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Christians and pop culture: why?

I don't watch television in the day much, and when I do, it's generally the news with my lunch or maybe something I'm watching for entertainment. While I was away, I DVR'ed Home Fires, and watched an episode of that with my lunch last week. While I was away, however, and had my parents' television on, I was subjected to a few shows that left me wondering about humanity in general. First, The People's Court, and second, Dr. Phil. Dr. Phil didn't last too long, though; we turned the channel to a nature documentary instead.

When the introduction for the show came on Dr. Phil, I said out loud, "Seriously? This how this guy makes a living?" Pardon my ignorance. It was the first time I had ever really watched him. It could only be called one thing: ridiculous. Why do people get on television and air their twisted stories? And better yet, why do people watch? It's kind of like staring at a car accident as you drive by.

Pop culture is everywhere. It seems like our culture's primary reason for existing is to be entertained. And it's not just the larger world. I have seen any number of pop culture references in Christian circles. All of a sudden, the female heroine for reading is Belle from Beauty and the Beast. I was about to read an article a couple of weeks ago and it opened with a reference to the new Disney live action movie as an introduction, and I clicked away. No, there is nothing wrong with entertainment, but it seems as if the fascination with popular culture is alive and well in the Church. And I don't mean simply partaking; I mean dwelling on it for longer than is necessary or helpful.

I was preparing my Sunday school lesson this week, and the opening question, in an effort to teach teens about Malachi and the sins of the people in that book, was to ask them to name a famous singer, athlete or other famous person, and tell why they admire that person. It's one thing to live alongside popular culture, but to encourage young people to look to those people as sources of admiration does not seem wise to me. Needless to say, I won't be opening my lesson that way. Even otherwise good Sunday school material has its weaknesses. This is why I believe churches ought to write their own material instead of buying pre-packaged material. But that's a topic for another post.

I grew up in a home that did not love or revere God. I ate up popular culture eagerly, because I was able to. I read silly teen magazines and dwelled on actors and actresses for my models. I reached a point in my late teens when I asked myself: "Is this all there is?" I wanted to move away from that kind of thing. When I was converted, I wanted to keep those things at a healthy distance. Perhaps my experience has made me more critical of popular culture than I should be. But I can't help but wonder how we can be counter-cultural (because, after all, the Christian life is indeed counter-cultural) if we don't keep some distance.

Someday, if I am a grandmother, I may be forced to endure Disney movies for the sake of my grandchildren. I hope that if that day comes, I will have the right attitude toward them, and encourage those little minds that entertainment is fleeting, and need not become our obsession.


Women in the news

While I was on vacation, and scanned Twitter briefly at intervals, I did notice an exchange of articles about women and blogging. I am not generally a reader of Christianity Today, but I did see a couple articles from that direction, but I only quickly skimmed them. I'm aware of the conversation going on, but it has not grabbed my attention. However, when I saw the title of one article, something along the lines of who is in charge of Christian blogging, my immediate thought was, "Whoever manages to generate the most attention."

I did read this morning an article that Tim Challies linked, from RNS. There were some interesting observations; interesting enough for me to break my own self-imposed rule that I don't use my blog to critique other blog articles. This isn't a critique, however. It's more an observation which arose from the article.

In the article, Hannah Anderson compares the way women go about leading to the way men go about leading. She concludes:

From moral decision-making to leadership styles, women, in general, work with an eye toward relationships and cooperation while men operate more impersonally and individualistically.

When I read that, I thought, "That is not me."

I am a leader in my local church. I take on responsibility quite naturally, and when I am given it it, I work to give it 100% of my attention. But I don't work with relationships and co-operation in mind. I am not a dictator, but when I go about leading, I am not so much concerned with gathering a group or forming community as I am in simply doing the job given to me and working with integrity. In fact, I tend to avoid groups of women. Maybe it is a hangup from my past, or maybe it is the result of having mostly male friends as a child and being the only girl in the family, but I am more prone to backing up from a group of women than I am in embracing it. Seeing pictures of women at conferences, smiling and happy together makes me feel a little melancholy at times, because that has not been my experience, yet everyone keeps telling me that it is the goal I am supposed to aspire to. 

This often frustrates me. The current "leaders" in the Christian blog world who are debating about who is in charge don't really speak for me. Many are much younger than I am, and have few similar experiences to mine. I am Canadian; most are from the U.S. And yes, that makes a difference. I cannot help but think that there is a particular socio-economic similarity among those leaders, and I wonder how women from other backgrounds react to what is written. This also leaves me wondering a bigger question: should women be seeking to be led by women they will never know? With whom there is no personal accountability? This is a basic question, of course, and one that is always left there in the background while at the same time, we actually do allow ourselves to be led. This has troubled me lately, as I am seeing more and more the potential downside of putting too much emotional energy into online relationships.

Questions are good. I've never been one to avoid asking questions. My questions don't revolve so much around who is in charge of the blog world, or which women are the leaders. Rather it is how much does my interest in such leadership influence my relationship to Christ? Is it more distracting than helpful? 


Unplugging is good for your mood

I returned late last night from a holiday away to see my family. My father turned 80 on Saturday, and I wanted to be there to celebrate with him. I finished my last term paper on the 23rd of April, scurried about trying to get my neglected house back into order, and then left early on the 27th. I had a window seat on the plane so I could watch the landscape transform from the rocks and water of northern Ontario to the flat, checkerboard fields of the prairies. I was home. I have lived more than half of my life here in Ontario, but I call Western Canada home. It is where I was born, and it is where my ancestors moved when they came to this country.

It was a very busy time away. On the day of my dad's birthday, we had breakfast with people we used to go to church with when we lived there, I had lunch with one of my oldest friends, and then along with my brother and his family, we had a dinner at my dad's golf club. My mother had arranged for a private room in the clubhouse, and I was able to spend time with my nephews, whom I had not seen for fourteen years. One of them is married now, and I got to know his wife a little. Although two of my brothers were not there, I know my dad enjoyed having everyone together. The next day, we headed into Manitoba to visit my dad's brother and sister-in-law. This couple is like a second set of parents, and I was eager to see them, since in the time between our last visit, my uncle had sustained a head injury and concussion in an accident. When our families begin to get older, we must take these chances to see them. 

On Sunday evening, after supper, I took my camera and went into the yard at the farm and puttered around, trying to catch the twilight. My uncle's dog followed along behind, protecting me. When I got to the fence to have a peek at the cows in the yard, he immediately inserted himself in between me and them and looked up at me as if to say, "It's okay; I'm here." I expressed my thanks with words of gratitute, assuring him that I appreciated his efforts. It was a clear evening, and there is always something so comforting about walking around the yard where I have spent so much time. There were little ghosts of me around every corner. The visit ended all too soon, and after being fed well, and catching up, we had to head home. I love to drive across the prairies. I know a lot of people find it boring, but I do not. There was a storm coming out of the southwest, and with my cellphone, I took pictures of the clouds rolling in. On the morning we left, I got up early for a breakfast date with another girlfriend, and then I had to face the always difficult task of saying goodbye.

I also read a fair bit while I was away. I read Keri Folmar's new book The God Portion and made some notes as I plan to write a review later today. I started reading Sinclair Ferguson's Devoted to God. And of course, there was time for games. That has always been a big part of my family. We played in teams, sometimes with my dad and I partnering up, and other times, the ladies against the men.

I did check in a few times with Facebook and Twitter, and I checked my email. But I spent very little time online, and I found my mood very light. Vacations and unplugging go together. Sometimes, we need a break. And being with old friends and family, remembering that we are social creatures and that nothing beats face to face communication, was exactly what I needed. I felt very grumbly before I left, and it was always after I had spent more time online that was useful. I was reading an article in the National Post yesterday about hockey, and the writer made a very apt comment. He said that Twitter is like the Roman Coliseum when it comes to sports. We love to watch the blood and gore. I think the Christian Twitterverse is a little like that as well. 

And now I am home. And after hearing about the antics my puppy perpetuated with my son, I think I have some work to do there. I have laundry, a pretty empty refrigerator, and a long list of spring cleaning chores. I am eagerly waiting for my Moral Theology grade to be finalized (got an A in systematic theology; yay!), and have reading plans and a knitted blanket to finish for my son before he is married in August. Will I continue to spend fewer hours on social media? I don't know, but I hope so. I do know one thing: taking breaks is a must. People are important. Online theology debate is not as important. And certainly observing those debates can be a mood killer. Visiting social media is not a problem; it's when we live in it and for it that makes it problematic.


Nothing like a good argument

My school year came to an end yesterday when I clicked on "send," emailing my prof my term paper on abortion. Following my final exam in Systematic Theology on Thursday, I basically lived with this term paper. I had all the research, but it was a task to sort through everything and crank out fifteen pages. I felt a weight lift, and following that, we took the dogs out for a walk in the orchard to celebrate. I felt a little giddy, wondering what I should read first. For the next few days, I have to clean up a house which has been much neglected and then, I head home to the west for a celebration and to soak up the big sky. There is something restful and soothing about returning to our roots.

I have looked back at what I have learned this year, and I think the most significant thing is the fact that argumentation skills are lacking; in my own life and from others. Every week in theology and ethics, I had to prepare reflections that demanded sound argumentation. There was no room for emotional appeals, and that was often hard in ethics. The prof was looking for sound arguments. It was a challenge, because I do tend to be an emotional person, and having to argue dispassionately is work for me. But I am seeing the absolute necessity of it.

In order to prepare for my research paper, which was on the justifiability of abortion (or, in the case of my thesis, the lack of it), I read Peter Kreeft's highly entertaining book The Unaborted Socrates. This book presents the return of Socrates to modern times to debate abortion with a doctor, a philosopher, and a psychologist. Being Socrates, or course, he uses Socratic dialogue to debate the issues. As he simply asks questions, he frequently leads his opponent to see the contradictions or discrepancies of their arguments. In the course of his dialogues, he keeps after his opponent to keep on topic, and not skirt the issue by bringing in matters that detract from the argument. As I read the book, I realized how often my own arguments are less a focus on the issue and more my own personal feelings or misunderstandings of an issue. It was a very helpful book not only for understanding the issues around the abortion debate, but for pursuing solid argumentation with everything.

I will share one of my favourite exchanges. In the course of discussing what makes a person a person, essence or functionality, Socrates's opponent, Herrod, comments:

Herrod: Wait a minute! Are you saying a fetus is a person just because it is a potential person?

Socrates: No.

Herrod: I should hope not, because if so, then a single spermatazoon or a single ovum is also a person, and spermicide becomes homicide. In fact, even the primordial slime that evolved into us during ten million years or so is a potential person, and slime-killing becomes murder.

Socrates: Ah, yes. Our Father Slime. I found it a fascinating experience to read your science library and meet your new gods. A real advance upon ours. We thought ourselves to be bastards of the gods above in our foolishness, rather than legitimate children of the slime below. We knew so very little about the true gods, it seems.

I confess to enjoying discussion that may involve a little debate, but I know that I don't always have the best argumentation skills. I'm beginning to learn, even if it is late in life. It is interesting, because now that I have had to confront my own skills, I am beginning to recognize bad argumentation in others. And there is a lot of it out there.

Now that school is done, I've got some reading planned. I'm starting with the book Knowing God and Ourselves. I picked up a used two-volume edition of the Battles/McNeill edition of the Institutes, and I am going to endeavour to read as much as I can of it over the summer. In addition to continuing to read Canadian fiction and non-fiction, I am starting right away with a book on baptism written by my prof and Sinclair Ferguson's Devoted to God. I plan on studying I Corinthians over the summer, along with Anthony Thiselton's commentary. I don't know how much I'll get read, because it is summer, and spending time in the outdoors and with other creative pursuits is something else I have planned. I shall be ready and able to meet in September with Greek Elements I and Church History I.


And then comes the letdown

It has been my intention to spend less time here talking about personal matters; being less "transparent" if you will. However, this has been on my mind.

A number of years ago, my husband and I spent some time helping out at a Christian camp. It was in the final week of the official season, and we were there for the last staff meeting. The camp director had a word for those young people who had spent their entire summer serving there. He cautioned them about the letdown which would ensue after having spent an intense six weeks with the same people. We often come away from a time of service fo God on a high note, and when life goes back inevitably to the normal routine, it can make one feel a little down. I have a little bit of that feeling already, knowing that yesterday was my last trip home from school until September. I drove home in a cold, driving rain, feeling a little flat.

Since September, I have spent a lot of time with the same people.  Some of those in my Systematic Theology class are also in my Moral Theology class, so there was always a lot to talk about week by week. I love to talk theology, and having a room full of others who share that love was a great experience. I will miss those conversations. I don't have a lot of people in my life who like to do that.

I find that among most Christian women of my acquaintance, there is not a similar love. I have a couple of friends who like to do so, but most of them don't. Spiritual conversations mostly revolve around personal issues of sanctification, daily life, and more practical matters. And we need those conversations. But most of the female friends I have don't want to spend time talking about the reasons for or against a pretribulational return of Christ. And if I suggested that I had any desire to do so, I may be labelled as one who does not take Scripture seriously. Nor is there a desire to understand the fine points of justification, what it actually means to say that something is a means of grace, or what Lutherans mean when they say Christ is "under" the sacraments. I find those things fascinating. I found the notion of that an evangelical believes in purgatory fascinating. And it was so enjoyable to have others around me who felt the same.

Having a community to talk about such things was something I realized I was missing. While I do have online friends, there is nothing online like the community I experienced this past school year. One thing has become glaringly apparent to me over the past four months: I don't fit in with the little pockets of female Christian fellowship I see on my social media feeds. I don't always agree with everything the female leaders say, and that earns me an automatic place outside of the circle. 

I have a busy summer ahead. I wanted to take a summer course, and there were some good ones available, but my son is getting married, and I have home projects to tackle. I have a healthy reading list waiting for me, and I hope to get my puppy walking on a leash with a lot more manners than he currently has. But I will miss that community. I don't expect to find it online anymore. At one time, I did, but not any longer. That is a letdown, too. Things change; it is the normal course of life. One thing doesn't change, though: God wants me to know more about him, and I will keep on learning even if it is in a more solitary venue. God is good, and the letdown will pass.