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Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category


Natural space is debatable. What is it? Where do we find it? Does it matter? In this advancing world, we sometimes find people forsaking digital connections for the “real thing”. I have sat in classes with students who claim Facebook, Email and Twitter are evil and wrong and unnatural. They say “pick up the phone” instead. Huh.

But, I get it. I love sitting down with my favorite people for a home-cooked meal, a slow night of discovery and laughter. Put on some tea and stay awhile. Even those who despise the idea of conservation and ecological care like the idea of a weekend in the woods, time spent around a fire away from screens.

The argument goes that digitizing interactions of all kinds leads to a more disjointed and inauthentic community. We only really know each other and ourselves in “natural” physical relationships.

I’m not here to argue these feelings: I think they are valid concerns, but, ultimately, short-sighted. That’s not the point. The point is, many of us love and need our technology and, yet, feel somehow drawn to old-fashioned relationships. You know, like in the good old days of Mad Men, when business meetings happened in the same room over a strong gin. Hand shakes, smiles, eyes met.

And then we have our entertainment. The stories and art that drive our desire for connection. The things that “remind us we are alive” and often reveal our deep need for others. The music that reminds us of love. The movies that remind us of desperation. The books that remind us of hope. Many of our art forms are bound up in technology. Not necessarily computers (although most), but instruments, electricity, paintbrushes, tools of various kinds, paper and binding, etc. are all technologies we use to express ourselves (outside of “ourselves”).

Enter Little Dragon. Last Thursday (now many moons ago), they played to a packed house in Fresno at Audie’s Olympic. Tickets were more expensive than usual for a show at Audie’s but Fresno showed up with great excitement. As Little Dragon took the stage led by lead singer Yukimi Nagano, the crowd grew restless with energy. Little Dragon exploded with ambient beats, distorted drums, keys and heavily processed vocals. The drum rhythms (part R&B, part blues) drove the energy as the floor dipped and swayed with enthusiasm. By the time Yukimi sang “’cause we’re a nation of forgetters” repeatedly (“After the Rain” off of their self-titled 2007 album), the entire audience was in the palm of her small hands. She channels Bjork and Karen O for the club kids. Delivers lyrics without a hint of irony, believes in what she does as she plays her tambourine across the stage, twitching and dancing to the sultry tunes pulsating into the room.

Some of the most technology-driven music is the easiest to dance to in clubs across the world. As electronica, hip hop, electronic versions of pop and rock, and DJ’s continue their dominance of the young global music scenes, young (and old) folks are flocking to venues and festivals around the world to shake what their momma gave them. A physical and primal response to music made in a post-physical world.

Little Dragon produces sounds that are anything but “natural”. Heavily produced, electronic and digital, they somehow still connect most with our basic desire to move our bodies, to act in a natural and ancient way: to dance. The frenetic energy and creative sounds are gateways, encouragement to live without the constraints that we usually associate with technology and advancements in society.

The crowd reached its height during the encore. The last song they played was the slower-paced “Twice”. Yukimi encouraged everyone to “keep dancing” even as the crowd slowed to a gentle sway, no less enraptured. As the keys drove the melody and the wrenching vocals kicked in, the crowd hung on every word. The dark tone felt natural after the seductive beats and electronic heaviness that permeated their songs. The delicate lyrics rang true as Little Dragon gently let the crowd down from our high. An age-old tale of love and heartbreak, of misunderstanding and relationships, was used as a pillow to land upon after the wings of more club-friendly jams. Now we have new stories ad questions: what keeps us human in this digital world? How do we connect with each other in authentic ways? Little Dragon’s live performance gave us the possibilities, the courage and the soundtrack to start trying.

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I’ve been cooling my jets. Letting last week’s incident sink in and then out. Such an interesting connection to be made: gender and diet.

It is unfortunate that our dangerous addiction to meat has been declared a “man thing”. We hear it all the time: He’s a meat and potatoes guy, guys BBQ, just watch one Carl’s ridiculous commercials.

In fact, that’s a good place to start. Carl’s Jr has been making stupid-ass commercials for a few years now. At first, more conservatively-minded folk objected to the overt sexuality of their commercials aimed at straight males without brains and now barely a finger is lifted when the grossly oversimplified caricature of masculinity is paraded around in front of (relatively) cheap imitations of an unhealthy and barbarically prepared “all-american burger”.

These commercials are the most obvious pop-culture connection between the deeply flawed understanding of masculinity and the false promise of red meat and fast food.

Before I go further, I should mention that I am aware of my involvement. We are all complicit in this mess, hypocrisy abounds and we have to navigate our own tensions. The system will choke you out; it has a strangle hold on our agency (or does it?). So, judgement is given with a grain of salt and a package or two of ketchup, so to speak.

It is all too easy to recognize the obscene claims that Carls Jr is making about men and what it means to be a man. From scantily clad celebs, to cars, to messy burgers, at the absolute least, we should readily acknowledge the caricature, the falsehood. Of course, not every man like women, of course not every man like lame women rolling around on a soapy car, of course not every man likes to wear his burger, of course not every man can afford burgers, of course not every man has nice biceps or cares to, of course not every man fits so easily into this bullshit understanding that must come with having a penis.

But, I am suggesting something further. The stable sexuality promoted is just as much a lie as the burger being sold. See, the burger that you buy won’t look like the burger pictured. I guarantee no famous female is going to watch you scarfing down that burger and then run over to grant your every wish (the implied message, of course). The idealized “man” is adventurous and our natural spaces are being threatened by the mass production of these grimy slices of heart attack fodder. I know, I know, it’s advertising, but the point is that this meat is not some sort of abstract idea void of connectivity or source, but a once living animal and viable part of our eco-system, the lie is based on lifestyle and source and stability, like the burger (and sexuality) is not somehow derivative. It most definitely is.

It is not simply that this commercial is exploiting a small slice of masculinity and ignoring the rest. That is part of the story. The real problem is that we assume that there exists some center of meaning for gender. I have yet to find this magical place of pure maleness of femaleness. Certainly there are biological differences, but gender seems more tricky: always conditioned, always mediated, always situated.

Our dietary habits are also conditioned, mediated and situated. So, we all eat bacon because it runs slower than us and because God made it with meat. And, men eat bacon in dangerously copious amounts because we do. End of story.

Threatening one of these constructs comes with consequences; threatening both might be too much for the weak of heart. But, ignoring the nature of our experiences and realities is too costly a mistake. The bizarre need to defend one version of gender or diet is evidence enough that some secret is being protected at all costs, some dark secret we should start telling our neighbors and ourselves.

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Recently, Christianity Today announced that the TNIV translation (an updated NIV) was being redone to fix some of the “mistakes” that the editing and translating board had perceived as dangerous and in need of repair.

One of the biggest reasons given was the original TNIV’s gender inclusive approach that had altered the grammar of many passages to include sisters, daughters and other (female) left out people groups.

Clearly, there is a great theological discussion to be had on personhood, equality, gender of God, etc., but my focus here is on the grammatical argument. The idea that these changes have made reading hard, obtuse and that the structure is now “wrong” according to the rules of language fails to truly interact with the reality of our gendered experience.

I’ve been reading Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble recently. An excellent little work that has nothing to do with biblical translation, but has a very powerful passage in the forward about language, grammar and gender.

She says, “moreover, neither grammar nor style are politically neutral… there is nothing radical about common sense. It would be a mistake to think that received grammar is the best vehicle for expressing radical views, given the constraints that grammar imposes upon thought, indeed, upon the thinkable itself” (xix). Her point is clear; if a thought, idea or text is radical it might, indeed must, mess with our common sense and break the rules. It seems that there are few Christians who would argue the radical nature of their precious Scriptures, so why neuter the message by constraining it to the rules of the English language, which is so clearly limited?

Butler continues, “formulations that twist grammar or that implicitly call into question the subject-verb requirements of propositional sense are clearly irritating for some. They produce more work for their readers, and sometimes their readers are offended by such demands. Are those who are offended making a legitimate request for “plain speaking” or does their complaint emerge from a consumer expectation of intellectual life?” (italics mine). To understand the point in our present circumstance: are those offended by the apparent literary heresy of the grammatical formulations of equality found in the TNIV really concerned with easy reading or are their interests in something much more perverse, the preservation of sexist orders and attitudes? Using gender inclusive language should be a given, should it not? Personally, I see women everywhere I go and I refer to them as such, not as brothers and fathers and men. Let me remind you, we are not talking about pronouns for God, but for the community of believers.

She goes on to remind us of Richard Nixon’s “perfectly clear” lie and levels questions at the idea of clarity: “Who devises the protocols of “clarity” and whose interests do they serve? What is foreclosed by the insistence on parochial standards of transparency as requisite for all communication? What does “transparency” keep obscure?”

In this case, the “transparency” is keeping a deeply held fear or dismissal (or both) of women obscure. For some reason the Evangelical tradition still does not widely ordain women and now the TNIV is reverting back to ignoring their existence in (some of) the biblical text. When understood in the large scope this is deeply disturbing.

This critique is incredibly pressing for the Christian community, will we continue to be known for archaic ways of thinking and speaking about one another? Or will we allow the true radical nature of the life of Jesus to trump, maybe someday transform, our language rules and embrace ways of loving others better?

When news broke earlier this week, most of my friends from Fuller (the largest Evangelical Seminary in the world) were incredibly disappointed. I am not promoting some crazy liberal agenda, this is a reasonable understanding of modern life and the Bible. The change the TNIV has announced is the continued support of a dangerous patriarchal order that undermines the message of peace, hope and love that Christians claim to live and preach.

I happen to like grammar; I use (mostly) correct grammar in my writing and speech. But, a revolution of the mind starts with our language and we must heed Butler’s call to seek radical texts that are beyond the rules of language.

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