Sunday, December 13, 2015

"Watching Their Flocks at Night": An Advent Meditation on Shepherds and Cultures of Violence

A very interesting piece that helps us understand the Scriptures, Shepherds and Cultures.

by Richard Beck

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger.
One of my most favorite psychological studies was published in 1996 by Dov Cohen, Richard Nisbett, Brian Bowdle and Norbert Schwarz in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Titled Insult, aggression, and the southern culture of honor: An 'experimental ethnography' the study attempted to see how Southerners and Northerners in America responded to insult.

The authors argued that a "culture of honor" had been, historically, more robust in the Southern United States (due to immigration patterns) making Southerners more sensitive to perceived affronts to their personal honor (e.g., being insulted or disrespected).

To test this theory the researchers asked Northern and Southern college students to come to a building where they were asked to fill out some surveys. After filling out the surveys the subjects were asked to drop them off at the end of a hallway and then return to the room. But the hall was blocked by a filing cabinet, open, and with a person looking through it.

To get past this person the subject had to ask this person to close the drawer to make room to pass. The person at the filing cabinet was in on the study and he complies with the subject's request with some annoyance.

The subject passes the filing cabinet, drops the surveys off, and then returns back toward the filing cabinet. The person at the filing cabinet has reopened the drawer and is again blocking the hallway.

As the subject approaches for a second time this is what happens, quoting directly from the study:
As the participant returned seconds later and walked back down the hall toward the experimental room, the confederate (who had reopened the file drawer) slammed it shut on seeing the participant approach and bumped into the participant with his shoulder, calling the participant a name.
Sitting in the hallway nearby were raters who looked, ostensibly, like students reading or studying. But what the raters actually did was to look at the face of the subject at the moment the insult occured. They then rated how angry versus amused the subject looked. Because we can expect a wide variety of reactions to the insult. Some of us would smile or laugh it off. Some of us would get angry and seek to aggressively confront the person who just called us a name.

The research question was simple: How did the Southerners and Northerners compare when responding to the insult? Was one group more angered or amused?

The findings, consistent with the Southern culture of honor hypothesis, showed that Southerners were more likely to become angered by the insult while Northerners were more likely to become amused. This finding was reconfirmed in a variety of different follow up studies (for example, Southerners had significantly more stress hormones in their body relative to the Northerners after the insult).

All in all, then, it seemed that Southerners were working with, and defending, a more robust "honor code" than Northerners.

But where does a "culture of honor" come from?

One explanation that has gained a lot of attention is a theory posited by Richard Nisbett and Dov Cohen, two of the authors of the insult study, in their book Culture of honor: The psychology of violence in the South. Specifically, Nisbett and Cohen argue that different ethics of honor and retaliation have evolved in herding versus farming cultures.

The argument goes like this. It's hard to steal from farmers. If I have acres and acres of wheat or corn it's pretty hard for a couple of thieves to make off overnight with the fruits of my labor. More, for large parts of year there really is nothing to steal. There is no crop during the winter, spring and early summer. In short, for most of the year there is nothing the farmer has to guard or protect. And even when there is a crop to steal you can't make off with it overnight. Harvesting is time consuming and labor intensive.

All in all, then, farming cultures, it is argued, have evolved a fairly pacific and non-retaliatory social ethic.

Herding cultures face a very different problem. Imagine a cattle rancher. You can steal cattle much more quickly and efficiently relative to trying to steal a corn harvest. A handful of cattle rustlers can quickly make off with hundreds of cattle, with devastating economic impact upon the rancher. More, the cattle are always around. Unlike the farmer, the rancher's livelihood is exposed 24/7 for 365 days a year. While the farmer sleeps peacefully during the winter months there is no respite for the rancher.

Given these challenges, it is argued that herding cultures have developed a very strong ethic of retaliation. The only way to survive, economically, in a herding culture is to protect your livelihood and honor with lethal vigilance. Farmers, by contrast, are spared all this. And, given these contrasting demands, there has been a lot of data to suggest that herding cultures (or places settled by herding cultures like the American South) are, indeed, more violent than farming cultures.

(For full disclosure, this trend is disputed in the literature with data on both sides of the argument. Studies are still ongoing.)

Even if you don't find this argument compelling you likely recognize the stereotypes from American film. In Western films farmers are rarely violent. They tend to be peaceable. By contrast, ranchers and cowboys tend to be violent. And when someone in Western films has become respectable it's often associated with settling down and taking up the farming life. Conversely, leaving the farm is the resumption of violence.

Why am I going into all this? Well, during this Advent season we are exposed to many portrayals of the shepherds in Luke 2 as they keep watch over their flocks at night. And these images often look like Hallmark cards. It's sweet and idyllic. Peaceable.

Well, there was a reason these guys were up at night watching their flocks. They are examples of a herding culture. The point being, these shepherds were pretty tough, even violent, men. They aren't into sheep because they are sweet looking props for our Nativity sets. When you see those sheep you should see dollar signs, stock portfolios, walking retirement plans. That's why the shepherds were up at night. If I put your paycheck, in 10 dollar bill increments, in a pile in your front yard I bet you'd be up a night keeping a watch on your flock. Gun in hand.

The point in all this is that these shepherds were likely rough and violent men. They had to be. So it's a bit shocking and strange to find the angels appearing to these men, of all people. Thugs might be standing around in our Nativity sets. That scene around the manger might be a bit more scandalous than we had ever imagined.

But here's the truly amazing part of the story. The angels proclaim to these violent men a message of "peace on earth." And, upon hearing this message, the shepherds leave their flocks and go searching for the baby! Can you now see how shocking that behavior is? This is something you don't do in a herding culture.

Now think about how all this might apply to us. For most of our lives we stand around protecting what is ours.  We're like those shepherds, keeping watch over our flocks, even at night.  And all this makes us violent people, in small ways and large. That's the ethic of this world. It's a herding ethic. Protect what is yours because someone is coming to take it from you. It's a culture of honor. And violence.

And so the angels come to us and proclaim "peace on earth and good will to men." But how is that going to happen? Well, the story in Luke 2 shows us the way:

We follow the example of the shepherds. We leave our flocks and our lifestyles of violent vigilance...and go in search of the baby.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Here's a Way to End Spending OregonTaxes on Abortion - And It won't cost you a penny!!!!

Oregonians were not able to vote on eliminating state taxes to fund abortions this November because there was a lack of less than 20,000 signatures to get it put on the ballot.   So...there is now a Political Action Committee that formed Oregon Life United that will lobby for the pro-life efforts in the State.  Giving to this Political Action Committee costs nothing and can save lives.  VOCAL

An easy, no-cost way you can protect women and babies from abortion.

Did you know there’s a special tax credit designed to encourage your participation in the political process?
With the Oregon Political Tax Credit you could increase your 2015 tax refund — or reduce the taxes you owe — when you make a contribution to Oregon Life United PAC by December 31.
  • Individuals qualify for up to a $50 credit
  • Couples filing taxes together qualify for up to a $100 credit
Your contribution of $50 or $100 today will help us pass the Stop Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act of 2016. 
Oregon is the ONLY state in the country without any laws to protect women and pre-born babies from abortion.
Make a lasting impact on our state when you make your political tax credit contribution now. 
For Life and Liberty,
Jeff Jimerson
Director, Oregon Life United

About Oregon Life United

Oregon Life United is a non-partisan, non-denominational organization with a simple mission: Unite Oregon’s pro-life community and pass our state’s first-ever law to protect pre-born childrenWe can only do this with your help.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

40 Days for Life Directors Have Great News.

Through the grace of God, our recent 40 Days for Life Campaign in Portland, OR had so many blessings!

We had 197 prayer vigil participants from 31 different churches, and 5 saves......that we know of! May God Bless all who prayed with us, on and off site! And may

God Bless all the families and single women we encountered, no matter what the outcome. Praise God for LIFE!

Mary Theresa Rigert. Beaverton

Dear friends,
I thought PP would be closed today as it is Veteran's Day. Wrong!
I talked to a 30 year old girl ("Kathy") who seemed to know what we were about when she came out. She looked overwhelmed as she told me that she was addicted to methadone, and that she had an infection. She said PP wanted to give her antibiotics but were reluctant to do so as she was pregnant. She made it sound like they were offering abortion as the best alternative, but she didn't really want to have one. Kathy wanted to get clean and have the baby, but she wasn't sure she could as apparently getting weaned off of this drug takes time, and abrupt changes would hurt her, and the baby. She said she was homeless, but she looked fairly well kempt. She needed information about drug addiction and pregnancy. I told her I would get on the phone and try to find out some information.
 Just then a mean-sounding man called out to her from the door "They are calling your name!" Kathy indicated just a minute, but he called out, more insistently "They are calling your name!!" He gave me a stern look after she went back inside. I wasn't afraid of him, but I was afraid of how he might influence her. Steve and Barry, Ignacy and Mimi and I PRAYED. Kathy stayed in there SO long.....
Later, I signaled for a gal ("Jean") I saw in the waiting room to come out. She looked at me and shook her head "no". 
As Mimi was helping me to gather my things and head to the car so I could go to the noon Mass, Jean came around the corner. I asked "You sure you don't want any help?" She wavered, saying she wasn't sure what she wanted to do.....that she had a 6 month-old girl, a 2 year old boy and a 14 year old boy. She was 11 weeks along, so I gave her the precious feet pin. Then I showed her the fetal model of a 10 week old. She believes in God, so I reminded her that she would have to stand before God one day, and that her baby was a precious GIFT from him, and that s/he was irreplaceable! She finally relinquished that she "wouldn't have an abortion today".
In the middle of our conversation, Kathy came around the same corner. I asked her what happened and she said "I didn't do it!" I didn't see the mean guy; I don't know who he was. PP had actually ended up referring Kathy to OHSU for treatment. But she was very grateful for the phone number that I gave her to "NW Prenatal", who deal with complicated pregnancies, esp drug and alcohol-related ones. So she left!
Jean and I continued our conversation. She asked about the bus line. I asked if she needed a ride and gave her one. On the way to the place where she was living (with her Mom), she said her boyfriend didn't want her to get the abortion, and neither did his Mom (they had driven her there). But HER Mom did, apparently b/c she and all her children were living with her. When she tried to call the boyfriend to come and get her, her phone died. When she texted him, no response.
Jean told me a lot of good information about what goes on inside the PP. She was surprised that both the person who asked about her medical history (after the intake), and the woman who did the ultrasound, were midwives. She expressed concern that midwives were involved with abortions. I asked her if they would let her see the ultrasound, and she said yes, that she was asked, but didn't want to see it. The screen was turned away, but at one point, the midwife took a picture, and Jean looked and saw her baby, just the head and trunk. But once she saw that, it got her thinking and doubting......I asked her if PP tried to push abortion on her, and she said no. Jean said that once she seemed to hesitate, the midwife said she could take her time, that it was all about choice. I thanked Jean for helping me with so much information. She offered me gas money, and then offered to buy me something at KFC. I took her up on that 2nd offer! You have to eat delicious really-bad-for-you chicken some time! Besides, she wanted to treat me.......
As we parted, I told her to call me any time, not be afraid to access the resources, and treat herself good--because after all, she's pregnant!! She told me to do the  same. I don't think she'll be going back to PP Smile emoticon.
We have never had, through the grace of God, two saves in one day. But today was the day !! Thank you God!
Therese Ruesink
Abortion hurts the soul and impacts the heart at the deepest level. Knowing and respecting that reality, we should expect some persecution.
Shawn Carney 2015