image by sarah mccoy photo

Friday, October 28, 2011

Over the Wall: Part 1 of 2

This is a really thoughtful interview with a gay Christian that I think any Christian could benefit from reading.  Here’s why.  He takes a controversial issue and coolly identifies a Side A and a Side B, both thoughtful theological positions on homosexuality and the Bible.  Ultimately and definitively, I disagree with the writer, Justin.  Even so, by approaching this issue with sincerity and engaging the Christian community with patience and poise, he is bridging a cultural gap between homosexuals and the Church. 

If you know me, you know I don’t buy a “You’re cool, I’m cool, We’re all cool” kind of theology, but the key point of Justin’s message here is that you don’t have to equivocate or water down your doctrine to open dialogue, love and minister to people, or just to listen to someone’s story. 

I think sometimes the Church is content to let the gay community be marginalized because it removes some sticky awkwardness.  But Jesus never avoided sticky.  So without converting to Justin’s particular exegetical stance on the subject of homosexual relationships, I think he addresses a big failing in the Church and offers helpful ways to better engage individuals who have been hurt many times over by the Church and by Christians.

Read the interview here.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

A Halloween Omen

I don't look for signs.  Certainly God can communicate however he likes.  I have even on rare occasions felt a compulsion to do something brave and out of character that I am convinced came from God.  Or I may sometimes think that an opportunity is too perfect not to be from God.  But my tendency is not to concern myself too much with this stuff because ultimately it doesn't matter; God won't send me a private communique beyond the scope of the Bible in its completeness, so I've already got what I need, and more than enough against which to weigh any feeling or inclination I may have.

When I hear about people who rely on extrabiblical signs and vague feelings of peace to guide decision-making, I feel sad.  Like they missed a crucial memo or something.  John Piper feels sad too; to give special honor to a personal, mystical communication is a denial not only of the Bible's completeness, but of its personal nature.  God speaks individually to anyone who reads it.  This is, of course, one of the big differences between God and J.K. Rowling.  As much as I want to be a Hogwarts student, not one of those books was written just for me (and everyone else) by someone who knows me (and everyone else) implicitly.

Piper writes, "The great need of our time is for people to experience the living reality of God by hearing his word personally and transformingly in Scripture. Something is incredibly wrong when the words we hear outside Scripture are more powerful and more affecting to us than the inspired word of God. Let us cry with the psalmist, “Incline my heart to your word” (Psalm 119:36)."

And yet...

I can't resist the hilarity of how much glass I have broken in this week leading up to Halloween.

We haven't broken a glass in years, despite the frequency with which Songbird now uses them.  In two days, I've broken five.  Well, Cook broke one because he was the one who placed the message board precariously.  I broke the second one by knocking a goblet into a bathroom sink in the dark.  Then, today, Gale Force, who can now reach blindly onto countertops, pulled a drying rack full of forks and wine glasses down onto her little barefooted self.  The forks (and Gale Force) survived intact. 

So without in any way robbing the Bible of its thoroughly personal beauty, I'm having this feeeeeeeling, this strong, magical impression.

That I should buy Corelleware, because I'm sure the plates are next.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

To Cut Down a Tree With a Herring, Part 2

You thought I’d forgotten, but no such luck, dear reader.  We’re back with day two of A Leisurely Glance at Logic.  I’ll paraphrase from the website of the writing center at UNC to preface: when making an argument, you need premises that are true, that actually support your conclusion, that are adequate in their totality to support the argument, and that are specific.

Fallacies are the places where your premises or their connection to your main argument fall apart.

Here are two of the most common:

  1. The conclusion drawn from inadequate personal experience.  Like, "Most reputable medical journals and studies have ruled out a link between MMR vaccines and Autism, but my friend's kid showed symptoms after getting a shot, so there MUST be a connection."  Whether or not there is a connection is not the point; carefully designed studies use large samplings and control groups and try to rule out other variables, so you need a lot more evidence than your friend’s gut.  This is a hasty generalization from a small sample, but it’s also a post hoc fallacy, or assuming causation because something happens after something else.

  1. A cruddy syllogism.  A syllogism is the kind of proof where you take one big [true] statement, and then one smaller one, and from them draw a concluding statement.  Like:  All vegetables are food. Corn is a vegetable.  So...Corn is a food.  A cruddy syllogism is one where a false statement mucks up the flow, and renders the conclusion invalid.  Like: All Italians are criminals.  The Wife of Leisure is Italian.  The Wife of Leisure is a criminal.  Now, I may be a criminal, but you wouldn't know it by this logic, because you can hardly prove that all of us Wops are truly living lives of crime.  Also, I’m only half Wop.  There are lots of other ways you can screw up your syllogistic argument, but this is one of the most common, and after all, this is a leisurely approach to logic.
That’s enough for today but for a disclaimer.  I actually love a good generalization.  They are useful and the less sensitive among us recognize that they are often rooted in truth (which is why my thoroughly patriotic Syrian-American friend is not offended when he is often singled out at airports for a pat down.)  But if you know that your conclusion rests on a loose generalization, just put it out there.  “I know not all Italians are criminals, but I still wonder about my neighbor who calls himself Giuseppe the Boot…”  This way you’re covered.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Feeling Blue Over Pink

In my defense, I have had family members who suffered from breast cancer.  I appreciate that generous donations to cancer research may have helped them beat it.  But I have long since reached my pink saturation point.

This month a magazine I read highlighted some of the best of Breast Cancer Literature because it is just so hard to wade through the glut of books on the subject strategically releasing this month.  Believe it or not, one such book talks about how the breast cancer “culture” may actually be hurting more than helping.  I don’t recall why; maybe because the support becomes more trendy than substantive.

Whatever the reason, it made me want to shout, “You have a whole culture! If it’s become such a hindrance, please, do share the love!”  After all, no one needs a field guide to navigate the Tay-Sachs section of Barnes and Noble.

While all of Hollywood and Nashville and the NFL are waving the pink banner, it would be good if the regular joe looked further to those suffering from a multitude of afflictions with less cool-factor and smaller lobbies.  The needs are endless, this and every month.  Here are just a few off the top of my head; a little research will go a long way if you need inspiration.

Tay-Sachs, a sometimes deadly genetic disorder that often affects children.  If you want to help, you can trick or treat or just shoot things in New Jersey this month, bid on stuff with Eric Steinbach and the Browns in Ohio, or adopt a research mouse anytime.  

Rett Syndrome- A disorder of the nervous system that causes regression in hand use and communication in little girls.  There’s a Strollathon and picnic fundraiser this month, right here in SoCal!

Multiple Schlerosis- Autoimmune disease affecting the central nervous system.  There's a double-your-gift event going on now,  or find a bike, mud run or walking event near you.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

To Cut Down a Tree With a Herring

A recurrent theme in my book reviews and posts, especially on education, is my fondness for a crisp logical argument.  This is not to say that I am any kind of master of these arguments, or even that I can always identify the type of reasoning being applied in my reading, but only that when I do spot it, I enjoy it.  A lot.

If you’re going to try to sort out fact and fiction on any topic, you also need to be systematically improving your logic-sleuthing skills.   

Pop Quiz: who knows anything about formal logic?

Well, I know I need a brush-up, so as I study, I’ll add posts to reflect my very first-grade grasp of it all.

To start, let’s just talk about a few common types of fallacies that people make in an argument.  We hear a lot in a day from the media, friends, eavesdropping in coffee shops, and the overgrown hippie holding signs on the street corner.  It’s therefore useful to amass some tools of discernment, if only so you can scoff inwardly and feel really big while you sip your latte.

Logical fallacies fall into two categories.  A formal fallacy is fun because you don’t even need much, if any, knowledge of the subject to spot it.  It’s an error in the way the argument is made that undermines it.  What they’re saying may still be true, but the form doesn’t work.

An informal fallacy involves some issue with the content of the argument.  Like if you quote someone out of context to distort his meaning, the substance of your argument is suspect.

In the next few posts, I’ll give common examples of each type until I get bored or finish a reviewable book.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Sifting Friends from Enemies

This is all the fault of Fox.  While most TV shows post to the internet within a day of airing, Fox waits an entire week.  And Cookie simply cannot wait a week.  And so it was that I was staring at the edges of the laptop screen while Cookie-of-the-IT-Degree flipped rapid-fire through websites trying to find a passable download.

And I saw an ad.

“In Survivor World, will you have friends or frenemies?”

First, I refuse to google Survivor World even to confirm that it is an online game or some such nonsense.  Second, I had two amusing thoughts.  Amusing to me, that is.

Why the current obsession with word melding?  In an era where most teenagers have miniscule vocabularies to begin with, wouldn’t it be better to simply learn some real words?  To bring back evocative, exciting terminology?  Never, when we could have a smashing good time calling couples Brangelina and Bennifer.  I secretly think that when people stop using specific words with specific connotations, their thinking may also lack nuance and sophistication.  But I won’t say that, lest I make some frenemies.

Which brings me to thought #2: is it sad that the two options here are Friend or Frenemy (read: tricksy person who feigns kindness with intent to back-stab)?  Where are the straight-up bad guys?  It would be refreshing if a person who hated me could say so without compunction.  But I’m afraid the social implication of the Survivor World ad is probably spot-on.  We’re a duplicitous people.