I am a self-professed ideologue. I like big ideas, theories, systems, and meta-narratives. As it relates to parenting, I like the thought of my kids learning Latin and Greek in elementary school, focusing on the great texts of western civilization, and having a curriculum that tracks with the "classical" Trivium. All good stuff. I like it and we're pursuing it by putting our kids in a local Classical Christian school.
Problem is, raising and educating good kids is not about third declensions and Homer - or even about learning a certain catechism.
In "The Tipping Point," Malcom Gladwell points out several studies on parenting that show "peer groups" turn out to be the most significant contributor to behavior and attitudes in our development - over and against "nature" or "nurture." He doesn't discount the role of genetics or of family environment, but points to studies of twins and non-twins that demonstrate that our peers are the biggest influence on our trajectory into adulthood. I was fascinated to learn that kids in bad / broken homes but good neighborhoods did well into adulthood, and vice versa. If you grow up in a strong family, but you fall into the wrong crowd and are surrounded by bad examples the risk of peril is much higher.
I don't think this is quite as simple as the "socialization" argument that anti-homeschoolers make. The socialization argument seems to be more about protecting kids from geekdom. Gladwell's point is bigger than that. The point is that we are communal beings and we will adopt the standards of the community we find ourselves in - or want to be a part of.
At one level, this is not a big surprise. We all know that "bad company corrupts good character." And yet... for so many ideologues like myself, we need to think very hard about what lengths we go to pursue certain educational goals while potentially isolating our kids from the community they NEED to have with their own peers. This is not easy, as many readers will readily acknowledge. We can't let our kids roam the neighborhood anymore. Public schools are overrun with children raised by the State. Little leagues are used as incubators for professional atheletes. Finding peer groups for our children is not an easy task at all.
As my children grow older, I know that I need to focus more on this "tipping point" in the lives of my boys. I may have to sacrifice some of my educational / catechetical ideals to pursue what they need in a peer group. After all, our kids are not ideas.
As you may have noticed, I've been reading a couple of books by Malcolm Gladwell, specifically, "The Tipping Point" and "Blink." His working thesis in both books is that the major movers in behavior and thought are not grand / macro schemes and theories, but small catalysts and subconscious reactions. Both are fascinating reads that I commend to you all.
I have to confess that I tend to agree with him - and yet I find his project unsettling. I've always been a big-picture / from 50,000 feet kind of guy. I've always leaned towards Gestalt, but Gladwell is shattering that lens. Instead of trying to see the totality of something to assess it, I need to look for smaller clues at a much lower level.
The implications of this are huge in business / marketing, theology, raising my kids, and pretty much every other area I operate. Making the switch from the macro-strategic to the micro-tactical is going to take awhile - and it scares me because I have always found comfort in meta-narratives and integrative frameworks.
Next post will be on how this is impacting my view of parenting. Stay tuned...
I was once taught that there are three levels of theological error - technical error, serious error, and fatal error. (These categories may not be the most helpful, but we'll use them for the moment.) So for example, someone who confuses God's aseity with His ubiquity is making a technical error that is simple and definitional with little or no consequence. However, someone who believes that drinking alcohol is always immoral for everyone is in serious danger of being unnecessarily divisive and legalistic. It is theological error with serious consequences.
Unfortunately, distinguishing serious error from fatal error is really tricky. How much theological error is too much? Can you reject God's immutability in favor of "process theology" and be a Christian? Serious or fatal? How about a mechanistic understanding of the sacraments? Serious or fatal? How about being a universalist? Serious or fatal? The list goes on and on.
In my dotage I am much more reticent to identify fatal error in someone who heartily affirms the Trinitarian and historical-Biblical-theological tenents of the Nicene Creed - even if they aren't familiar with the creed(s) at all. Heck, I think you could potentially strip-down what it takes to be a Christian even more. Hebrews 11:6 reads, "...because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him." Now clearly, Hebrews teaches a robust understanding of Christianity and the kind of faith that it entails. And yet... faith is simple and should not be overly complicated with theological nuance. Yes, we should pursue orthodoxy and Christian maturity, but we should be very cautious about citing fatal error in those who are simply immature and / or ill-taught.
I once had the opportunity to spend three hours with the Reformed theologian, John Gerstner. I asked him, "Is believing in the tenents of the Apostles' Creed enough to be a Christian?" He became very animated and said, "No! Not anymore!" He went on to say that the early creeds only dealt with controversies of the early church - there have been many important issues since then that simply must be affirmed and / or denied. I agree that there have been many issues that need to be wrestled with, but I would put almost all of them in the category of serious error and not fatal error.
Perhaps the reason for my reticence is that I am fearful of my own error(s) - and trusting and hoping for mercy now and in judgment. I willl be shown mercy as I show mercy, so I am in no hurry to condemn error as fatal if there is any hope or room for diagnosing serious error.
Is this not the practical outworking of "sola gratia?" How can those who hold to this be so quick to cite errors as fatal? Perhaps I am just a liberal afterall...
I just read this, and felt compelled to give my own "white-anglo-evangelical-quasi-independent-male" perspective to the contrary. Voting for Obama is a serious mistake because:
Abortion - If there is ever a chance for Roe v. Wade to be overturned, it won't be with Obama. The greatest moral tragedy of our age will continue under his administration and Supreme Court appointments. True, a vote for McCain is no guarantee that Roe will be overturned, but let's at least get clear on the odds.
Poverty / Prosperity - Government doesn't create wealth. It can and does redistribute wealth ala subsidies and entitlements, but it doesn't create it. I don't think Obama understands this - at all. His policies will only make it harder for the poor to break into the middle-class.
Iraq - Obama's not going to pull out of Iraq until we're good and ready, and we all know it. We can't afford to leave a vacuum for Iran, Syria, and the rest to wade into. It sounds great to say he'll end it, but we're in for the long-haul and we all know it.
European Allies - Has anyone noticed that France elected conservative pro-American Sarkozy? Sure, Tony Blair was tossed-out, but that's no real surprise. What are we really concerned about here? That Europeans won't buy iPods? This whole angle is completely overblown.
Education - Obama is a pro-establishment, pro-teacher's union guy. Need I say more? Our system is totally broken and can only be fixed by free-market tools like vouchers to promote choice and competition.
I'm going to bed now, but I just had to respond to that blog post. It just blows my mind.
The word, "credit," comes from the Latin, "credere," which means, "belief / trust." To extend someone credit - or to lend money is to trust someone to pay it back. Our financial system is based on a belief that people will honor their commitments and fulfill their debts. America's "credit crisis" is therefore a crisis of trust and belief in our ability to make good on our financial obligations. Banks don't trust enough to lend to one another or to consumers, and consumers don't trust banks to safeguard their deposits. It is a meltdown of good faith across the system.
The background mechanics of our financial system have become very complex and are beyond the scope of this blog to untangle. However, I think we can wrestle with the foundational principles that are being exposed by the current credit crunch. Quite simply, personal responsibility and professional ethics have vanished in the face of greed. Lenders have extended too much easy credit on homes and unsecured debts because the rates of return look unbelievably rich. Getting 10% on a sub-prime mortgage or 15% on credit card debt looks like a great business to be in! Consumers have decided that failure to pay their debts back is no big deal because after all, the banks are gouging them anyway. So what if I don't pay my credit card?
Even though this doesn't characterize our whole system or even most of it - small problems have big implications because our financial system is so interdependent and over-leveraged. Our big toe is a small part of our body, but if the infection spreads to our leg, amputation and / or death may result. Time to stop with the creams and go to a major course of antibiotics. Kill the infection and make sure the patient takes care of his feet from now on.
I believe the bailouts of recent days were probably necessary and that a certain level of regulation is absolutely in order. No argument here. However, no regulation can fix the root issues of personal responsibility, professional ethics, and greed. Those are problems government CAN'T and WON'T solve. Our free-market system is utterly dependent on the "good faith" and trust of its participants. If our culture continues to drift towards Godless secularism, this will only continue to happen on a larger scale. The American capitalist experiment is ultimately dependent on the morality of its culture. As with so many issues, it is an issue of "credere." It is our collective crisis of faith.
Anyone who knows me knows that my positions on any given subject tend to morph over time. We're not usually talking about wholesale changes, but definitely the tendency to drift from hard-and-fast to loose-and-open. The most recent and radical example of this is my position on using "contemporary" worship music in church.
You have to first understand that I grew up playing classical piano and taking enough music theory to be a relatively hard-core aesthetic elitist. I did some varisty sports in high school, but most of my extra-curricular energies were spent in choirs and such. Don't get me wrong, I like The Doobie Brothers, Sting, James Brown, etc., but have generally thought of certain genres as being too "amateurish" and individualistic for throne room worship. Enough of the I, IV, V, chord progression already.
While I still think a lot of pop Christian music is amateurish, overly individualistic, lacking in content, sappy, etc., I have had several revelations. First, most of the hymnody in the Presbyterian-Reformed tradition is crusty, stale, boring, unsingable, overly individualistic, and plain bad music. Sure, there is good stuff that we should hang on to and perpetuate. But a lot of the stuff "traditional" / "liturgical" churches try to sing is just literally stuck in its own time-bound culture. In American Presbyterianism, most of the hymnody comes from the glory days of Presbyteriansim about 100-200 years ago. It may have been the high-water mark of the tradition in America, but its failure to flex with the culture is a symptom of its disease - and a reason for its demise.
Let me try to explain. One of the reasons "Evangelical" churches using pop music are bigger and more active than traditional "Reformed" churches is because their music is culturally accessible. More people would come to and grow into liturgical and Reformed churches if they could connect with the music. Visitors and neophytes simply cannot digest an anachronistic 4-point harmony written in 1820 with an organ or lame piano in the background. This becomes a huge barrier to them dealing with the ministry of word and sacrament. I challenge you. Go to the average traditional worship service and contrast it with a bigger Evangelical church with a "band." I GUARANTEE you that the worshippers in the Evangelical service are more joyful, engaged, and emotive than folks in Reformed churches. Guarantee it.
We have to get over the impulse that pop music or even jazz in church is somehow beneath God. Yes, we should be intentional and strive for excellence, but no genre has a corner on holiness or propriety. It takes wisdom to discern what is out of bounds, but it also takes wisdom to know what can be included for the sake of edification. Simplistic thinking about this matter will not serve the church well.
As for me, I've joined the band at church on an intermittent basis. Hard to believe, but true. It is stretching, but a lot of fun and a blessing.
Stop! Don't get angry with me yet. This is meant to be provocative. I will acknowledge upfront that Jesus is NOT a Republican or Libertarian. Jesus is The Monarch, and is not partisan - or even a free market capitalist for that matter. Heck, I am a quasi-theocrat relative to most American Christians these days...
Okay, we have that out of the way. Let's get to my quandary here. I have a lot of evangelical friends and acquaintances who are Democrats. I get it, but I have to confess that I don't "get it." I empathize with the desire for a "new" morality that is not solely defined by abortion, but includes issues of social justice, poverty, and mercy to those in need. I increasingly understand that Republicans can be unprincipled, corrupt, and selfish jerks with no compassion or wisdom. Being identified with talking-heads like Rush, Hannity, and Coulter can be a little rough sometimes because of the lack of nuance. Being a Republican is not the answer I am proposing.
However, I just don't "get" how an evangelical person can be a committed or principled Democrat - or even vote Democrat for that matter. Let's put two issues on the table. First, abortion. It is murder, plain and simple. The Democratic platform is committed to allowing infanticide. How can a party or platform every truly be committed to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness with murder at the base of its platform? I just can't get over it. We're talking 10 commandments here, not affirmative action. Just plain and simple love thy neighbor stuff. How can a Christian vote for someone who will advocate the perpetuation of this criminal behavior?
Second, it seems to me that Democrats are basically Statists. They look to the State as a pseudo-messianic entity that solves our individual and collective ills. That blows me away in light of Scripture, history, and common sense. Social justice and mercy flow from the Kingdom of Christ, not a secular government, right? Yeah, yeah - common grace, blah, blah. You know what I mean. Is the secular State going to eradicate poverty and make everyone healthy, wealthy, and wise? Is that its role? Can a secular entity of any kind accomplish that? It just seems to me that Democrats unScripturally, ahistorically, and irrationally look to the State for WAY more than they should. Republicans may pay lip-service to limited government, but at least it is part of their platform.
I could go on of course, but that is my dilemma. Help me here.
This whole election cycle is even more interesting than I thought it would be. I still think Obama will probably pull it off, but McCain is going to make it much tougher than I ever thought possible. I had the opportunity to attend the Rick Warren / Saddleback forum two weeks ago, and McCain was surprisingly and undeniably strong at that appearance. He won over many conservative skeptics that evening and left at least some liberals shaken. I can say this because I was sitting around a handful of Obama supporters who kept looking over at me during McCain's part with a certain befuddled shock. They saw that McCain was a formidable and even likable opponent.
But on to more important matters - why would McCain pick Palin? I believe McCain acted according to his maverick leadership style and decided to reframe the debate around "reform" instead of "experience." If he would have picked a Tom Ridge type of character, the debate would have been about experience (McCain) vs. change (Obama). McCain clearly believes that this is a losing framework. In this political climate, change / reform is what independent voters are looking for. Experience in politics can work against you if it ties you to the status quo. McCain distanced himself from that argument by bringing on a VP that would focus the issue around who could bring real reform to Washington.
I think viewing Palin as cheap pandering to Hillary supporters is a simplistic half-truth. On the one hand, yes, McCain is targeting as many swing Democrats as possible. On the other hand, Palin is no Hillary. The personal differences between Palin and Hillary are enormous. I don't even know where to begin. 5 kids. Guns. Basketball. Beauty Queen. Governor. Ideological conservative all the way. This is not simple pandering, folks. No way. This is a bold way of reframing the issues and the identities that America has to choose from.
The election is riding on a razor's edge now, and the better campaigners and debaters will win. I have to give Obama a slight advantage, but not much. The Palin choice makes a lot of sense... And check-out the McCain ad after the Democratic Convention. Genius.