Monthly Archives: May 2009

The Link 5.29.09: Mat Kearney’s Music, Bill Clinton’s Life, and Marley (and Me)

kearney1. Musician Mat Kearney has a new album out, City of Black and White.  Upon hearing the incredible first single, “Closer to Love”, I immediately downloaded the whole thing.  It’s well worth the price.  Kearney, a self-identified Christian, has made a stirring, inspiring album.  For those of us who have been following him for several years now, it’s exciting to see him getting a great deal of recognition and support. 

2. The New York Times magazine is running a feature on Bill Clinton’s post-Presidential life.  It’s revealing, impressive, and sad.  Impressive because Clinton can, in one conference, raise billions of dollars for (some) good causes.  Sad because he seems quite lost.

3. Have you seen the film Marley & Me?  I had not, and was not expecting much.  It’s the most conservative, pro-family movie I’ve seen in a while.  It features a stay-at-home mom!  They do exist, yes, in remote locations.  Anyway, very enjoyable.  Grossed $225 million worldwide.  And there are not more movies made like this because…?

4. It appears that the whole “I can gain as much weight as I want because I’m pregnant” thing isn’t advisable.  I’ve got to say, that always sounded too good to be true.  Sorry, ladies.

5.  Hugs–there are lots of them.  In schools.  Good?  Bad?  Some schools are banning hugs, while others celebrate them.  I have to say two things: 1. There is way too much hugging nowadays, and it’s especially inappropriate for young people.  2. It is a bit funny to ban hugging.  That’s all.

–Have a great weekend, all.

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The Harvard Happiness Study: Or, The Evasive Presence of Happiness in a Sinful World

happiness-wideFound this engrossing article, entitled “What Makes Us Happy”, in The Atlantic.  It covers the 75-year-old Harvard happiness study, one of the longest-lasting and most important of modern psychology.

In it, the author, Joshua Wolf Shenk, makes this noteworthy point:

“The story gets to the heart of Vaillant’s angle on the Grant Study. His central question is not how much or how little trouble these men met, but rather precisely how—and to what effect—they responded to that trouble. His main interpretive lens has been the psychoanalytic metaphor of “adaptations,” or unconscious responses to pain, conflict, or uncertainty. Formalized by Anna Freud on the basis of her father’s work, adaptations (also called “defense mechanisms”) are unconscious thoughts and behaviors that you could say either shape or distort—depending on whether you approve or disapprove—a person’s reality.”

Read the whole thing. There is a great insight to be had here, I think.    It is this: life is hard.  It is about struggle.  Unlike the hedonistic, life-is-beautiful vision of the world peddled by much popular culture, the directors of this study came to realize that life is at its core about navigating hardship and coping with difficulty.

How one copes with challenges makes all the difference.  This corresponds nicely with the Christian worldview.  It is, in a sense, what the Bible teaches us about life in a post-fall world.  How we respond to our sin and a fallen world determines our earthly happiness and, most importantly, our eternal destiny.

It’s good to remember this insight.  The wisdom literature of the Bible make it in a number of ways, even as the New Testament clothes it with distinct categories.  Today, this very day, life is not so much about cloud-hopping, about avoiding pain and suffering, but rather about how we handle the challenges that will surely come our way.

This mindset is a bit hard for some to accept.  But it is clearly realistic, and it clearly reflects the realities of life in a post-Adamic world.  None can evade the curse here.  It affected even our Savior, who showed us the way to handle pain, to meet suffering, and to die triumphantly in a world of defeat.

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Shopwork in a World of Cubicles

wrenchFound a great article called “The Case for Working with Your Hands” from the NYT magazine (Photo by Alec Soth for Magnum Photos).  The author, Matthew Crawford, attained a PhD in political philosophy from the University of Chicago and went to work at a K Street thinktank in DC before leaving it to run his own motorcycle repair shop.  The piece has much to commend it, including this suggestion:

“There is good reason to suppose that responsibility has to be installed in the foundation of your mental equipment — at the level of perception and habit. There is an ethic of paying attention that develops in the trades through hard experience. It inflects your perception of the world and your habitual responses to it. This is due to the immediate feedback you get from material objects and to the fact that the work is typically situated in face-to-face interactions between tradesman and customer.”

The whole thing is worth reading, as it provides opportunity to reflect on the modern, office-based economy and how such an environment shapes us.  I recall having to work outside as a child in Maine blueberry season.  I learned the value of hard work in a way that only a manual trade can teach you.

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Newsflash: Modern Women Are Unhappy

douthat-profileNew York Times columnist Ross Douthat has just penned a provocative piece called “Liberated and Unhappy” that briefly analyzes a new study entitled “The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness” by economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers.

Here’s what Douthat says about the study:

“[T]he achievements of the feminist era may have delivered women to greater unhappiness. In the 1960s, when Betty Friedan diagnosed her fellow wives and daughters as the victims of “the problem with no name,” American women reported themselves happier, on average, than did men. Today, that gender gap has reversed. Male happiness has inched up, and female happiness has dropped. In postfeminist America, men are happier than women.”

Douthat takes a moderated approach in his analysis of the situation, eschewing either a “strict feminist” or a “gender-role traditionalist” line:

“Feminists and traditionalists should be able to agree, for instance, that the structures of American society don’t make enough allowances for the particular challenges of motherhood. We can squabble forever about the choices that mothers ought to make, but the difficult work-parenthood juggle is here to stay. (Just ask Sarah and Todd Palin.) And there are all kinds of ways — from a more family-friendly tax code to a more accommodating educational system — that public policy can make that juggle easier. Conservatives and liberals won’t agree on the means, but they ought to agree on the end: a nation where it’s easier to balance work and child-rearing, however you think that balance should be struck.”

He concludes with these on-target suggestions:

“But a new-model stigma shouldn’t (and couldn’t) look like the old sexism. There’s no necessary reason why feminists and cultural conservatives can’t join forces — in the same way that they made common cause during the pornography wars of the 1980s — behind a social revolution that ostracizes serial baby-daddies and trophy-wife collectors as thoroughly as the “fallen women” of a more patriarchal age.

No reason, of course, save the fact that contemporary America doesn’t seem willing to accept sexual stigma, period. We simply don’t have the stomach for permanently ostracizing the sexually irresponsible — be they a pregnant starlet, a thrice-divorced tycoon, or even a prostitute-hiring politician.

In this sense, ours is a kinder, gentler, more forgiving country than it was 40 years ago. But for half the public, it’s an unhappier country as well.”

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I’m thankful that Douthat covered this topic in a highly influential publication.  The spotlight he can throw on this issue as a NYT columnist is significant, and I’m glad he did.  Though many in the media and academy won’t want to talk much about this subject, it is well worth considering.

I don’t agree with everything Douthat says.  I don’t think, for example, that the “work-parenthood juggle” is as hard as some make it out to be.  Sarah Palin is a highly gifted woman, but she is not the first.  Highly gifted women have served their families at home in highly significant ways for millenia.  As numerous biographies of important figures show, their work has produced incredible results.

Indeed, the line that talented women only do justice to their gifts through full-time work is a myth, nothing more.  Full-time mothering involves skills and tasks too numerous to mention and almost too varied to believe.  In a traditional home, women may well assume some burden for education, requiring a fast and flexible mind.  They must solve countless domestic problems.  They must engage in significant moral formation each day, handling challenging ethical situations.  They must budget well.  They have to plan.  The sheer amount of planning alone in the life of a young wife and mother is staggering and took a young, naive husband by surprise early in my marriage.

So the cultural line that draws so many women out of the home and into the workplace is just plain silly.  God made women complex, highly nuanced, multitalented, and the demands of the home call for just such an individual, one who can manage many tasks at once, negotiate the shifting moods and needs of a child, and provide emotional and physical support for a husband.  The home is not too small for a woman; it is almost too large for her (and men, so adept at various forms of work, are simply no match for it, as the briefest of motherly absences abundantly proves).

I’m all for “socially ostracizing” the growing corps of jerks who call themselves men.  The problem, as Douthat rightly notes, is that we have largely lost the ability to stigmatize such men.  We have cut our worldview out from under ourselves, and thus we have little grounds on which to make such clear moral pronouncements.  If the leaders of our society would make strong statements on such matters, things could change.  But at present, few do so.  Who stands to suffer in such a climate?  Women and children, those who historically suffer from the evil deeds and attitudes of men.

In sum, I feel badly for many women today.  They have been sold a false bill of goods.  They have been told that they can have it all–career and motherhood at the top of the list.  Ludicrously, they have been persuaded that they can perform the impossible task of balancing full-time domestic work with full-time vocational work.  It is a testament to the strength of womanhood that so many modern women are able, in the end, to care for their children on some level while working outside of the home.  Yet such achievement comes, as the study shows, at great cost.  Women are not happy today; their children, we may assume, are not either.

Remarkably, there is a solution.  There is a cure.  But it will come at a cost.  It will mean that women–as it seems they are in increasing number–must reject the modern offer.  They must reject the cultural myth that they can “have it all” and, more significantly, that “having it all” as culturally defined is actually their best life option.  From here, they will find great joy and fulfillment in embracing the not insignificant responsibilities of the home.  They will not find in it an easy or quiet life, necessarily.  They will find, though, greater happiness, less stress, more fulfillment.

Modern women are unhappy.  But hope for happiness exists.  In the traditional model of feminity, they can find it.  The church, which believes in gender roles out of faithfulness to Christ and His Word, has an opportunity to demonstrate to unhappy women everywhere that a better life exists.  This life is not necessarily easy, it is not always fun, and it involves considerable sacrifice.  But it is full of significance, full of joys both small and great, and full of the grace of a Savior whose blood offers all people forgiveness they so desperately need and fulfillment that will take an eternity to experience.

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The Link 5.22.09: Missions as Business, Praise Factory, and Over the Rhine

overtherhine1. I’ve mentioned Access Partners before, but I want to point you to a moving video that outlines what they do.  Really exciting to see Christians developing new ways to push the gospel.

2. Connie Dever of Capitol Hill Baptist Church has published an exceptional children’s ministry curriculum called Praise Factory.  The website is now up.  Churches can get the whole program for a donation of $150.

3. Over the Rhine, a group making beautiful, God-glorifying music, has a haunting song called “Suitcase”.  I think it’s about a marriage breaking up.  Poetic and memorable from their excellent album “Ohio” (buy it!).  This is thinking music, songwriter’s music, sung and played with elegance.  Turns out the duo (married) went through a tough time but stayed together.

4. Vitamin Z points to an enlightening article by artist Shaun Groves about the state of the Christian music business.

5. Mark Dever recently gave a talk on mercy ministry, social justice, and that sort of thing.  Very helpful.  Mike McKinley has the notes.  Read them and think.

6. I’ve said this before, but as summer gears up, you may get a broken ankle on the basketball court.  Make sure you have insurance for that–Kobe can help.

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Families Leaving Cities: Urban Trends in Chicago and Elsewhere

A friend of mine hipped me to an insightful article on how families are migrating out of cities–including Chicago–at unusually high rates:

“Since the 1990s virtually all the gains made in the New York economy have accrued to the highest income earners. Overall, New York has the smallest share of middle-income families in the nation, according to a recent Brookings Institution study; its proportion of middle-income neighborhoods was smaller than any metropolitan area, except for Los Angeles.

Much the same pattern can be seen in what has become widely touted as America’s “model city,” President Obama’s adopted hometown of Chicago. The city has also experienced a rapid loss of its largely white middle class at a rate roughly 40 percent faster than the rest of the country. Although there has been a considerable gentrification in some pockets around Lake Michigan, Chicago remains America’s most segregated big city.

In contrast to the president’s well-integrated cadre of upper-class African Americans, Chicago’s black population remains among the poorest, and most isolated, of any ethnic population in America. And like other American cities, Chicago now has a growing glut of “luxury” condos, a pattern that became evident as early as 2006 and has now, as Chicago magazine put it, “stalled” as a result of a “perfect storm” of toughened mortgage standards, overbuilding, job losses, and rising crime.

Yet there could be some good from the current crisis. Considerable drops in urban rents and residential housing prices should ease the burdens on those who struggle with extremely high prices and taxes. Younger people, including families, may now be able to consider whether a home in Brooklyn, Chicago’s Wicker Park, or Los Angeles’ Studio City might now be affordable and desirable enough to eschew the move to the suburbs.”

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This is clearly a major challenge for city churches, particularly as many, like Tim Keller’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church and Mark Driscoll’s Mars Hill Church, seek to draw families to stay in the city.  The hard realities of city living make it challenging for families to do so.

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John Calvin Was a Pastor-Theologian

But don’t take my word for it, take W. Robert Godfrey’s:

“Many approach Calvin first of all as a theologian, and he certainly was a great theologian. But his theology emerged out of his own spiritual journey and struggles. In the first part of the book I focus on that spiritual pilgrimage of Calvin, because his experience and his reading of the Bible are critical to understanding his vision of Christianity. In the second part of the book, I follow his pastoral career because he regarded his calling as primarily that of pastor. His work as theologian and biblical commentator really served his work as pastor.”

(from an interview with CT’s Collin Hansen)

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Mohler on Christianity: Modernity Demands a Defense

HellFound this brilliant quotation in Al Mohler’s essay “Modern Theology: The Disappearance of Hell” in the noteworthy book Hell Under Fire, edited by Christopher Morgan and Robert Peterson:

“Modern secularism demands that anyone who would speak for God must now defend him.  The challenge of theodicy is primarily to defend God against the problem of evil.  The societies that gave birth to the decades of megadeath, the Holocaust, the abortion explosion, and institutionalized terror now demand that God answer their questions and redefine himself according to their dictates.”  (37)

Surely, this is right.  Despite the collapse of numerous twentieth-century secular social projects, the unbelieving world demands that Christianity defend itself.  I’m glad to see someone call a bluff here, and we should do the same in our apologetics and evangelism.

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The Link 5.15.09: Star Trek’s Power, Carson on TGC, and the Millionaire Tire-Changer

startrek1. Caught a great cultural insight in Anthony Lane’s hilarious New Yorker review of the new Star Trek movie:

“[J. J. Abrams] is the perfect purveyor of fictions to a generation so easily and instinctively jaded that what it craves, above all, is a storteller who—with or without artistic personality, and regardless of any urge to provoke our thoughts or trouble our easy dreams—will never jade.”  Now if that’s not a call to Christians to promote the “non-jading” gospel, tell me what is.

2. Don Carson identifies what so many young Christians want today in an interview with CT (HT: Challies):

“I do think that there is a hunger in the land for a vision of confessional Christianity that is robust, God-centered, tough-minded, able to address today and tomorrow and the next day, and comprehensive.”  Exactly.  Young people want rugged, grand, glorious Christianity, Christianity that drives you to do meaningful things with the life that God has given you.

3. ESPN’s superb Outside the Lines program (a website featuring some of the best sportswriting you can find) profiles a man who walked away from millions as a pitcher to change tires at CostCo.  I also enjoyed a story about basketball player Chauncey Billups, who has beat all kinds of odds to be the “disposable superstar”.  If you’re a sucker for great, lengthy sportswriting that tells a story (like I am), you’ll love OTL.

4. Tim Challies linked to a website featuring the story of a young mother, Rachel, who contracted cancer and has battled it for years.  It looks powerful.  I”m hoping to watch the video myself.  Update: read a letter where Rachel discusses the process of dying.  Heartbreaking, but by God’s grace, her faith is strong.

5. I said this last week, but if you aren’t listening to LeCrae’s “Don’t Waste Your Life”, you are missing out.  You’ll walk faster, you’ll pump more iron, and you’ll be edified all the while.

–Have a great weekend, all.

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Leeman on Multi-Site Churches: Why Not Plant?

9Marks Director of Communications Jonathan Leeman has a highly provocative article up on the 9Marks site that anyone interested in church life should read.  It’s called “The Alternative: Why Don’t We Plant?” and it is chock-full of probing questions and nicely distilled thought.

Leeman is a very gifted writer.  His text is chunky, full of deep thinking, yet he writes in a lively, direct style that’s easy to follow.  He doesn’t waste words; he gets right to the point.  See this engaging excerpt, for example:

“People today demand excellence. We dismiss mediocrity—the clunky piano player; the thread-bare pew cushions; the average preacher. Sony Studios has set our expectations of sound quality. Pottery Barn has elevated our sense of tasteful décor. And everyone from Chris Rock to Ronald Reagan have taught us what it means to be an effective communicator. Anything less isn’t just aesthetically objectionable, it’s emotionally distracting.

I might want to sing praises to God, but the professionally recorded music I listen to in the car has taught me what good music sounds like; and now I’m having trouble simply concentrating as the church pianist plunks out those basic hymn chords—at least it’s harder for me than (I assume) it would have been for my great grandfather. I might want to listen to the preacher, but I’m surrounded all week by the slicksters on T.V. commercials and late-night talk shows, and this guy says “um” ten times a minute and nothing funny. I can’t stay focused. So given a choice between him and a charismatic, thirty-five-year-old, television-quality phenom, I’m going with the phenom, even if it means watching him on a screen.”

I like how honest this is.  It doesn’t beat around the bush.  It gets right to the point (and the problem).  Young writers would do well to mark this clear, forceful style of writing.

Leeman’s article doesn’t solve once-for-all the questions relating to multi-site campuses, polity, and so on.  But it does offer some significant challenges to the reigning paradigm for church growth.  It is worth serious consideration.

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