Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Candy Trading Advice

Okay, I couldn't resist breaking the break to share this extremely helpful how-to on trading your Halloween candy to maximize the amount of your preferred candy and to get rid of the weird candy that no one likes:

What does it say about me that I'm a oral-fixation candy fiend?

Happy Halloween/beginning of November!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

A Brief Blogging Hiatus

So... it turns out that I'm not as good of a juggler as I thought I was :/. I have two mid-terms this week, as well as a few papers I'm working on, plus lots o' regularly scheduled programming.

The result? I need to take a blogging break for a couple of weeks. Hopefully I will get back to a normal level of business in the next 2-3 weeks.

See you then!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Reflection Sunday 10.21.12 (Jesus Corner)

Howdy-do, y'all! Classes are back in session this week and I feel a little bit like a steam engine sputtering back into motion after stopping at a station. Now that I've got a week back under my belt, I feel like I'm chugging along, but it definitely took the whole week. The bright spot was acing my Greek exam- the first exam I've taken in grad school. In addition to feeding into my general grade mongering, it was an affirmation that I can handle the work here. Which is a relief. Now I just need to keep my nose to the grindstone.

This week the theme of my own contemplation is "the law." Appropos, as it is election season and two of my classes addressed ideas of legal/political entities and their relationship to the church in history. First, we talked about the law in the Old Testament, going into the relationship and hierarchy of the moral vs. legal directives that God gave to Israel. I really appreciated our professor's distinction between the hierarchy of how the law is structured in the Old Testament. It starts with the highest moral imperatives: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and strength" and "Love your neighbor as yourself." Then there are overall principles from which the "case laws" spring from... for instance, the 10 Commandments are overall principles and then all the subsequent laws are case studies of how to live out the principles.

There are a couple of things that come from this structuring that I never fully considered. First, the case laws are not the entirety of the ancient Israeli legal code. Not that the Bible ever says it is, but it had always been implied by my teachers. There are things that aren't in the Bible that would have applied to the Jewish nation's justice system. Second, the case studies are not immutable - we can see that situations are handled differently at different points of time throughout the Old Testament. That is because the case studies are the practical working out of moral imperatives and principles... meaning that depending on the cultural context, practical outworkings of those imperatives and principles will change. For instance, an Ancient Near Eastern cultural context would necessitate case law about "high places" and fertility gods. In our context, we might not need those specific case laws, but the overall principle of having no other gods before God would still stand. Third, the practical outworkings are exactly that: practical. The case laws make allowances for human sinfulness and culture. Jesus alludes to this when He speaks of divorce: the case law allows for divorce in as principled way as possible, but the moral principle would say that there should not be divorce at all. This is hugely liberating in reading the case studies - it means they are not all high moral aspirations, but rather a loving attempt to mediate holiness in broken situations. As a whole, I am so taken with this way of looking at Old Testament law. It affirms, in the awesome words of my professor, that "negatives do not exhaust the moral vision of the Bible."

A couple thousand years down the line, we considered the "identification of the church with the whole of organized society" (R.W. Southern) after the fall of the Western Roman Empire. So here's the two pictures that had always been painted for me as to why "Christendom" came to be. On the secular end, it was portrayed as the church's final success in seizing power for itself and controlling the political world, as had always been it's goal. On the church end, it was portrayed as the culmination of God's will for the church to drive the secular world. Neither of these assessments seemed 100% satisfying to me. Sure, there are people who are power-seekers by nature in any organization. And I don't have a problem believing that the confluence of events that led to Christianity becoming the dominant religion in 250 years flat was divine in some sense.

But how did the church and the state end up in bed together so thoroughly in the west? Why would the secular authorities let that happen? People aren't generally keen on sharing their own institutional power  with another institution. Why did the church go along with being kingmakers? Just a couple generations before, monks were being dragged by their ears from their monasteries to take on bishop seats, pouting and angry all the way to have to give up their simple life of reflection. Looking at things through the role that the Roman Empire had played in the secular and ecclesiastical life, however, it starts to make more sense. Both my history class and the superlative History of Rome podcast have illuminated the cultural milieu for me in a much clearer way. Maybe this is obvious but... the Roman Empire was a big deal. It had been a unifying force for a huge part of the world for hundreds of years. And it had started to play "referee" for church affairs. When there were two areas that had a disagreement, the emperor would host a big get together for everyone to work things out. With the invasion of northern tribes and the fall of the west, that stability for the western part of the church was gone. They didn't have a referee and they also didn't have the stability of knowing that the same group would be in power from one day to the next. They tried to continue to have the Eastern emperor and church help stabilize things, but over time, that became decreasingly effective.

Meanwhile, it's not like these northern tribes were organized to hold large areas of land. They were regionally oriented and suffered from the same instability as the church did. Thus, a mutually beneficial (and problematic) symbiosis was born that lasted for a long, long time, providing the stability that everyone was trying to achieve. Viewed in this light, we don't have to think of Christendom as a completely evil, nefarious, and wrongly motivated force, nor do we have to think about it as a holy kingdom on earth that can't be criticized. It's a result of understandable political and social forces that had both positive and negative effects on the lives of people under its rule.

What does all of this have to do with the elections? Maybe nothing. Or maybe it's just a good reminder to me that in the midst of an election season that has been full of exultations, demonizations, magic bullets, and inexcusable blunders, maybe it's okay to think of things as layered rather than a clear cut directive. Maybe it's a reminder to treat "the other" (whoever that other is for you) with some grace, because we don't yet have the hindsight to know how things are going to shake out.

Or maybe that's just my take... anyways, I'll be reviewing Bad Religion later this week, which has been a super helpful framing book for me in the way we should think about politics in America.

How has this year's election season impacted your thoughts on government or law?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Books Like Whoa: Top Ten Genre Authors

Today's lovely Broke and Bookish list prompt was... top 10 authors in a genre of your choice! I couldn't pick one though, so I'm going top 10 genre authors. Any genre. Not necessarily my favorites, but I think all together, they make an amazing melange of reading delight. Enjoy!

1. Agatha Christie: Is there any surprise, like, at all that she's on here? Anyways, if we're talking mystery, she's gotta be on here. Start with Murder on the Orient Express and keep a-goin'.

2. Ann Rinaldi: Ms. Rinaldi is the most fantabulous YA historical fiction writer on either side of the Mississippi, one that no young person should miss. My very favorite is Time Enough for Drums. Though possibly it endangers girls of forming unhealthy relationships with their male teachers... but whatevs.

3. C.S. Lewis: Oh, Clive, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. Aside from rocking my mind hole with the metaphysical, dude has conquered YA fantasy and science fiction. My favorite is The Magician's Nephew.

4. Dorothy Sayers: Yes, in some ways she is the snooty woman's mystery writer, but her prose is freaking majestic and Gaudy Night is her masterwork.

5. Jonathan Howard: I am seriously in love with Howard's wit and wisdom as evidenced in the Johannes Cabal series... seriously. Try it.

6. Tana French: I've just started getting into this series, but the writing is GORGEOUS and they are by far my favorite procedurals, which aren't usually my bag outside of prime time TV. Start with Into the Woods and continue on.

7. Stephen King: How can you talk about genre without the king of horror? I am especially partial to his short stories, and for those aspiring writers, On Writing is fantabulous.

8. Shirley Jackson: How can you talk about genre without the queen of horror? My very favorite is The Haunting of Hill House... don't hold the movie against it.

9. Arturo Perez-Reverte: These books are translations from the original Spanish beautifully and I'd say these are probably my favorite historical fiction. The Club Dumas is especially excellent.

10. P.G. Wodehouse: I'm not sure if making me giggle like a school girl counts as a genre, but if so, Wodehouse is the master of it. The short stories are just the best... I guess humor is a genre, right?

Who are your favorite genre writers?

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Reflection Sunday 10.14.12 (Jesus Corner)

Bonjour, mes amis! It is reading week here in the great white north and I have been doing a lot of... well... reading. I've been focused on books for my term papers, meaning that my Goodreads account right now looks like I am becoming obsessed with the role of women in the early church. Rest assured, I am not obsessed, just researching! :)

I wasn't really sure what I was looking for when I started looking into this area of history. I just knew that there is a narrative that makes the rounds in academia that Christianity either a) was always oppressive to women or b) was the embodiment of what contemporary society would think of as female liberation until the curmudgeonly early fathers put the kibosh on that. After reading the secular sociologist Rodney Stark's assessment of the situation, I was reassured that early Christian women viewed the faith as liberating to them. But the question remained: where did this more negative narrative come from?

From what I've read so far, I've seen a few things that have shed some light on the positions that people take on this subject...

1. There is a popular notion that Gnosticism was the pro-female wing of Christianity that got beaten down by the woman hating conservatives. Looking at the documents that the Gnostics themselves left and other contemporary historians, it's clear that Gnostics held women in roughly the same position in worship/ministry and actually had a less female friendly view of the feminine nature: rather than affirming orthodox Christianity's position that women and men are inherently equal before God, Gnostics generally embraced the culturally normative position that women are inherently inferior to men.

2. The very harsh words that some patristic leaders have for women are for dedicated virgins who are still living lascivious lifestyles or heretical women. Tertullian, for example, is often cited as comparing all women to Eve as a manipulator or deceiver - that quote in context is clearly referring to heretics who he views as leading others astray. Harsh, yes, but not necessarily misogynistic.

3. Early fathers had a much higher view of virginity and singleness than we do - they largely view marriage as a lesser but acceptable state that should be avoided if possible. I'm not saying they are right on this, but it's worth thinking about our own glorification of family life ("You are not a Godly woman if you aren't married with kids!") in tension with their assumption that family life keeps women from following God fully ("Why would you enslave yourselves to a husband and kids?"). In this sense, these leaders have more in common with modern feminists than most evangelical churches.

4. Church fathers do not hesitate to honor women who are working in the church in their writings

5. The widows, virgins, and prophetesses of this time period of church life are depicted as an integral life blood of the church by the church fathers themselves.

6. Men who in one breath seem to be writing women off in the next breath write poetically about the shared responsibilities and gift of married life between two partners who are following God.

7. Many of the more prolific writers on the topic of women in the church were writing from a pre-conversion background of pervasive indulgence in promiscuous sex (think Jerome or Augustine). I think it's important to remember that for these guys, they are struggling against their own histories of being weak when it comes to women. Sometimes in their writings, it feels like they're really talking to themselves about the attractive bodies that they are trying to avoid... what comes out is a lot of focus on those attractive bodies, rather than the actual characters of the owners of those bodies. There are good and bad things that come from this emphasis, but it's facile to dismiss either the whole of their writings on the subject or any of the criticisms that should be made of those writings.

8. Many of these fathers had deep friendships with women, either with their wives, sisters, or a virgin of their churches. They write lovingly and praisingly of these women.

9. There is a real sense of what ancient married life entailed for women hovering over what the fathers had to say: they knew that a life dedicated to God in singleness would genuinely be a better life for many women, rather than entering into a marriage that in that culture meant literally being property, subject to abuse or danger at their husbands' discretion.

10. Bottom line: the church fathers affirm over and over again that "in Christ there is neither male nor female." They struggle to reconcile this clear Christian teaching with their own patriarchal cultural background at times, but they don't try to explain this teaching away.

All of this has been interesting food for thought and has made me think about a book by Carolyn Custis James called Half the Church. I read it a couple of years ago and I seriously think everyone should read it. Not because it's perfect, but because it asks many vital questions. One is that if Jesus is for everyone in every time and every place, it means that there is room for women of all economic, martial, and social status in the life and work of the church. Single women, married women, barren women, abused women, orphaned women, widowed women, working women, mothers, exploited women, powerful women, retired women, young women, rich women, poor women: they all belong in the church. Do our churches reflect a belief that this is so? I don't think we do. There are a lot of complex reasons why this is so, but I don't think we act like we believe that Jesus has a place for all women at every stage of their lives.

The other big question that the book asks is what happens when half the body of Christ is excluded from the work of Christ. James argues that when the church sets itself up to minimize or disenfranchise half of the working body of Christ, it literally leaves itself half paralyzed. The burden of the work of the church falls fully on the men, causing them to bear a load they are meant to share. There are a lot of important questions to work out as to how this plays itself out, but I so appreciate her main point: women are full members of the body of Christ, meaning they have both the full blessing of giftedness and the full responsibility of participating in the life/work of the body. They can't outsource their share onto their husbands or fathers.

This is my favorite quote from my research so far: “It is not surprising that women joined groups which promised them value and esteem before God and men. That this high estimation of women evidently goes hand in hand with the repudiation of ‘bourgeois’ social norms does not tell against women, but points to the guilt and deficiency of human beings and structures. Where a church does not integrate women with all their gifts into community life in accordance with the criterion of the beginnings attested in the canon, in the same way as it does men, it is laying the foundation for the next exodus of heretics. Heresies do not emerge by chance; they are also provoked. Feminist theory today is a clear warning signal.” (pg. 131, Suzanne Heine, Women and Heresy)

Amen. Anyways, that's what I spent my reading week thinking about.

What have you been doing this lovely fall weekend?

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Trying to Understand Korean Electronic Music

I've been hibernating under my stacks of articles, copies of random book chapters, and textbooks for the last few weeks, but even under my pile of Deep Important Writings, I have heard whispers of a magical Korean electronic music phenomenon - Gangnam Style.

For those who haven't seen this masterpiece of dance and song, please, take a moment to bask in its glory:

Okay, have you finished rewatching about 1000 times? Good... let's continue...

I should say up front that I have purposely avoided any explanatory material of this magnificent artifact. I haven't looked up a lyric translation, I haven't sought out articles explicating the true cultural significance, etc. The beauty of this musical tour de force is that it stands alone as an enjoyable pop music experience - full comprehension is purely optional, and for me, there is too much risk involved. In the words of Oscar Wilde, "Ignorance is like a rare, exotic fruit - touch it and the bloom is gone."

That being said, upon my first viewing, I did feel a little disoriented and I want to provide a hermeneutical map for those of you reeling from the wave of awesome that smacked your eyeballs full on.

First, let's consider milieu. The locations are inexplicable, leaving me with many more questions than answers. Why is this hipster man sunbathing under a cabana on a children's playground? Why is he horsey dancing on a duck boat (though I salute his safety concerns vis-a-vis the lifejacket)? Does the horsey dance really necessitate the ubiquitous horse stable and riding ring? Where is the tripped out van of older women heading to? Are the sauna and the dipping pool in the same facility? Is the toilet he sings from at the same location as the tennis courts? These are all questions that we are left to deal with ourselves.

Next, let's turn our attention to casting and costuming. Our hero is one cut in the style of Odysseus or Gatsby - filled with longing for a woman far away (like, at least one train over). His raiment is likewise magnificent, mostly consisting of impeccable hipster suits, but occasionally veering towards odd choices like the disco Elvis pirate shirt + MC Hammer khaki shorts he's wearing when he spots his lady love. Perhaps it's this questionable clothing choice that dooms their relationship, because he has more chemistry with the backwards-power-walking ladies that he horsey dance-chases than he does with his peroxide-orange haired subway vixen. She does seem to be a perfectly competent dancer, so we'll just assume that's what he's after. Aside from the bevy of horsey dancing beauties that populate the video (plus the old ladies in the van - the one in pink on the right is particularly accomplished) and the slightly terrifying Michael Jackson child at the beginning, the only other main character we meet shows up midway through the video in the underground parking garage. I am going to hazard a guess that this person is male, but the unisex hair and unsettling canary yellow suit leave this as only a guess. Suffice it to say, when this man (?) pulls up in what I'm fairly sure is a Sebring with a Mercedes emblem surreptitiously adhered to the back, the party is on.

Finally, I want to think about the gender roles. I have to say, if this is what all hip hop videos were like, I'd lift my ban on watching them. The "sexiest" dance move involved is a little hip swiveling that reveals some silver sequined hot pants... but even this is undercut by the fact that our hero does every single move the women do! He pops his hips, he provocatively side shuffles along, he slides his leg provocatively on the dirt floor of the horse ring- when was the last time you saw Jay Z or Kanye doing the same moves as their back up dancers? Never, and it's a shame. I did have a moment of doubt when the close up of a pilates girl's behind is focused on and our hero FREAKS OUT (which, I mean, I get- I wear skirts to make sure that I don't leave a wake of freaked out men behind me due to my own extraordinary posterior). This is negated somewhat, though, by a close up shot after that of a smiling man in what appears to be a lime green t-shirt with tails thrusting his crotch in an elevator. So I'm going to call it a wash and declare this one of the least objectifying dance videos of the last 30 years. Bam.

I hope this has helped you process the golden nugget that is "Gangnam Style." Feel free to continue to process this wonderful cultural artifact below.

What do you think about this pop culture gem?