40 Questions: Asked and Answered

I’ve stayed fairly quiet in the wake of the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same sex marriage nationwide in the United States. My views on same-sex marriage are hardly a secret, but there are several things about the way this case was decided and the likely (and already beginning) aftermath that have me concerned. As a result, my feelings on the topic are very mixed, and I simply hadn’t found the right forum in which to share them.

Until now.

I’ve seen an article going around the Internet from Kevin DeYoung, writing at The Gospel Coalition, entitled “40 Questions for Christians Now Waving Rainbow Flags.” I’ve had a number of friends post this article and ask for thoughts and responses. I’m not much of a flag-waver myself, but I am happy for the people who can now get married, and have been vocal in supporting their ability to do so. That being the case, I thought I’d share my answers to DeYoung’s questions. As always, in sharing these thoughts I am speaking for myself, and myself alone. Your mileage may, and probably does, vary. I’m sure there’s plenty of material below for those on all sides of this issue to find offensive, so if your preference is to read only things you agree with, I’d advise you to stop here.

Continue reading 40 Questions: Asked and Answered

The Day I Met My Daughter

I had a brand new experience this past Friday. I met my daughter for the first time. It was exhilarating . . . unbelievable . . . mind-blowing. It was a thousand different adjectives for which the English language doesn’t have words.

When Heidi was pregnant with Tristan, we decided to be “surprised.” We never had an ultrasound and didn’t know whether he was a boy or girl until he was in our arms and we could check all his parts for ourselves. We never regretted that decision, but this time we decided for a variety of reasons that we wanted to know in advance, and seeing that little girl on the screen this morning, I’m so very glad we did.

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How Far Fallen?

Any “regular readers” here will know that I’m a graduate of Patrick Henry College, a small, Christian liberal-arts college here in Northern Virginia. Since my time at the school, they’ve established the Faith & Reason Lecture Series, described on the school’s website as a semiannual, “day-long shared experience that involves a presentation by a faculty member or guest, lunch with the speaker, small-group discussions, and an afternoon question-and-answer session with a faculty panel.”

The most recent such lecture occurred on Friday, September 13, 2013. It was given by faculty member Dr. Stephen Baskerville, and was entitled Politicizing Potiphar’s Wife: Today’s New Ideology. I was not present at the initial lecture (though I plan to attend a follow-up session for alumni later this week). However, after reading the content of the lecture, I am left with grave concerns about the state of education at my alma mater.

It’s long, but if this is a topic that interests you and if you have not already done so, please read the above link before you proceed. I fear what follows will make little sense otherwise, and I dislike presenting only my perspective on an issue without the reader having an opportunity to become familiar with the other side. If a discussion of academic rigor, logical argumentation, and what it means to have a “Christian education” does not interest you, you probably won’t care to read further, though you’re certainly welcome to do so.

Continue reading How Far Fallen?

Stepping Back from the Ledge: On the Obamacare Opinion

Let me preface this by saying that I am no legal scholar, merely a long-time hobbyist and sometimes court-watcher. That said, I wanted to share some unorthodox thoughts on today’s PPACA decision and the man who authored it. I’ve deliberately avoided reading much in the way of commentary on today’s opinion from either side, choosing instead to read the opinion itself and formulate my own thoughts on it. And here they are, for any who care to read them. Take them for what they’re worth . . . which is roughly equivalent to the amount you paid to read them here.

Continue reading Stepping Back from the Ledge: On the Obamacare Opinion

When “Real” isn’t Good Enough

It was, for me, the best part of the Presidential inauguration two short weeks ago. The speech was decent, the poetry atrocious, but the music . . . oh, the music . . .

As a violinist myself, I have for most of my life looked up to Itzak Perlmann as the unmatched master of my craft. Yo Yo Ma enjoys similar status atop the world of the cellist. I’m not as familiar with Anthony McGill or Gabriella Montero, who joined them on clarinet and piano, respectively, for a rendition of John Williams’ “Air and Simple Gifts.”

I remember discussing the piece afterward with my wife – a professional violin teacher and freelance performer. We wondered if they were using special carbon fiber instruments that are better able to hold a pitch – or if not, how they managed to play in such bitter cold.

Well, as the world now knows, they didn’t. Or rather, they did, but that wasn’t what the rest of the world heard. We heard a prerecorded version created a week before, comfortably indoors.

To say that I was disappointed would be an understatement. I’ve performed in the bitter cold myself, when the wind was whipping around and trying to take the music off the stand in front of me, and when my fingers were so cold that they didn’t want to work properly. Their music, while gorgeous, wasn’t difficult at all to play – particularly for musicians who are undisputedly the best in the world at what they do.

But they faked it anyway.

Then yesterday, I watched the Super Bowl between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Arizona Cardinals – two teams I care very little about. Though it was a pretty exciting game, I was more interested in watching the commercials and sharing the time with my wife’s family. The one highlight, for me, was Jennifer Hudson’s national anthem. Her stirring rendition was made all the more moving given the fact that it was her first time back singing in the national spotlight since the tragedy she suffered back in October with the brutal triple-murder of her mother, brother and nephew.

Except that it wasn’t. Like Perlman, Ma and their colleagues, she had recorded the anthem in advance. It was beautiful, to be sure, but the fact that it wasn’t HER . . . or rather, that it was her voice at another place and time . . . stole something from the moment.

These instances were both accompanied by breathless exclamations of: “My goodness . . . we couldn’t have had them perform live! Can you imagine? . . . something might have gone wrong!”

“Why is this such a big deal?” you might ask. “It was their instruments! It was her voice!” And you’re right. It’s not like this is Milli Vanilli, whose 1990 Grammy Award for best new artist was revoked when it was discovered that their talent was for lip-synching, rather than actual singing.

It’s not the same thing, but it’s part of the same problem.

The Wikipedia entry for Milli Vanilli says:

[Milli Vanilli producer Frank] Farian chose to feature vocals by Charles Shaw, John Davis, Brad Howell, and twin sisters Jodie and Linda Rocco; however, he felt that those singers lacked a marketable image. Thus, Farian recruited [Fab] Morvan and [Rob] Pilatus, two younger and more photogenic model/dancers he found in a Berlin dance club, to front the act.

Farian’s mindset, and that of the folks who produced the inauguration and the national anthem, seems to be symptomatic of a larger ailment that plagues our culture in this era of technological and philosophical advancement.

I’m as geeky as the next guy when it comes to the technological conveniences of 21st century America. I have an iPhone, a Facebook account and (obviously) a blog. I use all three of them with gusto.

But the problem arises when we allow these technologies to serve as a substitute for reality . . . a surrogate for what IS.

This mentality has permeated every area of our world. Our entertainment industry has been overrun by those who insist on having one more plastic surgery . . . on losing five more pounds . . . on looking like concentration camp victims in real life, simply because “the camera adds ten pounds.”

Reality isn’t good enough.

In the world of medicine, the reality of how our bodies feel and behave is subjugated to “the labs” . . . the all-important diagnostic tests that may or may not be accurate, may or may not be reliable, may or may not yield any valuable information about what ails us.

Then these often questionable test results are used to justify pumping us full of made-up substances designed to treat made-up problems that are more often than not mere symptoms of the very real problems that plague us. These underlying problems are largely due to the choices we make in our lifestyles and our diets . . . but a pharmaceutical company can’t make money by pressuring doctors to prescribe organic vegetables or grass-fed meat. Sit-ups don’t come in pill form.

So they give us cholesterol and blood pressure meds instead.

Reality isn’t good enough.

Speaking of food, how about that breakfast you had this morning? I’m betting that for most people across the country, it went something like this:

  • Two eggs, bought from your local supermarket and produced by pen-raised hens who have lived on genetically-modified corn their entire lives, rather than the grass, grubs and other things their stomachs are actually capable of digesting.
  • Two strips of bacon, preserved and colored by nitrates and nitrites, which form nitrosamines (a carcinogen) once they get into your body.
  • A bowl of cereal comprised of what was - at one point, perhaps - fairly healthy wheat or oats, but has been processed and manipulated so much that all the good stuff has been cooked, pressed, ground, fried or leeched out of it. Then, of course, in order to make the stuff palatable, they have to add high fructose corn syrup, or at least (if you’re lucky) sugar, which has of course been similarly processed.
  • A glass of “fruit beverage” that roughly resembles grape juice, well-laced with high fructose corn syrup, of course, because our American palates have been conditioned to think that the fructose in actual fruit isn’t sweet enough.
  • If you’re the really conscientious type, you may have had an apple, which probably found its way to your table from an orchard that was covered in toxic chemicals to keep the bugs off. Because unlike those of us who actually EAT such things, insects are smart enough to realize that poisons are very specifically and efficiently designed to make things dead.
  • Perhaps you topped all this off with a pancake or two . . . which probably came from a box, doused in syrup that alleges to be “maple,” but is actually mostly high fructose corn syrup. You may have even added a dollop of “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter (TM).”

Because reality isn’t good enough.

Before you think that I’ve suddenly decided to go out and join my local chapter of the Sierra Club, those folks could use a healthy dose of reality too. They are, after all, the ones who have perpetuated the myth of man-made climate change (by a variety of different names) for decades now, based on climate models that even John Theon, a former NASA executive who was responsible for all weather and climate research in the agency, says are completely unreliable.

Reality, after all, isn’t good enough.

This is true even in the way we relate to each other. I think about my coworkers, for example. I spend a minimum of 40 hours a week cooped up in a small aisle of cubicles with about half a dozen other people, and to be perfectly honest, I don’t really know most of them. We talk, certainly, about the weather, about our mortgage and rent payments, about our pets and our phones, our weekends and sports teams – all the safe topics. But just watch what happens when anyone brings up something REAL . . . even something only superficially real like politics. Oh my gosh! We can’t have that! People might, well, take it personally, or get offended, or by golly, we might not agree!

Every once in a while I’ll get a glimpse of who the people I work with really ARE . . . like the time a coworker and I travelled to Japan together on business, or the time four of us went to give a presentation in Fort Hood, Texas. On such occasions, people tend to open up a bit more . . . to reveal a bit more of themselves.

And I have to tell you . . . as it turns out, I really like the folks I work with! I wish I could see more of that side of them, more often.

But I can’t, because reality isn’t good enough.

This is often true, even in our very closest relationships.

Phones, email, text messaging, instant messages and Facebook are all great tools for keeping in touch with one another . . . but too often we use them to substitute for actual relating. I enjoy reading the status updates my friends post on Facebook, but that’s not the same as going to dinner with them and sitting down for a good conversation. Unfortunately, I happen to live in an area, Washington D.C., where most folks place a lot more value on “doing” than they do on “relating” . . . and as a result people are more often than not too busy to have dinner, or coffee, or hang out for an evening or a weekend.

So we settle for checking up on each other on Facebook.

Because reality isn’t good enough.

Alas, this has even become true of our most important relationship . . . our relationship with Father.

I am reminded of an article I read early last year, by Darrin Hufford over at Free Believers. Hufford’s provocative article calls the average “relationship with God” a “spiritual porn addiction.”

Talk about reality not being good enough! As a former porn addict myself, I can attest quite vividly to the allure of the fake reality that pornography offers. Hufford goes further, though. He points out that the spiritual “high” we get from those “mountaintop experiences” at religious conferences, worship services, etc. are much the same thing. I’ve been to those conferences. I’ve had those experiences. I’ve loved every minute of them . . . they are, after all, exhilarating. The term “spirtual high” is fitting . . . it’s one of the most moving and uplifting things I’ve ever experienced.

The problem is that we idealize those experiences . . . and we condemn ourselves for the “low patches” that we feel between them. We come up with an endless stream of ideas for bottling up that feeling . . . you know, that feeling . . . the one you get when you’ve just finished a group conversation with God, and you know, beyond all doubt, that he was an active participant in the conversation?

But those experiences are not the same as the day to day work of living in the world He placed us in. Even Peter felt the allure of the “mountain top experience” of Christ’s transfiguration, and wanted to do something to permanentize it . . . to institutionalize it . . .

Hufford extends the analogy into the average church service, saying:

The majority of our Christian lives were spent watching the Christian play at church, we have grown accustomed to sitting through the show and demanding to be entertained. Every spiritual facet of the “personal relationship with God” has been caked with makeup, airbrushed, pumped with steroids, injected with botox, sprayed with perfume and stuffed with implants. In the end, we’re left with a “Glam Shot” perception of “relationship” that is about as real as a fifty dollar blow-up doll. It’s perfect for the theater, but when it comes to a real, one-on-one relationship, it’s just impossible.

There’s nothing wrong with mountain top experiences . . . nothing wrong with the incredible spiritual experiences that come with dedicating an entire day, or an entire weekend, to seeking God. The problem, as Hufford points out, is when we come to expect that those mountaintops define what a healthy relationship with God is. The problem, he very vividly says, is this:

The addiction to these spiritually accentuated concepts is almost identical to an addiction to pornography – some people can’t get aroused without it.

Why? Because reality – the reality of a God who is just as present in the depressing, or disappointing, or boring moments of life – just isn’t good enough.

Predictions . . .

This afternoon, millions of Americans turn out to cast their ballots and determine who will lead this country for the next four years. I have strong feelings about this election, and cast my vote for my candidate of choice this morning at around 8:45. I have, however kept those views off the pages of this blog because I do not want this to become a political platform, or a forum for airing partisan talking points.

However, I am writing today because I am troubled by the fact that a great many people on both sides seem to misunderstand the point of this election – along with, in fact, the entire election process.

Today, we are presented with two candidates who have diametrically opposing views on nature of economics, the proper road to national security, and the role of government in our lives. Millions of us have gone or will go to the polls to vote for the candidate who, we believe, has the greatest potential of advancing views that roughly resemble our own on these and other topics.

We will NOT go to the polls to cast a personal slight on those friends and acquaintances of ours who happen to disagree with us – or with our candidate. We will NOT be voting to undermine society as we know it, regardless of what those on the other side think. We will NOT be voting to enslave, silence, or otherwise disenfranchise those who disagree with us.

In short, THIS IS NOT PERSONAL. You who read this – each of you – have people you love and care about, who will vote in a way you believe to be foolish and misguided. Get over it. Love and care about them anyway.

For a bit of perspective, consider a few election predictions of mine. On this Election Day 2008, I predict:

1. A man who has made politics his life mission will become the new President-elect with something roughly approximating 50% of the popular vote.

2. Approximately 50% of the country will also vote against him.

3. He will give a gracious victory speech congratulating his opponent on a well-run race, and reiterating many of the things he has promised us during the course of this campaign. Parts of his speech will even be sincere.
4. Some of the things he has promised will be accomplished in the next four years. Some will not.

5. We will be told by the losing side that operatives on the winning side committed fraud in various locations throughout the country. They will be right in some instances and wrong in others.

6. We will be told by pundits in the news media and the political elite that this result was inevitable from day one of the campaign, and that they saw it coming the entire time. These assertions will contradict other, equally emphatic statements they made in recent months.

7. We will be told by other pundits that this election is a disaster for the losing party, and the country as a whole. They will be wrong in both cases.

8. The party that loses will regroup, blame their loss on poor marketing and messaging, and come back in four years with a candidate who may not look like the one running today, but who sounds awfully familiar.

9. The party that wins with the support of roughly half the voting public will proclaim a mandate, and will hold the election results up as proof that the American people are completely in support of their policies.

10. Those policies will necessitate more government spending than the winning candidate promised during the campaign, and he will try to get his hands on more of your money than he promised during the campaign, in order to pay for them.

11. Over the next four years, the government, as a whole, will get bigger.

12. Over the next four years, many new laws will be made. You will approve of some, and disapprove of others.

13. Two years from now, you will still believe that Congress as a whole is a bunch of corrupt criminals, but that your individual congressman is not all that bad, if not a pretty decent guy or gal.

14. Two years from now, the new President will NOT have abolished the opposition party, shut down the free press or abolished freedom of speech, expression or assembly. Millions of Americans will respond to this lack of oppression by going to the polls again and voting for their Congressman and/or Senator. Millions more will vote for some other guy who wants to be a Congressman and/or Senator. Still more millions will respond by doing nothing at all.

15. Some of your friends who voted for the other guy will accuse you of being an idiot, and will claim that you are part of everything that is wrong with this country. They will mostly be mistaken.

16. On Wednesday morning, the sun will rise. It will do so in the east.

These are my election predections, and they hold true whether the vote I cast earlier today was for the winner or the loser. So go exercise your right to vote – or, for that matter, exercise your right to go on about your day and stay as far away from the polls as you choose.

Whatever your choice, though, realize that the people next to you are just muddling through this journey we call “life,” in the best way they can – making choices just as you are – with an eye toward what they think is best for themselves, and occassionally what they think is best for you as well. Are there people who are trying to subvert this election and cheat their party’s way into power? Probably, and they probably exist on both sides. But elections in this country have been stolen before – even at the Presidential level – more than a few times. And guess what? Even with this flawed system, dependent on millions of flawed people, we Americans still live in one of the freest, most prosperous nations history has ever known.

Regardless of who wins tomorrow, that is not likely to change during the course of – or as a result of – his administration.

So vote, or don’t vote, as you see fit.

But in the meantime, Chill out.

On Consistency

I am finding that the various streams of my life seem to run in some similar directions. I don’t go to church. I don’t like doctors, I don’t like public education, and I don’t like government entitlement programs (or think very highly of governments in general). I work in an industry (Strategic Communications) where most of the jobs are government ones, yet I am employed as a private consultant.

I don’t identify with either of this country’s major political parties (or any of its minor ones, for that matter). I received both my Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees from very small, private schools, neither of which could truly be called “institutions” in the truest sense of the word, given that both were less than ten years old at the time.

In short, I don’t really fit. Those of you who know me or are accustomed to reading this blog will hardly be surprised by that, but it is still jarring to admit sometimes, given how much of my life I used to spend trying to do just that.

I think that all of this comes down to the fact that I value consistency far too much to be as inconsistent as is required to truly “belong” to any of these institutions. I live a fairly consistent life – and I strive to be more consistent than I am.

I think the problem with much of our world today is that people don’t value consistency nearly enough. Our most prominent government leaders certainly do not. The two major Presidential candidates’ reactions to the recent Supreme Court decision in the case of D.C. vs. Heller are very instructive in this regard. Readers of this blog may have very strong feelings about politics in general, and about the issue of gun control in particular, but the simple fact is that however you feel, you can learn a great deal about both candidates by how they reacted to this touchstone decision. John McCain’s statement praises the decision as “recogniz[ing] that gun ownership is a fundamental right — sacred, just as the right to free speech and assembly.”

McCain calls these rights – speech and assembly – sacred . . . despite the fact that he spearheaded the campaign finance reform effort that severely curtails these same two rights . . . the freedom to use one’s money to promote the speech one agrees with, and the freedom of political parties – private organizations – to use their money to convince others to “assemble” with them.

Obama, on the other hand, begins his reaction to Heller by saying, “I have always believed that the Second Amendment protects the right of individuals to bear arms . . .” The same Obama with a history of opposition to such an individual right.

Of course, the fact that our nation’s – or any nation’s – politicians are prone to inconsistency should come as no great surprise to anyone who is paying attention.

One might expect better of our nation’s spiritual leaders. But if one did, one would be mistaken.

Take, for example, Josh Harris, the senior pastor of Covenant Life Church, and a leader in Sovereign Grace Ministries. In a post on his blog, Harris quotes my old pastor, Mark Dever, who takes issue with the assertion that the church is responsible for social justice – claiming that while individuals can and should practice social justice, the church has no business doing so, and should instead focus on evangelism.

I happen to disagree with this premise, and I personally think he is creating a false dichotomy or two – but that’s not my point in bringing it up. A commenter on Harris’ blog says it perfectly,

If we say we will only do good to those immediately around us or in the church, then we relegate the role of all social welfare to the government, which most of us do not want to do. If we get involved in “civilian affairs” then we can easily compromise our faith. Added to this, many churches say they are against para-church ministries, but they also don’t want their own churches to have ministries (as you state above). So what happens when I have someone who needs somewhere to stay?

Whatever the answer, we as the church can’t have it both ways. We can’t say neither the government, the church, nor parachurch organizations are allowed to do social justice.

The position Dever and Harris (and most ultra-conservative spiritual leaders, in fact) advocate is untenable. It is religious NIMBYism. “Someone should be doing social justice, just not MY organization.”

But the leaders of the evangelical left are no better. Take Jim Wallis, the leader of Sojourner Ministries, who commented on a recent dust-up between Barack Obama and Dr. James Dobson by accusing Dobson of engaging in “attacking discourse,” saying that such language should have no place in politics.

Again, you may agree or disagree with Wallis, but it seems that he himself does not fully agree with his own statement, having used the same sort of “attacking discourse” himself.

I was asked once, recently, what I would say to those who find certain beliefs and positions “too extreme.” What I would say is that extremism is nothing more than a product of consistency in a belief system.

There are, of course, good and bad belief systems – Osama Bin Laden has a fairly consistent one, for example – so a philosophy’s consistency cannot be used as the sole judge of its merit. But I think its inconsistency can.

No human being can live 100% consistently – it’s part of what makes us human . . . but the inconsistencies should be acknowledged as either human failures or conscious concessions to practicality, rather than core tenets of our beliefs, as they appear to be in the cases of Barack Obama, John McCain, Josh Harris and Jim Wallis.

As Ayn Rand would say, if you come upon two concepts that seem to be equally valid and are yet contradictory, you’d better check your premises.

Profundity sometimes crops up in the strangest places . . .

It’s been a month now since I’ve posted here. I feel like I should apologize, but the truth is, I’m not terribly sorry for it. I only tend to write when I feel like I have something profound to say, and I haven’t felt that way much lately.

The short story I mentioned a month ago (and said I’d have ready in a couple days) is still in progress. I’m hoping to get further into it later today.

But that’s not the reason I’m writing now. I’m writing because, finally, I feel like I have something to say.

It stems from a post on one of my regular political blog reads PowerLine. The post was very short and simple, about the new action movie out in theaters this weekend, “The Kingdom.”

The post notes the Saudi Kingdom’s ties to terrorism, and the movie’s dubious assertion that the Saudis are our “partners” in combating terrorism. PowerLine’s conclusion, “skip the film.”

This is, to me, symptomatic of many conservatives’ approach to Hollywood, and more broadly, to life in general.

In attempting to differentiate from the relativism so prominent in liberal circles, conservatives, as the arbiters and protectors of absolute truth, often seem to want to protect that truth by eliminating access to anything else.

Take, for example, the movies “Fahrenheit 9/11,” “The Da Vinci Code” or “Brokeback Mountain,” just to name a couple examples.

Each of these movies contains themes that are anathema to the average conservative, so the conservative solution is to boycott the films, encourage others to do likewise, while simultaneously excoriating them, along with those who created them and those who go to see them.

I’ve seen all three, and for the life of me I can’t figure out what there is in any of them that fills conservatives with such fear that they refuse to engage the ideas in the films directly. The first is a pure propaganda film that anybody who regularly reads a newspaper should be able to refute. The second is a quasi-historical action film based on a thriller novel. The third is, quite simply, a tragic love story just as epic (and just as psychologically screwed up) as “Romeo and Juliet.”

Yet conservatives are afraid to engage with these cultural statements, preferring to shun them instead.

This approach is costly, on two counts. First it discredits legitimate criticism of these movies by revealing that, often, their harshest critics haven’t even seen the movies they deride. Second, it allows those who refuse to see movies because of political objection to miss out.

Which brings me to the reason I’m writing this post. Last night, Heidi and I watched the movie “Knocked Up.” I was expecting a dumb, brainless comedy, but that’s not what it was. It certainly had its stupid moments, but on the whole it was, really, almost a cross between a romantic comedy and a coming of age drama. The main character is a thirty-something bachelor who lives in a house with five other guys (and sometimes with their various girlfriends of the moment, smokes pot, and wants to start a porno website. He ends up getting a girl pregnant, and the story goes on from there.

Sounds like your typical dumb comedy, right? But along the way it has a lot of great messages about really getting to know the ones you love, taking responsibility for your actions, and . . . well . . . learning how to be a grown-up. In a day when we have an awful lot of thirty-something “kids” running around our world, that’s an important message.

It reminded both of us of a similar movie (made by the same director, Judd Apatow) “The 40-year old Virgin.” It’s a story of a guy with a pretty normal life, except for the fact that he’s 40 and has never had sex. Upon finding this out, his co-workers attempt to twist a variety of situations in order to change that fact.

Again, sounds like pretty standard comedy fare, right? Hardly. The fact is that this movie has a lot to say about love, sex, relationships, marriage, and the purposes for each.

Nevertheless, you won’t find most conservative movie reviews recommending these two. In truth, they have a lot against them – both are pretty crude, and I’d hardly recommend them for anybody, but the simple fact is that just dismissing them out of hand misses something.

But isn’t that the way we are about a lot of things? (I say we, not because I self-identify as a “conservative,” any longer, but because this is not just a conservative problem, it’s a human problem).

I mean, if you think about it, how many times have you conservative readers dismissed something because “It was in the New York Times,” or you liberals because you “saw it on Fox News”?

How many times have we used the words “consider the source” to dismiss an idea, rather than engaging with it?

What are we so afraid of?

This, quite frankly, is one of the biggest things that drove me from organized church. I couldn’t stand the fact that each question I raised was one more thing nobody around me would deal with. When I asked why my church didn’t allow women in leadership, why they insisted on church attendance at least twice a week, why they believed in the universal effectiveness of accountability relationships, and why they believed that tithing had a place in worship, but special music didn’t, I had Bible verses spouted at me. When I questioned whether those verses said what was claimed of them, I was “prayed for,” “counseled,” and eventually, marginalized.

I have no doubt that each person I spoke with at that church was very sincere in what they believed. But I just wish that they would have engaged more with my questions, for I was no less sincere. Those I spoke with were happy to engage with questions of theology and eschatology. We had many frank discussions, for example, about the “five points” of Calvinism, and about the differences between dispensationalism and covenant theology.

But when it went deeper than that, the doors were shut.

Perhaps that’s the answer. Perhaps we just can’t quite engage with something scary enough to undermine our entire worldview. The question “does the Bible require that we attend, or at least attempt to attend, church each Sunday?” is just such a question. It’s scary.

But what are we afraid of? Why do churches like the one I used to attend marginalize radical thinkers like John Eldredge or Brian McLaren?

Is it truth we’re defending when we marginalize someone just because we are uncomfortable with what they say?

Can’t the truth stand on its own? If something is really true, why do we need to shield it from those we perceive to be attacking it?

And if it’s not true, why should we believe it anyway?

Is it truth we’re defending? Or is it our comfort zone?

Nothing Personal

I have tried, over the past week, to generate a few different posts on a few different topics, but found that I couldn’t bring myself to write them. I think, in looking back, that the reason for this grew out of the fact that they were all sort of interconnected in a way I hadn’t quite grasped yet.

I think I’ve got it now, so I’m going to give this a try.

Last week, a tragedy occurred. A poorly-maintained, heavily-traveled transportation artery constructed more than forty years ago failed due to neglect, and people died.

About 100 of them.

No, I’m not talking about the I-35W bridge in Minnesota. The cost of that catastrophe, in lives, at least, was thankfully much smaller than it might have been.

The same day, however, on the other side of the world, a train wreck in the Democratic Republic of the Congo took a far higher toll.

Also last week, as I noted in my last post, a religious talk show host made and defended statements linking the Emergent church movement with terrorists from al Qaeda.

Over the weekend, the Democratic leadership in the U.S. House of Representatives, which took power early this year after capitalizing on unethical and morally questionable tactics employed by the former Republican majority, violated the House rules they themselves had established, changed the total of a razor-thin vote after the Chair had gavelled it closed, and expunged the old total from the record, literally stealing the vote on national television. Majority Leader Steny Hoyer was heard on camera responding to protests against the violations of parliamentary procedure with, “We control this house, not the parliamentarians.”

This week, one of my favorite bloggers, “Naked Pastor,” was viciously attacked on a popular “Christian” blog, where the author and several commenters cast brutal personal insults and aspersions masquerading as critiques of his blog’s content.

What on earth, you may ask, do any of these events have in common?

Perhaps it is the ease with which communications are conducted electronically. Perhaps it is the breadth of information that is easily available, allowing anybody who desires to become an intellectual. Perhaps it is the fact that government interventions and intrusions have eliminated the necessity for people to just grow up and be adults.

Perhaps it is all of these, and more, but it seems to me as though we have entered an age where we interact with numbers, figures, statistics, information and data, and forget that we live out our stories here on earth interacting with other people.

The news media has had a field day with the I-35W bridge collapse, giving it nearly wall-to-wall coverage ever since it occurred. In all the talk of recriminations, blame and fallout, the one thing I have yet to see is an ounce of sorrow over the lives lost.

“If it bleeds, it leads,” according to the common news media slogan . . . but that doesn’t mean they treat it as the human tragedy it is.

Still, since it is, after all, an American tragedy, at least it gets some recognition. The same day, virtually the same event in a country on the other side of the world received nary a breath of coverage, despite the far higher loss of life.

I asked my wife why she thought this might be, and her response was very telling. She said, “We care about the tragedy in Minnesota because that could have been us.”

That’s just it. We don’t care about the people who have lost loved ones. We don’t care about the lives lost. We care because it could have been us. Those of us in the Washington D.C. area care because we’re in the process of getting a new Woodrow Wilson bridge due to unsafe conditions on the old span similar to those that cause the I-35W collapse. Our emotions are not filled with sorrow, but with relief.

We don’t care about the train in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, because that could not have been us.

In my last post I talked about Frank Pastore’s article excoriating the emergent church movement. I’m not going to rehash my previous words here, but it seems to me that this is the opposite extreme of the very same phenomenon that I talked about relating to the transportation tragedies in Minnesota and Africa. In Pastore’s case, it’s dehumanizing by taking things too personally.

Whoever you are, whatever you believe on any give subject, right now, I want you to think of the single issue you care most about in all the world. It can be a political issue, a philosophical issue, a religious issue, or your favorite color for all I care. I want you to think of a person with whom you have often and/or emphatically disagreed with on that topic. I want you to repeat after me. “Just because they disagree with me doesn’t make them stupid.”

I myself have fallen into this trap more than once – the trap of believing that disagreement with my staked-out position on some political, theological or philosophical issue is an indication that the one doing the disagreeing is less “enlightened” or “informed” than I.

That may well be true – but it may well not be. Very intelligent people are capable of coming to very different conclusions on the very same issue. Assuming that one who disagrees with our chosen beliefs is “stupid” is to assert that we know all there is to know on that subject . . . to assume that it is even possible to know all there is, on this or any subject. It is the height of arrogance.

It is this same arrogance that has led the political leaders in this country – both Republican and Democrat – to forget why they are there. In the case of our nation’s leadership, they have dehumanized the very people who put them in leadership in the first place, by treating power as an end in and of itself, rather than as a means to the end of leading this country well. When former House Speakers Newt Gingrich and Tom Foley, whose political views are as opposite as they come, can agree with one another that you’re doing something wrong . . . odds are pretty good that you’re probably doing something wrong.

In the case of the transportation accidents, we have dehumanized the victims. In Pastore’s article, he dehumanized a group of believers. Congress dehumanized those they’re supposed to work for.

In the final example I listed, though, a group of people did their best to deliberately and viciously dehumanize a single person who had done nothing to them . . . and in the process dehumanized only themselves. Many of the commenters chose to attack him simply based on the vague and provocative descriptions provided in the blog post itself, and the author of the post felt it necessary to filter out comments supportive of the attacked pastor, and then defend herself against his supporters in a second post.

Naked Pastor’s response is one more example of why I like him so much – it is full of the very same grace and kindness that his attackers chose to eschew. He doesn’t become defensive or take the bait of their vitriol. Instead he says,

To my sister Ingrid and Slicers. Thanks for the review of my blog. I’m truly honored that my blog even got noticed, nevermind a mention! A couple of things:

Your filters only block words, not pictures. The word “naked” in nakedpastor, a blog where I try to bare my soul and not much else, is what’s being blocked. You probably couldn’t get The Naked Archeologist either, and he just shows ruins and pots. I consider what I show on my site to be artistic and tasteful. We disagree there. I just wanted to correct you on why my site is blocked by porn filters.

Ingrid: I’m surprised you didn’t mention my cartoons! Come on – admit it – you HAD to like some of them. You could’ve written some of them yourself. That’s okay though – you were critiquing one aspect of my blog. But from my artistic style and taste to conclude that my site is “theoretically supposed to be a pastor’s blog” is quite a leap. There’s nothing theoretical about it. It IS a pastor’s blog, no matter how different in taste and expression he is from your image of what a pastor is or looks like. That’s okay too though. I don’t expect full endorsement from everyone.

This is just a slice of who I am. If you read through my site you might discover that we are, after all, brothers and sisters with the same Lord. You would “meet” some people from my church who I consider heroes of the faith – of the Hebrews 11 caliber! It interests me that some of you are so quick to call names like “pervert” and question my call as a pastor or even a Christian. But that’s okay too. I suspend judgment and hope that we can cross kinder paths in the future.

Lord haste the day when we will all finally stand naked before you!

david (aka “nakedpastor”)

Even in the midst of personal attack, he treats his attackers as human beings, with different tastes, opinions and beliefs – and that’s exactly what they are.

All of this talk about “dehumanizing” begs the question, “what does it mean to be human?”

I think, as I write this, that we have to return to the creation story to answer that.

Genesis 1 doesn’t tell us very much at all about humanity, other than that it was created. Neither does much of Genesis 2. Verse 15 tells us where God placed his first human. Verses 16-17 tell us of God’s first interactions with his first human.

Not until verse 18 do we learn anything at all about this creature Scripture calls “man.”

What, then, is the very first thing we learn about man? It is the simple fact that “it is not good for the man to be alone.”

There it is. The very basis of what humanity is. We were created for relationship. When we eschew relationship, we dehumanize ourselves and those around us. The more we pursue genuine, open, honest relationship, the more we are being what we were intended to be.

But instead of relating to . . . and grieving with . . . sufferers, we sigh in relief that it is not our own suffering. Instead of engaging in dialogue with others who do not believe as we do, we think them simple-minded or immature. Instead of serving one another we seek as much power as we can, and instead of being kind in our differences we are cruel.

What a fallen and broken race is this humanity! Where we are intended to nourish one another emotionally, instead we feed on each other, engaging in emotional cannibalism, and very accurately say, “it’s nothing personal.”

Indeed it isn’t. That’s the problem.

An Anti-Christian Christianity

My friends, it has again been a long time. I think I find that some posts just flow from my fingers, while others take time to germinate and grow in my mind. With this latter type of post, I feel – as I have always felt, with many projects and pursuits throughout my life, to allow it to gain a level of maturity before I share it with the world.

This is such a post.

Many of you who read this might consider yourself representatives of the “emergent” or “missional” community as it is sometimes known. I need to preface this post by the fact that I consider myself neither, for reasons that have nothing to do with the reasons those who take these names have for choosing them.

I simply do not like the terms. The first – when taken to its logical conclusion – seems to me to imply that believers can somehow “emerge” to different levels of spiritual enlightenment. In one sense, I have “emerged” from the institutional religious setting known in the 21st century as “the church.” But in truth, the sense in which I have “emerged” is the same sense in which all those of us who follow Christ are free from the bondage of our own sin and the weight of our humanity.

The second, it seems to me, misses the point. Even those who consider themselves “missional” define it as a different way of “doing church,” a different focus.

All of that said, I have a tremendous amount of respect for many of the ideas espoused by missional and emergent thinkers, and for those who espouse them, particularly their focus on how much of Christian tradition is precisely that – mere tradition.

It is for this reason that I was incredibly disturbed by something I read on the popular conservative political site formerly operated by the Heritage Foundation, Townhall.com.

I was disturbed because it was one more reminder of who I used to be . . .

The item in question was a column by Townhall columnist Frank Pastore, referred to in his bio as “a former professional baseball player with graduate degrees in both theology and political science,” who is also a radio talk-show host for KKLA 99.5 FM in Los Angeles. His original column has now become two. They can be found here and here.

The first column is entitled “Why Al Qaeda Supports the Emergent Church.” It is a lengthy diatribe against members of the emergent movement, the logic of which seems to run “Emergents are generally not politically conservative. Political conservatives are the only people interested in fighting al Qaeda.” Therefore, Emergents are allies of al Qaeda.

His second column is a defense of his first, in which he responds to challenges for his “sources” by citing several emergent writers and a number of critics of Emergent, none of which, according to his citations, at least, says anything about al Qaeda at all.

The most ironic thing, for me, is that as someone who is generally pretty politically conservative, I probably line up with Pastore’s political views a fair percentage of the time. Nevertheless, despite the fact that I do not consider myself “emergent” or “missional,” I feel the sting of Pastore’s accusations myself, simply because I seem to fit his overarching definition of an “al Qaeda ally” – by which he seems to mean anybody who disagrees with his personal, political and spiritual agenda. I have written a lengthy response to his first column that addresses several issues he raises point by point. That response continues below the fold . . .

Continue reading An Anti-Christian Christianity