Category Archives: Intense

Meaning, inequality, sociology and English majors…

happen

  • Such a sweet cartoon about the meaning of questions and questioning meaning 
  • Really useful World Bank tool developed by Deon Filmer. It allows you to easily get graphs and tables on educational attainment and completion for a variety of countries.
  • SACMEQ III (2007) country reports have finally been finalized and are now available for download on the SACMEQ website
  • Angus Deaton writing in the Lancet weighs in on the fight between Sen and Bhagwati by comparing their two new books. Short article and worth the read.
  • The Rise and Consequences of Inequality in the US” – Krueger’s 2012 address to the Council of Economic Advisers. Worth a read. In case you were wondering how unequal South Africa’s income is distributed, the richest 10% of South Africans earn 58% of total income, the poorest 50% earn 8% of total income, and the poorest 10% earn 0.5% of total income (from this 2012 World Bank report on inequality of opportunity in SA).
  • The latest edition of the British Journal of the Sociology of Education is on “Education and Social Mobility” – some interesting stuff in there. I’m glad the sociologists are seeing the light as far as empirical research is concerned. One quote from the intro by Brown, Reay & Vincent: “The mass of research on student identities, aspirations and experiences of school, college and university has been overlooked, partly because it is primarily based on qualitative rather than quantitative methods of data collection. While this points to a weakness in mainstream mobility studies it also points to a failure of the sociology of education to engage in broader debates around intergenerational mobility, notwithstanding its engagement with wider debates on social inequalities and social justice. It also raises questions as to whether the next generation of education researchers will have the training in quantitative methods and techniques to engage in future mobility studies” (p.638).
  • A. H. Halsey has similar sentiments when he says that “Conflicts between advocates of quantitative and qualitative methods still rage in sociology. I can claim to be among the pioneer supporters of quantitative methods but also to have been friendly towards qualitative work. Nevertheless, the neglect of statistical training still seems to me to be a barrier, not only to sociological understanding but also to the supply of competent teachers of the subject
  • Quote of the week by Adam Gopnik “So: Why should English majors exist? Well, there really are no whys to such things, anymore than there are to why we wear clothes or paint good pictures or live in more than hovels and huts or send flowers to our beloved on their birthday. No sane person proposes or has ever proposed an entirely utilitarian, production-oriented view of human purpose. We cannot merely produce goods and services as efficiently as we can, sell them to each other as cheaply as possible, and die. Some idea of symbolic purpose, of pleasure-seeking rather than rent seeking, of Doing Something Else, is essential to human existence. That’s why we pass out tax breaks to churches, zoning remissions to parks, subsidize new ballparks and point to the density of theatres and galleries as signs of urban life, to be encouraged if at all possible. When a man makes a few billion dollars, he still starts looking around for a museum to build a gallery for or a newspaper to buy. No civilization we think worth studying, or whose relics we think worth visiting, existed without what amounts to an English department—texts that mattered, people who argued about them as if they mattered, and a sense of shame among the wealthy if they couldn’t talk about them, at least a little, too. It’s what we call civilization.” From the New Yorker article “Why teach English?

 

You cannot kill us all.

“If you want to go to war . . . I must be honest and admit that we cannot stand up to you on the battlefield.  We  don’t  have  the resources. . . . But you must remember two things. You cannot win because of our numbers; you cannot kill us all. And you cannot win because of the international community. They will rally to our support and they will stand with us.” – Nelson Mandela speaking to a group of Afrikaner generals. 

Sparks 1996.  Tomorrow Is  Another  Country:  The  Inside  Story  of  South Africa’s Road to Change. University of Chicago Press.

Rationale for Apartheid…

“It was but yesterday that the Afrikaners wrested from British impe-

rial occupation the right to be a nation, to be independent in part-

nerships with their countrymen of British stock. And today, with

this  battle  that  is  all  of  Afrikaner  history  hardly  fought,  the

demand comes that they submit to a new imperialism, not this

time to the weapons of Europe, but to the numbers of Africa. The

answer, not unnaturally, is no. Unlike the English in India and the

Dutch in Indonesia, the Afrikaner has nowhere else to go. For him

there is no Britain and no Holland to return to; for him no central

shrine of national existence to survive the death of the outposts.

On the soil of Africa he, and with him his history, culture and lan-

guage, stay or perish.” –  Schalk Pienaar

Source: Sparks, Allister. 1990. The Mind of South Africa. Boston: Little, Brown p208

In Fiske and Ladd 2004 “Elusive Equity” – the book is downloadable for free here

 

‘Nuclear Man’

“From time to time a man enters into your life who, by his appearance, his behavious and his words, intimates in a dramatic way the condition of modern man. Such a man was Peter for me. He came to ask for help, but at the same time he offered a new understanding of my own world! Peter is twenty-six years old. His body is fragile; his face, framed in long blond hair, is thin with a city pallor. His eyes are tender and radiate a longing melancholy. His lips are sensual, and his smile evokes an atmosphere of intimacy. When he shakes hands he breaks through the formal ritual in such a way that you feel his body as really present. When he speaks, his voice assumes tones that ask to be listend to with careful attention.

As we talk, it becomes clear that Peter feels as if the many boundaries that give structure to life are becoming increasingly vague. His life seems a drifting over which he has no control, a life determined by many known and unknown factors in his surroundings. The clear distinction between himself and his milieu is gone and he feels that his ideas and feelings are not really his; rather, they are brought upon him. Sometimes he wonders: “What is fantasy and what is reality?” Often he has the strange feeling that small devils enter his head and create painful and anxious confusion. He also does not know whom he can trust and whom not, what he shall do and what not, why to say “yes” to one and “no” to another. The many distinctions between good and bad, ugly and beautiful, attractive and repulsive, are losing meaning for him. Even to the most bizarre suggestions he says: “Why not? Why not try something I have never tried? “Why not have a new experience, good or bad?”

In the absence of clear boundaries between himself and his milieu, between fantasy and reality, between what to do and what to avoid, it seems that Peter has become a prisoner of the now, caught in the present without meaningful connections with his past or future. When he goes home he feels that he enters a world that has become alien to him. The words his parents use, their questions and concerns, their aspirations and worries, seem to belong to another world, with another language and another mood. When he looks into his future everything becomes one big blur, an impenetrable cloud. He finds no answers to why he lives and where he is heading. Peter is not working hard to reach a goal, he does not look forward to the fulfillment of a great desire, nor does he expect that something great or important is going to happen. He looks into empty space and is sure of only one thing: If there is anything worthwhile in life it must be here and now.

I did not paint this portrait of Peter to show you a picture of a sick man in need of psychiatric help. No, I think Peter’s situation is in many ways typical of the condition of modern men and women. Perhaps Peter needs help, but his experiences and feelings cannot be understood merely in terms of individual psychopathology. They are part of the historical context in which we all live, a context which makes it possible to see in Peter’s life the signs of the times, which we too recognise in our own life experiences, What we see in Peter is a painful expression of the situation of what I call ‘nuclear man.’

…Nuclear man is a man who has lost naive faith in the possibilities of technology and is painfully aware that the same powers that enable man to create new lifestyles carry the potential for self-destruction…

…Only when man feels himself responsible for the future can he have hope or despair, but when he thinks of himself as the passive victim of an extremely complex technological bureaucracy, his motivation falters and he starts drifting from one moment to the next, making life a long row of randomly chained incidents and accidents.

When we wonder why the language of traditional Christianity has lost its liberating power for nuclear man, we have to realize that most Christian preaching is still based on the presupposition that man sees himself as meaningfully integrated with a history in which God came to us in the past, is living under us in the present, and will come to liberate us in the future.

…A preaching and teaching still based on the assumption that man is on his way to a new land filled with promises, and that his creative activities in this world are the first signs of what he will see in the hereafter, cannot find a sounding board in a man whose mind is brooding on the suicidal potentials of his own world…Obviously the level of awareness and visibility is different in different people, but I hope you will recognize in your own experiences and the experiences of your friends some of the traits which are so visible in Peter’s life style. And this recognition might also help you to realize that Christianity is not just challenged to adapt itself to a modern age, but is also challenged to ask itself whether its unarticulated suppositions can still form the basis of its redemptive pretensions.”

Henri Nouwen ‘The Wounded Healer”

Sunday best

Something that struck me this morning is the hypocrisy in much of the current charismatic church. We ridicule traditional churches who dress up in suits and ties – ‘Sunday best’ – to impress everyone, yet we have our own brand of ‘Sunday best’ – the caricatures of our lives. We paint these wonderful pictures of strength, success and happiness for everyone to see, but whether or not they are true is immaterial. This seemingly small flaw in our churches is so nefarious that we should be repenting ad nauseum. God help us!

I include three things: the first is an excerpt from ‘What’s So Amazing About Grace?’ and the second and third are lyrics from two profound songs:

1-

“A prostitute came to me in wretched straits, homeless, sick, unable to buy food for her two-year old daughter. Through sobs and tears, she told me she had been renting out her daughter – two years old!- to men interested in kinky sex. She made more renting out her daughter for an hour than she could earn on her own in a night. She had to do it, she said, to support her drug habit. I could hardly bear hearing her sordid story. For one thing, it made me legally liable – I’m required to report cases of child abuse. I had no idea what to say to this woman.

At last I asked if she had ever thought of going to a church for help. I will never forget the look of pure, naive shock that crossed her face. “Church!” she creid. “Why would I ever go there? I was already feeling terrible about myself. They’d just make me feel worse.”

*From Phillip Yancey’s excellent book ‘What’s So Amazing About Grace?

2-

CASTING CROWNS
“Stained Glass Masquerade”

Is there anyone that fails
Is there anyone that falls
Am I the only one in church today feelin’ so small

Cause when I take a look around
Everybody seems so strong
I know they’ll soon discover
That I don’t belong

So I tuck it all away, like everything’s okay
If I make them all believe it, maybe I’ll believe it too
So with a painted grin, I play the part again
So everyone will see me the way that I see them

Are we happy plastic people
Under shiny plastic steeples
With walls around our weakness
And smiles to hide our pain
But if the invitation’s open
To every heart that has been broken
Maybe then we close the curtain
On our stained glass masquerade

Is there anyone who’s been there
Are there any hands to raise
Am I the only one who’s traded
In the altar for a stage

The performance is convincing
And we know every line by heart
Only when no one is watching
Can we really fall apart

But would it set me free
If I dared to let you see
The truth behind the person
That you imagine me to be

Would your arms be open
Or would you walk away
Would the love of Jesus
Be enough to make you stay

3- 

Jason Gray – The Golden Boy And The Prodigal Lyrics

 There are two sides to every person

Like the two sides of a dime
Heads or tails it depends upon
Who’s watching at the time
Though I hate to say it
Mine is no exception
One part is the prodigal
The other part: deception

Like the prince and the pauper
Like Jacob and his brother
Each hide a different heart
Each a shadow of the other
Me and my doppelganger
Both share the same blood
One I have hated
The other have I loved

One of them’s the Golden Boy
The man I’d like to be I show him off in the parades
For all the world to see
The other is much weaker
He stumbles all the time
The source of my embarrassment
He’s the one I try to hide

The Golden boy is made of straw
His finest suit will surely burn
His vice is the virtue
That he never had to earn
The prodigal’s been broken
And emptied at the wishing well
But he’s stronger for the breaking
With a story to tell

I’m not easy with confessions
It’s hard to tell the truth
But I have favored the golden boy
While the other I’ve abused
And he takes it like a man
Though he’s longing like a child
To be loved and forgiven
And share the burden for awhile

So take a good look in the mirror
Tell me who you see
The one who Jesus died for
Or the one you’d rather be
Can you find it in your heart
To show mercy to the one
The Father loved so much
That he gave his only son…

Spiritual Audit

During a recent preach my mind started to wander onto a different wavelength. Usually I force myself to stay focussed or (if it’s really bad) start some Scripture reading, but this time I let my thoughts get some speed. I did this because it felt right, it felt important, and the questions which I wrote down (see below) seemed penetrating and revealing – things I try not to brush off easily.

Basically, it occurred to me  that companies have their books audited once a year, but we Christians hardly ever audit our spiritual lives with the same rigor, and that is if we audit them at all! A financial audit is defined as ‘An unbiased examination and evaluation of the financial statements of an organization’. Similarly, I would define a spiritual audit as ‘An unbiased examination and evaluation of your spiritual life’. I hate airy-fairy terms, which invite confusion and speculation, so let me define what I mean by the terms ‘spiritual life’. My spiritual life consists of all those factors that affect me spiritually. When I ask how my spiritual life is doing I’m asking if I am spiritually healthy now (the present), and if the way that I am living my life now is setting me up for future success (the future). Because the physical and the spiritual cannot be separated (for example it would be impossible to split my spirit from my body) – we must necessarily include physical things in the spiritual audit. How I use and manage my time and money have direct implications on my spiritual health. It’s debatable whether that link is causal or if, instead, the way that I use my time and money is simply symptomatic of my existing state of spiritual health. Something to think about but I won’t elaborate on it here.

So I thought of a bunch of questions. The answers to these questions, and the way we answer them (how long it takes, if we get defensive, if we think of excuses etc.) is an indication of the state of our spiritual lives. I wrote this list for myself first and foremost (although I’ve included some questions that obviously don’t apply to me (like for husbands and wives). This is for now, but also for the future. The questions (and the realities they reveal) do not have an expiry date – the factors that affect our spiritual lives may change slightly in shape or form, but their broad outline remains unchanged. So here is my list…if you also want to answer them, take a minute and commit yourself to answering in total truth. I solemnly swear to tell myself the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God! {and on that note, please do help me God!}

Spiritual Audit

GENERAL

  •  Are there any serious disappointments (personal, professional, and spiritual/church) in your life that you have not dealt with?
    • What are they?
    • Why haven’t you dealt with them?
  • Do you prioritise your health? Especially in terms of exercise and diet?

Some statements: (1=strongly disagree, 10=100% agree)

  • I am where I thought I would be at ___ (insert current age)
  • If all areas of my life (especially private) where made public I would not feel ashamed.
  • I am quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry (James 1).
  • I willingly submit to my church leaders with joy.
  • I regularly take time out to see the bigger picture.
  • Unbelievers have a big influence on me
  • I have a big influence on unbelievers
  • (for wives) I willingly submit to my husband with joy
    • I understand and support my husband in ways that show my support for Christ (Msg)
  • (for husbands) I willingly lay down my life for my wife, and do it with joy
    • I go all out in my love for my wife (Msg)
  • (If married) I regularly affirm my spouse verbally (in private and in public)
  • (If married) I regularly take time out to spend with my spouse and see the bigger picture
  • (If married) I encourage, uplift and invest in my spouse
  • (If married) I am sometimes harsh with my spouse
  • (If married) I often pray with my spouse

 RELATIONSHIPS/PEOPLE

  •  Are there any unresolved relationship issues that you have with anyone? (believers or unbelievers)
    • If so, have you done everything in your power to rectify that relationship?
    • If you haven’t, why not?
  • How many meaningful and deep relationships do you have with people in your church?
    • Are you making new meaningful and deep relationships?
  • How many meaningful and deep relationships do you have with people outside your church? (especially unsaved).
    • Are you making new meaningful and deep relationships?

Some statements: (1=strongly disagree, 10=100% agree)

  • I often tell my friends how much I appreciate them, and what I appreciate about them.
  • I often tell my family how much I appreciate them, and what I appreciate about them.
  • I make an effort to be friends with people even if I don’t naturally ‘click’ with them.
  • I really care that unbelievers become saved.
  • I prioritize people above everything else in my life (except God)

 TIME

  • What are the three most time-consuming activities in your week?
    • Are they legitimate uses of your time?

Some statements: (1=strongly disagree, 10=100% agree)

  •  I am very disciplined with the way I spend my time.
  • I sleep too much.
  • I am happy with how much dedicated time I spend with God each day.
  • I have a routine that I stick to each week/day.
  • I often make time to spend with people.
  • If someone judged my priorities based on how I spend my time, I think that would be an accurate reflection.

FINANCIAL

  • CS Lewis said ‘If we live at the same level of affluence as others who have our level of income, we are probably giving away too little’. Am I living at the same level of affluence as others (unbelievers) who have my level of income? Am I giving away enough? (what is enough??)
  • Are you currently in debt (other than for a car or house)?
  • Do you spend money before you earn it?
  • Would you say that you are financially responsible?
  • Have all your financial dealings in the past year been entirely above reproach?

Some statements: (1=strongly disagree, 10=100% agree)

  • I believe God would approve of the way I spend my money.
  • I never envy rich people.
  • I feel less attached to money than I did a year ago.
  • I often give more respect to rich people than poor people.
  • Sometimes I think that my problems would go away if I had more money.
  • I think God will bless me financially if I sin less.
  • I often give money to the poor.
  • I am disciplined with my money.
  • I think the poor are poor because they are lazy or don’t have a good work ethic.
  • I think the poor is more the church’s responsibility rather than my responsibility.
  • I am very generous.
  • If someone judged my priorities based on how I spend my money, I think that would be an accurate reflection.

SPIRITUAL STUFF

  • What are your spiritual gifts? (1 Cor 12:1 & Rom 12:6-8)
  • Do you exercise your spiritual gifts? Are you blessing the Church by exercising your gifts?
  • Do you serve in some way in your local church?

Some statements: (1=strongly disagree, 10=100% agree)

  • I think my dreams are important because God can speak to me through dreams.
  •  I can feel (in my spirit) the presence of the Holy Spirit.
  • I frequently doubt my spiritual giftings.
  •  I am completely satisfied with my spiritual progress in the last year
  •  I am definitely less proud / arrogant / greedy / selfish / lustful / insecure / angry / depressed  than I was last year. (go through each one)
  •  I am definitely more patient / generous / loving / joyful / kind / gentle / self-controlled / humble / grateful / than I was last year. (go through each one)
  • I have a healthy prayer life.
On a scale of 1-10 (where 10 is excellent and 1 is dismal) how would you rate your spiritual life on the whole?
***THE END***
I think I might ask Oli if we can do this at Lifegroup sometime so any suggestions about questions to add or delete are welcome!

To the Excellencies and officials of Europe…

‘To the Excellencies and officials of Europe: We suffer enormously in Africa. Help us. We have problems in Africa. We lack rights as children. We have war and illness, we lack food…We want to study, and we ask you to help us to study so we can be like you, in Africa.”

-Message found on the bodies of Guinean teenagers Yaguine Koita and Fode Tounkara, stowaways who died attempting to reach Europe in the landing gear of an airliner