Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Sins of the Church

Online I came across the following quote from Brian McClaren. McClaren is considered one of the more significant evangelical leaders and part of the emergent church movement.

“Christian churches in Europe and North America were deeply involved in colonialism and, until the nineteenth century, deeply involved in slavery. When the church is that complicit in a lot of injustice in this world, I think it becomes harder for them to really face the call of the gospel on them for how they behave in this world. It’s very tempting just to focus on the gospel as something out of this world and after this life.”

I find it encouraging that McClaren acknowledges the church helped perpetuate many of the western world’s greatest injustices by not speaking out against them. Whenever the church is fixated upon things of heaven the church by its silence allows injustice to continue. By willfully remaining silent the church helps perpetuate society’s ills.

The conservative church has gone a step further than remaining silent. The conservative church in the US tied itself to George Bush. They are so tied together that conservative Christians remain silent when his administration has been unjust and committed evils. Though McClaren’s statement is a refreshing challenge to the evangelical church to speak out and strongly fight injustice has for the most part fallen upon deaf ears. Partly becasue he speaks of the church being engaged social justice issues and conversing with secularists McClaran is dismissed as being a liberal.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

College Updates

The college acceptance process is well underway for Josh. As he wants to be a music teacher he is going through a two acceptances from each college. The first acceptance is to gain entrance into the college itself as a student. The second stage is to be accepted into the school of music.

As of last night Josh was has been accepted to the University of West Virginia, George Mason University and James Madison University. As Virginia Tech is not his first choice and only has early commitment (vs. early acceptance) and regular acceptance he has applied for the latter. The former means that it you are accepted that you are committed to going to the school. This week he received a letter from Virginia Tech noting his grades and strongly encouraging him to apply for all regular scholarships, education and music scholarships. The letter all but said he will be accepted.

In a few weeks we travel to Morgantown for his audition to West Virginia. A weekend later we have auditions for James Madison and then Virginia Tech. He is allowed to do his LSU audition via CD, which will be recorded in the coming days.

Friday and today was the George Mason Honor Band. Josh tossed his hat into a solo competition. As he would be playing the same items for his audition to the same faculty members, the competition served as his entrance audition. This afternoon at the concert we learned in a dramatic moment that he was accepted into the music program and not just the University. At the start of the Honor Band portion of the joint concert with GMU Wind Ensemble it was announced that Josh and a drummer won the competition. The award comes with a $1,000 scholarship if he were to attend the GMU.

Josh's audition items are "Andante and Allegro" by Barat, and Morceau Symphonique by Alexandre Guilmant.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Fallacy of the Domino Theory

The theory runs that if you give ground on A that B will fall and then C and D and so on. The Domino Theory is used to resist change and rally support by fueling fear. The theory is used to support the status quo, even a status quo that abuses others. Rather than engaging is discussion and the seeking of understanding by building upon common, the proponents use the theory to build hardened silos that resist dialogue.

A recent example is the stalling of proposed gun law changes in Virginia that arise out of the VATECH shootings. While the defeated legislation can return for a vote in a year, it has been defeated. The proponents of the proposed changes have noted that the modest modifications are not intended or designed to keep the guns out of the hands of law abiding citizens. One of the changes calls for background checks to be conducted at gun shows to help keep guns via this route out of the hands of those with criminal records or with mental health issues. The NRA strongly opposes background checks in any form.

The NRA argument runs that if they cede to background checks that it will set in motion a chain of events that will remove guns from all citizens and to then to a police state. The organization has gone on the record saying that nothing should be in place to hinder criminals purchasing guns at gun shoes or gun shops. When one reads their arguments carefully they are essentially arguing that it is the citizenry owning guns the keeps the nation from sliding into a totalitarian police state. Hence, freedom according to the NRA is not found in civil discourse, in free elections via the ballot box but in the arms that people are permitted to hold. The NRA therefore has redefined the essence of democracy.

We have seen the Domino Theory use to support slavery, segregation and racism. It has been used in the church to resist modern music and changes in worship style. It has been used to beat down those who question traditional teachings.

The enemy of the Domino Theory is mutual dialogue, seeking common ground and the realization that modification of viewpoints does not lead to the destruction of the whole as the Theory would suggest.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Male and Female

Most human cultures are patriarchal in nature. Some like Islam are so patriarchal that women are devalued. Western societies too are heavily patriarchal and that form of family structure is reinforced by statements in the Bible. When Christians read the Bible they forget to take its statements in the context of their society and as reflecting societal dynamics. Problems are created when readers overlook the cultural context and that the Bible speaks of women being treated with an uncommon respect and kindness. Asking for women to be treated as equals with men would not only be radical but it would not have been understood.

The Church rarely asks what are the eternal truths and what are cultural applications of those truths. Instead there is a tendency to view the Bible as a flat document with little attention given to the wider cultural context. Loss of the wider cultural context is particularly harmful to male-female relationships. There are comments and teachings within fundamentalist and evangelical circles that call for families to run in an ancient cultural framework and structure, and which if applied fully devalue women.

One only has to look at the strong statements coming out of the conservative church in the 70s and early 80s regarding the equal rights amendment to the Constitution that would have inserted “and women” after the statement about men. At the time I could not understand the fuse. The cries of the religious leadership that if the amendment passing would create a unisex society and eliminate separate washrooms were over the top. I was embarrassed by the religious leadership, including the statement being uttered by leaders at Asbury College.

The Church needs to wrestle with the significance that there is not male or female in God’s eyes instead of holding onto empty forms. Ancient forms blindly retained as if the ancient culture was divinely inspired is a questionable practice. It is disgusting when the Church ends up holding onto an ancient form instead of applying the eternal principal to a modern context. A faith that lives in the past and with ancient cultural structures shows itself to be irrelevant. Claims to be under the guidance of the Spirit of God become suspect.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Put Forth Your Ugly Car Nominations

Some vehicles are more pleasing to our eyes than others. This is an invitation for you to nominate one or two vehicles that you see as ugly. If you have another vehicle you wish to nominate, then share it with us via your comment. If in your comment you wish to add to the three I put forward, I will upload a picture of your nomination for others to view and comment.

At the bottom are the three with which I started this blog, the Toyota Yaris Hatchback, the Scion XB and the Honda Element. Above are the nominations from Evie and Chris.

Evie's nomination is the Hummer...the first pick is the Hummer H1, and the second is the H2. Just for Evie, the third pick is not the H3, but the HX which was recently seen at the Detroit Auto Show. With some minor modifications the HX is expected to be released later this year.

Chris' nomination is the Chevy HHR

My nominations are:

Toyota Yaris Hatchback

Scion XB

Honda Element

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Honor Killings

On Christmas Eve as “judge show” dealt with a case of a woman who had fled Iran with her two daughters. The treatment at the hands of her husband and Iran society in general that she described caused me to shake my head and to grown.

In recent months a story in Saudi Arabia received some attention in the US. To meet up with her boyfriend a young woman left her home without a male chaperone. She was attacked and raped by four men. Though the four rapists were known, they were not convicted, let alone charged. The woman was the one who was blamed, arrested, charged and convicted. She was the one who the court system victimized again by shaming her publicly and ordering her to be beaten.

A young lady was killed in Canada recently by her father for refusing to wear the prescribed religious dress. In Islam the father’s action is viewed as an honorable act, a “honor killing.” Recently I read a blog that on Islamic “honor killings”, a worldwide phenomenon. Again my heart moaned. Here just a few “honor killing” examples noted:

1. Asian student, Shafilea Ahmed, aged 17, from Warrington, Cheshire, UK, was probably murdered in 2003. Pathologist Dr. Alison Armour said: “The most likely cause of death is strangulation or smothering.” Prior to her disappearance she had returned from Pakistan where she had rejected an arranged marriage. To date, no one has actually been charged over the murder. Although the case remains open, one possibility considered by police is that Shafilea was the victim of an ‘honour killing’.

2. Another 17 year old girl, Souad, a Palestinian from a remote village on the West Bank, fell in love. But she was living under the strict rules of an Islamic society where a single girl caught making so much as eye contact with a man was labeled a charmuta, a whore. When Souad became pregnant she knew her punishment would likely be death.

After her secret was discovered, she was sitting in the courtyard when her brother-in-law approached. She felt cold liquid — petrol — pouring over her head and shoulders. Next thing she knew, she was ablaze. In a frenzy of panic and pain she escaped into the street where some local women beat out the flames and took her to hospital. Hideously burnt, Souad was only saved by the intervention of a European aid worker who arranged to have her flown to Switzerland.

3. At 17, Doaa Fares believed she could be somebody other than herself. She dropped out of secondary school, changed her name to Angelina, and entered the Miss Israel beauty contest. But she came from a deeply conservative Druze village. She was soon threatened with death, allegedly by two uncles and other men from her village who accused her of disgracing the family name with promiscuous behaviour. When she emerged from hiding she announced that she was withdrawing from the competition, fearing for her life.

4. In 2003, Sahjda Bibi, 21, from Birmingham, was stabbed 22 times while already in her wedding dress. A cousin did not approve of her choice of husband.

5. In 2005, in Southall, Middlesex, Samaira Nazir, 25, was murdered because she wanted to marry her Afghan boyfriend, rather than someone from the family circle. Her brother was jailed for at least 20 years for her murder and her cousin, who was 17, will serve 10 years for his role in her death. The ‘honour killing’, which took place at home in front of her parents, was carried out with four knives, as she was pinned down, and left with 18 stab wounds and three separate cuts to her throat. The family disapproved of Ms Nazir’s boyfriend, Salman Mohammed, because of his caste and they were so determined to split the pair up that when the couple announced their engagement, Ms Nazir’s father, Azhar, lunged at Mr Mohammed with a knife and threatened to kill him. Her brother, Azhar Nazir, a 30-year-old greengrocer, threatened to “get” the couple if they married, even if they were abroad. He was incensed that his sister had turned down the suitors waiting for her in Pakistan in favour of the Afghan.

6. In 2006, in Brescia, Italy, Hina Saleem, 21, received a phone call from her father. She told her boss at the Pizzeria Antica India where she worked: ‘Some relatives have arrived from France - with presents! I must greet them, but I won’t be late for work.’ During the hours that followed, both her boyfriend and her boss tried to call Hina on her mobile - without success. The call home had been a trap. Hina’s father, aided by three male relatives, had cut his own daughter’s throat, after a family council condemned her to death for her liaison with Tampini, a local carpenter.

7. In 2007 Hamda Abu Ghanem, 19, was the victim of another murder in Ramla. In January the police found her body riddled with bullets at her parents’ home. She was reportedly punished for talking on the phone to her cousin. Much as Naifa, Suzan, Zinat, Sabrin, Amira, Reem and Shirihan before her, Hamda was the victim of an ‘honour killing’, to wash away the supposed affront to her family’s reputation.

8. In 2007, a father, uncle and distant cousin were given life sentences for the barbaric ‘honour killing’ of a young woman they believed had shamed their family by falling in love. Mahmod Mahmod, 52, will serve at least 20 years for hiring a gang of Kurdish thugs to murder his daughter, Banaz, 20. They strangled Miss Mahmod at her home in Mitcham, South London.
The men had decided that Miss Mahmod should be tortured, raped, and murdered to restore ‘honour’ on their family name and serve as a lesson to women in their community. Miss Mahmod had previously fled an abusive arranged marriage that prevented her from studying to become a lawyer. She had wanted to move in with her boyfriend, Rhamat Sulemani, 29, and begin her legal studies. She was raped and murdered after contacting police four times saying that she feared for her life. She was garrotted but took half an hour to die as Hama stamped on her neck to “get the soul out”. Her body was crammed into a suitcase and driven to Birmingham, where it was buried in a back garden in January last year.

Under certain circumstances, and among the more traditional kinds of family, “honor killings” are regarded as a social duty. A report by Human Rights Watch in 2003 also noted that in Jordan: “Police rarely investigate ‘honour’ killings, seldom take any initiative to deter these crimes, and typically treat the killers as vindicated men.” The report also quoted a Jordanian lawyer as saying that when ‘honor’ killers turn themselves in to the police, the police “try to calm them down, give them a cigarette. The culture deals with them as heroes.”

Though such treatment needs to be aggressively exposed what is frightening is that Islamic leaders and followers who claim that such killings a cultural and not tied to Islamic beliefs fail to explain that if this is true then why is it happens across so many cultures. Further, and most poignantly, if these killings are not in keeping with the Islamic faith then why are the Islamic teachers remaining silent and not aggressively speaking out? Their silence speaks volumes.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Instructions To A Good Wife?

The other day I came across a pamphlet/letter published in 1894 that caused Evie and I to laugh and cry at the same time. This instruction to brides to be was written by a Methodist minister’s wife. Between the mid 1800s and the early part of the 1900s there were documents outlining similar sentiments. While I will let the document speak for itself, I will offer that the vestiges of the thoughts reflected by Ruth Smythers continue to linger within the Church and society.

“To the sensitive young woman who has had the benefits of a proper upbringing, the wedding day is, ironically, both the happiest and the most terrifying day of her life. On the positive side, there is the wedding itself, in which the bride is the central attraction in a beautiful and inspiring ceremony, symbolizing her triumph in securing a male to provide for all her needs for the rest of her life. On the negative side, there is the wedding night, during which the bride must pay the piper, so to speak, by facing for the first time the terrible experience of sex.”

“One cardinal rule of marriage should never be forgotten: GIVE LITTLE, GIVE SELDOM AND ABOVE ALL, GIVE GRRUDGINGLY. ….. While sex is at best revolting and at worse rather painful, it has to be endured.”

“Most men, if not denied, would demand sex almost every day. The wise bride will permit a maximum of two brief sexual experiences weekly during the first months of marriage. As time goes on she should make every effort to reduce this frequency. Feigned illness, sleepiness and headaches are among the wife’s best friends in this matter. Arguments, nagging, scolding, and bickering also prove effective, if used in late evening….Cleaver wives are ever on the alert for new and better methods of denying…A good wife should expect to have reduced sexual contacts to once a week by the first year of marriage and to once a month by the fifth year of marriage…..By their tenth anniversary, many wives have managed to complete their child bearing and have achieved the ultimate goal of terminating all sexual contacts with their husband.”

“Most men are by nature rather perverted, and if given half a chance, would engage in quiet a variety of the most revolting practices…including among others performing…mouthing the female body; and offering their own vile bodies to be mouthed in turn.”

“A wise bride will make it the goal never to allow her husband to see her unclothed body, and never allow him to display his unclothed body to her. Sex, when it cannot be prevented, should be practiced only in total darkness….Once the bride has donned her gown and turned off all the lights she should lie quietly upon the bed and await her groom. When he comes groping into the room she should make no sound to guide him in her direction, lest he take this as a sign of encouragement. She should let him grope in the dark. There is always hope he will stumble and incur some slight injury, which she can use as an excuse to deny him sexual access.”

“When he finds her, the wife should lie as still as possible. Bodily motion on her part could be interpreted as sexual excitement by the optimistic husband.”

“If he attempts to kiss her on the lips she should turn her head slightly so that the kiss falls harmlessly on her cheek instead. If he attempts to kiss her hand, she should make a fist….”

If the husband attempts to seduce her with lascivious talk, the wise wife will suddenly remember some trivial non-sexual question to ask him. Once he answers she should keep the conversation going, no matter how frivolous it may seem at the time….She will be absolutely silent or babble about her housework while he is huffing and puffing away. Above all she will lie perfectly still…”

“The wise wife….relentlessly pursues her goal first to limit, later to annihilate completely her husband’s desire for sexual expression.”

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Too Much, Too Little, Too Late

Earlier today while heading to Culpeper Johnny Mathis and Diana Ross’ Too Much, To Little, Too Late. To blending of the voices and the melody is wonderful, but it’s a “its over” story. With the kids now being out of the home and they are getting divorced. As they have stayed together for the sake of the kids, now that their children are gone there is no reason to stay together. There is too much pain and lack of love that anything they do is too little and too late.

Regardless of the beauty of its melody, the song is a sad one, one that thankfully is unknown to me. We are dynamic beings, constantly in flux. Just as our life context changes so do our ideas and experiences. It is sad when couples do not grow together, when they cease conversing and listening to each other. They grow apart rather than together. They are not longer focused upon the joys and desires of the other more than their own.

Too Much, Too Little, Too Late is a reminder of the importance of valuing one’s primary relationship and the love of one’s life. After all these years I still look forward to growing with Evie, conversing with her, exchanging ideas and challenging each other, taking in new sights and enjoying fresh experiences until our dying breath.