Christianity’s Decline

Mark Bauerlein asks “What’s the Point of a Professor?” Kevin Gannon lets loose on Bauerlein in “I Will Not Be Lectured To. I’m Too Busy Teaching.” Which prompts Adam Copeland to ask “What’s the Point of a Pastor?“* Copeland’s insights prompt thinking about the Pew Research Center’s new Religious Landscape Study.

Among other findings, Pew concluded:

Christians are declining, both as a share of the U.S. population and in total number. In 2007, 78.4% of U.S. adults identified with Christian groups, such as Protestants, Catholics, Mormons and others; seven years later, that percentage has fallen to 70.6%. Accounting for overall population growth in that period, that means there are roughly 173 million Christian adults in the U.S. today, down from about 178 million in 2007.

• Within Christianity, the biggest declines have been in the mainline Protestant tradition and among Catholics. Mainline Protestants represented 14.7% of U.S. adults in 2014, down from 18.1% in 2007, while the Catholic share of the population fell to 20.8% from 23.9% over the same period. By comparison, evangelical Protestants have been more stable, declining only about 1 percentage point between 2007 and 2014 (from 26.3% to 25.4%).

Why is Christianity in decline in the United States in 2015? Copeland implies it’s because pastors don’t challenge people nearly enough. More specifically, here’s what he wants needs from his pastor:

• A reframing of community that moves away from me and my wants as central

• A constant reminder that my money, my possessions, and my very life belong not to myself, but to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ

• Someone to name the true, ugly, beautiful, painful reality of life together, and to cast a new vision of what the Kingdom of God looks like

• A wise, honest soul who looks me in the eye and says, “You are a jerk and God forgives you anyway. Go and sin no more.”

• A hope-filled, justice-seeking, cross-bearing, advocate for those on the margins

• Consistent Spirit-filled testimony that my identity and accomplishments are not of my own creation, but are only made possible through God’s grace and faithful provision

If every pastor/priest took Copeland’s prescriptions to heart starting today would it slow Christianity’s decline? Reverse it altogether? Why or why not?

* thanks to Pastor SMW for the Copeland link

Let’s Say You’re a Non-Conformist

And you find boxing medieval and barbaric. Let’s say you used to like the violent science back in the day when heavyweights like Foreman, Norton, Frazier, and Ali roamed the earth. But you’ve learned about Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy and evolved. Hell, you may even be done with football.

What are you going to do late Saturday night when everyone else is watching a guy with a history of domestic abuse take on a legislator who has left his constituents hanging?

Happy to help.

If you’re a non-conformist like me (pun intended), evolutionary history still has some hold on you. Meaning you like a good fight as long as it doesn’t end with anyone bloodied, bowed, and maybe permanently damaged.

Turns out there’s a major brouhaha taking place within the upper reaches of the black intelligentsia. In one corner, Cornel West. In the other, Michael Eric Dyson. Spend Saturday night reading Dyson’s 9,000 word roundhouse punch for the ages. Like a fighter in the early rounds, Dyson’s spends the first few thousand words bobbing and jabbing. Then mid-way, he attacks with a remarkable, astounding, vindictiveness.

Then read this anti-Dyson counterpunch from a Harvard doctoral student. Spoiler alert: like in war or any protracted, especially vicious fight, no one is going to win this one.

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The Art of Leadership

Watching the Golden State Warriors getting thumped by the New Orleans Pelicans. Game three of their first round NBA playoff series. End of the third, they’re down 20. First year coach Steve Kerr calls a time out. The network has a microphone in the huddle, so we get a master lesson in the art of leadership:

“Who lead the league in assists this year? We did. Who lead the league in scoring this year? We did. I don’t recognize the team playing out there. We have to move the ball and find the open man. Let’s go.”

Kerr’s calmness magnified the impact of his words. You’re mother was right, often it’s not what you say, but how you say it. It was the first time his team was getting schooled in the playoffs and he took the long view, knowing this was the earliest stages of a 16 step process. He had to save stronger emotion for the later, more consequential stages. Also, his calm communicated complete confidence that they could come back, which amazingly, they ultimately did.

The first four sentences are a positive reminder that they’re the best team in basketball.  “I don’t recognize the team playing out there,” is Kerr lowering the boom gracefully, subtly, and as effectively as possible. In other words, “That’s not the best team in basketball I’m accustomed to seeing.” Then finally, an ever so simple, two-part command, “Move the ball, find the open man.”

Effective leaders don’t overreact, they’re always bolstering the confidence of those they lead, and they communicate clearly. Just like the Warrior’s rookie coach.

Three Sentences to Ponder

From Wednesday’s New York Times.

1) Seven decades after the liberation of Auschwitz, a 93-year-old former SS member at the Nazi death camp shuffled into a German court on Tuesday to answer charges of complicity in the murders of 300,000 mostly Hungarian Jews in two months during the summer of 1944.

2) About 6,500 members of the SS worked at the camp; only 49 have been convicted of war crimes.

3) Among (the co-plaintiffs) is Eva Fahidi, 90, of Budapest, who lost 49 relatives in the Holocaust, including her mother and sister, who were sent to the gas chambers upon arrival at Auschwitz.

The survivors should determine the path forward:

Fahidi was not satisfied with Mr. Gröning’s testimony and request for forgiveness. “After 70 years, he still behaves this way and is not capable of saying, ‘I am a sinner,’” Ms. Fahidi said.

Another survivor, Eva Kor, 81, of Terre Haute, Ind., was also adamant that “feeling guilty doesn’t accomplish anything.” While Ms. Fahidi said she longed for a formal judgment on Mr. Gröning, Ms. Kor argued that he should go out to schools and show “how much Nazism destroyed everybody’s lives.”

. . . the trial. . . coincides with modern atrocities in the Middle East and the commemoration of the Armenian genocide 100 years ago.

“It is an important point in looking at genocidal acts which happen today — that perpetrators perhaps do get taken to court,” Christoph Heubner, of the International Auschwitz Committee in Berlin, said in an interview before the trial. “Even when it is 70 years too late, it is a lingering, lasting signal.”

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But How Will It Look On My Resume?

Statistics show people don’t tend to read any particular blog for very long. I’m not jumping from blog to blog, I’m reading fewer, which begs the question, why read this or any other blog? One common thread in the few blogs I read regularly is the authors link to interesting and insightful writing that I wouldn’t otherwise come across.

The best bloggers are connoisseurs of some specialized content and curators who provide an invaluable service in the Age of Information Overload—they help focus people’s attention.I try to do that, but my statistics reveal that few readers follow my links meaning posts like this probably don’t work that well. If I knew how to change that I would.

Starting for real now. An email arrives from an ace college roommate, a successful psychotherapist specializing in adolescent development. His 12th grade daughter has been admitted to two highly selective colleges and is conflicted about which will look better on her resume. Dad’s equally torn about where she should go. What does the college professor think?

The college professor can’t get past the fact that the daughter is worried about her resume. I wrote back that the schools’ respective prestige was within the margin of error and that the only thing that matters is whether she builds lasting relationships and develops interpersonal and intellectual skills that cannot be easily automated.

Her family enjoys far greater economic security than 90-95% of people. I don’t understand her thinking, but I know that if she is pre-occupied with her economic future, it’s no surprise that anxiety disorders among adolescents are at an all-time high.

I suspect something deeper is at work in this college decision-making case study. Something spiritual. Cue David Brooks, who wrote this essay in Sunday’s New York Times. It’s Brooks at his best. Lots of self-righteous readers savage him, for in essence, not being a Democrat. How dare a Republican reflect on what’s most meaningful in life. I wonder what it’s like to have one’s politics and daily life in permanent, perfect alignment.

Brooks is scheduled to discuss his new book, The Road to Character, on the Diane Rehm show Thursday, April 16th at 11et.

Retrain Your Brain to Be Grateful Part Two

Ledgerwood’s and the others research applies most poignantly to teaching. Consider this hypothetical. A teacher has 25 students, four whom really like her, 19 who don’t have strong feelings one way or the other, and two who really dislike her class. The two act out regularly and are highly skilled at getting under her skin. Even though they represent 8% of the classroom total, they occupy 80% of the teacher’s thinking. Consequently, they teacher wrongly concludes that most of the students are unhappy and thinks negatively about their work more generally.

This phenomenon, which Ledgerwood describes as “getting stuck in the loss frame” applies to school administrators too. More often than not, administrators’ thinking is disproportionately influenced by a few especially adversarial faculty.

Maybe the same applies to doctors working with lots of patients or ministers interacting with numerous parishioners. Or anyone whose work is characterized by continuous personal interactions.

Ledgerwood ends her talk by sharing the personal example of being pressed by her husband to “think of the good things” that happened during her day. And she’s quick to describe two positive memories. But what if you’re work or life situation is so difficult that when it comes to cultivating gratitude, you can’t gain any traction or develop positive momentum?

If I was to take the baton from Ledgerwood at the end of her talk, I’d pivot from psychology to sociology. Meaning you greatly increase your odds of being more positive if you consciously surround yourself with “gain framers”. The inverse of this, you greatly increase your odds of being more grateful if you assiduously avoid people who are “stuck in the loss frame”.

Ledgerwood contends we have to work really hard at retraining our brains. The sociological corollary is we have to be more intentional about who we seek out to partner with—whether in our work lives or our personal lives.