What is Art for?

Memory is one of those essential things that can’t be entirely captured by writing, or description, and thus can never be exchanged or communicated fully to another human being. Art seems to be an exception to this rule, giving us the illusion that we are experiencing someone else’s memory.

Philip Kennicott, “The first painting I ever loved was probably a cliche. Now I understand why it moved me so.” The Washington Post. May 19. 2020.

More on Christian Education

In a previous Facebook post I had stated, “one if not the greatest failing in Christian education, namely the development of a more robust view of how to participate as a Christian in a public school. If we go with a choice or diverse model, then one cannot hold the antithesis model (Christian v world).”

This brought an important counter from Brian Polet.

Isn’t Christian education defacto a Christian vs the world model? So you would advocate for the dissolution of Christian education?

I explain.

My views of Christian education are admittedly mixed, but no way is this an advocacy for the dissolution of Christian schools. For many they deliver solid educational achievement; in a worldly way they are good schools. They’re part of an educational mix that goes by the name of “Choice” where parents make decisions about what school is most appropriate for their child. For many, the Christian school will be a default choice, and to be clear: I see nothing wrong with that.

Now some caveats:

  • First, it is pretty clear that Christian education does not per se produce better Christians (that’s a church function fwiw).
  • Second, as educational venues, Christian schools often do a very good job because of the socio-economic standing of the parents (this is a commonplace in education generally where SES correlates with educational achievement). In GR, Potters House works to breakdown this SES/achievement link, and they have enjoyed some success.
  • Third, the baptismal vow I make is not simply to the child in front of me, but to all baptized children. Thus, the possibility of Christian education extends past the day school door.

At the school where I coach (Grand Rapids City) there are teachers who are there as part of their Christian faith. So perhaps we should make a distinction between Christian approach to the educational practice (what do Christians do as teachers, how do they embody faith before a varied student body etc.), and an institutional approach. The former addresses what goes on inside the walls, the latter is the exterior or perhaps wineskin. For teachers, the real advantage of Christian education is to practice their profession in the company of other, similarly minded believers. But… most students will be outside the Christian school, they will be found in charters, or in general schools. So for those students, for the teachers who interact with them, we need a more robust understanding of Christian thinking and education.

What Emojis can’t say

Amanda Mull considers the virtues of telephones over texting. It’s not a binary choice, but the intimacy of phones does have an advantage

In place of the natural intimacy of verbal conversation, texters and technology companies have tried to retrofit emotional richness into messaging through abbreviation (lmao) and emoji. Those signifiers work to a certain extent, but there’s an irony to so many people mimicking the touchstones of spoken conversation on their phones when they’re just a button-press away from the real thing.

From The Atlantic.

On the Marginalized and the Oppressed

 We hear the term all the time as a sort of political trope, but can we recover something else, something more substantive from it?

For me, the political/social stance starts with practice: the public is built on the acts and practices in our own life. We can’t stand on the side of the marginalized and oppressed if we don’t also understand that wrt God we are most certainly marginalized, oppressed, rebels with no hope until God acted in our lives; we who were strangers have become friends of God. Pietist that I sometimes can be, becoming a friend of God is not forensic, or the broccoli before we get to the good stuff, rather it is the start. 

But I have also been thinking about the different ways that standing on the side of the marginalized and oppressed actually looks like:

• Giving the job to the ex-con for the third time

• Standing there in court, alongside, knowing that without your help they are in deep trouble…

• Guiding your construction company to create job training programs for kids in the city

• Visiting the irascible widow, the one whose son did not tell her that she had cancer….

Standing alongside is an act of solidarity and mercy.

Slipping Into Darkness

Read on conservative side of the Religious Right and one can catch a whiff of an anti-democratic spirit, a longing for something other. Is just the patriarchal longing by another name? Is something else at work?

On her Facebook page, Kristin Kobes DuMez ponders this in light of a new article at Sojo (currently paywalled) by David Gushee, “The Trump Prophecy.”

This is something I kept seeing in my research that caught me off guard—the lack of support for democracy in conservative evangelical circles. When you believe in a patriarchal, authoritarian chain of command, democracy doesn’t make sense. Plus, for presuppositionalists, why would you want corrupt ideas holding sway? The question I struggled with is how influential/pervasive these ideas are within evangelicalism more broadly. More prevalent than I one thought.

So I don’t see this as an after-the-fact turn to justify support for Trump.

This emerging taste for hierarchy is certainly culturally different from the traditional culure of the Plain Folk, or the Scots-Irish that have so nurtured the Religious Right, which in turn leads me to wonder if this perhaps is a continuing capture by (conservative) Catholic social teaching? On Right to Life, the Catholics won the narrative, so Evangelicals started talking about “Natural Law” and likewise got up in arms supposed abortifacients (even got Calvin to sputter about Plan B as I recall). Also look for the use of subsidiarity by Evangelical political thinkers. In this framework, Trad Catholics lean away from representative democracy so it’s not surprising that the ties to representative government also get loosened.

As an aside, we can note the use of “Natural Law” as a sort of catchall in the desegregation debate. C.f. G.T. Gillespie, “Segregation is one of Nature’s Universal Laws” in Jemar Tisby’s The Color of Compromise, Zondervan 2019. p. 133. Further, the authoritarian turn may also be an instance of what Michael Lind describes as Southern Bourbonism politics with its aristo-oligarchic, Big House style authoritarianism; another dark shadow of the Cotton Kingdom.

The authoritarian turn also destabilizes Evangelical theology. The suspicion that is built into the Reformation and especially its Baptist wing gets dulled. To reverse the James II “no bishop, no king” we instead have “king, so bishop.” And to the degree the authoritarian is shadow of the Cotton Kingdom, it becomes a white box, a substitution of the Evangelical proclamation of good news for all into a good news (only) for some.

Yes?No? Maybe?

Brian Keepers revisits what it means to be Evangelical. Are we? Aren’t we? Sometimes? It is a confusing thing, he notes,

it’s got to be about more than just loyalty to the past. That wouldn’t be reason enough to stay with the label. Mouw would agree. As I consider why I’m still self-identifying as an evangelical, it is also because I believe in the heart of evangelicalism.

The model for the evangelicalism he’s seeking is one he takes from Richard Mouw, a manner of approach, “a kind of evangelicalism that is both convicted yet humble, robust and generous, open-hearted and curious, faithful to the past’s legacy but always restless and willing to be self-critical.”

As noted, being evangelical is almost entirely contextual or social: in some places I will be read as an “evangelical” because of my beliefs; elsewhere I can be vaguely progressive because of my politics. To the extent that Evangelical has a meaning, it points to a community, both the one that shaped us — a community of memory if you will, and the present social community — a society. One may belong to one and not the other, or to both.

Among the Dutch, the term, even the idea is a bit more complicated. The Evangelical were those who left e.g. PJ Zondervan, or Calvary Undenom and RBC both out of then Calvary Reformed): they were “methodists” then “fundamentalists,” then ‘thank-G– I’m not one of them’ they’re from Iowa (Wisconsin, or Ottawa County).’

Given that the personal nature turns the question into a sort of navel-gazing and a consideration of who belongs, words from John come to mind. Peter wonders “what about him (the other guy over there — John)?” And Jesus’ words are to work on our own business, “You are to follow me.” (John 21:21-22). I wouldn’t worry about Evangelical as much as I would worry about the following part. There’s plenty to be done.

Keepers, Brian. "Is It Time to  Let Go of the Label 'Evangelical?'". Reformed Journal:The Twelve. April 8, 2019.