Don’t speak “your truth”

Don’t speak “your truth”

A spirited defense of the word “The”

Have you ever heard a phrase that seemed innocuous, until it didn’t?

Me too.

Like many non-sexual predators, I’ve been cheering as the #Metoo movement gained momentum in the recent months.

And I’ve been grieving as I’ve heard the stories of real-life harassment, sexual assault, and gender discrimination–some from women I know personally.

Time is up.

And with two young daughters, I hope the movement does some good.

But that doesn’t change the curmudgeonly frustration I’ve felt as a particular phrase has emerged as the “solution” to our #Metoo moment.

SPEAK YOUR TRUTH

What’s needed, we are told, is for women to speak “their truth” about such matters.  Because only when you speak “your truth” will society begin to change.

We heard it yet again, from Oprah, at the Golden Globes:

What I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have.

Then again, just seconds later:

Their time is up. And I just hope that Recy Taylor died knowing that her truth, like the truth of so many other women who were tormented in those years, and even now tormented, goes marching on.

Oddly, we heard it also from Senator Al Franken, in his farewell address to the U.S. Senate.

While denying that he had done “anything” that would warrant dismissal, Franken said that he was resigning, in part,

Because all women deserve to be heard and their experiences taken seriously.

Huh?

In other words, “their truth” is one thing, “my truth” is quite another. But who am I to question their experiences?

THE DEFINITE ARTIC(O)DECTOMY

The oddity here is how “truth” seems to have been permanently detached from its definite article.

It’s as if the concept has undergone a surgical procedure to remove the “the”—perhaps because it posed a previously unknown health risk.

It is no longer “the” truth, but rather her truth, my truth, their experience—all quite valuable, even if mutually contradictory.

But why talk like this?

AN OBJECTION

At this point, some will claim that I am making too much of mere semantic differences.

Perhaps when Oprah says “speak your truth” she simply means to “tell your story.”  After all, she spoke also of “the absolute truth that keeps us from turning a blind eye to corruption and to injustice.”

What’s more, no wise person would want to confuse their perspective on reality with an infallible and absolutist “God’s-eye view.”  Last month I forgot my own address. So to say that truth exists is not to say that I always know it.

Fair enough.

(For the record, I have no beef with Oprah. The speech was moving; she seems nice; and I hear her hugs cure cancer.)

But I still think this “your truth” way of speaking is, like, stupid.

ASK RECY TAYLOR

After all, If you had you asked Recy Taylor what happened to her in 1944, my guess is that she would have said nothing of “her truth.”

97-year-old women have no time for postmodern perspectivalism.

They’re about to die.

Recy would have simply told “the truth” – because it really happened.  As Oprah noted, she was raped and left for dead by six armed white men while walking home from church.  The men were never punished.

That’s the truth.

And Recy would never sequester such events merely to the murky realm of her “experience.”

They happened.

So there’s no need to neuter facts by adding nonsense qualifiers (i.e., “my” and “their”).

WHY IT MATTERS

The subtle move to “my truth” also has real dangers.

The fallout from Nietzsche’s Will to Power comes to mind here:

there are many sorts of “truths,” and consequently there is no truth.

In this case, “my truth” does not necessarily depend on corresponding evidence to elicit the destruction of another person.

These days, the allegation alone may be enough to mobilize the mob.

One wonders, after all, how many of those men and women wearing black and clapping feverishly were actually complicit in the decades-spanning Weinstein cover-up?  It’s said that after the Terror of the French Revolution, it was Robespierre’s enablers who were quickest to renounce him as a demon. Did they wear black?

ON HUNTING WARLOCKS

On the perils of the #Metoo moment , Claire Berlinski worries that the movement may have crossed a line and “morphed into a moral panic that poses as much danger to women as it does to men” (see here: “The Warlock Hunt“).

While championing the need to prosecute abusers and believe victims, she also issues a stern warning:

Revolutions against real injustice have a tendency […] to descend into paroxysms of vengeance that descend upon guilty and innocent alike. We’re getting too close. Hysteria is in the air. The over-broad definition of “sexual harassment” is a well-known warning sign. The over-broad language of the Law of Suspects portended the descent of the French Revolution into the Terror. This revolution risks going the way revolutions so often do, and the consequences will not just be awful for men. They will be awful for women.

Specifically, Berlinski worries that women will be passed over even more for hiring as corporate bean-counters fear the liability of accusations that may require no substantiation.

After all, “your truth” is true, and “all experiences must be taken seriously.”

As Berlinski asks:

Do you think only the men who have done something truly foul are at risk? Don’t kid yourself. Once this starts, it doesn’t stop. The Perp Walk awaits us all.

We should certainly realize by now that a moral panic mixed with an internet mob is a menace. When the mob descends on a target of prominence, it’s as good as a death sentence, socially and professionally. […] “Show me the man, and I’ll show you the crime.”

I hope that’s an exaggeration.

CONCLUSION

Regardless, my argument is far narrower than Ms. Berlinski’s.

My hope is merely that we might champion both the cause of women (#Metoo) and the reality that “your truth” is only valuable insofar as it corresponds to “the truth.”

Don’t speak “your truth,” be truthful—and let the chips fall where they may.

My three words for 2018

My three words for 2018

Since it was New Year’s Eve last night, Brianna and I were up LATE.

Ten o’clock baby!

Just like Charlie Sheen.

Even so, I managed to slip away this morning to scratch out some hopes for the new year.

“Pick a word.”

That was the advice I got recently on how to structure an alternative to New Year’s “resolutions.” But since I preach, I somehow ended up with three words (is that better than three points?)—each connecting with a different area of my day-to-day existence: (1) marriage, (2) kids, and (3) teaching.

Here they are:

  1. Gifts (marriage)

As Brianna knows, I am terrible at presents.

It’s not my (*promised I would never blog this phrase…) “love language.”

In fact, I usually prefer that people give me an Amazon gift card for Christmas–like the magi should have done.

Even so, I’m aspiring this year to become a more frequent gift-giver, and specifically as a husband.

After all, Brianna deserves more than that just for putting up with me.

  1. Softer (kids)

I’m not typically a “yeller”—but having four kids under the age of seven could turn even Mother Theresa into parental parody of Bobby Knight (sans chair-chucking, of course).

That said, I want to work, this year, on disciplining the little ones without raising my voice so quickly.

Hence: “softer.”

Of course, some occasions almost require a good “bellow” if only to be heard above the scrum.  Still, I’ve been distressed to notice how my own propensity to raise my voice unnecessarily has “caught on” with my kids—and they don’t need any help in that department.

  1. Monastic (teaching)

Admittedly, few words may seem less “evangelical” than this one.

To be “monastic” evokes images of cloistered celibates in brown cassocks, chanting Gregorian-ly.

But that’s not what I mean (see points 1 and 2 regarding celibacy).

By monastic, I mean the need to reconnect my work to the embodied practices of prayer and worship. Ora et labora.

In doing some reading this Christmas break (James K. A. Smith specifically), I’ve been convinced that Christian higher education has often failed in this regard.

In many cases, the alternative has been a kind of slightly altered Cartesianism that replaces Cogito ergo sum with Credo ergo sum (I believe therefore I am).

But even demons believe.

In my own teaching, I sense that “information” has sometimes replaced “formation.” And in other instances, a posture of prayerful-worshipful study has been supplanted by a posture of detached analysis (or worse).

To be clear, I have no plans to jettison exams, critique, or careful analysis.  Still I do want to shift the posture of my classes just a bit in reconnecting work to prayer and worship.

CONCLUSION

I may fail terribly at all this.

It wouldn’t be the first time.

But as I said yesterday in a sermon, one thing I respect about still having some sort of New Year’s “word” or “resolution”—is that it shows you haven’t entirely given up on the idea that change is possible.

The status quo is not eternal.

The Spirit still broods and habits can evolve, if only through grace-driven effort.

So what about you?

Do you have a word (or words) for 2018?

Flee Roy Moore’s evangelicalism

Flee Roy Moore’s evangelicalism

But take the real “evangel” with you.

When I typed up a quick blog post yesterday, I did so assuming that Roy Moore was about to win the Alabama Senate seat.

I was wrong.

Thank God.

To some, that may sound rather strange.  After all, I am precisely the sort of person that was supposed to carry Judge Roy to victory: I am Pro-Life, white, and evangelical in my theology.

According to the media, I am supposed to belong to that very “base” that was going to make the difference–despite no fewer than nine allegations of sexually predatory behavior toward children.

And despite Moore’s claim that “many problems would be solved” if we scrapped all constitutional amendments after the 10th one (Just so we’re clear: the 13th ended slavery; the 15th gave all races the vote; and the 19th gave votes to women).

Well, I do not belong to that “evangelical base”–because, in some cases, there’s nothing evangelical about it.

 

REQUIUM FOR “EVANGELICAL”

As some news outlets have been quick to trumpet, Moore’s strongest support came from the self-styled “evangelical” voter.

The most vexing evidence for such logic, came in a poll showing that a plurality of Alabama “evangelicals” reported being “more likely” to support him after numerous allegations of child sexual misconduct than before.

This left many of us scratching our heads.

Who could possibly be “more likely” to support someone “after” reports that he repeatedly stalked underage girls at the local mall while dressed like the cartoon sheriff from the movie Toy Story?

NOT SO FAST…

As many have pointed out, however, such polls should be viewed with suspicion (see here).

Screen Shot 2017-12-12 at 9.09.07 AM

According the Wheaton professor Alan Jacobs: In parts of the country, “evangelical” has become synonymous with “whites who watch Fox News and consider themselves [vaguely] religious”–regardless of church attendance, Bible reading, or basic theological beliefs.

And while I love those people, that is not what the word means.

Evang. venn diagram

In short, the label has been corrupted.

In Roy Moore’s case, it was equated with the worst elements of partisan politics—hence it hangs like an albatross around the neck of many faithful and devoted Christ-followers.

(For what it’s worth, it also hurts the Pro-Life movement in the long run–like making Bull Connor the face of your anti-human trafficking campaign.)

Yet while many of us grieve the (earned) destruction of the “evangelical” label, we also worry that to look back longingly at the smoking ruins is to risk being turned into a pillar of insipid salt.

What, then, should one do with this beautiful but now corrupted label?

THE YEAR IS 1955

It bears noting that in 1955, Billy Graham faced a similar decision.

He had once been a self-identifying “fundamentalist,” back when that word was not synonymous with backwardness and bigotry. In its origin, the term had stood for the fundamentals of the faith. As did Graham.

Yet in 1955, he decided to drop the albatross for reasons that sound eerily familiar: it had been irrevocably tainted by un-Christlike beliefs and behaviors.

Even good words can be turned it seems—like raw oysters in the Alabama sun.

So Graham followed Jesus – out of “fundamentalism” in order to stay true to Scripture and the gospel (the “evangel”).

Or as cowboy Roy might say: “When your horse dies, get off.”

HOPPING OFF THE PENDULUM

What one does next, however, is important.

The temptation for many is simply to flee one rival kingdom for another.

If Roy Moore’s “evangelicalism” has turned a blind eye to egregious sexual and racial sins, one simply runs hard in the opposite direction.  After all, as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg once remarked:

            The true symbol of the United States is not the bald eagle. It is the pendulum.

But what if…?

What if it is partly our love of pendulums that caused this very mess?

NOW FOR THE GOOD NEWS 

My suggestion, then, is rather different: flee Roy Moore’s evangelicalism, but take the real “evangel” (i.e., gospel) with you

Because the real “evangel” is alive and well.

Just don’t look for it primarily in the halls of power.

That’s the same mistake we’ve been making for two thousand years: we long for thrones and forget to check the manger.

“I sent you prophets,” says Christ, “but you wanted lobbyists.”

“I sent you shepherds, but you wanted merchants of outrage.”

If you want the real evangel, here is some advice:

Look to the local homeless shelter, where Christ’s hands and feet are serving dinner to the other (equally valuable) members of his body.

Look to the recovery ministry meeting nightly in the church basement, sans cufflinks and news coverage.

Look to the crisis pregnancy center, where women who’ve been there reach out to women who are there.

Look to the high school football star (John) who takes my college Bible class even though it won’t count for credit at his eventual State school–he takes it because he loves Jesus.

Look to the college women (that I know) who spend their Spring Break fighting human trafficking in a Southeast Asia, rather than partying on some sandy beach in Destin.

Look to the group of older Christian women (the godly grandmas) who gather to encourage my young wife with wisdom gained from generations of parenting.

Look to the African-American couple serving faithfully in a predominantly white church, because they believe that the journey toward multi-ethnic community is worth it, even if it’s difficult.

And look to the Catholic nun, kneeling peacefully in the cold rain outside an abortion clinic, praying for the souls inside (doctors, mothers, and babies).

This is the REAL “evangel.”

It’s alive and well.

And in that sense, I don’t give a flying flip what happens to the Roy Moore version.

May you fail…

May you fail…

An unconventional benediction.

A few folks asked for a copy of the “unconventional” graduation blessing that I delivered for our December commencement yesterday.

Here it is:

I left out a couple stanzas on the spot (remembering something Jesus said of wordy prayers from podiums).

Nevertheless:

Class of 2017, hear these words:

May you fail  [long pause] … to seek significance in the plastic trinkets of this world / things like money, power, and fame. / And may you find significance in this: / that you are a beloved child of God / Etched in the image of Jesus Christ.

May you have enemies / So that you may love them just as Jesus did / and thus turn some of them to friends.

May you be disloyal citizens / to rival kings and rival kingdoms / So that you may prove true to good king Jesus / And see his Kingdom come.

May your life not go (entirely) as you have planned it / And in those moments, may you come to see that, alongside fidelity, God’s other name is “Surprise.”

And most of all: May you know that we, as your faculty, cannot wait to see you go / Not because we want to be rid of you / But because through your lives, our little ministries will multiply a hundredfold.

We love you; Godspeed.

 

 

+ Credit to Neil Plantinga for the idea that “God’s other Name is Surprise.”

“The lower classes smell”

“The lower classes smell”

Why our ideas matter less than we think.

Back in 1937, George Orwell claimed this about the divisions within British society:

The real secret of class distinctions in the West can be summed up in four frightful words: The lower classes smell (~Road to Wigan Pier).

The statement sounds offensive and reductionistic. Perhaps it is.

Yet Orwell’s goal was actually to challenge his fellow highbrow socialists on whether their ideas about dismantling the class structure were actually strong enough to work in the field—where people live, and sniff.

In the words of James K. A. Smith (citing Wigan Pier):

Orwell’s point is that the root of class distinctions in England is not intellectual but olfactory.  The habits and rhythms of the system are not so much cerebral as visceral; they are rooted in a bodily orientation to the world that eludes theoretical articulation, which is why theoretical tirades also fail to displace it. … “For no feeling of like or dislike is quite so fundamental as a physical feeling.”

In other words, you cannot solve a gut-level problem with a philosophy.

The visceral trumps the voluntary; fundamental dispositions are more caught than taught; and the “nose” (now speaking metaphorically) is mightier than the brain.

Now the kicker:

Almost every other kind of discrimination could be countered theoretically, with the weapons of facts, ideas, and information, “But physical repulsion cannot.”

What does this have to do with us?

Just this:

In America, we seem to have entered a cultural-political climate in which both sides are “physically repulsed” by one another. Sickened, even.

And sometimes for good reason.

Yet if this is so, then one should strongly question our ability to bridge the gap with education, rational discourse, or (gasp) blog posts. Orwell’s point is this: revulsion trumps reason every time—try as we might to overcome it.

In short, our “ideas” are not nearly as important for the way we engage the world as we would like to think.

As Smith argues, we are not primarily “thinking things” as Descartes posited. Nor even “believing things” as much of Christian culture claims. Even demons believe (Jms. 2.19).

For Smith, both of these mistaken anthropologies place too much emphasis upon the cognitive realm (“ideas”), whereas the Bible focuses more upon reforming the heart, the gut, or even “the bowels.”  (Even the biblical references to renewal of the “mind” are not given in a Cartesian sense.)

We are primarily loving-desiring beings.

And as such, much of our behavior is the product of pre-cognitive, affective, gut-level, and visceral reactions.

“The lower classes smell.”

But how does one disciple the olfactory senses?

How do “the bowels” get redeemed?

Next time.

 


See James K. A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation (here). For a less academic version of Smith’s argument, see You are what you love: The Spiritual Power of Habit (here).

Jesus + Wine

Jesus + Wine

I’ve been behind on blogging lately as I’ve been working on other writing projects (more on that soon!).

As a partial remedy, here is a sermon that I preached Sunday on one of my favorite passages: Jesus turning water into what would have amounted to 757 bottles (do the math) of the choicest wine (Jn. 2).

Contrary to popular portrayals of Christianity–both by detractors and adherents–one takeaway is this: The pursuit of Christ (and holiness) is simultaneously the pursuit of Joy. 

Jesus is not the celestial equivalent of Ned Flanders; he is not a cosmic killjoy.

He is Lord of the Feast, and the bringer of overflowing life.

The wedding feast at Cana proves this, along with many other fascinating things.

As I note in the message, the outline takes cues from Tim Keller’s fantastic sermon: “Lord of the Wine.” Also, for more of the Bacchus / C.S. Lewis connection, see my prior post (here: “Saving Bacchus”).

Hope everyone is having a feast-worthy week!

Thou shalt not Cable News?

Thou shalt not Cable News?

Over at The Gospel Coalition, Trevin Wax is asking whether Christians should consider “pulling the plug” on an increasingly unsanctified form of television entertainment.

No, it’s not the racy or gratuitously violent scenes on “Skinamax” or other channels— it’s cable news.

Cable News

Here’s the money quote:

In a culture that has lost its appetite for truth and has developed an appetite for coarseness and sensationalism, cable news plays to our worst tendencies.

(Read the full thing here.)

 

Like me, Wax admits to having once been a bit of a “political junkie.” But as he puts it, “Election 2016 changed that.”

It wasn’t because, this time around, I was unable to enthusiastically support either candidate. It was a growing concern with the toxic atmosphere of the cable news channels and the worrisome trends they reveal about our society.

He then gives three reasons why the rise of niche-market news channels–tailor made to heighten our existing biases–have had cancerous effects.

Here they are:

  1. The Disappearing Aim of Journalism

While absolutely no one is unbiased, the claim here is that today’s cable news outlets (whether Fox News, CNN, or MSBC) aren’t even trying.

The aim is no longer truth or journalism; it’s ratings via sensationalized pandering to a specific demographic. For proof, one need only recall the admission of a CNN producer that the Russia scandal was “great for ratings.”

  1. The Disappearing Desire for Truth

Worse yet, many viewers do not seem to care.  We tune in for validation, not objectivity, and the media on both sides plays the music to our band.

  1. The Rise of News as Show

Wax’s third claim is that the line between news and entertainment has all but vanished.  What we have now are “shows,” or rather: “food fight journalism,” dished out by the likes of Hannity, Maddow, and (formerly) O’Reilly.

On this point, Wax gives a telling example from the life of Roger Ailes, Fox News founder and longtime Harvey Weinstein impersonator:

Ailes knew what types he wanted on that show: the “bombshell blonde,” the middle-of-the-road guy, the renegade, the brunette, and the token liberal (white or black) to round out the panel. When casting the show, he made it clear to the panelists that they were replaceable precisely because they were typecast.

In the end, such typecast replicability also led, by all accounts, to a newsroom that made Ron Burgundy’s look like a paragon of gender equality and female respect. The non-disclosure agreements were stacked like papal indulgences.

WAIT A MINUTE

But wait a minute… is all this an exageration?

Despite such strong indictments, Wax doesn’t want to go too far.

As he notes, moments of real journalism do sneak through on the cable channels.  And in moments of crisis, like the recent hurricanes, we are thankful to be “inspired by the stories of individual families, of daring rescues, and the ongoing relief efforts.”

Cable news is not all bad; not all options are equally biased; and simply tuning out to world events does not seem like a great alternative.

Perhaps one possibility then is to step away from cable–millennials like myself have long since done this (what are channels?)–and get our news from a variety of other sources.

The best of these may even involve (wait for it…) reading. While this would hardly free us from the grip of bias, the choice to read our news from more reputable sources would eliminate the endless food fights (read: panel discussions), engineered by Ailes and others. It would also prevent the binge-newsing that fuels an obsessive and over-politicized paranoia.

In the recent words of David Brooks:

[Our] public conversation is over-politicised and under-moralised … we analyse every single movement in the polls, but the big subjects about relationships and mercy and how to be a friend – these are the big subjects of life and we don’t talk about them enough. Or we have our moral arguments through political means, which is a nasty way to do it because then you make politics into a culture war.

A PROBLEM ON BOTH SIDES

As Wax makes clear, the problem exists on both the Right and Left.

In this, we have yet another example of how both extremes within our current culture wars are locked in a symbiotic existence that is simultaneously a carnal embrace.

They need each other; they are producing offspring (“As even your own poets claim”); and they ought to be in each other’s Christmas cards.

In the end, the greatest danger is what such WWE-inspired journalism does to us.

It changes us in subtle ways.  And it leaves us drawn (perhaps subconsciously) toward leaders with these qualities.

We form our media; then our media form us.

Before we know it, one might even feel “strangely warmed” toward a figure whose philosophical and rhetorical inspirations seem like an odd amalgam of Gordon Gecko and Ric Flair.  Hypothetically.

BEYOND LEGALISM

After reading Wax, my own takeaway was not a legalistic command along the lines of “Thou shalt not cable news.”

In all honesty, my own tradition has sometimes erred in this direction. My grandparents tell an old story of unloading the family moving van at a new church parsonage, only to be asked brusquely by a church elder:

“Do you own a television?”

“No,” replied my grandfather.

“Good; we throw those in the river!”

Neither Wax nor I are advocating this.

Even so, perhaps evangelicals would do well to recognize that “sex and cussing” are not the only forms of television viewing that can malform us when it comes to holiness.

Oh be careful little eyes…