Category Archives: Cultural issues

Anne Sabo, a mama- and sex blogger right here in River City

Anne Sabo, Griff WigleyA couple of weeks ago, I noticed a blog entry in the citizens widget on the right sidebar of‘s home page aggregator by someone named Quizzical mama.

A few clicks later led me to Northfielder Anne Sabo who, it turns out, is a former St. Olaf prof who now maintains three active blogs.

Northfield has a lot of bloggers but not many with more than one so I knew I needed to know more.  We had coffee yesterday morning at GBM and we’re now exploring ways to collaborate.

Anne’s sites:

Home page of Anne Sabo
Anne Sabo home page

Quizzical mama
Quizzical mama

Love, Sex, and Family
Love, Sex, and Family

New porn by women

How shrtong do you feel about people who pronounce /str/ as /shtr/ ?

american english pronunciationI notice that the woman who reads the sponsor ads on MPR News pronounces words with /str/ as /shtr/, for example, deshtroy instead of destroy. Michelle Obama does, too.

Are you hearing this more on Division Shtreet here in Northfield? Do you find it shtrange? When you hear it, do you want to set people shtraight? If so, what’s your shtrategy? Reshtructure their jaw? Or do you reshtrain yourself?

Here’s a comprehensive blog post about the phenomenon.

What is good character? Can/should it be taught in Northfield’s K-12 classrooms?

What if the Secret to Success Is Failure? KIPP Character Report Card

I’m intrigued by yesterday’s NY Times Magazine cover article: What if the Secret to Success Is Failure? A radical rethinking of how students should be taught and evaluated, by Paul Tough.

The accompanying page, Q. and A.: Can You Teach Character?, has a sample character report card, along with this list of the 24 character strengths identified in the book Character Strengths and Virtues, by Chris Peterson and Martin Seligman.

In most societies, Seligman and Peterson wrote, these strengths were considered to have a moral valence, and in many cases they overlapped with religious laws and strictures. But their true importance did not come from their relationship to any system of ethics or moral laws but from their practical benefit: cultivating these strengths represented a reliable path to “the good life,” a life that was not just happy but also meaningful and fulfilling.

Six years after that first meeting, Levin and Randolph are trying to put this conception of character into action in their schools. In the process, they have found themselves wrestling with questions that have long confounded not just educators but anyone trying to nurture a thriving child or simply live a good life. What is good character? Is it really something that can be taught in a formal way, in the classroom, or is it the responsibility of the family, something that is inculcated gradually over years of experience? Which qualities matter most for a child trying to negotiate his way to a successful and autonomous adulthood?

Also mentioned in the article: Character Education Partnership, "the leading national advocate for character education. Our goal is to strengthen our communities, nation, and democracy by empowering teachers, schools, and school administrators."

In 2008, a national organization called the Character Education Partnership published a paper that divided character education into two categories: programs that develop “moral character,” which embodies ethical values like fairness, generosity and integrity; and those that address “performance character,” which includes values like effort, diligence and perseverance.

The CARE program falls firmly on the “moral character” side of the divide, while the seven strengths that Randolph and Levin have chosen for their schools lean much more heavily toward performance character: while they do have a moral component, strengths like zest, optimism, social intelligence and curiosity aren’t particularly heroic; they make you think of Steve Jobs or Bill Clinton more than the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. or Gandhi.

Dan Clites organizes a prayer walk at the Northfield High School; it’s a Trojan Horse

Update Sept. 16: See the blog post I was wrong. Prayer walk at the Northfield High School was organized by a student.

Last week, Rejoice! pastor Dan Clites posted this on the church’s website (since removed):

THIS FRIDAY! DO YOU CARE ABOUT OUR SCHOOLS? Of course you do! So, let’s pray walk the grounds of Northfield High School and start seeing the spiritual climate change for our students, faculty and administration! THIS FRIDAY, AUGUST 26th…meet at 7:00 pm sharp in front of the NHS Auditorium entrance. We will pray walk for 45-minutes. If you feel uncomfortable praying out loud— then just walk along in agreement! It will make a difference because the Bible says God hears our prayers!

I went as an observer and to take photos. Why?

Aug. 26, 2011 prayer walk at the Northfield High School Video on Northfield Patch - Prayer Walk for Northfield High School

In my Feb. 12 blog post, What is Transformation Northfield’s public agenda?, I pointed out the connection between Dan Clites and Ed Silvoso who believes that gay people are possessed by demons.

For TN [Transformation Northfield] to be connected to Ed Silvoso and his organization is ominous.

Any message, direct or indirect, that homosexuals, bisexuals and transsexuals are somehow under the influence of demonic forces, is not only hurtful and destructive but dangerous.  It can have a corrosive effect on the morale of LGBT employees who work for the city and school district.

And for any LGBT youth in our schools who are struggling to come to terms with their sexual identity, it can exacerbate their pain, lead to depression, or worse.

It concerns me that some teachers and coaches who are members of TN might convey this belief to the youth they work with. And it concerns me that some of the youth involved with TN, who are urged to live their calling in the marketplace of school, could fall into demonizing other youth.

For Clites and Rejoice! to take promote a prayer campaign to at the steps of Northfield High School is more disturbing than the prayer group in City Administrator Al Roder’s office at Northfield City Hall back in 2007.

I assume the prayers were generic/innocuous, judging from the video they posted on Northfield Patch. But for Clites to say that “We’re here to simply pray blessing and let God’s Holy Spirit move,” is more than a little disingenuous. Judging from his writings and those of his mentors , his unstated belief is likely that demonic forces inhabit the building and some of the faculty, staff and students who are LGBT.

Clites’ philosophy appears to be consistent with dominionism, which was the focus of a Fresh Air show last week titled The Evangelicals Engaged In Spiritual Warfare (audio/summary here; full transcript here) .  Researcher Rachel Tabachnick was Terry Gross’ guest. Here’s an exchange about dominionism and ‘demonic principalities:’

racheltabachnickMs. RACHEL TABACHNICK: I would say the basic beliefs began with the idea of dominionism, and dominionism is simply that Christians of this belief system must take control over all the various institutions of society and government. They have some unusual concepts of what they call spiritual warfare that have not been seen before in other groups.

Spiritual warfare is a common term in evangelicalism and in Christianity, but they have some unique approaches and unique spins on this that distinguish them from other groups.

GROSS: And that literally have to do with casting demons out of people and religions and…

Ms. TABACHNICK: They use this in terms of evangelizing. So whereas we might be accustomed with the idea of saving souls, of missionaries or evangelical work to save individual souls; they believe that they can, through this demon warfare, take control over entire communities, or perhaps nations or people groups, an ethnic group, a religious group and so forth, because they believe that they are doing spiritual warfare at this higher level against these demonic principalities, what they call demonic principalities.

See also last Sunday’s NY Times Magazine for a column by Bill Keller, executive editor, titled Asking Candidates Tougher Questions About Faith.

And I care a lot if a candidate is going to be a Trojan horse for a sect that believes it has divine instructions on how we should be governed.

So this season I’m paying closer attention to what the candidates say about their faith and what they have said in the past that they may have decided to play down in the quest for mainstream respectability.

Clites and some of his followers have their own Trojan horse saddled up and galloping around Northfield, an unstated plan is to get more people (they already have two, Jeff Quinnell on the Northfield School Board and Rhonda Pownell on the Northfield City Council) elected to public office. The Northfield School Board is where they hope to affect public policy related to LGBT issues and probably others (intelligent design?).

Of course, I’ve got no problem with any group trying to affect public policy by getting elected. But tactics and transparency matter and I object to how Clites demonizes people (‘principalities of opposition’) and how he and some members of TN and Rejoice! aren’t transparent about some aspects of their agenda.

But then, what do I know?  According to Clites (twice in my conversation with him last Friday), I can’t be expected to understand these things because I’m an atheist.

Update 8:39 PM: I’ve amended the 3rd to the last paragraph above to read:

…an unstated plan is to get more people (they already have two, Jeff Quinnell on the Northfield School Board and Rhonda Pownell on the Northfield City Council) elected to public office.

The original version left out Rhonda Pownell, an oversight on my part.

Update Sept. 16: See the blog post I was wrong. Prayer walk at the Northfield High School was organized by a student.

How the cult of self-esteem is ruining the kids of Northfield

Last week I purchased two magazines– the type made of paper—from a bookstore—the type made of bricks and mortar. Radical, I know, but it’s part of my August sabbatical strategy of whacking myself upside the head.

There’s an article in the July/August issue of The Atlantic titled How to Land Your Kid in Therapy by Lori Gottlieb. The tagline: "Obsessing over our children’s happiness may doom them to miserable adulthoods."

I think it’s an excellent wake-up call for many Northfield parents—and maybe the local therapist community. Our colleges might appreciate it, too. Here’s a quote

Atlantic cover July Aug 2011Something surprising began happening: I started getting more patients like her. Sitting on my couch were other adults in their 20s or early 30s who reported that they, too, suffered from depression and anxiety, had difficulty choosing or committing to a satisfying career path, struggled with relationships, and just generally felt a sense of emptiness or lack of purpose–yet they had little to quibble with about Mom or Dad.

Instead, these patients talked about how much they "adored" their parents. Many called their parents their "best friends in the whole world," and they’d say things like "My parents are always there for me." Sometimes these same parents would even be funding their psychotherapy (not to mention their rent and car insurance), which left my patients feeling both guilty and utterly confused.

See below:

Institutional Christianity losing its appeal while the social benefits from religious engagement are more important than ever

Russ Douthat’s column in last  week’s NY Times, A Tough Season for Believers, provides good fodder for a Xmas eve discussion. Here are some excerpts:

But this is also the season when American Christians can feel most embattled. Their piety is overshadowed by materialist ticky-tack. Their great feast is compromised by Christmukkwanzaa multiculturalism. And the once-a-year churchgoers crowding the pews beside them are a reminder of how many Americans regard religion as just another form of midwinter entertainment, wedged in between “The Nutcracker” and “Miracle on 34th Street.”

These anxieties can be overdrawn, and they’re frequently turned to cynical purposes… But they also reflect the peculiar and complicated status of Christian faith in American life. Depending on the angle you take, Christianity is either dominant or under siege, ubiquitous or marginal, the strongest religion in the country or a waning and increasingly archaic faith.

Happily, for those who need a last-minute gift for the anxious Christian in their life, the year just past featured two thick, impressive books that wrestle with exactly these complexities.

American GraceThe first is “American Grace,” co-written by Harvard’s Robert Putnam (of “Bowling Alone” fame) and Notre Dame’s David Campbell, which examines the role that religion plays in binding up the nation’s social fabric. Over all, they argue, our society reaps enormous benefits from religious engagement, while suffering from few of the potential downsides.

Widespread churchgoing seems to make Americans more altruistic and more engaged with their communities, more likely to volunteer and more inclined to give to secular and religious charities. Yet at the same time, thanks to Americans’ ever-increasing tolerance, we’ve been spared the kind of sectarian conflict that often accompanies religious zeal.

But for Christians, this sunny story has a dark side. Religious faith looks more socially beneficial to America than ever, but the institutional Christianity that’s historically generated most of those benefits seems to be gradually losing its appeal…

To Change the WorldTheir argument is complemented by the University of Virginia sociologist James Davison Hunter’s “To Change the World,” an often withering account of recent Christian attempts to influence American politics and society…

In spite of their numerical strength and reserves of social capital, he argues, the Christian churches are mainly influential only in the “peripheral areas” of our common life. In the commanding heights of culture, Christianity punches way below its weight.

Putnam and Campbell are quantitative, liberal, and upbeat; Hunter is qualitative, conservative and conflicted. But both books come around to a similar argument: this month’s ubiquitous carols and crèches notwithstanding, believing Christians are no longer what they once were — an overwhelming majority in a self-consciously Christian nation. The question is whether they can become a creative and attractive minority in a different sort of culture, where they’re competing not only with rival faiths but with a host of pseudo-Christian spiritualities, and where the idea of a single religious truth seems increasingly passé.

Or to put it another way, Christians need to find a way to thrive in a society that looks less and less like any sort of Christendom — and more and more like the diverse and complicated Roman Empire where their religion had its beginning, 2,000 years ago this week.

It’s 4/20. Is that a problem?

Statue of Louis Pasteur at San Rafael High SchoolI don’t partake myself but the local college students I talked to this week say today is a still a significant day. I don’t worry about it.

The movie, It’s Complicated, has two very funny segments involving chemical use: one of Jane (Meryl Streep) and Jake (Alec Baldwin) getting drunk and having sex, and another of Jane, Jake and Adam (Steve Martin) getting high at a party.  The abuse of alcohol was problematic; the use of pot, not so much.

Given what’s happening on our local campuses, I’m glad to see local folks focusing their efforts on preventing alcohol abuse. Since it’s 4/20 today, there’s a place where you can get the best bongs on the market. Check out SmokeCartel.

Podcast: who cleans the toilets at your home?

Tracy Davis, Griff Wigley, no Ross Currierscott-hilburn-cartoonMy sweetie happened to walk by the KYMN studio window as we started recording this week’s show. Tracy waved her in and before I knew it, instead of discussing the politics of Northfield, we were discussing the politics of household chores, triggered by last week’s blog post on Deciphering the paradox of declining female happiness. This toilet-related Argyle Sweater cartoon by Scott Hilburn featured prominently in our discussion. Where were you when I needed you, Ross?

Click play to listen. 30 minutes.

Continue reading Podcast: who cleans the toilets at your home?