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Life | Noah Stepro

Noah Stepro

Noah Stepro

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Why Your iPod Is Calling You To A Higher Standard

Here are some thoughts that are quite embryonic…I’d love your feedback and collaboration.

It occurs to me, as a history professor, that one of the greatest challenges we face in understanding historical context is to be objective with our biases, presumptions and approaches to understanding different people and places. This continues to be a problem for Western cultures as we interact with other cultures around the world (the “White Man’s Burden“…) – we assume we understand things that are strange and foreign to us.

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A regular assignment I give to my American history classes is to blog on the “connection between technology and psychology”. A core element of this idea is that we are inevitably controlled by the things we create…not always for the better, but sometimes for the best. It is very hard to envision our lives without the technological wonders we come to appreciate – smartphones, cameras, the Internet. On a historical level, this is why we have such a hard time understanding the morality and ethics of the past. For instance, it is hard for most students to grasp why feminism and gender equality did not become a more pressing issue and unified movement before 100 or so years ago. Why weren’t women demanding systematic equality centuries early? Because people in general were not questioning oppression and equality. As technology advanced (literacy and communication)  and social theory developed with it (the Enlightenment and human rights) we were drawn into a higher ethic of behavior…one where inalienable rights existed for all people. Without understanding the historical and cultural context of this development…patriarchy seems absolutely ludicrous. But placed within a framing story the raison d’être becomes apparent (even if unjustified).

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So my thought is this…is there an evolutionary nature to our ethics (different from evolutionary ethics)? As we grow in our capacity to understand and engage with the world we live in are we called to an increasingly higher standard of moral duty? For the breadth of human history global poverty was not a problem…as industrial production and globalization created this problem new medias in international communication technologies have brought this plight to our front door. Because we in the developed world are aware of our brothers and sisters in their squalor, we have a responsibility to engage with them.

As our capacity increases so does our responsibility (inserting tongue into cheek to refrain from Spiderman quote). For instance, when most post-moderns read questionable situations within Scripture (polygamy, warfare, deception, slavery) we have no basis for empathy. We cannot realize that this world was one of famine, barbarism and hubris…survival was the point of this world. In western, 21st century America, survival is not on our mind, so there is no social benefit for polygamy. However, if we can supplant ourselves back to a time of patriarchy and piratry…being widowed under these circumstances would spell certain disaster. Polygamy can be an act of mercy and generosity in this world…not just an act of sexual depravity, exploitation and control. As we grow and evolve on an social level (food and medical assistance, housing supplements, benefits and employment) vestiges like polygamy no longer find justification. The same could be said of indentured servitude and the development of credit, or industrial waste and environmental sciences.

In a world of abundant information, social mobility, global communication, financial freedom and political democracy we have more freedom and responsiblity than ever before. Having a micro computer in your pocket means that you are instaneously plugged into the problems of our global village. You are not only informed, but have the ability to advocate for others, inform your self, fund causes, plan events, etc. all from your mobile device. So…if our ethics are to evolve with our technological advancement and intellectual competency where does that leave us? Do you think there is validity to that notion? Are there other connections? Examples?

#PersonalityTestMania – I’m A Sith Lord, Fish Taco From 1920s Narnia

And more importantly, why do you (and I) care so much? My social media feeds have been flooded with an assortment of Zimbio personality quizzes lately – every thing from “Which Disney Princess Are You?” to “What Is Your Real Age?” or “Which Career Should You Actually Have?“. Some of them are slightly reasonable and some of them are totally absurd. Ok, I will own it…my inner Jedi was doing force levitations to see what Star Wars character I was. Do I really need an arbitrary site to tell me what character I am? Of course I don’t…this is the free world…I can decide to be Darth Vader if I want to (that was my result on said quiz)…I am also justified to throw the results out the proverbial window and choose to be C-3PO . I can even decide that my inner Star Wars character is actually Albus Dumbledore and that the city I should live in is really Paris even though I was told it was Tokyo. I am a bacon-guacamole burger that is actually 22 and should have been an interior designer.

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This latest cyber-obsession reveals a deeper need for affirmation that lingers just below the surface for all of us. Since the dawn of time we look to others for reinforcement and affirmation – this is a neutral act. Socially speaking, this can be a good thing…much of the time we as a society affirm behaviors and actions that we collectively value. Occasionally, however, we search for this affirmation through narcissistic and self-enveloped practices. I suggest the #PersonalityTestMania is one such practice.

 

See, what we are really asking when we fill out questioners to discover which “Friends” character we are? The practice of #PersonalityTestMania is the next evolution in cyber-isolation and self-affirmation. These quizzes tell us what we want to hear…anyone with a modicum of intelligence know what answers to fill in to hear the result they long for. On you “drink of choice” pick red wine if you want Paris and craft beer if you want Portland. There is no hierarchy of answers on these tests, their purpose is to bolster your self-esteem. This trend flows naturally from the progression of self-curated social media.

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Since the days of AOL chat room profiles, through the rise of Myspace and into the era of Facebook we have learned to present highly edited portraits of our lives to our cyber friends and family. Our redactive pulse is increased through every “like”, “poke”, and “retweet” we get. Apparently, these digital affirmations are tantamount to the psychological and emotional equivalent of a hug. A research group recently did a study on the generation of affection through social media affirmation and found the levels of dopamine released through “liking” and commenting on posts was higher than said effect from smoking…thus making it more addictive and harder to quite. Crazy huh? FB is more addictive than smoking.

 

There is a catch with FB posts, however…PEOPLE have to like them. So what if you are inherently un”like”able? In other words, a cyber tool? You need to eliminate the uncontrollable HUMAN element in your quest for dopamine releasing, online, self-affirmation: Enter Zimbio. The level of cyber curating at work in these types of online engagements is unprecedented…and therefore a little scary. We take these as a means of emotional and psychological self-medicating.

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Now, I’m not saying that everyone who takes these quizzes is a sociopathic, narcissistic, megalomaniac in deep need of artificial stimulation, nor am I saying they are inherently bad…I’ll be the first person to admit I wanted to find out which era music group I belonged too (like that means anything). What I am saying is that the popularity and plurality of these assessments of meaning and purpose is totally understandable and expected when placed within the greater trend of cyber-reinforcement. Are you taking these quizzes as a means of procrastinating your next work project or avoiding homework? Or is there something slightly deeper going on? What do you rely on to affirm your identity?

2-2-14 The Image of God Disabled

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If our community is to embrace the disabled as being made in the image of God we are called out of individual, self-relying, self-reinforcing “religion to a communal, dependent, embodied relationship with God and each other.

Would Jesus Go to the Super Bowl?

Would Jesus Go to the Super Bowl?

Yes. And No.

Today I reposted a blog on sex-trafficking and the Super Bowl…the traction and debate it generated really surprised me, so in the spirit of avoiding an endlessly repeating cycle of Facebook comments (most of which no one reads before posting their own thoughts) I will offer a more detailed, nuanced look at this Sunday’s super game.

“Jesus would totally go to the Super Bowl!”

  1. That is where people are gathering, Jesus seemed to be with the people…even beer chugging Broncos fans.
  2. Sports promote physical health, team work and sociability – the Lord likes all those things right?
  3. Watching a sporting event can be a great way to unwindand rest…certainly God was into that.
  4. There is absolutely nothing intrinsically wrongwith the sport of football.
  5. All the Seahawks love him.

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“Jesus would brandish a Pig of Nineskins and clear the stadium!”

  1. The Super Bowl is a place where celebrity worshipmay be at its highest point of the year. Between the ridiculously overpaid, championed athletes and the Halftime Show it is perhaps the most widely watched 3 hours of idolization out of every year.
  2. Merchandising, commercials, and endorsements/product placements promote happiness through stuff (i.e. capitalist materialism)…I’m pretty sure Jesus hated that and said some harsh things about envy and the worship of wealth.
  3. Sexual exploitation – that’s right I went there. Even if there wasn’t a single girl trafficked into the area for the purposes of pleasuring the traveling fans and franchises (which there are…I have a friend who was trafficked for such purposes) the sexual manipulation/exploitation that takes place during the ads and the Halftime Show is reason enough to avoid it.

So would Jesus go see the Seahawks and the Broncos show down this weekend? It depends on where his Father was leading. If it was the moment to be with some people that are going to open up and be vulnerable to him…I could totally see Jesus hanging at the game. However, it seems the Super Bowl is far more against the values of God’s Kingdom than aligned with it. Does the game explicitly mean idols and exploitation? No for most people it is a family tradition or the culmination of a season competition. But if we think about the deeper meaning of what it has mutated into over the last 30 years are we called to reexamine this national event?

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I tried to picture Jesus going to the Gladiator games or circuses in Rome…they were hedonistic expressions of violence, sexual debauchery and emperor worship. Is the Super Bowl that far away from Roman chariot races? If anything it may be more exaggerated and wide spread? I think one of the reasons my earlier post on FB rubbed quite a few people the wrong way is that sports can be major idols in our world. There is no direct vice in watching the game (the halftime show is a different story). I think this is where the confusion comes in…we can watch the game while still following and staying in the will of Christ, but should we? The answer is Yes. And No. If we are gathering to be together, reach out to our neighbors and enjoy community it can still be a great event (despite the underbelly of the beast…Jesus didn’t condemn nor support the Roman army) or it can be a time to revel in fantasy, lust and envy…what are you going to make it?

 

I genuinely think God loves football…not sure about the NFL though. What do you think? I’d be curious to hear from some football fans on this.

Sister Wives and Sincere Marriages

My wife loves the show Sister Wives – so by default I have picked up an affinity for the disappointingly undramatic reality show about a Mormon Fundamentalist family that is living a modern polygamist scenario. As soon as I saw this show and the hostility it generates in Utah, I thought to myself “I wonder how long it will take before this becomes muddled with gay marriage rights?” Well this last week U.S. District Court Judge Clark Waddoups ruled against Utah’s laws prohibiting “Cohabitation” – stating it was in incompatible with the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

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Is this a victory for people wanting to practice polygamy? No, not really…because it is still illegal to be married to more than one person in all 50 states. Does it take a swing at the DOMA? No, the recent decision doesn’t really move in that direction either. It does beg the question “Who has the right to legitimize marriages?” Both sides of the culture war surrounding same sex marriage for some bizarre reason continue to argue that the government has the right and the final say so to legitimate and/or bar marriages…why? Historically this hasn’t been the case, and I don’t think it should now.

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This recent case and the national focus around the Brown family highlight the hypocrisy and silliness around the marriage debates. Judge Waddoups argued against the punitive Utah laws asking what difference exists between a polygamous marriage between a man and three women or a man fornicating with three separate partners of his choice. Jerrold Jensen, Attorney General for Utah argued a large distinction existed because the polygamous family was perpetuating the image of a marriage.

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So, what the state of Utah is arguing is that someone in a committed marriage with three people presents a greater threat to society than a man having three casual, uncommitted relationships which could begin families and create children…that makes a lot of sense.

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I have to hand it to the Brown family, though I think polygamy sounds like a form of strange torture and am somewhat morally opposed to the idea, they have sincerity in their marriage. Maybe more marriages would work and have a fruitful commitment if they were based on ethical, moral, and religious convictions than a state license. Those things aren’t mutually exclusive, but as long as we see the state as the justification and origin of our “cohabitation” we can also blame the state for our moral short comings. Maybe we could take a lesson from the Brown family?

Supreme Misgivings

The 2013-14 Session of the Supreme Court began this Monday…and a lot is on the line. Matters of abortion, freedom of religion, campaign finance reform, executive powers have all made the docket. I would like to offer several reminders as we watch this year’s judiciary review unravel:
• Corporations are not people
• “Separation of church and state” appears no where in the Constitution
• Abortion is a crummy issue to vote for your president on

Allow me to elaborate

1. Corporations are not people, be they get treated as such
We have limited the amount acceptable for individuals and businesses to give in matters of political campaigns. There are a lot of reasons for this but avoiding a corrupt, quid-pro-quo is the biggest. Placing a limit of $2,500 on political giving to any one candidate and a $46,500 aggregate for multiple person contributions seems to accomplish this. In 2008 Citizens United vs. FEC changed all this…for the worse. Now corporations are arguing that through the 1st Amendment, the free speech clause, that their (the corporation’s) rights are being hampered by restricting their spending/donating power.

Yes that is right, Walmart has personal rights under the Constitution. This is the argument before the court…Money=A Voice. What we purchase says something about what we value…If that is true, than how we spend our money shouldn’t be infringed upon – that is a violation of the 1st Amendment (Freed Speech). This Amendment applies to corporations just as it applies to people. That means that Chevron or Apple should be able to spend as much capital on political campaigns as they feel fit…because they have POLITICAL RIGHTS!!! The founding fathers didn’t have any problem with wealth influencing politics, this is why we had property qualifications for voting and did not allow for the direct election of senators. But the game has changed a lot since then…I don’t think Madison could possibly envision the power and reach of modern, technical corporations.

This isn’t the first time this argument has been made. Back in the Gilded Age many corporations argued that they shouldn’t have to pay a minimum wage because it was a form of slavery. That is correct…the burgeoning form of business known as “corporations” sued under the newly ratified 14th Amendment, arguing that a minimum wage was a form of slavery or servitude and that the federal government had no right to intervene.

Should corporations have the same rights as people before the law? Should they have limited liability and a limitless lifespan? A lot of people say no…but it isn’t our choice…this rests with the Supreme Court. Pay attention this year as some very important things could be coming down the pipeline.

2. Separation of church and state is an “idea” (not a clause) to protect religion from the corruption of the state.
Over the past few decades the notion that the state and organized religion should be divided by a massive, immutable chasm has grown. Through the likes of the ACLU and the growth of pluralism in America we have embraced this idea…that some how faith corrupts the state. Once again, not what the framers of our government intended. They saw faith as the only thing that could produce real virtue, the thing that a good government hinges upon.

“Statesmen, my dear Sir, may plan and speculate for Liberty, but it is Religion and Morality alone, which can establish the Principles upon which Freedom can securely stand.” – John Adams

“The only foundation for a useful education in a republic is to be laid in religion. Without this there can be no virtue, and without virtue there can be no liberty, and liberty is the object and life of all republican governments.” – Benjamin Rush

Perhaps one of the engines corrupting our state is a faithlessness. I am not suggesting by any means that we hang crosses and the ten commandments in some sort of coercive attempt to Christianize everyone. I literally mean faith…encouraging a deep, soul searching intelligence that we seem to be so bankrupt of.

3. Pro-life, Pro-choice should be the last filter you run a political candidate through
I need to watch my phraseology on this one as it is an incredibly emotional issue for almost all of us (as it should be). The problem is, as will be seen this coming year, political candidates don’t decided legal issues of abortion…the Supreme Court does. There are 9 justices with life terms on the court, these are appointed by the president only when one retires or dies. Your presidential representative may go an entire term without getting to appoint a new justice…even then they need to be confirmed by the Senate. Once a pro-life candidate is on the bench they will need to wait for a pertinent case to come on the docket. After all that the likelihood that they would be outvoted 5-4 is very likely. Is abortion an incredibly important and relevant issue today? YES! Should this be the first thing you consider when looking at a Congressional or Presidential candidate? ABSOLUTELY NOT!

I could go on about presidential powers of recess nomination, the lack of democracy at work within the SC, the absurdity of our standards of judgement for the judiciary burden and so on, but I have said my two cents. There are a lot of misunderstandings when it comes to issues of law, here were a few I think every American should be aware of. After all, as Thomas Jefferson said:

“Whenever the people are well informed, they can be trusted with their own government; that whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them to rights.” – Jefferson

Obamacare Falls on the Cactus Curtain

Today’s “shut down” only codifies the cynicism my generation has towards government and bureaucracy. I really don’t care about Obama-care or the Republican/Democrat divide. I am interested in a government that has the interest of the people at it’s center. The fact that all Congressmen/women are getting paid during the “shut down” highlights the absurdity of the matter. Is this really about the interest of the citizens? Or is it about political ambitions on both sides? Obama has made this the cornerstone of his administration…is it really about helping people? With the 50-100% increase in some medical plans I can’t possibly think this is about the best interests of the people.

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The Atlantic posted this tidbit today: “At the National Institutes of Health, nearly three-quarters of the staff was furloughed. One result: director Francis Collins said about 200 patients who otherwise would be admitted to the NIH Clinical Center into clinical trials each week will be turned away. This includes about 30 children, most of them cancer patients, he said.”

I have to hand it to Jon Stewart, he assesses the situation well with this…it is not about Conservative/Liberal, it is about what is Constitutional and lawful!

Another example of how politicians are out for themselves and not the public. The L.A. Times recently ran an article on the “Cactus Curtain” of the Antelope Valley…separating Lancaster and Palmdale. This divide is all about the vote-ability and political potency of each town/mayor…not what is in the best interest of the people. 100 million+ has been wasted on the squabbling…leaving the rich richer, and the poor suffering at the hands of a widening income gap.

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Who cares about the “Stand off”? Who even cares about he National Parks for that matter? Don’t we care more that the majority of our politicians care more about elect-ability than virtue and truth? IDK, days like this make me apathetic to government and reestablish my belief that God and the Kingdom of Heaven are the only hope for humanity.

Count It All As Shit – Christians and Cursing

Is it ok for someone following Jesus to swear?

Words change.

What is offensive changes. Language, and the meaning we socially construct with it, morphs and shifts as society transforms (this is one of the things that postmodernism is all about). Curse or swear words are socially constructed as well. I had a friend from Sweden stay with me for several weeks and he was cussing like a sailor. Every time he met someone he would say “hello how the f*$@ are you?” I had to apologize to everyone he met…he thought this was really funny. Not being a native Anglophile he had no concept of what he was conveying…he had no social framework for his language.

Curse words are nothing more than icons we ascribe meaning to. I am sure the famous preacher Charles Spurgeon would not use the phrase “nigger entertainments” today as he did in an 1891 Sword and Trowel publication. There is a reason today’s Bible translators use “urinate” or “to relieve oneself” instead of the King James employment of “piss” (1 Sam 25:22, 25:34; 1 Kings 14:10, 16:11, 21:21; 2 Kings 9:8). In the last two decades, even the word “sucks” has mellowed and is no longer the hotbed of Christian offense.

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1. Pre-modern societies believed the most offensive words were excommunicatory in nature.

I was able to repay my Swedish friend a few years later when I was in Stockholm. The gravest of words utterable in his country is the Swedish word for Satan (though ironically no one believes in Satan…it is one of the most atheistic countries on earth). So being the good friend that I was I relished every opportunity to call things Satan…he found a new appreciation for the position he put me in. Offensive words were religious terms that threatened punishment and damnation. It is the same in France (another very atheistic country). My French speaking friends tell me the most offensive words in their language are still along the lines of religious cursing and calling someone a “devil”. In English, the words “damn” and “hell” used to have a harsh edge but have softened over time. The names of God and Christ and Joseph/Mary are often called up to create offense. In fact, the word “cuss” is related to “curse” which has religious overtones, as does the word “swear”.

At Sunday School, I was told not to use words like “Geez Whiz”, and “Jeepers” because they were toned down versions of swear words. There were lots of these words – “Gosh”, “golly”, “dang it”, “heck” . . .”s’truth” which means ‘God’s truth’ and is still popular in Australia. In my mother’s household children would have to say “Amster-naughtyword” instead of Amsterdam BUT . .. she was allowed to repeat the refrain “Eeny, meeny, miny, moe, catch a nigger by the toe . . ” That was not offensive in her day (to white people at least).

2. In the Modern culture (from the Industrial Revolution-Internet, and in some cases we still live there), words that caused the most offense affronted our personal and private sensibilities.

These offensive words were normally associated with private body parts, bodily functions of a toilet nature (I remember when I wasn’t allowed to say “fart” or “puked”), and sexual relations. The shift began in the 1800’s as the Industrial Revolution drove a deeper wedge between the male and female spheres. Victorian morality of the period frowned upon discussion of any aspect of sexuality. A “cult of purity” arose…people fetishized the “pure” to ridiculous extents, going so far as to replace the words for chicken “breasts” and “thighs” with “white” and “dark” meat. Now the words “ass” or “crap” or “piss” – all functional words that previously served a purpose – are offensive.

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3. Today’s Post-modern world is most offended by exclusionary language, as the voices of the margin dwellers and powerless have been given consideration and brought to the center.

Marginalizing people due to their race, gender, disability or status is about the most offensive thing you can say. The School Success and Opportunity Act (transgender school bill) that recently passed here in California highlights the centrality of this shift. Being “pure” is no longer the concern of school discipline, but it is being fair and equal. Bullying and language of exclusion are the threats of today and the language associated with them is often seen as expletives. When I was a teenager it was common and acceptable in youth circles to hear words like “gay” or “retarded” used to describe something as odd…but not today. Such words have been removed from the cannon of what is acceptable. Hip-hop producer Russell Simmons recommended eliminating “extreme curse words” from the recording industry.

Which words?

“nigger”

“bitch”

“ho”

Note the absence of sexual- or bodily-function-type cuss words. These days, no one loses their job for saying “shit” but if you say “Bitch” or “Nigger” in the US or “Ching” in Australia or “Paki” in UK then your entire career might be on the line.

In the USA a lawsuit was brought against a Southwest Airlines Flight attendant in 2003 for using this rhyme, even without saying the n___ word. What she said was “Eenie, meenie, minie, mo, pick a seat, we gotta go”.  Its the same refrain I used to repeat when choosing between toys.

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So “how then shall we live?”

I am not trying to make an argument for offensive language, but I would like to look at meaningful language. The triteness of our dilemma over language may illustrate the state of our hearts. What are we really concerned with when it comes to cussing? Allow me to illustrate with a line I’ve used in a sermon before from Tony Campolo: “While you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don’t give a shit. What’s worse is that you’re more upset with the fact that I said shit than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night.” Campolo illustrates the problem of putting “morality” before sincerity. What compels us? Are we turned off by the appearance or language of someone before we can engage their hearts?

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It isn’t how we say it, it is why we say it!

St. Paul says something along the same lines in Philippians 3:8. For those interested here it is in the Koine Greek: ἀλλὰ μενοῦνγε καὶ ἡγοῦμαι πάντα ζημίαν εἶναι διὰ τὸ ὑπερέχον τῆς γνώσεως Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ τοῦ κυρίου μου, δι᾿ ὃν τὰ πάντα ἐζημιώθην, καὶ ἡγοῦμαι σκύβαλα, ἵνα Χριστὸν κερδήσω”…

The word you want to keep your eye on is “σκύβαλα“—pronounced “skubala.” Here’s a literal translation of the verse: “But indeed I also consider everything to be loss on account of the surpassing knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, on account of whom I forfeited all things; and I consider them shit so that I may gain Christ…”

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Everything else is Shit!

Yes, you heard me right. Skubala means shit. Not only does it literally mean shit—i.e. human excrement—but it also has the same connotation. It is a vulgar word. Paul would not have said it in mixed company unless he expected a reaction. It’s difficult to find Christian sources that discuss skubala, but it’s use in ancient writings outside of the Bible makes clear that it was considered very impolite and yet he used it anyway. Why? To make a very clear point and to speak in a way that his audience would undoubtedly understand. They got the message. Sometimes, we need extreme language to help us contrast the extreme distance between a life with God vs a life without God. The leading modern Greek lexicon BDAG glosses skubala as “refuse,” “garbage,” “human excrement,” “crud,” and “crap”—very strong words for this Christian scholarly book. So the original text of the sacred Scripture contains a fowl word. English translations don’t like this word. They take the edge off it:

  • King James: …and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ…
  • New American Standard: …and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ…
  • New English Translation: …I regard them as dung!– that I may gain Christ…
  • Revised Standard: …and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ…

The same can be said of Isaiah 64:6All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” That word for “filthy rags” would be better translated from the Hebrew “menstrual rags” or more modernly “used tampons” – paints a different picture. The sterilized version of filthy rags makes me think of a dish cloth, not used sanitary napkins.

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There is something reassuring to me about an author of Scripture employing a vulgarity and about Paul caring much more about the passion and depth of our commitment to Christ than the shit of this world. It highlights Paul’s humanity and the intensity that should be conveyed with spiritual truth. Isn’t the truth of what is being communicated more important than the language used?

The problem is not if you are cursing or not, but are you uplifting or not? Cursing fulfills two functions: 1. A filler for poorly constructed sentences, leaving you sounding unintelligent. 2. A means to elicit a reaction. Some times that is humor or shock, some times it is to offend. But then there is a double standard to what is offensive…if you are a part of the minority group it is ok to appropriate your slurs and wear them as a badge of honor. Does the slur make a difference? I could sing about slapping bitches and hoes or I can sing about assaulting women and girls…it is still equally offensive to me…I simply feel the full impact in the first statement. It conveys what I am really trying to get at.

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So I could call all the things of this life “dung” or I can call them shit. They both say the same thing, but the second gets more to the point. I think this get’s to what Martin Luther meant when he told people to “sin boldly”: “Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong (sin boldly), but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world.” This gets to the heart of the cursing dilemma. Not that Luther wants us to be full of sin, but that we would realize we aren’t saved by our morality, our clean language.

If we are concerned more about the words we craft than the subject of them (form over substance) we miss the point. Dallas Willard calls this type of religion “sin management”. That kind of hypocritical concern with the appearance of things is what most of my friends hate about “religious people”; funny enough, Jesus had a few things to say about those people. Cursing emphasizes what you are trying to say…cursing isn’t usually the problem, what we are saying is usually the problem. So the same author who urged us to “not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs” can call something shit. There are plenty of “moral” Christians whose vocabulary is clean, but whose language is empty.

Is your language one of “sin management” and morality or of unbridled conviction?

 

 

Many of the words and thoughts from this post flow out of an email conversation from my very brilliant co-pastor Greg Larson, a blog on curse words and a blog on Greek syntax.

9/11–What Does It Mean to Remember?

I was lecturing yesterday in one of my American history classes and we came to the Spanish/American War. This brought us to the call to “Remember the Maine”. Now most of us don’t remember the Maine much less know what that slogan is referencing…this brings up the question that seems so apropos on this anniversary of tragedy…”What does it mean to remember?”

What are you remembering or recalling when you ponder the events of 9/11? What rituals do you go through on the  anniversary of a death? What do they mean?

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I’m sharing an excellent video for those of you brave enough to dig into some abstract, historical themes – it is about 45 minutes so beware. Jay Winters (Guest lecturing in John Merriman’s class) elaborates on the changes in the way we remember things…the rituals, creeds, myths, sites and artifacts since World War I. The inconceivable, universal devastation that comes out of WWI (and is seen in moments such as the Holocaust, the Cultural Revolution, 9/11 etc.) was so unprecedented that we must frame it in some psychological matrix. If we do not deal with the terror of the Somme, Auschwitz or the Twin Towers we are subject to hysteria and crippling fear. These spiritual, cultural, political, personal rituals give us the stability to function in a world that is completely unstable.

Remembering WWI

Ernest Becker wrote in is Pulitzer Prize winning book, The Denial of Death, that we participate in “transference” when we ascribe special meaning to people, things or events as a way to control them. When we participate in forms of remembrance are we fetishizing aspects of life? Do we remember 9/11 to tell ourselves “never forget” or “never again”? The great memorials of WWI were erected to say “never again” – Woodrow Wilson called it the “War to End All Wars”. We know that didn’t work so well…our memorials are incapable of protecting us from the uncertainty of the future and the inevitability of death? Becker calls this “transference heroics” or “safe heroism” – meaning we fill our world with fetish objects (memorials, flags, etc.) to buffer the overwhelming, awesome reality of the universe. But the call to “never forget” calls us to something much deeper and somber.

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Remembering can be so much more than a mechanism for dealing with neurosis. I happened to read Deuteronomy 8 this morning…the whole chapter is focused on “remembering”! Look at verse two: “Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.” Characters of Scripture are told over and over again to erect memorials or altars that they might remember something significant that has happened in that place. Clearly remembering or memorials are not bad, but are we using them as objects of transference to coop with unbelievable dread or do they call us to remember timeless truths that point us forward?

How are you remembering 9/11 today?