Dispatch from the fringe of the culture

From Growing Up Goddy on August 20, 2007.  Links to the churches deleted, because of SERIOUS linkrot.

I honestly wonder if it’s fair to call me an “ex-pat” of Christian culture. But I know it’s fair to say I’m not in it.

I’m looking at a church-attending schedule consisting of attending a smallish United Methodist church on Sunday mornings, and a new non-denominational church-plant a county over on Sunday evenings. I feel embraced by the Methodist church, but I don’t entirely fit in, the denomination is slowly but surely aging and dying, and I don’t feel totally invested in it. I yearn and hunger for the spiritual reality I see among the people engaging in the plant, but that depth of feeling isn’t there.

And honestly, I’ve just told you the story of my walk with Christ. It’s a good thing I’m supposed to be an alien and a stranger in this world, and that there is a time in another place where all things will be made right and I will see the fullness of God, because every attempt I’ve made to fit in this world somewhere has fallen flat.

One of the things that the three of us regulars here have in common is education. (And Eaton, I don’t care that your formal schooling isn’t as far along as the other two of us; you’re still one of the smartest and best-read people that I know.) I think between the three of us, we cherish the life of the mind and looking at all things in our world intellectually, including the Christian faith.

And one of the things that’s marked American evangelical culture has been anti-intellectualism. Hey, Jeff, what was that you were saying earlier?

I mean, it can be funny when Fark generates faked up logos and movie posters, but they’re doing it for kicks. Somehow, we convinced ourselves that wearing a T-shirt with the Reeces Pieces logo (but with Jesus, instead of Reeces!) was a daring, culture-jamming act of evangelism. It felt dangerous. It felt cool. In retrospect it’s kind of embarrassing: with two thousand years of history, a heritage of philosophy and world-shaping culture, and an explicit responsibility to care for the poor, is Christianity really reduced to gotcha-marketing? I don’t think so, but heck if that stuff doesn’t sell…

When I claim the title “evangelical”, it implies that I think getting you to buy into the Christian faith is important. It means I really want you to buy in to this idea, however unbelievable, that a man walked 2000 years ago claiming to be God hisownself, offended the religious establishment to the point of getting himself executed – by physically being nailed to a cross – on trumped up charges, and then bodily came back to life three days later. That’s not exactly an easy thing to convince your standard intellectual skeptic of. That’s a hard idea to sell. I still don’t understand how we thought we were selling it with Tommy Hellfighter t-shirts, or for that matter, with Stryper concerts, God bless Oz Fox.

And I still don’t understand how so many churches think it’s getting across now. The old-time gospel sing is a wonderful tradition, but good luck with getting anybody under the age of 50 in the door; there are only a couple of us geeks around anymore who think that music is of any value, and it’s very near time for me to acknowledge that I’m outvoted. Never mind that, even if an outsider wanted to break into that world, those old-school churches are so chock full of country-club exclusivity, dressed up in the clothes of mock humility and proper language, that the breach is too great.

So we go to the rock band in front of the church, and we go to the worship by experience and emotion and hand-waving and, in the right place, even more spiritual mumbo-jumbo. (The discussion of tongue-speaking and prophecy is probably best left for another time and place.) If you’re especially young, it is VERY easy to get caught up in the waves and leave your sense of logic behind. But when you wake up, has anything really changed? Isn’t there the same sense of exclusivity, the same requirement to speak the right language, the same need to impress? Now, instead of impressing by your dress, you’re impressing by your degree of emotional sell-out over your love for Jesus. And if you don’t show exactly the right spiritual gifting, you can be headed for the door here too, stuck on the outside, never benefiting from the deep fellowship that the thing promises.

I guess this wandering ends with me standing with Bono. I really still haven’t found what I’m looking for. I do tend to think that there are people who want to take this person of Jesus seriously, take the implications of Jesus’ life seriously, and actually transform their lives to be something different and greater than what it was before they understood who Jesus was. And if somebody could help me find them, and if we could all agree to help one another get to that better place, that would be awesome. Because I’ve been looking for a long time, and a lot of people say they’d like to be that, but the follow-through leaves a lot to be desired.

Bob Jones University Press

Posted on the Moveable Type chuck-pearson.org blog, as well as on Growing Up Goddy, Jeff Eaton’s experiment dealing with Christian culture ex-pats, on August 15, 2007.  (I was seriously delighted that the second link Jeff featured was Brant Hansen’s old blog Kamp Krusty.) This was my first piece on the site.

Following up on Jeremy‘s post on theology (!) in mathematics curricula, I thought it only appropriate to post a Christian education publishing house’s website, and Bob Jones University Press absolutely fits the bill for being a flashpoint for those of us who grew up in the church.

Most people who would happen on a site entitled “Growing Up Goddy” would know the history of BJU, immortalized in the Steve Taylor classic “We Don’t Need No Colour Code” (“B.J. went and got a school/founded on caucasian rule/bumper sticker on his Ford/says ‘Honkies If You Love The Lord'”). While Bob Jones University no longer has a policy against interracial dating, many of its Fundamentalist distinctions remain (most notably for me as a science teacher, the efforts of the school to supportcreationist ideas). So you might be understandably nervous about their homeschooling press.

Surprisingly (depending on your choice of curricula), it’s not awful. I have actually taught out of BJU’s high school chemistry text. It does have a great deal of the language about understanding God’s nature from the chemical world that set Jeremy off, and it doesn’t do what I’d really like for a Christian text in the sciences to do – point out people of faith who made key contributions to chemistry. (Of course, if you did that, you’d have to mention Michael Faraday, and based on my loose understanding of the history, Faraday’s Sandemanian sect was no friend of the Baptists, and that might be a whole new can of worms.)

But much of the fundamental chemistry, the book does well, especially the descriptive stuff, such as the periodic law and the nature of chemical bonding and chemical structure. I actually had homeschooled high-school students deeper into VSEPR theory off of that book than I was able to get college students on a competing college textbook, despite the fact that I only met the homeschooled students once a week (as opposed to three times per week for college students).

And here’s where it’s BJU Press (and most other homeschool publishing houses) FTW: I defy you to find another high school chemistry text for $37. Anywhere. That was the single biggest reason the homeschool cooperative I worked with adopted the book in the first place.

As long as they pound the competition on cost-effectiveness and pay a measure of attention to standard curricula, hyper-conservative presses like Bob Jones are going to continue to dominate the homeschooling world.

(Now, if the only text you’d ever seen was the biology text, I might understand you having a slightly less accomodating view.)

Still plugging away

From the Moveable Type chuck-pearson.org blog, March 16, 2008.  Tons of links, so obviously, have linkrot to fix.

I’ve not gone anywhere but into semester preparation. I’ve had several things across my desk, though, and I need to make sure you’re appropriately aware of them.

In order of free stuff received from the particulars:

  • Last month I received an e-mail out of the clear blue from a guy I was a raving fan of in my collegiate youth, and who I’d exchanged e-mails with in my grad-school geekdom. His name is Tim McAllister, and he fronted a couple of groups called Flock 14 and World Theatre back in the dark ages of alternative Christian music. He said he’d send me copies of his new disc if I’d like them.My response was something vaguely close to ARE YOU KIDDING ME I TURN DOWN COPIES OF FREE MUSIC PRETTY MUCH NEVER SEND SEND SEND PLEEZE PLEEZE PLEEZE THANX THANX THANX.

    So I’ve got this album Strong Tower and it pretty much has me giddy. A large part of the giddiness is, I feel like I’ve got the follow-up World Theatre album in my hands. There were so many contemplative piano-and-guitar songs on that album that had been stuck in my head for 15 years or so, I felt like I had been waiting my whole life to hear “Soon The Morning Comes” and “Strong Tower.” But I hadn’t been waiting that long to hear “Photograph” and “Take The Time”, and those songs have taken over my consciousness as well.

    And the whole album is…well, it’s an ALBUM. It’s a consistent, creative effort, from beginning to end. That’s something you don’t get every day, anymore.

    Tim is about as indie as it gets (the CD itself is being sold by CD Baby, and he’s also got an mp3 store of his own for you to give him money directly), so he’s not going to get plugs from the apparatus, so this word of mouth thing is about how we do it. (Plus, he sent me free stuff. And he swaps e-mails with me. Look, if you’re going to buy me off, it’s JUST THAT EASY, people.) And he put together a video-thing for Strong Tower, but he hadn’t posted it on YouTube, and I need an excuse to get a YouTube account, so…

Permalink for Tim McAllister “Strong Tower” video, in case the Facebook importing ever works again.

  • Dear old BlogDad has set up one of his new internet toys, and given me an account on it, and I’m wondering how it’s going to pan out. He’s dubbed it Growing Up Goddy (subtitled “christian culture expatriates”) and says it’s for “reminiscing, dissecting, respecting, and laughing at the idiosyncrasies of American culture-Christianity.” And honestly, once upon the time, I was hip-deep into that culture – and terribly, terribly frustrated by it. So I’m going to see (if I can manage it, with the new semester kicking off and all) if I can contribute some of those ongoing frustrations, and maybe even mine a few old ones too for yuks.
  • I have surely not mentioned lately that Kamp Krusty is consistently full of unfiltered win.
  • I have also not mentioned lately that my pastor is a dork.
  • Oh, and there’s this new player in Major League Soccer. Name of Beckham. Apparently people have heard of him, and stuff. I saw him get a run-out as Los Angeles lost to DC United last night, and apparently the guy has a bum ankle, but he’s honestly not bad. He can deliver a sweet free kick, and there were a couple of times he found guys in-stride with his long passes. It sucks that Los Angeles might be too far gone in the league this year for him to help out, but if he sticks around, he could make the next few years interesting for Los Angeles…
  • …but he’ll never be as big a hero to me as this guy is.

Permalink for a highlight reel featuring nothing short of the greatest American striker ever, and I still get chills every time I see the two goals starting at the 1:58 mark, because I saw both those goals live.)