Thank You for Asking… A Response to Larissa Kwong Abazia

question-markLast week I wrote a guest post at Jan Edmiston’s blog. Today Jan shares her space again for a great post. Larissa Kwong Abazia writes about the sticky (and in some cases illegal) questions that search committees have asked her in interviews:

I’ve recently started interviewing for ministry positions and felt I was prepared for the onslaught of what I deem “inappropriate questions” from churches.  As a 30-something woman of color, I am familiar with comments that pose doubts about my age or experience, ability to minister to people older than me, slotting me right into youth ministry roles, assuming that hiring me will automatically grow the young adult population, or blatant misunderstandings surrounding race.  I’ve learned to take them as par for the course, as sad as it may seem in the life of the Church.  I was not ready, however, for questions surrounding my role as a mother.

Every single interview (Did you read that?  EVERY SINGLE INTERVIEW) that I have had in the past several months has included some form of the question, “How do you feel about going back to work?” or “What will your son do once you start working?”

I started to comment on the post but it got long. I want to give Larissa’s post a hearty “Yes… and.”

Every person’s experience is different. I know many women who have experienced a level of sexism, paternalism, and intrusiveness that I simply have not. That said, I’ve been asked similar questions, though not in an interview setting. In almost every case, the person was asking out of curiosity, concern, and in good faith.

Curiosity: The idea of women serving as pastors is beyond a no-brainer for me, but it’s still new to many people. Many of them are not looking for a reason to weed you out, or a reason for you not to succeed. They are simply trying to picture how the life of the pastor works, what with night meetings and hospital emergencies. Our busiest times in ministry coincide with the school’s winter break and spring break. (Fairfax County schedules spring break during Holy Week every flippin’ year. Grrrr.) So… “how do you do that?” they want to know.

Concern: Many church people I meet are genuinely interested in the well-being of the pastor and her family. Many church folks get the stereotypes surrounding the minister’s family—how kids are put under the microscope and spouses are expected to be a de facto “second pastor”—and conscientious ones want to mitigate that through expressions of care and concern.

Yes, in some cases, “How do you feel about going back to work?” is a trap. But not necessarily. Remember, the church is a community, a place where people care about people. Many people sitting on search committees have felt ambivalence about going back to work—and joy at being there. The question is not necessarily a wall. It can be a bridge.

Good faith: Again, I know women who have been the victim of appalling examples of sexism. That has not been my story, for whatever reason. I wonder all the time why that is. It could be that I’m simply clueless, that there’s sexism going on and I’m not paying attention. Or I got lucky with the congregations I’ve served. Or I’ve decided to give people the benefit of the doubt, and when those potentially iffy questions and comments come my way I see it as someone trying to establish contact and relationship, albeit in a fumbling or even frustrating way. Probably it’s a combination of all three.

(This is an aside, but I was asked some time ago how I view my leadership style as a woman—how do I understand authority and assertiveness, especially with people who may not be keen on a woman pastor? My approach is twofold:

1. a healthy dose of self-deprecating humor

2. really knowing my… stuff.

Both are vital. The former is what disarms one’s detractors; the latter ensures that they can’t write you off.)  

Recently I highlighted a pair of articles that touched on issues of clergy health and clergy burnout. I suggested that the traditional understandings of authenticity, boundaries and pastor-parishioner friendship are changing as the demographics of pastors change. So how do questions like the ones Larissa writes about play into these changing boundaries?

Am I suggesting that religious communities should be allowed to ask illegal questions in interviews? Well, no. But I want search committees to care about work-life balance. And if I have children, their child-care arrangements are a part of that. That’s just a fact.

Larissa writes:

It seems as though the underlying concern in [intrusive] questions is a distrust that a woman can care for her congregation if she is also a mother (and therefore caring for her family).  Perhaps, then, congregations should consider if they are asking for too much time and energy from their leaders that won’t allow them to maintain healthy boundaries outside of the church.  We aren’t parents of, but partners in ministry with our congregations.  It’s long overdue that we begin thinking about the ways we support our clergy, male and female, in their calls in ways that allow them to be whole people both inside and outside of the church walls.

 

I completely agree with the second part (we are partners in ministry), but am not at all sold on the first part (the questions show distrust). Of course, it depends. But if we are partners in ministry, don’t we have to hold one another accountable? Aren’t questions about self-care part of accountability?

I guess I’m arguing for more questions, not fewer. They need to be good ones, of course, Generative ones. But ask. Ask everyone. Congregations should be similarly concerned about male pastors, with or without children. They should care about single parents, and single folks without children.

I want churches to care about, and ask about, the self-care of their leaders.

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Friday Link Love: Waves, High-School Heroes, and Embracing Limitations

Huzzah!

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Wave Photographs by Kenji Croman — Colossal

Obligatory Colossal Link:

Many more at the link…

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Cross Country Runner Saves Life, Finishes Race — KnoxNews

The young man is a trained lifeguard. He came upon a fellow runner in medical distress and stopped to help:

In the midst of this, a woman named Jessica Chandler ran up. She’s the mother of another Germantown runner and had known the fallen runner for years.

“Honestly, I was in shock,” she said. “But this guy was taking complete control. He was like, ‘You — call 911. You — go get some ice.’ He turned him on his side. I thought he was a parent or an EMT.”

At this point, the victim was shaking, his body seizing again and again.

“This is normal,” said Goldstein. “I’ve seen this before.”

Note: Goldstein had actually never seen this before. But he didn’t see the point in panicking. He was calm, reassuring everyone involved.

Many parables of non-anxious leadership in that bolded statement.

If you ask him, Goldstein will tell you it’s the slowest race he’s ever run. It’s also his personal best.

Amen.

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Religion, Science and Easy Answers — NPR

Everyone knows that cell-phones work because of radio waves. Sure it’s complicated and, in general, few of us really get it. But we all know that cellphones work because the natural world is built in simultaneously subtle and complicated ways.

What is remarkable about the fundamentalist perspective, however, is an unwillingness to see spiritual life in the same light. Instead of seeing subtlety and complication that require a lifetime of intense dedicated effort — a genuine personal investigation of the world — to understand, everything is reduced to magic-marker outlines with unwavering, absolute answers….

While writing on science and religion, however, I have met lots of really amazing folks who are quite serious about their spiritual lives. They have come from a diversity of faith backgrounds: Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu and more. Some of these people were highly educated, some where not. What struck an atheist like me about these folks was their dedication to the investigation.

Fighting back with nuance in a sloganeering world…

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Why Women Should Stop Trying to Be Perfect — Newsweek

Yes, yes, yes. A worthy follow-up to Anne-Marie Slaughter’s recent tour de force, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” Debora Spar writes:

So what, then, are we to do? One possibility, of course, is simply to give up; to acknowledge women’s destinies as something different from men’s and stop complaining about it. This, however, hardly seems fair, either to the generations who fought so hard for women’s freedoms, or to those who have not yet had the opportunity to give these freedoms a try. A second possibility, trumpeted most recently in The Atlantic by Anne-Marie Slaughter in her examination of why women still can’t have it all, is to keep fighting the proverbial fights—for better day care, better family leaves, more flex time at work and co-parenting at home. These are all important goals. Yet they will never be sufficient to address the underlying issues.

This is because many of the problems that plague women now are not due to either government policy or overt discrimination. They cannot be resolved solely by money and they are not caused only by men. Instead, the problems we face are subtler. They come partly from the media, partly from society, partly from biology, and partly from our own vastly unrealistic expectations. To address them, we must go beyond either policy solutions or anger with the patriarchy. We must instead forge partnerships with those around us, and begin to dismantle the myth of solitary perfection.

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The Tricky Art of the Children’s Sermon — United Methodist Reporter

A good point/counterpoint on the efficacy of children’s sermons in worship. Most forward-thinking pastors I know have already done away with them or would dearly like to. I get the impulse. But I still do them. I try to avoid interactive questions that set kids up to be entertaining*. My approach is to tell the biblical story so that they’re ready to go upstairs to the Upper Room for the remainder of worship, or to Sunday School, where they engage the story they just read. It’s a way of setting up the rest of the morning’s experience for them.

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Videos on the Creative Process — 99U

What a treasure trove of wisdom. I’ve watched a few of the shorter ones, and others I’ve seen before, but I might make it a goal to watch the others during my time away for CREDO. I leave in a week and will spend a few days with my BFF before it starts. Squee.

Here’s a specific vid I liked, about the importance of constraints in fostering creativity:

I’ve had two different people recently ask me to help them think about the process of writing a book. One of their concerns is how to get it done with everything else going on in life. I’ve tried to explain how that busyness can benefit them. Assuming you have enough motivation to start, of course–if you’re lukewarm about doing it, the rest of life will conspire against you. But if you just have to write that book, you will find a way. And the limitations will help you. At the end of the process you will have an imperfect thing on paper, rather than a perfect thing in your brain and nowhere else.

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*My favorite children’s sermon story: I was talking about Jesus’ parable of the yeast and I’d brought some yeast from home. I showed it to the kids and said, “What is yeast used to make?” One of them piped up, “BEER!”

Yes, that was my child.

Friday Link Love

Away we go!

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“I am in a state of shock” — Flannery O’Connor

A lit class in 1961 tries to understand “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” They, um, miss the mark. O’Connor responds in part:

The meaning of a story should go on expanding for the reader the more he thinks about it, but meaning cannot be captured in an interpretation. If teachers are in the habit of approaching a story as if it were a research problem for which any answer is believable so long as it is not obvious, then I think students will never learn to enjoy fiction. Too much interpretation is certainly worse than too little, and where feeling for a story is absent, theory will not supply it.

My tone is not meant to be obnoxious. I am in a state of shock.

H/t Keith.

On a different note but still related to the power of story:

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The Bible Is Not a Diet Plan — Religion Dispatches

On Rick Warren’s “Daniel Plan” for fitness, which he cribs from the pages of an apocalyptic text:

I can’t begrudge anyone whatever motivation they need to live a healthier life, and Warren deserves respect for using some of his enormous cultural capital to fight obesity—especially now that biblical values are suddenly synonymous with consuming fried chicken sandwiches and waffle fries. But I am in awe at the superhuman degree of willful blindness it must take to read a profound story of conquest and resistance, of identity and assimilation, and discover, at the bottom of it all… a diet plan!

A story, sacred or secular, is a test of our empathy: an invitation to enter into the trials and hopes of a stranger. And it takes a remarkable self-centeredness to deliberately reject that invitation, to mine that story for anything that helps us grow our portfolios or shrink our waistlines, and throw away the husk of the human at its heart once we’ve sucked out all we can use. We can read selfishly just as we can act selfishly.

A big AMEN to that.

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A Mother Tries to Atone for a Deadly Hate Crime — NPR

At 40, Julie Sanders is a mother of three from Portland, Ore. But when she was 16, Sanders belonged to a white supremacist group — and one night in 1988, she witnessed a murder. Since then, she’s kept the event a secret from most of her friends and family.

She has broken the cycle and raised thoughtful and courageous children—one of them is defending a cross-dresser in his high school who’s being hassled—but it doesn’t feel like enough:

“But, I just still feel like not a good person,” she says. “And I don’t forgive myself.”

Sanders recently completed a degree in social work. She plans to work with kids who are at risk of joining hate groups.

How “much” atonement is enough? Is it even fruitful to think that way?

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Half Drag — Leland Bobbe

These are closeup portraits of drag queens with half of the face made up and half au naturel. Says the artist: ‘My intention with Half-Drag is to capture both the male and the alter-ego female side of these subjects in one image.’

What is feminine? Masculine? Beautiful? Where does authenticity originate and how does it find expression? These are some of the questions that come to mind as I look at these.

Not to mention that the images are amazing. The makeup itself is artistry.

;

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Offline: How’s It Going — Paul Miller

I featured Paul’s year-long no internet experiment a while back and here’s an update:

The first two weeks were a zen-like blur. I’ve never felt so calm and happy in my life. Never. And then I started actually getting stuff done. I bought copies of Homer, Plato, Aristotle, Herodotus, and Aeschylus. I was writing at an amazing pace. For the first time ever I seemed to be outpacing my editors.

Without the internet, everything seemed new to me. Every untweeted observation of daily life was more sacred. Every conversation was face to face or a phone call, and filled with a hundred fresh nuances. The air smelled better. My sentences seemed less convoluted. I lost a bit of weight.

Three months later, I don’t miss the internet at all. It doesn’t factor into my daily life. I don’t say to myself, “ugh, I wish I could just use the internet to do that.” It’s more like it doesn’t exist for me. I still say “ugh, I have to do that” — it’s just not the internet’s fault.

But now that not having internet is no longer new, just normal, the zen calm is gone. I don’t wake with the sunrise while chirping birds pull back the covers. I still have a job. I feel pressure and stress and frustration. I get lonely and bored. My articles aren’t always submitted on time. Sometimes my sentences aren’t good.

I’m just stock Paul Miller. No more Not-Using-The-Internet custom skin; I’m just myself. And it’s not all sunshine and epiphanies.

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The Veil of Opulence — NYT

This is a long but clear excursus on how we decide what’s fair and what’s not as a society, for the purposes of, say, designing a tax policy. It’s hard to figure out where to excerpt, so read the whole thing, but here’s the crux: the veil of ignorance (a traditional way of evaluating what’s fair) has been replaced in many quarters by a “veil of opulence.” Chopping mercilessly at the article:

The idea behind the veil of ignorance is relatively simple: to force us to think outside of our parochial personal concerns in order that we consider others. What Rawls saw clearly is that it is not easy for us to put ourselves in the position of others. We tend to think about others always from our own personal vantage; we tend to equate another person’s predicament with our own. Imagining what it must be like to be poor, for instance, we import presumptions about available resources, talents and opportunities — encouraging, say, the homeless to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and to just get a job, any job, as if getting a job is as simple as filling out an application. Meanwhile, we give little thought to how challenging this can be for those who suffer from chronic illnesses or disabling conditions. What Rawls also saw clearly was that other classic principles of justice, like the golden rule or mutual benevolence, are subject to distortion precisely because we tend to do this.

Nowadays, the veil of ignorance is challenged by a powerful but ancient contender: the veil of opulence. While no serious political philosopher actually defends such a device — the term is my own — the veil of opulence runs thick in our political discourse. Where the veil of ignorance offers a test for fairness from an impersonal, universal point of view — “What system would I want if I had no idea who I was going to be, or what talents and resources I was going to have?” — the veil of opulence offers a test for fairness from the first-person, partial point of view: “What system would I want if I were so-and-so?” These two doctrines of fairness — the universal view and the first-person view — are both compelling in their own way, but only one of them offers moral clarity impartial enough to guide our policy decisions.

Those who don the veil of opulence may imagine themselves to be fantastically wealthy movie stars or extremely successful business entrepreneurs. They vote and set policies according to this fantasy. “If I were such and such a wealthy person,” they ask, “how would I feel about giving X percentage of my income, or Y real dollars per year, to pay for services that I will never see nor use?” We see this repeatedly in our tax policy discussions…

…The veil of opulence assumes that the playing field is level, that all gains are fairly gotten, that there is no cosmic adversity. In doing so, it is partial to the fortunate — for fortune here is entirely earned or deserved. The veil of ignorance, on the other hand, introduces the possibility that one might fall on hard luck or that one is not born into luck. It never once closes out the possibility that that same person might take steps to overcome that bad luck. In this respect, it is not partial to the fortunate but impartial to all. Some will win by merit, some will win by lottery. Others will lose by laziness, while still others will lose because the world has thrown them some unfathomably awful disease or some catastrophically terrible car accident. It is an illusion of prosperity to believe that each of us deserves everything we get.

Interesting example in the NFL draft.

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One final link: I preached some time ago about Dan Savage and Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage sitting at table together. Here is the video of that debate. I haven’t watched any of it yet and caveat emptor because Dan is famously salty in his speech. (Though I should also warn about Brian Brown, since many people find his perspective much more offensive than an errant F-bomb.)

Anyway, I link, you decide.

In Which I Get a Little Testy over the Gender Gap

Context: There is a stained glass ceiling in ministry. Granted it has holes in it, but the number of women who serve as heads of staff of large congregations is…small.

Context, Part the Second: This is a rant. A vent. Treat it accordingly.

Yesterday morning I posted a note on FB about having to juggle work stuff and writing stuff with James in tow—his day care provider needed the day off. Within the hour I got three responses from other pastors who were having similar issues that very day: teacher inservice + working on the sermon, well baby visit + writing a presentation, etc.

These folks are all super talented, and I found myself asking “Wow, imagine how far we’d go if we weren’t all doing 2-3 jobs at once!”

Imagine, indeed.

I don’t have to tell you the gender of all four of these pastors, do I.

DO I.

Honestly, I don’t know what I’m testy about. And it’s probably foolish to allow one’s anger to roam, free-range; it’s liable to wander into the wrong person’s yard and start pooping on stuff.

I should probably apologize right now and get it over with.

Because hey, it’s possible that there is some large cadre of clergymen out there wondering how to get the funeral meditation done in between carpool and the lacrosse practice.

But I doubt it.

It’s also possible that all of us minister-moms like our current career trajectory just fine. I certainly hope so. I like where I am, and I’m not just saying that to calm down any member of Tiny who might read this. Solo pastor ministry is fun. Varied. And yes, flexible: James and I had a great day together. I really do love being the default caregiver during the week. If life imitates the Simpsons, and we need to evacuate earth and my kids only get to choose one parent, well…sorry Robert.

But there’s no way that every woman who juggles kids and a call wants it that way. They are limited geographically. Or related, they’ve made a financial calculation that their spouse will be the primary breadwinner.

And that’s all fine. Except that in 2012 we have a gender gap in ministry at the highest levels. That’s a justice issue. An economic issue. A question of power. And our male colleagues may be sensitive new age guys, but they are only too happy to take the big positions and the big salaries while we juggle the pediatrician and PowerPoint.

Somebody talk me down here.

Friday Link Love

A few fun/interesting things from the last few weeks:

Social Networking in Its Oldest Form — BBC (video)

A man in Canada has released several thousand bottles into the ocean, and received thousand of responses from all over the world.

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Women Own 1% of the World’s Property: Occupy That — Huffington

Maybe it’s because girls and women:

  • Don’t get to go to school when their brothers do
  • Get married off (don’t worry, at a good price)
  • Are deprived of food when it’s scarce
  • Aren’t allowed to own anything themselves
  • Don’t inherit
  • Aren’t paid for their labor
  • Are property. Duh.

I’m reading Ashley Judd’s biography right now (really, it’s good) and through her advocacy work she has met women all over the world who are subjected to sexual slavery and engaged in prostitution because there are not other viable options. The stories will make your skin crawl, yet she somehow manages to see hope.

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Generation Gap: How Age Shapes Political Outlook — NPR/Pew

Interesting stats; I’ll let them speak for themselves.

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The Way We Teach Math and Language is All Wrong — Freakonomics Blog

If we learned our first language like we usually learn second languages, it might look like this. A young child says, “I am hungry.” The parent replies, “Wait! Before saying am, you first must learn to conjugate to be in all persons and number, in the indicative, imperative, and subjunctive moods, and in the past, perfect, and future tenses.” After a few months, or maybe weeks, of this teaching, the child would conclude that it has no aptitude for languages and become mute. And human culture would perish in a generation.

If we taught math or science like we normally teach languages…oh, wait, we do! (And I believe, although with less direct knowledge, that we teach most subjects this way.)

Caroline has had a harder time with math this year, not because she doesn’t understand the concepts, but because of the wording of some of the questions, and perhaps, the way it’s being taught. We’ve been playing with the Kahn Academy videos.

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What is God? — Andrew Sullivan

My heresy – and I concede it – is in rejecting the traditional view of the atonement issue. For me, Jesus’s death was not the downpayment on our salvation. He was the way, the truth and the life. His horrifying crucifixion was not some unique necessary sacrifice. It was a commonplace punishment in his time. What singled him out was the manner of his death, his refusal to stop it, his calm in embracing it, his forgiveness even of those who nailed him there, with that astonishing sentence, “Father, forgive them. For they know not what they do.”

I don’t read that as an affronted “they don’t know they are executing the Godhead himself”. I read it as “they are so consumed with fear and the world and violence and power that they require forgiveness and mercy, not condemnation”. It is this very composure, this sadness born of indescribable empathy, this inner calm and stillness, that convinces me of Jesus’ saturation with the Godhead. He was not the human equivalent of an animal sacrifice; he was the light of the world, showing us by his example how we can be happy and at peace and in love with one another and God itself.

That.

Lots more there.

Friday Link Love

A few things to enjoy/chew on:

The Art of Jim Denevan

Love the art Jim does in sand—some whimsical, some vaguely unsettling.

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In Which I Am Part of the Insurgency (Emerging Mummy)

There is a war on women, argues the author:

The battles go from the rape tactics of war in Sudan to the sex trafficking of eastern Europe, from the pervasiveness of girlie-girl hyper-sexualised stealing of childhood to the proliferation and acceptability of pornography.

I am even beginning to wonder if the evangelical culture war about “biblical” womanhood – narrow stay-at-home vs. working, from complementarian vs. egalitarian (full disclosure: unapologetic egalitarian here) – is disingenuous at best and neutering half the church at worst and, to be honest, completely missing the point. [MaryAnn: wonder no more. It is all of those things.]

If it is a war on women, I can’t be Winston Churchill. I am not the one leading the charge and very few listen to my small voice with its strong Canadian accent. I may not be a Katie Davis or a  Christine Caine or a Dorothy Day. I may not be a Nancy Alcorn, let alone a Mother Theresa or an Oprah Winfrey or any other well-known woman fighting some small or large battle in this war against our sisters, mothers and daughters, our friends. Our big voices of freedom and workers for the wholeness of women stand as the generals and governments, the tacticians and leaders are our Allied forces.

No, I am not that important. I am small. 

And my life is a bit small.

So I will be the French Resistance. 

I will be the small underground movement, the insurgency, the one taking every opportunity, however small, to strike a blow for the Kingdom’s way of womanhood.

I would like her to unpack “Kingdom’s way of womanhood,” but I really like the image of the French Resistance, the idea of being subversive in place.

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If Men Are Working Just as Much as Women, Why Do Women Still Feel Like They’re Getting the Shaft? 

Here is a discussion of a recent Time Magazine article (subscribers only) that deals with the amount of work men and women do each week. You may remember The Second Shift, published in the 1980s, that showed that women worked 15 hours more per week than their partners. Now that gap has shrunk to, basically, nothing. Men still work more hours outside the home, and women still do more housework, but the total amount of work done is the same.

So why does it still feel radically unbalanced to many women, the Time article asks? The blog post, written by a stay-at-home dad, explores some possible reasons. I will add another possibility: the work men do at their offices is “hidden”—that is, women who are working part-time, or who don’t work outside the home, don’t really see the fruits of that work on a daily basis. The fruits come in the form of a paycheck every two weeks (hopefully). By contrast, the housework is in plain view, every single day: the meals they cooked, the toilets they scrubbed. I can understand how that would contribute to a feeling that the men do “nothing around here, it’s all up to me.” Doesn’t mean it’s right.

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Amusing Ourselves to Death

A graphical comparison of the ideas of Aldous Huxley and George Orwell as expressed in the book Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman.

Example: “Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egotism.” Which vision do you think has played out more fully?

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Barna: Trends in Religion

For my clergy friends: Church volunteerism is down 8% over the past 20 years.

“And in 1991, just one-quarter of adults (24%) were unchurched. That figure has ballooned by more than 50%, to 37% today.” More at the link.

 

Friday Link Love

Some random stuff that caught my attention this week:

I Believe in Child Labour, Sweatshops and Torture

Peter Rollins is an amazingly complex thinker and communicator. But in this post he doesn’t do nuance—for which he has been criticized. Still, for many Christians who have divorced belief from practice for way too long, and in some pretty tragic ways, these are prophetic words.

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“In My Opinion”: Practices of Discernment for Leaders When Making Decisions

Here’s your nuance:

On one of my work-related trips, I struck up a conversation with a young man who was a professional pilot. He was a serious-minded guy, and before long we were discussing the big issues of life. After a while, he said he noticed that whenever I said something substantive, I always added the qualifier “in my opinion.” In his opinion, he said, someone with my academic background should not qualify his remarks but should speak “with certainty.”

I explained that my degrees have provided me with more questions than answers. He said, “I’ll have to think about that.”

I thought about it, too. And I stick by my qualifier.

The article offers some antidotes to what the author calls “arrogant absolutism.”

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The Men in Mentors

The author went looking for female mentors… and couldn’t find any.

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And a bit more whimsy:

Solutions for the ‘Everyday’

Two-way toothpaste? Coffins that screw into the ground? I love it!