Thursday, 11 February 2016

Collapse in Shared Culture

Will Hatton writing in the Guardian on the "collapse in shared culture" makes some interesting observations :   
"....an all-encompassing big-tent culture to which we all belong and which has the power to stigmatise and make individuals shamed is fragmenting into mini subcultures, defining themselves by loyalty to their own and opposition and hatred of the other. Arsenal and Tottenham fans define themselves by mutual detestation; men define their masculinity by objectifying women. Generosity and respect for political opponents grows weaker......Parallel, and reinforcing this cultural fragmentation, is a social fragmentation: the ties that bind communities and neighbourhoods are fraying. Long hours and long commutes make civic and social engagement harder. Our crowded lives offer less chance for friendship, association and the creation of a social life that you would not want to put at risk by being stigmatised for bad behaviour. Together, this collapse in a shared culture, along with weakened social bonds, makes the capacity to shame ever reduced"
Interestingly, he puts this "cultural collapse" to the triumphant notion "that nothing matters except individual fulfilment achieved in unregulated markets, and that all public institutions are essentially inefficient and valueless, the ties that bind are systematically undermined." The idea that what what happens in the economic sphere affects how we live in other areas is one that I have touched on before. The Darwinian notion of "everyone for himself" has led to the falling apart of so fabric. Markets have consequences. And so do ideas! 

But what is the answer? Hatton's answer is that "We need a better public space, and philosophy, than [privatisation and personal enrichment]". In short the government needs to help us realise that we are all society together. This human centred solution ignores the depraved nature of man and the fact that what society needs is an objective grounding. In the end Hutton's view of salvation is still man centred and therefore no better than the social Darwinism that drives the market ethos. So it does not move us an inch. 

Parodies of Hope

All human effort falls short of its intended potential, all human aspirations exist under judgment, and all human achievement is measured by the standards of the coming kingdom. In the present historical context, this means that Christians recognize that all social organizations exist as parodies of eschatological hope. And so it is that the city is a poor imitation of heavenly community; the modern state, a deformed version of the ecclesia; the market, a distortion of consummation; modern entertainment, a caricature of joy; schooling, a misrepresentation of true formation; liberalism, a crass simulacrum of freedom; and the sovereignty we accord to the self, a parody of God himself. As these institutions and ideals become ends in themselves, they become the objects of idolatry. The shalom of God—which is to say, the presence of God himself—is the antithesis to all such imitations. Always and everywhere he relativizes the pretensions of all social institutions to power, fellowship, joy, freedom, and authority. Always and everywhere his presence declares that human endeavor is never the final word. 
JAMES DAVISON HUNTER 
(To Change the World)
This amazing fact that all human actions are a parody of our true hope is complemented by a beautiful truth expressed by another author.

Sunday, 27 December 2015

Unconscious Racism

I have just finished reading 'Dataclysm' by Christian Rudder. It has the interesting subtitle ' Who we are when we think no one is looking'. The book has some interesting reflections on what online data (drawn largely from the online dating data of OkCupid) reveals about our nature. Here is one quote that struck me :
It is no longer socially acceptable to be openly racist. In response to that pressure, there is some portion of the public who have therefore slunk away: if I can't shout hate at some schoolchildren anymore, well, fine, I'll just shout it at the TV. This is not the typical American. Most of us—almost all, in fact—recognize that racism is wrong. But it is still implicit in many of the decisions we make. Psychologists have a name for the interior patterns of belief that help a person organize information as he encounters it: schema . And our schema is still out of step with how most of us know the world should be. By hundreds of small, everyday actions, none of them made with racist intent or feeling, we reflect a broader culture that is, in fact, racist. As we've seen, the pattern is so woven-in that relatively recent additions to our society, Asians and Latinos, have adopted it, too.

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Finding Jesus in Hip Hop

While Hip Hop is not an end to salvation, it does provide a similar reciprocity that builds people up, helps its members out and points to Jesus through creative forms within its art. Hence, Hip Hop is like Jesus to many urban post-soulists. So those of us who want urban post-soulists to know Jesus, need to know Hip Hop. What becomes problematic for some Christians is the notion that Jesus would even be in places like a club, rap concert, and/or event that was not centered around some church. Some Christians cannot see beyond the four church walls and the programs that run it. So, finding Jesus in these irregular and nontraditional places will be hard to understand. Still, even in these nontraditional spaces, community is happening. And, if we really believe that God is Alpha and Omega, omnipresent, "all-seeing," might Jesus be in that smoke-filled strip club trying to talk to the inhabitants there?
Daniel White Hodge in his fascinating book The Soul of Hip Hop'. I  agree with Hodge that if we look close enough we see something of the presence of Jesus within hip hop. This occurs at two levels. 

First, Jesus suffers with the hiphop community, as he does with anyone who is suffering. There are no no-go areas for Jesus. He is suffering with the drug addict. He is weeping for the stripper. He cries for the pimp. Secondly, we see the yearning for Jesus in many of the lyrics of hiphop artists words. One of my favourite rap artists C-Murder says this in one of his songs, 'Lord Help Us':
Our world is hopeless, and we have no where to go/ Our children are hungry, and we can't feed the poor / We are really hopeless / spread some love before, love that and hold in/ Lord I really miss my friends / Lord please help us!
But this is where I would phrase these cries different from Hodge. To say the artists "points us to Jesus" is too confusing. Listening to hip hop awakens in us the cries of the sinner - and through listening we are forced to contemplate how the cross and resurrection meets our deepest needs! It does seem to me though that there is a strong need maturity and discernment when listening to hip hop. 

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Self first!

I came across this story of footballer Clarke Carlisle whose attempted suicide went "horribly right". He thankfully survived but mat great cost to himself and his relationships. Here is what he says about his path to recovery : 
“I’ve come out knowing what I’ve done before is not good for me. And I feel very guilty and ashamed about the way I thought and acted previously. So I need to establish new boundaries in my relationships. And that is tough. It’s tough when you’ve been married to someone for eight years. It’s tough when you’ve been a son for 35 years, and a brother for 35 years....I need to maintain my wellness. Because if I don’t, anything else I do is going to turn to rubbish. It seems a little bit selfish but I have to focus on myself first. But it’s also altruistic because if I don’t focus on myself first I can’t be a dad, I can’t be a charity trustee or a chairman of this, because it will all go to pot.”
Carlisle is correct. Self first is very important. We can't help others unless we help ourselves are helped. To point others to grace we must be recipients of grace!