Category: Culture and Current Events

On Innovation

A few months ago, I did something I don’t often do. I attended a candidates’ forum during a provincial election campaign. I don’t tend to expect much from politics or politicians, and my low expectations were barely met during this event. There were plenty of platitudes and evasive non-answers, plenty of posturing and sniping, plenty of “questions” from the audience that seemed like either lightly informed speeches masquerading as a queries or fastballs down the middle of the plate for a preferred candidate. This is, it seems, what passes for political discourse these days.
But there was one question that stuck with me long after the forum and the election had passed. The question was put to a specific candidate and it went something like this: “Do you consider yourself an innovator? What innovative practices and policies would you implement if elected?” The candidate’s response was awkward, inarticulate, and uncomfortable, but the basic gist of it was, “I don’t really see myself as an innovator. My strengths lie elsewhere so I leave the innovation to others.” I had little doubt that this was true. I also had little doubt that this was the wrong answer. To out yourself as “not an innovator” in the quest for public office is tantamount to political suicide. Not surprisingly, the candidate didn’t come close to being elected.
I’ve been thinking since that night about how I would answer a question like that. Many people’s expectations of their religious leaders are very similar to that of politicians—It’s your job to fix the problems and get us moving toward a better future! How would I have responded if asked a similar question? Well, I might have been able to dress it up in better language, but I would have said essentially the same thing. Innovation isn’t really my thing. My strengths lie elsewhere. I’m not really the guy to come up with new visions, new programs, new hooks to attract disgruntled customers. I’m much more comfortable working within existing structures and systems, sometimes pushing against the edges, sometimes reminding us of their value and why we need them. I’m not really much of an innovator.
The problem is, our cultural moment seems, to many, to demand innovation on the part of the church and its leaders. People are leaving the church in droves. The forms are thought to be stifling and unimaginative. The presentation lacking, in a world where we are never more than a click away from a better option. The theology is deemed to be oppressive, archaic, irrelevant, unfashionable, unpopular. We need innovators to reimagine, rebrand, remarket, repackage! This what the data produced by the sociologists says, but most pastors don’t need a sociologist to tell them this. We see this every week in our pews and in conversations inside and outside the church. Unless something changes, it seems, the church is in trouble. So step up, all you innovators and catalysts for change! We need you, now more than ever. It’s all enough to make a non-innovator cringe with dread.
I spent some time in this world when I was younger. People were convinced that the church needed newer music, better music, cooler coffee shops, spruced up presentations of rigid and confining understandings of Jesus, funnier dramas, “seeker sensitive” extravaganzas with bells and whistles and barbecues and balloons—the list went on and on and on. Innovation was an imperative. Jesus demanded it, for the sake of all the lost. It was exhausting. And mostly ineffective. I’m at a place in life now where I hunger for simpler things. The reading of Scripture, prayer, a few good words, some liturgies that have stood the test of time, bread and wine. These are the things that sustain me and which give me hope, even in the post-Christian wilderness.
I’ve been pondering this week’s gospel text from the gospel of John all morning as I prepare for this Sunday’s sermon (sermons themselves could use some innovation, according to many… the mode is outdated… we need something more interactive and engaging than dreary monologues from religious professionals! I’m not entirely unsympathetic to such views, even as I cling to the idea that these, too, can be redeemed…). It’s a short text, but it hits hard:

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

There’s nothing particularly innovative about the command to love. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, it goes at least as far back as the Torah. Jesus gives it some fresh impetus and expands it to the category of “enemy.” And in this context, the “as I have loved you” bit points to a foot washing, self-emptying, sacrificial, kenotic kind of love that was and remains revolutionary. But in the end, Jesus is reframing a very ancient commandment. How will the world know who my followers are? They will be the ones who love one another well.
It has been good for me to sit with these words today. They remind me that the church is not a marketing strategy and that faith is not a technique. Jesus does not send his disciples out as salesman with a pitch, but as those who have been loved into a different way of understanding and being in the world. He is looking for innovators, certainly, but only in when it comes to the ways in which Christ-like love will make its way in the world.
 

Syndicated from Rumblings

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On Elections and Empathy

After a volatile and rancorous six weeks or so of campaigning (both by the candidates themselves and by their devoted and faithful supporters), it’s election day here in Alberta. There has been seemingly endless mud-slinging and accusations and labelling and self-serving platitudes. The UCP has mostly tried to frame this election as an overdue corrective for a staggering economy. The NDP has mostly tried to cast it as a referendum on progressive social policies. A friend commented this morning that this election might simply reveal what’s more sacred to us, sex or money. Probably not far from the truth.  At any rate, I did my duty on the way to work this morning. I sighed, and I voted.
Readers of this blog will know that I am no champion of partisan politics. I have voted across the political spectrum over my twenty-five years or so of voting, both provincially and federally. I try to stay informed, to weigh priorities, to vote for the local candidate that I think will do the most good (or the least harm). But my expectations are usually fairly low. My allegiance is to another king and a different kingdom (as I’ve written about before) and I am regularly puzzled by Christians who seem to think that politics is the primary way in which this kingdom comes.
I am also increasingly troubled by the nature of our political discourse. We are losing, it seems to me, anything like a conception that we share a common life with our fellow citizens. The realm of politics is becoming inherently adversarial. For me, this was illustrated by a relatively innocuous meme that I saw earlier in this interminable election cycle. It said something to the effect of, “Millennials, you now outnumber the boomers. Get out there and vote.” In other words, “You can defeat all of those ignorant, regressive old people with your vote. Get out there and win!” There are interesting assumptions at work here. There is no notion that millennials might share a common life with their elders or that they might have overlapping interests or that—gasp!—they might occasionally have something to learn from them. No, they are simply competitors, full stop. These kinds of assumptions abound on both sides of an increasingly polarized political sphere.
I find this trend deeply problematic. People who vote and think differently than me are no longer fellow citizens who have different views and who might calibrate priorities differently, they are very bad, very stupid people. They are enemies of all that is good and decent in the world. They are ____phobes and _____ists. They exist to be defeated by right-thinking people like me. Perhaps someday they will come to see the light like I do, but until then, they must be defanged, contained, mocked and belittled. This is the state of our political discourse these days.
I think that whatever else might be said about the above, at the very least it represents a failure of empathy, of the ability to try to see something from a perspective beyond your own. Over the weekend, I listened to an episode from NPR’s Invisibilia called “The End of Empathy.” It’s not about politics, per se, but it does paint a picture of our cultural moment that extends into the political sphere and well beyond. It contrasted the approaches of two reporters, both women, one middle-aged, one younger, who were given the task of telling the story of a recovering “incel” (about the most odious category of young men that you might imagine these days). The middle-aged reporter was more inclined to try to humanize the young man, to try to understand what could produce such a view of women and the world, and to even consider the possibility of a something like a redemption narrative in the way his story was unfolding. The younger reporter was not. The young man simply represented a category of humanity that was beyond the pale. His sins were too many and too great. There was no way back for him and it would be immoral to make it seem like there was.
It seemed to me, as I listened to the story, that this is a theme that reproduces itself across our public discourse, including the political sphere. We are losing the ability to see actual human beings behind the views they hold. Someone who thinks differently than us about sex or money or pipelines or education or healthcare isn’t someone to have a conversation with, they are disgusting sinners who have all but forfeited their humanity. Someone who has a different coloured sign on their front lawn is not a neighbour but an incomprehensible enemy. And so, we get what we get every election cycle: an ideological slugfest with results that swing wildly back and forth, dictated by whoever has enough people that feel like they’ve been on the wrong end of the score for the past four years.
My kids are not old enough to vote provincially this time around, but they will be by the time the federal election rolls around in fall. I don’t want them to internalize this vision of politics that we are modeling for them. I don’t want them to see a ballot in the election box as their weapon against the very bad, very stupid people. I want them to be willing to sit down with people who think differently than them and do the hard word of trying to understand them and what might motivate their priorities. I want them to see fellow citizens instead of ideological enemies to conquer. I want them learn how to live with difference responsibly, with both conviction and empathy.
I want the same for myself. And I want it for you, too, dear reader. If you have made it this far, and if you happen to live in Alberta and are voting today, and if you happen to be inclined toward weaponizing your social media feed later today either in exultant glee or righteous indignation, perhaps consider a different approach. Maybe have a conversation with someone you disagree with instead. Or ask, “I wonder why they might calibrate their priorities differently than I do?” Or consider a slightly more charitable interpretation than, “They’re an idiot.” We really have to do better, I think. Today is as good a day as any to give “better” a try.
——-
Image source. 

Syndicated from Rumblings

Jesus Was Not a [Socialist]

Article by Dan Kent Our political climate right now exhausts me. The fracturing. The bullying. The ideological mobs. I feel like I’m surrounded by a hundred Towers of Babel babbling at me all day long, pummeling me with endless propaganda and page-after-page of facts. “Look at the facts!” they implore. ...
The post Jesus Was Not a [Socialist] appeared first on Greg Boyd - ReKnew.

Syndicated from Greg Boyd – ReKnew

Jesus Was a Socialist

Many Christians think socialism is at odds with their faith. But Jesus taught (and the early church modeled) principles very much in line with socialist thinking. Let’s take a look at the many things Jesus had to say on this subject.
Syndicated from Hippie Heretic

Podcast: How Do We Talk About Politically Charged Topics?

Greg gets charged-up talking about ‘talking about politically charged topics.’ Send Questions To: Dan: @thatdankent Email: askgregboyd@gmail.com Twitter: @reKnewOrg http://traffic.libsyn.com/askgregboyd/Episode_0463.mp3 Subscribe: iTunes | Stitcher | Google Play | RSS
The post Podcast: How Do We Talk About Politically Charged Topics? appeared first on Greg Boyd - ReKnew.

Syndicated from Greg Boyd – ReKnew

Say No to the Douglas County Jail Expansion

This is the public comment that I gave to the Douglas County Commission on February 20, 2019, regarding their proposal to hire a construction manager for the jail expansion project: The Douglas County jail population has grown 15 times faster than our general population since 2011. And I have not heard any good explanations as to…
Syndicated from Spacious Faith

Socialism and capitalism: Two exhausted labels (Looking West #4)

Ted Grimsrud—February 19, 2016
When I was trying to find some glimmers of hope after the 2016 election, I wrote in a blog post that one of my thoughts was that hopefully we would see the renewed interest in progressive politics stirred by the Bernie Sanders campaign expanded. It does seem that that has happened. We certainly are getting more conversations about “socialism,” a word earlier in my lifetime generally only heard on the public airwaves as a cussword.
A lack of clear meaning
I welcome these conversations. Just yesterday, Kathleen and I listened to a couple of podcasts with interviewees talking about socialism in a positive way—one the renowned Harvard historian Jill Lepore and the other Washington Post columnist Elizabeth Breunig. But I was actually troubled by something. I never truly got a sense of what the word “socialism” means these days—or, for that matter, what “capitalism” means. Lepore even said that “socialism” doesn’t really mean anything, but then proceeded to use the term as if it did mean something.
I believe that something real is being advocated by politicians such as Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez. But I’m not sure it should be called “socialism”—though I get why they might want to use that term to indicate that they are seeking something different than the standard corporate liberalism of mainstream Democrats. Still, the term does not seem to me to be helpful. When Bernie and AOC advocate for “socialism” and Trump uses his State of the Union address to insist that “we will never have socialism” in the US, it seems all we are getting is fuel for our polarizations.
And maybe it is even worse when someone such as Lepore uses the word “capitalism” seemingly as an accurate term for our current economic system that is characterized mainly by unrestrained corporate oligopolies and monopolies. Such use ignores differences between our current system and the actual practice of competitive, free market oriented economics.
Perhaps it was an expression of capitalism when Bill Pruett moved to Elkton, Oregon, when I was in high school and opened an Arco gas station just west of town. He triggered a gas war where Joe Bishop’s Chevron and Walt Esslinger’s Texaco stations had to lower their prices to compete. But that was quite a different dynamic than our current situation where gas prices at the pump are set by a small handful of big corporations leaving the local station owners no slack for competing with their neighboring rivals.
These two words, “socialism” and “capitalism,” do not seem to be capable any more of doing the work useful words do. They seem more like exhausted labels that mainly serve as cudgels for unhelpful and polarizing posturing. They do not help us communicate and find common understandings and possible common ground for important conversations about the direction of our society.
Market-oriented economics not necessarily bad
Back in the late 1970s, I read insightful writers such as E. F. Schumacher and Barry Commoner who helped me see that a market-oriented economy is not a bad thing when it spurs innovation and meets the actual needs of people. And to see that monopolistic, corporatist, state-dominated, and other anti-democratic practices are what’s bad—whether the Soviet version or the American version (later, James C. Scott reinforced these points in his book, Seeing Like a State, arguing that the problem is centralization).
Which approach is capitalist? That depends on how we define the term. If we center on free markets and the enhancement of fair competition, then capitalism is something that can enhance democracy. But if we center on the ruthless quest for ever-increasing profits that invariably leads to centralization and reducing free competition, then capitalism undermines democracy. I tend to think that we should never refer to the latter focus simply as “capitalism” but should call it “corporatism” or “monopoly capitalism”—and make clear that it is antithetical to democracy.
“Socialism” or simply “democracy”?
And what about socialism? Certainly our current “socialist” leaders are the polar opposite in their views from what was usually called “socialism” back in the 1970s—i.e., the Soviet Union and Eastern and Central Europe. Of course, we have also long had the model of the Scandinavian-style of social organization that has often been called “socialism” as in social democracy. These are two very different models. But because they are both called “socialist,” I wonder whether the term is essentially irredeemable. I think we could accurately use “social democracy” for a political philosophy that places human wellbeing above corporate greed and affirms investing in public good over being consistently deferential to the wishes of the rich and powerful.
I actually am most attracted to advocating a strengthening of the stand alone term “democracy”—meaning something similar to what others have recently called “deep democracy” [Cornell West] or “radical democracy” [Romand Coles; Sheldon Wolin]. The heart of the notion to me actually has an anarchistic kind of tinge in that it emphasizes self-determination and a suspicion of all tendencies toward centralized, top down power (be it state-centered or corporation-centered).
A more vital democracy would mean, among other dynamics, an even playing field (or better) for locally-owned small businesses vis-à-vis the big boxes; access for voting for everyone; a guaranteed living wage; an end to big money dominating politics; universal healthcare; rebuilt infrastructure with union jobs; revitalized labor movement in general; renewable energy; support for family farms; et al. None of this is socialistic per se, none is contrary to market-oriented (non-monopolistic and corporatist) capitalism.
For a future post, I will reflect on how this notion of democracy is actually pretty biblical. I was interested that Jill Lepore, in her interview mentioned Eugene Debs, America’s great socialist, as actually a kind of social gospeler. I also hope soon to read Gary Dorrien’s recent books on the black social gospel. He’s trying to recover a vital American tradition that has a lot to offer us today.
[This is the next in a series of blog posts under the rubric of “Looking West” that will include reflections on numerous issues of our current day—politics, theology, memoirs, spirituality, and what not. An index for the series may be found at “Looking West.”]

Syndicated from Thinking Pacifism

In Search of a Soul

It’s a rare thing indeed to observe members of the media from across the left-right spectrum offering something like a collective mea culpa in response to how they reported something. But this is, incredibly, what is happening in the aftermath of the storm generated by the already infamous video of the encounter between the Covington Catholic boys, the Native American elder, and the Black Hebrew Israelites at the Lincoln Memorial last week.
A relatively ordinary dustup at a protest that probably wouldn’t even have been news before the dawn of the smartphone touched off a quite predictable conflagration of outrage and virtue signalling and the reinforcing of moral and political narratives. When the story turned out to be a bit more complex, a bit more resistant to tidy narratives of obvious good vs obvious evil, some journalists did a peculiar (and commendable) thing. They said, effectively, “We should have resisted the hot take. We were too quick to judge in ways that served our preferred version of the story.” In some cases, there were even calls to withhold judgment (can you imagine?!) going forward. To take a step back. To ask inconvenient questions. To be the adult instead of the reactionary child.
Of course, these sober pleas probably won’t live long in our collective memory. Like everything else on the internet, they will disappear after their few hours on the online shelf, to be replaced by the next shiny digital object. “Cold takes” don’t sell, obviously, and as long as there is money to be made on online outrage, people will continue to be shepherded toward snap judgments and the stoking of inquisitional flames. Our dopamine-hungry brains will continue to obediently trawl the internet for vindication of our views. These calls for more measured responses to the news of the day (or what passes for it) will bounce around for a while in the aftermath of the Covington fiasco, but I doubt we will learn much from them. The next viral video of the next outrage-worthy offense will offer us the next opportunity to perform and parade our righteousness online. And we will, I suspect, gladly seize it.
This is the point where I often pivot to a plea for a lowering of our collective anthropology. We are all self-interested, all biased, all stupid and sinful. We should be more suspicious of our virtue and our rightness, etc., etc. But today, I find myself inclined in a different direction. It’s not that I don’t have a low anthropology. I do, certainly. I think it’s vitally necessary to make sense of ourselves and of the world, and to act with the humility appropriate to our station. But I also think we have lost something vital when it comes the inherent value and worth of each human being. This is evident in how we speak about our enemies, how quickly we leap to hammer their every transgression (real or imagined), how eagerly we shame and mock them, particularly online. Very often we don’t think nearly as highly of one another as we ought to.
I sometimes take pictures of quotes in books when I have nothing to write with. I found a note on my phone today with a snapshot of the following quote. I had no idea where it came from, initially, but I sleuthed out the source as The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. The quote itself is from the nineteenth century Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle and is approvingly cited by one of the characters in the novel:

Does it ever give thee pause, that men used to have a soul—not by hearsay alone, or as a figure of speech; but as a truth that they knew, and acted upon! Verily it was another world then… but yet it is a pity we have lost the tidings of our souls… we shall have to go in search of them again, or worse in all ways shall befall us.

I don’t know the specific context of the quote. On one level, I imagine it is probably a religious argument for the eternal destiny of human beings. We’re not just the accidental products of biology and sociology, little more than a quiver in the dirt destined to eat and breed, make a bit of noise for a few decades and return to the dirt. We have souls, damnit! We are more than that! It’s probably a plea for an exalted view of human uniqueness that many in our day are quite keen to (inconsistently) leave behind.
But today, I’m also wondering what it might be like for us to, as Carlyle alludes to, act upon the idea that we are en-souled creatures. We might cast a thought toward God now and again, certainly, but we might also pay more attention to our fellow en-souled human beings. If we really believed that our neighbours, whether insolent teenagers in MAGA hats or Native American war veterans or Black Hebrew Israelites or whoever else, really had souls that could be shaped toward goodness, truth, beauty, eternity, even… That they weren’t just object lessons in the reinforcement of our worldviews. That they were particular and precious, not just placeholders in some irredeemable category in our brains. How would that change our discourse? Our behaviours? Our judgments? What if we actually believed this? It is indeed a pity that we have lost the tidings of our souls.
I’m not naïve. I know that people have always behaved in beastly ways toward each other, even when most people were convinced that they had a soul. But I’m with Carlyle. I think we shall have to go in search of them again. Bad things are befalling us and we need healthier and more life-giving ways of understanding ourselves and our neighbours if we’re ever going to find a way out of all the ugliness, both of the news of the day and of our reactions to it.

Syndicated from Rumblings

Podcast: Is Pledging Allegiance to the Flag a Big Deal?

Greg discusses allegiances and pledges.  Send Questions To: Dan: @thatdankent Email: askgregboyd@gmail.com Twitter: @reKnewOrg http://traffic.libsyn.com/askgregboyd/Episode_0442.mp3 Subscribe: iTunes | Stitcher | Google Play | RSS
The post Podcast: Is Pledging Allegiance to the Flag a Big Deal? appeared first on Greg Boyd - ReKnew.

Syndicated from Greg Boyd – ReKnew

On Fallibility

This week, I started watching the Polish Netflix original series 1983 which imagines a future where the Iron Curtain is still standing and Poland is a police state. I’m only a few episodes in, so the jury’s still out, but there was an interesting scene in the first episode where Katejan Skowron, a young law student, is being grilled in an exam by his mentor and professor, Janusz Zurawski. Young Katejan has been well-drilled in propaganda: Law and Party are all, and both exist for the sake of justice. “Ah,” says Zurawski, “but you’ve forgotten to take one thing into account: human fallibility. It’s human beings who create laws and human beings who form political parties. And human beings are fallible.”
The fallibility of human beings and the political systems and structures they create is not likely news to anyone with a pulse these days. The current US president is a daily, blustering, contradicting, tweeting reminder of this, but he is only the most obvious example. Political dissatisfaction and anger are the norm in many parts of Europe these days. 2019 will be the year that both my home province of Alberta and the nation of Canada go to the polls and neither the provincial NDP or the Federal liberals are terribly popular at the moment. Human fallibility, both in leaders and in those who elect them, has never really lacked for evidence.
I was consequently intrigued to read David Bentley Hart’s somewhat-tongue-in-cheek (maybe?) essay called “Anarcho-Monarchism” in A Splendid Wickedness and Other Essays. He’d prefer a benevolent monarch, it seems, to a democratically elected marketer/liar-in-chief. So would I, many days. But monarchs are so rarely benevolent. Safer, probably, to stick with democracy even if, as DBH notes, “tragically—tragically—we can remove one politician only by replacing him or her with another.”
At any rate, I chuckled out loud as I read these few paragraphs from DBH’s essay. They seem a rather depressing mirror and indictment of our political moment:

If one were to devise a political system from scratch, knowing something of history and a great deal about human nature, the sort of person that one would chiefly want, if possible, to exclude from power would be the sort of person who most desires it, and who is most willing to make a great effort to acquire it…
Yet our system obliges us to elevate to office precisely those persons who have the ego-besotted effrontery to ask us to do so; it is rather like being compelled to cede the steering wheel to the drunkard in the back seat loudly proclaiming that he knows how to get us there in half the time. More to the point, since our perpetual electoral cycle is now largely a matter of product recognition, advertising, and marketing strategies, we must be content often to vote for persons willing to lie to us with some regularity or, if not that, at least to speak to us evasively and insincerely. In a better, purer world—the world that cannot be—ambition would be an absolute disqualification for political authority.

Syndicated from Rumblings

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