"Reading the Statisticians of Our Predicament Rather Than the Prophets of Our Deliverance"


R.R. Reno

Give and Take is a conversation podcast that can be very heady and wonky for those who love theology. Frankly, the people on this podcast are too smart for me to always follow and I am humbled every time I listen - I just am not as smart as I want to think that I am.

Recently, Scott Jones (the host) had a conversation with R. R. Reno (AKA Rusty). I was introduced to R. R. Reno in Seminary via a book he wrote called In the Ruins of the Church. When I heard this podcast, I wanted to just jot down a few great ideas that came from this conversation, so that I don't forget them. I hope these notes are as inspiring to you as there are for me. 

Among the gems that I found in this conversation was the idea that too much of our time is spent reading the statisticians of our predicament rather than the prophets of our deliverance. I am aware of how much I spend reading about the "predicament" we are in. I know that it is critical to diagnose the illness before treatment can begin. It seems clear to me that too many of us (self included) are parsing diagnostic words but few prophets are discussing what the treatment is for such ills. 

We are not able to listen to these prophets for at least two reasons. First is human nature. Prophets call us to account and call us to change. Humans have done a very good job at killing prophets in our world; this is an ancient problem.

The other reason we don't listen to prophets sharing solutions feels newer. We may not listen to the prophets of our deliverance because we do not have consensus on what the problem is. 

Moses was a prophet and he was not killed by his people. Why? Perhaps it is because there was a consensus on what the problem was - the people were enslaved. There was a deep agreement that slavery is the "predicament" and so it is easier to hear the prophet who is speaking deliverance to that predicament.

I grow frustrated about how much time I spend on understanding the predicament, I also know that until there is a sense of what the "problem is" we will never be able to hear the prophet lead us toward the path of healing.

"Think with your eyes and feel with your ears"

Malcolm Gladwell was on "Late Show" with Stephen Colbert not long ago. Colbert asked Gladwell why he was making a podcast when he is more than able to sell books and is quite popular in the world of popular writing. In response, Gladwell cited his friend Charles (I cannot catch the last name) who said, "you think with eyes and feel with your ears." 

There is a little back and forth here between the two while Gladwell attempts to make his overall point but here is the interview in full to consider:

While Colbert has a point that there are times that we "feel" deeply when we read a book or a poem. I would argue that the times we are emotionally moved by a text is when we allow it to "speak" to us and we "hear it" in our souls. However, Gladwell's point is getting at there is so much conveyed in sound that is lost on a page. You don't catch the nuances that come though when someone is speaking about something that is at their core. Sure you can read a sermon, but it is much different to hear a sermon.

For instance, this is the video clip of the moment that Gladwell mentions that will forever be remembered from Colbert's previous interview: 

Notice Munoz's voice and pauses and pacing and tone. There is an emotion and a feeling that one cannot get by just reading the transcripts. 

At risk of sounding like a technology curmudgeon, when we prefer to use text over voice as a primary communication then we need to understand what we are loosing. The gains in productivity we may get in "texting" another are perhaps by way of sacrificing the emotional connection we build when we talk to one another. 

I am not sure how one would go about tracking if the rise of text communication is inversely related to the decline of empathy but there are interesting studies that explore the decline of empathy.

We may be getting smarter but we may also getting "the feels" less often. 

Middle Class Spirituality

Question: If you were asked to use one of these commonly used names for the social classes, which would you say you belong in? The upper class, upper-middle class, middle class, lower-middle class, or lower class?   Source: The University of Connecticut/Hartford Courant survey of 1,002 randomly selected adults nationwide, Jan. 22-Jan. 28, 2013.

Question: If you were asked to use one of these commonly used names for the social classes, which would you say you belong in? The upper class, upper-middle class, middle class, lower-middle class, or lower class?
Source: The University of Connecticut/Hartford Courant survey of 1,002 randomly selected adults nationwide, Jan. 22-Jan. 28, 2013.

Even those who are not actually in the middle class like to identify with the middle class. Sometimes you get qualifiers such as I am "upper-middle class" but it is all in relation to middle class. We demonize the highest 1% (and even more the .01%) of wealth holders and talk about how the lowest 1% are freeloading the system. We are frustrated when the economy does nothing for the middle class and if play a drinking game during a presidential debate only taking a sip when you heard any candidate say "middle class" then you would be passed out by the end of the first question. 

Jesus was not middle class, and yet we want to make him fit there. We pacify the hard messages of Jesus and down play his anti-empire and political positions. We give him good looks in movies and we ensure he looks well fed in art. He comes from a family that gave the sacrifice of the poor (pigeons) but we recreate the upper room feast like that of a Norman Rockwell painting. We are quick to "understand" his teachings and speak of them like he is directing them toward us in the middle class rather than to those on the margins. 

In fact Jesus was not the only spiritual leader that was from the margins. I don't know every story of every religious leader, but I am willing to bet that most religious leaders came from the margins and not the middle class of their time.

Christians give thanks to God for the incarnation of God in the life of Jesus. Perhaps it is worth further consideration that yes God was not born to a rich family, but also that God was not born to a middle class family.

Jesus is not middle class spirituality.

Free Cookbook for those on American food assistance (made by Canadian)

Every month while in college I was given an allowance from my parents: $100. Granted they also paid for a lot of other things for me at school - books, much of tuition, rent - but I also had a job and was responsible for a good portion of my bills as well. My job in university ministry was not high paying and so most of my money went to the bills that I was responsible for. And when the first of the month hit and I had an additional $100 in my account, I felt like a king. 

A lot of my college days were also spent eating not only Ramen but bowls of white rice and pinto beans. I also would join my friends in the campus eateries and eat off their plates when they went to the bathroom or were not looking. I would snag a few french fries here and there and even get the last half of a sandwich if my friends were done. I never ate from the trash, but it was tempting at times. 

I felt too guilty to ask for more money from my parents at the time and so I kept on keeping on. I do not resent them and I really never felt like I went hungry. I am eternally thankful for my parents taking on such a huge financial load for me to attend a private school that I just did not think asking for more money would be the right thing to do. I managed to learn to eat on less than $4 a day. 

Eating on $4 a day or less is a situation that many Americans live with all the time. And when I was doing it for 3 years I never thought I could afford to eat more than rice, beans and Ramen. Recently, Leanne Brown created a cookbook for those who eat on $4 a day or less. Those who are on the SNAP program here in America are who she has in mind when she made this book

Not only is this a free cookbook, but also one that actually looks amazing. 

This is the sort of change and cultural artifact that I desire to be associated with. My next step is to find a way to get funds to print this off and have free copies available for people at my local food pantry: Community Link Mission

Anyone interested in helping fund this?