Archive for the “Society & Culture” Category

When Sex Goes To School

When Sex Goes To School is a very enlightening and frustrating book. On the one hand it provides a well-researched description of the two very polarized sides of the national debate about sex education (and sex, gender, and sexuality in general). Of particular note are chapters 2 (“The Birth of Sex Education”), 3 (“Sex Education, the Sexual Revolution, and the Sixties”), 8 (“The Politics of Sex”), and 9 (“Sex Education in America and Whether It Works or Doesn’t—and Why That’s Not the Right Question”). One of the more interesting points that Luker argues is that the sexual revolution began not in the 1960s but early in the 20th century. This was the time when dating replaced courtship and dramatic cultural shifts were taking place concerning the relationships between men and women. The 1960s were just when the cultural undercurrents that had been flowing since earlier in the century exploded to the fore and pre-marital sex became embraced by the mainstream.

The frustrating aspect is that this study, as the author acknowledges, focuses solely on the people at the extreme ends of the spectrum. Therefore, people are categorized either as prudish sexual conservatives who would rather not speak about sex, who feel that to talk about sex to teenagers inevitably leads them to promiscuity, and who desperately desire to turn back the clock to the idyllic 1950s; or as sexual liberals who see sex as no big deal, who desire to teach all kids about sex from an early age regardless of the values of other families, and who believe that more information about sex will inevitably lead teenagers to make “good choices”. In short, the book describes those who see giving teenagers more information about sex as an unqualified bad idea, and those who see it as an unqualified good idea. The weakness here is that it misses the middle ground. I found myself disturbed by the sexual conservatives as much as the sexual liberals.

Does “comprehensive” sex education sexualize our culture and encourage premature sexual behavior in kids? Does “abstinence-only” sex education endanger those teens who do not share the Judeo-Christian worldview in which that philosophy makes sense and who are thus likely to abandon chastity sooner or later? Should the sexual mores of conservatives be forced upon the children of liberals, or should the sexual mores of liberals be forced upon the children of conservatives? Should there be a unified, one-philosophy-fits-all sexual education program, or should parents have options from which to choose?

Ultimately, When Sex Goes To School creates more questions than answers. However, it helps the reader better understand the sides of the debate, and maybe that’s the first step forward.

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Last year I decided to give the MUNY (the musical theater in Forrest Park) a shot, and I went to see Breakfast at Tiffany’s, figuring it would be good since the movie is so popular. Unfortunately, by the end of the first half, I wanted to kill all the characters. Holly Golightly was loathsomely conceited, and all the guys fawning over her incessantly were utterly pathetic. The only reason I didn’t leave at intermission was my pesky hope that there would be some redeeming value in the end. I was wrong.

When some of my friends from small group began making plans to go to the MUNY to see West Side Story this week, I decided to give the MUNY a second chance. After all, West Side Story first became famous as a stage musical. This time I was pleased. There were a few things that bugged me, such as how Tony and Maria fell madly in love from opposite ends of the stage in all of 2 seconds. However, this reworking of the Romeo & Juliet story was overall entertaining, emotional, and thought-provoking.

Here’s one provoked thought… In the course of the story, the Puerto-Rican gang girls break out in song about how great America is compared to Puerto Rico. My question is how to take this song. Is it a comical celebration of American affluence, or is it a satire on American materialism? In the context of the stage musical it seems to me to be more of the former. However, the movie version (as I discovered this evening) changes the context by having the Puerto-Rican gang leader interject cynical comments about institutionalized racism, which makes the rewritten movie version strongly satirical. It is also interesting to note that Five Iron Frenzy (one of my favorite bands, BTW) took the chorus of “America” and used it in their song “Beautiful America”, which is a scathing attack on American materialism:

The man on the television said I need to drink this, and sleep with that, in order to be cool. And you know that I would do anything, to be like that guy on TV. I know that if I had just the right outfit and hairstyle that could be me. Don’t you know you can’t be cool if you dress dumb, I need to have that ’cause everybody’s got one. I think I’ll start smoking, that would make me intellectual, that’s what I’ve always wanted to be. I need to lift weights, that would make me more sexual, and that would be good for me.

In America it’s wonderful,
all you have to do is fake it.
Own anything you want,
all you have to do is take it.
Live for today,
don’t think about tomorrow,
have a good time in America-Gomorrah.

What are you looking at, you better not make me mad. I’ll drive by your house and shoot your dog, and mom, and dad. I don’t need you or the Bible or anything to tell me what is the law. With a good enough lawyer I can do anything in Beautiful America.


I want to be in America
Okay for me in America
Everything’s free in America
For a small fee in America

(Lyrics by Dennis Culp & Stephen Sondheim; from the album Upbeats and Beatdowns)

What do you think? Does the original musical have a more positive view of wealth and the U.S. than the later movie version? Or did the movie just make more explicit that which was already in the musical? Or is it a little bit of both?

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On Saturday, July 2nd, I joined several other men from my church and met at the home of one of our elders to receive a lesson in home-brewing. Yes, one of the elders at my church has taken up the hobby of home-brewing and now is passing on the knowledge he has gained as an occasion for fellowship. How cool is that? I’ve been intrigued by home-brewing ever since that time Jed brewed a batch of beer in his dorm room and I helped bottle it. Of course, I went into this knowing that I have yet to taste a beer that I like. However, one, I’ve been told its an acquired taste, and two, there are other things one can brew beside beer. Part of the afternoon was a beer tasting, and sure enough, I didn’t like any of them. Nevertheless, I had a lot of fun learning about the ins and outs of home-brewing, and maybe one day I’ll try fermenting something—other than grain, that is.

On a related note, I later had a little revelation that may make sense of my continued dislike of beer. I’m starting to think that I might be a supertaster, because that would make complete sense out of my finicky eating habits. I don’t like coffee, beer, and grapefruit. What are three things that are too bitter for supertasters? Coffee, beer, and grapefruit. How many times have I listened to “John Lee Supertaster” by They Might Be Giants, and this is just now clicking in my head? (22 according to iTunes.) Now, I’ve read that supertasters also aren’t so fond of green vegetables, which I’m mostly okay with, so I’m not 100% positive about my informal diagnosis yet. I guess I’ll have to track down some 6-n-propylthiouracil and get the final word.

On Sunday, July 3rd, I of course went to church, and afterward I ran into James and Jess, who were also interested in heading over to Fair St. Louis to see the Switchfoot concert under the Arch and the river-front fireworks. I ran home to get changed into some shorts and sneakers and to get some lunch, then they picked me up and we headed downtown. Although the afternoon was hot and there wasn’t much to do while waiting for the scheduled events, it was worth getting there early to see the air-show and get a good spot on the Arch-grounds. Some other people from church showed up before the concert and through cellphones we managed to get them over to the choice spot we had staked out. Switchfoot rocked the crowd, although I can’t say they were better than They Might Be Giants or Five Iron Frenzy. Immediately following the concert was the fireworks show, which led off with a stunt plane shooting off fireworks over the river before the traditional fireworks shot off from a river barge.

After all the festivities were done and the crowd began to clear, I noted a sort of Tragedy of the Commons—trash everywhere. I dutifully carried my trash to one of the multitude of trash cans along the main paths, but most people seemed content to simply drop empty cups and wrappers on the ground for Fair volunteers to pick up sometime before the next day’s events. As if I needed another sign that humanity is depraved.

Anyway, I went to the Fair expecting a good time—which was indeed had—but I never expected to walk away a millionaire. As James, Jess, & I walked through the streets towards the car, a group of youths standing on the side of the sidewalk made eye contact with us and extended towards us pieces of paper in their hands. Lo and behold they were giving out million dollar bills! Or not. No, they were merely religious tracts “cleverly” disguised as counterfeit million dollar bills.

The million dollar question: Will you go to Heaven? A quick test. Have you ever told a lie, stolen anything, or used God’s name in vain? Jesus, said, “Whoever looks upon a woman to lust after her has committed adultery already with her in his heart.” Have you looked with lust? Will you be guilty on Judgement Day? If you have done those things God sees you as a lying, thieving, blasphemous, adulterer at heart. The Bible warns that you will end up in Hell. That’s not God’s will. He sent His Son to suffer and die on the cross for you. Jesus took your punishment upon Himself-“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Then he rose from the dead and defeated death. Please repent (turn from sin) today and trust in Jesus, and God will grant you everlasting life. The read your Bible daily and obey it.

As I continued to walk, examining this evangelistic gimmick and having not even exchanged a single word with the young man who handed it to me, it struck me. What bothers me about this is that it is Christian spam. Someone convinces these kids to stand out on a street corner after a large event and hand out as many of these things as possible with the hopes that just a few will read the message crammed into the back border area of this fake bill and say, “Gee, I never realized this before. I’ll give my life to Jesus right now and read my Bible every day.” Does it work? Well, enough people respond to emails about porn, prescription meds, and widows in Nigeria to keep email spam going, so I’m guessing they get a few takers. Quick, clean, simple. No need to know the person or invest in a relationship. Just trick people into reading a “Gospel presentation”, get them converted, and the job is done.

I find this approach to be highly inadequate. There’s no follow up. There’s no discipleship. The tract doesn’t mention anything about going to a church and becoming part of a fellowship of Christians, who can challenge and love one another. Instead, the tract advocates an individualistic religion—a religion of just “me and Jesus”—that does not capture the fulness of the Gospel.

And then a few blocks later we passed a tent city. I vaguely recalled from a news report that I caught bits and pieces of as I was getting ready to go out one day that a bunch of homeless people were camping out somewhere downtown in protest of something. Well, there it was, just a few blocks away from my brothers and sisters with the tracts. I had to wonder. Did they give out any tracts to the camped out homeless people? Wouldn’t giving “million dollar bill” tracts to homeless people be kind of cruel in a way?

Unfortunately, I don’t have the perfect answer. I’m still learning what it means to evangelize, to love, and to have mercy. I can’t give anyone a 10 step evangelism program. And if anyone claims to have a 10 step evangelism program, I think it’d be best to run the other way. I don’t think evangelism is so simple and well-defined. Although the Great Commission is only one sentence long, it’s complex, involved, and time-consuming in its application.

Perhaps searching for concrete, well-defined answers is what makes these tracts look like a good idea. You can quantify it and think that you did some real good. “I handed out 200 tracts today. I touched 200 lives with the Gospel.” It sounds impressive and pious, but it doesn’t really capture the fullness of the Great Commission.

Anyway, theological musing aside, they say the first million is the hardest, so I guess it won’t be long before James, Jess, and I are being chauffeured in our limos to the airport where our private jets can fly us off to our mansions in the Hamptons. (Although, if I ever actually somehow become a millionaire and I buy a limo, a private jet, and a mansion in the Hamptons, someone out there better beat the ever-loving snot out of me.)

On Monday, July 4th, I slept in, having been quite tired from the fullness of the previous day. My only plans that day were to go to a Library staff party at the home of our serials coordinator, Joanna. I and the rest of the staff gathered for a fine cookout—though the cooking was the only thing going on outside. Being St. Louis, it was a little too warm outside, and we all stayed inside to chat. And there was much chatting—so much so that we lost track of time and completely missed the Kirkwood fireworks that we had intended to go see. Oh well.

Finally, for those of you who aren’t regular hr viewers: Relevancy Link

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I wish I could remember who, but I recall hearing someone talk about the tyranny of the phone. For some reason I’ve been thinking about that lately. As a culture, we are conditioned to answer the phone whenever it rings—in most cases despite whatever else we are doing. The sharp ring of the phone piercing the gentle sounds of the house demands our attention. We jump up, drop what we are doing, and run towards the nearest handset. The phone trumps all—even the person who is physically present. Of course, cell phones have only compounded the problem. Now we are on call and slaves to interruption wherever we go.

Why does it feel so bad to ignore the phone? Can we not bear the thought of disappointing the caller? Should the caller be disappointed to not have his or her call answered? Is being able to contact someone anytime a rightful expectation? Is that an expectation we ought to fulfill?

I say no. The phone is a convenience, a tool. People managed to communicate before the phone using much slower forms of communication. It’s nice if you happen to call when the recipient is available, but if they are otherwise engaged, then you’ll just have to wait. That’s what voicemail is for. Let’s mind our priorities and not let the phone be our master.

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