Today, according to American calendar sequence, is the final sequential date in my lifetime.
Monthly Archives: December 2014
This is (I think) the final set of my thoughts on this saga. This story is now like a rain soaked flooded river that is carrying trees and all kinds of debris and descruttion. The problems with the magazine, the writer and the reported victim now are serving to distract from the bigger problems. These bigger problems are what need to be addressed by leaders whose work, actions and policy decisions have impact on the safety and well being of young people.
At the Board of Visitors meeting immediately after the story broke, both quick action and pause were called for. It would appear that the school president chose to develop an action plan. Granted, much of that action has been to have consultations, but in her address that I have posted on this blog (just scroll down) she outline some very practical and positive steps: more police partnership, more counselling resources, and a review of policies. From this keyboard, it looks like she is on the right track. She is addressing the symptoms of the problem as best she can. She can do little to address the disease. The disease is a culture that is falling apart before our very eyes.
Indeed, at so many levels, this saga is like a veritable kaleidoscope manifesting cultural flaws. The more this story gets turned, the more we see the flaws in our culture. It has shined an international spotlight on the way the university wrestles with all the aspects of rape (I would suggest that this is true at every American college at one level or another). It has cast a spotlight on the Greek culture, where out-of-control 18-22 year olds live virtually unsupervised and are usually looked upon with “tisk-tisk” or worse, “boys will be boys,” and “say nothing until my lawyer gets there.” It has cast a spotlight on poor journalistic practices at a national magazine (did none of us consider the source?). And now the competition is having a field day tearing the story up and the reported victim was ‘outed’ last night on Twitter and her life is coming into the spotlight.
I could go on, but won’t, because the real problem now, as this story unravels, is that leaders (now that their feet are out of the fire) will be distracted. There are systemic problems brought up in the story that need to be addressed. All deans at all colleges need to be asking “What are the ways that we are not serving our student body in this case?” But they can only treat the symptoms of a greater cultural disease.
I’ve said it before, college presidents and boards of visitors don’t change culture. Culture is changed one person at a time. And the only way to affect real change to cultures is done as God changes hearts. This is why Jesus came. This is why we followers of Jesus celebrate Christmas. He came. God with us. Emmanuel.
So the leaders of the university need to press on with needed reforms. But one reform I would suggest is that leaders of the university take a fresh look at the way they treat Christian ministries to the university. Rather than putting roadblocks in front of these ministries, who seek to bring the life changing good news of Jesus, the university could realize that these volunteers may be their greatest ally. For this life changing good news of Jesus is the only real means to change hearts and therefore cultures.
Finally, I would suggest that the leaders of churches take a long hard look at the way they have abdicated their responsibility to take the gospel across town (admittedly a cross cultural endeavor) to the university. Yes, there need to be people specifically called to the university community. But I suggest that the senior pastors get together with the leaders of the university ministers and say “How can we partner with you? What can our churches do to help you as you bring the gospel to this community?”
Laws and policies don’t change hearts. Broken laws and policies just point to hearts that are in need of reform from the inside out. Jesus came, died, and rose again for said change in hearts. That is how culture is changed.
Been reading and talking about prayer with some friends as a result of Keller’s new book, Prayer.
As a few of us talk about it and discuss the inter-relationship between reading Scripture and praying, I submit this for your consideration…
In the first post I stated that for one to serve Christ well in a culture other than her own, one should become a student of that culture. In this post we think about the question: What is Culture?
The best place to start is with definitions. According to “The Willowbank Report,” the word ‘culture’ “…means simply the patterned way in which people do things together.” To get a broader definition, we turn to scholar and co-founder of The Gospel Coalition, D. A. Carson, who, in his Christ and Culture Revisited, relied on the widely used definition of Princeton cultural anthropologist Clifford Geertz. Geertz defined culture as
an historically transmitted pattern of meanings embodied in symbols, a system of inherited conceptions expressed in symbolic form by means of which men communicate, perpetuate, and develop their knowledge about life and attitudes towards life. (Carson, p.69)
Symbols were key in the work of Geertz and, as I consider the word ‘symbol,’ I realize my gesture with the tissue (in the previous post) was just that, a simple, living cultural symbol. One that communicated sensitivity because the unknown sniffler and I understood that it was unacceptable in Hungary to sniffle. Having previously observed strangers giving people tissues , I learned that this was generally viewed as an acceptable gesture. This may well have been used, on another occasion, as an open door for conversation.
I think Geertz’s definition also relies on the word ‘historically’ as a kind of fulcrum on which the leverage of culture depends. American author and social activist George Weigel described the importance of history as it is contained in “literature, music, and dance;” … “painting, sculpture, and architecture;” … as well as “theology and ethics and religious ritual;…” Thus history is the basis for the means by which culture is passed down and even changed via “relationships between men and women, young and old, parents and children, teachers and students, the powerful and the powerless.” Hense, according to Weigel, history is culture. At the very least I will agree that ‘history’ is essential to the transmission of culture. To clarify, history, in this context, is not just an academic subject or a book, it is the inter-generational transmission of culture, whether it be from my mentor to me, or from me to my grandson.
Weigel brings specificity to our discussion when cataloging “painting, sculpture, and architecture” and then “theology and ethics and religious ritual.” In the modern (postmodern? is that still a thing?) West, some argue against the value of religion, but Bishop Lesslie Newbigin, a leading thinker on the subject of culture and Christianity, disagrees: “In most human cultures, religion is not a separate activity set apart from the rest of life.” Indeed religion is central to culture.
It would be inappropriate to go further in our exploration of ‘culture’ without considering the work of Richard Niebuhr. He provided a cornerstone for the study of culture in the Christian context over half a century ago (even though many have contended that this cornerstone was not well laid). In the early pages of Christ and Culture we may glean a definition that is embedded in five pages of elaboration: “Culture is…” “…always social”… “…human achievement…” “…a world of values…” “…for the good of man…” and “…is concerned with the temporal and material realization of values.” Timothy Tennent, president of Asbury Theological Seminary and missiologist, provides a helpful summation of Niebuhr’s position on culture as “…that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, law, morals, custom, and any other capacities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.”
Further, Tennent asserted that Niebuhr “inadvertently secularizes culture, creating an unbiblical dichotomy between human cultural activity and Christ.” His assertion is that “Niebuhr’s understanding of culture was constructed on the foundation of secular anthropology.” Tennent later stated that his own “…central concern is whether secular anthropology can really provide an adequate foundation for Christian anthropology to build upon…” Perhaps this is a fair critique of the philosophy behind Niebuhr’s work, but I assert that one should not throw the anthropological baby out with the secular bathwater. Let us not discard research simply because it is ‘secular.’ Tennent stated that “every culture is dynamic, adaptive, and changing.” Thus, while I consider his work extremely helpful, I will not discount Geertz or Niebuhr’s work on the basis of ‘secular’ anthropology. Looking now from definition to roots of the word, we continue with Tennant’s work.
Tennent’s etymological research is helpful: “the English word culture is derived from the Latin verb colere (to cultivate or instruct) and the noun cultus (cultivation or training)….” These Latin roots undergird the importance of the intergenerational passing on of culture. As culture passes from one generation to the next, the natural outcome is change. Some call this progress because it, ostensibly is development for the good of the people. Whether considered progress or not, culture is dynamic, not static.
Finally, I would submit a working definition: Culture is the dynamic collection of beliefs and norms that are passed down (history) and cultivated (development) regarding the language and actions (behavior) of a people. These characteristics distinguish one group from others. That said, how does this line of thinking help us in our mission within God’s Kingdom? That question will be foundational to the next posts in this series.
*This is part two of a series of posts that are the fruit of some work I am doing toward a doctorate in cross cultural ministry.