Nostalgic Christianity and the Ambiguity of History

nostalgiaOver the years I have been fascinated by those Christians who regularly point back longingly to a time in history that they identify as ideal or idyllic— especially from a Christian perspective. Some look back to the 1950s. Some look back to the early years of their own faith tradition (whatever period that may be) with the pillars of their faith. Some American Christians point back to the “founding fathers of the US, or to the time of the Puritans. Many go back to the first century church.

I have always wondered why. Even a casual student of pretty much any period of history would find a lot that Christians would (or should) feel ambivalent or even uncomfortable about. One of the challenges I have in teaching missions is that in so many periods in missions history, it is hard to find things that are commendable. But they are there. There is beauty in times of ugliness, and ugliness in times of beauty.

But I do wonder what makes people want to view the past in an idealized manner? Consider this verse,

Do not say, “Why were the old days better than these?” For it is not wise to ask such questions.   Ecclesiastes 7:10

One would think that Christians would avoid expressing nostalgia if for no other reason than to avoid being declared unwise. But the fact that nostalgia was an issues over 2000 years ago suggests that it is an issue of humanity, not simply of our times.

A present belief is that nostalgia becomes more pervasive in times of uncertainty and anxiety. In these times, the world seems dangerous or at least uncomfortable. A response to that is to embrace a form of exoticism (temporal exoticism, if you will). Exoticism is the belief that some other culture or place is kind of awesome, while our own place or culture stinks. Exoticism is built off of ignorance. Distance obscures unpleasant details. While it has been said, “Once they’ve seen Paris, it is hard to get them back on the farm,” it is probably more true that “Once they have embraced an idealized vision of Paris, it is hard to keep them from leaving the farm.”  For “Temporal Exoticism” the far off place is far off because of time, not space.

For Christians, what are some things that can lead to nostalgia? A few thoughts.

  1.  A feeling of lack of control or power.  When we have power, or the perception of power or control, we tend to be less anxious.  This may not be a universal thing. The feudal system placed people in a position of no political or economic power, yet anxiety most likely came from uncertainties about illness and weather, not the fact that their daily existence was in the hands of the lord of the land. But in the present era in the West, where autonomy is given great priority, lack of control can be highly stressful. (It is strange that Christians feel this sort of lack so acutely when Christianity was built on the presumption of having little to no political or economic power.) People who feel this as a stressor look back to a time that is more triumphalistic or where their own worldview was seen as universally appreciated.
  2. Pluralistic communities. For many people it is stressful to be around people of other cultures or faiths. Living in a culture that is almost entirely unlike the culture I was raised in, I struggle to understand this. However, I met people from my home culture who now live in the culture I presently dwell in who seem to live in a state of continuous trauma. They look fondly back to the time before easy transportation when monocultures were prevalent. It seemed safer back then. But was it?
  3. Progressives. The term “progressive” is so loosely used for so many situations that it is pretty close to meaningless. But I suppose that gives me the right to appropriate the term. In this case, I am using it to refer to those who tend to judge the past based on present ethical perspectives. As such, they often disrespect the same periods of time that are embraced by the nostalgic Christians. Nostalgia may be a way to reduce stress by creating a somewhat false narrative, but when others try to crush that vision, the result is an increase in stress. This increase in stress can lead some to “double-down” on the fantasy.

The reality, however, is that history is messy. Consider, for example, a church of which I have a connection. It is a fairly old church and when one looks at the earliest church rolls, one finds that there were slaves who were members of the church. One can look at that with horror— Christians who went to church and yet “owned” other human beings. Such horror is quite understanable. Of course, if someone else looked at the same situation, they may say, “Isn’t it wonderful that these Christian slaveowners  cared about their slaves enough to be concerned about their immortal souls! Oh yeah, and isn’t it nice that these slaveowners recognize that their slaves have immortal souls!” I think you may see how the ambiguity of the situation can be difficult for people to wrestle with so they embrace a one-sided perspective. Shortly after the American Civil War, the slaves associated with that church were emancipated. They formed their own separate church… which still exists to this day. Should one feel good that former slaves now have self-determination in terms of religion, or should one feel bad that a church could only be racially integrated when there was legally mandated “caste” system in place?

I hope I don’t have to point out the ambiguities of the 1950s in America or of colonial expansion of Christian nations. Some unambiguously bad things like the Crusades also become a bit more murky when one realizes that it was an evil response to past evils of others. Pretty poor excuse, but an excuse nonetheless.

I think we grow as people when we address the ambiguities. It is okay to look at King David in the Bible as a great hero of the faith, but it is also okay to look at him as a self-righteous self-serving monster. But maybe better than either of these is that King David was a man who (truthfully) did many many bad things, (it is kind of awesome that the Bible portrays a man of faith who was an adulterer, a horrible father, a mercenary, and a racketeer) and yet when challenged in his failings was able to humble himself and seek forgiveness. Not many kings outside of fairy tales do that. The ambiguous human is best I think. Heroes and monsters are caricatures. We learn better from humans than we do from caricatures.

Nostalgia is sometimes identified in two forms:  restorative and reflective. In restorative nostalgia, there is the desire to return to a time—- a time that did not truly exist. Reflective nostalgia may be more benign… perhaps even beneficial. To have a time that one can reflectively look back with pleasure does not necessarily have to be done “with rose-colored glasses.” For example, one may look back fondly on one’s time in high school… while still being well aware that there were aspects of high school (puberty, bullying, social awkwardness, and fears regarding the future) that one remembers vividly.

Perhaps, if one seeks to find value in nostalgia, it can be done reflectively… enjoying some aspects on the longing, while still embracing realistically that one can never truly go back (and that returning to the past would, in fact, be a very bad thing).

My Electronic Doodlepad

I haven’t posted recently. Mostly this is because I have been desperate to finish the book my wife and I are writing on Pastoral Counseling (“Dynamics in Pastoral Care”). Additionally, I have been supervising several students in their thesis work. I also have been on the board reviewing theses and prospectuses (“prospecti”?) of numerous students at our seminary. Further, I am now serving as interim pastor at a churchplant here in Baguio City. That means I have to do less of some things.  Right now it has been in doing my posts here.

During one of the theses reviews, an issue was brought up. One of the students had used some blogposts in his thesis as references. It was noted by the board that this is inappropriate. There were two reasons for this given. First, blogposts are commonly just the opinions of the individual writers. Second, blogposts are not peer reviewed.

I think the first point is quite valid. Blogposts are commonly just opinion posts. I have noted to some friends on more than one occasion that I have mixed feelings that people read my posts. On one hand, my posts are sort of like my personal diary of ministerial thoughts— my electronic doodlepad. Often what I write down on one day as pure gold becomes lead (or worse) when I look at it a few days, or a few months, later. On the other hand, the very fact that people may read it does motivate me to write… and write more thoughtfully. If I had a private notebook just for me, I would probably never write anything down… ever. Putting my thoughts and my opinions online give me a way of clarifying my thoughts. But I don’t think I should be quoted beyond something to the effect of “Bob Munson (for whatever it is worth) agrees with me based on his blogpost on _________.” Not a very compelling point, I think.

So since blogposts are commonly just opinion papers (at best) and bigoted rants at worst, they shouldn’t be used as formal references. On the other hand, I am not so sure about the peer-review issue. If peer-review was able to weed out nonsense and identify the beautiful truth,  I would agree. However, I haven’t really seen that peer review does that. It can catch some misinformation, but probably the most important thing of peer review is identifying flaws in logic. Unfortunately, peer review can promote its own fallacies since peers often disagree as to what is compelling. One finds peers who will try to force grounded theory research to work deductively. Others will act like quantitative analysis is more precise than qualittative analysis even though both go through and equally imprecise process of interpretation of results.  (Having experienced the process of so-called validation of instruments for quantitative studes, and seen how the resulting statistics are skewed, I mean interpreted,  into nonsensical findings, I wonder how anyone call say that quantitative is better than qualitative in anything that relates to theology or ministry). Some people will reject research utilizing sources over 10 years old (in some fields this may make sense but in others, such as pastoral care, it is hard to find anything LESS than 20 years old of much value).  Some will question the research not because of problems in the methodology, but because the results of the research were unpalatable. At the other extreme I have seen wildly questionable interpretations of results make it through peer review completely unscathed because the interpretation was consistent with group-truth.

Does that mean I am against peer review? No.  It certainly can have value. However, I would argue things from a different position.

Consider a research paper like a court case. The researcher has a limited number of pages to demonstrate that the findings and interpretation of the paper is compelling (“illiative sense”). As such, one must choose the best supporting information. Blogposts should be well down the list, along with celebrity quotes. However, it is hard to imagine an source that is unimpeachable.

For me, at least, I find value in continuity. If history supports a present trend, that adds credence to the results. If history shows a trend that moves us towards where we think the truth now is, that is strong. Focusing only on the contemporary seems logically flawed. But so is using one’s electronic doodlepad.

<I this post seems a bit disjointed, I apologize. But I decided to practice what I preach. I am writing down my thoughts here before they are fully clarified. One day I may have it all figured out and will edit it. If this paragraph is still here, you can rest assured I haven’t updated yet.>

Scratching Where it NEVER Itches

My daughter is a nursing student at a hospital here in the Philippines. She was looking through some of the reading materials that were left lying around. One caught her attention enough to take a picture of every page. It was a “gospel tract.” Fairly long one. I will put a few quotes here.

In response to the possible objection that spending an eternity in hell is unreasonable (or I would probably reword it as unjust), the writer states:

“It is obvious to everyone but ourselves that eternity in hell is the correct sentence for lawbreakers. A preacher once said, ‘The moment when you take your first step through the gates of hell, the only thing you will hear is all of creation standing to its feet and applauding and praising God because God has rid the earth of you. That’s how not good you are.’

… Not only does God see sin as exceedingly sinful, He is the One against whom each and every offense is primarily committed. If anyone should be angry about sin, it is God Himself. And He is. And that anger will last for an eternity.”

In a different section titled The Inevitable Verdict, the writer says,

“If God finds you guilty, and He will, you will be instantly whisked off to God’s eternal prison, hell. This is your final resting place, but there will be no rest. God’s righteous, holy, indignant wrath will rest on you for all of eternity.

Your first day of activities involves weeping, gnashing your teeth, and torment. Your ten-thousandth day is no different from your first; your suffering will never decrease in intensity. You would give anything for a drop of water or a ray of sunshine, but it never comes. Ever.

You will find no comfort in being surrounded with friends. Hell will not be an eternal party; it will be eternal punishment. And the One inflicting the punishment will be the One against whom you have committed all of your crimes: God Himself.

God, the just judge of the entire world, is going to judge you, and He is willing and able to pour out His anger and wrath on you forever and ever and ever. His holiness, righteousness, and love demand it.

You will receive only ongoing, unrelenting, and intense misery— eternal, conscious torment with no reprieve. You will forever receive the just reward for the unrighteous life you have willingly and knowingly lived.

Is there any hope for sinners like you and me? Is there any way we can escape the horrors of hell?”

I think that is enough. Here are some random thoughts to the presentation. Some are theological, while others are practical. However, my biggest complaint is the first one.

  1.  It scratches where it doesn’t itch. A survey a few years ago found that only about 3% of Americans are afraid of hell. I suspect the writer knows this because he spends 20 pages trying to convince readers that one SHOULD be afraid of hell. He seems more interested in convincing people that Hell is horrible, than that God is loving. But why do that at all? If a person’s itch is on their arm why scratch their shoulder? If a smoker is worried about money, why focus on cosmetic blemishes caused by smoking? Why not focus on how expensive smoking is short-term as well as long-term? Why not scratch where it itches? Salvation brings blessings, meaning and purpose, a place in God’s family, ability to endure struggles, give victory, and more. Why focus on the most negative (and least valued) motivations in this century to reach people?
  2. It focuses on the least interesting (or at least most ambiguous) metaphor. There are many metaphors used in the Bible for salvation. There is the shepherd seeking a person as a lost sheep. There is the adult choosing to adopt an orphan. There is the father seeking a wayward son. There is a person who liberates another from bondage. There is God as a sheltering refuge. There is God as a vinedresser grafting in new branches to an old vine. Instead the writer uses, and reifies, the metaphor of the courtroom. There is value in this metaphor— that is why Paul uses it. But it also places God in the most ambiguous position. God is the judge seeking to pass sentence… while Jesus, as God’s Son, is seen as the one acting as a mediator and payer of debt. This seems to place God the Father as wrathful while God the Son as loving.  It looks like God is schizophrenic (Mark 10:45 has a metaphor with a similar problem). Of course, this problem comes when one takes a metaphor and stretches it too far. God the Father is FAR MORE than a just God seeking to express his “just” anger against EVERY SINGLE PERSON WHO EVER LIVED, into hell for ever and ever and ever, The Father is, after all, the one who sent the Son to rescue mankind as an act of unjustified mercy. This brings the next point.
  3. The writer spends too much time defending God. Over and over again the writer says that God is just. But why would he being doing this? I think it is because he really wants us to condemn ourselves. If we can buy into the idea that God is just, and that we have violated God’s law, then we can embrace the idea that hell is where we belong. But does God really need defending? And more to the point, are we really supposed to be intellectually comfortable with the idea that our Creator truly hates us and wants us to exist forever in torment? I feel that one reason the writer spends so much time defending God is that there is a bit of an unraveling in the logic because of the next point.
  4. God is not all that just. Now before you get all bothered by this point, hear me out. The Old Testament describes two coexising qualities of God throughout… God’s justice and God’s mercy. Mercy, is, in part at least, the quality of suspending justice due to compassion. Thus, God is just… but His justice is limited by His compassion. In the New Testament, John notes that the quality that best defines God is Love, not Justice. I don’t think that it is correct to say that God is fully loving and fully just. There is an imbalance, and that imbalance is in our favor.
  5. God, as described in the gospel tract, is not all that just even in human terms, not just Biblical terms. The writer suggests that God is just for punishing even though we have no option but be guilty, that we have no formal knowledge of standards we must live by, and that everlasting torture is appropriate. This is expressed even though by every standard of justice that we have… including in the Bible (“eye for an eye” is meant to show that punishment must not exceed the act) … would make the activity seem unjust. The most comon emotion recorded of Jesus, the most complete revelation of God, is His compassion and showed great ability to spend time with, and even enjoy the company of, sinners. Also, Paul, who popularized the metaphor of salvation in terms of the courtroom, told unbelievers (in the book of Acts) that God has chosen to overlook their sins because they did not know better. It is hardly surprising that the metaphor of the courtroom is passed over to other metaphors as the role of grace is emphasized in Paul’s writings. (I am not trying to minimize the issue of sin, but to note that the Bible expresses it in a more nuanced way than is commonly expressed in morality plays.)
  6. Some of the hermeneutics in the tract is pretty awful. The writer says that if one is angry than one is guilty of murder, violating one of God’s 10 commandments. Likewise if one has sexual fantasies than one is violating the commandment about adultery. If that was so, than certainly anyone must jump in and say that God is truly unjust since these actions do not violate the letter of the law. A just judge must follow the law. Of course, the writer is drawing from the sermon on the mount, but Jesus did NOT say that anger is the same as murder, or that fantasies are the same as adultery. They are different things. That interpretation violates any sound interpretation of the respective passages. (And it is so unnecessary. The Bible says these things are sinful. That is really enough.) Additionally, the Bible does not actually say that Hell is a place of Eternal Conscious Torment (ECT). Now I know this is a hot button topic for some. I will simply say that I don’t know what hell is like… but just note that describing it in Revivalistic terms rather than what the Bible actually says tends to undermine the strength of the argument. Clearly it is a bad place, but going beyond what the Bible says should make one question the writer. Bad hermeneutics tends to lead to distrust in the reader.
  7. The tract is WAY too long. It takes 20 pages just to place the reader in hell. It takes reading that God is unjust and angry for 20 pages before one finally gets to the area where God is presented as (unjustly) being merciful through Christ.
  8. The expressed goal of the writer is to scare the reader. Is that really a good path to loving God?  Maybe, but I doubt it.

To note, I am an Evangelical (although its ties to politics and to nationalism in many circles has made me want to distance myself from the term of late). As such, I generally agree with the basic massage. We need to seek God’s love and mercy to be saved by Him. And this comes through Christ. But as Jackson Wu humorously demonstrated in his book “One Gospel for All Nations,” one can take a lot of true, or at least theologically justifiable, statements and create a hideous monster of a gospel presentation. While there are some weak or doubtful statements in the presentation, the biggest problem is that it creates a hugely unappealing presentation of the gospel. True is never good enough. One must scratch where it itches.

Maslow and Culture, Part 2

Continued from Part 1

I guess I would argue that Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, if it is used in terms of Positive Psychology, is culturally inadequate. Taking into account culture and individuality could lead one to showing the hierarchy of needs as an upside-down pyramid.

Maslow 3

As humans, our physiological needs are quite similar. There is relatively little variation due to individuality or culture. However, when we move to Safety and Security, we start to have a broader range of attitudes and responses as to what meets this need. This is even more true when we get to Love and Belongingness. Culture defines social belongingness. What meets this need is far from universal.

Continuing on to Esteem, it was already pretty broad as described by Maslow with social and individual components. Some derive esteem more from belongingness, others from public recognition, and yet others from internal resources or from God.

This then leads to the broadest of all— actualization. It could be described as self-actualization, but studies have shown that most people feel that they are self-actualized if they are recognized as great or important by the general public. One might simply tell these people that they don’t understand what “self-actualized” really is. However, in the previous post, I related the story of a person who felt actualized by achieving his role as a positive member of a supportive family. It is hard to see how such actualization is less meaningful than achieving one’s own internal potential.

Perhaps it is better to recognize the spectrum. All of them involve a certain amount of “finding one’s calling” or seeing that one has accomplished or is accomplishing the purpose for which one was placed on the earth. The difference is that individual personalities and different cultures may disagree in terms of how this is evaluated. Some may see it as involving:

  • Interconnectedness with family and loved ones
  • Faithful service to God
  • Accolades of the public
  • Personal recognition of living out one’s personal talents and giftings.

The Eastern mindset may focus more on the first one, while the Western mindset may focus more on the last one. As Christians we may focus on the second one. However, these are often more theoretical than actual. The most common one worldwide tends to be the third one— accolades of the public. That is quite likely the worst of the possible choices. To give over one’s evaluation of self-worth and achievement of purpose to a bunch of fickle strangers is truly self-destructive.

Overall, however, I think it is worth noting that the church may fit better into the Eastern worldview in terms of social actualization, mixed with the second one. While a lot has been written about how Christians can achieve their God-given dreams, actualizing their calling and gifting, much of the Biblical understanding of the church is in terms of social actualization. It is not about you or me or about your dreams or my dreams, but our place as members of one body, carrying out our social roles within a community structured more on love and belongingness than on merit and success. And yes, it is also about God.  This does not discount the other side, but I would suggest that far too many churches are filled with far too many disconnected and lonely people (“… where do they all come from.”). Perhaps it is time to consider a different model for church life and individual growth.

Maslow and Culture, Part 1

Consider for the moment Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Image result for maslow's hierarchy

As the theory goes, one cannot go to the next level of need until the lower ones are satisfied. This is not so much a proven truth, but a useful way of looking at things. However, typically, this hierarchy of needs is also used by many as a guide for healthy thought and living.

But is it?

Consider a different way of showing this pyramid.

Maslow

In this case, moving “up” the pyramid is moving to the right on the graph. The blue line shows whether the focus is on a person as a social being or as an individuated being. For PHYSIOLOGICAL NEEDS, one is focusing on what keeps body and soul together… so clearly the focus is on the individual (food, water, shelter, air, etc.). As one moves towards SAFETY AND SECURITY, one is now moving towards the more emotional and social aspects of a person. Few if any really feel safe or secure alone or socially disconnected. As such, there is a greater recognition of the person as a social being.

As one moves to the next level, LOVE AND BELONGINGNESS, there is the greatest recognition of a person as a social being. We were meant to be part of WE, not an aggregate of I’s. We are meant to be with others and part of others.

As one moves to the next higher level, SELF-ESTEEM, the social aspect of a person is focused on less. Abraham Maslow saw self-esteem as having an internal component and an external component. The external component is status and respect given to a person from one’s social web of connections. The internal component is the feeling of self-worth one gets through internal personal evaluation and validation.

<Note:  Some don’t agree with this. They suggest that one should not allow external influences have an impact on one’s self-esteem. However, since perhaps the only ones who can truly live through internal validation alone are the truly shameless, or perhaps the sociopathic, I am not so sure that this school of thought is worthy of embracing (at least at its extremes).>

The top level is SELF-ACTUALIZATION. This is “the full realization of one’s creative, intellectual, or social potential.” While Maslow did point out some famous people he considered to be self-actualized, he noted that fame had nothing to do with their status… it was about reaching their own individual potential, regardless of outside identification. As such, we have swung back fully to the individuated self and away from the social being.

But is this true?

Consider a story from the TV Show “House”  (Season 3, Episode 13).

In this episode, Dr. Foreman was working to diagnose and treat a 16 year old male of Romani (“gypsy”) heritage. He is found to be quite knowledgeable and intelligent and is seen by Dr. Foreman as having great potential in medicine if he would get further education and move into medical work. However, the young man has no interest in that. He is tightly connected to his family and Romani clan. As such, they have a strong influence on what he does. He doesn’t want to go against them or separate from them. The story ends somewhat unresolved. Dr. Foreman is saddened that the teenager rejects the possibility of living up to his potential in terms of a medical career. He also, however, seems a bit saddened to realize that in his quest to advance his career, he has given up a lot… in fact leaving behind family, and lacking, in many ways any deep relationships. Who has chosen the better path?

If one looks at the Hierarchy of Needs:

Both are okay in terms of physiological needs and safety and security (at least after the Romani teen was healed of his illness).

Both also seem to have decent self-esteem. Dr. Foreman is recognized as a very competent physician. If he lacks self-esteem, he hides it well enough. The Romani teen also seems to have good self-esteem. He appears to be very affirmed by a loving family, and seems to like the trajectory his life is on.

There are, however, differences. Dr. Foreman has a social deficient life… living alone, invested in his job over all other aspects of his life, and rather disconnected from his family. Still, he might be seen by Maslow as self-actualized since he appears to be living out his calling and potential as a physician.  For the Romani teen, he seems to be well positioned in a loving and supportive family so he has no problems in terms of love and belongingness. However, he would never be seen as self-actualized since his potential in terms of medical science will never be achieved if he stays on the path he is on.

Now consider this story as a parable in terms of East versus West of what is ideal. Dr. Foreman expresses the ideal of Western culture. He is highly individuated (as the term is used by Murray Bowen) from his birth family. He has found what is he is good at and gained expertise in it, and has achieved external fame, and appears to be  living up to his potential. He is living the ideal of Western culture. The teenager is of Romani heritage, which has many aspects of Eastern culture. In it, family and community have greater import. He is far less individuated. However, it is within that supportive structure that he finds his place and his meaning. As such he has great self-esteem that comes from affirmation of loved ones, and the opportunity to live out his potential as a social being, even if not as an individuated being.

Continued in Part 2.

Pensive Thankfulness

Today we celebrated the first year anniversary of our littlepensive church here in Baguio. It has been a challenging year… but I think we are stronger for it. Our older daughter sang a special number— “Thank You Lord For Your Blessings on Me.” She was trying to decide whether to sing that song or ‘Thank You Lord for the Trials that Come my Way.” Because of my limited guitar skills, she chose the former. Both songs are quite appropriate to our church’s struggles as well as her health challenges. She had to stop school for a year because of these challenges. Thankfully she is getting better, but it is difficult to disconnect from the rest of the world for many months. In fact, it was the first time for her to be able to join us in churchin a long time.

Both songs have a pensive (deep reflective) quality to it that defies the common kneejerk expression, “God is good all the time, and all the time God is good.” How does one respond when God goodness is not clearly evidenced? How do we respond thankfully to loss, trials, struggles.

The song that my daughter sang was a favorite song of several women that we worked with years ago. We had a ministry with a number of women who sold plastic bags in the public market here in Baguio. Pretty much all of them would be considered desperately poor by “First World” standards. One lady, in particular, often would ask that this song be sung in our Bible studies. She came to Christ at a very low point in her life when she was raising up several children with little to no support. The change in her spiritual life did not suddenly change many of the struggles including economic. It is true, however, that over the last 14 years her situation has improved considerably, but still nowhere near where most people would consider “blessed.” She, however, liked to sing the song well before her situation improved.

I think thankfulness involves a certain amount of pensiveness and even melancholy. Our thankfulness should be based on a real understanding of our situation— the good, the bad, the ugly, the hopeful.

Thankfulness that is automatic, unthinking, is a “flabby” thankfulness— and perhaps it is not thankful at all. Thankfulness is for what we have, not what we pretend to have. Such thankfulness is at best an empty eggshell… containing nothing and far too fragile to help sustain us.

Thank you Lord, For your Blessings on Me

(The Easter Brothers)

G     A7       D     A7        D ,     A7

        D                            A7
As the world looks upon me, as I struggle along


     Em          A7           G           D

They say I have nothing, but they are so wrong 

                                                 G   
In my heart I'm rejoicing, how I wish they could see

D          A7             D          A7
Thank you Lord, for your blessings on me …....

Chorus           D                      A7
     There's a roof up above me, I've a good place to sleep

              Em         A7          G          D
     There's food on my table, And shoes on my feet

                                              
                                                    G
     You gave me your love Lord, And a fine family

           D               A7          D
Thank you Lord, for your blessings on me …..




Now I know I'm not wealthy, and these clothes, they're not new

I don't have much money, but Lord I have you

And to me that's all that matters, though the world cannot see

Thank you Lord, for your blessings on me ….

Chorus
--------

    G       D              A7         D
Thank you Lord, for your blessings on me

 

 

Christian Mimicry (Part 2)

(Continued from Part 1)

Image result for animal mimicry

Earlier I was looking at Passive Mimicry (to avoid being targeted or, positively, to demonstrate or promote belongingness).

But sometimes mimicry has a more Active Role. Rather than to help the person remain hidden, mimicry can be done to be seen.

1. Trying to Make Lightning Strike Twice.  In my previous post, I spoke of a worship leader I knew who “religiously” copied the style and movements of the Hillsong worship leaders, when leading church music. While I would never recommend this, I understand the logic. If the folks at Hillsong made it work and became successes… if I do the exact same thing, I should be successful as well. Right? Many people have complained that music that comes out of the Christian Music industry is so alike. While the similarities may not be overpowering, there is some truth to that. Industry produces what sells… and the presumption is that what sold yesterday is what will sell tomorrow.

We learn through modeling, so we do utilize models or examples of who we want to be. (I will simply not address whether Hillsong is a worthy model. They have been successful, and the fact that I find it generally uninteresting says little about them as a “worship industry.”) But mimicking is taking it further. Suppose someone wrote an Amish Romance Novel, and it made good money. That same author might produce another. If that is successful, it is likely that those books will become part of a series. It is also likely that other writers will suddenly be inspired by the potentials or writing a romance in an Amish community. Simply using an author as a model means you gain insight from them in the writing process. Mimicry, on the other hand, is taking their themes, settings, and style and putting one’s own name on it.

One of the big problems with mimicry is the next issue.

2.  It is an act of Creative Laziness. I suppose one could put this one under passive or active. Conformity (a passive form of mimicry) can be an act of laziness. However, the more interesting one is the active form.

Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but it is also the most subtle form of laziness.  Laziness is more easily identifiable in people who do not do much. It is harder to spot in those who do things that simply repeat what others have already done.

This has led, among other things, to Christianizing secular stuff. South Park has humorously spoken of this in Christian music— taking secular songs and replacing words such as “Baby” with them with other words such as “Jesus.”

Mike Warnke joked decades ago about preachers who mimic the styles of other preachers. Some do more than this, with taking sermons online and reading them in church. I have known many pastors who take such sermons, use them as guides but with study and reflection, make the sermons their own. I reckon that is not so bad. But I have heard preachers who read those sermons they got online… sentence for sentence… word for word. Perhaps some can hide it better than others… but generally you start to figure it out.  Simple terms, this is lazy and may be doing a disservice to God. But most definitely, one is doing a disservice to those that person is serving.

3.  Riding the Coattails. While mimicking can be a defensive move to remain hidden, it can be done deliberately in the hopes of future success. Sycophants commonly don’t just compliment or do favors for leaders. They are not just “Yes Men” and defenders of the indefensible (It is becoming harder and harder calling oneself an American Evangelical as the quest for power, or not losing power, has led many to defend that which seems indefensible). They will often also mimic the style, dress, manner of speech and so forth of their leaders. From a distance, this sort of mimicry may be one of the first two listed (lightning striking twice or creative laziness). But when the person is “close to the throne,” however, it is a form of flattery to get special blessings from the one in power.

4.  Ulterior Motive. This is always a tricky one. Why do we do what we do… and why the why?  Josh Keefe on Youtube (Why Christian Movies are BAD | The Problem with Christian Media – Part 2) has some interesting thoughts on this as it applies to Christian Movies. He notes that Christian filmmakers tend to not really be filmmakers (except in the technical sense of “making films”). That is, their calling tends to be as preachers— pushing a message to a specific audience. So what does this mean? Essentially, a person takes on a role of (mimic) a filmmaker. Filmmakers generally seeks to create a work of art for broad audience consumption. But when a preacher mimics that role, the motive is different. This person is  but is really seeking to preach to Christians. (If you don’t think they are commonly written to preach to Christians, watch a few of them and ask yourself, what images are Christians and non-Christians portrayed. Are atheists or agnostics portrayed as good people or bad caricatures?)

Is ulterior motive wrong? Personally, I think it is… if by that you define ulterior motive as “the REAL motive” as opposed to non-real or fake motives. I used to be involved with medical missions in the Philippines and even did my doctoral dissertation on them (and wrote a book based on the dissertation). I found that most Christians who did medical missions said that the REAL reason for doing medical missions is to evangelize.  Free medical care is just the lure– lure with a hook in it. But all too often, the real motive leaks out becoming very visible. In medical missions, it can show itself with inadequate or expired medicines, with utilizing inadequate (numerically or qualitatively) medical personnel, and generally playing hardball with the evangelizing and softball with the medical care. People notice it. The REAL motive thing can show itself in “friendship evangelism” where friendship goes bye-bye when the non-Christian does not respond the way the Christian seeks.

Ulterior Motive is a form of mimicry because it mimics a non-religious (not anti-religious… just non-religious) activity but with clandestine “Christian” purpose. It may be a problem because it is disingenuous… but equally because it is more obvious than people think. When you truly “Love your neighbor as yourself,” it looks a lot different than when you “Act in loving ways to people so that you can market your message.”

Critique

Of the reasons for Christian mimicry I listed over the last two posts, I think #2 and #4 concern me the most. Creative Laziness really should be seen as a sin… or at least a vice. Pushing the SHARE button on FB for some clickbait-y, feel good, “inspirational”… something or other is— well it’s lazy. Does that mean one should never do it? Not necessarily. Maybe a vice is a better description. Shopping for stuff you don’t need is a vice– wasteful a bit, but only truly a problem as it expands into a self-destructive behavior. Buying one lottery ticket a week is not the same as burning through one’s family savings to get the “BIG WIN” in online gambling. Creative laziness is so common in Christian circles that almost any originality is either praised as AMAZING, or shot down as something BAD (often more different than actually bad).

Ulterior Motive is also deeply problematic not only because non-Christians commonly see right through it… but also because many Christians think that is the way we are supposed to be.