Family


Focus on the Family recently published a sixteen page hypothetical letter from “A Christian in 2012” that “looks back” on the first four years of the Obama presidency. The whole thing reminds me of how ancient apocalyptic works, like the Book of Revelation; paint up a vision of the future that induces mass-panic with the express aim of persuading readers to resist to the end now, before it’s too late.

Like Revelation, the letter is written from the perspective that the author and those who stand with him are the only ones who knew/know the truth, and criticizes those Christians who voted for Obama as being blind or too young to seriously look at why Obama was going to be a dangerous president who would destroy America. How? Here are some examples about what the author of the letter (who apparently doesn’t want his true identity to be known, but here’s guessing it’s Dobson himself):

  • Terrorist attacks in 4 US cities;
  • Christian professionals fired or quitting en masse;
  • Iran nukes Tel Aviv
  • Porn freely displayed
  • violent crime out of control because to too-strict gun control
  • Russia occupies 4 more nations
  • Energy blackouts all over the US
  • Gas prices are over 7 bucks a gallon
  • Christian ministries and organizations, including schools close up
  • Bush officials imprisoned
  • Taliban overrun not only Afghanistan, but Iraq as well (!)
  • Home school families emigrate en masse to Australia and New Zealand (!)
  • And all of this is because Obama’s Supreme Court appointments create a 6-3 majority of liberal justices, thus ceding the “ultimate prize” of the Court to the “far left.”
  • And these justices then promptly ruled that homosexual marriage was now legal in all 50 states, creating a chain reaction of decisions that the letter describes as curtailments of American freedom. In other words, all problems can be traced back to American tolerance of homosexuality.

Unbelievable.

Focus on the Family’s anonymous piece trades on fear and preys on those who are afraid of change. This is, IMO, the worst piece of fear-mongering I’ve run across. It shows that the politics of fear run by the Bush administration has had its desired affect. Focus claims to represent Christians. It does no such thing. It doesn’t even represent all evangelical Christians; the letter even admits as much by blaming the “younger evangelicals” for the result of the 2008 election. All it represents is a “boomer” value system that held sway in the 50s-70s in the US, which is now just an element of cultural memory to a very specific (and increasingly diminishing) segment of the population.

And if this is what Christianity wants to become, then I’m checking out. Focus’ version of Christian ethics has become so one-dimensional, fundamentalist, dogmatic, and hatefully intolerant of dissension on what it considers non-negotiable that it misrepresents everything Christ stood for and in fact represents more of what he stood against. It completely misunderstands the First Amendment, and in fact has a “fruitcake interpretation of the Constitution,” to use Dobson’s own words from another context. Once upon a time Focus on the Family focused on …. families. Now, the focus is on fear, hate, intolerance, and sectarian politics. Is there anything more un-Christian and un-American?

The letter gets one assumption right. Obama’s America is not Focus on the Family’s America. And neither would McCain’s America. I’ve got half a mind to write a “Letter from 2012 from McCain’s America” in response.

If you’re reading this, and you’ve read the “Letter from 2012,” and you are as bothered by this as I am, write to Focus through their email at citizenlink@family.org and tell it to them straight.

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Those of us who homeschool our kids through various conservative and evangelical organizations, curricula, worldview, and social networks know that we can’t be letting the liberal elite and the secular state determine our kids’ education and resulting secular enculturation. But what happens when we see those selfsame forces at work in our church? Why, homechurching of course!

Report: More Kids Being Home-Churched

Some of the sights from our snowshoeing expedition yesterday at Salmon River, NY (click pictures for full size):

Trinity

Stillwater

Footbridge

Salmon River

White pathway

Falls

Falls, again

Through the trees

Hollis Schoolhouse in New HampshireLast week I wrote a bit of my personal, experiential observations of our local homeschool coop. So tonight I’m looking to make good on the promise I made that I’d write a follow-up that was more analytical and reflective. So be warned: this is more of an essay than the last piece, but I think it’s a useful exercise for me and perhaps for others as well.

As a preface to my analysis of Homeschooling, I should state up front what I feel the business of education is, or perhaps more accurately, what I believe it ought to be, whether it is college and university education, graduate education, or grade-school education. At the end of the day, my evaluation of education draws most of its inspiration from Wendell Berry, who has not really written systematically about his educational philosophy (so far as I know), but who nevertheless has plenty to say about it scattered throughout his writings. My thoughts on it, likewise, are directly related to my work in the academy, which is to say that it influences what I do in my teaching on the one hand and that my subjects of study shape the reasons I teach at all.

Like Berry, I see the education of young people as being centered on developing the creativity of the individual person in a way that encourages responsible action in the local community and the larger society as a whole. Education needs to embrace a role that leads students develop their humanity in relation to other people and to the physical land where they live. What we teach should be somehow connected to where we are in life (geographically and otherwise) and to where students are. Berry would say that education’s primary role is to instill knowledge that is experiential, relational, creative and imaginative, democratic, local in its orientation, and fundamentally interactive with the natural ecology of where we live. Just so. To the extent that education is individual-centered, I maintain that this individualism (in the classic liberal sense of developing the full potential of the student) is, nevertheless, rooted in the local community in that the “potential” is precisely the ability of the student to contribute to the life of the community through his or her own gifts, place, and so on. Finally, the purposes of education needs to encompass the concepts of goodness and wholeness, which is to say that we need to teach our young people the ability to judge what is good and whole.

Wendell BerryMuch of contemporary education, however, focuses on the development of “skills” that will make people productive not in their own local community, wherever that may be, but in the global industrial and consumer-capitalist economy. I agree again, here, with Berry, who argues that schools – by which Berry means public schools – are “mind dominated” by outside forces (the global industrial/capitalist doctrine) that essentially dictate what students are to take away from their education. In my work in New Testament, Judaism, Greco-Roman religion, Early Christianity, and Islam, scholars know this kind of imposed “mind domination” by the terms of “cultural hegemony,” stemming from work of Antonio Gramsci. Cultural hegemony is the essentially the ability of those in power (from small communities to global industry and national governments) to package thoughts. It is the ability to control “knowledge production” by packaging the hegmonic power’s ideology into the distillation and dissemination of culture. (more…)

hsadventures.jpgIt has been quite a while since I’ve blogged on homeschooling (actually, a while since I’ve written much of anything substantial), but the time seems right for it here. For the past 2 months, while the missus was keeping us afloat with her holiday job, I’ve been juggling orals, prospectus-writing, grading, attending class, entertaining family for Thanksgiving and visiting family for other Christmas-related activities. But the big consumer of time was keeping the homefires burning, especially the homeschool activities. For us, this involves a “co-op” one day a week (for the uninitiated, a homeschool co-op is pretty much school electives in actual classes taught by homeschool parents), gym class on another day, AWANA for the kids, Ballet for one of them, swim lessons on another day, and the three R’s, science, history, and, yes, Bible-history (a.k.a. “western civ in antiquity”) etc every day.

In all this, I’ve had plenty of time to reflect on the whole homeschool phenomenon, the stereotypes that go with it, and rationale for it. Most of my “token thoughts” here are based on homeschooling as I experience it and observe it. I know, though, that there are many homeschooler and unschool families who do not fit the mold that this will show, and I hope that some of you folks will comment on your own stuff on this site.

1. In Christian evangelical homeschooling, it is definitely “mom-centered.” It was hilarious how so many of the moms had no idea what to do or what to say when I was anywhere in the area. Usually I was ignored by moms who have kids the same age as my own. One one occasion I was noticed working with another kid and one woman, after looking a bit shocked, snickered and said to me “oh, you must be the token homeschool dad.” Hence the title of the entry here. I find this pretty fascinating; most of these women are your standard and typical evangelical-borderline-fundamentalist moms who feel simultaneously that the world is out to get them and especially their kids, and yet are clearly uncomfortable around men, who they will readily assert are the absolute, biblical heads of their households. I’d have thought that my being around would show a bit of support to the more paranoid, that they’re not in this homeschooling endeavor alone, but it didn’t really seem to be the case. Not every woman there, though, was so standoffish; for the most part, I got on well with many of the teachers whose own kids had come and gone from their homes and who were now in college or in their own careers. Among these, I was heartily welcomed and encouraged to consider teaching for the coop next year. Which brings me to…

2. Because my wife has been involved with these groups now for three years, most of the moms have heard of me, or at least heard of what I do. I’m an academic, a scholar, Ph.D student, teacher at the University, etc, and my field is ancient religion, Bible, and Christianity in general. Which is, to most people in these circles, fascinating, because they think that my kids will get the best apologetically-oriented treatment of Biblical history out of all of them. Well, maybe, but when I’m actually around these folks, it’s a mixture of paranoia and curiosity. See, the Coop exists to help homeschooling parents (read: moms, in this case) teach things that they don’t feel qualified to teach. Science, for example, or advanced history classes, or classical ballet, music, and so on. Greek and Latin are very popular with high school students (or at least with their parents who sign them up for them). Obviously not everyone has a facility for these things. But “Bible” and “Bible history” are not offered. The Bible is an open book; anyone can do it, and for certain folks in these environments, no one, NO ONE, not even Sunday school teachers, will be teaching their kid Bible except for the homeschooling mom in the home, unless it meets the “kid tested, mother approved” criteria of evangelical, conservative, borderline-fundamentalist interpretation. Only way to make sure your kid is getting the Bible taught “right” is to do it yourself. Knowing the Bible, its history, and the history of periods it describes, is not necessarily a prerequisite.

I think it would be a hoot to teach a “How to Read the Bible” elective to the high school kids in the Coop. I may yet volunteer to do so, but I know that most likely it wouldn’t run because the parents would be afraid of it. Which brings me to …

3. I don’t think I’ve ever been around a group of more paranoid people in my life. If I didn’t know better, I’d have thought that these folks are afraid of getting caught doing something illegal. (They’re not in any danger whatsoever.) I think this has something to do with the way I was received by a lot of the people in the Coop. I’m an outsider, even though my kids are there. I’m a dad (and it’s no secret in this particular group that there are MANY dads who simply go along with the moms on the whole homeschooling thing and refuse to allow the moms/teachers any curriculum budget), I’m an academic, I’m in “religion,” I go to a “liberal” church, and I had critical comments to make about the organization’s affiliation with the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) during a casual conversation with some other moms and teachers. The HSLDA traffics in paranoia (kinda like the Bush Administration, come to think of it) and fosters the prevailing notion that everyone outside the walls of the Coop building is out to get them, and that only the HSLDA is equipped to protect you from the public school truant officer. With this mentality, it’s no wonder that anyone who isn’t an insider in the organization (and I’m technically an insider!) is not to be trusted. I think this is a sad state of affairs, because the public school system (here, at least) is very accommodating to the homeschooling crowd and even has offered special needs services for students to whom it would benefit, only to be flatly rejected by the Coop boardmembers because no public school people are allowed on homeschool premises for member families.

4. On the positive note, I will say that at least in the subjects covered in the Coop, I’ve run into some of the brightest and inquisitive young people I’ve ever met. They are genuinely eager to learn, whether it’s Chess, Dance, Public Speaking, Chemistry, or Calculus. There’s even a darn good debate team. I honestly can’t sit here and say that the quality of what these kids are learning is inferior to what they would get anywhere else, public or private. Neither did I experience the ambiguous reception I felt from the moms; apparently this didn’t rub off onto the students, because I felt like they REALLY liked having me around, which is why I’m tempted to offer that “How to Read the Bible” class. And the stereotype that homeschool kids are social introverts is (again, at this place) totally off-base. These kids act their age, which is a good thing.

I think I’ll make this the first part of a three-part post. Next up will be more reflective on the entire homeschooling phenomenon, and the last one maybe I’ll do a post on Why I Homeschool at all (although I kind of covered this in my very first post for Aedificium way back in February of last year; other entries to the subject in the Homeschooling Tag cloud to the right). And I’m very anxious to hear, in comments, from anyone who does NOT homeschool within an evangelical framework, as well as why you do so, as well as from folks whose experiences are closer to my own.

scaffolding.jpgFamily of four looking for church home that meets a majority of the following: 1) Church should willingly and unashamedly call itself a “Christian” church, meaning (2) it follows a local theology that its leaders and board members affirm as thoroughly Trinitarian and which (3) finds its central identity in the biblical concept of a called community that (4) engages the world, rather than insulates itself against it, is (5) committed to biblical and prophetic justice, and which (6) contests “the powers” of state, bureaucracy and empire with prophetic voice and action and which (7) maintains active and aggressive vigilance against its own potential complicity with those powers. Church should be (8) Gospel- and missional-centered, (9) unafraid to name sin for what it is and (10) promote and teach the contents of Scripture as the Church’s “norming norm” even while recognizing the (11) necessity of critical reason, ecclesiastical tradition, personal impact, and interpretive flexibility among other churches throughout history and throughout the world in different circumstances from its own. Prospective church’s worship services should be (12) highly liturgical, with preference given to (13) weekly celebration of the Eucharist/Communion/Lord’s Supper and (14) worship in a building that actually looks like it has a sacred history and participates in the holy. Preference given to prospective applicants who demonstrate willingness to (15) ordain both men and women to ministry but which does not do so out of bureaucratic convenience or as political statements; applicants who refrain from ordinations entirely also considered. Churches claiming to have all the answers, or which lead members and attenders to think that they have all such answers, need not apply. To apply, email Aedificium Librarian at link provided on this page, or leave a comment below.

Samhain play Well, I’m kinda more and more becoming aware that the study of religion can be a no-win or even a lose-lose situation. (And yes, I have – presumably – completed my written comprehensive exams, so I’m looking forward to blogtharsis again.) My primary objective in my work is to encourage anyone who listens to me or reads what I write to rethink certain conceptions, conventions, and whatever, and obviously, doing this in “religion” is to tread in some dangerous waters. If I were a so-called secularist, which I most emphatically am not, as anyone who knows me and who reads this blog is fully aware, I wouldn’t care that this is a minefield. I’d simply say my piece, denounce those who damn me as a heretic or a liberal or whatever else anyone might want to call me, and move on to the next thing.But that’s not why I study religion. I’m not trying to simply secularize old “religious” holidays or explain away anything of my own, or anyone else’s tradition. I do not make my starting point the social, human nature of religious faith and practice, although it is absolutely this. I assume this. But I start more from the other side, that religion as such is the experience and search for the sacred in life as much as, if not more than, it is anything else.

But this is precisely where we (those of us “in the guild”) get in trouble. When I talk or teach or write about the Christmas holiday, for example, and draw out the history of social transformation of this ancient holy day and criticize contemporary participation in the Christmas festival as not being particularly “Christian” and certainly not very “biblical,” I get accused of secularizing a genuine Christian holiday in a way that offends Christians by robbing it of everything that is Christian about it on the one hand and promoting the social and commercial carnivalism on the other. I’m not doing either. I’m assuming from the start that the Christian holiday was a day that marked off, for the faithful, remembrance and recollection by those who shared the Christian identity of one of its foundational stories, and that while the story itself is usually well known through cultural preservation of it, its meaning has been lost. It’s been lost for a long time. In pointing out the social and carnival nature of the Christmas season, I’m not championing it; I’m pointing out the phenomenon, from a historical and mnemonic perspective, that has overshadowed the sacred nature of Christmas, and criticizing it from the same perspective and arguing that the Nativity story, understood in its own context of the first century, challenges the very thing that Christmas has become.

Today, obviously, is Halloween, or, as it was once known, All Hallow’s Eve. I get it here too. On what used to be a day/night observed to “scare off” the demonic and protect the Saints and places of God by spooking the evil away (literally, scaring the hell out of the spirit world), we now have it that the night is, in good social carnival fashion, the very opposite, when we raise hell just for the hell of it. Instead of remembering the sacred aspect of Halloween, many Christians prefer to avoid it all together as a glorification of evil, a notion to which I’m kinda sympathetic, but when I start working with this as religious phenomena, I’m accused of trivializing evil rather than recognize the vestiges of anything sacred in it. So I’m trivializing evil here, but the same routine vis-a-vis Christmas leads to trivializing the sacred, and usually by the same crowd of critics.

I think the most irksome thing is the accusations of academics and professors who try to sensitively treat aspects of religion as being arrogant know-it-alls who seem to setting themselves up to play God. Perhaps, but goshdarnit, we are professors, and we do profess to know something that isn’t usually “in the public domain,” so to speak. But when folks in our guild of academic religionists, theologians, and, heck, even pastors, come to conclusions that challenge what other people hold dear and which are ends in themselves, I have to say it sure as heck is not the professors who act like the arrogant SOB know-it-alls picking fights, or not only us.

What it comes down to is that there are a lot of people who psychologically can’t handle it very well when someone tells them they’re wrong, or rather the particular perspective or understanding of something religious that has been a part of their life for years, and my approach, especially in the sensitive souls of my students, is to avoid doing so as much as possible. Like I said, the sacred is the starting point; it’s human relation, interaction, and so on with the sacred that makes the study and teaching of religion worthwhile, and we all have different experiences with the sacred. For folks in this category, because my “mission” is to stir things up, like any self-respecting academic, please know that I’d rather not bug you, because I’m sure I’d be nothing but trouble for anyone who already thinks they’ve got it all together. But for those who, like me, are disappointed with the desacralization of our religious heritage, I would hope that we academics, professors, and “know-it-alls” can be allies here, not adversaries.

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