Basecamp’s New Politics Policy

Basecamp (and Jason) has been a bellwether for how companies operate for almost 20 years now. Here’s an interesting memo for the company that I can only imagine more organizations will be implementing in the coming months / years…

With that, we wanted to put these directional changes on the public record. Historically we’ve tried to share as much as we can — for us, and for you — so this transmission continues the tradition.

1. No more societal and political discussions on our company Basecamp account. Today’s social and political waters are especially choppy. Sensitivities are at 11, and every discussion remotely related to politics, advocacy, or society at large quickly spins away from pleasant. You shouldn’t have to wonder if staying out of it means you’re complicit, or wading into it means you’re a target. These are difficult enough waters to navigate in life, but significantly more so at work. It’s become too much. It’s a major distraction. It saps our energy, and redirects our dialog towards dark places. It’s not healthy, it hasn’t served us well. And we’re done with it on our company Basecamp account where the work happens. People can take the conversations with willing co-workers to Signal, Whatsapp, or even a personal Basecamp account, but it can’t happen where the work happens anymore.

Source: Changes at Basecamp

American Allegory and The Middle

If that’s what you took from it, you’re reading too much into it.”

Then the chief cupbearer said to Pharaoh, ‘I remember my faults today. Once Pharaoh was angry with his servants, and put me and the chief baker in custody in the house of the captain of the guard. We dreamed on the same night, he and I, each having a dream with its own meaning. A young Hebrew was there with us, a servant of the captain of the guard. When we told him, he interpreted our dreams to us, giving an interpretation to each according to his dream.”

Genesis 41:9-12 (NRSV)

My Master’s Degree is in the field of “Religion and Literature.” It’s a rather quixotic (and troubled) field of study these days with a cumbersome history. In many ways, Religion and Lit is a direct 20th century response to the growing importance of historical critical methods of studying religious texts, such as the Bible. In a nutshell, instead of focusing on the “historical” contexts of texts or traditions, there are other paths available through the rigors of “literature.”

I won’t get into the technical definitions of such terms as Canonical Criticism, Rhetorical Criticism, Structural (and Post-Structural) Criticism(s), Narrative Criticism, Reader-Response Criticism, Ideological Criticisms and so on… but know that theological and academic thinkers love to carve out new climbing paths on the way up to the Summits of Meanings (and in most cases that’s completely needed and appropriate). So when I refer to Religion and Literature as a ontological thing unto itself here, that’s my own approach path.

But one lesson that reading and interpreting gifts us with is the notion of meaning. Like Janus, this two faced divinity of realization tempts us towards “either or” conclusions. Whether or not Noah was an actual person who set about to collect 2 (or 7) of every organism on earth (or just the clean ones) and then build a rather large sailing vessel after hearing instructions straight from God doesn’t really interest me (though, no… he wasn’t and didn’t).

However, it’s an amazing text to interact with as it resides in the Christian Old Testament. It’s fascinating to put that version up against the others found throughout the ancient world from Mesopotamia to the Americas. Truly, the flood motif is one that echoes in the very proteins of our human DNA. But no, I don’t enjoy reducing it to a historical event. That does the text (and I would argue meanings of the text) no justice and offers no participation.

So often in my early faith journey I heard “If you don’t believe that Noah was a historical person and the Ark event really happened, you are not saved!” or something along those lines. The same is true for Adam and Eve, of course. Though I was always puzzled by whether I was supposed to “believe” Genesis 1 – 2:4a or Genesis 2:4b – 3 since there are two very different telling of creation at the very beginning. It took me years to discover the beauty of the Bible through reading it through the lens of participatory literature. And it “means” more to me as a result.

One of the reasons I still enjoy reading the Bible as literature (as well as studying historical contexts etc) is that these paths outside historical time charts and archaeological strata allows for approaches that impart reception. There’s a real sense of immediacy when reading along with a parable or a lament or a psalm or levitical code that takes us out of time and place. To me, the same is true Flannery O’Connor or Toni Morrison or Margaret Atwood.

This does not imply that “truth” is absent or completely subjective. To the contrary, immediacy and participation requires much more finesse and fluidity than is normally implied when a debate turns into a “subjective vs objective” argument. Reading scripture or texts or phone books or Super Bowl commercials as literature can be a fascinating exercise that removes us from the need for concrete meaning and instead projects a wide spectrum of relationships with both our own senses and the thing we are studying. Just as in physics, the person doing the experiment impacts the outcome of the experiment whether knowingly or not.

It’s easy to cling onto notions of objectivity and “real” meaning while building up an edifice of understanding, only to come to an inevitable point when there’s a large crack in the wall that demands either reinforcing and applying more mortar to our conclusion instead of realizing the building ground was shaky and suspect to begin with and maybe the materials weren’t as strong and resilient as we first through the, so we might need to reexamine our previous work and even start over.

Simply put, participating with a text instead of simply ingesting or reading a text to decipher an author’s or editor’s intent (“intentional fallacy” of making assumptions related to the author(s) of ancient or modern texts that we can never really know or recover) doesn’t discourage search for meaning or truth. In my own experience, the best example I can give are lyrics to Beatles’ songs. I fell madly and deeply in love with the Beatles around the time of my senior year in high school and that carried over into my college years. I spent uncountable hours filling up notebooks with possible references and meanings behind the lyrics of “Hey Jude” or “I Am the Walrus” (that was fun) or “Baby’s in Black” or “Norwegian Wood” and would subject my patient but suffering friends to my extrapolations. This search for meaning into not just “what” John and Paul (and sometimes George) were writing and singing, but why. This led into me discovering the power of the internet in the mid-90’s as I stumbled upon bulletin boards of fellow seekers of Beatles writ and knowledge as well as The Grateful Dead and Nirvana. As I began my faith journey, I poured the same zeal into my own studies of the Bible and trying to understand the why and the intent of the authors and editors.

As I grew in the faith and my music tastes and my academic life, I learned of other approaches and some of the fallacies involved with authorial intent (especially with unreliable narrators such as Dylan and Hemingway). That slow boiling realization finally came to a head after I learned enough Greek to poke around the world of New Testament studies and found myself at Yale Divinity School at a time when reading the Bible through the lens of literature-approaches and post-construct (or post-modern) means was in bloom (and thanks to Prof. Bloom with whom I was able to study the great work through those lenses).

I realized that it meant less to me that Hey Jude really was written as a one-off by Paul about John’s son Julian and sentiments such as “the movement you need is on your shoulder” were lines meant to be replaced later until John insisted on their importance and instead it meant more to me how I was able to lovingly participate with not just the lyrics but also the chord progressions and climbing scales.

The same is true with something like the Bible… the words are important, but don’t miss the sound of the voice coming through the music, as The Grateful Dead would sing based on Robert Hunter’s lyrics.

In turn, the same can be thought when approaching Bruce Springsteen’s Super Bowl commercial for an automobile company. It was certainly well produced and visually calls out to our human need for toughness and purpose in the midst of uncertainty and cold dark winters. I was amazed that it was shot on location just a few days before the actual game and required some work to even make the show. Great art is frequently associated with constraints.

But is this great art? On one level, it speaks to a generation of Americans who look fondly at the rugged individualism of a hardened person surviving the winter clad in denim and boots and a trusty recreational vehicle (and a mug of hot coffee). The wrinkles are as much a part of the messaging as the old Jeep belonging to Springsteen or the cinematic shots of rushing water through a frozen landscape. The marriage of Springsteen’s iconic voice narration on top of this barren imagery with the score he composed for the ad spot is superb.

But like all marriages, there are points of contention.

As a baptist, one of the philosophical and theological epistemologies I cling to is the notion of religious liberty in the sense that the relationship between the Divine and a person is up to that individual. That’s not necessarily true for many of fellow Baptists these days, but as someone who likes to participate with the historical notion of being baptist, it is there in my matrix along with priesthood of all believers. A person has absolute liberty of conscience regarding their faith or choice to not pursue it, and my responsibility is to protect that liberty for all.

When I first saw the Springsteen ad and the image of the “lower 48” of the US with an American Flag draped theme superimposed by a Cross, I cringed.

The marketing message of the ad is clear… this is a chapel directly in the center of the contiguous United States and represents a call to “re-uniting” around themes that make America great after a period of divisiveness and “identity politics” that has scarred the country over the last decade. The Boss represents the Übermensch of American identity. It’s been a long and cold winter, but there will be a Spring ahead. A New Day for America.

But is that really unity? Is what this commercialization of American Civic Religion in the form of a Jeep commercial superimposed on the very center of America what we should aspire to at this time of darkness, death, pestilence, division, hunger, and ultimately a reshaping of modern life.

What about voices that aren’t the hegemonic conception of “America” in the sense of a middle-of-the-country white male? When Springsteen sifts his hands through the soil, I wonder if there’s a conception of the lives of Native People who were stripped of that land? Of course, I’m reading into the ad and adding my own value judgements about the composition of the “heart of America” that is tacitly inferred.

“Either you are with us or you’re against us!”

Take mask-wearing, for example. Large portions of our country still wrestle with the call to wear face coverings and maintain social distancing, citing preferred articles and hot takes on social media or the latest cable news bait designed to increase blood pressures and dopamine levels to sell more ads from automotive companies. Perhaps that is the cynical take here. We are discussing and ourselves wrestling with concepts of Christian Nationalism or MAGA or just a needed return to what made our country great that we’ve “read into” a car commercial. The medium subverts the message and in turn causes us to participate with commercial advertisements meant to convince our minds of an intended thought to move us further down the sales funnel at a rate of 1/1000 viewers.

But I don’t think we need to dismiss the Springsteen ad as “just” a commercial or elevate it as a “call to our consciousness.”

Clearly, it struck a nerve. I awoke this morning to a number of passionate social media friends from fellow baptists and religious thinkers and political ideologues all espousing a variety of seemingly nuanced opinions about the ad.

I would urge viewers and readers here to think of the advertisement and our participation in its messaging in a way that social media and cable news (and most preachers) don’t encourage. Despite the quick takes we’re encouraged to use based on our emotional responses, participating more deeply with a thought technology or, in this case, a framework or identity can be done so in new ways.

So I propose an allegorical approach.

Allegory may dream of presenting the thing itself… but its deeper purpose and its actual effect is to acknowledge the darkness, the arbitrariness, and the void that underlie, and paradoxically make possible, all representation of realms of light, order, and presence… Allegory arises… from the painful absence of that which it claims to recover.”

— Stephen Greenblatt

In this context of allegory, I think of Galatians 4:21-31 when Paul invokes the use of allegory to make a point about the notion of being “slave” or “free.” His use of the Hagar passage from Genesis has always been problematic for me and also caused me to cringe. “That’s not my identity!” I would think in my head as I studied this passage or came across the verses in my own journeys with the New Testament. Often, I would skip over it and leave it behind like a thing I didn’t want to deal with or acknowledge without acknowledging my privilege to do so.

Tell me, you who desire to be subject to the law, will you not listen to the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and the other by a free woman. One, the child of the slave, was born according to the flesh; the other, the child of the free woman, was born through the promise. Now this is an allegory: these women are two covenants. One woman, in fact, is Hagar, from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the other woman corresponds to the Jerusalem above; she is free, and she is our mother. For it is written, “Rejoice, you childless one, you who bear no children, burst into song and shout, you who endure no birthpangs; for the children of the desolate woman are more numerous than the children of the one who is married.” Now you, my friends, are children of the promise, like Isaac. But just as at that time the child who was born according to the flesh persecuted the child who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now also. But what does the scripture say? “Drive out the slave and her child; for the child of the slave will not share the inheritance with the child of the free woman.” So then, friends, we are children, not of the slave but of the free woman.

— Galatians 4:21-31

I eventually read an article by Prof. Elizabeth A. Castelli titled “Allegories of Hagar: Reading Galatians 4:21-31 with Postmodern Feminist Eyes’” in the collection The New Literary Criticism and the New Testament (Trinity Press International, eds Edgar V. McKnight and Elizabeth Struthers Malbon… caveat that I studied with Prof. McKnight while at Gardner-Webb Divinity School and he introduced me to Castelli’s article here). It came to me at a time when I was reconsidering allegory as a lens of understanding and reading, and caught me off-guard in the best of ways. It’s a fantastic piece in an excellent collection of articles by new criticism thinkers.

Here is the piece of Castelli’s work that resonates with me when thinking about identity and performative assumptions in the context of allegory building…

The passage of Sarah and Hagar from their traditional narrative into Paul’s allegory is a process of smoothing over and eliding complexities, eliminating potential contradictions, and reducing them to fixed and absolute opposites. In the course of this transformation, the meanings that accrue to them are, in one sense, inverted. that is, while the traditional interpretation holds that the offspring of Sarah is the nation of Israel, Paul has argued that the rightful heirs to God’s promise are himself and the other believers in Christ. In doing, Paul has deposed the reigning interpretation and has set his own up in its place. As suggested earlier, a successful allegory displaces its antecedent, remakes its subjects, and constitutes its own independent authority. Claiming a new and independent meaning, the allegory supersedes the antecedent and replaces it. By analogy, Paul’s allegory of Sarah and Hagar enacts this process not simply on tradition of the two women but on the tradition as a whole. In superseding the claims of the traditional interpretation of their story, Paul also constructs his own new and authoritative version. Once again, the structure, form, and content of his argument intersect and reinforce one another.”

Castelli goes on to posit that Paul’s use of allegory here actually inverts his purpose of imposing an authoritative version and creates points of intersectionality and meaning for new voices participating in the story thousands of years later.

Springsteen does the same with this commercial that he evidently had a very heavy hand in conceptualizing and producing (again, it’s not dependent on his intent in my approach here). Remaking the heart of America into a place of peak-Winter introspection and then hopeful upbeat violin instrumentals at the conclusion with the iconography of the flag, the Cross, and a candle lighting to bring warmth and light to a quiet place of inner desolation and perhaps desperation (much like a cup of coffee in the morning on a freezing day), deposed the prevailing notion of unity and being “in the center” into a message of hope and determination.

Only, here in the Springsteen ad we are self-limited to a certain conception of “America” in a politico-religious sense of the idea. It’s seemingly not available to all who fall outside the manufactured marketing demographic identified as potential Jeep buyers by market research specialists working with tables and data and social media inputs that determine such things.

All are more than welcome to come meet here in the middle,” the “Thunder Road” singer says in a voiceover. “It’s no secret the middle has been a hard place to get to lately, between red and blue, between servant and citizen, between our freedom and our fear.

“Now fear has never been the best of who we are, and as for freedom, it’s not the property of just the fortunate few, it belongs to us all. Whoever you are, wherever you’re from, it’s what connects us, and we need that connection. We need the middle,” he says.

So where are the allegorical opportunities to subvert this hegemony if one prefers to do so?

I propose we turn to Amanda Gorman’s preceding verse from the Super Bowl that points to a similar, but different, invocation to move ahead:

Let us walk with these warriors, charge on with these champions, and carry forth the call of our captains,” Gorman said. “We celebrate them by acting with courage and compassion, by doing what is right and just, for while we honor them today, it is they who every day honor us.”

Amanda Gorman

It’s in the allegory of the champions and captains that we truly do find the courage and compassion to not push towards “the middle” but honor those who have bravely stood up and pushed us towards justice as our country continues to reckon with ourselves.

Biden on Running for President in 2015

Eventually, Colbert got around to asking about the campaign, recalling that Biden had said recently that he wasn’t sure if he is “emotionally prepared” to run for President. Biden looked up at the klieg lights and gave a jut of the chin. “Look, I don’t think any man or woman should run for President unless, No. 1, they know exactly why they would want to be President. And, No. 2, they can look at folks out there and say, ‘I promise you have my whole heart, my whole soul, my energy, and my passion to do this.’ And, and, I’d be lying if I said that I knew I was there. I’m being completely honest. But nobody has a right in my view to seek that office unless they are willing to give it a hundred and ten per cent of who they are.”

Source: Biden, Alone in a Crowd | The New Yorker

Biden Administration’s Whitehouse.gov WordPress Setup

Fascinating breakdown here…

With the change of administrations comes a new website, and this morning the all-new Whitehouse.gov debuted. Like its predecessor, the site is powered by WordPress – but this version carries […]

Source: Whitehouse.gov Chooses WordPress, Again – Pagely®

Tech companies freezing political spending and why tech still matters

This is the death knell of PACs for tech companies with activist employees,” one source told Axios. “This is the final straw.”

via Axios

This is a really fascinating development. First Microsoft and now Facebook are suspending PAC (Political Action Committee) spending in Washington. They’re joining financiers Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, and Citigroup, along with Marriott, Blue Cross Blue Shield (caveat — our insurance co), Boston Scientific, and Commerce Bank. Bank of America (caveat — one of the banks we do business with), Ford, and AT&T, CVS, Exxon Mobil, and Wells Fargo are considering pulling their political monies.

This hits politicians where it really hurts.

For years, many of us in the “tech world” have decried these PACs and looked at them as a unnecessary evil that needed to be banned or done away with for a number of reasons.

Here are my personal convictions:

  1. The PAC system reinforces the existing system of graft and corruption that so many Americans claim to abhor.
  2. PACs favor the privileged both socio-economically and relationally. It’s a blight on a Democratic Republic and shouldn’t be seen as a “necessary evil” to doing business in the United States. Whatever your sector.
  3. Tech boomed in the late 90’s and then again in the early ’00s because it was seen as a disruptor. From Google to Tesla to Uber (well, maybe they aren’t a great example but they did usher in a transportation paradigm shift) to even Twitter, the tech sector excited us with the promise of something different and more democratic to challenge the status quo. However, as the going got weird, the weird turned pro and put on suits. I want a return to the weird disruption tech that spurred creativity and a hope for a better representation to the powers that be. We’re not so far gone that it can’t happen in light of #metoo, BLM, LBGTQ+, trans rights, accessibility emphasis, and recognition of differently abled persons. Real revolutionary tech that can change the world… I still believe. PACS stand in the way of that.

So as we continue to process and deal with the terrorist insurrection on our Capitol last week, let’s take a second to recognize what these companies are doing by restricting or redirecting their PAC monies and how we can all do our part to not just “unify and move forward” but to cause real change.

“Surely some revelation is at hand”

As the world responded to the epidemic of 1918-1920 and recovered from World War I, Yeats penned this… seems fitting for us to consider a century later.

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

Source: The Second Coming by William Butler Yeats | Poetry Foundation

Don Jr’s Site is on Shopify

Donald Trump Jr is tweeting about how “big tech” is cracking down on “free speech” after his father was booted from Twitter, FB, IG, YouTube etc over the last few days as a result of the Jan 6 terrorist attack on our nation’s Capitol.

Not good marketing

What’s interesting here is that Trump Jr is using Shopify to sell books and bulk up his newsletter subscriptions after Shopify moved to also ban Trump-related sites this week:

Shopify does not tolerate actions that incite violence. Based on recent events, we have determined that the actions by President Donald J. Trump violate our Acceptable Use Policy, which prohibits promotion or support of organizations, platforms or people that threaten or condone violence to further a cause,” a Shopify spokesperson wrote in a statement to TechCrunch. “As a result, we have terminated stores affiliated with President Trump.

Shopify statement

Regardless of your politics of late, I urge you to build on your own property. Own your own domain, own your own intellectual property, own your own content, and don’t rely on third party providers to host your digital presence, one of your most important assets.

“Reopen” Domain Surge

Propaganda and misinformation are easy to propagate on the web as one of my mentors, Wayne Porter, would frequently show me. Now is not the time to let our guard down.

That lookup returned approximately 150 domains; in addition to those named after the individual 50 states, some of the domains refer to large American cities or counties, and others to more general concepts, such as “reopeningchurch.com” or “reopenamericanbusiness.com.”

Source: Who’s Behind the “Reopen” Domain Surge? — Krebs on Security

On Being a Revangelical – Merianna Neely Harrelson

I always got questions from Thinking Religion listeners when I claimed to “still be” an Evangelical. Merianna explains it much better than I ever could here…

Between this statement and my partner’s parsing of the Greek meaning of the term evangelical around the dinner table, I am finally ready to say that I am evangelical or perhaps a revangelical, returning to an identity I used to wear proudly as I tried to convert my middle school friends and offer them eternal salvation.

I am no longer interested in converting people, but I am interested in continuing to accept the invitation of partnering in the wonderful, mystical, and transformative work that the Holy Spirit is doing here on earth within and among us.

Source: On Being a Revangelical – Merianna Neely Harrelson

“Change within a lifetime”

Climate change is the ghosts of impacts future….

And so the most effective guard against climate breakdown may not be technological solutions, but a more fundamental reimagining of what constitutes a good life on this particular planet. We may be critically constrained in our abilities to change and rework the technosphere, but we should be free to envisage alternative futures. So far our response to the challenge of climate change exposes a fundamental failure of our collective imagination.

via The Conversation

Government shutdown cuts nearly all food stamp office staff, adding to SC uncertainty

In 2016, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program was used by 16 percent of South Carolina residents. More than 72 percent of the state’s SNAP participants were families with children. Across the nation, the average monthly SNAP benefit per person in 2016 was $127, or $1.41 per meal.

Source: Government shutdown cuts nearly all food stamp office staff, adding to SC uncertainty | News | postandcourier.com

United States of Amazon

“The company’s focus on Washington as its most lucrative customer was reflected in its decision earlier this year to choose nearby Arlington, Virginia, as one of its two new US headquarters, along with Long Island City, New York. “Amazon wants to be the interface between all government buyers and all the companies that want to sell to government, and that is an incredibly powerful and lucrative place to be,” Mitchell said.”

Exclusive: Emails show how tech firm has tried to gain influence and potentially shape lucrative government contracts — Read on www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/dec/26/amazon-anne-rung-government-services-authority

Mary’s ‘Magnificat’ in the Bible is revolutionary — so evangelicals silence it

I certainly had never heard of the term “Magnificat” until college. It’s difficult to divorce biblical passages such as these from contemporary politics when we are in a season of listening to footsteps. Good read in these closing days of Advent 2018:

Why has this song been forgotten, or trimmed, for so many people who grew up evangelical? It could be a byproduct of the Reformation, which caused Protestants to devalue Mary in reaction to Catholic theology. Or a lack of familiarity with liturgy, and an emphasis on other texts. Or perhaps the song doesn’t sound like good news if you are well fed, or rich, or in a position of power and might — or if you benefit from systems that oppress. How does the Magnificat feel if you aren’t one of the lowly, if you aren’t as vulnerable and humble as Mary?

— Read on www.washingtonpost.com/religion/2018/12/20/marys-magnificat-bible-is-revolutionary-so-evangelicals-silence-it/

Satyagraha and Climate Justice

Love this connection from Matthew Klippenstein… we have much to learn about justice, and especially climate justice, from our neighbors and our own history…

Articulating a hopeful, abundant vision of what the future could be has helped climate activism gain widespread support across Canada, and even from a strong majority within Alberta’s energy sector. With the province facing a crisis, our movement may benefit from affirming solidarity with the many who face uncertainty, before we criticize the few who got them there. With luck, and working together, we can craft a “sacred yes” so inspiring that instead of revisiting old wounds anew, Canadians from coast to coast to coast can together create an abundant future “pour tout.”

Source: Three climate justice metamorphoses and a lesson from Gandhi | National Observer

The God of Progress

An intriguing essay on a point that has been made repeatedly about American religion, particularly its inextricable connections to cultural materialism and scientific progress…

Our modern world tries extremely hard to protect us from the sort of existential moments experienced by Mill and Russell. Netflix, air-conditioning, sex apps, Alexa, kale, Pilates, Spotify, Twitter … they’re all designed to create a world in which we rarely get a second to confront ultimate meaning — until a tragedy occurs, a death happens, or a diagnosis strikes. Unlike any humans before us, we take those who are much closer to death than we are and sequester them in nursing homes, where they cannot remind us of our own fate in our daily lives.

Source: Andrew Sullivan: America’s New Religions

“We won’t let that happen.”

Who would have thought the annoying little service that lit up my text messages in 2006 with updates from other text nerds posting to 40404 would go on to become the political and media juggernaut it is today…

President Donald Trump on Saturday took to Twitter to allege social media companies are discriminating against prominent conservatives, saying “we won’t let that happen.”

— Read on www.politico.com/story/2018/08/18/trump-social-media-censorship-conservatives-twitter-facebook-787899

Response to “America’s Empty-Church Problem”

Maybe it’s the values of hierarchy, authority, and tradition that churches instill. Maybe religion builds habits and networks that help people better weather national traumas, and thus retain their faith that the system works. For whatever reason, secularization isn’t easing political conflict. It’s making American politics even more convulsive and zero-sum.

Source: America’s Empty-Church Problem – The Atlantic

This piece does a good job in summarizing the overall tilt towards secularism in America and its effects across the political spectrum. I agree with the above sentiment that the decline in church membership is helping to steer our country towards an atmosphere of conflict and zero-sum games.

However, there’s a good deal to unpack here. For one, there are all sorts of overlooked privileges incorporated with projecting that “things were better when we all went to church.” Second, conflating complicated movements like Trumpism, Bernieism, and Black Lives Matter into causations based on church attendance is problematic at best. Third, we can’t overlook the very real damage that many churches and associated hierarchies have done to children and adults over the last century, from misogyny to blatant racism and sexism to sexual abuse of children and young people.

My main pushback, however, would be the first sentence in the snippet above. Hierarchy, authority, and tradition are certainly values that some churches instill in their congregants. But, as someone from the Baptist tradition, I bristle at such overarching statements about what values churches instill. Our tradition emphasizes religious freedom over hierarchy, soul competency of each believer over authority, and congregational determinism over tradition. Of course, that has led to a whole host of problems for us in Baptist life, but it’s a reality that doesn’t get expressed when all of American Christendom is pitched into one descriptive bucket.

I would have ended this piece in a way that framed church as an opportunity to experience a different reality (I’m coming at this from someone who is ordained in a faith tradition, of course) and how it’s good for each of us to hear that we aren’t the center of the universe, we should be kind to each other no matter what, we should consider the lilies more often, and the ability to love others as themselves is the ultimate measure of a person. Those are things we Americans need to hear more often.

Oh, and wear a good suit at least once a week.

 

Church Marketing and Political Issues

Six-in-ten religiously unaffiliated Americans – adults who describe their religious identity as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular” – say the questioning of religious teachings is a very important reason for their lack of affiliation. The second-most-common reason is opposition to the positions taken by churches on social and political issues, cited by 49% of respondents (the survey asked about each of the six options separately). Smaller, but still substantial, shares say they dislike religious organizations (41%), don’t believe in God (37%), consider religion irrelevant to them (36%) or dislike religious leaders (34%).

Source: Why America’s ‘nones’ don’t identify with a religion | Pew Research Center

One word: Marketing.

Philanthropy and Underserved Communities

The average person thinks, “Of course philanthropy is about helping the poor.” In fact, just one out of every three dollars is intended to benefit underserved or marginalized communities. Even with a very broad definition—low-income communities, communities of color, women and girls, LGBT communities, people with disabilities, the elderly—it’s a small percentage of philanthropic dollars.

In our last analysis, 90% of the 1,000 biggest foundations in the country direct less than half of their dollars to benefit underserved communities. It’s shocking.

via Yale Insights – How Can Philanthropy Do More Good

“Invisible Wire Pullers”

Eerily familiar to the American left…

Prideful of their own higher learning and cultivation, the intellectual classes could not absorb the idea that, thanks to “invisible wire-pullers”—the self-interested groups and individuals who believed they could manipulate the charismatic maverick for their own gain—this uneducated “beer-hall agitator” had already amassed vast support. After all, Germany was a state where the law rested on a firm foundation, where a majority in parliament was opposed to Hitler, and where every citizen believed that “his liberty and equal rights were secured by the solemnly affirmed constitution.”

— Read on www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/when-its-too-late-to-stop-fascism-according-to-stefan-zweig

Overwriting Monuments with AR

I do think augmented reality and voice-first computing (Siri, Alexa, Google Assistant etc) will get us out behind computer screens and keyboards and into the “real” world. What “real” means is subjective, and that will only intensify in the coming decades as computing comes full circle to being something that we naturally do with our voices and thoughts and without the need for a keyboard and mouse.

Now we just need a good pair of AR glasses from Apple or Google or some startup we haven’t heard of yet that’s working hard in a garage to change the world…

Last year, Movers and Shakers assembled a team of coders, artists and designers who use augmented reality technology to do their work. Their goal was circumvent the city’s decision by replacing the statue and similar monuments with digital ones of other historical figures — namely, people of color and women. “I think we have an opportunity to harness the storytelling capabilities of this technology,” said Glenn Cantave, founder and lead organizer, when explaining the group’s motivations. “Who’s going to own our narrative?”

— Read on theoutline.com/post/5123/movers-and-shakers-digital-sculptures-new-york-city

Romans 13 and American Appeals to Authority of the Government

Good read on the historical uses of Romans 13 in American history to justify obedience to the government in light of our Attorney General’s use of that text today to defend the deplorable and immoral and utterly un-Christian internment camps we’re setting up along the Mexican border for children that we’re forcibly separating children from their asylum-seeking parents…

As I wrote at my own blog, I’m not sure we should “act as if the New Testament has any kind of authority over the religiously plural officer corps that protects a democratic republic that separates church and state.” But Pence is hardly the first prominent American to make such public use of these Christian scriptures — though what they mean has been hotly contested since even before the Republic won its independence.

— Read on www.patheos.com/blogs/anxiousbench/2017/05/mike-pence-romans-13/

Fear and Preaching in Sin City

It is possible — even essential — to take a stand against things that are morally wrong without taking sides between Republicans and Democrats. We are currently hamstrung by the myth that to work against things like racism and sexism and mistreatment of refugees is to take sides on politics. There are some things to which there are not two sides — things the church must condemn as morally wrong whether they are advocated by Republicans, Democrats or independents. To speak against these evils only condemns a political party if that entire party chooses to embrace what is evil.

— Read on baptistnews.com/article/what-the-church-could-learn-from-abc/

Cautionary Tale of Climate Change Prepping from Ancient Egypt and Bronze Age

These agricultural feats managed to extend the life of the Egyptian empire about half a century longer than it might otherwise have lasted, according to the archaeologists. The lesson for our own civilization — which is likely to face increasingly severe droughts as humans change the climate far faster than nature has ever done — is to plan ahead, Dr. Finkelstein said.

— Read on www.nytimes.com/2018/03/30/climate/egypt-climate-drought.html

Trump blocking Twitter critics is unconstitutional, court decides

What a time to be alive.

It is unconstitutional for public officials, including the president, to block Twitter followers who criticize them, a court ruled today in a legal dispute over President Trump’s account.

— Read on www.theverge.com/2018/5/23/17385298/trump-blocking-twitter-unconstitutional-court-ruling

Changing Conceptions of Marriage and Church Marketing

Fascinating stats here for same-sex and different-sex marriages. To think of marriage as a trophy or celebration of what two people have accomplished in life that come together into a new stage directly flies in the face of so much of what churches of all stripes and sizes (but especially my beloved Baptist tradition) have supported:

According to the Census Bureau, the median age at first marriage—the age at which half of all marriages occur—was 27.4 for women and 29.5 for men in 2017. That’s higher than at any time since the Census began keeping records in 1890. It is six years higher than when I got married in 1972 (at the typical age of 24). In my era, a young couple usually got married first, then moved in together, then started their adult roles as workers or homemakers, and then had children. (I scandalized my parents by living with my future wife before I married her.) Now marriage tends to come after most of these markers are attained.

Source: Andrew Cherlin: Marriage Has Become a Trophy – The Atlantic

In an era where church attendance is declining and church donations aren’t keeping up with expenses, it’s interesting to ponder what something like the institution of marriage might mean for the future health of congregations based on their marketing and messaging.

Reaping Data

Not to mention how companies and governments so haphazardly use this data for causes and purposes…

The unchecked power of companies that harvest our data is a great problem—but it’s hard to get angry about an idea that’s so nebulous. Like climate change, the reaping of our data is a problem of psychology as much as business. We know that the accumulation of massive power in so few hands is bad, but it’s impossible to anticipate what terrible result might come of it. And if we could envision them, these consequences are imaginary: abstract and in the future. It feels so oppressively intractable it’s hard to summon the will to act.

Source: Cambridge Analytica Is Finally Under Fire Because of Whistleblowers | WIRED