My mild surprise at the response to Childish Gambino: thoughts on local dance

 

childish-gambino-saturday-snl

About a week ago, the musical alter ego of Donald Glover, Childish Gambino released his amazing video, This Is America. It’s a great song, great video, great dancing: it’s tough material. Glover/Gambino is working on the interlocking problems of guns, racism, black America, policing, social awareness: and violence.

In case you’ve missed the video, a brief google and you will find a spectrum of responses, and, by and large, everyone expresses their delight at the total artistic expression, and the collective deep exhale: this video did it all for many of us. Lots of analysis and praise. Rightly so.

What took me by surprise involved the limited astonishment at the dance: including those who did not comment on it at all. How do I say this? I watched the video a couple of times, and I was mesmerized by the choreography. So much of the drama, the politics, the critique: it was all in the dance. Yet, for so many commentators: it was about a few segments or postures: the whole was not considered in regard to music.

I’m not a dance critic, and, of those who know me, all of my learning about dance comes through my family, especially from our days living in Houston. But, here’s the oddity: most of the really great political criticism these days can routinely observed and enjoyed in local dance companies. You don’t have to wait for the next production by Gambino.

Now, it is also true, that you can see some major choreographies around North America that have an excellent choreography, live music, and superb dancing at the highest levels of artistry. If you get an opportunity to see Ohad Naharin, don’t miss his company or choreography. All the works from Jiří Kylián have a similar edge, addressing historical matters of injustice and war.

But, more often than not, I am captured by the kind of critique you and I enjoyed from Gambino in local performances. My attendance at a few different festivals remains limited, but if you want to see more works like Gambino’s: Attend (and support!) local dance festivals. You’ll be amazed.

 

Dance Salad (Houston)

Dance Chicago

Pasadena Dance Festival

Los Angeles Dance Festival

 

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A partial fulfillment of a response to early questions on “What is a University?”

GFM H2O BottleIn my earlier post, I received a couple of comments, as well as some off-line responses that I will initiate a reply to here. As some of the readers know, I posted a link for my colleagues in IFES to read and respond to. Thanks to the nifty statistical apps embedded in WordPress, I learned that the post has been read throughout the globe, presumably by those in IFES. The post proper, regarded the question of “What is the University?”, and to be sure, I only intend to start a series that will respond to that question, and I observed some of the severe problems existing within the university.

Towards the end of the post, I raised some questions for Christian ministries. I serve within InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, a Christian ministry in the USA that serves on college campuses among students and faculty. I raised questions at the end of the post that asked why InterVarsity would have an exclusive focus upon developing ministries of evangelism and chapter planting in light of the pervasiveness of the many problems that are both unique, intertwined, and interlocking on the largest of the R1’s down to the smallest of the community college campuses.

I suggested—missed by some readers, I hasten to add—that all of those involved in university life, including Christian ministries, would do well to “hit the pause button”, take a deep breath, and ask more penetrating questions. In the case of InterVarsity and its allies, I am of the mind that we are well equipped to perform such tasks: of reflection, of listening, and of self-critique. I must add here: It turns out we are well-prepared and well-equipped for such tasks, and I would posit our range of influence possesses a greater radius among administrators, faculty, and students than we understand: or risk to understand.

If you scroll down to the comments on the post, you’ll observe Bob and Vinoth’s comments; the latter’s questions take on a much more focused appraisal of the dedication to evangelism and chapter planting made by the senior leadership of InterVarsity. However, both Bob and Vinoth have questions that overlap with each other. I’m going to risk here a conflation of their questions, and then, with future posts, disentangle that merging.

To wit: The Gospel of Jesus Christ makes enormous claims upon our lives while simultaneously offering the human person a remarkable breadth of freedom to respond to such claims. What outcomes might follow from acting on those claims in the kind of initiatives and responses in the university that promote human flourishing, interrogate and develop disciplines, and construct academic, student, and faculty structures?

Well… If you’re on InterVarsity Staff or you’re a faculty member, or students, or even an alumnae/alumnus, one might expect some signal in the ministry that makes reference to the Statement of Faith, and you’ll find a couple of items that are worth your attention. First, a linking statement gets made: “our beliefs lead us to these core values”, and second, a statement of context:

CONTEXT
College and University
We are called to be a redeeming influence
among its people, ideas, and structures.

So, if you’re a missiologist like myself, or a missionary like myself, or merely one who pays close attention to statements like these and watches what follow, you likely have some questions. Such as: What is this movement from “beliefs” to “core values”? The core values, as you no doubt have observed, are inventoried below the context statement. But, how is that movement made from beliefs to core values? And, why is the “context” inserted?

As almost an afterthought, the statement of faith realizes: “Oops! No faith is ever falling from the sky! Our faithfulness to the Gospel always takes place in some socio-cultural community, and ours overlaps with the university.” OK. Good. Perhaps, the context statement serves as a bridge to the core values. Let’s assume that to be true for the moment. And, let me insert something that the authors could not have known, although possibly anticipated: Their notion in the year 2000 of the answer to the question, “What is the University?”, can hardly serve in 2018. If pressed, I trust the authors would assent to more of a dynamic, living version of the answer. Let’s return to the bridge proposal.

The calling presents as vital, and from my social location: exciting! Such is my evangelical heritage: The winsome, non-oppressive, proclamation of the Gospel flows from an initial, now-enduring, encounter with the risen Jesus, who has given us the Holy Spirit. Without diverting too far from the post, let me suggest that the calling could plausibly contribute to energizing the most flaccid of evangelical communities. But, here is where Bob and Vinoth’s questions return to us.

As of now, in conversations with senior leadership of InterVarsity, one hears two distinct messages. One message recently declared a new sense of calling for the fellowship is to reach every corner of every campus. This “reaching” will be empowered by ministries of evangelism and chapter planting. A variety of resources, from cultivating prayer that both transforms people and intercedes for the campus, to increasing funding and to fund in more equitable ways, to developing training resources for staff, students, and faculty, to establishing new and renewed partnerships with other campus ministries: will be cultivated, grown, and deepened for the fulfillment of the calling. All of this sense of calling and the manifest resources has its origins in the senior leadership. All of the executives and management have oriented themselves toward interpreting and establishing plans to fulfill this calling.

The other message, though, fascinates me. When asked about “who” in the senior leadership has assumed responsibility for developing the redeeming influence for the ideas and structures on campus, the reply has continued to present remarkably and uniformly: “It is best if this development comes from the field staff.”

Many, many affirmations and critiques can—and should—be made of both messages. If we take up the conflation question I posed earlier, what we can mildly state is the following: Responding to Jesus Christ as Lord presents as a form of human flourishing. Recognition of the fallenness in a human person that occurs in the movement towards the healing, deliverance, liberation, and forgiveness offered exclusively in Jesus can surely receive affirmation as a form of human flourishing. Insofar as InterVarsity participates in a joyful and crisp declaration of the Gospel and such responses continue: Amen. One can hardly deny the enduring importance of such transformation. Indeed, such proclamation remains as an on-going imperative for Christians of all cultures and traditions.

But, what of the ideas and structures? Both Bob and Vinoth, coming from different angles, wonder about this. Vinoth makes the historical observation of campus outcomes, of which have power exerted throughout the globe; Bob asks about a long-term influence and (sorry Bob to put words in your mouth) the massive “what if” InterVarsity staff took on a longer emphasis to their respective campus context that would move the disciplinary content and university structures toward increasing human flourishing. Vinoth wonders if the senior leadership even has this concern for ideas and structures in their purview, the publication of the contextual statement notwithstanding.

It will come as no surprise: I wonder about this daily.

I fear the relative silence about ideas and structures runs in parallel to the lack of conversation and consultation between senior leaders across InterVarsity with their IFES colleagues. Let me identify or make transparent here a commitment and its attendant idea that dwells in an exclusive focus upon becoming a redeeming influence among people in a North American, evangelical context: When you commit to evangelizing and planting among a specific people, you can both inventory and identify who fulfills the commitment and responds to the efforts.

Of course, such has biblical sources for the commitment: that goes uncontested here. But, what frequently remains involved includes the tacit overlay of enlightenment and positivist ideologies that animate the commitment and the idea. Here, we find that the “decisions” can be counted; the timing of such can be made relative to specific ministry events; narratives assist in identifying the movements of persons toward life in the reign of God. Such efforts represent valuable synthesis: but, have their priorities aligned with positivist tendencies.

Of which, tend to flatten out context. Such an overlay (1) drapes expectations that may not fit with the university in its present historical context, (2) empowers urgency, and (3) diminishes thoughtful engagement with the university context. In strong contrast: Time, open-ended and undemanding, needed for careful, prayerful listening to the university; conversations and reading about ideas; observations of historical judgments, policy decisions and regulations that form the university structures: all of these and much more will raise expectations for learning about how a university lives and breathes.

In contrast to an enlightenment overlay, the above approach has remarkable history, traction, and credibility among contemporary mission partnerships. Those partnerships with local congregations allow the missionary the leisure to watch, listen, learn language, develop relationships, and discover the vitality of the existing institutions, as well as observe the remarkable and sordid breadth of the human condition in another culture. Suffice it to say: no rush is made to make the missionary competent in the culture, even if the agency and the local congregation agree that, of the many goals, the evangelization and establishment of witnessing communities rests in that partnership.

That kind of approach, while coherent to most modern missiology and mission education, fails to gain a hearing and traction in many campus mission agencies in North America. Thus, it should come as no surprise that: any dialogue about strategic ministry within the USA with those from outside does not have any mutual commitment; InterVarsity staff and students, once returned to campus from mission partnerships with IFES movements across the globe, have little-to-no challenge to demonstrate learning or advocacy for those who host them; and, thus: we have no commitment from senior leadership to developing a redeeming influence for the ideas and structures of the university that parallels the one to influencing people.

To face some possible objections, let me take some of those here. First, what about an alleged influence, or even dominance, of enlightenment upon our leadership? It does none of us any good to deny or ignore the social and cultural influences upon us. That such exist and have indeterminate power upon us cannot be contested. That we can resist such influence is also uncontested: which is why I bring the matter up to begin with. Lesslie Newbigin often observed that we have a conflicted relationship with the enlightenment: we’re products of it, and for that we can be glad (consider the alternatives); we’re also aware of how it has power upon us, and sometimes we feel helpless in the face of it; we’re also unaware of how the enlightenment exercises power upon us. When we make discoveries of how that tradition has contoured our thinking or expectations, we can recoil, and sometimes quite strongly.

And that leads to another objection: One doesn’t ordinarily repent of the influence of an idea or a structure. To which I reply: Thank you. So much of our contemporary reading of the word, “repentance” or the verb “to repent” (Gk., metanoia and metanoiete) involves one well-bounded meaning: turn from your personal sin. Conversely, when one reads such usage in the NT, say, the Second Gospel, we find a far-greater scope called upon by Jesus: “Repent, and believe the Gospel.” Such a call does not merely confront unbelief, as though that were the problem of his largely Jewish audience: surely they were a people with a long history of belief in YHWH.

No, the call to repent involved a much deeper confrontation with their ideas, how they operated upon those ideas, and the kinds of social forms generated from those people holding those ideas. Note well: Ideas and the people who hold/use the ideas are distinct from each other, but often conflated. To continue, the point made by Jesus here and elsewhere involved the investigation of what the people thought, and how they used such thoughts: and his invitation to reconsider both given his presence and his proclamation. Everything they knew was about to be called into question with the one person who could be trusted. Suffice it to say, his influence was and remains remarkable and trustworthy.

I’ll conclude on a couple of notes. The objects of InterVarsity’s redeeming influence,  “people, ideas, and structure” have a remarkable counterpart in sociology. The primary question of the entire discipline, according to Margaret Archer, involves the analytic discernment of the interplay of “structure, agency, and culture.” Let that one sink in for a moment.

Finally, let’s face it: it’s hard to count influence upon ideas and structures. But, once you’re living through an enlightenment perspective, it’s hard to even imagine what could constitute reporting on changes in ideas and structures, let alone empowering staff to exercise Gospel influence upon such ideas and structures in the University.

A Request for Prayerful Attentiveness: Missile Launching, Tax Shifting, & the “Big Lookaway”

I’m making a request for you to join me in prayer. I realize, as well, that some of you reading this request do not live in the US, but, more often than not, you are much more keenly aware of American politics than most Americans.  So, in advance, thank you for your intercession, above and beyond what I’m about to write here.

As many of you already know, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, aka, North Korea, launched a ballistic missile as a test on Tuesday (11/28/2017). Observers from around the world concluded that this test launch confirmed that such a missile could strike the US.

Meanwhile, the Congress of the US continues preparations for a tax reform bill. As some Americans understand, this reform will shift the tax burden away from corporations and on to most of middle-class Americans. A few highlights, or lowlights…:

  • Corporations will receive a decrease in tax from 35% down to 25%.
  • Homeowners will only receive a tax deduction on their mortgage interest for notes up to $500,000.
  • Graduate students will be taxed not only for their income (usually minimum wage work for serving as TA’s), but also for their scholarships/fellowships, any other stipends, and health care benefits. This change in taxes will amount to a 400% increase.
  • Low income mothers with young children will have to pay more to receive less coverage for health care.

These elements are well known, and I’ll leave it up to you to Google those various elements. This tax reform (or “shift”, as one friend put it) has gathered much attention, as it will cripple many households in states like California and New York, where the cost of living is higher, and, thus, mortgages routinely go over $500k; it also poses a direct public health threat to women/mothers of color and their children, as they are typically the largest number of women who benefit from tax breaks for health care; and, finally, the number of graduate students leaving PhD programs because of the financial burden of tax shifting will skyrocket: thus, cutting off original, pure research, which often resources business, health care, education, military, and the government.

But, the above is not why I’m asking you to pray. Rather, it is that intersection of both the DPRK’s test launch and the tax reform/shift bill that I would ask you to pray about. Put another way, this intersection invites us to “lookaway”: if you attend to the response/reaction of 45 to the missile launch, no one keeps their attention to the progress of the tax bill. If you watch the progress of the tax bill, you might not observe how the US military (and those of other nations) organize themselves to engage North Korea. If we lookaway, we might miss how forces that aim to harm and destroy get to advance. It’s a weird intersection, and it’s one that I pray the Lord will peacefully resolve.

So, pray to the Lord of the harvest: yes, for more workers. The need to gather peacemakers, men and women who will interact and collaborate under the Lordship of Jesus Christ and with the power and wisdom of the Holy Spirit remains unfulfilled. Pray that we we can remain awake and attentive to powers that aim to harm and not heal. Watch and pray: thanks.

Post-Women’s March Questions: And I’m troubled

So, I’ve kept myself involved with aging parents since early last week, and tried to observe from social media all of the events of the presidential transition. Then, the following day was a remarkable movement across the world: the Women’s March. Both events, from what I can discern, had unique elements.

Today, I read different versions of both events, and I started thinking about how weird some of the descriptions were. And, while driving around fetching this and that for my parents, I started reflecting on myself and the people who made the remarks: and I was troubled.

So, I’m going to post some questions that will come from “both sides,” because I realized that I’ve got some commitments and opinions that might deserve some walk-back, as well as walk-forward. (If that is a thing.)

First, I spotted a comment made by a former I-Student from the ministry: “This week they march for their own ‘rights’ over the unborn . Next week, braver women will march for the rights of the unborn over our own ‘rights’.” I thought, “Wow.” That’s it?  This alumnus of our ministry concluded that that was all the Women’s March was about? How was that possible? And: How did he learn about the status of the courage of one group of women contrasted with another? Is it that a smaller, numerical group will be afforded a comparative of “braver” when held up against a protest that literally spanned the globe? These questions are real ones, and I’m not asking these as some kind of rhetorical exercise to beat down an alumnus that I love and whose friendship I enjoy.

In a related note, Fr. Dwight Longenecker came to a similar conclusion. Here again, my thinking moved the dial a little more, in that it occurred to me: that Longenecker, as a former evangelical now Catholic priest (with a foray as an Anglican priest), demonstrated what you and I now know to be true: 99% of all pastors understand nothing about social theory, and even less about social change. I felt embarrassed by his blathering. He won’t be embarrassed, but, grace abounds Fr. Longenecker. Why did these two men make the Women’s March out to be all about and only about pro-choice and resistance to those who are pro-life? What I discovered is that they were not alone in coming to this conclusion.

Here’s another question that popped into my head as I was running errands for my parents: So, if this Women’s March was all about protesting threats to women’s rights, abortion rights, the right to have some self-determination regarding one’s physical status in a social environment, they did not need to protest, right? Right now, the law is totally on their side: the side of women. But, here’s the weird thing.

Some of the people (not the alumnus and not Fr. Longenecker) think the PEOTUS (He’s just the elected president by way of the Electoral College, right?) is just awesome stuff. Yet, the juxtaposition of a totally vulnerable child to an abortion with a reality TV actor telling someone that you can grab a woman’s genitals—exactly where a totally vulnerable child finds egress from the mother’s womb—strikes me as peculiar to the extreme: Here is a man who thinks violence to the very topography of a woman’s genitalia where a baby will enter the world can be a source of pleasure and gratification for himself also believes that US citizens should trust his judgment regarding the laws over the same woman’s body, including that baby.

This is a weird thing, no?

But, let me swing over to another question, for my friends who champion women’s rights, and likely participated in the Women’s March: somewhere on our planet…

There were reports of the pro-life movement receiving acceptance, then rejection, from the Washington D.C. organizers. One feminist wrote on her perspective. It made me really struggle at this very point. At first, I thought: “Come on! Can you really believe that you would’ve been welcomed?”

But, the next thought troubled me: deeply. For as we all know, this nation, this polis, is deeply divided. Duh. Yet, without any essentializing here at all, I found myself just baffled at how the Women’s March could reject any woman who shared all of the organizers’ indignation and outrage, as well as the calls for justice: save one matter.

I’m hardly suggesting this is easy or that the divide should simply be swept under the rug. Obviously, I have a far-too-limited understanding of the pro-choice movement. However, at the very moment of coming together, in outrage, the politics of exclusion held sway. The organizers of the Women’s March could have said: “We don’t have to agree about everything, but if you’re a woman, you have some long and deep say-so about your body, and your self-determination.” There are claims that with Planned Parenthood as one of the financial sponsors of the D.C. event, there was no way that any pro-life movement would be included in the march. Even so: It was a missed opportunity, sure, but it was also indicative of how polarized the divide is among those organizing the divide.

I’m going to leave you with a link to a speech by Robert Reich, made during Occupy Cal.

“Some of you may feel a little bit — what are we doing here? What exactly is our goal? I urge you, I urge you to be patient with yourselves, because with regard to every social movement of the last half-century or more, it started with a sense of moral outrage.”

I recall watching this on a live video feed, and thinking, “It’s on.” Because, some people are making claims that the Women’s March was just a one-off event. Hardly. Read Reich’s speech, and let it simmer for awhile, and let me know if you come to the same conclusion: It’s on.

Your questions? Please post them to Facebook. Thanks.

Link to Robert Reich’s speech at Occupy Cal.

This is not normal: An unusual week. To say the least

I started harvesting more news items, blogs, and other sources for this week’s version of #notnormal. It turned out to be quite a week of possibilities. Steve Bannon? More of Jeff Sessions? Betsy DeVos selected as Secretary of Education? The (unfortunate) firing of Charlie Strong?

No. Just under the wire: This.

screen-shot-2016-11-27-at-9-25-33-pm

So: The backstory here is DJT’s outrage that Clinton and others have requested an audit of the votes in a few states. We all might take a step back for just one moment and at least concede this: anyone who has won an election might have more than a little emotional resistance to this kind of effort. OK? That makes sense.

And, truth be told, when I first heard about the various momentum toward audits, I thought that DJT would scoop everyone with the high road: Say something to the effect that he welcomed such audits, as the outcomes would not only verify his victory, but it would also reaffirm confidence in voting in any election, no matter what kind of ballot would be cast. Right? Such statements would at least position DJT as one who held confidence in the process and could steady the anxieties of the electorate.

Instead, this guy, the so-called PEOTUS, has done a few things that simply move the dial toward the category of “he’s certifiable” through a single tweet. Of course, he made several others since then, but the damage is done.

First, he made a claim that he could never in a million years ever confirm. How he knows this to be true simply is never substantiated.

Second, he called into question the very process that got him elected. Is there a conspiracy that we should now know about that he was already aware of?

Third, and here is where he moves into the same territory that got Clinton in so much trouble for calling US citizens “deplorable,” he ends up labeling the Clinton voters as people who committed voter fraud. Really?
Clearly, words do not matter to this fella. The kind of wordsmithing that DJT practices hardly commends any trust in the soon-to-be Executive Commuter. Stay tuned. Last week was an unusual week.

#notnormal

Drugs, Asking, & Depression: On (the Rest of Us) Having a Moral Compass

I am interrupting this series on freshman in their faith commitments. Yesterday, Robin Williams was discovered dead of asphyxia. Williams had a long history of depression and drug addiction. In particular, Williams used illegal drugs, such as cocaine. Williams acknowledged many years ago that the death of his friend and colleague, John Belushi, from drug addiction had awakened him to his own problems.

More recently, his struggle with depression reemerged, as did the use of illegal drugs. Although quite open about his struggles with addiction and depression, apparently his transparency about these debilitating problems did not have sufficient power to alleviate the pain of depression or keep him from (allegedly) taking his own life.

I caught part of an interview on KTLA this morning, and that viewing prompted this post. An actress made an astonishing apology for Williams’ drug abuse and alleged suicide: and I mean apology in the traditional sense of justifying his actions.

I want to err here on the side of grief: I will assume that, like so many others I’ve heard over the years, when we grieve, we say things that are totally out-of-bounds and so exceptionally offensive. Were it not for the overwhelming feelings of loss and sadness within grief, we would banish such thoughts from our heads before ever allowing them upon our tongues. Yet, I could not help but think, “Wow: Why doesn’t the journalist intervene right here? This kind of talk on TV is unacceptable.”

Although completely independent, I could not help but think of the overdose death of Phillip Seymour Hoffmann earlier this year. Hoffmann also struggled with addiction to illegal drugs; in his case, the struggle was with heroin. He was also alleged to have problems with depression.

Both Williams and Hoffmann were adored and celebrated for their astonishing acting abilities, and the range of characters that they inhabited in film, theater, and TV. They had a cadre of professionals who served them, conducted business on their behalf, and empowered their convictions regarding the arts; they both had friends and family who were aware of the troubles and maladies that each suffered from. Indeed, although only one with a lay understanding, it occurs to me that those in closest proximity also experience some social conflicts and emotional fatigue.

But, that is where I would like to draw some attention. My lack of “professional” qualifications should be enough warning to you to confirm or investigate what follows. First, I wonder about the relocation of announcement of depression. In the last 24 hours, about every other FB post or tweet made some version of the following request: “If you’re depressed, please tell someone about it.” Or: “If you’re thinking of taking your life, please stop what you are doing, and tell someone about it.”

At one level, this kind of straight talk assumes that explicit, linear, no-nonsense announcements will introduce safety, intervention, and promote healing. And, I am inclined to agree. What little I know from my friends, however, who have depression tell me: Just declaring they are depressed often takes an enormous amount of energy and courage, both of which are often in short supply. So, the above requests hold the best of intentions: but, no one should believe for a moment those announcements will solve everything. Relocating the responsibility to the one with depression is no guarantee we’ll hear anything.

For there is some dispute as to whether depression can be healed. Again, I’m not the one to consult, but if you google “depression healing”, you’ll quickly observe the astonishing range of responses; what kind of depression, and what kinds of healing are possible within any particular version of depression: and you get my point. Just making announcements can’t be the solution to alleviate pain or divert someone from making an attempt on their life.

But, we need to probe in the midst of this historical moment about culpability. Even here, we need to look and listen carefully about what we say and do. I’m always more than aghast when I learn about artists who overdose on narcotics (or die from other causes precipitated from drug abuse), especially those for whom they previously received some of the best medical and psychological treatments available. Who are the people who sell these narcotics and other illegal drugs to these artists? If by chance or serendipity, you are one of those people: Stop.Now. You are setting up your colleague for an early demise, one that is completely preventable.

But, it would be far too easy to merely point fingers at drug dealers, no? I am thinking now of those of us who know someone who has depression. Not everyone should routinely ask this question: but, at least once, checking in: “How are you doing with depression? (Listen.) May I ask you about this again in the future? Who else knows this about you? (Listen) May I have permission to tell that person I spoke with you?”

I feel some anguish here; I have had some students and colleagues over the years who suffered from depression in a variety of forms, and some hid it so well, that my surprise, in hearing from some friends, still has emotional power from the disclosure. It is easier to remain quiet and “keep to ourselves.” I am not proposing anything heroic: far from it. I know at least two or three of you reading here who routinely practice my suggestions: and have been surprised by the worst possible outcome.

Still, I want to recover my “moral compass”: just remaining silent agrees to everyone wandering along in any possible direction. Join me in asking our family and friends, especially those we know who suffer from depression: “How are you doing today?”

Last thought on asking that moves to other forms of intervention. I had a student leader who was too close to a freshman student of the opposite sex; it was the freshman’s first term in the university. She became very despondent about her academic performance, and began isolating herself. The student leader, initially offering pastoral care, learned that the freshmen was considering ending her life. She followed this announcement by telling the student leader that if she learned that he disclosed this to anyone, she would instantly take her life.

So, the student leader kept this agonizing secret for more than a month. I would run into him, or her, sometimes together, and it began to be obvious from their body posture, tone of voice, and forms of communication with me and others that something was being hidden. A private confrontation with the student leader finally yielded the energy-sapping secret.

Now: I can move over to more of my professional experience for you: In short, anyone at anytime who declares to you their intent to take their life is also announcing that they need to be made safe from suicide. They will typically follow this declaration with the threat to fulfill that intent if you disclose it to anyone. You need to swiftly–if possible discreetly–contact law enforcement and get their help. Anyone who declares their intent to end their own life has given up the right for that to be kept secret. For clergy, medical and psychological professionals, and law enforcement personnel all know this: swift intervention is needed. Which is what I did, albeit based upon what little I did know about the freshman and the disclosure by the student leader.

There’s nothing heroic about this kind of action. She’s alive today, married (to someone else), and enjoys being a mother. I’ve had to intervene on behalf of international students as well; those experiences are culturally awkward, and, much to my disappointment, have not resulted in healed relationships over the years.

So, don’t let your family or friends just wander around in their depression. I realize: We all have our limits. It’s the keeping of silence and secrets that contributes to our lack of moral compass: Ask your friends and family with depression how they are doing. Throwing some light upon all of this will contribute to the journey of life. (Jn. 12:35)

Response to Pew Report on Rising Number of “nones” with Religious Affiliation: really, just one (big) thought

Earlier this week, the Pew Report on Religion announced its perceived most important result: the number of religiously unaffiliated increased in the last 5 years from just over 15% to just under 20%. Perhaps the most valuable description here is that what was formerly an intuition for most people is now quantified. For those wanting to know more about the increasing movement in the unaffiliated, there was a sidebar that offered some interpretation.

To me, this sidebar was informative, and leaves us with an impression that there are powers at work that will keep rolling through North America, almost without stalling, inexorably, and lending to the notion that the extinguishing of religious affiliation is a foregone conclusion. That impression needs to be examined, although not for the sake of preserving religions per se. Of course, some people may not agree with the impression, and what follows will be superfluous. Such readers may want to stick around anyway.

The sidebar observes four different theories to explain the increase, and they are as follows:

  1. Political backlash, i.e., people reject the attempts of organized religions to influence social institutions like marriage or school curriculum, and are repelled by institutions like the 1970’s “Religious Right” and others that were media savvy for their day and remarkably well organized for influencing elections and sitting politicians.
  2. Delays in Marriage; here, the idea is proposed that those who wait for matrimony (into their 30’s?) are less likely to participate in religious services or commit to any social institution.
  3. Broad social disengagement; here, there is larger trend, made famous by Putnam’s text, “Bowling Alone”, in which, just not religious organizations, but many social institutions are experiencing declines throughout the generations in participation, resulting in lower social capital and a remarkable decrease in communal experience.
  4. Secularization. I must admit: I thought this theory was moribund, and perhaps the editors/writers of the sidebar felt they needed to include this. Yet, even their data- and they admit as much- give further evidence the theory is lifeless. In short, the theory argues that as the overall economic/financial health of the society improves, their religiosity decreases; if the economic health is poor, the religiosity of a nation increases. In the US, the trend continues unabated: the GDP improves, and the nation’s religiosity increases. Why the theory was included doesn’t have any support from the data.

So, my one thought all along has been, how do the people respond to such forces? It needs to be made clear. Survey data doesn’t give us such information. Again, the theories proposed above don’t offer much direct engagement with the surveys or specifically with the respondents. So…

I would make a few suggestions for your reading, and such fall under one big thought: people already have some sense of mission in their lives. They may not use, or even resist, the use of the term “mission.” But for those who are thriving, they have some sense of purpose to their lives. They may not have a religious, let alone Christian, sense to that mission, but they’ve got it. I will defer to another day for a discussion of what is going on for those “who do not thrive.” But, for now, I want to attend to those who are thriving.

For those are the people who are negotiating and determining what kinds of constraints and enablements they encounter when they consider religious affiliation. Religious affiliation doesn’t possess, in and of itself, some social hydraulic that pre-determines an outcome socially. Nor does it hold some kind of special power that induces a unique psychological state that human persons are compelled to act upon.

My guess is that most readers are following me: in other words, I’m trying to make sure we preserve the capacities and dignities that all human persons possess, while denying that the properties and powers of religious affiliation and its related institutional structures will/must produce a specific emotional and social status or produce a certain allegiance.

Let’s not abandon the very real capacities that all human persons have for inner deliberations, of the many kind that exist, and to determine, in response to religious affiliations, how to intersect in a fruitful manner that accounts for their personal sense of mission/purpose.

On the one hand, attaching ourselves to the different theories above concurrently hands off our latent powers to reflect upon the social and cultural context one finds one self in, and merges such without any real consideration of what it means to be human. On the other hand, by keeping a confident hold on such remarkable properties leaves room for learning, testing, a “changing of one’s mind,” and the possibilities that one’s personal projects can fallibly include religious affiliation: and still retain a sense of mission that coheres with that religious affiliation: and activate the powers that accompany a religious commitment.