Monthly Archives: September 2007

On Spanglish, and Other Movies I Only Watch Because I’m Married

The title should clue you in as to why I would blog about a touchy-feely chick-flick like Spanglish. I have to admit that I was not exactly losing sleep in anticipation of watching this one. However, a certain Mrs. Strachan very much desired to watch it, and so, lo and behold, I am ready and available to comment on this surprising film.

Made in 2004 by director James Brooks and starring Adam Sandler, Tea Leoni, and Paz Vega, the film actually makes a number of noteworthy points. The film does so by offering the audience three-dimensional characters who each possess considerable flaws and strengths. The basic plot–a Mexican woman becomes the maid to a rich white couple–is less interesting than the characters themselves. Sandler is a talented but passive father and husband, Leoni is a narcissistic, image-obsessed wife and mom, and Vega is a traditional woman attempting to give her daughter a good life in the absence of a husband. I found the first two characters the most interesting as they reflect definite cultural realities in the current day. Sandler’s character is vocationally a man but socially a boy. He possesses little strength and conviction by which to lead his household and is constantly escaping the home to blow off frustration built up by his high-strung wife, who is simply crying out (unconsciously) for her husband to lead and help her and speak hard truth to her. He fails to do so, meek and nice as he is, and she begins to cheat on him with another man, a man who is strong and confident. This is a great commentary on many men today who are so nice and meek that they have lost all conception of conviction and courage, not to mention leadership.

Leoni’s character indicts American women who obsess over body image, social standing, and the approval of others. Essentially, Leoni’s character is a study in what talented, strong women become when men do not lead them well and provide a good model of masculine initiative and strength. Such women become shrill and scattered, emotionally tenuous, and frustrated, albeit in a way that defies easy communication. The home looks broken to the movie’s watcher, and some would conclude that both of the spouses are at fault, and there is truth to this assertion, but this is primarily an indictment of male passivity. When men abdicate their leadership role, women struggle. Placed in a role they intuitively know is not theirs (90% of Americans today still believe men to be the household head), women go back and forth between frustrated assertiveness and tearful defeat. They have no means of solving the problem on their own, because though they may well have problems of their own that contribute to their husband’s passivity, they are not ultimately able to fix the problem. Only their husband can do this, and he can only do it if he realizes that according to the Bible he is to be a rock to his family, a pillar of strength, a model of leadership.

Spanglish, though it might disagree with me on the source of masculine strength, understands this point. It makes a powerful and nuanced statement in a culture awash with confusion over gender roles and basic questions of masculine and feminine identity. There are many funny scenes, nuanced characters, and good lines (and some objectionable content, so consider that), but nowhere does the film make a bigger impact than in its indictment of men for their passivity, their weakness, their boyishness, qualities which bring them–and their families–to their knees.

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On Spanglish, and Other Movies I Only Watch Because I’m Married

The title should clue you in as to why I would blog about a touchy-feely chick-flick like Spanglish. I have to admit that I was not exactly losing sleep in anticipation of watching this one. However, a certain Mrs. Strachan very much desired to watch it, and so, lo and behold, I am ready and available to comment on this surprising film.

Made in 2004 by director James Brooks and starring Adam Sandler, Tea Leoni, and Paz Vega, the film actually makes a number of noteworthy points. The film does so by offering the audience three-dimensional characters who each possess considerable flaws and strengths. The basic plot–a Mexican woman becomes the maid to a rich white couple–is less interesting than the characters themselves. Sandler is a talented but passive father and husband, Leoni is a narcissistic, image-obsessed wife and mom, and Vega is a traditional woman attempting to give her daughter a good life in the absence of a husband. I found the first two characters the most interesting as they reflect definite cultural realities in the current day. Sandler’s character is vocationally a man but socially a boy. He possesses little strength and conviction by which to lead his household and is constantly escaping the home to blow off frustration built up by his high-strung wife, who is simply crying out (unconsciously) for her husband to lead and help her and speak hard truth to her. He fails to do so, meek and nice as he is, and she begins to cheat on him with another man, a man who is strong and confident. This is a great commentary on many men today who are so nice and meek that they have lost all conception of conviction and courage, not to mention leadership.

Leoni’s character indicts American women who obsess over body image, social standing, and the approval of others. Essentially, Leoni’s character is a study in what talented, strong women become when men do not lead them well and provide a good model of masculine initiative and strength. Such women become shrill and scattered, emotionally tenuous, and frustrated, albeit in a way that defies easy communication. The home looks broken to the movie’s watcher, and some would conclude that both of the spouses are at fault, and there is truth to this assertion, but this is primarily an indictment of male passivity. When men abdicate their leadership role, women struggle. Placed in a role they intuitively know is not theirs (90% of Americans today still believe men to be the household head), women go back and forth between frustrated assertiveness and tearful defeat. They have no means of solving the problem on their own, because though they may well have problems of their own that contribute to their husband’s passivity, they are not ultimately able to fix the problem. Only their husband can do this, and he can only do it if he realizes that according to the Bible he is to be a rock to his family, a pillar of strength, a model of leadership.

Spanglish, though it might disagree with me on the source of masculine strength, understands this point. It makes a powerful and nuanced statement in a culture awash with confusion over gender roles and basic questions of masculine and feminine identity. There are many funny scenes, nuanced characters, and good lines (and some objectionable content, so consider that), but nowhere does the film make a bigger impact than in its indictment of men for their passivity, their weakness, their boyishness, qualities which bring them–and their families–to their knees.

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Filed under Adam Sandler, dads, fatherhood, manhood, masculinity, Spanglish, Tea Leoni

On Spanglish, and Other Movies I Only Watch Because I’m Married

The title should clue you in as to why I would blog about a touchy-feely chick-flick like Spanglish. I have to admit that I was not exactly losing sleep in anticipation of watching this one. However, a certain Mrs. Strachan very much desired to watch it, and so, lo and behold, I am ready and available to comment on this surprising film.

Made in 2004 by director James Brooks and starring Adam Sandler, Tea Leoni, and Paz Vega, the film actually makes a number of noteworthy points. The film does so by offering the audience three-dimensional characters who each possess considerable flaws and strengths. The basic plot–a Mexican woman becomes the maid to a rich white couple–is less interesting than the characters themselves. Sandler is a talented but passive father and husband, Leoni is a narcissistic, image-obsessed wife and mom, and Vega is a traditional woman attempting to give her daughter a good life in the absence of a husband. I found the first two characters the most interesting as they reflect definite cultural realities in the current day. Sandler’s character is vocationally a man but socially a boy. He possesses little strength and conviction by which to lead his household and is constantly escaping the home to blow off frustration built up by his high-strung wife, who is simply crying out (unconsciously) for her husband to lead and help her and speak hard truth to her. He fails to do so, meek and nice as he is, and she begins to cheat on him with another man, a man who is strong and confident. This is a great commentary on many men today who are so nice and meek that they have lost all conception of conviction and courage, not to mention leadership.

Leoni’s character indicts American women who obsess over body image, social standing, and the approval of others. Essentially, Leoni’s character is a study in what talented, strong women become when men do not lead them well and provide a good model of masculine initiative and strength. Such women become shrill and scattered, emotionally tenuous, and frustrated, albeit in a way that defies easy communication. The home looks broken to the movie’s watcher, and some would conclude that both of the spouses are at fault, and there is truth to this assertion, but this is primarily an indictment of male passivity. When men abdicate their leadership role, women struggle. Placed in a role they intuitively know is not theirs (90% of Americans today still believe men to be the household head), women go back and forth between frustrated assertiveness and tearful defeat. They have no means of solving the problem on their own, because though they may well have problems of their own that contribute to their husband’s passivity, they are not ultimately able to fix the problem. Only their husband can do this, and he can only do it if he realizes that according to the Bible he is to be a rock to his family, a pillar of strength, a model of leadership.

Spanglish, though it might disagree with me on the source of masculine strength, understands this point. It makes a powerful and nuanced statement in a culture awash with confusion over gender roles and basic questions of masculine and feminine identity. There are many funny scenes, nuanced characters, and good lines (and some objectionable content, so consider that), but nowhere does the film make a bigger impact than in its indictment of men for their passivity, their weakness, their boyishness, qualities which bring them–and their families–to their knees.

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The Gospel Growth Conference

I’ve mentioned this once before on this blog, but I want to do so again. Matthias Media and 9Marks Ministries are hosting the “Gospel Growth” conference in about a month’s time. If you are interested in going, all you need to do is click on this link and read about the conference. Here is a blurb from the website:

“It’s hard for pastors not to be mesmerized by church growth. Who doesn’t want their congregation to grow? Who doesn’t want to see numbers and budgets increasing year by year? And who isn’t greatly interested when the latest growth model comes along, the latest research, the latest insight that promises us the key to such growth?

But there’s growth and there’s growth.

Understanding what the New Testament means by growth, and how that growth happens, sets us free. It liberates us from anxiety and self-doubt, and from the slavery of chasing the latest program.”

I might also note for my extensive seminary audience (all six and a half of you) that you get a reduced rate, as do pastors of small churches (this is true). If you are a seminary student and also a small church pastor, then 9Marks actually pays you to come, and gives you a gift bag full of hard-to-find nicknacks–a used J.I. Packer sock, a piece of lint from Charles Spurgeon’s coat, and a quill from Richard Sibbes’s pen. Okay, I’m kidding about this last benefit, though it would not surprise if one were to find at least one of the trinkets in the neo-Puritan halls of Capitol Hill Baptist Church.

In all seriousness (and there’s not much left here as we head into fall break, bless its name), you should go to the conference. It is on a great topic, and it will I’m sure be an enriching and challenging opportunity to think hard about the motives and methods of evangelical ministry.

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Is Social Conformity a Personal Evil?

This is a hard question to wrestle with. It’s one of the main questions I attempt to think through on this blog. How much should we conform to society, and how much should we make our own hay? There are few easy answers to this question.

One thing I am personally able to say with confidence is that it is the duty of a Christian to observe one’s social culture with radar glasses specially designed to detect consistencies and inconsistencies relative to the Christian faith. Christians cannot simply assume that the culture surrounding them is neutral–the style of dress, of speech, of music, of recreation, of political thought, and the list goes on. Christians have in the past made the key mistake of thinking that culture is simply neutral and therefore can be embraced wholeheartedly. This problem is common today, as many of the younger generation have embraced the spirit of the age and have acceded (unknowingly) to the American counterculture. Evangelical Christianity and counterculture antiauthoritarianism are strange bedfellows. This is not to say that there is no overlap between the two movements. There may well be. But surely it is right to say that we cannot completely correlate the two movements and assume that we can seamlessly blend them by simply hollowing out nonChristian beliefs and inserting our own. Does not belief influence the way one approaches culture and society? Shouldn’t it? Do we have a problem on our hands when we assume either knowingly or unknowingly that it does not? I think we do.

Many Christians, it strikes me, are simply lazy about the culture. They don’t want to think it through. They don’t want to examine it to see whether its ideals and its practical forms are inconsistent with Christianity. They don’t want to think about their style of dress and whether it is respectful or unpleasant to others. They don’t begin to think about the morality of NFL football, with its glorification of violence and sometimes shocking injury. Does the average Christian, when he’s watching the highlights of various games, think about the fact that many of these men are bludgeoning themselves, subjecting themselves to multiple concussions and injuries that will detract from their ability to care for a family and lead a normal life? Does he think about whether the violence he’s watching is acceptable for himself? Does the average Christian woman think about how society has affected her understanding of modesty, of gender roles, and of romance? Many of us, it seems, do not think. We simply accede to the culture and adopt its practices and ideas without thinking. Yes, we avoid the big sins, the career-enders, so to speak, but do we take captive every thought for Christ? Do we pursue God’s glory in all things and all days, not just Sunday?

But there is a flip side here, and it is this. There are times when it is good to conform to society and not to buck against it. Conformity is a horrible, terrible, no good, very bad word in today’s society (to appropriate shamelessly the title of a children’s book from my youth). But it is not the case that conformity to society is inherently evil and harmful. There are many instances in which it is good and right not to run with the spirit of the age and rebel against things simply because one can. It is often good and right and mature to sidestep calls to personally express oneself and instead to demonstrate a calm and respectful spirit. What does all of this mean? Well, it means that we must carefully discern our culture and the worldviews that affect us. We must avoid an embrace of anti-authoritarianism for its own sake even as we avoid an unthoughtful acceptance of whatever culture has to offer us. We need to think and discern and work out matters of everyday life. Each of us must answer the question: is there a good reason for my conformity to culture on this point? Is there a good reason for my failure to conform to culture on this point? Or I am simply swimming with the crowd, whether it be the anti-authoritarians or the conformists? Neither group has it all right; neither group merits the unthinking acceptance of the Christian.

All must be considered; all must be discerned.

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Do the Clothes Make the Man: The Formality-Informality Debate

I appreciated very much Ben’s kind words and his comment from yesterday about seeing very dressed up people living disastrous lives. This is certainly the case for many people in our world. The clothes–and beyond this, one’s outward appearance–often do not tell the story. Many people–this clearly is not a single-sex issue–are hurting and discombobulated who appear to be quite happy and whole.

I think that there are two errors we can make in this debate. First, we can follow past generations and equate dressing up with personal holiness and moral goodness. Two, we can follow this generation and equate dressing up with stifling, heart-killing, conformity-inducing behavior. Both of these approaches are flawed, in my humble opinion. How about a middle way that looks something like this: we recognize that one’s clothing style does not necessarily reflect one’s holiness. We remind ourselves that image can be manipulated and that clothes are a part of image. At the same time, we also recognize that it is often good to give honor to an event. It is good to dress up for certain things because our clothes can connote respect for the occasion. Our generation tells us this is ridiculous. I think this generational thinking is off-base. While we do not need to think that our style of dress directly correlates to our morality, we also do not need to think that our style of dress has nothing to do with it. Both sides can make their own mistake. Much better, I think, to maturely understand that it is good to conform to certain societal patterns, that it is good to show respect for certain institutions and events, even as we recognize that clothing is an external adornment, not internal compass.

If the Lord gives me children, I want to raise them to understand that it is good to respect social convention, and that it is no great thing to rebel against it simply to rebel, or simply because “the clothes don’t make the man.” I want them to show respect for others and for events by dressing up for more solemn occasions. I don’t want this to go overboard, but I do want it to happen. At the same time, I will work to show them that clothing is not exactly correlated with holiness and that society often goes way overboard in assessing one’s character by one’s clothing. In this way, I hope to avoid both mistakes–a slovenly, rebellious comportment on one hand, and an uptight, over-serious demeanor on the other. As with most things, this issue requires balanced thinking. Neither the older generation nor the younger generation has it all right. The older says, helpfully, to the young, “respect tradition,” while the younger says, helpfully, to the old, “don’t exalt it.” We need to hear both of these sides and work out how we carry ourselves accordingly.

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Cargoes, Sweat Pants, and the Lost Path to Maturity

I recently read through Diana West’s new book The Death of the Grownup. I highly recommend it and found it quite stimulating. One of West’s purposes in writing is to highlight the immaturity of the younger (and older) generation. According to West, both young and old alike today strive to emulate not the mature and wise but the young and foolish. It’s a strange tradeoff that has resulted in the proliferation of “cargoes,” as I once heard CJ Mahaney call them, and a generation of immature twentysomethings.

The way one dresses does not entirely reveal one’s maturity, and I’m not one to knock cargo shorts. I have a few pairs myself. While a pair of shorts may not immediately disclose one’s maturity level, many young people today show their immaturity in many shapes and colors (literally). It is as if the idea of dressing up, of clothing oneself in a way that is decidedly mature and adult, of cloaking oneself in dignity, is lost entirely on American youth. We have inherited the previous generation’s distaste for formality and decorum, though we’ve taken this distaste to new levels. It is interesting to see young people wear sweat pants to public events, as if they were slacks. Yes, sweat pants are the new slacks. Now, I’m all for informality on occasions, and there is a point to be made and recognized about the measure of one’s character and identity not being found in clothing. I’m all for that. And as a Christian, it can be helpful in some ways to dress down in order to connect with people and help them to feel welcome. But with all this said, one has to wonder if something is not lost with the current generation. Our informality has not merely corrected our formality–it has overwhelmed it.

I can remember stealing into my parent’s bedroom when no one was around and trying on my dad’s shoes and shirts. I loved wearing his fleece jacket when it was cold, though my parents had provided me with my own. In the current day, being around an employer who dresses with sophistication has caused me to want to look like a man, not like a teenager. There is something alien and alluring about the world of mature fashion. One senses in encountering a man or woman of sartorial maturity that there is something dignified and different about such a person. One often instinctively wants to be like such a person. There is something good in this. Sweat pants have their place. But so do suits and ties, button-ups and belts. It is not a bad thing for a young man to want to be a man. It is a bad thing for a young man to want to stay a man, and for a man to yearn to go back to his teenage years. We have somehow convinced ourselves that maturity is bad, that aging is graceless, and that teens are to be idolized. We are, I trust, in the process of finding out that we have things backwards.

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The Final T4G Ad: Dever as 70s Hipster

Here is the fourth and final “ad” for T4G 2008. This is a picture of a young Mark Dever. It’s a good picture. I must say, he was a pretty cool guy back in the day. As the ad implies, the years have been, um, challenging. (Fact: when in a verbal bind, the word “challenging” can get you out of all kinds of trouble.) I am of course jesting. Mark is now large and in charge, which is no bad thing. He used to be thin and insouciant, so the tradeoff on the whole isn’t that bad. In case you’re still reading, I’m not sure what any of the above writing really means. With that, this strange paragraph ends.

As I close out the week, I want to thank Terry for his very kind comment left yesterday. The little series on vocational decision was all-too-brief, but I am very glad to hear that it proved even a little helpful for someone. These are big questions we face in life and they are not often easy to handle. One does so with care and prayer. I am always thankful to receive feedback on this blog, and encouragement is always welcome, and so thanks, Terry, for your words. Hope everyone has a good weekend, and remember to give the T4G website a look if you haven’t.

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How a Man Decides His Way

Writing you from beautiful Wake Forest, NC, as I’m on the road and have had little computer access, I want to give a few more thoughts on how a man decides his way in the world. The criteria I posed for a man’s vocational decision were as follows:

1) Self
2) Family
3) Society
4) Kingdom of God

In my humble estimation, most men take into account the first factor. Most men consider what they are good at and what they like doing before they begin a career. Some men take number 2 into account, though men must carefully consider whether the amount of work they do is justified. Yes, you may draw more salary, but are you sacrificing time with your family? Is your wife cared for? A man must provide, but he also must no neglect.

Many Christians, I think, forget to take the third factor, society, into account. One should consider how the work one does figures into society. Does it make a positive contribution? Simply because we are citizens of the kingdom of God, the society of God’s redeemed, does not mean that we are not citizens of our country. Some Christians and Christian movements have been guilty of so emphasizing the heavenly citizenship that they forget the earthly. We are not in heaven yet, and God has given us a society to be a part of. We ought not to withdraw from it, but to contribute in positive and constructive ways to it. Christian men should thus carefully consider this third factor in choosing their vocation–how will this impact the world in which I live?

Finally, Christian men must wrestle with whether their prospective work advances the kingdom in some way. Most of us will not enter full-time vocational ministry, but all of us can advance the kingdom by speaking the gospel when possible, living righteously, and bringing justice and healing to an unjust and broken world. As men of God and agents of physical and spiritual dominion, we must weigh all these factors and then choose our career before men and, most importantly, before God.

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How Does a Man Choose His Way in Life?

This question came up in my brief series on manhood last week: is it wrong for a responsible man to be a toymaker? Asked anonymously, this question prompted much thought on my part over the weekend. I won’t yet answer this directly. Instead, I want to try and sketch out a framework by which a Christian attempts to answer this question. This is no perfect framework, but it is nonetheless an effort to provide one.

It strikes me that there are four categories a man must consider in deciding his vocation.

1. Self. A man must consider what talents and abilities he naturally possesses. He should think hard about what he likes doing and whether he is good at doing it. He should take care not to think lazily at this point. He should not merely direct himself to what he likes, but to the profession that allows him to best combine his talents and his preferences. Men should ask themselves whether the prospective profession is a waste of their time and ability or a proper channel for it. Stewardship is the issue here, and each man must answer this question for himself, though with the counsel of friends, family, and his local church.

2. Family. A man should consider how his work will affect his family. He should choose a profession that will enable him to provide financial stability for his family. He should consider how much time a particular job will take him away from his family. It will likely be difficult at times to balance these factors–the need to provide versus the need to spend time with his family–but men can take comfort knowing that God has called them to be providers. However, it seems true that Christian men will often not be the employee who is able to do anything for his company. Christian men understand that their family comes first. All this has to be considered by a man entering the workforce, or preparing to do so.

3. Society. I think many Christians neglect this aspect of vocational consideration. We can so emphasize our citizenship in Christ’s kingdom that we neglect our God-given role in society. It is appropriate for Christian men to consider how the work they are doing will affect society. Believers should seek to positively contribute to society. This will mean carefully weighing potential jobs in order to determine which will best contribute positively to society, and which will make a greater difference to others in the long run. Oftentimes, this will mean passing up one good thing for another.

4. Kingdom. Christian men must consider how their work fits into kingdom advancement. We recognize that all that we do either advances or impedes the kingdom. Men must thus take into consideration whether their work not only contributes to society, but whether it contributes to the cause above all others, the cause of the extension of God’s glory over all the earth. Men must ask themselves if their jobs lead them to do something immoral and unhelpful. Can we be a gospel witness in our profession? Can we pursue helping others over mere personal enrichment? From a kingdom perspective, is this job a waste of my time and talent? Am I able to use my God-given abilities for God’s glory in this job? This is the fundamental question, and the one that must be answered with care.

There’s a very humble outline of the factors a man of God should consider in choosing his vocational direction. Even with this outline or others, easy answers will sometimes evade the responsible man of God. Tomorrow we’ll look more at how one handles such a situation.

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