Sunday, February 27, 2011

Charitainment and Slacktivism

An article in TIME magazine labeled 2005 as the year of “charitainment.” In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, it became chic for celebrities to support humanitarian causes. The idea seems to be that celebrities can use their fame to raise money and awareness of important issues. Around this time last year, similar phenomenon appeared when the earthquake occurred in Haiti. More recently, the television program “30Rock” did an episode which satirized the media’s reaction to tragedy.
More recently, best-selling Author Donald Miller wrote a blog post about what he calls “slacktivism.” The term suggests that many non-profit or humanitarian organizations raise money by selling fashionable products, such as t-shirts or bandannas. Although there may be many different ways to donate to these organizations, all you have to do to appear philanthropic is buy an expensive hip t-shirt and wear it.
By contrast, there is Jesus’ comments in Matthew 6:1-3. He tells his followers not to do their acts of righteousness in front of others. He even goes so far as to suggest we hide the actions of one hand from the other. He did not say that it is wrong to do good in front of others, but he did suggest that doing so will only lead one to brief rewards. 
Jesus’ words ring true as we rarely see celebrities on the news in Haiti a year later. Even the popular “Extreme Makeover - Home Edition” program has hit a new low of viewership. Charitainment comes and goes.
I am not trying to pass judgment on anyone who really believes in slacktivism and charitainment. I understand that that these things may result in people doing good in the world. However, I think individuals who really care about a particular cause will pursue it whether or not anyone else is watching. Jesus seems to be telling us that we should be about much more than good PR. I think Christians should seek the good in the world because God has called us to it.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Frenemies

Imagine two Universities. Both of these schools fancy themselves the best university in their respective states. These universities both see themselves as a beacon of academic enlightenment in an otherwise desolate area. Both of the schools tend to perform very well in athletics across many different sports.  
Given these descriptions, one would think these schools to be kindred spirits, right? They have a lot in common. However, The University of Texas at Austin and the University of Oklahoma are not sister Universities. They have an adversarial relationship, which includes a brutal October football game every year in Dallas. Some people have said that the reason for the rivalry is that both schools compete for quality Texas high school football players. 
It seems to me it is fairly common for bitter enemies to be similar. This similarity may cause enemies to see ourselves as competing for scarce resources, creating friction and discontent. 
When Jesus talked about loving our enemies in Matthew 5:43-48, I do not think he was suggesting it so in order to “heap burning coals on their heads (Proverbs 25).” It seems to me that his reasons are two fold. First, we must be compassionate because of the brokenness which usually exists in those who would wish to do us harm (see last week’s post called “Broken Inside”). Second, being kind to them might help us to realize how much similarity might exist between enemies. 
Evidence for the second point is in Matthew 5:46-47, when Jesus compares them to tax collectors and pagans. Jesus is suggesting that all three groups (his followers, tax collectors, and pagans) had in common that they love those who are within their groups.  Even though his listeners likely demonized these other two groups, thinking about them feeling love and having families has a way of bringing out similarity.
In light of this teaching, I think we need to take a closer look at our “enemies.” We need to ask ourselves, “how could this person have been my friend in a different circumstance?” If OU was in Ottawa, would it still be a rival to Texas, and vice versa? In doing this we can take the first step towards reconciliation. 
P.S. Hook ‘em Horns.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Broken Inside - Mountainside Chats

I recently read a story about a social worker named Julio Diaz who was being mugged in New York City. As he turned over his wallet, the social worker invited his adolescent mugger to have dinner with him. The teen-aged mugger agreed and the two of them sat down to dinner at a local diner. 
As a society, it makes sense that we should be concerned with criminal behavior. It seems important for the social status quo that there be consequences to harmful behavior. Punishing this behavior also allows us to remove from society those who may be able to harm us, or remove their ability to exert harm.
However, I think Julio Diaz understands something that the rest of us need to learn. Since the general status quo of society is not harming one another, a person who is intent on doing so may have some type of compelling brokenness in their life. 
Therefore, when Jesus tells his followers to “turn the other cheek” in Matthew 5:38-42, it seems to me that he was not talking about some mysterious virtue in being victimized. I think Jesus was actually talking about how Christians can combat the source of evil by addressing the underlying brokenness with love. Instead of creating more broken relationships and lives through punishment, we can serve reconciliation through prayer and kindness.
To me, this idea sounds as revolutionary today as it probably did when Jesus first uttered the words. At least someone thought Julio Diaz’s actions were abnormal enough  to put him in the national news spotlight. Even if we are not currently being victimized, it seems to me that Christians can be actively using kindness to reconcile the brokenness in the lives of people around us.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Pinky Swear - Mountainside Chats

When I have planned events, I have learned to be pessimistic about people attending when they say the will. Many many times I have been excited when someone pushes the “attending” button on facebook, only to discover their absence when the event actually comes. Then many people who were not on the “attending” or “may be attending” list end up arriving. Sometimes I have wished there was another level of RSVP, such as “I pinky swear.” (interesting side note: Wikipedia says this terminology came from a Japanese practice which involved cutting off one’s pinky if the promise was broken).
However, I must admit that I recently set an appointment with a colleague and somehow completely forgot about it. When I set up the appointment, I had every intention of meeting with her, I really needed her help. Between the time of setting the appointment and it actually arriving, that need changed. I think because the need became less dire, I was not thinking about the appointment enough for it to get on my iCal (without which I probably would not make it to anything).
Research on intentions suggests that people generally fail to consider anticipated external distractions, negative inner states (such as anxiety), or depletion of one’s personal will when making intentions (von Suchodoletz & Achtziger, 2011). Another issue is the limitations of human working memory. Our brains can only hold a particular amount of information in current focus. When that threshold is breached, we may fail to access reminders that are not as readily available (von Suchodoletz & Achtziger, 2011).
In Matthew 5:33, Jesus discusses intentions with his followers. He seems to have been concerned with the practice of people mentioning religious symbols to lend weight to their intended actions (like saying “I pinky swear”). He says that if you really mean “yes” when you say it, you should not have to pinky swear. When we have to lend weight to something we say, we are basically admitting that something we might say without such weight may not be entirely true.
Since Jesus proclaimed the importance of intentions, I think Christians should be very careful with keeping our word. We need to take a step back and carefully consider anticipated distractions, inner mental states, personal will, and working memory limitations. If we do this with sober judgment, we will not need to pinky swear. However, this may be difficult because it might require us to actually be honest!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Feminine Side - Mountainside Chats

When I was working on my master’s degree, I was required to take all of the psychological assessments that I was learning to utilize. Barely any of these tests told me anything interesting about my personality, except the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI). It did not tell me that I was depressed, anxious, or schizophrenic. My highest score was on the “MF” scale, indicating that compared to my peers, I tend to have sophisticated views of gender roles and equality.
I think it is because I grew up around sensible, capable, intelligent women, as well as men who know how to treat women with respect. This respect is more than opening doors and saying “ladies first,” it involves respecting the equal contribution that women offer to the world. I have since discovered that it tends to make me angry when I am around other men who are disrespectful to their wives or significant others.
Jesus‘ remarks in Matthew 5:31 - 32 were likely to have been said to speak out against a great injustice that was commonly done to women at the time. Based on the commentary I read about the chapter, it was both legal and fairly common for a man to divorce his wife for any little reason. He could then give her a certificate of divorce and be on his way, not paying many consequences. Unfortunately, she could not legally divorce him. She would pay the consequences of becoming “damaged goods” and having to marry another to avoid becoming destitute.
By contrast to the practices of the day, women were very important to Jesus. He never treated them as second-class citizens of the kingdom of God. It is sometimes difficult for me to understand how society has for so long seen Christianity as against the advancement of women’s role in society. How did we get here and how can we get back the the example of Jesus, treating both genders with true equality?

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Broken Cycle - Mountainside Chats

When I used to live in Abilene, Texas, it seemed like we would experience a “plague” every few years. The city would be overrun by some type of insect. They would be everywhere, inside and out. You might think that one cannot smell dead crickets, but if there are enough of them you can. Supposedly, the whole thing happens when unusual summer rain softens the ground so that the crickets to lay eggs earlier. When the eggs are laid earlier a disproportionately large amount of them hatch and create the overpopulation. The break in the cycle seem to cause havoc in the natural world.
Unfortunately, not all cycles are good. When it comes to human behavior, some types of cycles can be very damaging. People who struggle with addictions go through cycles of abuse and abstinence. Individuals with obsessive compulsive disorders practice elaborate anxiety-reducing cycles. Poverty cycles leave multiple generations of families living below their potential.
In Matthew 5:29, Jesus talks to his followers about breaking the cycle of sin. He suggests that if your eye or your hand causes you to sin, then you should remove it from your body. To me, that sounds really extreme. If we took this advice literally, many of us would have fewer appendages. I think Jesus is actually talking about breaking our own destructive cycles. He is saying that if you simply cannot handle something that is in your life, you might need to take drastic measures to eliminate it permanently. 
That is easy advice to read, but very difficult to enact. We are afraid of the plague of difficulty which may result from disrupting the cycle. When my coping mechanism is gone, how will I handle the hurt that has been building up for so long? I am not sure, but I know the cycle has to be broken. 
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