Saturday, March 12, 2005
The whole thing was prompted by an email that Josh Claybourn sent out to a number of we blogging pastors about a piece he'd just posted on the group blog of which he is a part, In the Agora. Josh wanted to deep-six fellowship times during worship and through is email, was inviting the pastors to comment. If you check out Josh's post, you'll also find a bunch of interesting comments from a variety of vantage points.
I responded with two comments in the ongoing discussion, so I won't add anything else but to say that for our congregation, the Sharing of the Peace is a vital and important part of our weekly worship celebrations. We would be loathe to get rid of it.
Check out both Josh's and Mark's posts on the subject.
Friday, March 11, 2005
Singer Michael Jackson’s recent late-arrival at his trial, dressed in pajamas and sports coat, set me to thinking about the phenomenon of fame.
Fame, particularly that gained at an early age, can do heavy damage to us as persons, coloring our relationships and our whole lives.
Fame undoubtedly messed with Elvis, made John Lennon insufferable, and in spite of his being one of my favorite musicians, turned Paul McCartney into a raging egomaniac.
Someone said after George Harrison died that he'd always wanted to be successful without being famous. That's a hard ambition for an artist to hold in our fame-driven world.
Some celebrities and would-be celebrities suffer from what I call "Morgana Syndrome." Morgana, you'll remember, was the busty woman who made a pest of herself kissing celebs, especially athletes, in a bid to achieve her goal of "fame." "I want to be famous," she would tell reporters, "and I can just feel that I'm getting more famous all the time."
Of course, Morgana's pathetic and shallow ambition was essentially benign. There is, however, a truly horrible turn that the hunger for fame without success can take.
I remember, years ago, reading Jim Bishop's hour-by-hour account of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and of the conspiracy that led to it. At one point, in explanation of John Wilkes Booth's personality and his decision to murder Lincoln, Bishop took an excursus into the childhood of the assassin. He cited the testimony of a Booth boyhood friend who recalled a conversation from their young days. In it, Booth explained that the whole point of his life was to do something that all the world would notice, whether it was a good or evil thing. His friend expressed surprise at Booth's amorality. But Booth was intent on fame, even if it took the form of infamy.
Fame, especially when accompanied by financial and popular success as Michael Jackson has experienced, is addictive, I believe. Those granted such success often view it as their due and find it difficult or impossible to accept their lots in life once the cheering and the royalties stop.
In Jackson's case, it seems that he's so accustomed (and so addicted) to fame that he has little notion of personal limits. No wonder Jesus said that it's harder for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a wealthy person to enter God's Kingdom. People who enter God's Kingdom are acquainted with a fundamental fact of the universe, the foundational fact that drives them to God for forgiveness, mercy, and hope: God is God and we're not. Fame achieved early in life can delude the famous into thinking that maybe they are gods, of a sort.
I have no idea if Michael Jackson is innocent or guilty of the charges against him. But I do know that he doesn't help himself by seeming to arrogantly disregard his accountability to the court or the jurors who stand in judgment of his case, which he seemed to do that day he arrived at the court house in his jammies.
Democracy holds the promise of extraordinary opportunity for individuals and societies. But as democracy continues its march across the globe, it's only appropriate that some of its perils also be considered.
In my first post, I listed the first peril I see for democracy in any country where it is newly-emergent: democracy's inherent sluggishness. For anyone accustomed to the crisp efficiency of despotic regimes, the painful slowness of democratic decision-making can arouse frustration and a yearning for the clarity offered by dictatorship. Nations unwilling to accept the glacial pace of most decision-making in democracy risk slipping back into despotism, as it appears is happening in Russia today.
But here is a second peril of democracy: It isn't a panacea for human ills and in fact, is likelier to reflect all the negative attributes that swirl in the human soul than most modes of government.
Often in history, one form of government or one change in governments, has been held up as the golden key, unlocking new epochs in human happiness. But each has run into a common snag: The intractability of pervasive selfishness, of greed, and of human dysfunctionality. Another word for all these things is sin.
Ancient Israel is a great example of a nation looking for a golden key when it came to how they would be governed. According to the Bible, Israel had been miraculously liberated from slavery by God and ultimately, ushered into a land that God provided for them. They might have been content. To govern them, God had established a system whereby decisions were made and disputes settled. Underpinned by prayer and faith, this system saw smaller decisions rendered at a lower level and increasingly larger decisions passed forward to more overarching authorities. This was a the era of the judges. It was a theocratic form of governance. That is, God was ruling ancient Israel directly through judges and elders.
(By the way, theocracies can only work when everyone believes in the same God and in the same way. It's doubtful that there is a nation on earth today where it either can or should be tried. Theocratic systems can lead to especially vicious forms of despotism, as we have seen in Iran and Saudi Arabia. In their ways, both Nazism and Communism have been theocracies, holding up certain ideas as idols and being presided over by people who used their power in the most horrific ways.)
As ancient Israel grew more rooted and more prosperous, the people looked around and developed a bad case of King-Envy. They noticed that other world powers with which they were familiar had kings. They wanted one too. This hankering to be like all the other nations came to a critical mass at a meeting between Israel's elders and the nation's judge at that time, Samuel:
Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him, ‘You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations.’ But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, ‘Give us a king to govern us.’ Samuel prayed to the LORD, and the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. Just as they have done to me, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so also they are doing to you. Now then, listen to their voice; only—you shall solemnly warn them, and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.’ (1 Samuel 8:4-9)God acceded to the wishes of ancient Israel and gave the nation kings. Far from being a panacea, for the most part, this was a disaster. Why? Because kings are human beings and human beings are imperfect. It's true of every one of us that "have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23).
Even democracies can fall into despotism. In fact, the framers of America's Constitution had a decided fear of the despotism into which democracy can be plunged; they feared what has been called mobocracy.
Mindful of this possibility, that generation of Americans took any number of preventive measures. They strove, for example, to keep the military small. They established military chaplaincies with the idea of blunting the more vicious of human impulses. Because they believed that an educated electorate was essential for the functioning of democracy, they made provision for education in the so-called Northwest Territory through the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. (The latter probably being the only notably successful piece of legislation forged under the Articles of Confederation.)
Democracies, with their dissemination of political and economic opportunity, probably afford the greatest possibility for true, sustained political and economic freedom for people. The United States is Exhibit #1 in favor of that proposition.
Nations whose citizens consistently fall into this pattern will eventually destroy their democracies.
One of the fortunate aspects of American life throughout much of this nation's history has been what Alexis de Tocqueville called "habits of the heart," those ways of approaching life forged originally in Christian faith, that have undergirded traditional American values like community, concern for neighbor, voluntarism, and concerted action for the common good. All of these habits can be directly or indirectly linked to America's Christian past, with its belief in the value of every individual, the valued ministry of every Christian believer, and the call to love and serve one's neighbor.
The founders of the United States, whether they were functional atheists like Thomas Jefferson, true believers like John Adams, or deists like Benjamin Franklin, saw and talked about the essential role that Christian faith had to play in order for America's fledgling democracy to work.
It wasn't that they saw religious faith as an "opiate of the people," the way Marx later would. Rather they, unlike Marx, who had a Hegelian faith in the infinite perfectibility of human nature when humans were left to their own devices, the American founders had a healthy appreciation of the sinful nature of human beings, whether they lived under kings or democratic institutions. This is why they were careful to establish a Constitution filled with checks and balances insuring that no branch of government and no institution in our society could simply run roughshod over everybody else.
The Founders felt that only people who saw themselves as fortunately graced by God with life and as the undeserving recipients of the new and everlasting life God grants to all with faith in Jesus Christ would have the give that democracy demands if it is to work. They saw the personal confidence that faith in Christ gives, as well as the ability to look beyond oneself to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:4-11)
Democracy can only avoid becoming the tyranny of the mob if its people have a commitment to the good of their neighbor, including those neighbors who aren't part of the majority.
[Here's Part 1 of this series.]
Here is Hugh's post.
Rick Warren observes in The Purpose Driven Life that there are tons of books on leadership available at book stores and libraries, but not too many on servanthood.
Yet authentic leadership, the kind that has an impact and enlists others in causes that matter begins with servanthood. As the old saw puts it, "Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care." And Jesus taught that whoever would be first must willingly submit to being last.
Jimmy Carter has shown us that ex-Presidents can be more effective and, as Christians, have more of a mission even than they enjoyed while in the White House. No longer constrained by the desire or the need to win the next election, ex-Presidents have the freedom to become the servant-leaders which their personalities, impulses, and standing allows.
I don't want to make too much of this gesture by Bill Clinton toward George H. W. Bush. But it was the action of a servant, perpetrating a kindness in hopes of not being found out. I'm impressed. So was former President Bush.
But, two posts by one of my favorite bloggers, Rob Asghar, have prompted a reflection on the effects of fame on the famous which I originally wrote as a comment on Rob's excellent site, Dimestore Guru. The links to Rob's two posts are here and here.
Here is my reflection on fame:
Fame, particularly that gained at an early age, can be pretty damaging to
personhood, relationships, and everything else.
It undoubtedly messed with Elvis, made John Lennon insufferable, and in
spite of his being one of my favorite musicians, turned Paul McCartney into a
Someone said after George Harrison died that he'd always
wanted to be successful without being famous. That's a hard thing to do in our
fame-driven world. You have to applaud Harrison for having such an
Some celebrities suffer from what can only be described as "Morgana
Syndrome." Morgana, you'll remember, was the busty woman who made a pest of
herself kissing celebs, especially athletes, in a bid to achieve nothing other
than "fame." "I want to be famous," she would tell reporters, "and I can just
feel that I'm getting more famous all the time."
Of course, Morgana's pathetic and shallow ambition was essentially benign.
There is, however, a truly horrible turn that the hunger for fame without
success can take.
I remember, years ago, reading Jim
Bishop's hour-by-hour account of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and of the
conspiracy that led to it. At one point, in explanation of John Wilkes
Booth's personality and his decision to murder Lincoln, Bishop took an excursus
into the childhood of the assassin. Bishop cited the testimony of a Booth
boyhood friend who recalled a conversation from their young days. In it, Booth,
the son of an acting family, explained that the whole point of his life was to
do something that all the world would notice, whether it was a good or evil
thing. His friend expressed surprise at Booth's amorality. But Booth was intent
on fame, even if it took the form of infamy.
Fame, especially when accompanied by financial and popular success as
Michael Jackson has experienced, is addictive, I'm certain. Those granted such
success often view it as their due and find it difficult or impossible to accept
their lots in life once the cheering and the royalties stop.
In Jackson's case, it seems that he's so accustomed (and so addicted) to
fame that he has little notion of limits. No
wonder Jesus said that it's harder for a camel to go through the eye of a needle
than for a wealthy person to enter God's Kingdom. People who enter God's
Kingdom are acquainted with a fundamental fact of the universe, the foundational
fact that drives them to God for forgiveness, mercy, and hope: God
is God and we're not. Fame achieved early in life can delude the
famous into thinking that they're insulated from the pedestrian realities that
the rest of the human race must acknowledge.
Like you, Rob, I have no idea if Michael Jackson is innocent or guilty of
the charges against him. But I do know that he doesn't help himself by seeming
to arrogantly disregard his accountability to the court or the jurors who stand
in judgment of his case.
It's interesting to meditate on the love of clarity and the fear of ambiguity, and maybe we do need to have more appreciation for ambiguity -- especially as we look to art and artists. The real problem with Michael Jackson, however, is not the general ambiguity of his looks, his music, and his fantasyland ranch. It is the very specific ambiguity about his relations with children. There is a special value to clarity -- a special responsibility to be clear -- when an adult deals with a child. I think we Americans accept and indulge many inexplicable eccentricities in our artists, but if we can't understand what you are doing with a child, it sets off our sense of responsibility to the child.I thought that was an outstanding response and told Althouse so in an email in which I said the following (it's slightly edited for grammar and well, for clarity):
I think that your reaction to the piece on Michael Jackson's ambiguity was right on.
In spite of the American love of clarity, we also have fallen in love with artists who display ambiguity...be it the Marx Brothers with their double-entendres, the pastiche of overt sexuality and Bible Belt spirituality exhibited by Elvis, or the studied vagueness of Bob Dylan.
Dylan, in particular, has elevated ambiguity to amazing heights. I remember that once, before he went through his evangelical Christian phase, he was asked if he believed in God. All he said was, "It must be amazing to be God." [This was in a TV Guide interview prior to NBC airing a concert from his Rolling Thunder concert tour.]
That was a typical Dylan non-response response that raised more questions than it answered, adding to his mystery and allure.
Dylan is the King of ambiguity and along with Lennon, McCartney, and Bono, has created probably the most popular music of the past forty years. I think that those two facts are connected.
Even those displaying androgynous personas have been readily embraced by Americans. David Bowie in his 'Space Oddity' phase, Greta Garbo, and Marlene Dietrich have all mined US popularity from ambiguity.
Prince, with his volcanic mixture of rock and R&B, black and soul, also rode the crest of varied ambiguities to success and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
But, as you say, I do think that Jackson disturbs us by his unwillingness to be clear about the nature of his attitudes toward and relationships with children. He shouldn't be ambiguous about such things. There is too much at stake.
While there were female pages willing to take on the more robust weekly activity of checking House members' bags into and out of neighboring hotels as sessions began on Tuesdays and ended on Thursdays, it was felt best not to tempt fate (or the local media) by having young college co-eds in the rooms of middle-aged male legislators, however innocently. (This was right after the scandal that toppled Wayne Hays from his place in the U.S. House of Representatives and his chairmanship of the House Ways and Means Committee. Hays, in fact, was serving his first term in the Ohio House when I worked there.)
With ninety-nine representatives, each of them feeling that immediate attention was owed to them, I had about forty-five male pages, not all of them on duty at any given time, to take care of this weekly rite of hotel checking-in and checking-out.
For several weeks after he first came on board, I assigned the slight, Michael Jackson look-alike to the task. But one afternoon, I got a call from my boss. It seems that the guy had come to him, appealing for mercy, claiming that he simply couldn't lift that luggage like the others. I believe that who his sponsoring legislator was had more to do with his being given a pass than with any physical limitations he had. (The sponsoring legislator was a powerful man, allied with the Speaker.) I frankly resented the guy a little bit, as did his fellow pages: We all felt, I think, that he believed that he was exempt from the duties and responsibilities others took for granted and that he attained his special status by being pathetic.
I couldn't help but think of this guy when I read of Michael Jackson's trial on Thursday. Jackson, already having been hospitalized for the flu earlier, simply didn't show up today. When the judge angrily ordered him to report for the trial within one hour or else, Jacko showed up at the court in pajamas and a sport coat!
Mr. Jackson seems to believe that he is exempt from the duties and responsibilities we all have simply because we're citizens. In addition to his physical attire, he also wore what appeared to be a look of complete mystification as he approached the court house: Why, his expression seemed to say, was he being made to do this?
If Mr. Jackson was trying to arouse sympathy with the jury, proving that he was sick by what he wore, I doubt that it worked. In fact, he may have done more harm to his case than he can imagine. Perhaps, like the pages who worked for me so long ago as they considered the guy who went over my head to get out of doing his job, the jurors may be asking themselves, "Who does this guy think he is, anyway?"
Jurors are human beings. While I'm sure that the jurors in the Jackson case will do their best to be fair and impartial, Mr. Jackson's antics of yesterday--first going AWOL from the trial and then, showing up in PJs--may be seen as corroborating evidence for the notion that he thinks himself above other people's limits of propriety. A guy who claims to be innocent can't afford to give that impression of himself.
Thursday, March 10, 2005
I love Washington! Yes, you see a lot of folks milling around on Capitol Hill and environs with the obvious intent of leveraging our tax dollars into the coffers of their industry or interest group. But you also see a lot that's good and fine about America. When I go there, I remember the words of a buddy during a trip our families took to Washington together a few years ago: "You know, when you see all of this, you realize this really is a great country." It's true!
My parents first took me to DC when I was five-and-a-half, owing to my already-intense interest in history, government, politics, and our Presidents. It's a trip still etched in my memory. I remember the tour through the White House; climbing to the top of the Washington Monument; gazing at the statue of my boyhood hero, Abraham Lincoln, at the Lincoln Memorial; the solemnity of the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown; the Iwo Jima Memorial; the then-primitive Air and Space Museum; and the tour of the US Mint. I remember that every time we stopped somewhere for lunch or dinner, I looked around, certain that President Eisenhower would walk in to grab a bite to eat and I'd be able to talk with him.
I went there in 1969 and 1988 and have been back three more times in the past several years, each time taking in a few different sites and experiences.
This latest jaunt with our twenty-three year old son was particularly enjoyable. Knowing that we were there for just a few days and having this luxury of free flights, we decided to simply focus on one or two things. We did so, but were able even to do a bit more than planned.
We arrived early on Tuesday morning, only to be greeted by a steady stream of "wintry mix," a wet amalgamation of rain and snow. It was also incredibly windy, sometimes turning our umbrellas inside out. The walk from our hotel on Eleventh to the Mall was not pleasant, frankly.
On the mall itself, the clouds and fog laid so low and the air was so thick with wet snow, you literally couldn't see either the Washington Monument or the Capitol dome!
But once we arrived at our first stop, we spent five fantastic hours at the National Gallery of Art, which we had never seen before. (This was one of our two intended destinations for the trip.) I guesstimate that we saw about 30% of the Gallery's publicly-displayed art. We also were treated to a fantastic tour, about which I may write later, giving us an overview of Western Art from the thirteenth through the nineteenth centuries. All of this is in one building. Art from the twentieth century is seen in a connected building.
While in DC this time, we also visited the Supreme Court and Library of Congress for the first time.
We stopped at the Freer Gallery, which is part of the Smithsonian. The Smithsonian is a fantastic thing and I'm glad that my tax dollars help to support it! (I feel the same way about the National Gallery of Art.) The Smithsonian's mission to contribute to "the increase and diffusion of knowledge" is consistent not only with the specific desires of Englishman James Smithson as expressed in his will establishing it, but also with the spirit of George Washington's wishes, who had always wanted to establish a national university in the US capital city.
While I must confess that most of the artifacts from India, China, and Japan at the Freer didn't float my boat, I was fascinated to learn something about James Whistler and the aesthetic movement in painting while there. It seems to me that Whistler and the other aesthetes were something of a bridge between the representational art that prevailed through the nineteenth century and the non-representational variety that has been ascendant since. The aesthetes tried to create art that simply by its use of forms, light, and color evoked reactions that were sub-rational or supra-rational and divorced from politics, religion, ideology, or symbolism. They and their advocates proclaimed that they were setting art free from its enslavement to anything but purely artistic expression. I suppose that's a bit analogous to what the creators of ambient music strive for today. But, of course, the very embrace of a notion of "art for art's sake" is an inherently religious, political statement. It was interesting pondering and discussing these thoughts with our son as we moved from room to room and onto other DC venues.
We took a quick trip to a spot we'd visited before. Ford's Theater is close to a coffee shop where we had breakfast. Stage hands were preparing for a production of The Big River. I love it that Ford's functions as a real theater while remaining a shrine to one of the great martyrs of American liberty, Abraham Lincoln.
We also took a bitterly cold walk to our other key destination for this trip: The World War Two Memorial. It took far too long for this monument to come into being. But it is a beautiful structure, setting between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument, right next to the Reflecting Pool. As my son put it, "It's both understated and imposing, if that's possible." I think that he's right.
One side of the memorial is devoted to the Atlantic Theater of the war and the other to the Pacific. Lining the walls of a sloping walk that moves toward a central pond are bas relief sculptures portraying the experiences of World War Two veterans and those on the Home Front. Ringing the circular structure are wreathed sections memorializing the veterans from every US state and territory.
On large cornerstones are inscribed quotations from various World War Two-era luminaries, including Presidents Roosevelt and Truman.
While, for this Baby Boomer, the World War Two Memorial isn't as personally moving as the Vietnam War wall, it does seem appropriately grand and a fitting tribute to "the greatest generation." (I may agree with our daughter, though. She says that her favorite of the service memorials on the Mall is that devoted to the Korean War vets.)
As always seems to happen, the neatest experiences during our trip came in relation to the people we met. I'll probably be writing more about them in my posts on Sunday.
On returning home late last night though, a quick sampling of blogs showed that there are a lot of opinions about Rather, his career, and his final show as anchor. Most of them, it seems, are critical.
Except for an occasional surf-through on election nights (while NBC was on commercial breaks) and his introduction of a 48-Hours report on Paul McCartney by Bernard Goldberg back in the late-80s, I don't think that I've watched anything that Dan Rather has done since he became CBS anchor. His style was always too frantic for me. I preferred the cool Midwestern serenity of Tom Brokaw.
So, I don't know what to make of the "wicked witch is dead" celebrations surrounding Rather's departure.
Whatever his missteps, there will be new obsessions du jour for both the right and left now that he's off the hot seat, I'm sure. And frankly, that concerns me.
Controversies like the one surrounding Rather and the Texas Air National Guard story, warranted or not, are how radio shows get rating points and advertising dollars...how bloggers get hit traffic and writing contracts...how TV hosts build an audience and sell books.
Apart from these facts causing me to wonder about the genuineness of some in their assaults on each new target that comes along, there is a deep issue that has been inadequately discussed and which is raised by Dan Rather's abrupt resignation from the CBS anchor post. It's how bloggers are using their newfound influence and power. More to the point, it's how bloggers should use their newfound influence and power.
My major criticism of mainstream media, at least as it relates to the way it practices journalism, has little to do with ideology. At least, it has little to do with political ideology. It has more to do with what might be described as an ideology of life.
Intentional or not, most mainstream news is almost unreservedly negative. So far as I'm concerned, the primary bias of the cable news networks, for example, whether Fox, MSNBC, or CNN, is not one of politics, but a prejudice toward those stories that are negative, hurtful, critical, or apt to stir controversy.
Most journalists and editors don't seem to be knee-jerk liberals or conservatives. Most of them have seen too much of life and are too smart to think that any political ideology or party has a corner on truth, virtue, or common sense.
But they do love playing a role similar to that played by Reggie Jackson when he was with the New York Yankees in the late-1970s. Said Jackson of his effect on his fellow Yankees, "I'm the straw that stirs the drink."
Consciously or not, the mavens of the mainstream media often approach their roles with this same sort of hubris. For decades, they've been able to set the agenda for the US and much of the world by the stories they've chosen to cover and highlight. They've done that, accumulating ratings, prestige, and wealth, by feeding us on a steady diet of negative stories of all kinds.
"If it bleeds, it leads," is more than a guiding principle for the placement of stories on local news shows. It is, by and large, the motto of all mainstream news outlets today.
In its relentless focus on the tragic, sad, sordid, grievous, dishonest, and cynical, the mainstream media has contributed to a good chunk of the public throwing up its hands on the world, real truth, reliable facts, or the whole notion of trust.
It has given others an excuse to become fierce ideologues, unwilling to be confused with the facts, believing that cabals of one sort or another--from NASA officials who lied when they said that we landed people on the Moon to those who think, depending on the ideology they've adopted, either George W. Bush or Bill Clinton are devils incarnate--are trying to keep the truth from them.
None of this is to say that the mainstream packagers of news should keep ugly truth from us. Or that they should fail to investigate when presidents, corporate heads, bishops, or institutions lie to us. Or that they should turn their newscasts into Thomas Kincaide-kitsch. I am a Lutheran, after all, which means that I have a healthy sense of the sinful impulses and resultant sinful actions of the human race, from presidents to preachers.
But the negative approach of mainstream media has often acted as a corrosive acid on America's body politic and on our social compact.
I'd like to see and hear more reports on the good that is going on in our world. That, to me, would break with the biggest bias in the mainstream media. It might even come as bigger news to us all than some of the other stuff that gets covered!
My hope for the blogging world would be that as our influence becomes more pervasive, we wouldn't fall into the same negativism that we see in mainstream media. I'd like bloggers to be able to say good things even about those with whose views we may disagree.
Republicans: It's okay to say that John Kerry conducted himself with class in his concession speech.It's also okay for us all to say things like, "I might be wrong..."
Democrats: You can applaud President Bush for pointing out that Social Security faces long-term trouble, even though he hasn't yet offered a program for reforming it.
Conservative Christians: You can appreciate the fact that liberal evangelicals may be onto something when they say that their advocacy of programs for the poor and opposition to capital punishment might be two expressions of a pro-life worldview.
Liberal Christians: Although you may view conservative evangelicals as latter-day Pharisees, you can admire their steadfast resolve in advocating a pro-life agenda as regards abortion.
Politically-interested folks of all stripes: Why not admit that there are limits to what can be accomplished in the political sphere and what governments do aren't the most important things in life.
Or, "The other guy has a point..."
Or, "Let's try to find a place where we all can adhere to our principles but live in the same country..."
I hope that bloggers will see themselves as more than just killer bees for prominent bloggers who whip them into campaigns to force the resignations, end the careers, or leverage apologies from today's favorite whipping boy or girl.
Blogging is an inherently democratic form of communication, allowing for more dialogue and interaction than any mass medium ever has before. But many bloggers are carrying their bad habits as consumers of media to their blogs, allowing themselves to be swept along like lemmings by blogging superheroes. I think that each of us should think for ourselves. If we did, I suspect that we would reflect Americans' widespread disgust with ideological Balkanization, moving our national life to a more moderate (political and otherwise) direction.
In this dialogical mode of communication, wouldn't it be great if we could actually help Americans to quit screaming at each other and help them to converse together, confronting our common problems, and celebrating our common victories? Blogging ought to spawn rational discussion of life (including politics) that literally leaves nobody behind.
Bloggers can lead the way in civil public discourse. It doesn't mean that we shouldn't express negative judgments about things going on in our world or that we shouldn't express honest disagreement.
But maybe, as we offer up our entries in this great worldwide diablog, we could remember a bit of sage advice my Dad gave me when I was in my teens. I was using the family car to take a girl out on a date. Dad handed me the keys and said of the girl I was about to pick up, "Remember: She's a person too."
One of the worst things we can do to other human beings is objectify them. Through the centuries, many men have seen women as objects for their use (and sometimes, abuse). Members of one tribe, nation, or race have viewed members of other tribes, nations, and races as mere objects to be violated, obliterated, or enslaved. Hitler objectified Jews. South Africa's whites objectified blacks. American and British slaveholders objectified the slaves. The Egyptians objectified the Hebrews in Old Testament times. Back at the macro-level, bullies view some of the kids on the playground as objects they can push around at will.
When we make objects of others, we're trying, in a warped way, to elevate ourselves by grinding someone underneath us. The irony is that when we try this, we only make ourselves smaller, especially in the eyes of God.
It's this objectifying of human beings, including people like Dan Rather, that most disturbs me when I read many blogs.
Every day, I ask God to help me to use this blogging media in ways that glorify Him and even when I disagree with others, to treat them with dignity. I know that there are times when, like others I vent my spleen and am unfair to others. For that, I am truly sorry. But, unless we bloggers make civil discourse our aim, we'll go down the same path of arrogant negativism that has characterized so much mainstream media over the past several decades. We will reflect the worst in the human race and we will lose out on much of the promise that exists in this media.
What do you think?
Monday, March 07, 2005
Because of your half-time gig in February, I tuned into the Super Bowl for the first time in thirty-one years. You made it a beautiful night for a lot of us!
I understand that you were paid $3.4-million for your four-song set.
While I can't pay you that amount of money, I would like to offer you a gig for yet another special occasion. In fact, it's a double special occasion.
On June 18 of this year, our daughter, as big a Macca Fan as her parents, will be marrying. While it had nothing to do with the date selected, I realize that June 18 is also your birthday.
We already have fantastic music planned for both the wedding and reception. However, taking a cue from the NFL, I am able to offer you $34.00 to play a four-song set at the reception! (This seems appropriate, since the audience will be a fraction of the one that watched the Super Bowl.) If you like, I will write the check for Adopt-a-Minefield, one of your favorite charities.
But wait, there's more! If generating a contribution to your favorite organization for playing before a small throng of appreciative fans isn't enough, we have something more to spice up the offer! Both my son and future son-in-law have recently gone to work for a major airline. They can provide you free airfare to beautiful Cincinnati. Can you imagine the excitement that you and your Heather will feel as you celebrate your sixty-third birthday in America's Queen City?
And that's not all! If you take up my offer, we'll find a place for you to stay here in my suburban home. We can listen to music all night long, if you like. I can even play a few of my own compositions, you lucky knight, you. (Sorry though, I don't smoke any funny stuff. In fact, I don't smoke anything.)
The day after the wedding, you can be my guest for a breakfast at the Cracker Barrel before you fly to East Sussex, or Manhattan, or Santa Barbara, or wherever you'd like to jet.
Think about it, Paulie. You have to agree that this is one enticing package, isn't it?
UPDATE: With the announcement that, through your MPL Communications, you're now willing to sell the rights for twenty of your compositions to be used in radio and television advertising, you may prefer that I write the $34.00 check to you personally. I hadn't realized how bad your cash flow situation was!
It's particularly interesting to me because these days, one of the books I'm reading is the first volume of Bruce Catton's history of the Civil War. The Coming Fury reminds me of Barbara Tuchman's chronicling of the events that led to the First World War and of the 9/11 Commission's incredibly well-written report about the 2001 attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C. In it, Catton chronicles the rising extremism that led to America's Civil War and the seeming inability of people of moderate impulses or thoughts to restrain the fury...either of others or themselves.
In all of the works I've cited, you observe how rhetoric and ideas grow more and more extreme and vicious, leading almost inevitably to explosive actions.
Today, I read and listen to the extremism that is vented, especially on blogs, with rising alarm. Extremism is often the refuge of people who refuse to think and who would prefer to attack, negate, and disagree than listen, work, or compromise for the greater good.
Some advocates of extremism quote Thomas Paine, saying that moderation in principle is a vice. Thomas Paine's Common Sense shows that even a gadfly, like the blind squirrel who occasionally finds a nut, can from time to time, find a good idea. But Paine was, quite frankly an inveterate malcontent, a crank, and a brilliant nutcase. Like Woodrow Wilson, whose career and life came to a sad and lonely end for the same reasons, Paine had a penchant for turning on his principles and former allies, embracing new ones until he ran out of an audience.
There are people whose politics are moderate and they are not unprincipled for it. They become moderates, in part, because they believe that no humanly-created ism, be it conservative or liberal or otherwise, can possibly have a monopoly on truth. Each such philosophy, in its own way, reflects the finite and imperfect perspectives of human beings. Often, these political philosophies also reflect idolatries, either of the particular philosophy or of the political system that they're designed to uphold.
No Christian, for example, could ever say that any political philosophy is always right, because no Christian would ever make an idol of a transient system, which is what all governments and philosophies are. They're all earmarked for death with the rest of the sinful baggage of the human race.
Governments and the philosophies by which they may be run, are temporary, emergency measures, made necessary by the reality of human sin and the fact that most human beings will not voluntarily submit to the God Whose call is simply that we love God and love neighbor. Christians are called upon to acquiesce to governmental authority for the common good, not because we believe lives can effectively be transformed by government action.
Such transformation can only happen through the voluntarily-accepted dominion of God that comes through Jesus Christ.
Governments can create islands of sanity in which it may be possible for people to actually hear and pay heed to the Good News of Christ. But it would be silly and faithless for a Christian to give any political philosophy his or her ultimate allegiance. For the Christian, that only belongs to God!
Being an extremist in one's political views is a bit like arguing to the death over whether the Backstreet Boys or Nsync were the better musicians. Some day, governments and political philosophies will be yesterday's news, just like those two boys bands of recent vintage. Moderation, whether tilted to the left or right or bent toward the absolute middle, sees the world aright, it seems to me. Extremism puts too much faith and too much stock in the things of this world. Better to give God our highest allegiance.
Eastwood probably wouldn't agree with everything I've written here. But I like his statement nonetheless.
It's difficult to imagine a more egregious example of parental irresponsibility than this. For decades, the capacity of college-age students has proven iffy when it comes to this annual rite dedicated largely to liquor, the libido, destruction, and narcissism.
Now younger students, who, owing to brain physiology, are less capable of the good judgment lacking in their college student compatriots, are being allowed to head for spring break by their parents. To me, that permission borders on the criminally negligent.
Yesterday's edition of The Cincinnati Enquirer ran a front-page article on this disturbing trend. The headline said: Permission to Party? Parents feel pressure to let high school kids indulge in spring break.
I was really struck by this pathetic quote from one parent whose daughter is heading for Florida:
"It's become like most things in life: People are starting at earlier and earlier ages," says..."Teens tell you they're more mature at an earlier age. I'm not sure if that's true. But they're exposed to more things at an earlier age."Here is a parent who doesn't buy into the notion that simply because a child has access to more information and more options in life that they necessarily have the requisite maturity to use that information or access those options. Yet this same parent overlooks her own best judgment and lets the kid head for Florida anyway!
We parents need to love our kids enough to say, "No!" when "No" is the appropriate response.
The result of parental negligence that takes the form of heedless indulgence, seen by teachers in our public schools every day, is predictable: Irresponsible, self-indulgent kids; pregnancies and abortions; dangerous teen use of drugs and alcohol; and lots of other ills.
It's tough telling our kids, "No." It may make us momentarily unpopular. But refusing to let them roll over us to engage in negative behavior will protect them until their physiologically-mature and emotionally-prepared minds allow them to make sound decision for themselves. I've learned that wise discipline imposed usually become wise self-discipline adopted.
One aspect of parenting that begins from a very early age, is the gradual release of a child from our supervision, allowing the child to become his or her own person. But letting kids to go off to Florida for a week at a time, unattended, isn't an appropriate letting-go. It's a little like setting them down in the middle of Basra without protection and expecting that they won't get hurt in some way.
No job in the world is more important than that of the parent. As I see it, it has two major components:
(1) To introduce our kids to the God Who made them and has made it possible for them to be with Him forever through Jesus Christ, a God of awesome love, patience, and grace. Following this God gives us the freedom to become our best selves and the confidence to try any worthy thing.
(2) To prepare them for adult life. That includes the capacity to make wise decisions, ones that take into account what's best for oneself emotionally, physically, mentally, and relationally. It also includes a loving regard for the well-being of others affected by my decisions.
So far as I'm concerned, parents who let their teens head off for spring break without adult supervision are making a disastrous choice. Even if the kids come back home safe and sound, which most do, it's a dangerous risk and sends the wrong signal to the kids about what it means to be a responsible adult.
What do you think?
Sunday, March 06, 2005
[This message was shared with the people of Friendship Church on March 6, 2005]
When I was growing up, one of the favorite games for we neighborhood kids to play in the later hours of the night, just before our parents called us in to take our baths and go to sleep, was ‘Flashlight Tag.’
It was a low-tech combination of ‘Lazer Tag’ and ‘Hide and Seek.’ In Flashlight Tag, we didn’t have teams. One person was “it” and tried to expose those who hid under cover of darkness. I remember that it always brought a sinking feeling when the person with the flashlight found me. I didn’t like it at all.
The Bible, you know, describes Jesus as “the Light of the world.” We like that when it means that Jesus lights our ways through life and shows us that He is the way to heaven. But sometimes, when His light is cast on us, we see the darkness that resides within our souls--the sin, the selfishness. Truth is, we don’t like that any more than I liked being found in a game of Flashlight Tag. Today's Bible lesson deals with what happens when sins are exposed in this way.
The book of Ephesians, from which the lesson comes, is divided by scholars into two main sections.
The first three chapters deal with the issue of exactly what Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection mean for the relationship of Jewish believers in Jesus and non-Jewish (what the Bible calls Gentile) believers in Jesus. You see, the early Christian Church was a multicultural community, composed of Jews and Gentiles, and they all needed to figure out how to live and worship and work together.
Many of the Jewish Christians looked at the Gentile believers as "johnny-come-latelies" to faith and wondered whether these believers in Jesus really were part of God’s kingdom. It may have been to them that Ephesians’ most famous passage was directed:
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what He has made us to be, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand.Did you catch that?
Whether you’re a Jew or a Gentile, you aren’t saved from sin and death and futility by the good works you do. You’re saved as an act of God’s charity toward those who believe in Jesus Christ.
Your mission from that point forward, because you’re thankful that God has loved you in spite of your sin, is to do the good works God made for you to do centuries before you were even born.
Every believer in Jesus--Jew or Gentile, young or old, Lutheran or Baptist, Catholic or Presbyterian, black or yellow, brown or red, green, white, or purple polka-dotted--has been saved by God’s grace and everyone who turns from sin and believes in Jesus Christ has the same mission to do God’s will.
That leads, naturally enough, to the theme of the final three chapters, the second great division, of Ephesians.
It answers the question, Now that we’ve been saved by God’s act of charity, His grace, how do we go about living our lives? Our Bible lesson for today begins by giving part of the answer to that question. Listen:
For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of the light—for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. [Then it says that we should spend a good deal of time in our lives on a particular mission:] Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. [And then it says:] Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.To tell you the truth, whenever I read that last verse, telling us to expose darkness, I get uncomfortable. Is Ephesians saying that we Christians are to be vigilantes pointing out the moral deficiencies of others?
I hope not because when Christians act this way, they can be awfully ugly! A classic fictional account of that ugliness is The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne. It tells the story of Hester Prynne, an unmarried woman in colonial Boston, Massachusetts, who becomes pregnant. The town is scandalized and forces her to wear a scarlet A, standing for adultery, on her clothing.
The father of her child, the local pastor, gets off scott-free for years. While Hester owned her sin and became a wonderful person and a wonderful mother, the pastor became more and more miserable, something of which the solemn believers in Salem, their moral rectitude intact in spite of the truth of the situation, never were aware.
We followers of Jesus owe some accountability to each other, of course. Sometimes we may be called to cast a flashlight onto someone we love who’s hiding unrepented or destructive sin even from themselves. But we need to be very careful about that.
We need to be especially careful to avoid playing moral vigilantes with those who have no connection with Christ or the Church. I agree with Pastor Gerald Mann, a Baptist pastor in Austin, Texas, who observes that sometimes the main mission of the Church is to clean up the rotten reputation given to God by Christians!
When I think of how deeply God has to dive into the slime of my sin and selfishness in order to reach me with the forgiveness and hope He offers through Jesus Christ, I conclude that as Christian, I'm called not to harshly judge my non-Christian neighbor but, like Jesus, try to meet them wherever they are. It's interesting for we Christians to remember that Jesus never lashed out at unbelieving people for their sins. The only people Jesus ever lashed out against were often self-righteous believers in God who, quite simply, should have known better.
One of my favorite stories about a follower in Jesus meeting a spiritually-disconnected person involves Bill Hybels, the senior pastor of a large congregation near Chicago. Hybels had a neighbor. A hard-living, cigar-chomping business person who had done very well financially, but didn't have God in his life. The guy was gruff and Hybels liked him a lot. After developing a friendship with the guy, Hybels finally invited him to attend worship at his church some weekend.
The guy did show up for one of the church's services and later, Hybels thanked him for coming and asked him what he'd thought. The neighbor told Hybels he'd enjoyed it a lot. "And," he told Hybels, "that was a helluva sermon."
That compliment, of course, wasn't couched in the usual dainty church language. A moral vigilante probably would have blasted the guy. But Hybels simply thanked him. He met the guy where he was in order to show him the love and goodness of the God we know in Jesus.
I think that our lesson from Ephesians isn’t, for the most part, talking about us exposing the sins of others. It’s telling us something else, I think.
This past week, I underwent my annual physical exam at my doctor’s office. I do that so that I can discern any problems that need addressing and avoid future difficulties. As “children of” God’s “light,” you and I are to volunteer each day to let God give us a thorough spiritual examination.
When that happens, we can seek God's power to correct sins that might be blocking God’s power from our lives and so, be prepared for doing the great assignments God has in mind for each of us.
When I was a boy, my throat sometimes became sore. I’d try to conceal this from my parents because I knew that they could make me see our doctor. That didn’t appeal to me: I didn’t want the doc shining a flashlight down my throat, poking around, looking for problems. If he did find a problem, I knew, he’d likely prescribe medicine for me. And I hated that! When I was sick during the second grade, I wrote a poem for a homework assignment. My literary masterpiece? “Oh, how I hate to be ill; for then I have to take a pill.”
It’s painful when we let God point out our sins to us.
The prescription may be difficult for us to swallow.
God will want us to get rid of our sins. Because we tend to fall in love with our sins, parting with them can be very difficult.
The sins we love can be many different things—taking too many deductions off of our income tax, sexual intimacy outside of marriage, acting holier-than-thou with coworkers or family members, giving money first-place in our lives, wanting to keep up with the Joneses, boozing it up, or a thousand other ways sin can grab hold of our souls.
But whatever sin we specialize in, when God points them out, we have two choices and two choices only: (1) Keep on sinning and walk away from God; (2) Turn from the sin and ask God to help us live life God’s way.
When we make this second choice, we’re really living the words of an ancient church song that comes at the end of our Bible lesson for today: “Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead and Christ will shine on you!” We choose to let God wake us up.
And it’s this choice—the choice of turning from sin and asking God to help us to live life His way—that allows the bright light of Christ to shine on us and helps us to wake up to all the positive possibilities in our lives on earth and all the great things heaven holds in store for followers of Jesus.
Our congregation’s Forty Days of Purpose spiritual renewal campaign begins in about five weeks. It can be a time when we not only learn to let God’s light enter our lives, but as people transformed by God, become God’s light in the world!
Once more this morning, I’m asking you to make the following commitments:
Commit to read one chapter of The Purpose Driven Life throughout each day of our campaign for spiritual renewal.
Participate each week of the campaign in a small group.
Host a small group to which members of Friendship and our non-churchgoing neighbors will be invited during the campaign. (I’m asking God to help us establish 35 groups for the campaign. I’ve already had three people from outside of Friendship express an interest in participating.)
Prayerfully ask God how you can live out His five major purposes for your life which will be our focus during this forty-day campaign for spiritual renewal.
Next week, we’re actually going to have cards on which we’ll urge you to sign off on these and other commitments for the Forty Days of Purpose.
Some of you have heard me tell before about the remembrance of one of my seminary professors, Trygve Skarsten. He was on a ship sailing into a harbor once. For miles out to sea, there were two rows of lights that led ships to docks on the shore. Tryg later learned that each of those small lights was connected to and got their power from a huge light standing on the shore.
Our Bible lesson says that we believers in Jesus are lights that reflect and are connected to Jesus, Who is the Light of the world. And if you and I will commit ourselves to following Jesus and to, as our Bible lesson for this morning tells us, trying to find out and live out what is pleasing to God, God will use us to bring hundreds and thousands of people safely into the heavenly harbor where our God of love awaits all who follow Jesus! I can’t imagine anything being as exciting or rewarding as that!
So, as Forty Days of Purpose nears, make sure that you are a part of it. You won’t regret the time and energy you spend on it; I make that guarantee!
18. HughHewitt.com (1167)
19. the evangelical outpost (1165)
28. La Shawn Barber's Corner (1019)
32. ScrappleFace (951)
40. World Magazine Blog (912)
64. Parableman (716)
109. Le Sabot Post-Moderne (518)
116. Adrian Warnock's UK Evangelical Blog (506)
149. Patriot Paradox (428)
157. In the Agora (419)
178. Wittenberg Gate (394)
191. SmartChristian Blog
209. Blue Goldfish (361)
227. Evangelical Underground (343)
228. JOLLYBLOGGER (342)
253. Sidesspot (323)
296. SmartChristian.com (290)
298. Broken Masterpieces (287)
302. Blogdom of God (285)
314. King of Fools (280)
318. Ogre's Politics & Views
326. Logicus bLogicus (274)
341. CoffeeSwirls (267)
345. Spreading Understanding
369. Philosophical Poetry
372. Wallo World (258)
439. A Physicist's Perspective (235)
447.Sounding the Trumpet (232)
452. Vox Popoli
452. Pajama Hadin
456. 21st Century Reformation
467. Ales Rarus
468. The Dawn Treader
478. Uncle Sam's Cabin (223)
524. markdroberts.com (208)
540. Back of the Envelope
545. Challies Dot Com
561. Philosophical Poetry
652. The Minor Prophet
681. Daddy Pundit
682. The Dawn Treader
750. Rebecca Writes
923. Reverend Mike's House of Homiletic Hash
1079. Darn Floor
1106. New Covenant
1131. Damascus Road
1153. Proverbial Wife
1153. The Great Seperation
1239. Every Thought Captive
1242. Marriages Restored
1277. Wesley Blog (119)
1293. Every Thought Captive
1314. Joe Missionary
1356. doubletoothpicks: worldviews behind the news (113)
1383. notes from the front lines
1422. Pete's Journal
1423. ...in the outer...
1430. Antioch Road
1467. Weapons of Warfare
1480. Deep Calls to Deep
1500. a ticking time blog
1597. SteelerDirtFreak :: A 21st Century Missional Redneck Geek
1630. Ex Nihilo
1717. Mark Byron (83)
1720. Through a Glass Darkly
1758. Imperfect but Forgiven
1795. The Rooftop Blog
1962. The Wardrobe Door
2166. He Lives
2360. Darn Floor
2364. View from the Pew
2422. Church of the Acronym
2452. Stand Up and Walk
2562. The Regulator
2624. Bird of Paradise
2662. Now I don't want to get off on a rant here...
2672. The Happy Husband
2794. Dr. John Mark Reynolds (43)
2970. Amy's Humble Musings
3156. espresso roast (36)
3643. Feeble Knees
3731. It Take A Church…
4607. Eternal Perspectives
4702. Better Living: Thoughts from Mark Daniels
4840. Off the top
5279. Hill Country Views
5307. TheDuke's Domain
5516. Abide in the Word
6488. Confessions of a Jesus Phreak
6599. Much (of a which of a) Wind
7404. TRUTH BE TOLD (8)
7441. Happy Mills (8)
7450. Media Culpa
7727. personal trainer (7)
8029. Midwestern Mugwump (mw)2
8108. Revenge of Mr Dumpling
8634. Dunker Journal
8715. The 'Grub Street' Plumber
8910. Pete the Elder
9081. The Wardrobe Door
10151. DM'S Loose Ends
10921. Blogcorner preacher (3)
10991. Proverbs Daily
11228. Tim Thompson . . . Reflections
11555. On An Azure Field of Gratuitous Advice
12365. Sonspot (2)
12578. Procrastinators of the world- Unite! (Later)
14641. Reed's Blogged Ateries
17080. ??? ???
NR - Mentor Mark Memoirs
NR - secundum Christum
NR - ChristianHillsblog
NR - Grace Notes 4 Teens
NR - Peacful Chaos
NR - C.H.U.R.C.H.
NR - The Greatest Pursuits
NR - Be Bold, Be Gentle
NR - Foundations
NR - For the Joy
NR - Sarcasmagorica
NR - Jeff Blogworthy
NR - A Simple Desultory Dangling Conversation
NR - Run To Win
NR - Marginal Comments
NR - Northern 'burbs blog
NR - The Grey Shadow
NR - Penguin Ploddings
NR - Blog on the Lillypad2
NR -- Mere-Orthodoxy
NR -- worship naked
NR -- Jim Street
NR -- RealGodseekers
NR -- Just Thinking
NR -- His Wonderful Gift
NR -- defiant lamb
NR -- All Things Possible
NR -- Bear Witness
NR -- Thought Crime
NR -- A Bellandean! God, Country, Heritage
NR -- Living Hope
NR -- Menorah
NR -- Dappled Things
NR -- Random Responses
NR -- Dispatches from Outland
NR -- Fr. Greg's Anglican Blog
NR -- Red Letters Blog
NR -- The Conservative Citizen Weblog
NR -- Goodmanson.com
Speaking for me, I don't care when people blog...as long as it isn't while I'm preaching or teaching. So far as I know, that hasn't happened yet, although I have caught an occasional napper in the past twenty years of preachifying.