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    Mother's Education, Other Thoughts

    Run, Run to Freedom

    March 11, 2009 by Brandy Vencel

    Negativism! …
    Everything you have said is negative …
    What positive proposals do you have
    and what program do you suggest?

    -Ken Myers quoting Jacques Ellul in The Humiliation of the Word

    [dropcap]I[/dropcap]n this way, Myers begins his eleventh and final chapter. Myers explains that being negative in this way is important. If we as a Christian people are in bondage to popular culture, then, as Myers states, identifying the bondage provides a means of escape. As a Christian, being in bondage to something is a serious matter, for it was for the purpose of freedom that Christ set us free.

    Run Run to Freedom

    All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes by Ken Myers

    Myers tries to go further than simply telling us that we should just run toward freedom. He says he wants to suggest how we might run and toward what.

    Here are the items on his how-and-toward-what list that I liked. Coincidentally, it is most of the list:

    • Christians should provide leadership in encouraging cultural habits which are against the grain.
    • As long as we are free from the idolatry within the culture, we should feel free to enjoy the good, true, noble, and so on that lies within the culture.
    • Parents need to raise children in a transcendent culture.
    • Christian teachers should pay attention to what is taught not just by their content but by their methods.
    • Christians within the popular media should attempt to be transcendent as well, focusing on important matters like justice, forgiveness, and virtue.
    • Church leaders need to be more sensitive to how forms communicate values.

    So now I’ll be long-winded and try to break these down and talk about them a little bit. But don’t worry. I’ll choose my three favorites and work from there.

     

    Parenting and Transcendent Culture

    Throughout the book, Myers is declaring TV the dominant medium of popular culture. To some extent, I think this has been replaced by the Internet. However, it is probably still true that TV is the primary way of infusing popular culture into the hearts of our children. I don’t know many parents who are plopping a two-year-old in front of a computer screen, but then again maybe I’m just out of sync with the culture.

    I’ve written a few times about our family’s relationship with television, so I don’t want to go into it a whole lot today. I’ll try to put some links at the bottom to those old posts. In short, our children don’t watch television. We watch LOST. We tend to watch more TV when we have a newborn because I use it to keep me awake during late evening feedings. This time around, though, I find myself feeding Baby O. in quiet hours and I really can’t complain.

    I love Neil Postman’s book Amusing Ourselves to Death but it isn’t really a spiritual take. I read the book during my first pregnancy, and I remember that it caused me great concern for the patterns of the mind that would develop in my child if he was exposed to lots of television viewing. Si concurred, and the rest is history.

    Since we made that decision, we’ve reaped the benefits, but generally haven’t developed much more in our thinking about the medium. This is why I thought Myers was so helpful, that he expanded this to include the idea that TV, in both structure as well as content, communicates popular culture to the people. If I think of it this way, then it seems to me that whereas I thought I was developing good habits of thinking in my children {and I am} there is more — I am actually immersing them in a totally different way of seeing and thinking about the world. This isn’t about better literacy rates. This is about building a better citizen of a better culture.

     

    Christian Teachers and Our Methods

    And here we have happened upon one of my favorite subjects, education, otherwise known as the bequeathing of good {or bad} ideas from one generation to the next. Myers steps it up a bit and explains briefly that methods themselves are teaching something.

    As a communication major in college, I was taught that pretty much everything communicates something. I remember in probably my favorite required course, Communication Theory, that we read about body language. The idea was that the content {“I love you”} could be contradicted by the form {arms crossed and facial expression twisted into a scowl}. As Christians, if we say something wonderful like “every child is a person created in the image of God” and then proceed to utilize methods that treat the child as a machine, our form is contradicting our ideas. If we say that every man is endowed by His Creator with certain inalienable rights, but teach him as if he were a slave, our form is contradicting our ideas. If we say that each child is unique, but insist upon a form that requires extreme conformity in every subject area for every child regardless of natural talent, interests or abilities, our form is contradicting our ideas.

    And the clincher goes back to communication theory, which says that the form is more powerful over the long term. Just as the scowl will eventually destroy a marriage, the inappropriate form will destroy the child. If we say one thing and do another, we are double-minded men. And what we do proves what we really believe. This is why Christian schools {both private and home schools} which are simply secular methodologies with content scrubbed whiter than snow are still cause for concern.

     

    Christian Leaders and the Communication of Forms

    This is very similar to the situation with teaching, but the issues to think through are different. Over the years, Si and I have attended and visited a number of churches which are not thoughtful about the technology they adopt for congregational use. Myers rightly points out the tendency of evangelicalism to be mostly feeling-based. This is something I think the movement has tried to break out of in recent years, but the fumes of anti-intellectualism remain and cause some thoughtless decision-making.

    I think thoughtless is a good word because I really don’t think there is purposeful destruction going on. I think most pastors and elders love their churches. They simply focus their deliberations on content rather than form.

    I think of a church we attended many years ago where a “church plant” meant renting a new location and then broadcasting the sermon live to that location. The content would be essentially identical. And yet the form completely redefined the concept of a pastor {incidentally the root word of “pastoral”} as a shepherd. This sort of thing sets the precedent for justifying staying home from church altogether. Why not just watch it on TV? If the meeting of the congregation isn’t important enough for the pastor himself to physically show up for, why should the parishioners attend, either?

    Of course, I also believe this church was personality-driven and dependent on one charismatic leader, which might ultimately explain the decision. This doesn’t change the implications of the form.

    Or take a more recent example, the encouragement of “twittering” at Seattle church Mars Hill. And, yes, I mean during the actual church service. The explanation in one new report I read was:

    “How does the service impact them, what does worship feel like to them and its a good way for them to kind of tell their friends what church is about without their friends even coming in the building,” aid Kyle Firstenberg, Mars Hill Campus Administrator.

    Another contact I had said that the pastor receives questions from parishioners during the service, and then picks a couple to answer at the end.

    So let’s dispense with the content and think about the form here for a minute. First, aid Firstenberg is telling us that the point of Twittering during the service is to focus on the self. How are parishioners impacted? How do they feel about the worship? The form allows those thoughts in all of our heads now and then to come to the front and be given expression to, and immediately at that. Don’t like the singer? Twitter the pastor right then. Over time, the obvious outcome is that self-expression takes center-stage during the church service.

    This brings me to I Corinthians 14:33-35:

    For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.

    As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.

    Regardless of your church’s take on a woman’s behavior at church, the first part of this passage concerning the character of our Lord {that His kingdom is orderly and therefore our times of meeting together should be orderly} takes precedent. This orderliness is the context for the prohibition of speaking by women. My guess is that the women causing trouble in this early church would have clamored to get their hands on an iPhone and Twitter their hearts out during the service.

    Twittering during church does not encourage the orderliness explicitly commanded in Scripture. Moreover, I would say it encourages foolishness. As I am constantly telling my children, it is okay to ask a question, but it is rude and unwise to ask a question right in the middle of someone trying to tell you something. Perhaps your question will be answered if you wait to listen first. {The Bible tells us that a wise man listens before speaking.}

    In regard to church, not all of my thoughts during the sermon are important to assert. This is something that has taken me a long time to learn. Many pastors are not preaching the entire implication of every passage. They are focusing on one or two lessons at a time, and usually it is the lesson God laid on their hearts for their congregation. Frankly, what my distracted mind thinks during the service, what questions I selfishly think are more important than what the pastor is saying, are not important.

    I would say this is the ultimate example of a marriage between popular culture and the Church. Popular culture says that I am the center of the universe and so what I am interested in is what is important. The mindset of popular culture feels very free to dismiss the pastor and all the hours he has labored before the Lord to properly handle the Word of God and present it to his flock because popular culture believes that all that matters is me.

     

    Transcendence

    In 1812, Noah Webster said that something was transcendent if it was excellent or supreme. I would couple this with a concept that comes up within classical education a lot, which is the concept of permanence. The Bible is full of descriptions of the temporary nature of the world. The rich man and will pass away and his wealth will be enjoyed by another. There is also the ultimate Permanent Thing, the Word of our Lord, which, it is written, will stand forever.

    There are things that happen which are temporary, but easy for us to get caught up in: bad choices by a bad president, fashionable clothing, the latest gadget, today’s headlines. These are, in a way, poor substitutes for the transcendent things: the virtues and strengths which characterize any truly great leader, beauty that comes from inner character, a really good hoe, the greatest stories in the history of the world.

    Yes, I really did write “a really good hoe.” There will always be a new gadget, but if you have weeds in your garden, and there have been weeds since the fall of mankind, nothing replaces a really good hoe.

    As Christians, we have a chance to stand back from the chaos and the clamoring and rest in the things that are really important. Sometimes these will intersect with the chaos, like yesterday when I was reading of even more unjust laws in the works by our government. It isn’t the petty details that have me upset, but the attempt to undermine human freedom. Freedom is just one example of a transcendent thing that the leaders of popular culture {like the President who thought movies on DVD were a respectable gift to the Prime Minister of Britain; if that isn’t popular culture I don’t know what is} are ready to sacrifice to their god, the god of Now. Today. Crisis. Whatever his name is, we know him and we see him in the daily news.

    Ahem.

    Building a culture will take a generation at least. Because of this, it starts in the home with our own children. But it doesn’t end there. Popular culture has come a long way since Myers wrote this book in the 80s. It is literally everywhere now. We each have our own little sphere, our own little jobs to do. How do you build the fortress of a good culture, a culture that represents what is good, true, lasting, and beautiful?

    We each lay our own bricks, one brick at a time. A good brick we can all lay is the brick called hospitality. Snatch someone you know from the fray, bring them home, and introduce them to Christ our True Rest.

     

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    2 Comments

  • Reply Anonymous March 12, 2009 at 3:02 pm

    I was wondering if Meyers book came in dvd format or Ipod? I think I want to buy it for friends!

  • Reply Dana March 12, 2009 at 12:07 pm

    Enjoyed your participation in the book club and look forward to the next one.

    Laying bricks in Georgia,
    Dana

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