Weekly Thoughts 9

How to Stop a Dictator: Read This Blog

The other day I listened to this podcast, Benjamin Walker’s Theory of Everything, part of the Radiotopia network (who, by the way, has some of the best storytelling podcasts out there and is highly recommended). The episode was a short one, beginning with an advertisement for Radiotopia’s latest Kickstarter campaign and then continuing into a short interview with someone who works on the show. They are in the park and there is a concert happening, the guest Walker interviews makes a point of clapping nine times once the musician is finished playing. When Walker asks him about this, he goes into an anecdote that has captured my attention for a couple of weeks now. The guest asks us to ponder if Hitler had been able to have a successful art career, whether or not human history goes down in the same way (I think the knowledge that is excluded is that Hitler at least attempted to have an art career and failed). He goes on to give a couple of other examples of people who had failed careers in creative endeavors and later committed horrendous acts. He then turns his attention to the performing artist, saying that we should support those attempting to make art as a way of contributing into their lives as they try to make something. The whole thing can be listened to here.

I’ve been an advocate of this approach, especially when it comes to people you know or are friends with. Creating something and putting it out there takes a level of vulnerability. Even in the YouTube, blog, and podcast era where having a voice is just a few clicks away (this reminds of the Portlandia “DJ Night” sketch–everyone has something that they’re making), committing oneself to creating content and continually putting it out there is difficult. This is why half of these efforts are given up on within a  matter of months–it’s hard and if you’re not getting a lot of positive feedback it leads into this spiraling creative depression and discouragement. The real creative types have a need to express themselves and frustrations are paramount when people just don’t get it. But these people are expressing themselves and trying to do something which I would posit is a better, more active life activity than say, watching cat videos or playing Iphone games. They are making contributions to life and while not inherently good, creativity is a net positive.

Now let’s address the elephant in the room–you are obviously reading this on my own personal blog right now (or more than likely not reading it, if a blog gets written and nobody reads it, has it actually been written?) and so I will throw in my two cents from personal experience. I’m not really going to complain because I don’t blame anybody for not reading these posts or not listening to my podcasts (check them out here and here) they are hardly lucrative mediums and the content I’ve produced is not populist at all. But I suppose there is part of me that wishes there was some sort of reward or recognition for the work that I make. Even when I try to go more mainstream (celebs!) it doesn’t really payoff and when I see others regurgitating simple ideas and expressing thoughts that don’t really say anything, it annoys me.

It’s fine. I get it.

When my friend and I ironically created a Facebook page for a hail storm that happened three years ago, it gained 65 likes even though we didn’t do anything and didn’t try to do anything with it. When I created a podcast where over two years at least two episodes were released per month, 34 people liked it on Facebook. I don’t know if I need to do the math here, but that ratio favors one much more than the other.

What’s with that? There’s part of me that gets it–people don’t want to be spammed on their social media sites and self-promotion can feel nagging and annoying. I have 385 friends and if we’re being generous, probably 200 like me or desire to have some sort of relationship with me. Of these let’s say 100 would have any interest in listening to a show about taking things in pop culture and ranking them in top 5 lists–a silly and lighthearted venture. Yet, 34 of them clicked like.

Despite this complaint–or lament if you will–consuming things takes time. It is often expensive (here is where I again plug my free podcasts) to support people over and over. We are often flooded with options–what I like to call the Kickstarter effect: the result of there being so many crowdsourcing options, one feels obliged to help this or that via Kickstarter, but ends up so overwhelmed that you end up not endorsing anyone. You can’t give to everyone all the time.

There is also the coffee shop dilemma. We should want to support our friends and our community’s local artists, according to our thesis it will lead to a more positive world, possibly life changing for certain people. Yet every coffee shop on every corner on every Friday night hosts their open mic where aspiring musicians come to play and these musicians cannot possibly all be supported. Most of them hardly stand above the fray of any musician or artist or whatever playing in your local cafe.

How should we respond? This isn’t communism, not everyone can be good or worthy of supporting (cue The Incrediblesif everyone’s special then nobody’s special). Is it even right to support and encourage somebody who is not good? (This is the question parents must ask themselves of their not-good children and one that American Idol brought to the forefront with all of its notoriously bad singers).

Either way, I think it’s worth it to support our friends in their attempts at creativity. Life has a way of weeding out the bad and the worst that could happen is that they realize they suck through terrible and humiliating failures, or they become incredibly successful despite the fact that they are no good at all.

In a world–or generation–that is increasingly cynical, steeped in ironic support of the viral, there is something deeply sincere and authentic about the creator and that alone is worth rewarding in some way.

Weekly Thoughts 8

Spanking and a Two-Party System

I recently found out that in the United States, 19 states still allow corporal punishment in school. Now I have made my opinions about corporal punishment here (quick recap: grew up with it, turned out fine, but the way that it teeters on physical abuse seems like a line that is not worth approaching for me, but I still need to do more research) and it seems crazy to me that this is still a thing.

I tried to do some quick research as to what extent this is still allowed, because honestly, it feels like something out of the Charles Dickens-era than a part of our modern day education landscape. I guess this shock comes from being so far removed from that world, here in California where if you touch a child you are the one to get in trouble.

This article here shows that regulations are vague, but apparently there are rules about paddle size and the strength with which you can hit a student.

People who are working for the government, paid to give you education, and also allowed to hit you if you are bad. Basically, the government is allowed to hit you.

This brings up further ideas of inconsistencies within the two party partisan politics that we live by. Most of these 19 states are red states, more conservative and Republican. They want less government  intervention and involvement-one time I even heard someone complain that they no longer were allowed to drive their car without seat belts because of the government. Yet, for some reason they want to allow people that the government has hired to be able to physically punish their children…

It’s strange to me in general that spanking/no spanking ideologies would trend across the political spectrum. I guess it’s just that conservatives want to preserve the old way (hence the name) while liberals are always desiring an advance?

Even with regard to other subjects both parties don’t match up with their general principles. Democrats are staunchly against capital punishment, tend to be more anti-war, and yet are against the pro-life movements (though I suppose this one generally comes down to when you consider the fertilized egg and all its subsequent variations to become a human); the opposite can be said of Republicans, who-being pro-life-support war and the death penalty vigorously. Republicans also believe that the government should give them more freedom to do as they please-unless of course this is LGBT marriage, then of course the government should intervene.

Why should border security and anti-immigration be a Republican ideal? After all, aren’t they the ones who push much harder than Democrats the ideas of the American dream and Columbus and how our forefathers came to this new land? Is there no Manifest Destiny for Latin immigrants?

Sure each side has its reasons for operating the ways that they do, but they don’t always add up. I think that this is the fault of having a two-party system in which everything must fall in this or that category.

In conflict resolution they talk about how conflicts often arise when people develop an us vs. them mindset-well, here in America, we have created an entire political system that enforces this mindset!

I don’t know the reasons why we have this system, I think I learned about it back in high school, but can’t really remember. Maybe there are extremely valid and beneficial reasons for it, but I can’t help but think that political dialogue would generally be helped by changing the system to shades party lines rather than the set system that predetermines your thoughts even if they don’t entirely add up.

Weekly Thoughts 7

Fear Is a Way to Make Friends

Alarm. Fear. Panic.

It feels at times that more than anything these are the driving narratives in our lives.

The world is a mess. It’s in chaos. America is going downhill. The government is just not like it used to be. The world is going to hell in a hand basket. Jesus must be coming back soon because the world is overcome with evil…

We tell ourselves these things all the time. Sometimes they might be in passing–a quick blip from our mouths akin to speaking about the weather or asking about someone’s day–but there are times we believe them. (It would be interesting to go further into whether having and saying these things actually seeps into our general mindset and the actions that we take or if it is literally just a non-confrontational way to fill the space, but that’s not the purpose of today’s writing.)

Today’s news headlines lead us onto a path of imminent danger, though the modern media with all its trending, clickbait headlines, and ratings grabs cannot entirely be blamed for this. Generation after generation have surely had some sort of fear that the world is in utter disarray and being overcome by evil, we are not unique.

But is it all really that bad?

Unfortunately I don’t have any studies or factual evidence to cite, but we can look at broad examples of the world and its past miseries.

There is the Black Death which 700 years ago may have killed over 100 million people in a time span of 7 years.

There is the near wiping out of Native Peoples in the Americas through sickness and war 500 years ago.

There were the Greeks and then the Romans who went from area to area conquering land after land, until most of the world was theirs.

People lived shorter lives and having children was a bigger risk than gambling for both mother and child.

Having any sort of surgery would have been a near guaranteed death.

All of these things point to civilizations where not only was daily life harder, but diseases and conquering people could kill you any day.

We live in a post-conquering world (well, a more subtle conquering exists, but it’s so tasteful) where organizations are put in place in order to keep people civil. This is based in a general, worldwide standard that killing people to take over land and resources is wrong. We have people put successfully into employment whose sole purpose is to try to save and protect your life.

Modern crises markers like Isis and Ebola are certainly reminders that life is fragile, but put into a historical context that includes crusades, genocides, and plagues it really is all mild. As absolutely horrendous as it is to see natural disasters strike, wrecking cities and destroying lives, any number of years ago it would have been exponentially worse. Of course the world is filled with all sorts of tragedy, but compared to the past this is a utopia.

But life is hard. There is no doubting that. And I think that this is the reason that the complaint of the present age is a go-to for us. We want somebody to hear our cry. The tension that we feel in our soul that the world is not as it should be; that it it is not lining up with the way that we have come to expect it should. This makes us feel important in a world that is large and that does contain suffering and we want to feel important. We want to know that our experience is one that is worthwhile. Complaining and fearing and freaking out do that. They point us away from the mundane that is normal life–for most things work how they are supposed to on most days, disaster is the exception not the norm for most people on most days historically–and give us importance.

Perhaps our insecurities and our difficulties and our problems all get extended and expanded into this ridiculous form of hyperbole, but they are only try to calm our fears and explain life in some way that connects us to one another.

So let’s take it easy, at least a little bit, the world is full of hyperbole–less of that please, let’s celebrate the good that exists, but let’s also make serious laments that provide beautiful, flowing attempts to understand the human condition and the battering of the human heart.

Weekly Thoughts 6

A Personality Quiz

I took a personality quiz the other day. This is something I’ve done a plethora of times and I don’t really have any good reason for taking this one. I am hardly the person to go around taking online quizzes, but this one was quick and so I went for it.

As I read my results – or diagnoses, if you will, I began to grasp a sense of clarity. These people understood me, how I felt, my strengths and weaknesses. Oh, that’s why I do what I do. Section after section was filled with the descriptions of the way I act, the reasons why I do what I do, and suggestions for how I should do other things. It was astonishing.

When someone understands you and can speak into that it feels good and despite the context from which it came – the beautifully titled 16personalities.com – it spoke to my deeper sense of being, my soul, or whatever you’d like to call it.

(A quick aside about the results – apparently I’m an INTJ which means I’m introverted rather than extroverted, I lean on intuition, instead of sensing things, I think rather than feel, and I judge rather than perceive. All this thinking over feeling, the head over the heart – someone needs to tell my CD collection which is filled with far too many emo bands. Also someone should tell the me who watches sports games and has an emotional breakdown on every other play. The last thing I want to point out about my INTJ-ness is the figures and characters it gave me as others with the same personality: Putin, Caesar, Hannibal, Lance Armstrong, Walter White, House, Moriarty, etc… I never really saw myself as a super villain, but apparently it’s in my personality! Watch out.)

What comes with all this understanding though is the potential for stagnation. The freedom that comes with understanding who we are can quickly become a cage that we hide ourselves in to protect us from the outside dangers. Finding and putting things into boxes helps us to sort things and make things make sense. But nobody wants to be put into a box. And putting ourselves into boxes only hold us back from growth.

I know that I thrive when I have time to myself. In fact I can dread social interaction, particularly large groups of people I don’t know. It’s easy to blame that on my personality, I could probably point you to the paragraph in my assessment that tells how INTJ personalities find social interactions baffling, or worse boring. But I cannot let that prevent me from getting out and doing things. Exploring the world. Talking to people, real actual people.

Finding out things about ourselves is important, but what if over the next couple of years all of the science behind these personality quizzes is completely thrown out the window and seen as invalid (or maybe they already have been…)?

These sorts of things can help us, leading us into wisdom, but when we set up systematic ways of living based on these sorts of things we are missing out on bigger functions of life. We cannot commit fully to a way of living just because we have been diagnosed with something of the sort. Well at least that’s what I believe or is that just my personality?

Weekly Thoughts 5

Cultivating Empathy While Rejecting the Anecdote

Understanding someone’s experience is important. It puts you into their point of view – their world. You begin to grasp why they say what they say and why they do what they do.

I believe this is especially crucial with those we do not know or who exist outside the main power structures. Empathy is a cultivated skill and the people it should be used the most on is the abused, the poor, the outsider, and the powerless. Their stories often are ignored, further marginalizing them outside the norm. Storytelling can be an empowering process and can help people to know one another.

While I am an advocate for always listening to and respecting the way a person views their experience, I am also against deriving opinions based on anecdotes. It is vital to hear people’s stories, but these stories make up a larger body of truth. Reality is large and almost unknowable, a diversity of perspectives and statistics help point to a broader picture – increasingly fuzzy and complex.

It is easy to take something we hear offhand and to take it as a truth. We hear the story of someone told by someone who heard it from someone and subconsciously our view on that particular subject is shaped. I’ve written about this before, how we need to assure that the voices we take in are diverse to avoid accidental bias; recently though I’ve been thinking about the tension that comes with listening to people’s stories and avoiding accepting anecdotal evidence as fact.

Take for example the recent events in Ferguson where people have rioted in protest against police brutality. My own experience of police officers is great, my grandfather was a police officer, and I’ve seen them take control of escalating situations with respect to everyone involved. They make me feel safe and comfortable. On the other hand, I must take into account the experience of black Americans in urban areas such as Ferguson who say that they are targeted because of their look or socioeconomic status. Their voices must be taken into account. Yet what about the perspective of the police officer as my friend who is a police officer provided his insight of what it is like to be a cop in the comments of another piece I wrote.

I could trust my own experience, telling people they are crazy for thinking any other way, because I’ve never felt that way. I could choose to only listen to the experience of someone who was mistreated by the police and tell myself that all police are arrogant, racist, or power-hungry. I could choose to only listen to stories of people who have been greatly helped by the police and think that police officers are all-around good people regardless of any context. There are many options and sometimes it is easy to choose one and just ignore the rest.

We do not easily accept complexity, we can easily brush off someone’s story when it doesn’t cohere or we can take the story of another and allow it to shape our whole viewpoint. Neither gets us to the truth, but it is comforting and that’s what we like.

Weekly Thoughts 4

The Appreciative Inquiry into Life

If you look back through my high school journals you will see a guy conflicted between being someone he thought he should be compared with the failure he thought he actually was. Perhaps this is typical of any male journaling their way throughout high school, but part of these sentiments and feelings came from the evangelical strand of Christianity.

Evangelicalism and the reformed brotherhood that has taken hold of its mainstream the last ten years is often spent discussing the comparison of who we are versus who Jesus wants us to be (answer: not who we are). This is even further emphasized by circles who firmly step their feet into the Calvinistic, totally depraved, sinners in the hands of an angry God camp. They spend their time quoting David’s ‘woe is me’ Psalms, Paul’s ‘why do I do what I hate‘ speech, and unleashing more self-hating poems than all the songs featured in Sunny Day Real Estate’s Diary.

This theology of deprivation is matched by a God who has chosen each of us, even though he hates us, and thus celebration is initiated. This celebration can be quite deep and some of these people are some of the most grateful people I know. However, some of this can lead to a deep sense of shame within people. We cannot believe that we won’t commit more of our lives to God even though He has done so much for us! (This actually leads to another unique discussion within evangelical circles where Christians feel as if they cannot take credit for any of their own talents, because they, being evil, cannot do any good. So all credit goes to God in everything, even being good at sports!)

With this, the Christian is constantly hounded by a constant pressure of living up to God’s standards (even though by theological grounds they literally cannot); this pressure is even exists in scenarios where people believe that they do not have to live up to God’s standards, but merely should want to – an easy way to lead to guilt accumulation. Small groups and spiritual discussions inevitably lead into this sort of talk where people confess that they haven’t spent enough time with God or that they have committed (insert sin here) lately.

To get to my point, I am going to talk about something else I’ve discussed here before – the idea of appreciative inquiry. Now appreciative inquiry (AI) is an idea meant for groups of people, supposed to spark creativity and new ideas, but I thought I would force it into a personal spiritual situation (if you want to read an academic overview and critique of AI, go here).

AI’s basic viewpoint is that rather than taking things from a negative angle, it is much more constructive to build off of the positive that already exists. Look for the places that are already producing instead of highlighting the deficits and from there you can make something greater. The underlying perspective is that in most communities there is already some sort of life force that is causing it to exist and stay afloat. By focusing on all that is wrong, negative results will come forth.

Before I continue I must say I am going to try to avoid making this a positive thinking piece, where all your problems will go away if you think about good things. I am certainly no Joel Osteen (I dwell in the sadness), but there is something to this. Wracked by guilt for so many years, it feels good to let go of the shame that constantly hounded me. Maybe I’m a character from Dr. Strangelove, letting go of worry of the atomic bomb as it’s about to strike, but being set free from the narrative of total depravity has been a blessing.

Narratives and how we inquire into those narratives affect how we perceive ourselves and our own story. When we continually see ourselves as depraved beings who will never measure up, what will come out of it? When we continually tell our children to pray prayers so that hell no longer hangs over them or exhort them with tales of them being incapable of choosing good, where are we leading them? (Sidenote: In a conflict class I took, we studied an almost completely non-violent society whose strategy of avoiding conflict was to insult their children so that they would not develop an ego, negating any sense of pride or indignation of being treated a certain way, because, well, they were entirely unimportant compared to the society as a whole. So I suppose there could be some merit to this way of parenting, but certainly to a Western mindset it sounds strange.)

Appreciative inquiry posits that when the little micro narratives we hold – that when combined make up our being  – are changed, the macro narrative will also bend in that direction. When our micro narratives tell us we are incapable of good, generally not worthy of love, and are failures, our macro narrative shifts to one deeply sensitive about a lot of small things.

When are micro narratives begin to tell us that we are capable of good, of making beautiful things, and loving people, perhaps those characteristics will abound. When we become wrapped up in a larger story of mercy, justice, and love rather than one of shame and guilty pleasure our lives will expand into greater things.

I say this all while acknowledging that repentance and humility are two of the most important traits a person can have – we must recognize that we are not more important than other people and when we screw up we should seek reconciliation. But when we ask questions of ourselves, let’s look at the ways we are contributing to life, for we are beings wrapped up in a cosmic tale of love, grace, justice, and beauty. Let us not be overcome with shame at our failures.

Weekly Thoughts 3

Locke, Right and Wrong, and a Theological Imperative

The other night I watched Locke, a 2014 drama starring Tom Hardy. Locke focuses in on one man who makes an instant decision and in an hour and a half car ride sees the results of this decision unfold before him as he works through it in various phone calls.

His decision is one wracked with consequences. If he goes one way many of his problems go away, but he will abandon an ideal. If he goes the other, he will lose everything he loves, but maintain his integrity.

Either way there are consequences.

His choices blur the lines between right and wrong. There really is no way that he can have it all.

Right and wrong will always be taught and insisted upon – rightly so – but when pressed hard enough they crumble beneath us. We hold to our ideals, but there is almost always an exception – a but is found.

Murder is wrong. But there is self-defense. But there is war. But there is Hitler and he doesn’t deserve to live.

Stealing is wrong. But there are poor who need to find food for their children. But there is stealing from the exploitative rich to give to the poor.

If you believe that we are socialized beings then culpability for the wrong we do can even be questioned. The abuser is often one who was abused. The racist usually did not grow up in a place where they were able to interact with people who did not look like them. These people commit wrongful acts, but what if those things had not been done to them? What if.

In the film, his wife tells him that there is good and there is bad and in his decision he chose bad and is now is forced to live with it. Some may say the wife is extra harsh, but she is right that mistakes have consequences. Nobody can blame her for the decision she makes. She takes on the role of the justice system, which lays out that we must punish a crime even if it was committed by somebody who had no other option. Or who was abused. Or is repeating a cycle. A standard must be set, justice must be served regardless of the but.

This makes us turn to a broader sense of justice, one which Martin Luther King Jr. insisted the universe was bent toward. If there is a God who reigns over all, one who is considered the ultimate judge (only God can judge me right?), where does God come down? If anyone could truly tell where the standard was set and where a person’s intentions lied it would be God right?

Of course God could judge all of our intentions weighed against our upbringing in a divine formula He has created and knows the answers to (should we call this GodWAR?) or perhaps right and wrong is not so neatly defined – even for God.

The central tenet of Christianity should be grace. There is forgiveness for all, God sees the games we play, how are lives are complexly fashioned by the people around us, and how the decisions we make are always falling into the cracks of our ethics. Unlike the wife in Locke who acts according to justice, God chooses mercy.

Of course there are consequences in daily life, mercy does not exclude bad things from happening. Justice will occur – in some form.

A black and white color spectrum of right and wrong is too rigid to explain life on earth, I’d rather take Jesus’ prayer – “forgive them Father, for they know not what they do”, because we really don’t.

There is no truth but love, no justice but grace.

Ferguson and Broken Windows Theory

(Note: This is a simplistic view of how things came to be and how the theory behind policing has changed over the years for better or worse. I hope it is informative, thought provoking and empathetic).

The Broken Windows Theory postulates that a community will live up to the way that a community is perceived. If there is a broken window in a building people will view their community as damaged or unsafe. In response to this they will either be less likely to contribute to their community positively or they will add to this negativity that they see. There is a snowball effect of crime that occurs when people view their community as being in “disorder”.

This theory, written by social scientists James Q. Wilson and George Kelling in 1982, held order as the key to lowering crime rates and theorized that if order was maintained then a community’s crime rate would drop as people would feel safe, thus leading to contributing positively to the community. They would be less likely to break the first window.

There is something really nice to this theory and in some personal cases it makes sense. When one considers going somewhere there is the question of safety; how nice someplace looks. A place that is well kept is more inviting and this feeling of safety probably contributes to a place being safe.

The Broken Windows Theory had a wide influence on the way that police work is done. After coming up with their idea, Wilson and Kelling offered solutions. They noted that police work was formerly about maintaining order, but now it was all about solving crimes. In the past crimes were solved by private institutions. This is where old noir films or detective stories like Sherlock Holmes and Monsieur Poirot came from. The Private Eye was the one who solved the crime, while police maintained the order.

Wilson and Kelling suggest that police should have the job of fixing broken windows rather than trying to solve every crime. By patrolling the streets they could get to know their communities; who belonged and who didn’t. They would make communities feel safer which would in turn make them safer, causing people to contribute and participate within their communities.

This ideology stuck, causing major reforms, particularly in New York City which cleaned up its streets and made a turn for the better.

But with this reform and change in policy came an added side effect. The stop and frisk policy was put into place, causing young black men to be targeted daily whilst walking through their own communities. Laws were put into place making it even more difficult for homeless men and women to get by.

Cleaning up broken windows is easy, but figuring out who is a broken window is hard, if not impossible.

Mistakes were made, prejudices that weren’t already there began to develop and to grow. Certain kinds of people – usually the poor and minorities – were profiled and had to deal with police interactions frequently. These interactions turned into enmity between both sides. People’s reactions grew louder as they continued in frequency, while the police’s questions turned into interrogations and later the verge of harassment.

We see the results of this in Ferguson where Mike Brown’s murder at the hands of a cop has incited riots, turning the city into a war zone. The community feels as if the police treat them unfairly based on skin color and economic status. The 18 year old’s death caused the town, state, and country to reach a boiling point in the relationship between a community and the police.

And this isn’t all about broken windows, there are hundreds of years worth of racist and discriminatory history wrapped up in it. Abuses of power and unjust laws that some feel have continued into our supposedly post-racist society.

And here we stand with the idea of order looking like men in riot gear – armed with batons and tear gas. Commands given harshly over loud speakers as a community deals with the death of one of its members, some more positively than others.

There was nothing wrong with the theory. Police becoming a part of the community and helping to maintain its order was a wonderful ideal. The problem hinges on deciding who is bad and who is good. Are the people we want out of our communities the ones that aren’t like us? Are they based in our biases?

The thing is, people are not broken windows. They cannot be fixed by sweeping them out of the way and replacing them with something new.

In my studies we looked at an idea called appreciative inquiry. This idea – originated in businesses and was enlarged to include urban planning and community development .  Instead of viewing a community from the perspective of their problems, the most effective way to incite change is to build on what the community has going for it. It says that we should view things positively, seeing all the good that is already there before trying to “fix” other things.

These two ideas seem to overlap, with Broken Windows Theory saying that people should have a feeling of safety; a feeling that where they live is a good place. Appreciative inquiry says that we should look for the ways that the community is already good. Both deal with the way we perceive community and cities and where we live. The latter insists that we look for the good in people. That we find the beauty in the broken glass, asking ourselves how we can come together to use what we have.

Obviously this is an optimist’s view of the world, the whole idea is to start from the positive and this doesn’t always work. There is evil in the world. People do bad things because of their circumstances and because, well, they are people. The law is necessary. Justice is necessary. I generally believe the police are a force for good, though my privilege shines through that statement.

Let’s widen our scope. Let’s look for alternative solutions; use our imaginations to discover a world that is better than the one we are currently seeing in Ferguson and other places where people have an unhealthy fear of the ones who are supposed to protect them.

Big Brother 16 and why a Dating Hierarchy is Damaging

This season of Big Brother has featured your typical casting of hot young people fighting it out in a house for the duration of the summer in a battle to win 500K. As is apt to happen in these reality shows, so called “showmances” start showing up left and right where people begin pairing off in a mix of puppy love, restlessness, and strategy.

This summer however, houseguest Caleb has become infatuated with Amber, the young model who has not returned his favors. He continually pressures her and advances upon her, while she nervously tries to laugh it off and remains noncommittal. Caleb is a southern boy, strong, with tattoos and a strong Christian faith; he tells the cameras he believes Amber to be the kind of girl he can bring home to his parents. He even gives up his safety in order to protect her in the game –  afterwards believing that she now owes him something.

As a fan of the show, the perception of Caleb’s one-sided showmance has gradually changed. Going from a sort of aw shucks Caleb has no idea that she’s not interested, to a more worried – can Caleb emotionally handle the rejection that is inevitably going to happen?

To think about this scenario outside of the Big Brother house is even more worrisome, yet it is one that consistently happens (the #YESALLWOMEN movement showed that) and it is something that is portrayed all the time, even positively in pop culture. Earlier this year, Genevieve Valentine wrote for the AV Club about the male character who often pressures the female into going out with him until finally she gives in and realizes that he is sweet and she does like him. She uses people like Ross from Friends, Niles from Frasier, and Morgan from The Mindy Project as examples, saying:

“A generation of romantic comedies rewarding men for diligently pursuing a woman until she caves has normalized a behavior that has direct and unwelcome corollaries in real life. In an era when we’re having open conversations about representation and sensitivity in comedy, the shtick of a guy who won’t take no for an answer has lost any charm it once held. It’s become either a romantic signpost to set up a long-term romantic dynamic (which it shouldn’t), or it’s shorthand to denote a clueless creep while rarely taking him to task for it.”

(She also notes that the behavior of a character in Brooklyn 99 follows along with warning signs that the Network for Surviving Stalking has on their site)

The man in pursuit and pressuring the woman is a familiar trope in our television and movie watching experiences, but when it gets translated into real life the lines of consent are blurred in troublesome ways. Women get pressured by men all the time and saying no can be dangerous especially when the guy looks like Caleb does – big and tough – the kind of person you certainly do not want to piss off. How will he handle this within the show when surrounded by cameras and a lack of privacy? How will he react off of the show where there are limitless bounds for messed up things to happen? (I should say here that perhaps Caleb is a wonderful guy caught in the midst of puppy love on a national television show within a house that does crazy things to you – but he serves as an example of a wider problem both within pop culture and society as a whole).

Where does this come from? The idea that pressuring women into liking you is an acceptable form of behaving? I wonder if it is not rooted in the hierarchical ways relationships have been set up in our society.

In America, our society encourages that men seek after women. This is the way it has been and mostly continues to be. Men are the ones who ‘pursue’ women, opening doors, asking them out on dates, and paying for their meals. There is a historical precedent for this, one that has been challenged and pushed back against, but still largely exists across the American landscape. Men are the breadwinners, the ones who buy the ring, and propose. The women may have the power to say yes or no, but it is the men who are in pursuit, attempting to capture them. This is a hierarchical view of relationships, in which men have a higher and more ultimate power.

For the most part this can be healthy, most relationships are like this and most people I know are totally fine. Yet, the power to pursue someone is easily abused, while the power to say yes or no is too easily overcome at the hand of abusers.

Having believed that it is their job to pursue a woman and to “get” her to say yes, men believe that they can force a woman into their good graces. It is their job to get the woman. While this may start as a harmless knight saving the princess fantasy, this notion can be misrepresented and transformed into a stalker-like tendency under the guise that he simply needs to convince her that she should love him.

I posit that an egalitarian approach to dating culture, relationships, and marriages is necessary. As I wrote previously, the breadwinner man seems to come out of a former necessity that is no longer as relevant in our current age. As of now the man as the pursuer seems to solely come from tradition’s sake, one that is based in a time where women were property and given to men so that they could be provided for. In today’s day and age, women are perfectly capable of providing for themselves. Why should a man pursue a woman? A relationship based in mutual understanding and desire should be just a fruitful without perpetuating the pursuit and persuasion angle of dating that I see as harmful.

Will this approach solve everything? Certainly not, people are messed up. Will an approach to dating that sees both people as perfectly capable of making decisions for themselves and for one another ease the ‘I must convince you to date me because it’s my job’ – mindset? I’d like to think so.

How Do You Solve Poverty? Easy as 1,2,3…

The other day this book came across one of my social media feeds. The Poverty of Nations: A Sustainable Solutionit sounds reasonable, why wouldn’t we want to read a book offering a solution to poverty even if the subtitle is a little hyperbolic. Looking further to see more about the book I discovered that it was written by Barry Asmus, an economist, and theologian Wayne Grudem. While I know nothing about the former, but he being an economist at least seems as if he is capable of penning this book, I was shocked to see theologian Grudem there. Grudem is a famous religious writer, one whom I recognized from my alma mater’s theological classes.

The book claims to be able to solve poverty by addressing what leaders of nations can do to run their country in a way that is sustainable (78 simple steps!). Their solutions are aimed at whole nations, not just organizations, entire nations! Their theories fit firmly into neoliberal policies and a free market system mixed with a conservative interpretation of Biblical principles – AKA – everything that has been tried over the last 200 years. Grudem and Asmus seem to believe that what is needed is an echoing of the colonialism that occurred in history, except instead of forcing it upon the poor, they should choose it themselves!

Now I have not read the text and surely more complex and nuanced solutions are provided within, yet it is mind blowing to me that this book is being released. Actually, where my real problem lies is not in the release of this book or the economic theory – which I would probably disagree with at least when it comes to “solving” poverty, but I don’t have enough experience in macroeconomics to give a reasoned opinion – but to whom this book will be marketed to.

Grudem and Asmus’ work will go to those like me who not long ago sat in the middle of  Christian higher education, wanting to learn about culture and economics in order to love our neighbors better and make the world a better place. What they will get is not only a subpar education in international relations, public policy, and development, but a distorted view of how to read the Bible.

Grudem and Asmus are espousing economic theories that they not only claim to be effective (which is fine), but that they claim to be Biblical. They believe that God intended for the Bible not only to speak about economic matters, but specifically about how entire nations should run their market systems. And when something is considered to be Biblical, one better not go against it, because it is God’s word and God’s word is final.

They believe that God speaks systematically throughout the Bible and that one can build systematic approaches to various topics by picking out verse by verse that which relates to this topic. For the most part this is a fine tool when thinking about theological topics like atonement, salvation, and incarnation, but to develop one about economic policy is irresponsible.

The Bible’s view on economics is picked from various verses including ancient Israel, Jesus’ teachings, and those written in the later epistles, all of which differ considerably. Israel is given commands about money as a nation upon its inception, while thriving, and while under captivity. Jesus spoke about money while living under rule of the Roman empire. The later apostles spoke about money as to what should be done in the newly started church and as a response to also being under Roman rule. These circumstances must be taken into account when trying to consider what the Bible says about money and larger economic policies.

Further, to equate the economics of the Bible and the free market system is absolutely ridiculous. The most systematic commands of God regarding how a nation should act come in the form of leaving some of your profits for the poor (Deuteronomy 14:28-29) and essentially resetting the economy every 50 years (Leviticus 25) – hardly an economy built on growth and incentives to grow.

Yet this book will land in the hands of young people desiring to change the world while following what the Bible tells them. They will commit themselves to doing work that neglects local culture, continuing the misconception that the Global North has the keys to development and economic success; bringing oppression and disempowerment – all because of Jesus.