26 June 2015

Hardwired for relationship

What is it about reality tv shows and the human condition?
My Kitchen Rules

So you think you can dance?

It started with Survivor, and now each night on Aussie TV, and I'm guessing where you are also, the assortment of shows continues relentlessly. Australian Idol, So you think you can dance, My Kitchen Rules, The Block, The Apprentice, the Bachelor, the list continues ad nauseum. But someone thinks this makes sense. And someone else knows it makes dollars and cents. Abundantly. Why is that?

Sociologist and New York University professor Eric Klinenberg teamed up with actor/ comedian Aziz Ansari to unpack relationships in a book that was released this month. Ansari constantly chased love as wannabe ladykiller Tom Haverford in TV show Parks and Recreation, and contemplates the strangeness of online dating throughout his standup comedy.

Modern Romance, their collaborative book, used a rigorous and data-led examination of how we date. The pair conducted hundreds of interviews with people from Japan to the American midwest to gauge how love, sex and relationships have changed with the advent of networked technology.
They even set up a research forum on Reddit, Modern Romantics, which asked questions like “Has anyone tried an ‘open relationship’? What were the rules? How did it go? Would you do it again?” and “Has anyone hired a consultant to help you put together an online dating profile or worked with a dating coach? How’d that go?”

Klinenberg, meanwhile, is similarly steeped in the study of modern relationships. His book Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone, published last year, examined how solo living has become so prevalent in recent years that there are now more people living alone in the US than nuclear families living together.

So my question remains. What is it about reality tv shows and the human condition?

I believe we are all hardwired for relationship. 

I read a long thesis from the UK while studying for this blog. It's here online . Written by Val Gillies for Families & Social Capital ESRC Research Group, of South Bank University and published 12 years ago, the historical review of sociology is excellent and well worth a long-read. Val looks back at trends and evaluates the changes in society over generations, focusing principally from the 1960s onwards.

For instance, "Raymond Firth and colleagues(1969) also focused on middle class families, emphasising the continued significance of selected or chosen kin relationships. These studies were extremely influential and spurred a new interest in social networks, communities and more specifically kinship systems. Although such topics eventually fell out of favour they have recently been revived by social capital theorists attempting to measure the value of social connectedness. The major focus in the 1960s and ‘70s was on determining the norms of obligation and reciprocity governing such relationships, in the context of a general consensus that kinship ties are the closest and most committed (Crow and Allan 1994)" 
Gillies goes on to discuss 'companionate marriage,' "As Janet Finch and Penny Mansfield (1991) point out, the notion of ‘companionate marriage’ emerged as an ideal amid a post-war concern to consolidate and stabilise family life. Emphasis was placed on the principles of ‘partnership’, sharing and greater equality between the sexes, and the advent of a new, more home-centred family life. Sociological writings, particularly the community studies of the 1950s and 60s, commonly drew on and reproduced this companionate ideology when theorising about family."
The term "Companionate marriage" of course would widen in the next few decades into homosexual and other partnering types. But the point is that people want relationships, and although 'family' as traditional is not always the norm, the value of real people really speaking into real people's lives is continuing. 
This one section about modernity and 'individualisation' really spoke to me. "Beck and Beck-Gernsheim’s ‘individualisation thesis’ articulates a similar picture, suggesting that a new age of modernity has replaced the old predictabilities and certainties of industrial society, bringing with it new risks and opportunities (Beck and Beck-Gernsheim 1995, 2002). They argue that these changes have fundamentally altered the experience of love, sexuality and family life, placing intimacy at the heart of detraditionalised life. Liberated from precepts and conventions individuals become authors of their own lifescripts, but while this process of ‘individualisation’ weakens and challenges traditional social ties of kinship and marriage, love and intimacy are ever more sought after to ease the isolation of this autonomy: ‘For individuals who have to invent or find their own social setting, love becomes the central pivot giving meaning to their lives’ (Beck and Beck-Gernsheim 1995: 170).
All this to say that I believe we are hardwired for relationships. We need others. We need to know and be known by others. We want to be human with other humans. And whether these relationships are forced as in arranged marriages, or simply as two young people find each other and marry, or we are hoping for that selfie with another who is prominent in footy or The Bachelor, we want to know and be known. 
The problem of course, with the reality shows is two fold. One, they are not real. The camera crew and others on production staff also fill 'the island' or the 'kitchen' or the home to be renovated. The scripts are carefully edited; the dangers filmed but rarely truly shown. The second problem is that we might know of bit of the back story of their journey of the candidates for Dancer or Singer or Talent of the show, they in fact, know nothing of us. No relationship is actual. It is entirely voyeuristic. We know what we know about them. They know nothing of me or you. We are 'the audience' and 'the fans whom I would like to thank for voting for me. I love each of you,' says each winner, but they don't really love us. They don't know us at all.
Our desire to be known and to know is thus dissatisfied. We fail in relationships. And yet, we are still hardwired for them. So where can we go? 

I believe, as you might expect, that it all begins with relationship with God. He is to be known, and has made it clear how that happens in the pages of the Bible. He wants to be in relationship with us, but we fail a fair bit. Consider these phrases, all from the apostle Paul:
1Cor. 1.21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.

Gal. 4.9 But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again?

Titus 1.16 They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient, and worthless for any good deed.

Knowing God is about knowing Jesus. He said as much in his final (listed) prayer, "And this is eternal life, that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Yeshua the Messiah whom Thou hast sent." (John 17.3) This is the key to eternity. Knowing Yeshua as Messiah and knowing His Father, from whom all good things come. Yeshua said, "My sheep hear My voice and I know them, and I give them eternal life." (John 10.27-28) Knowing whom to follow and whose voice it is ... that's eternal life. Being in relationship with Him makes all things new. 

Then He gives us others, in families, or in congregations, or around the world via Skype and online LiveChat who are in fact, family.  The apostle John said, "if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin." (1 John 1.9) This fellowship is real and deep. It's personal and much better than a cheer or cheerleader on a Television reality show. 

No wonder John said moments earlier, "what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, that you also may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Yeshua the Messiah." (1 John 1.3)

Hardwired for relationship? It all starts with the Almighty. Get right with Him and then you will find others, also cleansed by His love and forgiveness, with whom you can share abundantly.  Want to try that one on?

20 June 2015

Memorials (Part 2)

I wrote the other day about remembering and the power of memories. And now today we look at the central activity of the people of God who are nicknamed "The church" in their memory prodding, the event called 'communion.' This is that ceremony in many churches where a piece of bread and a sip of grape juice or wine is used. The actual ceremony begins with a reminder of a reminder. Paul wrote this to the Corinthian believers: "Now I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you." (1 Cor. 11.2) By keeping a good record of what Paul taught the believers there, they received a high commendation from the apostle. Like every student who learns well, when his teacher commends him, there is great joy. And the praise of the apostle is especially good given his earlier criticisms of the Corinthians.

The apostle tells them he is glad they remember him. But, as you would imagine from a humble apostle, he switches to the main thing they remember... "For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Yeshua in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me." In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes." (11.24-26)

This idea of receiving and remembering is crucial. You cannot remember what you never heard (received) and receiving alone is almost useless if you don't remember what you have heard. So the apostle says that he received something from Yeshua (Jesus) and passed that to the believers in Corinth. And that they should remember as they perform a ceremony. The ceremony itself in fact, is the call to remembrance.

It all goes back to Passover. Yes, the Jewish seder meal which my people have conducted for over 3,000 years in homes in Israel, the US, Russia, here in Australia, and around the globe. And one particular night, about 30 CE (AD) or so, Yeshua had seder with his friends and did some unusual things. He said that the matzo they were eating had a special significance, not only in relation to the exodus from Egypt, but also in relation to what was going to happen to him the next day. He knew, but the disciples did not know, that he was going to be killed by crucifixion by Roman soldiers. And he took the unleavened bread and gave it even deeper meaning saying that it was 'my body given for you." What? A piece of bread is likened to a physical body of an adult human?

In the seder's haggadah (the prayer book and order of service we use each year), we say of the unleavened bread, "This is the bread of affliction that our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt." So the bread Yeshua took in hand was already a symbol of something else. And then He changed its meaning to yet another concept-- His body, which would suffer and be afflicted the next day on a Roman cross. The idea of affliction was certainly known to the Jewish people. And it was also a characteristic of the messiah to come as Isaiah the prophet declared, "in all their affliction he was afflicted....so he became their Savior" (chapter 63) Sure enough Jesus suffered deeply the next day and took on Himself the suffering of the Jewish people, and according to the story, all people.

The cup of salvation which we drink is the "new covenant in My blood."  When approached by the two sons of Zebedee, the following took place. Yeshua asked them, "Are you able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?" They said unto him, "We are able". But Jesus answered and said, "You know not what you ask." The cup of baptism was really the cup of suffering. And certainly Yeshua suffered the next day, spilling His own blood to save us, each one of us, from our sinful nature and our activities of sins. As the prophet Isaiah also predicted 700 years earlier, "he was wounded for our transgressions. The chastisement for our peace was upon him and with his stripes we are healed." (chapter 53)

The phrase 'new covenant' is something which is used only one other time in the Tenach. Jeremiah the prophet said, "Days are coming (says the Lord) when I will make a new covenant with the Jewish people, not like the one I made with them when I brought them out of the land of Egypt. This is the covenant I will make: I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. And they shall not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the LORD, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”  

The new covenant will be a memorable one and the sins of Israel will not be remembered.  God will write the new covenant on our hearts and on our minds. That's about memory. And when Yeshua took up the cup on Passover night before He was crucified, He instituted the new covenant, a perpetual memory of His forgiving us of our sins and putting His Torah in our hearts.What a Savior!

So when the Corinthians who were pretty good at sinning and envying and living wrong got the remembrance of the Messiah right, that deserved high marks from Paul. And when you get it right, God will attest to your heart that you are His. that's worth everything. Remember this. 

For more on Passover and blood and bread, see http://jewsforjesus.org/judaica/passover. 

15 June 2015

Memorials (part 1)

Yesterday at LCM church (Anglican) in Sydney one of the pastors said as an aside, "God wants us to remember." It was almost a throw-away line, but seriously made me think about how often in the Scriptures the word is used and the theme of it running throughout. 168 times in 163 verses (32 in the Psalms alone) the word is used in the Bible and that's nothing to dismiss. Why the serious memory challenge? Why so much looking backwards?

Consider holidays. The Jewish people celebrate Passover and the Christians celebrate Easter each year about March/April. Each is a memorial of God's activity in the human dilemma. Jewish people escaped slavery after 400 years in Egypt and Christians note the salvation brought about by the death and resurrection of Jesus, the God-man Savior.
The first one who actually does 'remember' in the Bible though is the Almighty. He says, "I will remember My covenant, which is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and never again shall the water become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the cloud, then I will look upon it, to remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” (Genesis 9.15-16) This has to do with rainbows and what we see as a natural phenomenon of beauty or scientifically as mist and sunshine and right angles, God sees as a string-around-His-finger to remind Him of the flood of Noah and His own decision to "never again" do that flood thing to the whole planet.

Memorials are set up worldwide in cemeteries and on plaques in musea and in text books to help us get a glimpse of time then and for a future consideration as well.

For instance, “But lest some unlucky event should happen unfavorable to my reputation, I beg it may be remembered by every gentleman in the room that I this day declare with the utmost sincerity, I do not think myself equal to the command I am honored with.”- George Washington, first president of the USA.

Christopher Robin and Winnie the Pooh had a brief convo about this: "Pooh, when I'm--you know--when I'm not doing Nothing, will you come up here sometimes?" "Just me?" "Yes, Pooh." "Will you be here too?" "Yes Pooh, I will be really. I promise I will be Pooh." "That's good," said Pooh. "Pooh, promise you won't forget about me, ever. Not even when I'm a hundred." Pooh thought for a little. "How old shall I be then?" "Ninety-nine." Pooh nodded. "I promise," he said." AA Milne in House at Pooh Corner

And one more from Stephen King, “Writers remember everything...especially the hurts. Strip a writer to the buff, point to the scars, and he'll tell you the story of each small one. From the big ones you get novels. A little talent is a nice thing to have if you want to be a writer, but the only real requirement is the ability to remember the story of every scar. Art consists of the persistence of memory.” ― Stephen King, in Misery

So memories have purpose and a call to remember things and events and people and such has a purpose as well. If we don't remember we are destined to repeat mistakes. If we don't remember, we will think that all of life just began today and miss opportunities. We will fake our way into insignificance. Whatever it is in our lives which help us remember, and whatever sudoku and puzzling we can play to strengthen that, is for our good and the good of society in general.

Listen to these words from the Scripture, "Remember, do not forget how you provoked the LORD your God to wrath in the wilderness; from the day that you left the land of Egypt until you arrived at this place, you have been rebellious against the LORD." (Deuteronomy 9.7) Most parents would remind kids to forget their mistakes, but the Lord tells us to remember how we blew it and thus understand our un-deserved-ness. In other words, if you think you are doing ok, if you are sure that your compliance with biblical standards stands you in good stead with the Lord, you will miss out. "What!" you say?

Yes, when you establish a checklist system by the which you think you are afforded God's reward of heaven or at least a heavenly life on earth, then you miss out. Why? Because you are sinful. Because you fail Him. Because you are ever falling short of God's standards and thus deserving of God's punishment. But if you remember your own sin, and remember that EVEN SO, God amazingly loves you and desires to be with you, then you begin to understand GRACE. That's what the Bible calls God's unmerited favor. Unmerited in that you cannot merit or earn it.

Forgetfulness is endemic to a people, unless we set up memorials in calendars or in locations. For instance, in the book of Judges, we read, "as soon as Gideon was dead, the sons of Israel again played the harlot with the Baals, and made Baal-berith their god. Thus the sons of Israel did not remember the LORD their God, who had delivered them from the hands of all their enemies on every side; nor did they show kindness to the household of Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) in accord with all the good that he had done to Israel. (chapter 8.33-35) Forgetting who we are, and whose we are, and who has helped us in the past, caused us to dishonor the past, and break God's command of forbidding idolatry.

I love the idea of God remembering even when we forget. Nehemiah was a court official and became a prophet to the Jewish people. His words help in this regard, “They refused to listen, and did not remember Your wondrous deeds which You had performed among them; so they became stubborn and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt.
But You are a God of forgiveness, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness; and You did not forsake them. (9.17)

How awesome is the Lord who remembers even when we refuse and forget.

But if we remember and keep the memory of others and their deeds, of others and their hopes, of God and His plans in our minds, then we are benefited, and we are going to make a difference in the world. The choice is yours. What's on your mind today?