Tag Archives: weird

Code switching: All us weird people need community

When I was in my early teens in California, the Vietnam War was raging and the country was dividing up. Our living room was divided, too. My father was disturbed that Aretha Franklin was playing on the radio, not to mention those haircut-challenged Beatles. And periodically, KWOW, the little country music radio station whose tower was about a mile away across the soon-to-be-tract-homed fields outside our front window, would invade the AM airwaves with something like Marty Robbins singing “Ain’t I right?” — written to warn the nation about Freedom Riders deluding Southerners. It is safe to say the U.S. has been a mess throughout my lifetime when it comes to peace and love, and most of the other things that feed our souls. We still really need each other and we can’t get together.

Code switching as a survival tool

I learned some mild code switching in my diverse and diversifying environment before I found out how important the skill was to people who did not fit into artificial norms. I was friends with the “hard guys” whose relatives exclusively spoke Spanish. I could hang with the jocks.  And I knew how to stay out of trouble with my redneck relatives. I was integrating my living room. At the same time, I also discovered Jesus and began to learn how He transcends all the competing cultures and identities vying for affirmation and power. He has a surprising knack for getting people together who just do not belong together as far as the world is concerned. He provides each of us access to a common  “code” that is a rock for us in a stormy cultural sea.

Code switching never seems to work that well, anyway. Sociologists filled up volumes talking about “alienation” until Jimmy Carter got himself fired for admitting to the national “malaise” in a TV speech. But the the lack of further honesty did not mean people felt any less left out of society and even out of connection with their own bodies. People are no more confident now than when Carter pointed out they weren’t. Sociologists have filled up even more pages about all sorts of oppressions and separations right down to assessing the commonplace indignities called microaggressions, which communicate slights and insults toward one’s supposed category.

So my personal history has been on a parallel track with people bearing the fruit of their obsession with the microaggressions they experience. The closest I got to this in my young, privileged days was feeling weird that my name is “Rodney.” People seemed to think it was odd. I never met another Rodney face to face until I arrived in PA and two were in my congregation. In California, I only knew about Rodney Allen Rippy and my dad didn’t much approve of him, either. We all think we are weird. We need community desperately so we don’t get carried away with our alienation. I even needed some Rodneys. 

Such confessions sometimes lead to connection

The other day Bethany told our Coordinating Group an interesting story about moving from alienation to community. A conversation with a new co-worker turned out to be a loving meeting of the weirds. She said I could relay it to you:

I had a really interesting conversation with a coworker yesterday that I think you all should know about. My colleague asked me about an idea that he had, he wanted to teach a workshop on “code switching” to our predominantly Black and queer residents. I was typing an email as he was talking to me and I immediately stopped in my tracks. Lol. I explained to him that for me, I hear code switching as a way of asking people of color but especially Black people to assimilate to concepts of “respectability” in speech. I added that “code switching” is really a symptom of systemic racism (I try not to use the language of white supremacy a lot because that can be really off putting but… I really wanted to say that it’s a symptom of white supremacy). He went on to say that as a queer man, he views code switching as a means of safety and survival. 

We continued talking and even really got emotional as we talked about our identities with one another. I confessed that I never feel Black enough for other Black women (I was home-schooled, I grew up in the suburbs, my name is Bethany… lol) and because of systemic racism, I will also never truly be understood or accepted by White people either. He said that he never feels gay enough for gay men and that gay men don’t take him seriously. And, he never feels straight enough for straight people either. A few moments later, we simultaneously said “it’s exhausting.” 

I’m telling you this story because I was so grateful to connect with such a beautiful stranger so deeply and to even be able to tear up with one another. But, I’m also super grateful to belong with all of you. Even with our differences of experiences, lifestyles, etc., because we belong to Jesus and that serves as the crux of our foundation, I feel like we also belong to each other. I’m grateful for that.

Have you all read this article about community care? I think it unintentionally describes our Circle of Hope and our cell movement. Check it out.

Weird, code-switching people need community

The article Bethany mentioned is Self-care isn’t enough. We need community care to thrive. As I read it, I said to myself, “Can this really be a thing?” Listen to this revelation:

The term community care is known in social movements and in the nonprofit world but has yet to move into mainstream culture. The concept shouldn’t be that hard to translate: Community care is basically any care provided by a single individual to benefit other people in their life. This can take the form of protests, for which community care is best known, but also simple, interpersonal acts of compassion.” 

Sociologists are now filling up pages with thoughts about how caring for someone other than yourself needs to “move into mainstream culture?!” 

I suppose I should not be surprised. The task of “mainstream culture” during my lifetime has been to promise everyone individual freedom in service to the ultimate, capitalist strategy to divide and conquer, right down to our conflicted senses of who we are as persons. I’m with Bethany. I’m glad that I have an alternative to that exhausting daily onslaught. I spent a good chunk of my adulthood trying to be a part of the alternative — a whole counterculture called Circle of Hope that not only holds on to community care, but has the spiritual power to offer it as a gift to the hollowed out U.S. society. 

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Queer philosophy helps to change things

My quest to be part of the Lord’s alternative was furthered when I recently came upon Pamela Lightsey, a queer theologian who articulately describes her resistance to being labelled according to her sexual identity. She’s all right with fighting her way out of the individual box in which society has tried to trap her, but she is not accepting the box as truth. She is larger than popular dichotomies. She insists on being considered a whole person and certainly not considered according to what she does or does not do in the bed. I am happy that the LGBTQ community has grown this resistance to all the labels of the hypermodern era, by which I think they may have been most damaged by the powers seeking to define and dominate everything.

Now we have this rambunctious new term in political and academic contexts: “queer.” It is a term that calls into question the stability of identity based on sexual orientation. In this sense, “queer” is a critique of the tendency to organize political or theoretical questions around sexual orientation per se. To “queer” becomes a way to denaturalize categories such as “lesbian” and “gay” (not to mention “straight” and “heterosexual”), revealing them as socially and historically constructed identities that have often worked to establish and police the line between the “normal” and the “abnormal.” It is unlikely to stop its denaturalizing project with those categories.

Like Bethany, I am glad I have a place to have a dialogue of alternativity with trustworthy people who not only love me, they serve my best interests. I like living in a place where my main concern is not code switching in a vain attempt to make myself presentable, if not safe. The church is a good place from which to care. After a lifetime of being weird and then being made to feel weird as a means to keep me fearing the next punch coming my way, I am glad to be weird together with a group, in Christ, who, by nature, doesn’t conform to the identities over which the world obsesses. We all have a new self in Christ connected to all the other redeemed selves by the Spirit of God. 

Redux #4 — It is OK NOT to be WEIRD — the Bible’s many “rights”

At the beginning of the year I am reposting “top ten” entries. On Friday, I’m reminding people about some posts before 2014 that people have kept reading — there is a “top ten” of them! Here is #4

In the fall of of 2013 I tried to help people consider how they make decisions about what is right. With the companion piece, I pointed out how broad the Bible is compared to the cultural assumptions that masquerade as normal.

While I was waiting for baby Hannah to arrive the other day I read a book. (The labor took much longer than I expected! )  It was such a good book that I can’t resist applying a few of its more applicable thoughts to what we are going through right now.

We live in a weird culture and it has influenced us so much that our Christianity is weird. But our church is the brave antidote to that, unless we make it weird.

we-arent-world
Pesky sociologists deconstructing again.

Jonathan Haidt,  a UPenn alum, wrote a well-received book called The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics and Religion. It is not a Christian book, even though he gets a lot more sympathetic to Christians by the time he is finished with his huge study on why people react the ways they do when it comes to politics.

He realized that his blue-state sensibilities were actually rather WEIRD. By that he means: Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic. As far as assessing how humans work, in general, WEIRD people are statistical outliers in the world today and certainly are out of the mainstream of history. USonians are even WEIRDer than Europeans.  Haidt says that “several peculiarities of WEIRD culture can be captured in this simple generalization: The WEIRDer you are, the more you see a world full of separate objects, rather than relationships. It has long been reported that Westerners have a more independent and autonomous concept of self than do East Asians. For example, when asked to write twenty statements beginning with the word ‘I am…,’ Americans are likely to list their own internal psychological characteristics (happy, outgoing, interested in jazz), whereas East Asians are more likely to list their roles and relationships (a son, a husband, an employee of Fujitsu).“

Continue reading Redux #4 — It is OK NOT to be WEIRD — the Bible’s many “rights”

Six foundations for being good: let’s stand on all of them

Christians often conform to the prevailing norms of society and find something in the Bible to justify their morality. Nevertheless the Bible survives. It continues to offer a broad sense of what is good and teaches tried-and-true ways to live as a good person. Last week I was telling you about Jonathan Haidt and his book The Righteous Mind.  In it he follows his own journey out of being WEIRD (western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic) and discovers that there are six foundations for morality, not just the one that Americans are mainly using right now to make all their new laws about protecting rights. I was happy to see a social scientist “discovering” truths that were in the Bible all along. I think the Bible has always been as broad as Haidt wishes we are all were.

One reason Jesus-followers need to keep talking about how all this arguing about morality is going to work out is that pretty soon some new morality minion is likely to denounce one of us in the street for our lack of conformity to the narrow sense of being good that is being legislated — we’ll be sent to some Maoist-like camp for re-education! Yes, that sounds hysterical, but I heard a TED talk the other day in which the speaker told us how he is using his career to create peer group pressure to conform to things “not just because they are legal, but because they are right.” He was teaching guys to correct the nonconforming speech of their bar pals and to police their behavior while sharing a beer. I agreed with his ends, actually. But the means scare me – especially when they are not monitored by God.  (God is strictly left out of the new morality).

1. The care/harm foundation

foundations on the moral spectrumThe main morality Haidt thinks is dominating the landscape these days is what he calls the care/harm foundation. We are supposed to care. We are not supposed to harm. Like I said last week, this is basic to Christianity: Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law (Romans 13:10). Feel a lot of compassion here.

The problem is that there are more foundational ways people see what is good and act on it. The care/harm foundation is the basis for protecting “human rights” and it is fundamental to our ethics codes, but that is not all that people, and God, care about. So as I briefly move through Haidt’s six foundations that he “discovered” on his journey away from the WEIRD focus on one foundation, let’s be as broad as the Bible.

2) The fairness/cheating foundation.

We should be fair and be treated fairly. We should not cheat or be cheated.  Honestly, feel a lot of anger here. It is a righteous anger that goes for justice and a rage about how untrustworthy people are. Watch Cheaters. People care about fidelity. We hate machines that don’t work and that steal our money.  The Occupy movement was mainly a fight about fairness.

In Isaiah 59 the prophet calls for a return to this foundation: Your lips have spoken falsely,/ and your tongue mutters wicked things./ No one calls for justice;/ no one pleads a case with integrity./ They rely on empty arguments, they utter lies;/ they conceive trouble and give birth to evil.

3) The loyalty/betrayal foundation.

We should commit and stick with our commitments. Our loyalty should be rewarded, not betrayed.  Feel group pride here and rage against traitors. This is the foundation of patriotism and painting yourself green for an Eagles games. This motivates bosses who have bought into the company to try to get employees to buy in (and then we really feel it when they fire us after we have given our loyalty). For this morality, soldiers sacrifice their lives and gang members take absurd risks.

The early church was forming a new “tribe” around the risen Jesus. This foundation may have been more relevant to them than others.  That changed a good bit when it became less dangerous to be a Christian. Jesus says it plainly in Luke 12:  “I tell you, whoever publicly acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before the angels of God. But whoever disowns me before others will be disowned before the angels of God.”

4) The authority/subversion foundation.

We should respect those in charge. We should not subvert the process. Feel respect here, deference; give honor. Adversely, feel fear. This is the foundation for talking in a manner around the boss that is different than when you’re with your friend.  In the U.S., the empire has been so strong for a while that it gives a lot of room for insubordination; but experience a 9/11 and a decade of almost universally-approved war can ensue. The church of the 19th and 20th centuries proliferated leaders who demanded obedience to God and to themselves from the pulpit based on this foundation.

Christians teach their children to obey their private desires just like most Americans these days, even though their scripture is heavily into the authority/subversion foundation.  Paul teaches in Romans 6: “Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.” Paul even told slaves to obey their masters, knowing that their obedience to God made them a master even when their masters were slaves to sin.

foundations for good

5) The sanctity/degradation foundation.

We should keep certain things sacred and clean. We should not contaminate situations or people. Feel awe, reverence and disgust here. In the era of autonomy, where the only objection we can make is that some behavior does someone harm, people don’t get this ethic. They are losing their sense of disgust and they think that is a good thing. So nothing is sacred and breaking taboos is considered freedom. Artists do all sorts of things to religious symbols that might have gotten them killed in the past. But they rarely desecrate a picture of Nelson Mandela, at least where people are WEIRD. It is ironic of course that people hold autonomy to be sacred.

This is the foundation that really sets Christians apart in the United States. It is also what makes an Ayatollah call the United States the “great Satan” since the U.S. undermines everything that is sacred and uses military might to back its blasphemy. Jesus followers seek what is holy and seek to be holy. Their sense of it is so refined that Paul can teach the Corinthian church that it is sanctified: Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.

6) The liberty/oppression foundation.

We should protect liberty. We should not tyrannize or be tyrannized. In some sense, there is the same anger as the justice foundation, only this is about being part of a group in which some sense of equality is prized, and that is pretty much any group. Feel hatred for oppression here. It is not hard to find someone to feel bad with you about the parking authority or arbitrary (and sometimes brutal) police. People often see the U.S. army like a relief and advocacy group because it is supposedly at work in the world as a good cop, thwarting oppression.

Almost all the foundations are found in James 2, it seems, but he teaches about this sixth one well: “Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong? If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.”

Even while Haidt is, appropriately, undermining the value of Western culture’s sense of reason, he is writing a well-reasoned book based mostly in evolutionary theory, which he thinks explains why people do what they do, in one way or another. Nevertheless, I think he does us all a service by showing how many ways we can think about what is good. I think Jesus followers need to be aware that the Bible also lays out these six foundational ways to be moral lest we choose one that’s ascendant in our territory and start arguing some skewed political position instead of being faithful to the fullness in Jesus.

It is OK NOT to be WEIRD — the Bible’s many “rights”

While I was waiting for baby Hannah to arrive the other day I read a book. (The labor took much longer than I expected! )  It was such a good book that I can’t resist applying a few of its more applicable thoughts to what we are going through right now.

Your Christianity may be weird

We live in a weird culture and it has influenced us so much that our Christianity is weird. But our circle of hope in Christ  is the brave antidote to that, unless we make it weird.

westerners are weird
Pesky sociologists deconstructing again.

Jonathan Haidt,  a UPenn alum, wrote a well-received book called The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics and Religion. It is not a Christian book, even though he gets a lot more sympathetic to Christians by the time he is finished with his huge study on why people react the ways they do when it comes to politics.

Haidt realized that his blue-state sensibilities were actually rather WEIRD. By that he means: Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic. As far as assessing how humans work, in general, WEIRD people are statistical outliers in the world today and certainly are out of the mainstream of history. USonians are even WEIRDer than Europeans.  Haidt says that “several peculiarities of WEIRD culture can be captured in this simple generalization: The WEIRDer you are, the more you see a world full of separate objects, rather than relationships. It has long been reported that Westerners have a more independent and autonomous concept of self than do East Asians. For example, when asked to write twenty statements beginning with the word ‘I am…,’ Americans are likely to list their own internal psychological characteristics (happy, outgoing, interested in jazz), whereas East Asians are more likely to list their roles and relationships (a son, a husband, an employee of Fujitsu).“

Your morality may be WEIRD

If you see a world full of individuals, like WEIRD people do, then you’ll want a morality that protects those individuals and their individual rights. Concerns about harm and fairness will be emphasized. If you live in a non-WEIRD society, as most people do and as most have lived througout history, then you will see a world full of relationships, contexts, groups and institutions. So you won’t be so focused on protecting individuals, you’ll place the needs of the groups and institutions first, often ahead of the needs of individuals. Morality based on harm and fairness won’t be enough. You’ll have additional concerns and a whole set of virtues to go with them.

People often wonder when our church is going to get on the bandwagon and become as WEIRD as (the obviously exceptional) westernized culture around us. We resist being WEIRD and resist conforming to their outlier morality. For one thing, we don’t think the rest of the world and the previous history of humankind is stupid. But the main reason we don’t conform is because God has revealed a much larger playing field on which truth and morality is worked out. You can see that in our far-reaching and diverse scriptures.

Haidt apparently teaches undergrads, because he can boil down his ideas into bumper stickers (which I admire). He follows his own journey out of being WEIRD as he discovers that there are six foundations for morality, not just the one that Americans are using right now to make all their new laws about protecting rights. I was not surprised to see that all six of his “foundations” are elements of the Bible’s teaching about how to live a righteous life [check them out!]. I love it when social science “discovers” the Bible! I think I will save the other five for next time. But since we just welcomed another child into our clan, I’ll leave you with the foundation that dominates our society right now, what Haidt calls the “care foundation.”

The small basis for all those laws

babies are weird but nobody caresThe care foundation for morality is all about protecting people from harm. It is what triggers that “aahh” when we see picture of babies and puppies, preferably together. And it is also the trigger that makes us angry when we see baby seals being clubbed or chickens crammed in a cage. It is also why we can be obsessed about everyone’s rights and why our leaders hasten to tell us they are protecting whole countries and the rights of humanity when they bomb them. All our ethics codes begin with the basic premise that we are supposed to “do no harm.” That’s essentially how we sum up how to act. If the married couples I know are any indication, we all apply this with vigor. They are often very concerned not to do anything wrong that will harm the other, thus protecting fairness but paralyzing intimacy. At the same time they are always doing harm because their rights are violated every day and they can’t help being mad about it.

The “care foundation” is also a main motivation for how we act as Jesus followers. We love how Jesus described God as being like a father filled with compassion for his child: “So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” (Luke 15:20). God is all about loving individuals; the worse off they are the more Jesus seems to love them.

The Bible teaches us to be like God in how we live: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32). Love, we are taught  “always protects” (1 Corinthians 13:7). Individuals and their well-being count and they are supposed to matter to us, just as they are.

There is more to morality than harm and fairness, however. USonians boil it down to that and then start analyzing everything to see if it meets up to their rather tiny idea of what is good. But they are off to a good start, at least — as long as they don’t try to make the rest of us, and the rest of the world, conform to their small idea of what is right, based on their WEIRDness.