impose the same rules on themselves.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Lament for Chivalry

Chivalry is dead, but second-wave feminism didn’t kill it. It was a casualty of rugged American individualism.* A medieval code of gallantry and honor, chivalry was a mere byproduct of a social structure founded on recognizing one’s God-given role in life and dutifully submitting to it. In contrast, our society is plagued with people who have no sense of social obligation. It’s socially correct to blame a self-absorbed, nearsighted materialistic culture committed to promiscuity and fatalistic eschatology, but I’m naming a different cause: the democratization of our traditionally hierarchical economic, political, and religious systems, a.k.a. free-market “capitalism,” liberal philosophy, and evangelical spiritualism.

With a growing public concern for the individual’s rights, privileges, and wants came a new attitude about living. No one thinks in terms of what preserves society. We’re committed to a neo-Smithian doctrine that says what’s desired by the individual is best for society…theoretically, of course, since in practice we really don’t care what happens to everyone else. How amazing it is that we are starving from lack of altruism in a country known for its astronomically high levels of charitable giving.

Over the last half-century, Miss Manners and others have written books on what we might call “common-sense” or “Golden Rule” manners because society degraded further than even Paul Fussell would have thought possible. Today, middle class Christiandom obsesses with the finer points of European court etiquette while neglecting the weightier matters of the law such as Thou shalt not use argumentum ad hominem against thy neighbor on an online forum. Worse still, our religious leaders, whom we seek to emulate, devote their careers to poking fun at others in a condescending pharisaical manner.** Like the nineteenth century snobs who refused to help “undeserving” single mothers, we use others’ weaknesses as an excuse to mistreat them and exclude them from receiving a welcoming Gospel message. We do this because it makes us feel better about our own failures, and we do this because we have no sense of duty to our fellow man.

Case in point: The lesson of comparing Jane Austin’s Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice with Mr. Knightly from Emma is completely lost on our young men. Helping someone in need (e.g., asking a wallflower to dance) plays second to the pursuit of one’s selfish ambitions (e.g., dancing only with attractive ladies) despite the promise of winning the approval of God (for putting others’ first) and the respect of onlookers (including any pretty ones). The strangest thing is not that this sort of behavior is a regular occurrence but that it’s committed by those who honestly believe themselves to be well-bred, gentlemanly, chivalrous. With white knights like those, who needs dragons?

Since chivalry was first pronounced dead, many have asked how to go about reviving it. No chance of that happening by women acting vulnerable and helpless. This oft-promoted “solution” hasn’t worked. Feminist independence was a reaction to masculine individualism (e.g., the right to drink, gamble, beat and starve one’s family, and not come home at night). Essentially reinstating gender relations of a bygone era doesn’t bring back chivalry. This just sets us back to a point when women accepted the fact it was on life support. The only difference is that today women become more angry faster when no one comes to rescue them. It only takes one dreadful experience to learn that we can’t depend on strangers. Until people learn how to reach out and meet others’ needs first, we can’t teach others to rely on them.

* In case I haven’t made myself clear: Yes, I’m blaming a modern masculinity. Or better put, I’m admonishing the sons of Adam for following his lead.
** Let the record show that I called Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church a “Pharisee.”

Friday, July 8, 2011

On Black Families, Bachmann, and Blackman et al.

So today the big news was that Tea Party leader and candidate for the Republican presidential primary Michele Bachmann signed The Family Leader’s pledge, “The Marriage Vow: A Declaration of Dependence Upon Marriage and Family.” And what I found was a citation fumble so ridiculous that it makes me wish school was still in session so I could show my students…Well, almost wish.

Anyway, the part that triggered the most online controversy was this:

Slavery had a disastrous impact on African-American families, yet sadly a child born into slavery in 1860 was more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent household than was an African-American baby born after the election of the USA’s first African-American President.3

Notice the footnote number? Well, not too unsurprisingly, the study put out by the Institute for American Values“The Consequences of Marriage for African Americans: A Comprehensive Literature Review” by Lorraine Blackman, Obie Clayton, Norval Glenn, Linda Malone-Colon, and Alex Roberts – doesn’t support the claim in the pledge. (Really, please show me where it does!)

The study is pretty straightforward and reiterates much of what the public has already heard: Marriage benefits blacks differently than whites. Marriage benefits black men differently than black women. Marriage is important for black kids. Nothing new. It also mentions typical arguments for why black families have failed today, most notably “father absenteeism,” the redefining of male-female relationships, and other structural problems related to a history of slavery, discrimination, and poverty. In other words, slavery is cited as a possible cause for our baby-daddy problems today, not as “the good ol’ days” as some might interpret from the statement in the pledge.

Getting back to the pledge, there’s no support in the study (or anywhere else I’ve looked) for the claim that two-parent households were more common in 1860. It’s true that two-parent and intact families were more common right after emancipation. (The study cites data findings from 1880, 1890, 1900, and 1910 as examples.) Elsewhere, scholars have attributed this to blacks’ desire to reunite with loved ones, enter mutually-consensual relationships, and improve the race by following the nuclear family pattern. But, again, no praise for African American families under the slave system.

The lesson to be learned here? Simple: Don’t misrepresent other people’s research, especially when it’s so politically charged.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Putting the Elephant on TV

This morning something occurred to me…sort of the type of thing that knocks you right off your feet. It’s difficult to explain its significance without providing context. Yesterday, I finished rereading Dirty Girls Come Clean, a book written to help women cope with their pornography addictions. Although I think the author, Crystal Renaud of Dirty Girls Ministries, is weak on a number of key points, I admire her courage and insistence on waking up the Christian community to an ever-mounting problem.

Crystal spends a lot of space discussing confession and being honest about your failures as a major step towards healing. This will probably always be something that Christian leaders promote but people find difficult to do. From my own experience, I can say that admitting sin and asking others for forgiveness is probably the most scary thing ever…Okay, second to actual brushes with death.

Anyway, that idea was probably floating around in my head when I was reviewing some documentaries, hoping to incorporate them into my history class. When lecturing on World War II, I usually don’t discuss pro-Nazi sentiment in America – since someone will invariably mention it in the class discussion anyway – but I was in the mood for a change. The Historical Society of the Crescenta Valley has a nice little documentary that includes a short segment on pro-Nazi activities in the area north of Los Angeles. This would be my opportunity to use it.

However, the German American Bund is best known for its Madison Square Garden rally in 1939, an event mentioned in passing in other documentaries. In addition, it was an organization that had been bred and spent its best years in New York, so I turned to Ric Burns’ monolithic New York: A Documentary Film (site), wondering why I didn’t remember anything about the World War II episode. I soon discovered why: There is no World War II episode.

Since my parents had once been involved in the John Birch Society, conspiracy theories must be in my genes. I immediately suspected a PBS cover-up. How can a seventeen and a half-hour documentary that delves head first into a not-so-clean past fail to mention such a famous event? It’s not like this is the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened in Manhattan. The eight episode series covers the Dutch slave trade, the Civil War draft riots, and enough political corruption to make a Latin American dictator uneasy. These events I’d consider more problematic precisely because of the large percentage of people who believed them to be acceptable. Having garnered limited interest among German Americans and failed to receive Nazi Party recognition, the German American Bund seems to be causing more controversy than would be expected from any other short-lived fringe political movement.

This brings me to my main point: Are the filmmakers behind Rancho La Cañada, Then & Now: The History of the Crescenta-Cañada Valley (site) courageous for being honest about the community’s history? Or are Ric Burns and everyone else involved in the PBS New York documentary cowards for sweeping something out of the textbooks and under the rug? After all, the majority of those likely to see Cañada were probably elderly people who might wish to forget the rallies. It’s not as if many people know about, or care, what went on at Hindenburg Park, sad as it may be. Everyone has heard about New York though, and there were some top historians interviewed in the latter.

Now, suppose there’s a really, really good reason for playing dumb about the Madison Square Garden episode. That still doesn’t explain why World War II is for all practical purposes skipped. I’m sure they could’ve edited out a few minutes about building bridges and skyscrapers to talk about the wartime industrial boom or Italian Americans facing discrimination or one of a billion other things. The fact remains that someone purposely erased an important chapter of New York history.