Economics

Body Image and Second-Hand Pants for Big Men

I’m going to start by saying that everything that follows is totally disputable, as in the words of Paul:

Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters.” – Romans 14:1

Mark Van Steenwyk has written a series on “hipster” culture and what he calls the “style of subversion”, over at Jesus Manifesto. It’s great and I highly recommend it, it has been helpful for me (thanks Mark).

Something that struck me was in Part I, when Mark notes:

You see, I came of age in the mid 90s. The commodification of the counter-culture was well under way, but it could hardly be called mainstream yet. Because of this, most of the “alternative” folks that I knew were social outcasts, or at least were socially akward. Like me. To put it indelicately, most of the counter cultural types I knew weren’t academic enough to be nerds, weren’t athletic enough to be jocks, and weren’t attractive enough to be popular. The counter cultural types tended to hang out together with all the other lower-order social groupings. And since I was unpopular (in fact, one poll that the girls did in junior high put me as the 3rd from the bottom in the social pecking order).

So, my brain was confounded by what I saw at PAPA Fest. Most of the 20 something crowd was attractive. There were young men aplenty with chiseled, shirtless, chest throwing footballs in a perfect spiral to other young men with similarly perfectly chiseled chests. In fact, if it weren’t for their dreads, I would swear that they were jocks.

Mark goes on to say:

Members of a majority or dominant group may (perhaps) achieve alterity by being ostracized as a subversive or deviant. However, we live in a culture where it is easy for mainstream twenty-somethings (and younger) to embrace the style of subversion. And because they speak a certain lingo, wear certain clothes, and use certain products, it is socially understood that these stylish subversives care about social outcasts, the poor, and the downtrodden, even if no tangible evidence exists of that care. In other words: it is great when people begin to challenge the status quo as they pursue justice and mercy, but how excited should we be when it is very easy in our society to look, sound, and act radical without it costing anything?

Even more, what happens when hipsterism gets so tied into consumer capitalism (you know: Messenger Bags, Hot Topic, Ipod, Apple, Moleskine, American Apparel…) that you become a radical in appearance, but a profound reinforcer of the status quo in your way of life?

I want to take this in an entirely different direction than Mark might have taken it but his thoughts got me thinking. Up until two years ago, I was a fat guy. I was 6’3 and 280 pounds. I was not healthy and it had a lot to do with a cycle of poor body image mixed with eating to feel better and drinking alcohol excessively to forget how hopelessly unattractive I felt.

But a couple of years ago, I was called by Christ, and have lost a lot of weight and stopped drinking heavily (no… this is not one of those “testimonies”, I’m just telling it like it happened). (more…)

technology and worship: initial reflections

I’m participating in AMBS’s conversation on technology and worship. I have to put together a paper. Below are my initial reflections as I work towards something of substance. I would appreciate any critical engagement. Am I going in a helpful direction? Should I turn around while I still can? Thanks.

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Why not start with Karl Barth? In his essay, “Church and Culture” (in Theology and Church, London: SCM, 1962), Barth disallows any uncritical approval of culture, nor does take a consistent stand against culture. As usual, Barth makes things complicated. On the one side of the dialectic, Barth takes up the ax of John the Baptist: “Christian preaching…has met every culture, however supposedly rich and mature, with ultimate sharp skepticism” (quoted in T.J. Gorringe, Furthering Humanity: A Theology of Culture, p. 18). But later in that same essay Barth has no patience for a spiritualism that ignores our cultural milieu. There is no room, Barth writes, “for a basic blindness to the possibility that culture may be revelatory, that it can be filled with promise.” The seeds of God’s kingdom proliferate throughout the world. Barth pursues the same line of thinking in Church Dogmatics IV/3, where he claims that if “all things are created in and through Jesus” (Colossians 1:16-17), then, as Prof. Peter Dula puts it, “there is nowhere, not even the mouth of an ass, that we cannot expect to find words reflecting the light of the Word” (Peter Dula, “A Theology of Interfaith Bridge Building,” p. 164 in Borders and Bridges: Mennonite Witness in a Religiously Diverse World). Barth goes on to call these diverse worldly witnesses to God’s kingdom “secular parables” (CD IV/3, p. 115). The earth and human culture resound with echoes of the one Word of God which speaks into existence the kingdom of God. Therefore we must pay attention to the places we inhabit, the cultures that permeate us. “The Church,” he writes, “will be alert for the signs which, perhaps in many cultural achievements, announce that the kingdom approaches” (20). The kingdom does come. The question Barth poses to the church is whether she is ready to receive it, however strange it may appear.

It’s a strange possibility to consider how the pieces of culture called ‘technology’ may display God’s kingdom, if only parabolically. Barth won’t let us rule out an abstract category like “technology” without serious engagement in particular technological machineries–he calls them “cultural achievements.” Nor will he take up every new sophisticated invention as a chance for the kingdom to make headway. There’s nothing wrong with a healthy dose of skepticism.

In The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture (Zondervan, 2005), pastor Shane Hipps critically considers the place of technologies in worship. He carefully steers clear of many church leaders who welcome any and every form of technology as the panacea for dying churches. Blindly welcoming technology into church life turns worship into another capitalist commodity. We then become one show among many where Christians can find “new experiences to consume” (15). In Modernity, writes Hipps, “churches heeded consumer demands and sough to reinvent church. They either had to compete in the consumer marketplace on the consumer’s terms or face extinction. In the spirit of modernity, these churches reincarnated themselves as highly competent vendors of religious programs and services” (99). But the answer, according to Hipps, is not a reactionary turn against all forms of technology. “I’m not arguing for some Luddite strategy of literally destroying media” (65). Instead, we carefully and communally discern how modern technologies can aid us as we embody the good news of Christ. In Hipps’ words, “We learn to understand the power of our technologies to shape us, thereby regaining power over them” (122). (more…)

Being Consumed – A Review

(x-posted at IndieFaith)
Here is a review I wrote of what I think is a very significant book for the church. If you decide to read the whole thing keep in mind your own theology and practice of communion.

William T. Cavanaugh’s Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire is an excellent example of why the church needs theologians, good theologians. While Christian authors are turning increasingly to social and economic issues few are able to blend accessible language with substantial theological content. Many of the current authors addressing these issues articulate the demands of the Gospel in functional terms. Writers (and readers) look for practical ways to ‘apply’ the Gospel to our context. Most of us though with even a passing interest know what we should be doing to help our situation. We should buy fair trade products, support local economies and agriculture, plant a garden, compost, bike, buy twirlly bulbs, etc. And so much of the work of these authors is lost because their argument led entirely to doing and once we get there we realized we already knew that and so begin to feel frustrated or guilty.
(more…)

2000

In the Wilamette Valley, which includes both Portland and Salem, there are approximately 2000 churches. Some have only twenty members, some have thousands. Given the reputation of Oregon to be an “unchurched” area, there are a huge number of self-sustaining churches.

In the Wilamette Valley, according to the best estimates, there are 2000 homeless people every night. This number fluxuates and there are a lot of varieties of homeless people, but the number is a fair estimate.

Is this coincidence?

If this is correct, then if each church, on average, just ministered to and assisted just one– ONE– homeless person, then the whole outlook of poverty and homelessness would change for the whole Wilamette Valley– for all of Portland and Salem.

I wonder if this statistic could be replicated throughout the United States? If every church in the U.S. would take poverty seriously and just take one one– just one– homeless person per congregation, then the whole landscape of poverty in the nation would change.

And the nation might actually recognize that the church is here to create a positive impact, and not just to suck resources into the personal egos of religious ideologies.

People’s Summit in Winnipeg – Why is it we gather?

After attending the “People’s Summit for Faithful Living,” in Winnipeg a few weeks ago, I’ve been thinking about the reasons we gather.

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Some fine reports were written on the summit, here and here. The only things I would add or highlight would be…

In addition to Canadians, white people were also over-represented. (Out of 570 participants, I’d estimate around 550 were white.) Not to say that such numbers preclude valuable interactions or prove tokenism – I greatly appreciated some the learning tracks that connected indigenous traditions with relating to our creator and caring for creation – but I think it’s important to notice.

I also had a notable conversation with a young pastor who’s drawn to working with suburban youth – creating vibrant alternatives to our destructive culture and showing them there can be more to life than what we consume. I’m glad to know those conversations are happening.

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So as a participant I got some ideas and resources, met some cool folks, and ate off compostable plates. But I’m still not sure that conferences like this are justifiable in their current form. (more…)

Teach A Man To Fish?

Pam Wilson of Operation Mercy wrote an insightful article about the proverb,
“Catch a man a fish you feed him a meal,
Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

http://pastoralblog.blogspot.com/2008/06/teach-man-to-fish.html

Besides the fact that the proverb is sexist, it holds many false assumptions of how the poor should be helped. I have always had a problem with the proverb because it assumes that one should ignore the immediate need. But Ms. Wilson has a better overall approach.

Steve K

It’s the economy, stupid.

I don’t really like calling people names like “stupid” but the title was too much too resist. My apologies.

I was discussing the gentrification of Baltimore recently online. I understand concerns about urban gentrification and I partly agree with them. I can certainly understand wanting to keep neighborhoods in the hands of neighbors, not gianormous corporations and urban planning bureaucrats trying to utilize Eminent Domain to kick people out of their homes.

Part of our discussion centered, and others I’ve had, with the systematic racism of Baltimore in particular. It got me thinking about racism more, a topic which most of you know I could really care less about. (more…)

So about this rich guy I know

I’ll be the first to admit it’s a strange feeling to log onto www.time.com and read a story involving someone I know.

Time story

It’s even stranger to get to the end, do a little more searching for what is being said about this person elsewhere online, and come out feeling quite conflicted about the whole thing.

Examiner story

Machetera story

For those who are reading this post before going back and reading the links, I should clarify what I mean by “know.” I am currently spending five months doing volunteer work at the Stansberry Children’s Home and Daycare in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, and one of the people on the board of directors of Stansberry is Ron Larsen, a US-born cattle rancher who is fighting with the government to keep the thousands of acres of ranch. I can’t say I know him well, but I have met him a couple of times and engaged in run-of-the-mill chit-chat about who we both are and what we’re doing in Bolivia. (more…)

Neighborhood v. Conference?

A friend and I were invited to be respondants at the upcoming conference — “At the Crossroads: Promise and Peril 2008″ in Winnipeg. I feel like our household is involved in kingdom work and has plenty of connections/theological grounding for the work. And it sounds like some solid folks are already going to be there, representing much of what I would be saying. So I’ve been wrestling with whether to leave life-giving work in my neighborhood for a conference I’m unsure about.

QUESTIONS ASKED BY THE CONFERENCE:
Why does God work through people-hood even when that people is not deserving?
What does covenant mean and how does that inform our questions of faithfulness?
What are the temptations of God’s people in the land in which they live?
Where do God’s people find security as they live in the land and are tempted by wealth, power and ownership?

I have my working answers to these questions. We’re working to live them out in the neighborhood. (more…)

Mark Gornik and the Fourth Period of Inner City Development?

This semester we read To Live in Peace: Biblical Faith and the Changing Inner City by Mark Gornik in my missions class. Gornik was one of the founding members of New Song Community Church in the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood on Baltimore’s West Side. Over the past two decades or so, New Song has been heavily involved in the revitalization of Sandtown through their urban ministries and Habitat for Humanity. Gornik’s book makes a theological argument for Christian engagement with the inner city, not as a “mercy mission,” but as faith in action that seeks to revitalize urban spaces and communities.

My reservations with the book are not so much what Mark Gornik writes, but what he didn’t write about. Gornik describes three historical periods of development for inner city neighborhoods — the Segregated Inner City, the Post-Industrial Inner City and the Global Inner City. However, I think we may have entered a fourth stage, the Gentrified Inner City.

To Live in Peace was published in 2002, just as the so-called “Baltimore Renaissance” came into full swing. Until the crash of the housing market, some of Baltimore’s inner city communities were in the midst of rapid gentrification and redevelopment — Inner Harbor, Pig Town, Fells Point, Patterson Park, Dundalk and Canton all experienced a demographic shift as the yuppies moved in and property values rose. I live in a tiny row house in Fells Point, a traditionally blue-collar neighborhood now transformed into a tourist attraction with boutiques and condos. My landlord purchased the property for about $50,000 in the mid-80’s. Last time I looked at the tax records, the property was valued over $300,000. The vast amount of development in Baltimore City over the past decade has not been in the realm of affordable and middle-class housing, but luxury condos, hotels, a new conference center and expensive office space. The urban wasteland around Johns Hopkins University Hospital is being cleared away to make room for hospital expansion and a new biology research park. (more…)

An Anarchist and Healthcare

I’m an anarchist. I’m a Christian. I’m a lot of things. I don’t find the need to have an opinion about everything as lots of Americans do. On some issues I’m opinion-less. But some things strike me as odd.

This up-coming election has brought up, once again, universal healthcare. I’m a capitalist and opposed to big government. But I also know “wrong” when I see it. (more…)

Zeitgeitsts

Future generations always demonize the ethical blinds of the past. It is easy for us to demonize the choices of Columbus or Andrew Jackson, because their culture treated other races as less than human. I am not excusing them, for there were others of their culture who did not accept those cultural blinds, but were able to accept all people as equal. Perhaps Stowe or Wilberforce had their own limitations, and were not as enlightened as, say, Archbishop Tutu or MLK Jr., but without the message and sacrifices of these, the latter would never have had the opportunity to speak.

All I am trying to say is that every age has their own cultural blinders that limit them from, what looks to outsiders, obvious moral choices. The ethical choices are always there, always a possibility, but the zeitgeist of each era causes a fog to appear, and only those who choose to clear the fog from their own minds are able to see it.

It would be easy, and probably profitable, to look back on history to see the zeitgeists of eons past to see how these limitations limit people’s obvious moral choices. What is more difficult is to apply this principle to our own age, to our own lives. What are our own cultural blinders that limit us to obvious moral choices? (more…)

Inspirational Lunch

I had a great lunch conversation with two young white men today who are feeling the pressure to “produce and provide” and are looking for alternatives to succumbing to this stereotype and just joining the corporate project. After lunch, I wrote this:

As I think about our conversation more in the understanding of my daily work at a social services agency in town, I am reminded on the necessity to invite anyone and everyone with whatever ethnicity or background (age, sexuality, religion, political persuasion) to participate in the work of healing (and radical positive social change and happiness creation) in our society. There is enough pain to go around. Everyone can have a hand in creating peace. I think a place like where I work, is where push comes to shove, and the realization that we can’t find enough people (of ANY race, class or gender) to facilitate the creation of a new society, and not enough people to persuade others to stop beating each other in inter familial violence). It feels desperate.

There were some black people back during the time of emancipation, who didn’t want to participate in the mainstream US society, and they opted to farm somewhere and live in peace with their indigenous neighbors. Just a random thought about what it would look like if instead of clamoring to be just like white people (when I say white here, i mean the white people that southern black folks encountered…rich, conservative, separatist, tea parties, cult of true womanhood, Victorian, etc) and be accepted into their culture and politics, we searched the alternatives that our indigenous (to Africa) pasts gave us. but we didn’t for the most part. (more…)

In the Shadow of Classist Ethnocentrism: Prophetic Voices Against “The Status Quo”

This is taking a new thread of thought from somasoul’s comments in the “Christarchy!” post Lora wrote (thanks Lora)
I find often on this blog a tendency to attack what is seen as the “Christian” status quo, readily identified as the following:

1) Rich

2) Sheltered

3) Spiteful of “sinners”

I will, of course, say “Amen”, “Amen” and “Amen”, provided the caveat that this refers mostly to North American suburban Christians – and, in the global scheme of Christendom, this is a small portion of the body of Christ.

I mention this because I sometimes wonder when we take on a prophetic voice to critique Christians for the above errors, if not this critique itself issues forth from a privileged and ethnocentric perspective. (more…)

Biblical Message for the Day

Feeding the Hungry

I serve as a full-time volunteer with an agency that coordinates homeless services. I thought a reflection on poverty would be apt, particularly given that we don’t have a “poverty” category yet on this blog.
Nehemiah 5 (NIrV)

1 Some men and their wives cried out against their Jewish brothers and sisters. 2 Some of them were saying, “We and our sons and daughters have increased our numbers. Now there are many of us. We have to get some grain so we can eat and stay alive.”

3 Others were saying, “We’re being forced to sell our fields, vineyards and homes. We have to do it to buy grain. There isn’t enough food for everyone.”

4 Still others were saying, “We’ve had to borrow money. We needed it to pay the king’s tax on our fields and vineyards. 5 We belong to the same family lines as the rest of our people. Our sons and daughters are as good as theirs. But we’ve had to sell them off as slaves. Some of our daughters have already been made slaves. But we can’t do anything about it. That’s because our fields and vineyards now belong to others.” (more…)