Tuesday, February 26, 2008

It's all relative

One of the standard criticisms leveled against Postmodernity is its rampant relativism. In its extreme form, some even contend that everything is relative - there is nothing absolutely true.

While it's true that Postmodernity embraces relativism, the standard criticism doesn't quite hit the mark...

It is not my purpose to defend relativism. There are times when it is defensible (we all know this: think "self defense" versus "first degree murder" versus "manslaughter", etc.), but I want to move beyond that for a moment.

Or, more precisely, I want to move before that. It is my contention that the birth of relativism owes as much to Modernity as Postmodernity, if not more. No one within the Modern worldview likes to admit it, but relativism pre-dates Postmodernity.

It starts like this: "You need to be able to separate your business life from your home life". Generations of working people were fed that mantra over and over again. It became ingrained in our culture. The way you treat people in your work-life isn't necessarily the same way you treat them in your neighborhood-life.

Compartmentalization is one of the hallmarks of Modernity in recent American history. It's also one of the things Postmoderns like about Modernity the least. But ironically, it's was this very compartmentalizing process that gave rise to the prevalence of relativism.

If I come to believe that I am a different sort of fellow at work, at home, at church services, at play, at the store, etc... then I am implicitly establishing the foundation for believing that the answers to certain questions depend entirely upon the circumstances and situation I find myself in. For example, while no one would advocate "upselling" your mother, it became standard practice with strangers. Moving the models you're overstocked on is a perfectly acceptable business practice for many, but you wouldn't practice it on your pastor or good friend.

Language is another obvious example. How many tried-and-true Modern followers of Christ use coarse language on the job site, but never at home or in a church building?

All of this gave rise to the Postmodern mantra about "keeping it real". The lack of authenticity, the compartmentalization and the sense of falsehood that it promulgates weigh heavily upon Postmoderns.

But as I noted briefly above, the irony is that this same cultural phenomenon helped the rise of relativism tremendously. So we now have a situation where the average Modern blames relativism on Postmodernity, the average Postmodern think Modern compartmentalization is disingenuous, and neither party realizes what they "owe" to each other! Pots are calling kettles black all over the place.

Again, I'm not attempting to justify or defend relativism - those that know me or have read this blog much know that to be the case. I just find it very frustrating that there is so little understanding and so much blame be passed around.

Don't like relativism? You have both Modernity and Postmodernity to blame.


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Saturday, February 23, 2008

More humor

Again, thanks to Buttons for leading me to another funny website. Along with a truly over-the-top parody of Oprah interviewing a former postmodern, there's a witty bit about basic forms of government and economy...

The page itself is here, though I've not read most of what's on it. What I did read is this:

Cows and Government


You have two cows.

Your lord takes some of the milk.


You have two cows.

The government takes both, hires you to take care of them, and sells you the milk.


You have two cows.

Your neighbors help you take care of them, and you all share the milk.


You have two cows.

You have to take care of them, but the government takes all the milk.


You have two cows.

The government takes both and shoots you.


You have two cows.

The government takes both, shoots you and sends the cows to Zurich.


You have two cows.

The government takes both and drafts you into the army.


You have two cows.

The government fines you for keeping two unlicensed farm animals in an apartment.


You have two cows.

All your neighbors decide who gets the milk.


You have two cows.

Your neighbors pick someone who will tell you who gets the milk.


The government promises to give you two cows, if you vote for it.

After the election, the president is impeached for speculating in cow futures. The press dubs the affair "Cowgate", but supports the president. The cow sues you for breach of contract. Your legal bills exceed your annual income. You settle out of court and declare bankruptcy.


You have two cows.

You feed them sheep's brains and they go mad. The government doesn't do anything.


You have two cows.

You feed them human sewage. The government bans British beef as it is unhealthy.


You have two cows.

At first the government regulates what you can feed them and when you can milk them. Then it pays you not to milk them. After that it takes both, shoots one, milks the other and pours the milk down the drain. Then it requires you to fill out forms accounting for the missing cows.


You have two cows.

You sell one and buy a bull. Your herd multiplies, and the economy grows. You retire on the income.


You have two cows.

You sell three of them to your publicly-listed company, using letters of credit opened by your brother-in-law at the bank, then execute a debt/equity swap with associated general offer so that you get all four cows back, with a tax deduction for keeping five cows. The milk rights of six cows are transferred via a Panamanian intermediary to a Cayman Islands company secretly owned by the majority shareholder, who sells the right to all seven cows' milk back to the listed company. The annual report says that the company owns eight cows, with an option on one more. Meanwhile, you kill the two cows because of bad "feng shui".


You have two cows.

The government takes them and denies they ever existed. Milk is banned.


You are associated with (the concept of 'ownership' is a symbol of the phallocentric, warmongering, intolerant past) two differently aged (but no less valuable to society) bovines of non specified gender.

You are torn by feelings of guilt, your psychotherapist recommends a treatment center. You spend six weeks there, paid for by the community health plan, and graduate into Guilty Anonymous.


Wow, dude, there's like...these two cows, man.

Uh, so, like, you have really got to do some of this milk, like, fer shur, it's awesome, man.


You have two giraffes.

The government requires you to take harmonica lessons.


Maybe you've seen this posted elsewhere, but I've not. Not surprisingly, there's a lot of truth in this parody!


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Monday, February 18, 2008

There is hope

I had a very encouraging experience this past Sunday evening. If you read me regularly, you know that I am often very frustrated at the inability/unwillingness of most evangelicals to wrestle through the implications of postmodernity. It sometimes seems that there's no hope beyond radical revolution.

But then I have moments like Sunday night; moments that renew my hope in the ability of Christ's followers to adapt, to think, to change...

I was graciously invited to be the guest speaker at a meeting for the parents of high school students at Blackhawk Christian school. I was impressed that a Christian school even has such a group, let alone that they invited me to speak. [Thanks, Ted; I owe you one!]

As soon as I began brain-storming topics to speak on, I quickly settled on postmodernity. But then came the real question: do I actually use the term "postmodernity" in this speech? After mentally going through my speech both ways, I opted not to use the term.

I'm glad I didn't.

By avoiding the term "postmodern", I was able to speak to this group of parents about the inner windings of their kids' minds (as much as I dare claim that ability). I was able to show them the great importance we (as postmoderns) place on community, environmentalism, multi-generationalism, etc... I was able to talk about the death of metanarrative, and the tremendous opportunity that affords us to share ideas on a level playing field.

The meeting was great. I couldn't have scripted a better response from these parents. We were able to talk in the abstract and the concrete, and I think I helped them. I know they encouraged me.

The best part? After my speech, I took questions from the group. One sweet mother reminded me of the beginning of my speech, when I spoke of the "new set of lenses" that today's younger culture sees the world through. "Do those lenses have a name?", she asked. "Postmodernity", I answered. You could see the gears turning in some of the faces. It was a great moment.

My thanks to Blair, to Ted, and to Blackhawk for making the evening possible. And for those of you that sometimes wonder if Christ's Modern followers will ever pull their heads out of the sand and seriously wrestle with the cultural implications of postmodernity, I offer this post as encouragement.

There is hope.


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Sunday, February 17, 2008

Postmodern films

If you want to see a film that bears many of the marks of postmodernity, I would encourage you to see The Invisible. We watched it last night and I found myself routinely noting the postmodern themes.

So as not to spoil it if you haven't seen it, I'll talk in only broad brush strokes...

One major theme was community. The whole notion of certain people becoming "invisible" in a culture, and the brokenness that creates. The two main characters were truly "invisible" in their own way. Cultural postmodernity's premium on community was well-represented.

Another major theme was spirituality. It's not evident at first, but trust me - it's there. As is typical of postmodernity, the spirituality was of a general sort. Science as metanarrative is rejected with the fundamental premise of the film, too - another aspect of the spirituality latent in the film.

There is much more to be said on this topic, but I'd really rather wait to see if any of you have watched the film. I'd love to hear your take if you have.


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Technical difficulties

Since I started this blog, I've had a number of comments here or there about difficulty making things look as you like. Specifically, a number of you have commented on how to make things show up in italics or bold. More recently, I was asked how to make snazzy little hyperlinks.

If you're not sure how to do these basic html codes, please read on as I try to explain them as simply as I can...

The first thing to know is that codes must be set off in brackets, specifically '<' and '>'. Your internet browser will attempt to read anything you place within those brackets (without the single quote marks, of course) as html code. So, for example:

To make things bold, you use the letter b. (Novel, I know.)

To makes things italicized, you use the letter i.

To underline things, use the letter u.

Precisely, they would look like this:

You are basically turning on the bold (or italics, or whatever) with the first letter enclosed in brackets, then turning it off by using the / with the letter. Make sense?

On most blogs, you can leave comments with these html codes. You'll notice on the comment section of my blog that you are warned that you can only use certain codes. Most blogs are this way.

On to the (only slightly) more complicated process of hyperlinking. Remember, you must enclose everything in brackets. For hyperlinks, you need the following basic format:

In this example, you would replace "website.com" with whatever the precise address of the link is that you wish to create. You would also replace "name" with whatever you want the hyperlink itself to say.

For example, if I wanted to hyperlink to my homepage I could have it say this, or something else, or even something entirely different! (If you hold your mouse over each of these links, you'll notice they all point to my homepage.)

There are plenty of other codes, of course. But generally you can only use the ones I've noted in blog comments. If you're thinking about starting your own blog, you'd do well to google "html codes" and work your way through some of the many tutorials that people far more qualified than I have posted.

Does this help? Any specific questions?


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Saturday, February 9, 2008

Divine humor

Thanks to new reader Buttons for turning me on to this site. Consider it the Christian equivalent to The Onion. I've only just begun to poke around the site, but have found it laugh-out-loud funny thus far. One that's particularly good:


Emerging Church Explores Christology of SpongeBob Squarepants

Pastor Doug Pagitt of Solomon’s Porch slammed the yellow and brown markers onto the whiteboard tray and strutted back to the microphone. “It’s totally obvious. The world that God so loved, for whom Christ died, really is symbolized by that pineapple under the sea.”

More than five hundred leaders from the emerging church conversation gathered last weekend in Earlimart, Calif. to discuss Biblical typology found in the popular cartoon SpongeBob Squarepants.

Author and speaker Spencer Burke was emphatic in his rebuttal to Pagitt. “The proper postmodern hermeneutic, one that gives great space for the meta-narrative, leads us to conclude that the world is typified by Bikini Bottom,” Burke said. “Can’t you see that, Doug? The pineapple under the sea is a symbol of our Father’s house, where Jesus is preparing a place for us.”

Though sharp disagreements arose over which people in the Bible were represented by Squidward Tentacles and Mr. Krabs, most attendees agreed that Patrick Star is a spot-on Simon Peter.


Happy Reading,


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What is beauty?

The question has vexed humanity for generations. Ultimately, most of us come to a position characterized by "beauty is in the eye of the beholder". For most, that's good enough - I have my particular tastes in art and music, you have yours.

For others, that apparently leads down a slippery slope toward "today's anti-Christian worldview"...

That quote is taken from an article by a man I respect a great deal. Gene Edward Veith is a primary contributor to World Magazine, a publication I've been reading for years. I generally appreciate the insight Mr. Veith brings to his articles - you can tell he hasn't been striving merely to meet a deadline. But once in a while he takes his anti-postmodern thinking too far for my comfort. A recent article on the nature of beauty was just such an article.

Here's the pivotal paragraph that sets the battle ground:

Often, Christians reject the claims that truth and morality are relative while agreeing with the postmodernists that beauty is relative. But to think that beauty is nothing more than a subjective preference—unconnected to standards that originate in God Himself—is to buy into a foundational principle of today's anti-Christian worldview.

First, can we please all take a vow to stop using the phrase "buy into" in this way? It's demeaning and doesn't make for good dialogue. It's a hard habit to break (I've been working on it for years!), but worth the effort.

More to the point, the real comparison here is not "Christians" to "postmodernists", but "Moderns" to "Postmoderns". There are Christians of both persuasion, just as one would naturally expect.

Unless, that is, you believe Christianity and Postmodernity are incompatible. That, I think, is Mr. Veith's real point, and one that I wholly reject. But setting this aside for today, let's think about the substance of his contention regarding the nature of beauty.

In the very next paragraph, Mr. Veith makes a somewhat audacious claim:

The Bible tells us to set our minds on "whatever" is "excellent" and "of good report" (Philippians 4:8). Beauty does involve personal taste, but our tastes need discipline. Growing in taste means learning to take pleasure in what is objectively good.

Really? Am I seriously to believe that Paul had in mind music and the arts when he spoke to the Philippians about "excellent" and "of good report" things? The word "excellent" simply means "a virtuous course of thought, feeling or action". It was used by the ancients to describe what we today might call "manly character". Honesty, integrity, self-reliance, respect, responsibility - these are the present day American "virtues". But are they absolutes? Can we objectively define these virtues?

Take honesty, for example. "Honey, do I look fat in these jeans?" - the question no husband ever wants to hear. Depending on your cultural context, the "honest" answer will differ. What one might call honest another might call rude! So one's definition of "honesty" should make room for tact, right? What about when being "honest" causes great and unnecessary harm? What about simple cultural differences? Consider Mexico - if you ask for directions you're likely to be given them ... even tough the person you asked has no idea where you want to go! They consider it rude and socially unacceptable to leave the asker in greater stress than they found her, so they will simply give you false directions as a way of easing your immediate stress level. Wrong? Dishonest? In America, absolutely. In Mexico ... it's hard to say, since I'm not Mexican.

The point is that attempting to take an ancient word with at least a somewhat subjective meaning and force it into a Modern box of "divine objectivity" is unfair at best. There is no slippery slope here, folks. Beauty has always been in the eye of the beholder, and I for one think that's the way God intended it.

The full article is worth the read, so I encourage you to do so if you haven't. But far be it from me to decide for you whether you should consider his writing beautiful or not!


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Thursday, February 7, 2008

Bad news?

If you poke around missional circles very long, one of the threads that bind these folk together (and, incidentally, I consider myself very much one of them) is their understanding of "sharing the Gospel" in today's culture.

Part of the complaint has to do with the difference between Modern and Postmodern understandings of the world in which we live. For example, to the average Modern, the Four Spiritual Laws make a great deal of sense. They're very logical, to the point, and hard to misunderstand.

Postmoderns, on the other hand, find them entirely unconvincing precisely because those very positive qualities to Modern ears make them altogether impersonal to Postmodern ones.

But there's more than that going on...

One of the biggest gripes missional folk have with what is considered "traditional" expressions of the Gospel is that it seems to always start with bad news. Right off the bat, we are told that we must inform people of their status as sinners.

Don't get me wrong - I'm not denying that we are all vile sinners, thoroughly and completely depraved to our core. But why must every "presentation of the Gospel" start with this truth? Consider the following hypothetical conversation between two co-workers who are just now meeting:

Joe: Good to meet you! How long have you been with the company?

Chris: Nice to meet you, too. I've been here about a year now. By the way, is that a picture of your wife there on your desk? Dude, she's ugly!

Now let's pretend in our hypothetical situation that Joe's wife really is hideously ugly. So what? Is this any way to start a conversation with someone? Is it possible he doesn't know she's ugly? Sure. More likely, he knows but has chosen to ignore the truth.

Okay, it's a silly analogy. But I think you get the point. In "polite company" these days it's simply not acceptable to start off a topic of far more importance than the relative beauty of one's wife with such a harshness.

Consider a real example I just witnesses on the telly. Survivor started tonight, and I'll admit to being a fan. So here are these 10 perfect strangers on a beach. They've known each other not even one day, and one walks up to another and says (I kid you not):

"So, your homosexual, right? Or do you prefer 'gay'? I'm not even sure what term to use..."

This lady wasn't trying to be mean. On the contrary, she said it in the nicest possible way. But come on! Is this any way to strike up a conversation?!

Here's all I'm saying: let's not water down the Gospel by trying to deny or hide the total depravity of people. But let's be far more kind, gentle and loving in the way we approach the issue. I'm sitting here running through the examples in the life of Jesus, and I'm struggling to think of a time He "presented the Gospel" anything like we so often do today...

If you followed the so-called Friendship Evangelism methodology back in the day, you might be hearing echoes in your mind. But only to a point, please. I'm not advocating that we befriend people solely and only in an effort to be able to share the Gospel with them. If that's the whole goal of your friendship and they refuse Christ, what then? You likely abandon them and create even greater bitterness in your wake... Aren't we commanded to love like Christ loves? Doesn't He love those that He knows will never accept His sacrifice for them? Doesn't the Father send rain on the just and unjust alike?

Love people because ... just because. Let your conversations about God and Christ flow as naturally as your conversations about a hard day at the office and whether the weather is likely to change soon. And by all means, don't ever start another conversation with "so, you're a wretched and vile sinner completely separated from God ... want to hear more?"


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Sunday, February 3, 2008

Super Bowl

My pick: Patriots over Giants, 38-17.

I'm posting this merely so that - on the off chance I'm right - I can prove I "called the score" before the game started. : )


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Saturday, February 2, 2008

Still trying to define "Postmodern"...

I spend a little time on a particular Christian internet forum now and then. As is typical of these sorts of sites, the topics range all over the map! Just for grins, I thought I'd ask folk what they thought of when they hear the word Postmodern.

If you read this blog often, you know that the response frustrated but did not surprise me.

Though I sometimes think I've beaten this topic into the ground, let me once again attempt to offer some food for thought on the subject. My fundamental premise is that when using the term Postmodern, we must differentiate between what I call Ivory Tower Postmodernity and Cultural Postmodernity...

First, what do I mean by Ivory Tower Postmodernity? I refer to the Ivory Tower of academia. These are the guys who have tenured professorships, know they will never lose their well-paying jobs, and can afford to do nothing but speculate about hypothetical worlds that really can't ever exist in reality. Unfortunately, these guys write books. Even more unfortunately, most people come to believe that what they say represents the norm. So what do they say?

They say that there's no such thing as absolute truth. Period. They can afford to believe this because they don't live in the real world. No one I personally know that identifies with Postmodernity believes in a complete lack of absolute truth. Much more gray than black and white? Yes. But absolutely no absolutes? No.

More to the point, I don't know of a single Postmodern follower of Christ that rejects absolute truth. Again, the list of what we consider absolute is certainly smaller than what other (more Modern) folk hold to, but there's still a list.

Okay, so what do I mean by Cultural Postmodernity? I mean the rubber-meets-the-road, real world cultural understanding of Postmodernity that you'll find in virtually everyone that could be labelled "Postmodern". These folks (and I consider myself one of them) see far less black and white than gray, but still believe in at least some absolutes.

So why do I use the label Cultural Postmodernity to describe myself? There are many reasons, but here are a few of the biggies:

1. I reject the notion that the human mind is capable of ascertaining foundational truth all by itself. (If your taking philosophical notes, this means I reject Foundationalism. I also reject the concept of meta-narrative, because by definition a meta-narrative is supposed to be self-evidently true.)

2. I have much more room in my heart for diversity than those that came before me. For the moment, we'll leave it at that.

3. I am passionately concerned about our environment. I consider myself an Environmentalist, even though I don't believe in human-induced Global Warming.

4. I put great stock in context. There is little that is not influenced by context. What's true for one culture sometimes may or may not be true for another. I could give copious examples of this, but if you've read this far you likely don't need me to.

5. I don't believe linear logic alone is usually the best way to resolve issues. There's a time and a place for it, but very often relationship is more important.

6. I believe God created humans to live in true community. Rugged individualism must die. Dialogue over monologue.


More than trying to define Postmodernity (because you really can't define it in a monologue), my real hope is that having read this post you don't immediately think "he rejects absolute truth!" if ever you hear someone use the term Postmodern. Remember, Cultural Postmodernity is a whole different animal than Ivory Tower Postmodernity.


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