Reposting this for hilariousness. For my part, I'd happily regrow my guru goatee, but for the time being I'll simply cultivate my post-evangelical stubble.
Reposting this for hilariousness. For my part, I'd happily regrow my guru goatee, but for the time being I'll simply cultivate my post-evangelical stubble.
It's been a bad couple of weeks for geeks on the misogyny front. As Alyssa Rosenberg has been reporting at ThinkProgress, an obnoxiously vocal subset of the gamer nerd subculture has decided to put their hatred of women on full display.
Exhibit A: The misogynist ranting at Anita Sarkeesian over her Kickstarter project on "Gaming Tropes vs. Women." Click the link if you want some samples of what was said on her site and in response to her Youtube promotional video. In addition to the sexism, you get bonus anti-Semitism and malicious pranksterism, as apparently seeking to shame her into silence wasn't enough, her detractors also decided to flag her videos as terrorism. As the Escapist article says:
On top of those beauties, there's the usual threats of violence and rape, as well as organized efforts to have Sarkeesian's YouTube videos flagged as terrorism and her Kickstarter project defunded. YouTube comments are, by and large, where the lowest common denominator goes to slum it for a while, so people posting awful things is hardly unusual. What is unusual, is the sheer depth of hatred on display. If the aim of the outrage was to prove that the gaming community doesn't have a lingering problem with women, well ... good job, guys.
Exhibit B: The Lara Croft rape mechanic. Apparently the newest iteration of the venerable Tomb Raider series will depict a scene in which Lara Croft is at risk of being raped, and what happens depends on how the player handles the encounter. As Alyssa describes in detail, there are just so many layers of wrong to this: From the failure of imagination it represents as a narrative devices, to the failure to empathy it displays, to the way in which it plays into stereotypical male fantasies of being the "rescuer" of the helpless woman.
Add to this the reaction to Alyssa's initial report, in which some of her comnentators cheered the possibility of actually allowing Croft to be raped in game and the whole spectacle is simply too odious for words. As Alyssa notes in her open letter to these commentators:
Is it entertaining to you to see this powerful woman reduced in some way, made vulnerable to something whether you’re the person enforcing her powerlessness or not? Because if that’s the case, really, what are you so frightened of? Lara Croft is not some sort of proof that men have been replaced as adventurers, or that men are unnecessary. To paraphrase Orson Scott Card’s Piggies talking about their desire to participate in the full life of the universe alongside humanity, feminism is not about being there first, about rendering men irrelevant. It’s about being there, too. I’d think that needing to see Lara Croft, or any other strong woman, made vulnerable isn’t pushback against misandry, the unicorn of oppressions. It’s evidence of fear, proof of John Scalzi’s theory that relying on patriarchy is really playing the game of life on the easiest setting rather than being willing to collaborate, and in some cases compete. If that’s what you really want, to be spared the presence of women in your lives because you find us threatening and upsetting, you may be able to find a way to do that, for a little while longer. But I don’t think it’s going to last. You can’t put all of us in whatever it is you perceive to be our places. There are too many of us. And whether you want to acknowledge it or not, there are a lot of men who will tell you that having women is a value add to their lives, not a painful surrendering of territory. You can fight for whatever barren rock you want to make your last stand on. But why not check out what men and women are building together? If you like what you see, then welcome.
Exhibit C: The degradation of female gamers. Again, via Alyssa, whose reporting on this has been stellar, Aisha Tylor's account of her treatment as a woman who loves to game, and the men who don't believe she's a gamer.
What all of this adds up to is a serious round of shame for the gaming community in particular, and male geek culture in general. Because this really extends far beyond video gaming. This extends to tabletop gaming as well, it extends to ComicCon, and the whole convention culture of booth babes and the casual denigration of women.
This is a problem of long standing in the predominantly male world of geekdom. There have always been girl geeks, and there have always been men around willing to marginalize them and objectify them for reasons that I've never been able to fully comprehend. Maybe it's simply that, marginalized as guy geeks often are, they look for someone that they feel powerful enough to marginalize in turn (woe betide the guy geek who tries to do that to any of the female gamers I know, though; they'll definitely get more than they bargained for), maybe its insecurity and social awkwardness, which are not unheard of among the nerd clan. But whatever the root causes, it's damaging to the individuals who perpetrate it as well as their targets, and its damaging to geek culture at large.
For my entire life, I've wondered why there aren't more women involved in the hobbies I enjoy: Gaming, science fiction, comic books, etc. The truth is, I've been fortunate to have met some wonderful female friends over the years in those pursuits, but the norm and expectation always seems to be that they're rarities in a male subculture. Examples such as those I've cited above offer some reasons why that persists.
A dear friend of mine recently revealed to me that she was a gamer of long standing, something that I had never known because I had never bothered to ask. Why hadn't I asked, she wanted to know. I told her quite honestly because it was rare to come across a woman who liked to game, and so I defaulted to the assumption that she didn't. Of course, coming out as a gamer of a certain kind always feels like a bit of a risk anyway, but if I had asked her if she'd like to play, it would have led to some very enjoyable conversations, and maybe even a game or two.
When we begin to get out of the gendered rut that geek culture has surrendered to, there are some new possibilties for the deepening of the entire subculture and widening its appeal. The last decade has seen some genuine progress on that front, but much more remains to be done. But the examples of the last few weeks can damage years of careful bridge building and door opening.
And of course, there are examples of strong, self-reliant, powerful women within the geek community, who deserve to be lifted up as alternatives to pop cultural garbage, as illustrated here (apologies for the amount of skin, but it serves to make a point):
Badass woman-warriors are easily better role-models than much of what pass for cultural icons today.
Just because geek culture has a reputation for appealing to adolescent boys doesn't mean that we're required to act like adolescents.
The closest practice I have to prayer now is maybe more akin to meditation…but I don’t think those serious about meditation would concur.
I tend to quiet myself down, quiet the voices in my mind, try to detach from the details of my life and open my heart to love (I’m hoping it’s open to Love). It’s more listening than talking, but not listening for words. It’s pushing back the debris and noise of my life connecting with my own essential spirit and trying to align it with a higher, more loving, more mystical, more joyful, lighter, deeper, Most Beautiful Spirit.
If I’m troubled about something or asked to pray for someone else who is troubled I sit before God, Most Beautiful Spirit, and hold the situation, the feelings, the person, open. I try to hold it open with faith and sense the beauty and peace and comfort available. I try to see God in the situation. Sometimes I say words. If I do they’re very few. “Bring hope.” “Bring comfort.” “Let them feel your love.” “Lord have mercy.”
If the trouble is my own situation, or one that closely affects me, I sometimes tumble out a bunch of words. It feels like panic. It doesn’t feel like faith. It feels like digression. So I try again to be quiet, to sense God, to feel Love, to hold onto faith for goodness to prevail and if it doesn’t, for Comfort to come in the midst of grief.
Praying words in personal prayers feels manipulative to me these days. I lack so much confidence in my ability to know what would be good (“God help me get that job” etc) that any words I say to that effect ring hollow. It also feels more like incantation to believe that my words could steer events. I haven’t been able to reconcile praying for outcomes. I would if I felt incredibly compelled to do that. I’d say that’s happened a handful of times – at most.
Joining in corporate prayer is very intimate (it used to be we prayed with anyone and everyone). I have a very hard time in evangelical settings being open to praying with people. That’s when I most feel like my activities of communion with God are definitely not prayers at all, because what they are doing, I no longer do.
I admit that I feel much the same way. To say that I "pray" in the way most people mean the term sounds very alien to me. Of course, I have prayed in that way, and sometimes still do, but often for me to say that I am praying means something far more inchoate than the idea that I attempt to verbally express a set of thoughts directed toward God.
And really, I'm not sure that's what prayer needs to be. As I recently said to a friend, when I pray for something, it's as much an expression of my emotional or psychological state as it is a set of words that exist either in my mind or on my lips. I think that this is at least in part what Paul means when he talks about the Spirit interceding with "sighs too deep for words" -- that prayer sometimes, and perhaps sometimes at its most profound, takes us beyond the need to express ourselves in any verbal way, and simply allows us to lift our cares to God. To try to express what those cares are or what I want God to do with them does feel, as Tracie puts it, "manipulative."
At the same time, I do occasionally lead worship, and this does involve verbal forms of prayer, and when I pray in those settings, I do try and allow the Spirit to move through me verbally to express the cares of the congregation and allow us to lift all of our cares before God. So in that sense, I most certainly do pray in the traditional sense. But in my private prayer life, it is almost entirely a matter of just quietly meditating on the problems or the blessing that I carry, and without thought, seeking to express my need or my gratitude.
In the end, I agree strongly with Annie Lamont's comment that she really only has two kinds of prayer: "Thank you, thank you thank you!" and "Help, help, help!" So often, those seem to be the only prayers of which I'm capable, or which are required.
In honor of his upcoming appointment to go hear Rush in concert, Tony Jones has started a series of posts on growing up in the 1970s, which was a strange, strange decade in which to live. Today, Tony posts on one of the bizzare public service films we were made to watch when we were kids:
It’s from 1974. The plot is basically this: A kid can’t get a seat on the bus, so he asks to get off, whereupon he dies in a snowbank. Cause of death: no one was nice to him.
Watch it below, in two parts, and tell me if you can believe that they showed this to 3rd graders.
You can watch it at Tony's site, but it does make me feel a bit inspired to post myself on what it means to be Generation X. I'll have to give this some thought.
Twenty something self, I speak the truth from kindness. So far life has been easy for you.. You’ve gotten by on natural talents and charm, but in the future you will have to work harder and smarter. You have good dreams and ideals, but it will take time to turn your bravado into tangible actions that others can see and affirm. The people around you are a mirror, giving you feedback on what you put out there. Sometimes you are impatient and proud and not that self-aware. Listen to your frustrations. Reflect on where you find energy and keep moving toward what makes you feel alive.
And Tony asks what we might tell ourselves of twenty years ago. In that spirit, here's a short missive to my self, age 22:
Apparently we now have the capacity to send letters back in time to our former selves. Rather than pass up the opportunity to give some unwanted advice, I thought I'd mention a few things that you're going to learn over the next two decades. I hope I won't sound like a college commencement speaker, but you might find this information useful.
- Things aren't going to turn out like you think they will. If I know you (and I think I do), you've got a very firm set of ideas about how you're going to live your life. You've convinced yourself that your ideals are not only morally important, but achievable, and you have no desire to compromise those ideals in any way. You're going to wind up compromising those ideals. Rather quickly in fact. It's not that you become cynical and give up, but that you will begin to realize that you're only a very fragile and fallible human being in the end, and just as subject to failure and self-deception as everyone else. You're probably actually a bit more susceptible than some in fact, because you're so fucking sure you're right.
- Things are going to turn out a lot better in some ways. One of the things you'll learn pretty quickly is that you are better at some things than you are at others. The good news is that, unlike a lot of people, you're going to be in a position to cultivate your talents and use them productively. You might not get to be everything you want to be, but you will get to be something that you will be glad to be.
- You need to take yourself less seriously. God, you really are a killjoy sometimes, you know that? I mean, you and I both know that you've got a goofy side, but you keep that fairly well under wraps for the most part. Be more of a goof, even when things are really serious. Because recognizing the underlying absurdity of the whole thing will help keep you sane.
- Love people, not because they live up to some standard you've set for them, but because they're there to be loved. It's easy for you to be judgemental, even as you fail to see your own flaws. Be kinder about the flaws in others, and more forgiving. As you learn to recognize your own fallibility, you'll be more tolerant of the foibles of others. Don't kill yourself trying to be perfect, but don't expect others to kill themselves trying to be perfect for you.
There's probably a lot more I should say. And the truth is, I haven't learned these things nearly as well as I should have by now. The good news in the end is that there are a few people in this world who will love you, even though sometimes you're a fucking asshole. Try to remember that when things seem bleak. Sometimes it's the only thing that will keep you going.
Scott (42-year old version)
I'm not totally comfortable with some of the evangelical-speak here, but the underlying theological content really resonates with me. David Kuo reflects on being a bad father and a bad husband:
I know the theory of grace. I know that it is sufficient. I understand that, as Bono says, “Karma is the law of the universe; except for grace.” I get it — intellectually at least — that when I sin I do not need to go away and pretty myself up and then go to God. When I am at my worst, when I have done my worst, I run to my Daddy in Heaven because that is what he wants.
I get it that Jesus bought all of my sinfulness on the cross. I get it that he purchased my sins forward. 2,000 years ago he bought my sins of this day.
I get it all. But I don’t know how to de-skewer myself.
This morning, I relayed parts of the story to a friend. This is a good man. A godly man. A good and godly man. He dismissed me. “We’re all assholes sometimes. OK, I gotta run.” He hung up. I stared at the phone.
There wasn’t nearly enough punitiveness in that response. I needed more condemnation. I needed to have no excuses. How could this man dismiss my ass-ness that cavalierly?
But as this day has drawn on, I have begun to realize that my friend’s voice was the embodiment of my theoretical knowledge about grace. Yup, I’d been an ass. Next.
Since I spend much of my day convinced that I'm the worst father on earth, it's nice to be reminded of these things. You fuck up. You acknowledge the fuckup, then move on and try not to fuck up again ... but you will.
A. K. M. Adam offers some reflections on what is it that makes good music, well good:
I’ll being by stating the obvious: Good music can be identified, most of the time, by good musicianship. Skill, technique, precision, virtuosity, all contribute to a performance I might admire.
OK, counterexamples first: Much punk rock, and a lot of old-timey music (to name just two genres) place little emphasis on technical musicianship. ‘Anarchy in the UK’ as performed by John McLaughlin and Buddy Rich would… lack something. They might bring something else to it, but I’m not saving my farthings for their cover version.
I think one reason why I never gravitated to punk as a teenager (despite liking a great deal of it now), was that sense that there wasn't much going on there musically. At the time, I was heavy into progressive rock and jazz, so heavy riffing on a few simple chords didn't do it for me. Over time, a lot of what I didn't like back then began to grow on me, and I think that my teenage musical tastes have diversified retrospectively as I've gotten older.
But that said, I agree that musicianship is an important indicator of what makes good music good. And I also agree with Akma's follow-up point:
One of the besetting problems of musicianship in popular music is the sense of formality, sterility, that sometimes attend it. One of the afflictions of popular music in the 70’s came from the sense that rock musicians were trying so hard to prove their worthiness that many of them adopted painfully over-serious, over-technical styles that just didn’t rock (and often didn’t satisfy the serious audiences they were trying to impress). Musicianship blends over to ‘professionalism’ (in the pejorative sense) and commercialism, too. When Rich caught me out for disliking music for being ‘popular’, much of what he was right about involved my lack of interest in bands that struck me as so professional that I didn’t feel especially drawn to them. ‘Commercial’ generally tastes bad to me.
On the one hand, I think the criticism of prog as "sterile" is overblown, and usually lodged by people who never took the time to really pay attention to what was going on in progressive rock. They got lost in the strange modes and time signatures, and failed to realize that a lot of progressive rock is actually very witty. Sometime the jokes are musical, and if you don't know what's going on musically you'll miss it. But a lot of the time the joke is in the lyrics or the general attitude.
As someone who is on the congenitally over serious side myself, I have to admit that I missed it a lot myself. Aside from Frank Zappa, who Akma mentions, most prog didn't strike me as being obviously funny. And of course, for Zappa, most of the time the joke was wrapped up in a lot of offensive material. But of course, often Zappa's whole point was that he was trying to offend you. So actually getting offended made you the punch line. In that way I often see South Park as an extension of Zappa's attitude in a different genre.
Nevertheless, there is a lot of wit lying beneath the surface of allegedly sterile progressive rock, if one takes the time to look.
But on Akma's concluding point I couldn't agree more. The problem with much of what passes for popular music today isn't that it isn't technically proficient. It is! But it's been test marketed and genericized to such an extent that any human emotion or artistic worth has been sapped out of it entirely. It may be on many levels perfectly acceptable music to listen to, but it has no great impact on the listener. While not every occasion calls for dissonance and sharp edged lyrics, the degree of homogenoization that has taken place in pop music today makes it very difficult for me to listen to. Which is why I seldom tune in to the radio anymore.
That and morning DJs. I hate morning DJs!
As I watched Katniss Everdeen fight to the death, I became aware that I could just as well have been a citizen of Panem, watching the Hunger Games on a giant screen, rooting for favorites, desensitized from the film’s artfully-orchestrated-so-as-to-maintain-a-PG-13-rating-but-still-incredibly-disturbing violence.
She goes on to connect the themes of the novel, and to a lesser extent the movie, to some of the overarching themes of Christianity:
As in Christianity, violence in "The Hunger Games" also serves a purpose: It is not gratuitous. It is not voyeuristic. But there’s a difference as well: We the viewers are not witnessing a past event. We feel like we are seeing the Games in real time, that we are part of Panem and, by virtue of sitting in the audience, part of its dysfunction.
That powerful revelation encourages us to contemplate the ways that we are complicit in violence in our own world and the ways in which we do not object.
So perhaps the great irony revealed by the film is that we are not meant to see it. We’re not intended to watch its violence, because this story, as Gale says, is meant to be protested. Which means that, ironically, "The Hunger Games’ " greatest triumph would be an empty theater and streets full of people demanding the kinds of changes needed in Katniss’ world and in our own.
I'm still working my way through the first novel, and I'm unlikely to get to the movie any time soon, but this does cause me to reflect a bit on my own media violence consumption: From The Walking Dead to Game of Thrones to Mass Effect, I consume and (via video and role-playing games) participate in a lot of simulated violence. It's never really bothered me on a moral level because I do recognize a distinction between real and simulated violence. And I always go back to the Aristotelian concept of catharsis when all else fails.
But underneath all of that is the very real question: Not "is simulated violence anesthetizing me to real violence," for which the answer is clearly no. But "is reveling in fantastic worlds and narratives anesthetizing me to the real needs and problems of the world I'm living in. And all too often I fear the answer to that is yes.
In The New Yorker, Joan Acocella reviews a new book on evangelical Christianity in the United States, particularly focusing on the Vineyard Fellowship. The book, by T. M. Luhrman, is called When God Talks Back.
I don't know much about the Vineyard churches, but the review gives a sense of a church that is heavily focused on the idea of a close, intimate, individual relationship with God, that is much more rooted in the idea of developing a deep emotional bond than it is of any particular doctrine, theology, or practice.
Of particular interest is their attitude toward larger issues of public life, like hunger, poverty, politics, and just the general question of human suffering:
Another odd thing about the Vineyarders, at least as described by Luhrmann, is that they seem to perform no social service. Unlike other serious evangelical groups, which are making headway as missionaries in Africa, there appears to be very little spreading of the faith, or even just of well-being—schools, hostels, soup kitchens—on the part of the congregations Luhrmann joined. Maybe she left out their charitable projects on the ground that her book, as its title tells us, is about the Vineyarders’ relationship with God. But I don’t think so, because now and then she comments dryly on their self-concern. Her fellow-congregant Hannah, she says, got mad at God, “not because he allowed genocide in Darfur, but because little things happened in her life that she did not like: ‘I was upset with him for making me a dorm counselor.’ ” Vineyarders may implore God to help fellow-members of their church, but otherwise, in Luhrmann’s account, pretty much everything seems to be about themselves.
Similarly, the book makes almost no mention of politics. To many secular observers, the trend toward conservatism is the most notable and disturbing thing about evangelicals, but I remember only one or two vague mentions of domestic politics in “When God Talks Back.” Forget politics, though. The Vineyarders seem to have no theology—they never try to reconcile reason with faith, nor do they try to account for the existence of evil in a world that is, presumably, ruled by a good God. Their solution to suffering, Luhrmann says, is to ignore it. One of her interviewees was crushed by the sudden death of a friend. Her pastor brought this up in the Sunday service. Luhrmann summarizes his response: “That’s the way it is. ‘Creation is beautiful, but it is not safe.’ He called everyday reality ‘broken.’ ‘God is doing something about it. There’s a fix in progress. It will be okay.’ What should you do? Get to know God. ‘Learn to hang out with him now.’ ”
When I lived in New Jersey, I attended a large evangelical church a few times, and was very interested in their organizational structure, specifically the way that the very large congregation would divide up into small groups, much as they do in the Vineyard churches. I was also intrigued by the "cell structure" of the church, where after it reached a certain size, it would split off and form a new church, by intent (rather than the way it's more commonly done, because of a fight). I thought there were resources to be plumbed there for new ways mainline churches could organize themselves, while leaving some of the spiritual baggage that I didn't much like behind.
But I do remain disturbed by the apparent lack of social concern that I observed in that church, and that Luhrman apparently observed in the churches she examined. Of course, the opposite pole seems to be an excessive concern with vary narrowly partisan politics, which is no good either. And thus I'm back to my continual quandary: How to be involved as a Christian in public life without trying to transform the entirety of the public into my version of Christianity.
I continue to think that there's a lot for the mainline churches to learn from the church that I visited, particularly the small group model of organization, that can help keep people connected around common interests in the midst of a big congregation. This is, I think, where the idea of the church as a community of friends can begin to come to fruition. But can the mainline churches incorporate this model without incorporating the theology of the churches that gave birth to them? That remains an open question for me, one that perhaps I'll have the opportunity to explore at some point in the future.
Well, here it is, January 1st and I'm left to consider just what I'm going to try to do with myself in the coming year. So, here are some of my New Year's resolutions, with commentary:
Well, that's probably a pretty good set of New Year's Resolutions. There are a lot of other things I probably should be doing, but if I can successfully do those three, I'll be pretty pleased with my results. We'll see how it goes.