Friday 27 May 2011

The Mark of a True Man

Rev Al Stewart wrote an excellent short piece titled 'The Making of a Man' in the May 2011 edition of the Christian newspaper 'Eternity'. In it he quoted Steve Biddulph who is the author of a number of books that deal with men and boys, including 'The New Manhood'. When asked what is the difference between a man and a boy Biddulph replied this way:

"Boys care about themselves, men care about other people"

Like Al Stewart, I think this is a key insight, for it is an important part of what it means to be a man in the varied roles we serve as husbands, fathers, leaders, bosses, brothers, mates and so on. God has made men different to women, not just in terms of physical strength and appearance, but also in the way we complement women. He has also given us special and distinct roles within the family and marriage.

When I last made reference to Steve Biddulph in a post I titled 'Other People's Children' (here), I spoke of the influence of just 'a few decent men' on my life - a 4th Grade teacher, a neighbour, and the owner of a pinball and slot car shop. None of these men were Christians, but all provided good models in varied life roles including husband, neighbour, teacher, mentor, business owner, father and husband. All had a significant influence on me and God used this for my 'good'.

Al Stewart suggests that we should recalibrate what we consider impressive in a man. "The mark of a man is the care he shows for others".  And he's right! This is an important part of male character. Those who know God must seek to honour him in all they do. We respond to his grace, love and the mercy shown to us in Christ, and in turn serve, protect, represent, guide, help and lead others. There are many other human virtues, but surely servanthood is a very important one and the ultimate model of servanthood will always be Christ.

There seems to be much confusion about the making of a man. How do we judge the worth of men? Women, what do you look for in a man? Men, what do you see as important in other men at work, at home, in the community, in relationships? Think of the imperfect men who have had a positive impact on us and contemplate why? Al Stewart is right, we do need to think in new ways about what makes a true man.

Other posts and articles from CASE on fathers and families

1. An article I wrote on 'The role of fathers' in Case 12 (here).
2. How time spent with children matters (here).
3. The impact of the loss of time spent sharing meals (here), and the role of fathers more generally (here).
4. The shared responsibility we have with communities for other people's children (here) and in the church (here).
5. A number of more practical posts about fathers on my other blog 'Literacy, families and learning' (here).
6. Apologetics in Family Life (here)
7. 'Marked by my Dad' (here)

Tuesday 17 May 2011

The Invisibility of Christian themes in Blockbuster Movies

Regular readers of this blog know that I have written several times on the relationship between biblical narrative and literature HERE.  I have also called on Christians to consider turning their creative energies to the writing of literature for broader audiences.  Who will be the next C.S. Lewis or J.R. Tolkien? But perhaps there is a greater challenge facing Christians with film. David Dale in the Sydney Morning Herald has rather amusingly made the observation that it seems like every imaginable religious worldview is being represented in recent popular movies except Christianity.  He asks wryly "What has the Judeo-Christian system done for us lately?" He writes:
Transmigration of the soul, a belief of Hindus, Buddhists, and followers of the Jewish Kabbalah, is the trendy trope for screenwriters. A film called 'Source Code', which sold a  healthy 130,000 tickets during its first week in Australian cinemas, assumes a person's mind can be placed into the body of another person for the last eight minutes of person B's life (thus permitting person A to learn who murdered B). It's not so much reincarnation as preincarnation. Don't ask how the technology works. Just have faith.

'Inception' uses a similar principle, except that the soul-jumping happens when both parties are asleep. And in 'Avatar', human souls are transferred into bio-engineered alien bodies (on a planet whose inhabitants engage in Gaia worship, just to offer another option).

It's an amusing read but is there a significant message for Christians? How can we ensure that the Bible's central narrative themes are represented in literature and film? While there are plenty of films and books with Christian themes evident, he is commenting on recent blockbusters and the seeming dominance of other faith traditions at the moment. Of course, the trend begs the question is this evidence of people buying into other faith positions, or simply being willing to suspend their beliefs and reason to enjoy a good story? I'll let you judge that one, here's the trailer.

Tuesday 10 May 2011

Happiness & the folly of the positive Life

University & the popularity of 'Positive Psychology'

Dan Haesler is a teacher, writer and speaker. In 2010 he was awarded the NSW Premier’s Anika Foundation Teacher’s Scholarship to address and raise awareness of youth depression. In a recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald (5th May 2011), he points out that the most popular course at Harvard University is not medicine, dentistry, engineering or even law. Rather, it is positive psychology.  Penn State Centre for Positive Psychology describes this new field within psychology as "the scientific study of the strengths and virtues that enable individuals and communities to thrive".

The field is founded on the belief that people want to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives to cultivate what is best within themselves, and to enhance their experiences of love, work, and play. Positive Psychology has three central concerns: positive emotions, positive individual traits, and positive institutions. The Penn State centre suggests that:
"Understanding positive emotions entails the study of contentment with the past, happiness in the present, and hope for the future. Understanding positive individual traits consists of the study of the strengths and virtues, such as the capacity for love and work, courage, compassion, resilience, creativity, curiosity, integrity, self-knowledge, moderation, self-control, and wisdom. Understanding positive institutions entails the study of the strengths that foster better communities, such as justice, responsibility, civility, parenting, nurturance, work ethic, leadership, teamwork, purpose, and tolerance."
Dan Haesler rightly asks, "How could it be that at one of the most respected universities in the world, America's top scholars need lessons in how to be happy?" He poses this question alongside the observation that 20% of the high school students who enter Australian universities will drop out each year, at an estimated cost of $1.4 billion to the taxpayer each year.

He suggests that the reasons for dropping out are complex, but rarely related to academic ability. Students will often drop out because they lack the social or emotional skills to work effectively outside the regimented structure of their high school. He argues that the standardisation of school education isn't helping...while most schools do a good job of getting kids through exams... only a few institutions genuinely prepare students for ''real life''. This is an appropriate warning on this the first day of NAPLAN testing in schools for 2011.

This standardisation he suggests is turning our schools into factories, and our children into mere products on the production line, without a clue what they will do with their lives, or what they are good at. The result is that many end up studying fields with no inbuilt motivation or any sense of intrinsic reward for studying it. Does this explain the "happy classes" at Harvard?

The 'upside down' nature of a preoccupation with happiness

I'm not sure when we begin to learn what it is that we think will make us happy. I suspect that it begins very early in life; perhaps first as we simply observe the priorities in adult lives that are communicated unknowingly to children. School then picks the agenda up and more explicitly signals the things that seem to be most important; success, exams, winning, popularity, looks... And then of course there is every imaginable element of popular culture 'nipping' at children's heals. Is it any wonder that young people arrive at university confused about what they want to do and why.

From a biblical perspective there is something upside down about focussing on happiness and the control of external circumstances like success, appearance, pleasure, wellbeing and so on to achieve it. The Bible says little about seeking this type of earth-bound happiness, but says much more about eternal blessings. In Jesus’ first major teaching event (Matthew 5:3-12) he made it clear that those who mourn, the persecuted, the hungry and so on can have much more than this temporal happiness; we can be blessed with eternal membership of the Kingdom of God.

The Bible's message is that rather than focusing on external circumstances, the key to 'true' life is to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).

There are many things in this world that can bring us temporary happiness – money, good health, a good reputation, people who love you and so on, and they are all good. But the things of this world cannot ensure ongoing happiness; we are foolish to place our hope and trust in these things.

Jesus taught, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?

I find Paul's words at the end of his first letter the young Timothy (1 Timothy 6) to be a great encouragement in these matters. He warns of many things but amongst these he challenges Timothy to seek contentment rather than the things of this world:
"Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction." (1 Timothy 6:6-9)
"But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses." (1 Timothy 6:11-12)
Other reading

You can read Dan Haesler's article 'Cookie Cutters and Happiness' HERE

In issue 14 of the Case magazine we examined this matter in detail. You can still buy single copies by visiting the CASE website HERE.

Monday 2 May 2011

King James Version of the Bible 400 today!

It took a while for the KJV to become the Bible of choice.  In fact, it took decades just to overcome the more popular Bible in Protestant Churches, the Geneva Bible. But by the late 17th Century it was seen as 'the' English language Bible. The KJV had more copies in print than any other book in a very short time. It was used in church, memorised by adults and children and eventually translated into other languages. As literature it has had significant influence on literature, music, art and law across four centuries.

It was called by many the "translation to end all translations" and drew on a number of key Bible's at the time, including the 'Tyndale New Testament', the 'Coverdale Bible', the 'Matthews Bible', the 'Great Bible', the 'Geneva Bible' and the 'Rheims New Testament'. The great revision of the 'Bishop's Bible' (an earlier translation) produced by the Church of England in 1568 was chosen as the basis for the creation of a new version for the Church. The development began in 1605 and the KJV was assembled from 1607 to 1609. It went to print in 1610 and in 1611 the first of the pulpit folio versions (40cm high) were being printed. Just one year later individual versions were available in a size similar to that which we use today.

In a few decades the KJV was being read in all Church of England churches and widely in other protestant churches. It was a key tool in the development of Bible teaching for children and was the Bible memorized by children at home and eventually in classes at church and school. It became the Bible of public ceremonies, and was the source of language for great hymns, literature and music. As well, it became a key tool in mission throughout the world.

Bruegel's 'Tower of Babel'
The KJV Bible enabled unparalleled access to the Scriptures, both as Christian teachings and as a book of literature. It has had a huge impact. In Western society the language and narrative of much great music, drama and art has some basis in biblical characters, metaphor and imagery, its key themes (e.g. redemption, forgiveness, substitution etc) and narrative storylines (e.g. the parable of the Prodigal Son).

My British colleague and Linguist Professor David Crystal suggests that no less than 257 words, idioms or expressions were popularised by the KJV of the Bible; more than Shakespeare's combined writing. In short, the KJV Bible has been a great influence on Western thought and the arts. Of course, there are many other translations of the Bible today in many languages, but the King James Version still has a special place in Christian and world history.

Related Posts

'The Redemption of Children's Literature' HERE

'God's Story Reflected in Children's Literature' HERE