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Posted by Richard Beck

The William Stringfellow project continues where I read all of William Stringfellow's books in order and in their first editions. For previous installments visit the sidebar.

After what many consider to be his best book--An Ethic for Christians and Other Aliens in a Strange Land--Stringfellow followed up with Conscience and Obedience: The Politics of Romans 13 and Revelation 13 in Light of the Second Coming.

Conscience and Obedience was published in 1977 by Word out of Waco, TX. The dedication of the book reads: "for post-americans."

As you can tell from the dedication, the focus of Conscience and Obedience is political theology. The book was prompted by a question an FBI agent posed to Stringfellow after the fugitive priest Daniel Berrigan was discovered hiding at Stringfellow's house. You'll recall that Berrigan was avoiding the authorities as a part of the Catonsville 9 action protesting the Vietnam War.

Stringfellow had been writing An Ethic when the FBI captured Berrigan at Stringfellow's house, a book in which Stringfellow compared the US government to "the principalities and powers" described in the New Testament. Which clearly had something to do with why Stringfellow felt that it was theologically and morally appropriate to provide haven to Berrigan. Something that Stringfellow was subsequently indicted for.

But in an interrogation after Berrigan's arrest an FBI agent asked Stringfellow the following question: "Dr. Stringfellow, you're a theologian. Doesn't the Bible say you must obey the emperor?" In the Preface to Conscience and Obedience Stringfellow describes his response to the agent:
His query startled me, I admit, not so much for its thrust as for the evidence it gave of how minutely the ruling powers scrutinize citizens. I could not concede the simplistic premise about the Bible which his question assumed, and I rebuked him about this, taking perhaps forty-five minutes to do so. During the discourse, he wilted visibly, and, when I paused momentarily, he abruptly excused himself and departed. This was some disappointment to me, for I had only just begun to respond to the multifarious implications of the issue he had raised. The episode contributed to my conviction to write this book.
To have been a fly on the wall during that exchange.

Anyway, we can assume that Conscience and Obedience is what Stringfellow would have shared with the FBI agent about what it might mean, theologically, to "obey the Emperor."

Stringfellow builds his analysis, as you can tell by the subtitle of the book, by exploring the tensions between Romans 13 and Revelation 13. These are two critical texts for political theology but they seem to give contradictory messages.

As reflected in the question from the FBI agent, Romans 13 seems to preach obedience and acquiescence to political authority. The key text:
Romans 13.1-5
Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. 
In this text governmental authorities are described as servants of God. Thus, we should "be subject" and "submit" to these authorities.  By contrast, when we turn to Revelation 13 we see political authority on earth as something "the Dragon" gives to "the Beast" leading all the peoples and nations of the earth into idolatrous worship:
Revelation 13.1-8
The dragon stood on the shore of the sea. And I saw a beast coming out of the sea. It had ten horns and seven heads, with ten crowns on its horns, and on each head a blasphemous name...The dragon gave the beast his power and his throne and great authority...The whole world was filled with wonder and followed the beast. People worshiped the dragon because he had given authority to the beast, and they also worshiped the beast and asked, “Who is like the beast? Who can wage war against it?”

The beast was given a mouth to utter proud words and blasphemies and to exercise its authority for forty-two months. It opened its mouth to blaspheme God, and to slander his name and his dwelling place and those who live in heaven. It was given power to wage war against God’s holy people and to conquer them. And it was given authority over every tribe, people, language and nation. All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast—all whose names have not been written in the Lamb’s book of life, the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world. 
You can see the tension. Are governments the "servant of God" as described in Romans 13 or the surrogate of "the Dragon" as described in Revelation 13? Should we submit to governments or resist "the Beast"?

These are the sorts of questions Stringfellow is trying to answer in Conscience and Obedience.

Stringfellow beings in Chapter 1 by giving his vision of Christian ethics. According to Stringfellow, Christian ethics is not rooted in rules of conduct that are standardized across time, place, context and persons. For Stringfellow, when ethical principles and rules are articulated in the abstract in order to make them both "timeless" and "universal" they are removed from the complexities and ambiguities of lived human experience. This is why the bible doesn't give us a complete and rule-bound ethical system to follow.

As Stringfellow says, "any ethical system which is settled and stereotyped, uniform and preclusive, neat and predictable" is both "dehumanizing" and  "unbiblical."

Ethical action isn't following a standard set of rules. For Stringfellow, ethics is a matter of vocation. All humans and all institutions have been given their vocations by God and ethics is living out that vocation:
Ethics has, essentially, to do with the exercise of vocation--with name and identification, selfhood and relationship, capability and function, place and purpose--for both institutions and authorities as well as persons.
What is our vocation? Our vocation is worship, service to the the gift of life as given to us by God. Thus, when persons or institutions are cherishing, serving and caring for life they are exercising their vocation and living ethically before God.

But when we look at how these vocations are being handled Stringfellow notes the following:
All this is spoiled and distorted in fallen creation. The biblical story of the fall bespeaks the renunciation of life as gift.
This discussion of vocation and the Fall allows Stringfellow to unpack the differences between Romans 13 and Revelation 13. Specifically, Romans 13 is describing the vocation of government, how governments were created by God to protect, serve and nurture life in Creation. Consequently, insofar as government is fulfilling its proper vocation before God--that is, when governments worship God as agents of life--the government should be obeyed.

However, in the Fall governments have lost their vocation. In this instance governments don't direct worship toward God but, rather, take the place of God demanding idolatrous service, allegiance, submission and loyalty. Governments become "the Beast on earth," servants of "the Dragon," agents of death. That is what Revelation 13 is describing.

In Chapter 2 Stringfellow uses vocation to ground the idea of political "legitimacy." Specifically, when government is fulling its proper vocation before God it is politically "legitimate" and should be obeyed. But when government rejects its vocation it becomes "the Beast" and should be resisted. As Stringfellow succinctly summarizes:
[V]ocation [is] the clue to conscience and obedience in nation and in church.
Vocation is also at root of Christian resistance to the state. When the Christian resists the state the Christian isn't resisting the state per se but is, rather, recalling the state to its proper vocation. Political resistance is calling the state back to worship.

That said, the church struggles to critique the state in this way because of what Stringfellow names as "the Constantinian Arrangement" where the church becomes involved "in the preservation of the political status quo."

In Chapter 3 Stringfellow turns to the issue of anarchy, law and order. Stringfellow wants to tackle the objection that, "Without [obedience to the state], it is said, there would be anarchy."

Stringfellow's answer to this question is to point out how sin is being limited in this objection to human agents. That is, human agents, because of sin, are agents of social chaos. The state, by contrast, is a virtuous, stabilizing and ordering agent. Metaphorically, citizens are rebellious children and the state is the wise parent.

The problem with this, according to Stringfellow, is that such a notion fails to grasp that the state is just as fallen and sinful as human persons. Specifically, more often than not the state, rather than human persons, is the cause of social disruption, chaos and instability. Citizens aren't just getting agitated all on their own. They are often responding in anger and hurt to abuses inflicted upon them and their neighbors by the state.

Which is to say, calls for "law and order" assume that the state is a wholly benevolent agent and that sin is wholly on the side of the citizens. The fact that there are sinful laws supporting a sinful order is not being acknowledged. But the fall affects everything, even the state. The state has to repent along with everyone else. Stringfellow:
[T]he fall implicates the whole of creation, not human life alone and not human being uniquely, and, further, that each and every creature or created thing suffers fallenness in its own right. Thus, to speak concretely, when the chaos of political authority is evident as, say, it is in the existence and dysfunction of the Pentagon technocracy, that constitutes a sign of the fallenness of the principality as such rather than merely the consequence of human depravity or frailty or corruption...
In short, anarchy and social chaos is the default condition. Conflict between persons, between institutions and between persons and institutions simply is the condition of the fall, with the state contributing its fair share to the mess. As Stringfellow describes it:
After all, war is chaos; hunger is disorganization; pollution is havoc; disease is dysfunction; tyranny is anarchism; violence is disorder. Creation is truly fallen.
In Chapter 4 Stringfellow turns to a discussion of the "Second Advent." For Stringfellow, the first Advent was the inauguration of the Kingdom of God on earth in the person of Jesus and the community gathered confessing him to be "Lord of all." The second Advent, according to Stringfellow, is the coming of Jesus as Judge of the principalities and powers announcing "the destruction of all worldly political authority..." As Stringfellow summarizes, "Judgment--biblically--does means the destruction of the ruling powers and principalities of this age."

And according to Stringfellow while the Second Coming is hoped for in history it is also an imminent reality, "the eschatological truth [that] is represented in any moment in any event in this world, to those whose eyes see and whose ears hear."

In short, Christ's judgment upon the principalities and powers in his Second Coming is a reality and hope that breaks into every moment:
The relationship between the Word of God and creation, even in time, transcends time and is, from a human point of view, imminent at any time. In the Word of God a thousand years are not more than a moment.

If some have put aside the expectation, it is not because Christ is tardy and not because God has postponed the next advent, but because the consciousness of imminence has been confused or lost. I regard the situation of contemporary Christians as much the same as that of our early predecessors in the faith so far as anticipation of the Second Coming matters. We expect the event at any moment. We hope for it in every moment. We live in the imminence of the Eschaton. That is the only way, for the time being, to live humanly.
Finally, given all this, how are Christians to live in relation to the state? If the state is as sinful and fallen as human agents, if the legitimacy of the state has been lost because the state fails to embrace its vocation before God, how are we to relate and respond to the state?

Simply, what is the political task of the church?

Stringfellow turns to this question in the final chapter of the book. Stringfellow's answer, based upon his reading of the biblical witness, is that the church is called to the work of advocacy. Stringfellow:
[T]he church of Christ is called as the advocate of every victim of the rulers of the age, and that, not because the victim is right, for the church does not know how any are judged in the Word of God, but because the victim is a victim.

Advocacy is how the church puts into practice its own experiences of the victory of the Word of God over the power of death, how the church lives in the efficacy of the resurrection amidst the reign of death in this world, how the church expends its life in freedom from both intimidation and enthrallment of death or of any agencies of death, how the church honors the sovereignty of the Word of God in history against the counterclaims of the ruling principalities. This advocacy, in its ecumenical scope as well as its actual specificity, constitutes the church's political task, but, simultaneously, exemplifies the church's worship of God, as intercession for anyone in need, and for the need of the whole creation, which exposes and confounds the blasphemy of predatory political authority. 
Moreover, Stringfellow says that there is a "diversity of gifts distributed throughout the body of the church in order that no victim be without an advocate."

And because the church functions as the advocate for any and all victims in the world the church cannot avoid deep and ongoing political involvement:
If the church is called to advocacy, in a biblical sense, as a way of expressing its imminent eschatological insight, then the church cannot withdraw or retreat or escape from political involvement; it cannot indulge equivocation or apathy or indifference. On the contrary, in freedom to take the part of any victim, the church is plunged into the most radical sort of political witness in which the church besets political authority on every side, incessantly, resiliently, eclectically, dynamically, and with the marvelous versatility which the diversity of gifts of the Holy Spirit abundantly supplies.
Of course, we rarely see the institutional church engaging in such advocacy. But it does happen. Right here or over there, the church is always happening.

Thus, Stringfellow concludes the book by describing the church as an event in time:
[T]he Kingdom is, I believe, temporal as much as spatial...the event of the church constantly, repeatedly fractures time. This is to say, the church as an institution or nation is, first of all, an event of the moment, gathered here or there, but that does not predetermine whether or how the church will appear again. The church is episodic in history; the church lives in imminence so that the church has no permanent locale or organization which predicates its authenticity as the church. This may seem a hectic doctrine of the church to the Constantinian mentality. It is. But it is so because it suggests the necessity of breaking away from Constantinian indoctrination in order to affirm the poise of the church awaiting the second advent of Jesus Christ.
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Posted by Rod White

My recent work on my dissertation has taken me into unexpected territories. Last week it was a conundrum about what is private and what is public. The psychotherapists I am studying are, in some ways, at the cross roads of … Continue reading

“And How Many Daddies?”

Monday, 28 July 2014 02:28 am
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Posted by Libby Anne

I recently ran into my friend Amy and her son Joey when I was downtown for an event with my daughter Sally. Amy had a similar evangelical upbringing to mine, and is today happily married to her partner of fifteen years, Kate. Their son Joey is two. I’ve gotten together with Amy for lunch on occasion, and when we ran into each other again last week we repeated, again, that we should get out families together sometime—when we weren’t so busy. I introduced Sally to Amy and Joey and then we parted ways.

As we headed off, I turned to Sally. “Joey has two mommies,” I told her.

“And how many daddies?” Sally asked.

“Um, none. It’s just Amy and Kate.”

“Then how did they make Joey?!” Sally exclaimed.

This exchange was fascinating. Sally accepted the idea of two mommies as completely normal. What she balked at was the idea that a child could have no daddy—but she balked for biological reasons. Sally may be only five, but she knows where babies come from. She knows about eggs and sperm, zygotes and fetuses. So when I told her Joey had two mommies she jumped immediately to polyamory (something we’ve never actually discussed). There was no value judgment, just honest scientific confusion. So I explained in vitro fertilization to her, and, well, that was that.

asking questionsWatching Sally encounter LGBTQ individuals has been incredibly interesting. Sally is still figuring out the world around her, taking in information and categorizing it. A couple weeks ago we watched a Torchwood episode in which Jack Harkness kisses a WWII military captain—a man. Sally’s response? “A boy kissing a boy? That’s strange!” She’d never seen a same-sex kiss before, so her response was natural—but utterly without judgement.

Last week Sally was watching a documentary when she looked up suddenly, with a sort of curious excitement. “Mom! In this one there’s a man who turned into a woman! He wanted to be a woman, so he changed into one!” Again, no judgement. Rather, Sally had simply learned one more thing about the world around her—one more thing to be added in with everything else when formulating her understanding of it. And this excited her—because the world is an exciting and interesting place.

I love Sally’s youthful openness and honesty, I truly do. She encounters these things without prior preconceptions and without priorities. She soaks up new information without judgment and integrates it into her understanding of the world. She still has plenty to learn—she didn’t used the correct pronouns for the transgender woman, for instance—but she is open to and interested in learning.

My youngest sister is only a few years older than Sally, but she has none of Sally’s openness. She is already closed off. When my two-year-old son Bobby wore pink sandals on a recent visit, my sister responded with indignation—a boy, wearing girl shoes!? When Sally wore a two-piece swimsuit, my sister shamed her for it. I’ve heard my sister deride homosexuality—because a boy kissing a boy is apparently disgusting in addition to twisted and sinful—as well as premarital sex and “immodest” clothing. She is repeating what she has been taught, but what she has been taught is bigotry—the opposite of openness.

Let us hope that more children will grow up open, like Sally, rather than closed, like my youngest sister. We need more children asking questions like Sally’s.

“And how many daddies?”

Sunday Superlatives 7/27/14

Sunday, 27 July 2014 07:54 pm
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Posted by Rachel Held Evans

Around the Blogosphere…

Most Thoughtful: 
Brenda Salter McNeil’s thoughts at the Marriage & Family Summit

“In the story of the woman at the well, the very first thing the woman says to Jesus is, ‘you’re a Jew.’  She says, ‘You are a Jewish man.  And I am a Samaritan woman.’ Those parts of their identities are important.  They have significant meaning and context for this exchange… As counselors, you cannot attempt to be color-blind or gender-blind or anything-blind.  When a person comes into your office, you should never ignore those aspects of their personhood.  It should, in fact, be one of the first things you notice.” 

Most Relatable: 
David Schell with “Unacceptable: What It’s Like to be a Liberal Christian in a Sea of Conservativism”

“When my conservative Christian friends and family ask me questions, it’s not to find out why I believe what I believe. It’s to fix me or help me realize that I’ve gone off the rails and am wrong.”

Most Practical:
Amy Joyce at The Washington Post with “5 Tips on Raising Kind Kids”

“Parents tend to prioritize their children’s happiness and achievements over their children’s concern for others. But children need to learn to balance their needs with the needs of others, whether it’s passing the ball to a teammate or deciding to stand up for friend who is being bullied.”

Most Sobering: 
Infographic: Palestinian Children Killed in Gaza Conflict, Through July 21

Most Inspiring:
Lisa Napoli at NPR with “A Growing Movement To Spread Faith, Love — And Clean Laundry”

“Shannon Kassoff, one of the organizers of Laundry Love in Huntington Beach, says it's about more than just free laundry. This group was formed by people who became disillusioned with traditional church, and started taking over this laundromat once a month. ‘This is our church," Kassoff says. "It is probably the best way to be involved in other people's lives, not just handing out food in a soup kitchen, or whatever. We get to know them very well, and that's probably the best part of this whole deal.’”

Most Enlightening: 
Karima Bennoune with “When people of Muslim heritage challenge fundamentalism”


Best Interview:
BioLogos with “Not So Dry Bones: An interview with Mary Schweitzer”

“One time I was visiting a church and the pastor got up and started preaching a sermon about people not being related to apes, and he started talking about this scientist in Montana who discovered red blood cells in dinosaur bones—he didn’t know I was in the audience—and it was my research he was talking about! Unfortunately, he got everything wrong. I just got up and left. I don’t feel that I’m discrediting God with the work I’m doing, I think I am honoring him with the abilities he’s given me.”

Best Storytelling:
Beth Woolsey with “On Messing Up and Finding Grace”

“We’re on Day 2 of 5 Days of Day Camp which obviously means we barely made it to the buses this morning. And, by barely, I mean the buses were rolling, friends – engines sputtering and PULLING AWAY from the curb – while four of my kids ran at the front of them, following the directions I’d barked in the car on the way there…”

Best Idea:
“Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables”

Best Perspective: 
Rod Snyder with “The Shifting Landscape on LGBT Issues in the Evangelical Church”

“I'm a gay Christian from a conservative family fighting for a progressive cause. Compassion and understanding don't weaken my argument for equal rights; in fact, they strengthen it. Openness and respect for differences don't weaken my faith; in fact, they strengthen it.” 

Best Cartoons:
The Naked Pastor with “A Day in the Life of a Christian Blogger” and John Atkinson with “Anatomy of Songs” 

Best Point: 
Benjamin Corey with “So Listen– It’s Not Religious Discrimination Just Because You Can’t Discriminate”

“It’s not discrimination when we are prevented from doing the discriminating. It’s not persecution when we are prevented from doing the persecuting. It’s not bullying when we’re told that we can’t bully others.”

Highlights from #FaithFeminisms…

Austin Channing Brown with “Loving Eve and Ham” 

“My feminism will always live at the intersection of race. It recognizes the Divine within all black women, all women of color, all women, all people. It doesn’t erase me from the Bible or make me the scourge of it. It proclaims the innate goodness of womanhood.”

Abi Jordan Bechtel [at Thirty Seconds or Less] with “As Myself” 

“Feminism gives me permission to fully engage in the “as myself” part of  “loving my neighbor as myself.” Because of feminism I can stop trying to make myself smaller and more attractive and more modest and more conformative and instead celebrate my body as an image of God. I don’t need to shrink myself down to fit into a socially acceptable mold. This unruly, unsubmissive body is the one God made for me, and when I am secure in that knowledge I can turn to my neighbors and love the misfits and the outliers in all their unruly, unsubmissive glory too.”

Mihee Kim-Kort with “On God Talk” 

“I had been asleep, maybe dead for awhile, until I began to speak about God – to speak about faith and church, my family, and about racism and sexism. I spoke about my life, and I didn’t need to qualify it or explain it, defend it or have someone else affirm it. And speaking brought logos-life to my bones, and the resurrection somehow meant more when I saw that God was not man or a white man but someone who shared in my humanity right down to the core of my struggles. God became possibility, the ground of all being, חסד (the Hebrew word hesed – “steadfast love,”  “kindness,” “loving-kindness,” “mercy,” “loyalty”), continuous and constant presence, Wisdom and grace, giver of life, flesh-and-blood passion and love, and beyond-words.”

Adriene Thorne [at Thirty Seconds or Less] with “Their Legacy of Faith and Feminism”

“As the great granddaughter of a slave woman who loved God and believed in abundant life for all people, faith and feminism are intertwined for me. With a mama and play mamas spoon feeding me faith like the grits and gravy I grew up on, I have to preach abundant life for women and girls in particular. God’s nurture is in women’s bodies around kitchen tables. God’s power is in women’s bodies around communion tables. I thank God for Sarah, Hagar and Rebecca, for Eva, Hilda and Marilyn and their legacy of faith and feminism for my daughter.” 

Bethany Stolle [at Thirty Seconds of Less] with “Yellow”

“Nude pumps: traditional. Red flats: cute and practical. Yellow heels: flashy. Black Toms: comfy and philanthropic. I’ll be speaking to ministry types. And I wonder… do my male colleagues spend this much time getting dressed? Debating how their shoes will impact their credibility? How their appearance will affect others’ attention? Why is there no way to be an “unmarked” woman? Especially in ministry, where being a woman alone sets me apart. Silencing my questions, I stride away, my feet a blur of neon yellow.”

Suzannah Paul with “I Believe in Inequality” 

“I believe in inequality. I’m seeking confirmation that you believe in it, too – that you believe me – that together we may work to subvert hierarchies and birth another Way. Can you acknowledge people as experts on their own lives and experience? If people of color, women, and/or LGBTQ voices speak up about discrimination, will you write us off as bitter, toxic, or humorless? Do you assume we’re overreacting, uneducated, or being emotional? Are we ‘playing the victim’?”

Check out the 100+ submission to the Faith Feminisms synchroblog here. 

On the Blog…

Most Popular Post:
“We Need Feminism…”

Most Popular Comment: 
In response to “We Need Feminism…” S. Kyle Johnson wrote: 

“I need Feminism because I'm tired of men being hurt by a culture that tells them their self worth is bolstered by their conquests of women, their power, their domination, and whose sense of self is so small because they are taught that sharing authority with a woman is a humiliation.”


So, what caught your eye online this week? What's happening on your blog? 

Quick Hit: #LikeDustIRise

Sunday, 27 July 2014 07:13 pm
[syndicated profile] geekfeminism_feed

Posted by Annalee

Over on Twitter, the great and talented @Gildedspine, creator of #YesAllWomen, is hosting a discussion about online activism, the power of community, and speaking up even in the face of harassment and abuse.

She’s got a powerful conversation going. I encourage you to check it out: #LikeDustIRise.

[syndicated profile] languagelog_feed

Posted by Victor Mair

Many Language Log readers are probably aware of the food scandal at OSI in Shanghai, the implications of which have spread throughout much of East Asia, to parts of Southeast Asia, and even beyond, wherever shipments of Chinese meat products have reached.

In reporting this, CNBC made the following point:

"The rules are dead, and people are alive, that's simple," a worker said in the report. "Dead rules and alive people" is commonly used in China to indicate corners have been cut. OSI did not immediately respond to the news report.

The "dead" and the "alive" are obviously translations of sǐ 死 and huó 活, but in the context of the article (people being given bad meat to eat) the meaning didn't exactly leap off the page. A more idiomatic translation would be "rigid" and "flexible", although that still only captures only part of the meaning.  In order to understand the worker's mysterious utterance, we must travel deep into the heart of Chinese metaphorical language. We begin our journey by reconstructing in Chinese what the worker said.  It was undoubtedly something like this:

Guījǔ shì sǐ de, rén shì huó de, zhè hěn jiǎndān.

规矩是死的, 人是活的, 这很简单

"Rules are dead, people are living; this is very simple."

[N.B.: guīdìng 規定 ("provisions; stipulations") or zhìdù 制度 ("systems; institutions" might be substituted for guījǔ 规矩 ("rules; regulations"), but usually the latter term is used.]

I suppose that all Chinese who heard the worker say this would immediately apprehend what he was implying, but I suspect that few Westerners would comprehend what it has to do with unsafe meat.  How come the people are "living"?  Shouldn't they be "dead" because of the rotten meat?

To unpack the worker's opaque (as rendered in English) statement, we need to delve further into the mechanics of Chinese figurative speech and the subtleties of attitudes toward the law in the People's Republic of China.

First, let's take a look at a Chinese report of the incident.

In this report, we find the following revealing statement:

“Wǒ zǎo jiù hé nǐ shuō SOP méiyǒu yòng, dōu ànzhào SOP bùyào gàn huóle”, gōngrén zhèyàng gàosù jìzhě


"I already told you that the SOP [Standard Operating Procedures] are useless.  If we did everything according to the SOP, we might as well not work," the worker told the reporters.

As one of my Chinese graduate students put it:

规矩是死的,人是活的。。。What a typical Chinese attitude!

Rules are set in stone, but people deal with situations "flexibly"…

A British friend guessed that the meaning should be "the spirit of the law is not the letter of the law."  I said, "No, what the Chinese expression conveys is much more negative…"

A colleague from the PRC explained it this way:

This is an old and common expression. It's been in use for as long as I can remember.  It conveys a fairly typical Chinese attitude towards any rules/laws/regulations: they are made to break, bend and be compromised. View it positively, this indicates a way of problem solving. There is another expression "大活人还能让尿憋死," which is less known, more crude and more regional, but expresses a similar meaning.

It requires a bit of effort to figure out the cruder, more visceral variant, but here goes:

(Dà) huórén hái néng ràng niào biēsǐ.


A (fully) living person could never have to pee so bad that he / she would burst to death.

[Grammar note:  the ràng 让 / trad. ("let; allow") here is functioning like a passive signifier (viz., "by" the urine).]

[Lexical note: biē 憋 has a wide variety of mostly negative connotations:  "hold one's breath; suffocate; choke; hold back / in; restrain; stifle; suppress; force; feel oppressed; be destroyed; contemplate; ponder;

[Literal translations by a graduate student from the PRC:

1. How could a living person possibly die of holding back urine?

2. How could a living person possibly be exploded by urine?

It means people should deal with things with flexibility.]

[Exegesis by a Chinese colleague:  Literally, it means a live person will find a way to relieve himself regardless what the situation is. In a general reference, niào 尿 ("urine") is the problem (whatever that might be) one is having, and a live person will find a way to solve it. The implication is that do whatever you can to take care of the problem and not let it get you.]

The dà 大 ("big") at the beginning is optional and serves to emphasize that the person is really and truly alive.  Dà 大 refers to a condition that is at its peak. A dà huórén 大活人 is a person full of life.  Other similar expressions are:

dà rètiān 大热天 ("really hot day")

dà lěngtiān 大冷天 ("really cold day")

dà zhōngwǔ 大中午 ("high noon")

dà qíngtiān 大晴天 ("really bright day")

dà qīngzǎo 大清早 ("very early in the morning")

To further appreciate the nuances of "living" and "dead" in Chinese figurative speech, we may consider this saying:

shù nuó sǐ, rén nuó huó

树挪死, 人挪活

"If you move a tree it will die; when a person moves, they'll live".

[rigidity vs. flexibility]

Here are a few more common expressions, focusing only on the "dead" aspect of things:

shūběn shàng de sǐ zhīshì


"dead book learning" (in contrast to practical, "living" knowledge)

sǐjì yìngbèi


"dead remembering and hard / forced reciting" (i.e., rote memorization)

zhǐ huì sǐ dúshū


"only knows how to read books in a dead manner" (i.e., doesn't know how to apply knowledge)

As one Chinese friend summed up the dilemma, it all boils down to the division between fǎzhì 法治 ("the rule of law") and rénzhì 人治 ("the rule of man").  In China, the latter generally takes precedence over the former, hence the flagrant disregard for rules and regulations, of which the worker's statement concerning the SOP regarding bad meat with which we began this post is a typical instance.

[Thanks to Greg Pringle, Maiheng Dietrich, Jiajia Wang, Rebecca Fu, Fangyi Cheng, Wicky Tse, Wei Shao, and Ziwei He]

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Posted by Libby Anne

4782By Victoria

Originally posted on Saving Victoria Strong

The Strong-Willed Child, chapter 1, pp. 16-18

A quick note on my wording: it was most cathartic to write this section sort of like it’s an open letter in part to Dobson and in part to my own parents, hence usually referring to parents with the pronoun “you”. I’m not at all speaking to the good parents out there.

This next section begins by discussing the fact that children test limits.

“They (children) will occasionally disobey parental instructions for the precise purpose of testing the determination of those in charge.”

And apparently when children do test limits, what they are really thinking is,

“’I don’t think you are tough enough to make me do what you say.”’

Yeesh. Um, yes, children test limits. Absolutely. But, newsflash! – it’s not all about you when they do so. Children are natural experimenters. They pull the cat’s tail to see what will happen. They combine milk and Kool-Aid to see what it tastes like. They unroll the toilet paper to see how it works. Limits set by parents simply fall under that experimentation. They aren’t seeing how tough you are, they usually just want to know what will happen. Geez…

Also, when you set a rule for a child, oftentimes that rule or limit sounds very arbitrary to them. So a lot of the time they go past it because it meant nothing to them in the first place. Which, again, has nothing to do with you, you, you. Yes, it is your job as a parent to consistently enforce the boundary, and no, it may not be convenient for you, and yes, it may take about forty times of saying the same damn thing to get the message across. But you know what? That’s what you signed up for when you chose to carry the pregnancy to term, Mom and Dad!!

Next there is a somewhat wordy section on the Garden of Eden, and how “original sin” explains strong-willed children. I’m not even sure what to say here. I don’t personally find the Bible to be at all authoritative in my life, so his “source” means nothing to me; but beyond that, I think explaining some kids’ temperaments as “original sin” is extremely offensive. Not that I’m terribly surprised. This is such an easy cop-out for fundie evangelical parents, and not many of them resist the temptation.

Dobson goes on,

“When a parent refuses to accept his child’s defiant challenge, something changes in their relationship. The youngster begins to look at his mother and father with disrespect;…”

Okay, no. Just, no. Backing down from a defiant challenge is not what causes children to disrespect their parents, and a lot of the time, ignoring certain behaviors in children is key to mitigating them. Look, the dynamic between parents and children isn’t all that different from the dynamic between two adults. You decide how other people treat you. If you allow someone to call you names, take advantage of you, or waste your time, then they will. And it doesn’t matter if this person is your child, your mother, your neighbor, or your boss. If you set boundaries with people and don’t reward certain behaviors, the vast majority of the time, those undesirable behaviors will stop, or not ever occur in the first place. No matter who you’re dealing with. This concept comes up in more detail later in the book.

“…(the child will determine) they (the parents) are unworthy of his allegiance.”

No. This is so incredibly wrong. This is a fundamental problem with this book and why it is so destructive. Parents always have their kids’ allegiance, no matter how many mistakes they make. Parents still have their kids’ loyalty even when they do not deserve it! Children are so incredibly vulnerable, and so incredibly dependent on their parents. Pretending otherwise is so damaging! Children will keep craving your love and affection even if you withhold it. They will keep trying to please you even if you constantly hold them to impossible standards. Even the most overly permissive parents are the first people their kids turn to when they are sick or hurt. No, you never lose your child’s allegiance, even when you should (though this can become a different matter entirely once said child is grown; lots of abused children, myself included, do sever contact with an abusive parents upon adulthood). So this fear mongering is completely inappropriate and just an outright lie!

“More important, he (the child) wonders why they (the parents) would let him do such harmful things if they really loved him.”

Ugh, you’ve got to be kidding me. Kids have no idea what is and isn’t harmful! It’s your job as a parent to teach them. We’ve all been around enough older babies, toddlers, and small children to know – sometimes their fears are completely irrational (“Daddy will run me over with the lawn mower”) and other times they are completely unafraid of something they should be afraid or at least wary of (just try and find a child who hasn’t helped himself to some ABC gum). So, this sentence is ridiculous and not remotely grounded in reality. Letting your child harm themselves is bad, yes. But children do not automatically know what is and isn’t going to be harmful. And to say that they wonder why you let them do something is ridiculous, because it presumes to read their minds, which you cannot do. Growing up, my cousins were never made to wear seatbelts or stay in their car seats as toddlers. They never knew that was dangerous. Trust me, all the other adults who knew about this wondered if they were actively trying to kill their children, but the kids never wondered that. They had no clue it was dangerous, and they were genuinely confused when they got in another adult’s car and were made to wear a seat belt. They literally didn’t know the purpose of seat belts!

“The ultimate paradox of childhood is that boys and girls want to be led by their parents, but insist that their mothers and fathers earn the right to lead them.”

No. For the love of god, NO. There isn’t a paradox here at all. Children are born as helpless individuals who need to be both protected and accepted for who they are. There’s nothing mutually exclusive here. Have you ever been in a parking lot and seen a child throwing a fit about getting into his car seat, but then in the next moment rushing to his mom or dad when a car drives by too fast? This is what I’m talking about. The idea that a child expressing individuality and their own personhood is somehow meant to insult Mom and Dad is patently absurd and so incredibly destructive!

When you respect your child and respect yourself, it teaches them a valuable life lesson about how to treat themselves and others. But this lesson does not get conveyed in any way when you make parenting about a “contest of wills.” The minute you do that, their childhood becomes purely about survival. Kids may obey authoritarian parents out of fear of being hit, but they have learned absolutely nothing about respecting them.

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Posted by Leah Libresco

This post is one in a series on friendship, explored through the lenses of Stephen Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along and C.S. Lewis’s The Four Loves. To close out this week’s series on friendship, I’d like to recommend three articles on people building intentional communities that make it easier to bring friends to the center of our lives [Read More...]
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Posted by Laia


I love the internet every day, especially when it does something like unearth a homemade video of the legendary comedy show made by Tina Fey and Rachel Dratch, which they put on before their days of fame and fortune, when they were just two women doing the sketch comedy circuit in Chicago. If you’ve watched (and maybe memorized) their performances on Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock, you’ll recognize many of their comedic tics, plus characters that they developed later on (for example: on 30 Rock, Liz and Jenna often reference their improv days, and the flashbacks were very much inspired by the real Rachel and Tina). It’s funny, inspiring, and worth watching, even though the video quality is less than stellar. This only cements my love for Tina’s and Rachel’s talent for making people laugh.

This photo of Dan Mintz, the comedian who voices Tina on Bob’s Burgers, dressed as his character is very important.


Palestinian boys in a bombed mosque in Gaza. Photo by Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times.

Palestinian boys in a bombed mosque in Gaza. Photo by Sergey Ponomarev for the New York Times.

Like many people around the world, I’ve spent the last few weeks watching the violence in and around the Gaza Strip with horror, deep sorrow, and prayers for peace. The conflict between Israel and Palestine, who are warring for control over Gaza, dates back to World War II (here is a really good primer on that history and why they’re fighting now). It’s unfathomable to me that so many civilians have been killed: As of Friday evening, over 840 people in Palestine have died, and more than 5,200 people have been injured. Three Israeli civilians and 35 soldiers have been killed as well.

Most devastating is the number of children who have died. On Wednesday, four Palestinian boys were killed on a Gaza beach while they were playing a game of soccer; the next day, explosions killed 16 people, mostly women and children, who were seeking refuge in a Gaza school. It’s hard to make any sense of this.

My friend Sarah Seltzer wrote a devastating piece for the Jewish Daily Forward called “Those Boys on Gaza Beach Remind Me of My Brother.” Here’s one part of it:

I have a twin brother who, as a kid, frequently ran around outside with a ball and his friends—usually in New York’s parks. Woe to the teachers at our Jewish day school who denied them gym or recess: They acted up extra-rambunctiously when they were cooped up. One of the cardinal lessons of my childhood was this: If you don’t let kids run around, everyone suffers. So that, in part, explains why the boys on the beach in Gaza proved my breaking point—boys who had been shut in for over a week and just wanted to kick a ball around, for a blessed few hours, and feel the air.

Those four little boys just wanted to be kids, and they were murdered for it.

Another perspective comes from Claire Hajaj, who wrote this essay, “My Jewish Mother, My Palestinian Father, and a Family Torn Apart:

I find myself standing between bunkers, exposed to fire from both sides. I recently launched a novel, inspired by my parents and their brave attempt to rewrite tribal hatred. As the book hit the shelves, the bombs began to rain on Gaza. And as the blitz transformed into a ground offensive, every social media site began to run the kind of vitriolic, hate-filled attacks that dogged my childhood and eventually tore my parent’s marriage apart after 25 years of raising us in hope.

Hope is something I’m struggling to find, too. To help the children of Gaza, you can donate to the Palestinian Children’s Relief Fund or to ANERA.

Photo of Angela Carter via Vulture.

Photo of Angela Carter via Vulture.

Have you ever heard of Angela Carter? I hadn’t until I read this profile of the feminist horror writer by Brian McGreevy, a fan and fellow horror author who says that her work greatly inspired his novel-turnt-Netflix series, Hemlock Grove. He writes that Carter’s “favored motifs” include:

virgins, snow, mirrors, blood (especially menstruation), white negligees (especially blood-stained), girls raised by wolves, female nudity, comparisons of female nudity to immolation, exposed genitals (male, female, and animal), exotic smells, less-than-exotic smells (a fish market is compared to “a brothel after a busy night”), necrotic aristocrats with unspeakable appetites, and roses (“their huge congregations of plush petals somehow obscene in their excess, their whorled, tightly budded cores outrageous in their implications”). Capturing “real life” held no interest for Carter; in fact she believed the intentional artifice of fiction was not a slave to reality but had the power to change it.

Excuse me while I check out every Angela Carter book at the library now!


Our collective favorite part of Beyoncé’s “Flawless” has been made into an ebook! Yes, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “We Should All Be Feminists” speech, which explains the need for us all to support gender equality, will be published next Tuesday!


Photo of "Wink Space" via Demilked.

Photo of Wink Space via Demilked.

Hi, I’m Dylan, I like shiny, welcome to my DREAM ART. The Japanese designers Masakazu Shirane and Saya Miyazaki have created

Is Religion Good for Kids?

Friday, 25 July 2014 04:20 pm
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Posted by Eliyahu Federman | Religion News Service

Young children exposed to religion had a more difficult time distinguishing fact from fiction than their less-religious counterparts, according to a study in the July issue of Cognitive Science. This was true even when it came to distinguishing nonreligious fiction vs. true stories such as that of Snow White vs. George Washington.

In essence, exposure to religion makes children more likely to believe in fictional stories. But is this bad?

Some touted this as proof that religion harms children. Widely read atheist blogger, Hemant Mehta, described this study as evidence of how religion is “mental child abuse.” In similar incendiary fashion, last year, professor Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, said that teaching religious texts as fact to children is more harmful than sex abuse.

But this study proves a benefit of religion, not a detriment, because research shows how imaginative and fictional thinking, fantasy play, aid in the cognitive development of children. Raising children with fantastical religious tales is not bad after all.

Whether religious stories are true is irrelevant to this discussion. Imaginative religious stories such as creation, Noah, the Exodus, or Santa Claus, may actually benefit cognitive development, creative thinking and social skills. It even helps kids better understand reality. As reported in Psychology Today, imagination provides children with awareness outside of themselves, allowing them to see and understand other perspectives they don’t directly experience.

Paul Harris, professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, explained to the Wall Street Journal in an article on “The Power of Magical Thinking” how imaginative thinking helps children better understand reality:

“Whenever you think about the Civil War or the Roman Empire or possibly God, you’re using your imagination… The imagination is absolutely vital for contemplating reality, not just those things we take to be mere fantasy.”

Believing in fictional characters, such as Santa, is healthy, according to psychologists. Child psychiatrist Matthew Lorber told Live Science that “for kids to believe in the myth of someone trying to make people happy if they’re behaving. … Imagination is a normal part of development, and helps develop creative minds.”

Religion certainly does a disservice when it is used as a pretext to manipulate science, as is the case in the creationism vs. evolution debate, for example, or in the rare case where people are harmed because they relied solely on prayer instead of medicine. But none of that has any bearing on whether it is harmful for young children to regard fictional characters such as Tom Sawyer as real.

Those claiming that belief in religious stories harms children should be interpreting research and science correctly. Not only is there benefit in allowing children to think imaginatively without forcing them into the mindset of perceived reality, but according to at least one study, raising children with religion also increases self-esteem, lowers anxiety, risk of suicide, alcohol and drug abuse, and dangerous sexual behavior.

Image via John Morgan.

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Posted by Bob Smietana

A few weeks ago, my teenage daughter laid down the law.

No more Tweeting in church, she told me. No surfing the web or sneaking a peak at a Facebook game on my phone. And most important of all — no more fact-checking the pastor’s sermon.

One of the dangers of being a reporter is that you don’t trust anyone. We live by a rule made famous at the now-shuttered City News Bureau in Chicago: “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.”

Reporters know that just because someone — even a pastor — says something is true doesn’t make it so. That can be a problem in church. Not so much when it comes to matters of faith — there’s no fact-checking those. The trouble comes with more mundane things, the anecdotes and factoids that pastors like to sprinkle into their messages.

Take this lovely story I heard in a sermon recently:

A gardener was working a nobleman’s English estate when he noticed that a young boy had fallen in the pool and was drowning. The quick-thinking gardener dropped his tools, leapt into the pool, and saved the boy from drowning.

The boy, as it turned out, was a young Winston Churchill.

Churchill’s father was so reportedly so grateful that he made this offer to the gardener: I will pay for your son to go to college.

Years later, Churchill was afflicted with a terrible case of pneumonia and was near death. Fortunately, a new miracle drug called penicillin was available, and it saved Churchill’s life.

Here’s the best part: That miracle drug was invented by Alexander Fleming, the son of a poor gardener — the very same gardener who had saved Churchill as a boy.

It’s great story about the power of a good deed. There’s just one problem: Almost nothing about this story is true. It’s one of the most popular myths about Churchill, according Snopes.com and the Downers Grove, Illinois-based Churchill Centre.

How do I know this?

During the sermon, I stopped listening to the pastor and instead turned my eyes on my cell phone. Something about the story just didn’t sit right — it was too good to be true. So whatever spiritual lesson I was supposed to learn in the sermon was soon overshadowed by the wisdom of a Google search.

Things get even worse when a pastor starts quoting statistics.

I’ve heard most of these in church or seen them in the pages of Christian publications. You may have heard a few of them, too:

None of these statistics is true.

People who go to church have lower divorce rates, churches in the U.S. aren’t dying out, 80 percent of young people who read the Bible or go to church aren’t shacking up, and Facebook isn’t ruining a third of U.S. marriages.

And that stat about Christians who think youth groups are bad for teenagers comes from an online, unscientific survey by a Christian nonprofit that believes youth groups are unbiblical. So they created a survey that produced some statistics to prove their point.

To be fair, it’s not just preachers who love bad statistics or mythical anecdotes. As Stephen Colbert might put it, politicians and pundits and Hollywood executives embrace this kind of truthiness because it works.

Truthiness wins elections, sells books by the truckload, and creates blockbusters. It may even save a few souls along the way. But it will not set us free. And it often leads to bad decision-making.

Take divorce. If you think that half of marriages end in divorce, then why not bail when things get tough, says author Shaunti Feldhahn, author of The Good News about Marriage. But if you realize that most marriages make it — as Feldhahn points out, 72 percent of married people are still married to their first spouse — you are more likely to hang in there when things get tough.

Likewise, if you think that the church in the United States is dying — it’s not, says my boss Ed Stetzer — then you might be tempted to lose hope. Bad statistics, he says, can “demoralize God’s people.”

Allow me to engage in a bit of cliché here and quote from the late, great C.S. Lewis. In The Screwtape Letters, first published in the 1940s, Lewis impersonates an elder demon who is giving advice on how to lead people astray.

One of the devil’s best tools, Lewis says, is misdirection. Get people to believe what they think is true, rather than what really is true: “The game is to have them all running around with fire extinguishers whenever there’s a flood; and all crowding to that side of the boat which is already nearly gone under.”

For me, however, the worst part about bad facts in church — or in religious publications — is that they are so distracting. I come to church to pray, to listen, and to set aside the worries of everyday life and focus on things eternal. Tell me a bad fact and I’m gone, off on a rabbit trail, trying to sort out whether a fact or anecdote is true or not — and missing everything else that the preacher has to say.

That’s the last thing my soul needs in this world filled with constant distractions and mistruths. So this Sunday, I’m going to resist temptation. I’ll leave my cell phone at home and pray that the Lord will have a bit of mercy on my fact-checking soul.

But I’ll also pray that the Lord teaches the preacher about the wonder-working power of St. Google and Snopes.com.

Image via Shutterstock.

The post You Might Want to Fact-Check Your Pastor’s Sermon appeared first on OnFaith.

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Posted by Jamison Pfeifer

This Monday marked the anniversary of Bloody Friday, one of the worst days of 1972 in Northern Ireland. In the span of a single day over twenty bombs were detonated in Belfast, killing 10 people and injuring 130 others. It was two devastating car bombs that took the lives of those ten people, who were so dismembered by the explosions that initial reports over calculated the death count. Those who lived through the day recall its horror and chaos — the scattered limbs and sanguine streets. It’s a day that, like Bloody Sunday, has entered into the collective consciousness (mostly in Belfast): even during a time of such endemic violence, Bloody Friday stands out.

1972 remains the bloodiest and deadliest year on record of the thirty-year conflict in Northern Ireland known as the Troubles with a body count of 496, more than half of who were civilians. The day itself seems to mark a turning point for the IRA, both in the recklessness of their violence and in their public perception. It was only recently in 2002 that the IRA apologized — however callow an apology it was — for the bombings. How do you trace the spiraled, inexorable path from sectarianism to terrorism, from nationalism to senseless violence? Or can you ever?

Even when you consider the centuries long conflict that has characterized Ireland’s history — from the beginning of British dominion, to the revolutionary period starting in 1912, the subsequent partition of the country, a bloody civil war, and finally the precipitating riots that began at the end of the 1960s, submerging the country into a three-decade long period of sectarian conflict — it’s hard to fully make sense of the conflict.

The rehearsed layman’s explanation of the conflict is: Catholics versus Protestants, one religious faction pitted against another. : Catholics versus Protestants, one religious faction pitted against another. That’s a crude explanation for a complicated conflict, though there does exist a division between Protestant Unionists and Republican Catholics.

It would be more accurate to say that the conflict was (and still is) based on two competing nationalisms. The Troubles was a religious conflict, sure, but it was also an ethnic, geographic, and ideological conflict. Religion is just one more variable, one more signifier in fact, of the factions that make up societies. Once it becomes solidified as a means of political mobilization, religion is an inadequate descriptor on its own. This is why it’s wrong to reduce a conflict to a statement of “Catholics versus Protestants” — or “Jews versus Arabs/Muslims,” for that matter.

While it’s one thing to recognize the violent tendencies that inform certain religious factions, it’s another to look beyond the nominal differences of sectarian groups and to consider the ideologies and power structures that underlie them.

In the case of Northern Ireland, that would mean recognizing the territorial interests at play, the history of British dominion, the politics of segregation — and so forth. It’s tempting to conflate a visibly two-sided conflict into a recognizable vocabulary, because it can offer us the assurance that terrorism has a specific face, or that religious violence can be pinpointed to a specific time, creed, or faction. It’s as if to circumscribe an imaginary line around religious violence, as though it’s a category immured from everything else. That’s a naïve and damaging perspective, and it shouldn’t have any place in serious discourse.

Secularization has probably played a role in the decline of violence in Northern Ireland, though it’s also fair to say that religiosity was never the main factor in the violent outbursts in the first place. And despite secularization, sectarianism continues to leave its mark on the country. On Bloody Friday, Belfast witnessed sectionalist violence at its worst. Though violence greatly decreased after the Belfast Agreement of 1998, the evidence of the conflict is still written in the city’s landscape, from the segregated communities to the miles of “peace walls” that maintain that segregation. These massive structures, scattered throughout the city, evince a city that still hasn’t overcome its problems.


It’s altogether strange and horrifying to witness another ongoing sectarian conflict in real time. The violence occurring in Israel and Palestine, like The Troubles, could be described as a religious conflict — but, like The Troubles, it’s also an ethnic, territorial, and colonialist conflict.

In a world of 24-hour news media, we are, I would hope, no longer exonerated by our ignorance. This is why it’s frustrating to observe mainstream news channels equivocate and misrepresent their way out of offering a truthful version of events. How we explain conflicts matters just as much for the history of The Troubles as it does for what is currently happening in Gaza. Recognizing these injustices calls us to confront our own prejudices and conflations. It should make us question the discrepancies in coverage of the crisis and the fallacious logic that defends it. It should cause us to consider the colonialist logic that engenders the killing of civilians and children and give us pause for our own country’s relationship to what’s happening, something most of us are unwilling to consider.

It took 30 years to come to some kind of resolution in Northern Ireland — how long will it be for Gaza?

Image via Recuerdos.

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Preparing for the Monday Meltdown

Friday, 25 July 2014 12:45 pm
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Posted by Daniel Grothe

Because I am a pastor, it might not surprise you to find out that Sunday is my favorite day of the week.

But I must make a confession: I’m not always a great person to be around on Mondays. Just ask my wife.

Sunday is exhilarating because it is the one time each week when the Spirit gathers the whole family from the four winds of this city, these jobs, and this seeming solitariness into this other place that we call “church,” where we can experience our deep oneness.

Before the Benediction is prayed and we’re sent back out as bearers of the Image, we gather around the Lord’s Table to draw strength and receive nourishment for the resurrection lives we’ve been called to live in this city, these jobs, and this oneness-that-often-looks-like-solitariness.

In the span of two days, I oscillate between the best and worst versions of myself.

Theologically speaking, there are great reasons for Sunday enthusiasm. The church through the centuries has come to think of each Sunday as a “mini-Easter,” a day divinely marked, the high point of the weekly calendar precisely because of Christ’s resurrection that occurred “early on the first day of the week” (John 20:1).

In Sunday worship, we are given the chance to root our lives in the opening line of our sacred text: “In the beginning God . . . .” God initiates everything; we respond. We believe that starting our week by gathering to worship the God who acts first in creation and salvation does something to orient all that we will endeavor to do in our responsive acts of vocation throughout the following six days.

Because this is the one time we’re all together each week, there is much to be done: a sermon to preach, prayers to pray, stories to catch up on, people to touch base with, baptisms to celebrate, and precious new babies to dedicate. For this pastor, at least, Sundays are a “foretaste of glory divine.”

However, after spending Sunday proclaiming, “Christ is risen!” from the core of my being, I often spend the next day “dwelling among the tombs” of my own exhausted emotions (Mark 5:3). In the span of two days, I oscillate between the best and worst versions of myself.

I need to figure out how to live on my personal weekly Sabbath day of rest (Monday!) so that I can get my life back together.

I imagine if you polled the 80,000 spouses of ministers, you would find a great cloud of witnesses to what I’ve detailed above.

I am trying to learn how to address the disparity between my Sundays and Mondays. I need to figure out how to live on my personal weekly Sabbath day of rest (Monday!) so that I can get my life back together. How can I find center?

First, I’m learning that the day needs to be technologically quiet — free of social media, email, and phone usage. The Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann describes the Sabbath as a day to be “re-selfed.” I’m convinced that cannot happen with the constant pinging of these electronic stimuli. A Sabbath day needs to be different than all others, set apart.

I also don’t need to make any important decisions on my day off. As the ancient Hebrews committed to let the soil of their farms rest every seven years, I’m learning to let my mind rest every seven days.

Rigorous exercise has also become a staple on Mondays. What if there’s actually something to that whole ”I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave” thing? It’s hard to obsess about work when all I can do is think about finding my next breath as I run a trail. Requiring something of the body frees up some extra space for the mind. Ultimately, I exercise because I believe that God speaks in whispers, and without exercise my mind is too loud to hear much of anything.

Finally, I’m working to carve out stretches of time to engage meaningfully with my wife and three children. I’m starting to take my kids, one at a time, on a leisurely walk around our neighborhood on the morning of my Sabbath. It provides individual time with them, gives me the chance to discern what’s going on beyond what they’re saying to me, and helps us ease into the day.

As I assimilate these elements into my Monday Sabbath, I find that prayer becomes natural, meditating on Scripture reflexive. The whole day begins to feel like divine embrace, Holy Communion.

As we learn to live into this gracious Sabbath rhythm, I believe we will not just have a surplus of energy; we will become a surplus of life and joy and peace for the people to whom we have been sent.

Image via Patrik Jones.

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Posted by Sarah Pulliam Bailey | Religion News Service

When he was a student at Brigham Young University three years ago, Anthony Willey came across a Wikipedia page on Mormons. What he read filled him with frustration.

The article focused on polygamy, which seemed odd since Mormons officially outlawed the practice in 1890. “It didn’t say what Mormons believe or what made them unique,” Willey said. “I had the thought, ‘Who’s editing this stuff?’ and that got me hooked.”

Since editing that page and adding 50 percent to the content, Willey has made more than 8,000 edits to the editable online encyclopedia, mostly on articles related to Mormonism. His top edited pages include entries on Joseph Smith, Mormons, Mormonism, and Black people and Mormonism.

The problem confronting many Wikipedia editors is that religion elicits passion — and often, more than a little vitriol as believers and critics spar over facts, sources and context. For “Wikipedians” like Willey, trying to put a lid on the online hate speech that can be endemic to Wikipedia entries is a key part of their job.

Religion is among several of the top 100 altered topics on Wikipedia, according to a recent list published by Five Thirty Eight. Former President George W. Bush is the most contested entry, but Jesus (No. 5) and the Catholic Church (No. 7) fall closely behind.

Islam’s Prophet Muhammad (No. 35) and Pope John Paul II (No. 82) are included, as well as all manner of religions, like Jehovah’s Witnesses, Islam, Christianity and Scientology. And countries and topics with religious sensitivities are also controversial, including global warming and Israel.

Wikipedia is the fifth most-trafficked website on the Internet and its complex policies and regulations for editing — more than 50 of them — for editing the open-source site total nearly 150,000 words (thick enough for a book).

Any registered user can create an entry on Wikipedia, a collaboratively edited encyclopedia. Volunteers write Wikipedia’s 30 million articles in 287 languages.

Willey, 29, is now a Wikipedia administrator, which gives him more administrative privileges within the volunteer-driven website. The physics graduate is looking for full-time work, so his editing is only an occasional side project. And it’s only partly driven by his faith.

“I don’t edit as an agent of my religion,” Willey said. “I’m not going out of my way to promote a certain point of view. I am motivated by when people say things that aren’t true.”

It could be tempting for Wikipedia editors to portray their own faiths in the best light, or for people outside of the faith to paint a negative picture. In 2009, Wikipedia banned people using the Church of Scientology’s computers and some of Scientology’s critics from changing Wikipedia articles about Scientology. Wikipedia said members of the church and some critics engaged in “edit wars” by adding or removing complimentary or disparaging material.

“The worst casualties have been biographies of living people, where attempts have been repeatedly made to slant the article either towards or against the subject, depending on the point of view of the contributing editor,” a committee wrote in its decision to ban users.

Some users might go out of their way to portray a religion in a bad light. Several years ago, a user who went by the name Duke53 attempted to ensure Mormonism’s sacred undergarments got as much exposure as possible — it’s not a topic the church generally likes to discuss. He added images to as many articles as possible, including to Wikipedia articles such as “Clothing” and “Church etiquette,” regardless of whether the images were relevant.

When Willey edits an article, he says, he avoids inserting opinions and instead uses a trusted source, such as Richard Bushman, a respected emeritus historian at Columbia University.

“Even if I don’t agree with something in his book, for the purposes of editing Wikipedia, it keeps me honest,” Willey said. “It makes it very hard for people to argue with me because when it comes to editing something on Wikipedia, it all comes down to who has the best source. If I’m promoting the view of the best source, I’m always right.”

He will occasionally edit pages on other religions, such as Islam or Baha’i, or general articles on Christianity. “Nobody likes to be misrepresented,” he said.

Those who engage in outright hate speech are dealt with swiftly and blocked, but combating more subtle hate speech can be tricky.

“If somebody’s abiding by the rules, it’s hard to block a contributor who’s writing an article if they’re ambiguously promoting something,” Willey said.

Roger Nicholson was on the same path as Willey, editing Wikipedia pages related to Mormonism for two years to experience what the editing was like. His story, featured in the Deseret News, ended after he decided all the “edit wars” weren’t worth the headaches.

“It’s kind of like the Wild West of the Internet,” said Nicholson, who works with a group called FairMormon instead. “You could spend days and accomplish the change of a few sentences and that was it.”

Among the Wikipedians, a large percentage self-identify as atheists, followed by Christians, Muslims, Pastafarians (devotees of the farcical religion of the Flying Spaghetti Monster) and Jews.

Most of the edits to Wikipedia articles, especially ones on religion, are made by men, according to a 2011 study by the University of Minnesota. Women accounted for just 7 percent of the edits on religion articles.

John Carter, a 51-year-old office worker in St. Louis who is Catholic, will sometimes help edit more controversial pages, including ones on Scientology, Martin Luther and Wikipedia’s list of new religious movements.

Many of the smaller religious groups have editors who are deeply passionate about them, but some smaller religions that aren’t as appealing to Westerners (including Native American or Central Asian American traditions) are covered less well, Carter said.

“An enemy (or friend) of a ‘cult’ in Ecuador could find sources supporting their personal positions and the obscurity of the topic in English will make it hard or impossible for most of us to confirm or deny,” Carter said.

Carter, Willey and other editors discussed editing religion pages in a Q-and-A with Wikipedia last year where an editor with the user ID Sowlos said there was quite a bit of overlap between religion and mythology on the website.

“If a mythology is a sacred narrative or collection of traditional stories, then all religions include mythologies as integral constituents of what they are,” Sowlos wrote. “However, many people feel uneasy referring to stories from their respective religions as ‘mythology’ for fear that it will be interpreted as indicating a lack of factual integrity.”

Using Wikipedia’s rules, Carter says, religion can be difficult to independently verify, especially when there’s a range of opinions about what events took place and what they mean.

“No one has any real evidence that Jesus rose from the dead or not — how do you give the various opinions balanced coverage? And was he God, or a god, or something else?” Carter said. “Even nominal Christians disagree on those and several other significant topics.”

Image via Shutterstock.

The post Wikipedia’s Edit Wars — and the 8 Religious Pages People Can’t Stop Editing appeared first on OnFaith.

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Posted by Josephine McKenna | Religion News Service

Pope Francis met Meriam Ibrahim, the Christian woman spared a death sentence for apostasy in Sudan, at the Vatican on Thursday (July 24) after she was flown to Rome by the Italian government following a vigorous international campaign to free her.

Ibrahim, 27, was accompanied by her husband Daniel Wani and two young children when she met Francis for nearly half an hour at his Santa Marta residence.

The audience was arranged only hours after she disembarked at Rome’s Ciampino Airport with her family on an official Italian aircraft. She was smiling as she carried baby Maya, who was born just two months ago as Ibrahim was shackled in prison.

The pope thanked her for her courage and loyalty to her Christian faith despite facing threats of execution in an ordeal that lasted nearly a year.

The Vatican’s chief spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said Francis wanted Thursday’s meeting to be a “gesture of support for all those who suffer for their faith, or living in situations of difficulty or restraint.”

On Wednesday, Ibrahim’s case was the subject of a congressional hearing in Washington as lawmakers sought to highlight her plight and Sudan’s poor record on religious freedom.

The Washington-based Family Research Council, the Christian lobby group which has led the U.S. campaign and gathered more than 53,000 signatures in support, welcomed Ibrahim’s release.

“We celebrate Meriam Ibrahim and her family’s escape to freedom,” said FRC President Tony Perkins in a statement. “It is our hope and prayer that Meriam and her family will now enjoy the liberty to practice their Christian faith without government interference or persecution.”

Lapo Pistelli, Italy’s deputy foreign minister, flew to Khartoum to collect Ibrahim and accompany the family on the flight to Italy.

He said her Sudanese passport was only returned by authorities late Wednesday and she was told she could leave the country with her husband, who has U.S. citizenship. The family is expected to leave Italy for the U.S. within days.

Ibrahim had been trapped in Sudan since her release from prison where she was awaiting execution for refusing to renounce Christianity. Even though she has been a Christian her entire life, Sudan considers her a Muslim because her father is Muslim.

She gave birth in chains in a Khartoum jail cell in May after her father claimed she had abandoned Islam and committed adultery with her Christian husband as mixed-faith marriages are considered illegal.

The country’s Supreme Court threw out the death sentence in June.

Photo courtesy L’Osservatore Romano.

The post Meriam Ibrahim, Finally Freed from Sudan, Meets With Pope Francis appeared first on OnFaith.

10 Great Summer Reads for Catholics

Thursday, 24 July 2014 01:49 pm
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Posted by Kevin D. Sullivan

The best Catholic literature is not about apologetics. It’s not about using a story to pack in the teachings of the faith, nor is it about the Scriptures. Often, it’s not even about providing a model for Catholic life. Instead, great Catholic literature captures and expresses the Catholic worldview through human lives and stories — characters and events that point to the sacred among the profane and the extraordinary in the ordinary. For the young Catholic seeking to make sense of a faith that our culture deems archaic and outdated, these beautiful novels can teach us what really lies at the heart of Catholicism in our everyday lives. Plus, they’re great summer reads — on top of offering greater wisdom, they deliver that great feeling of reading a moving and page-turning story.

1) Therobe Robe by Lloyd Douglass

A timeless classic, immortalized in the famous 1953 film, The Robe is a beautiful example of Christian imagination bringing Scripture to life. A Protestant minister who saw literature as a method of preaching, Douglass’ greatest work is a historical novel recounting a young Roman tribune’s participation in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and the radical change in his life as a result of gambling for Christ’s robes and winning them.

2) Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

Think an English Great Gatsby with immense wit, irony, and most importantly, a prescription for the moral wasteland of modernity. Waugh’s novel is one of those classic works that has a great, unique hidden treasure for each reader that dares to open it. Waugh, an outspoken Catholic in an age of nihilism and a culture of faux Anglicanism, is not a Christian apologist. His is a story capturing the search for the sacred in a secular time.

endo3) The Samurai by Shūsaku Endō

Shūsaku Endōis no romance or adventure novelist. His historical fiction cuts right to the heart of a period of immense suffering and brutalism; it is for the brave reader only. The Samurai is lesser known than Endo’s other acclaimed book, Silence, but deals with the same horrific persecution of Christianity in Japan in the seventeenth century and the fallen humans that contributed to it. A masterful account of how suffering tests the human soul, The Samurai is an emotionally and religiously trying story.

4) Morte D’Urban by J.F. Powers

Few have the talent to turn the mundane and ordinary into great literature as J.F. Powers. In many ways though, J.F. Powers’ greatest ability as a Catholic writer is precisely that: finding the sacred and transcendent amid the profane. In this hysterically ironic, entertaining, and witty story of the behind-the-scenes life of Catholic clergy in America, the observations Powers makes, and questions he asks, are sincere. The deeper meaning, depending on the reader, may prove radical.

Mark_Twain's_Joan_of_Arc5) Joan of Arc by Mark Twain

Mark Twain is best known for his biting social commentaries and entertaining stories Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. What few readers know, even his devoted literary admirers, is that Mark Twain said his greatest work was his historical account of the life of St. Joan of Arc. Twain, after five years in France at the national archives researching this saint’s life, ultimately tells another tale of how those least respected in a society are often the true heroes of justice and compassion.

6) With God In Russia and He Leadeth Me by Fr. Walter Ciszek, SJ

A spy novel, or the autobiography of a modern saint? With God in Russia, and the accompanying spiritual autobiography He Leadeth Me, recount the unbelievable tale of Fr. Ciszek’s unexpected ministry in the hearts of the Soviet regime and its gulags and prison camps. One of the most powerful examples of self-sacrifice and a life devoted to God of our time.

7) The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien

Nothing about this collection of the mythology that Tolkien created is necessarily “Catholic.” It is not about a world where religion even exists, to a degree. But everything about his imagination, and the incredibly dignifying and transformative act of “sub-creation,” gives credence to a world full of the sacred and a view of time as a long, but hopeful, battle between good and evil. In short, his mythology expresses “beauty” in written form.

berry8) That Distant Land by Wendell Berry

The famous agrarian Wendell Berry is a master of authentic story-telling. What exactly his stories “tell” is up to the reader, but what the reader cannot escape is an overwhelming recognition of finding God and transcendent meaning in our relationships and “places.” Our identity is not something we determine on our own, but in relationship to others and our Creator. Berry speaks so strongly to the human heart that one cannot escape the laughs, tears, stresses, and triumphs that his own characters experience.

9) Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis

Lewis was no stranger to the Christian imagination and its power. But what Till We Have Faces accomplishes is the exploration of how the Christian world existed in classical mythology even before the time of Christ.

merton10) The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton

Many consider Merton’s autobiography to be a “modern Augustine’s Confessions.” For the young soul facing the modern world’s questions and lackluster answers, Merton relates his own long search for meaning and his incredible journey to an unlikely place to find peace.

Image via Maureen Didde.

The post 10 Great Summer Reads for Catholics appeared first on OnFaith.

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