Adventures in words

Daniel Boorstin on word overusage in America:

The word “adventure” has become one of the blandest in the language. The cheap cafeteria at the corner offers us an “adventure in good eating”; a course in self-development … in a few weeks will transform our daily conversation into a “great adventure”; to ride in the new Dodge is an “adventure.” By continual overuse, we wear out the once common meaning of “an unusual, stirring, experience, often of romantic nature,” and return “adventure” to its original meaning of a mere “happening” (from the Latin, adventura, and advenire). But while an “adventure” was originally “that which happens without design; chance, hap, luck,” now in common usage it is primarily a contrived experience that somebody is trying to sell us. Its changed meaning is both a symptom of the new pervasiveness of pseudo-events and a symbol of how we defeat ourselves by our exaggerated expectations of the amount of unexpectedness — “adventure” — as of everything else in the world.

The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America, p. 78

It doesn’t come as a surprise to most that words like “adventure,” and “event” (it’s the Nissan/Furniture Liquidators/Desperate Housewives event of the year!). What’s shocking is that Boorstin wrote this in 1961, and it reads like it could have been last week.

PS. Can anyone spot which overused word I (over)used in the paragraph above?

Evangelical espionage

Just how crazy are those wacky evangelicals? Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone wanted to find out, so he went “Undercover with the Christian Right” by immersing himself in the world of TBN star John Hagee’s Cornerstone Church.

There’s much not to like about the methods that Taibbi employed for the piece, which is an excerpt for a forthcoming book. First of all, to act as if you’re going in to uncharted territory by investigating pentecostal Christians is a little disingenuous. After all, this is America. There’s a pentecostal on every corner — they’re not that hard to find.

Second, why in the world would a reporter use an alias when signing up to attend a retreat at John Hagee’s church? Was he afraid someone would recognize him as a writer for Rolling Stone? The folks he described didn’t strike me as the type to sit waiting each month with bated breath for their copy of RS to arrive just so they can read Matt Taibbi. Understandable if he were investigating the mafia, but pentecostals?

Third, Taibbi suffers from a condition common to many media professionals: ignorance of the evangelical landscape. The reason for this undercover stint, he claims, was to “to get a look inside the evangelical mind-set that gave the country eight years of George W. Bush.” To claim Hagee as the cornerstone for the evangelical mind-set in America is pretty big leap. Hagee is at best a subset.

That said, Taibbi does come away with a few observations of which evangelicals should take note. This passage in particular highlights the kind of psycho-babble that often shows up even in churches outside the pentecostal sphere:

The program revolved around a theory that [retreat leader Philip Fortenberry] quickly introduced us to called “the wound.” The wound theory was a piece of schlock biblical Freudianism in which everyone had one traumatic event from their childhood that had left a wound. The wound necessarily had been inflicted by another person, and bitterness toward that person had corrupted our spirits and alienated us from God. Here at the retreat we would identify this wound and learn to confront and forgive our transgressors, a process that would leave us cleansed of bitterness and hatred and free to receive the full benefits of Christ.


We were about a third of the way through the process when I began to wonder what the hell was going on. Fortenberry’s blowhard-on-crack-act/wound gobbledygook were all suspiciously secular in tone and approach. I had been hearing whispers throughout the first day or so to the effect that there was some kind of incredible supernatural religious ceremony that was going to take place at the end of the retreat (“Tighten your saddle, he’s fixin’ ta buck” was how “cowboy” Fortenberry put it), when we would experience “Victory and Deliverance.” But as far as I could see, in the early going, most of what we were doing was simple pop-psych self-examination using New Age-y diagnostic tools of the Deepak Chopra school: Identify your problems, face your oppressors, visualize your obstacles. Be your dream job. With a little rhetorical tweaking and much better food, this could easily have been Tony Robbins instructing a bunch of Upper East Side housewives to “find your wounds” (“My husband hid my Saks card!”) at a chic resort in Miami Beach or the Hamptons.

When a writer for Rolling Stone can recognize that your preaching is more pop-psychology than biblical truth, you’re in trouble. Sadly, much of the evangelical landscape shares this wholesale adoption of talk-show therapy. It’s a practice the Apostle Paul might well refer to as conformity to the world.

The gist of Taibbi’s piece is to show how markedly different these alien Christians are from the norm. Though he saw some pretty nutty stuff (glossolalia in the form of Russian band DDT!), it’s ironic just how much wasn’t as different from the world as it should have been.

Five things about blogging (from five years of doing so)

Today is blogiversary 5.0 here at TruePravda. That’s right, April 25, 2003 marked the beginning of this eclectic hive of commentary, opinion, & general mischief. So to celebrate (aside from rereading all the archives), here are five things I’ve learned about this not-so-new medium:

  1. Only write when you have something to say. This is a rule I’ve often violated, more so in the first year of writing here. The blogosphere is cluttered enough. If it’s not good, silence is stronger.
  2. Be just as ready to hit “delete” as you are to hit “publish.” I’ve deleted countless posts that for one reason or another, weren’t fit for publishing to the world. I’ve never regretted one of these deletions, even when I’ve spent much time and intellectual energy writing them. Restraint is your ally. Befriend it.
  3. Edit, edit again, then edit your edits. The entries I consider my best are inevitably the ones I reread and rework. Tight editing can’t improve an idea, but it can make it more presentable.
  4. Have a little fun, even if nobody else cares. My general mischief category keeps me sane by way of dispensing insanity. I love to write brief, post-game recaps of University of Tennessee football games. I’m probably the only person who reads them. All the best bloggers dispense a little levity — who am I to argue?
  5. Care for your audience but don’t write only to please them. It didn’t take long to discover that I couldn’t be “all things to all people” in every post. You can’t please everyone, so speak the truth to the best of your ability. Don’t sell out.

So whether you’ve been reading for five years or five minutes, thanks for taking the time to read TruePravda.

Civility as putdown

Civility is important — even necessary — in a society that seeks to be known as civilized. But, there are times when civility can go the wrong way. Walker Percy provides an excellent example in his novel The Thanatos Syndrome, where the protagonist (psychiatrist Tom More) encounters an old janitor with whom he’d had familiar rapport for years (emphasis mine):

“How you doing, Frank?”

“Good morning, Doctor.”

“Still featherbedding—” I begin in our old chaffing style, but he cuts me off with, of all things, “Have a nice day, Doctor”— and back to his polishing without missing the swing of the machine. I could have been any doctor, anybody.

Here again, a small thing. Nothing startling. He might simply have decided to dispose of me with standard U.S. politeness, which is indeed the easiest way to get rid of people. Have a nice day—

Or he might have decided that the ultimate putdown is this same American civility. What better dismissal than to treat someone you’ve known for forty years like a drive-up customer at Big Mac’s? [p.17]

Mere civility where more is wanting can be as injurious as an insult.

All the same, have a nice day.

If you want me to read your blog…


That’s right bloggers, I’m putting you on notice.  The days of my clicking through to your blog through an RSS excerpt are coming to an end.  I just checked my Google Reader subscriptions, and there are 146.  One hundred forty six. At some point I must have (slightly) exceeded my self-imposed 100-feed ceiling for RSS subscriptions.  That means the time it takes me to click over to your site to “read the full post” is more limited than ever.  Why post only an excerpt?

The nature of the web is changing.  Ten years ago, it was all about getting people to your website (or “home page”) and keeping them there.  Today’s interwebs are different.  Content flows through more pipes than your pappaw used to smoke these days.  If your content is good, I’ll stop by your site every once in a while — promise.  Just don’t make me do it to see your content.

For my readers who have no idea what this means, please forgive me — not that you shouldn’t be ashamed that you’re still not using RSS.

Family Driven Faith

Family Driven Faith

It’s ironic that within the evangelical church — a people who by and large claim their ultimate authority to be Scripture alone — it is tradition that is often the most difficult thing to change.

Voddie T. Baucham Jr.’s book, Family Driven Faith: Doing What It Takes to Raise Sons and Daughters Who Walk with God (Crossway Books, 2007) challenges many of our extra-biblical traditions with a tough but winsome approach. Instead of cultivating the latest ecclesiastical trends, Baucham takes a refreshing look at the age-old biblical institution of the family, and places it at ground zero for the work of Christ in the church.

The book covers topics ranging from the irresponsibility of men who abandon spiritual leadership to the growing biblical illiteracy among Christians who can’t even articulate their worldviews to their families, much less anyone else. Relating anecdotes from his own life, Baucham teaches how it is biblically necessary and possible for a family to worship together not just in church, but in the in the home as well. Some feathers are likely to be ruffled when Baucham tackles topics like education, where he takes an unapologetic (but reasonable) stand against government-sponsored schools.

These points are instructive, convicting, and even controversial, but none is more interesting and potentially paradigm-shifting than one of Baucham’s final points: the family-integrated church. This model, which is essentially an organizational subset of church polity, does away with age-segregated ministries and shifts the locus of ministry to fathers as heads of families. Surveying the current landscape of evangelicalism, Baucham observes:

One day you visit a church, your teen goes off to the youth service, your little one goes off to children’s church, the baby goes to the nursery, and you and your spouse get a great seat in a plush auditorium with first-class music, professional drama, a relevant, encouraging, application oriented, non-threatening talk, and you get it all in just under an hour. Moreover, you look at the brochures, and it’s right there in black and white: “Our youth ministry exists to do the job that you’ve neglected all these years.” What a deal! We don’t have to keep the little one quiet, we get our needs met, and to top it off, the youth guy is going to disciple my teenager (whom I don’t even like right now). Who cares if the youth guy has only been married a few months and has never even attempted to disciple a child of his own. “Count me in!” [p. 178]

Baucham readily admits this is hyperbole, but anyone who has set foot inside an evangelical church in the last 30 years will recognize the massive age segregation that occurs. Children’s ministries — a subset in themselves — are further segregated by the grade levels assigned by schools. “Young marrieds” meet for Bible study in a different place than that wily “College and Career” crowd. The “seniors” groups go on bus tours to Gatlinburg and Branson, while the “Youth” take their mission trips to the inner city.

Age segregation is one of the most impenetrable non-biblical institutions within the church, yet there’s absolutely no Scriptural support for these divisions. This does not mean, of course, that Scripture prohibits such segregation, but it does call into question why it has become such a staple for church organization.

I suspect, along with Baucham, that such age segregation more reflects the American educational system than a biblical model of intergenerational interaction. Baucham suggests that a family-integrated model would better meet the needs of discipleship than what has in recent years become the traditional evangelical approach. Youth groups and other age-categorized ministries are discarded in exchange for teaching and ministry that is organized around families rather than age.

Amid a culture that has little respect for the elderly, such an approach could do wonders. Younger adults would have more opportunity to learn from believers who have walked the road ahead of them, and the harsh transition that teens often endure from adolescence to adulthood would be obviated by living their theology around adults instead of solely their peers.

This will be a tough pill for most churches to swallow, given the practical implications of moving to such a ministry paradigm. After all, there are few who have any experience with doing church this way. In the end, however, Christ’s church should be governed by biblical principles, no matter how unpragmatic they might be.

Baucham himself realizes the uphill battle, and sympathizes with his friends who do not share his views. This does not, however, stop him from raising the issue. And that is what I find so refreshing about the book. Baucham succeeds in his ability to shine light on some pretty significant flaws in the church while still retaining a place at the table. Family Driven Faith critiques without casting away.

Read it if you dare.

Politics and the Prophet

[Editor’s note: In light of today being Earth Day, I thought I would do my green duty and recycle a post from June 2005 that is remarkably still relevant today.]

The pregnancy of Britney Spears and the trial of Michael Jackson notwithstanding, the hottest topic in the news today has to do with the intersection between politics and religion. Following the 2004 U.S. presidential election, the topic has become a “we’ve arrived!” bellwether for many people of faith — and a panic button for many secularists.

Evangelicals have gained much influence in the political arena. While the left constantly cries theocracy, evangelical ideas have made modest gains in the public square. With the possibility of high court justices being secured for a long time in favor of evangelical ideas, things are looking up for Christians in America. The way things stand now, a time of great prosperity for American evangelicalism would seem imminent.

Or would it?

Is political superiority the key for the advancement of the people of God? Not always, if Jeremiah 27 is in any way indicative of how God might intervene in the political sphere. It’s a bizarre passage that elicits a much deserved double-take, because when read in light of conventional wisdom, it appears to make little sense.

Ever the unpopular preacher, Jeremiah delivers the news that Yahweh is putting everyone under control of the pagan Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar:

It is I who by my great power and my outstretched arm have made the earth, with the men and animals that are on the earth, and I give it to whomever it seems right to me.

Lest Israel, God’s chosen people, think that they were excepted, Jeremiah informs them that they too—just like all the other nations—are losing their own autonomy:

To Zedekiah king of Judah I spoke in like manner: “Bring your necks under the yoke of the king of Babylon, and serve him and his people and live. Why will you and your people die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence, as the Lord has spoken concerning any nation that will not serve the king of Babylon?

The leaders and false prophets must have thought of Jeremiah as an ancient–day Howard Dean, speaking such nonsense. Why should the chosen people of God stand for serving a foreign, pagan leader? Such a notion was appalling to their sensibilities.

The irony, however, was that Israel had been serving foreign gods all along—it was only fitting that they should now serve a foreign king. Now, in an unseeming reversal, Israel would only see prosperity if they relinquished their own political sovereignty. Only after they had endured captivity would their land be restored to them.

In this strange passage, Yahweh showed that he doesn’t need the political structures of his people to verify his sovereignty. He is indeed the Maker, and only his kingdom has ultimate authority.

What relation does this ancient story have to do with our modern political climate? Should evangelical Christians relinquish what little political clout they have gained that they might prosper under a leftist government?

Just as the governance of Israel under the Davidic kingship remained the ideal (ultimately fulfilled in Christ!), evangelicals should continue to be wary of campaigning for the left. What Jeremiah 27 does do is to remind us who is really in charge, and who holds each political administration in his hands—even the bad ones. Evangelicals should continue to influence the political scene for the better, but let us not forget who is really on the throne.

Mysterious, yet strangely sovereign are his ways.