Friday Link Love

Some things I found captivating, thought-provoking, or just plain fun this week:

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“BLOOM SKIN” — YouTube (video)

How cool would it be to do something like this in worship…

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NPR Tries to Get Its Pressthink Right — PressThink

NPR has a new ethics policy:

With [the policy], NPR commits itself as an organization to avoid the worst excesses of “he said, she said” journalism. It says to itself that a report characterized by false balance is a false report. It introduces a new and potentially powerful concept of fairness: being “fair to the truth,” which as we know is not always evenly distributed among the sides in a public dispute.

Maintaining the “appearance of balance” isn’t good enough, NPR says. “If the balance of evidence in a matter of controversy weighs heavily on one side…” we have to say so. When we are spun, we don’t just report it. “We tell our audience…” This is spin!

May God bless them and keep them as they (hopefully) seek to live into that…

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Pursuit, by Stephen Dobyns — Writer’s Almanac

Each thing I do I rush through so I can do
something else. In such a way do the days pass—
a blend of stock car racing and the never
ending building of a gothic cathedral.
Through the windows of my speeding car, I see
all that I love falling away: books unread,
jokes untold, landscapes unvisited. And why?

More at the link. Powerful.

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Forty Ideas for Keeping a Holy Lent — House for All Sinners and Saints

Good, simple ideas.

Day 7: Give 5 items of clothing to Goodwill

Day 8: No bitching day

Day 9: Do someone else’s chore

Day 10: Buy a few $5 fast food gift cards to give to homeless people you encounter

(Sunday)

Day 11: Call an old friend

Day 12: Pray the Paper (pray for people and situations in today’s news)

 Etc.

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Tertium Squid — Gordon Atkinson

Gordon has been blogging each day during Lent—good, heart-wrenching stuff from his vantage point as a former pastor. His mini-essays have become daily reading for me, since the book our congregation is using was written by yours truly.

I don’t have much to say to God these days. No requests. No praises. No promises that I’ll be a better boy. It’s not that I have anything against talking to God. It’s just that I did so much of that for such a long time. I grew up in the Baptist church where all we did was yammer on about this and that. Then I ended up being a preacher for twenty years. I’ve done my share of talking is what I’m saying. I’m kind of in a season of quiet these days.

I like to say I’m listening to God, but I’ve never heard God say anything. I get messages now and then but they always come through a side channel.

What I do these days when I pray is get very quiet. You have to work hard at real quiet. It takes me about twenty minutes to settle in. The Quakers taught me that. At first I thought the Quaker meetings seemed kind of long. Later I found myself arriving early so I could get calm ahead of time because I was losing a third of the hour to the fidgets.

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Elaine Pagels on the Book of Revelation — Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker

Pagels … shows that Revelation, far from being meant as a hallucinatory prophecy, is actually a coded account of events that were happening at the time John was writing. It’s essentially a political cartoon about the crisis in the Jesus movement in the late first century, with Jerusalem fallen and the Temple destroyed and the Saviour, despite his promises, still not back. All the imagery of the rapt and the raptured and the rest that the “Left Behind” books have made a staple for fundamentalist Christians represents contemporary people and events, and was well understood in those terms by the original audience. Revelation is really like one of those old-fashioned editorial drawings where Labor is a pair of overalls and a hammer, and Capital a bag of money in a tuxedo and top hat, and Economic Justice a woman in flowing robes, with a worried look.

What’s more original to Pagels’s book is the view that Revelation is essentially an anti-Christian polemic.

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We’re Starting a New Presbyterian Church — Bruce Reyes-Chow

It will be an online church.

It’s an intriguing prototype (to use language we heard at NEXT) and I think I’d sum up my opinion of this with one of the comments: “Please push the envelope on this, while regarding the en-fleshed experience of the gospel as essential.”

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Why It Matters That Our Politicians Are Rich — Boston.com

Politicians would like us to believe that all this money doesn’t matter in a deeper sense—that what matters is ideas, skills, and leadership ability. Aside from a little extra business savvy, they’re regular people just like the rest of us: They just happen to have more money.

But is that true? In fact, a number of new studies suggest that, in certain key ways, people with that much money are not like the rest of us at all. As a mounting body of research is showing, wealth can actually change how we think and behave—and not for the better. Rich people have a harder time connecting with others, showing less empathy to the extent of dehumanizing those who are different from them. They are less charitable and generous. They are less likely to help someone in trouble. And they are more likely to defend an unfair status quo. If you think you’d behave differently in their place, meanwhile, you’re probably wrong: These aren’t just inherited traits, but developed ones. Money, in other words, changes who you are.

Read the studies for yourself and tell me what you think.

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Have a good weekend, everyone.

Can Religious Communities Help People Be More Generous?

A friend recently shared this New York Times article about the “charitable-giving divide” between rich and poor. You might think that wealthy people would give a higher percentage of their incomes to charity, since they have more income to spare, but in fact the opposite is true: “In 2001, Independent Sector, a nonprofit organization focused on charitable giving, found that households earning less than $25,000 a year gave away an average of 4.2 percent of their incomes; those with earnings of more than $75,000 gave away 2.7 percent.” Also, higher income folks give much of their money away to cultural institutions or universities rather than to organizations that help the poor.

Money quote:

[One study found that] lower-income people were more generous, charitable, trusting and helpful to others than were those with more wealth. They were more attuned to the needs of others and more committed generally to the values of egalitarianism.

“Upper class” people, on the other hand, clung to values that “prioritized their own need.” And “wealth seems to buffer people from attending to the needs of others.” Empathy and compassion appeared to be the key ingredients in the greater generosity of those with lower incomes. And these two traits proved to be in increasingly short supply as people moved up the income spectrum.

I haven’t done a lot of reading to validate these claims. But it does bring to mind something Robert told me recently about environmental responsibility and the “moral balance sheet.” People who do activities that they deem to be green will cut themselves a lot more slack in other areas. For example, people who have an energy-efficient washing machine do more laundry than people who don’t. They sort of grade themselves on the curve.

I wonder if it’s a similar dynamic here—wealthy people think “Well I give a lot more in absolute dollars, so who cares that it’s a smaller percentage?” Assuming they even know about the discrepancy, or care…

Part of the empathy problem is that wealthy folks can isolate themselves from the needs of others. However, one study revealed that “if higher-income people were instructed to imagine themselves as lower class, they became more charitable. If they were primed by, say, watching a sympathy-eliciting video, they became more helpful to others — so much so, in fact, that the difference between their behavior and that of the low-income subjects disappeared.”

Maybe churches and other places of worship can help?

One of the assertions the “new atheists” like to make is that religion serves little to no purpose. However, I think religious communities are places—one of the few places, actually—where people from different socioeconomic backgrounds live and share community in a mutual way. It is there that the empathy deficit can be built up again.

Certainly there is a lot of income stratification within churches and other places of worship. Like groups together with like. But I’ve been in churches in which people with vacation homes worshiped side-by-side with people who were barely off food stamps. Pastors get more of an inside look at people’s financial situations—we visit their homes, we get told about bankruptcies—and believe me, there’s a lot more income disparity than people might assume on the surface. So how can our places of worship help foster the kind of compassion and empathy that allow the wealthy to give more sacrificially?

UPDATE 4 p.m.: This article (also from the NYT) is about the Muslim prayer room that was in the Twin Towers pre-9/11. It is making a point about the peaceful Muslim presence that was there; however, I was struck by the description of the people who prayed there: “On any given day, Mr. Abdus-Salaam’s companions in the prayer room might include financial analysts, carpenters, receptionists, secretaries and ironworkers. There were American natives, immigrants who had earned citizenship, visitors conducting international business — the whole Muslim spectrum of nationality and race.” This is exactly the kind of equalizing dynamic I’m thinking about!