Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Our Aggressively Inarticulate Generation

I had a long conversation with a very good friend yesterday morning about a difficulty he has encountered at the church he serves and essentially it is a doctrinal matter. Doctrinal matters tend to express themselves in very real and practical ways in congregational life and we were talking about ways to handle what he has been dealing with. He made a statement that has become a problem not just in church life, but as we were talking I extended it to include the sum total of society, and especially young people.

He said that it is unbelievable that many Christians are unable to really articulate what they believe. This is due in large part to many folks simply believing they already have it together and hence no need to really study or define oneself as a Christian. More likely their identification with an institution or organization becomes expression enough to then make a de facto response such as "Well, Southern Baptists (for example) believe..." In fact they really have not addressed the content of the question. What do you believe?

The ability to express oneself has taken on a completely different meaning and in spite of the widespread availability to education and even self-helps. In our media saturated society and the txtmsging vernacular that has overridden everyday speech it is no wonder young people even have the ability to express themselves.

Because, like, you know, I like went to the grocery store yesterday, to like pick up a few things, for my BFF, you know, my wife, and when I like put my stu-uff on the you know, the rolly thingy, I gave a shot-out to the clerk. I like, said, "Good afternoon. How are you today?"

"Huh? Oh, I'm cool man. You cool?"

"Yeah, I'm cool; despite the searing heat outside."

"Huh? What kind of heat?"

And so it goes. I was reminded of this comedian after that brief diddy of an exchange. Its about three minutes, and he can express himself much better than I can. :)

The conversations here at The RP have reminded me of the need and ability to express oneself. To Joe I owe a debt of thanks--and here's to a few more "articulate" convos at The RP. :)


JoeG said...

Tony -
Thanks, I appreciate the kind words. I truly feel that if more people talked the way we have been talking here, we may still not agree with each other, but at least we would understand each other a bit better.

As to the topic of your post, before my wife and I got married, she kept asking me why I was Catholic, why did I believe what I believed. She asked about specific issues affecting the church then (female priests, divorce, homosexuality, etc.) and I found that I truly did not agree with the church's stance on those issues. It prompted me to look into my faith, which I had basically been following my entire life. The reason - it was all I had ever known. Her questions led me on a years-long study of my own religion and others, and culminating in me being what I am today. It was a struggle questioning my faith, but I found it an even bigger struggle when I realized I didn't agree with my own faith like I thought I did. I felt lost, but that only prompted me to put my heart and soul into finding my true faith. It was a life-changing exercise, and I owe my wife an eternal debt for leading me there in the first place.

Tony said...


No prob, Bob! Thanks for sharing a little bit more about your life--that took courage. I want to be a lifelong learner myself and i do see my christianity as just as you describe--a struggle. Even Paul said "to work out your own salvation with fear and trembling". One thing I do not ever hope I am marked by is arrogance, in that "I've got it all figured out."

By no means do I! I do struggle with my faith; and I think it is appropriate and right. And we have another area of commonality--I also owe my sweet wife an enormous debt of gratitude. :)

Karma Shuford said...

In order to articulate what you believe, you have to know what you believe and why.

Some people know what they believe, generally, but they don't have a clue as to why.

Other people, (many?) don't have a clue what they believe, much less why.

Tony said...

Karma--I agree. Sometimes I think the problem isn't so much "what" as it is "why".

I once asked the congregation why they were Baptists..."Well, cuz mama and diddy were. And they're buried in the church cemetery."


Karma Shuford said...

The other problem I've run into, not so much at "church" per se, but at another Christian website, is that asking questions is tantamount to getting ready to leave the faith totally. And discussion and dissenting opinions are considered "strife" and should be avoided in order to present a "united" front.

(Though I have been in churches that feel the same way, I've just never been the one that asked questions.)

Several weeks ago, I had real, legitimate questions about an issue, and sought out the more mature Christians for their take on it, in order to form my opinion. When I offered my opinion (which was different), the "leaders" effectively said, fine, believe what you want, we think it is wrong (no reason given). end of discussion. Next topic.

Thanks for nuttin', pal. :/ ;)

So, I think part of the reason a lot of people, especially the older generation, doesn't like questions, and can't ask them is because they were never expected or encouraged to ask them.

You believed what you believed because that is what the preacher said, and that was it. As a result, as time went on, we ended up having a lot of "teachings" that are almost to doctrinal level, supposedly Biblically "mandated" beliefs, and no one knows why.

Tony said...

that asking questions is tantamount to getting ready to leave the faith totally

Yeah. I'm getting lambasted on an other blog for this right now just because I evaluated something Obama said. Automatically that makes me a "godless liberal."

When did it become so out of vogue to think something through and evaluate an idea? Just because you think through something and mull it over doesn't mean you have accepted it as a conviction.

And for many, Southern Baptists included, party line and tradition are what is important. To question a matter, or even concede that you are thinking about something means a willful rejection of a widely held belief (whether right or wrong) and then your character is automatically brought under suspicion.

For example, I have some issues with inerrancy--it doesn't mean I have jettisoned the usage of the term altogether, or the idea, but I question the usefulness of the term--therefore I must be unorthodox, a liberal, or whatever caricature you like.

I get a little fretted with preachers who use a refrain something like this, "If you don't believe it, show me in the Bible where it is different."

This is a smokescreen. Disagree with the preacher (or leader, or whomever) then you are disagreeing with God. Most people are not going to challenge their authority and to a degree this is good, but many leaders manipulate their people in this way and it is just wrong. I try to always be open to reproval. (I probably don't do as good a job as I should.)

Theology is important but only insofar as it doesn't supersede Scripture; logic is important insofar as it doesn't supersede Scripture; value statements are important but only insofar as they don't supersede Scripture.

Karma Shuford said...

The issue I was confronted with was as a photographer, did I have a "right" to refuse to photograph a gay "marriage" on the grounds that it violates what I believe in.

The state of NM has said I do not have that right, and I suspect in another 10 years, that will be the story across the US.

To make a really long story short, I studied out some things in the Bible to try and figure out what my stance was. In the end, I decided that serving at a photographer at a gay marriage no more compromised my "spirituality," and I am not condoning their choices any more than photographing someone who is getting married because they are pregnant, or photographing a couple who is getting married for the fourth time, etc.

The only difference is that the first two are "socially acceptable," and to some degree have been ruled "inevitable," therefore, it is okay for me to take their money.

The discussion with other Christians ended after I presented what I thought was a Biblical grounds for my decision. At this point, I was still open to wiser people than me offering me guidance.

The pastor in the group I was discussing with ultimately ended the conversation with "I can't give you chapter and verse, I just know that it is wrong, and a Christian should NOT participate, regardless of the legal implications, or the repercussions it has on you, your family, or business." Because he was a preacher, the discussion ended. No rhyme or reason.

Forget that. Just because you say it doesn't make it so. It was at that point I realized that it was time for me to evaluate some other things in "society" that I needed to deal with.

Fortunately, different circumstances seemed to send my husband on the same "path" at the same time.

Unfortunately, we feel like we are on a big slide toward the left and can't stop. That is a bit unnerving to me.


The other thing you "can't argue with" is "God told me" or "God showed me."

The good thing, though, is that while in the process of my "slide" I feel a bit vunerable and "exposed," when I stop and focus on Christ and who He is, and what He is, I realize that my faith and my walk are a lot stronger and even more "tangible" in a way.

A Baptist preacher who grapples with "inerrancy" huh? You heretic!

Steve Sensenig said...

Karma, don't worry. You and Bernard are by no means alone.

A good friend of mine and I use the terminology from Alice in Wonderland and made popular in The Matrix -- we are falling down the rabbit hole. You called it sliding. I think we're probably talking about the same thing.

I would encourage you to get used to that feeling ;) Once you start that slide or that fall, you will discover that there is way more room to slide and fall than you ever thought possible. But what's really cool is that there comes a point where you realize that you are falling right into the hands of a loving and wonderful Father.

I've questioned (and still do question) a lot of what I used to believe and what I was taught. But the one thing I have found never crosses my mind to question is my Father's great love for me. In fact, the more I fall down the rabbit hole, the more I feel his love and the more certain I become of that one truth.

I don't know if this comment made sense, but I strongly desired to encourage you and Bernard in your journey.

Karma Shuford said...

Thank you, Steve. Hey, btw, is Victor Mansure still at App?

Tony said...

I probably ought to qualify about inerrancy so I don't REALLY get labeled a heretic.

One things Southern Baptists have failed to emphasize is unity--unity among the whole body of believers. We say we do--but only with those who meet the litmus test of inerrancy. We give a tip of the ole fedora to the other congregations in town at Thanksgiving and Easter and get all teary-eyed because "this is what brings us all together." *sniff* And inerrancy has become a wedge issue that has undermined the unity of God's people.

It has become a test for orthodoxy--soundness in one's faith; to believe inerrancy is tantamount to salvation itself.

I have seen it play out before; that if a certain pastor or church doesn't uphold inerrancy, then they are automatically excluded.

I wonder at the usage of the term; it has been and is still being used to divide God's people. It is loaded with political baggage and I guess my big question is, what does it get us? I think this is a blowback, albeit unforeseen, of the resurgence/takeover (whatever you call it). I have used this analogy before, that I actually owe to Streak, but the SBC has become like some bizarre game of Survivor--we're all waiting to see who gets voted off the island next.

Nevertheless, I have found myself asking A LOT of questions lately, some, like the ones regarding inerrancy and YEC, have got me into lot of trouble.

I support you and B and would love to get to know you guys better as time goes on. I'm here for y'all. :)

And Steve--he knows what he is talking about. He is a really great friend, and as you get to know him, you'll find out, he is a little bit like the Prospector in Toy Story 2.

"Prospector, you're outta your box!" ;)

Talk more later...

Steve Sensenig said...

Karma, he most certainly is. And still assigning massive papers that spark dread in the hearts of all of his students.

Normal and frequent thing to overhear in the School of Music:

Person A: You look really tired.
Person B: Yeah, I didn't get any sleep last night.
A: Really? Why?
B: Mansure paper
A: (cringing) Ohhhhhh, man. I'm sorry!!

Tony, box? Is there a box? ;)

Karma Shuford said...

I had Mansure his first year at App for Music History. I remember two things --
1. When we were listening to/studying "The Barber of Seville," he looked completely baffled why we were all massaging eachother's head. (We were sophomores; we were supposed to immature.) We were simply re-enacting the Bug's Bunny cartoon where Bugs is the barber and Elmer Fudd is the "customer." Apparently, he was a missionary kid or something, and never saw it.
2. The professor he replaced was notorious for "drop the needle tests." In the first semester (it was a two semester course), we had to identify composer, name of the piece, and which movement the 10 or 15 second snippet came from. Mansure, on the other hand, wanted to know the piece, the composer, the movement, and why we thought that. If we were wrong with the first three, but got the "why" right, we got at least a chunk of credit for the question.

He may very well of assigned a massive paper then, but we were so relieved because of his testing methods, we probably would have written books for him. :)

Ahhh, "them were the days."

Now, that I have totally hijacked the discussion . . .

Tony said...

I wouldn't consider this a threadjack at all. The post is essentially about our un- to undereducated society. I know kids who don't even know Bugs Bunny, much less the Barber of Seville.


Camilla was a music student for 2 1/2 years. She told me horror stories about some of the horrendous "listening parties" they used to have to prepare for "needle drop" quizzes. I couldn't do that with old Boston or REO Speedwagon songs.

Come on Steve, you know which box I'm talking about...the one you're OUT OF! :-)

Karma Shuford said...

hehe, I was a music major for 5 years. I told my mom I was squeezing 4 years into 5.

It would have been 6, but I had a bit of an "emotional breakdown." and transferred to Western Carolina where the program (at the time) wasn't quite as intensive.

I hated those blasted tests.

Steve, actually I remembered last night after I posted that I did have to write a paper for Mansure. If I remember correctly, it was close to 20 pages long, complete with charts and graphs (before the era of word processors; I have no idea how i did it). I made an A+ on it. :) I think it was on showing how Beethoven had directly or indirectly influenced all major musicians after him. :)

Tony said...

Camilla went through a lot of the same "trauma". She got tired of losing friends when juries rolled around and Camilla doesn't deal with the pressure of "being the best", and not just at music, but at anything. She is horrible about beating herself up.

And say it right: Its not Bay-toe-ven, its Beeth-oven. (Extra points for the movie ref!)

Karma Shuford said...

I would have probably done better if I had a bit more of Camilla's tendencies. I didn't care if I was last chair in the last band. :/

My biggest problem is that I am, well, a bit tone deaf. I can hear if something is out of tune, etc., BUT if you play two notes, in succession, I seriously cannot tell if they go up or down.

I should have changed my major, but I was determined to be a band director. :) Never did that. Ended up in special education in grad school (which I've never finished. . .)

Karma Shuford said...

I should probably clarify that last sentence -- I ended up studying to be a Special Ed. teacher; I did not end up "in" special ed.


Tony said...

Camilla and I always laugh about her education...she has ~220 credit hours and no degree...

She switched to nursing after she had earned over 100 hours in music, then earned about 100 in nursing. [I may not have the numbers exactly right, but she isn't here to correct me. :)]

Alas, no degree. The seminary awarded her a PhT when I graduated; "put hubby through." Sigh...

Karma Shuford said...

I earned my B.Sed in Music, then went back and was working on Middle Grades Language Arts, SpEd -- Learning Disabilities AND a Masters in Behavioral Disorders.

Then, I got pregnant and dropped out

(note=I had been married for almost four years at this point).

I would love to go back to school, but I don't want to finish the behavioral disorder stuff, and I don't have the time, money, etc. . .blah blah blah

I am considering an online photography school, but haven't decided.