Archive for June, 2009

Employees Clock In, But Don’t Clock Out

June 23, 2009

You are not your own.  You were bought at a price.  – 1Corinthians 6:19b-20a

I find this passage to be hugely important in helping me make decisions in my life, particularly regarding issues of ownership and control.  It also would seem to be a sage reminder for even the non-theist, and for anyone overly fixated on their ‘rights’.  
The Associated Press has just published some guidelines for their employees to follow in regards to their online social networking presences.  (http://www.wired.com/images_blogs/threatlevel/2009/06/apsocialnetworkingpolicy.pdf)  The policy indicates that even employee’s personal web pages or social networking pages are subject to the Associated Press’ (AP) policy.  Their employee’s online presence is not solely the employee’s any longer.  The AP is seeking to assert a level of control about how employees utilize social networking sites, as well as how the comport themselves as representatives of the AP.
I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of squawking about this.  It’s – to my knowledge – the most comprehensive such regulation on permitted employee usage of social networking sites.   But I can’t see as how the squawking is going to change much.  This is the reality of our new over-connected age – the idea that we can compartmentalize and cordone off each section of our life (personal, public, business, entertainment, etc.) is rapidly being shown for the falsehood it’s really always been.  What we do in one aspect of our lives can affect all of our life, and to pretend otherwise would seem to be a recipe for disaster.  Additionally, our employers should rightly have a say in how we conduct ourselves ‘off the clock’.  Much as it used to be, nobody is ever truly off the clock.  Once upon a time it was because people lived in small, tightly knit communities where everyone knew everyone.  Now it’s because practically anything someone places online is stored in perpetuity, and we aren’t always sure by whom and for what ends.
In some professions, this has always been understood to be the case.  Clergy, for example, are held to very high standards of personal behavior, and it isn’t  very effective to argue that because you were ‘off the clock’, those standards shouldn’t apply.  In professions such as these, it’s understood that we’re never really off the clock.  The AP is asserting that this is even more so – for even more professions – now.  Their standards are not just for reporters, but for any AP employee.  Whether you’re working in the mailroom or submitting stories on the wire, the same standards apply to everyone, at all times.  
Reminds me of another cherished verse – There is nothing new under the sun. – Ecclesiastes 1:9

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Muzzled on Muslims

June 23, 2009

A news site that I’ve begun scanning daily is www.Getreligion.org.    It’s a thoughtful and well-written news reporting site focusing on religion.  Recently, they were commenting on how – in the midst of the turmoil in Iran – Christian leaders have been strangely silent on the issue.  I know I have considered writing about it from time to time, but always ended up deciding against it.  Apparently I’m not alone in that decision.

My good friend Gary and I got into a discussion on this issue last night over IM.  What is the Christian response in this situation?  More accurately, how is a Christian who seeks to let the Bible dictate their reactions and attitudes towards current events supposed to respond?  In the course of this discussion, it became clear that it is complicated.  Or more precisely, it may not be complicated.  But not in the way that some people might think.  
The crucial text that centered our discussion of the issue is Romans 13:1-7.  For those of you unfamiliar with this passage, I suggest you look it up and read it right now.  Finished?  Now read it again.   Ready?  Here is the pertinent text printed below – read it one more time.  (I’m using the English Standard Version, which I’m partial to):
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.  For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.  Therefore, whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.  For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad.  Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority?  Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good.  But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain.  For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.  Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.  For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing.  Pay to all what is owed them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.
If there’s a passage of Scripture that gives me pause to consider how deeply entrenched I am in the world’s way of thinking, this is it.  Because it strikes at our culturally cherished notions of freedom and democracy and self-determination.  It strikes at our assumption that wrongs must be righted by us.  It asserts that God is the sole authority in all of creation, and that in the realm of human governance, God is specifically involved in placing and removing people from authority.
That’s a hard pill to swallow, if you’re really honest with yourself.
There is no provision in Paul’s text for revolt against an unjust authority, a tyrant, or a despot.  There are no mitigating conditions at all.  Paul, the servant of Christ who endured beatings and threats and attempts on his life and shipwrecks at sea and imprisonment – all for the sake of the Gospel – has a keen insight into the nature and purpose of suffering injustice that ought to grab us by the throat and give us a good shake.  
Paul was certainly no stranger to the idea of poor governance.  He was well aware of the tragic history of Jerusalem alone, but also the larger empire.  Of abuses of power back and forth.  Of injustice on a mind-numbing scale.  Of the crushing power of the State.  It is not that Paul is naive to the likelihood – the inevitability, one might say – of the abuse of power.  And yet he does not provide Christians (and by extension all peoples) the option of taking things into our own hand.  We are not the judges.  We are not the agents of destiny or history.  Our role is obedience.  
A Christian might argue that since the people of Iran are by and large not Christian, and the government is not a Christian one, these rules don’t apply to this situation.  But it’s a pretty poor argument that what goes for Christians should not – ideally – apply to all people.  Others might be tempted to utilize Augustine’s arguments about the sometime necessity for a just war.  But a just war seems to imply an outside threat, not a desire from within a population to change the regime.  
One might turn to Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his involvement with an assasination plot against Hitler.  Yet Bonhoeffer does not attempt to justify his action, or claim that he is not sinning.  He knows he is sinning, and he takes responsibility for that volitional sinfulness.  He does not attempt to claim some insight into Romans 13 that validates his behavior – he acknowledges that he is transgressing the words of Paul and the Holy Spirit.  
So for Christians to comment on the situation in Iran is difficult.  I’m sure many if not all Christians would like to see a regime change.  The world undoubtedly would appreciate less of a polemical figure than Ahmadinejab in charge, and would like to see the iron grip of Khamenei and whoever might follow him weakened or broken.  Yet to advocate for a revolution from within poses very clear theological problems for Christians without easy or convenient ways around.  
We can advocate for freedom or democracy, but not at the expense of our clear warnings to obedience – obedience even to a repressive regime, obedience even to an unjust or tyrranical regime, obedience even unto death.  It is an unpleasant reminder of the stakes involved in the spiritual realms of creation, and the terrible cost we may be expected to bear to demonstrate that two wrongs do not make a right, even though they may make a profound difference.  It reminds Christians of precisely who is in charge, and how ill-equipped we are to determine for ourselves what God is up to in the world, and the means He might wish us to use to carry out His will.  The Bible speaks a great deal about obedience, and precious little about self-determination, or freedom, or democracy.  At least in temporal terms and applications that we are more used to considering.
And it should be a reminder of how difficult true obedience can be.  Which should make those of us who have not – at least as of yet – had to bear up faithfully under repression – so very, very grateful for the grace we have received through no merit of our own.  Our country has many problems – many severe and critical problems – but we should at least remember to give thanks for the great freedoms which we possess – and use them wisely.  

Say What?

June 22, 2009

You hear the argument over and over again.  Censorship is a bad thing.  Free speech is a good thing.  Any attempts to limit any kind of speech threaten the right to free speech and should be done away with.

This argument is nothing new.  (http://www.sptimes.com/2005/01/23/Columns/Free_speech_is_bad_wo.shtml)  But it often appears very persuasive.
The fact of the matter is that speech is never – and has never been – completely free.  Every culture, every society has limitations of some sort on what they will permit people to say.  Often, these restrictions vary based on circumstances.  What can be said in a comedy club, for example, where people over a certain age are paying money and volunteering to listen to profanity and other things, is different than what is (or ought to be) acceptable in a preschool.  Certain types of comments such as threats, allegations, slander and the like are protected against by law as well.  As well, it is not permissible to use free speech to yell ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theater, or to yell “Hi, Jack!” in the security line at an airport.  Clearly, free speech is a red herring, because it doesn’t exist.  
By and large we’re all just fine with that.  Reasonable limitations on the exercising of our right to ‘free speech’ ensure public safety.  But the issue of foul language in public places has been undergoing a lot of pressure in recent decades.  The assumption appears to be that any sort of language should be permissible in a public space, by nature of it being public.  Funny thing is, once upon a time not so long ago, speech in a public place was self-censored for precisely the same reason.  It’s just that people don’t seem to find it strange – or unreasonable – to be swearing their head off (congenially mind you, not angrily) on a cell phone while a family with small children stands nearby waiting for their turn at a drinking fountain.  I’ve experienced countless incidents of jovial swearing in other people’s casual conversations when sitting in airports and other public spaces.  
Once upon a time regardless of how one might choose to speak privately, or what one felt was acceptable or unacceptable speech, people censored themselves out of respect for others.  That’s no way to talk to a lady!   Watch your tongue – there are children present!  These sorts of comments were accepted as perfectly valid arguments against public obscenity in speech.  You might not personally agree that what you were saying was improper, but out of respect for others, you avoided speaking it publicly, or in a voice loud enough to be heard by others.
Now, the opposite is true.  The assumption seems to be that we can say whatever we like, within earshot of anyone, and nobody has the right to say shame on you.  Everyone else – including young children – must be subject to whatever foulness somebody chooses to yell into their cell phone.  Anybody who complains is accused of being some sort of rights-repressing fanatic.  The community has no right to expect certain modicums of behavior.  The community is rather held hostage by whatever any particular individual within it (or passing through it) feels it ought to be subjected to.
But there is a difference between oversensitivity and insensitivity.  There is a difference between taking offense at any old thing, or at things not widely considered to be offensive by the community at large, and refusing to allow someone their ‘right’ to not have to listen to certain forms of speech.  Cultures determine what is acceptable behavior and speech within their parameters.  Those who transgress those parameters are in some manner chastised, whether unofficially or officially.  The expectation is that if you wish to be a part of society, you respect the overall sensibilities of that society.  If you aren’t willing to show that respect, you probably don’t deserve to benefit from the society you’re refusing to respect.
There is a place for pushing the envelope.  The public park, or the mall, or any public space is not the proper forum, however.  If an artist wants to push the limits, they are free to do so within the parameters of an exhibition of their work.  Or a performance, someplace where those who are interested in what they have to say can come and hear, and those who aren’t interested do not have to be subjected to language or images that are clearly beyond the parameters of communal acceptance.  I may disagree with an artist’s pushing of the envelope, but so long as I am not forced to view or hear it, and so long as I am not forced to compensate them for it via my tax dollars, I’m happy to have them push their envelopes.  But when I’m forced to pay for it or encounter it, I take issue.  

Man Gifts

June 22, 2009

I don’t have anything against offering Dad a beer on Father’s Day.

Though I do find it a bit odd when it’s a church doing it.  (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/religion/5587035/Church-blesses-fathers-with-beer.html)
There are a number of rather odd statements in this story.  
We give away wine every Sunday
…we wanted to give a laddish, blokeish gift to the men.  A bottle of beer hits the mark.”
There are several issues to be had here.  From a religious point of view, the church is not handing out glasses of wine to men or women every Sunday.  Referring to one of the holiest sacraments of the Church in such an offhanded way is, if nothing else, incredibly tasteless (pun intended).  Equating the wine received in the sacrament with a bottle of beer is most certainly irreverent and completely missing the mark.
The story notes the dire lack of men in church on any given Sunday in Great Britain (under 20% of British men polled attend regularly, apparently).  Let’s think about this for a moment.  The church is lamenting a lack of male involvement in the church.  Fair enough.  So the church assumes that men need to be bribed to attend church – at least on Father’s Day (though the article mentions other more ongoing lures, such as bacon rolls).  And the best incentive the church has to offer men to attend worship is a free bottle of beer or a bacon roll.
Doesn’t much sound like a church I’d want to go to either.
Much has been said of the feminization of many Christian churches.  Articles have been written about how hymns have been replaced with love songs.   Praise teams and bands fronted by attractive women enthusiastically singing love songs into cordless microphones seem to be the aspiration of all hip churches in America.  Or at least that’s what popular Christian media (television, magazines, etc.) would lead us to believe.  Many of these songs could easily be about a boyfriend or a husband if the name of Jesus was replaced with Brad, or Dave, or Mike.  I’ve heard worship songs that sounded downright risque to my admittedly jaded ears, and I’ve had to ask a musician during a practice session that a specific song never be played again.  
If we’re going to stereotype men as beer-guzzling primates who can be lured into a church with a cold bottle of brew, then what of the stereotype of men as not being particularly fond of sappy love songs?  A manly man does not purchase Kenny G albums (CDs for you whippersnappers), or Michael Bolton, or Yanni, or Barry Manilow.  They may listen to them in the relative privacy of their car or home, may even furtively download them from iTunes, but certain appearances must be kept that preclude the stereotypical male from being seen in public seeking out this sort of music.
So why would the stereotypical, beer-guzzling male want to come and listen to it in church?  
And why would a man be interested in coming to a church that appears to think so little of his intelligence, his theological thinking, his abilities, his willingness to serve, and his general capabilities as to try to tempt him in to the church with a beer?  Are they going to let him drink it during the sermon?  How about during the sappy praise songs?  Is there a farting and no-farting zone as well?  Belchers and non-belchers?  Can he just wear his boxers and t-shirt to the service?   Should the pews be replaced with recliners?  Should the there be remote controls to turn down the preacher during sermons, or to allow guys to watch the race/game/fight in a picture-in-picture format along with the sermon?  
I find it appalling that a church that seeks to draw men into community could be so manifestly insulting as to how it characterizes them.  The Bible speaks of men as leaders in the family and in the church.  Yet the church seems to assume that if men are not turning out for worship, it’s because of some sort of deficiency in the men themselves, rather than how the church is seeking to engage and honor them.  And if the church’s expectations of men’s interests is so low, this wouldn’t seem to bode well for how the church must view the gifts that men bring to a community of faith, or the plans the church has for how men can play a meaningful role – every bit as meaningful as the role women play – in that community of faith.  
I’d avoid lowering the bar, personally.  Actually, I’d consider raising it.

Bucking the Stop

June 20, 2009

This is not an anti-Sotomayer critique.  

It is, however, a lament that people can be so quick to change their behaviors in an effort to gain something.
Sotomayer has resigned membership in the Belizean Grove (http://www.belizeangrove.com/), an all-woman’s club based in New York.  The club’s web site touts it as a networking and mentoring organization for successful women.  
Sotomayer indicates that she sees no problem with being a member of this group (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/20/us/politics/20grove.html?ref=politics), and yet has resigned after Republican’s balked at her membership in it.  She is not listed on the “partial” membership list on the group’s web site, but there was an impressive array of women in a broad range of fields – including a high ranking US Military person.  
My question is if you don’t think it’s a problem, why resign?  This might streamline her confirmation process – or at least she seems to think it might.  And yet, I tend to think that someone willing to profess one belief but act in a contrary manner is making a statement that I’m not sure I can respect.  I’d have had a lot more respect if Sotomayer had politely directed the Republicans to something that might actually matter in their investigations of her background.  
This seems like a very minor issue – unless there are other aspects about the Belizean Grove that I’m not aware of.  The organization is low-key enough to have generated very few query results on Google that aren’t the web site itself, Wikipedia’s very brief description of the organization, or articles written in the last few days about Sotomayer’s decision.  
Why is it wrong for women to hang out together?  Why is it wrong for men to hang out together?  I would assume that Sotomayer would, based on her membership to this group, have no problems with equivalent all-male organizations.  So as long as she is not advocating some sort of double standard, I don’t get the problem.  
What we need most of all are some influential people with enough common sense to start saying ‘Enough’ to the elaborate and pretty much unwinnable Dance of Political Correctness.
That would be the sort of person I could support – whether as a Supreme Court justice nominee, or a president.  Tragically, I doubt I’ll have one to vote for in my lifetime.

I am a Father

June 18, 2009

By the grace (and humor) of God, I am a father.  Three small children find themselves under the care and guardianship of my wife and I.  Generally, this is a good thing.

There are moments though, when their small faces grow set and determined.  Their eyes are tight.  Their small jaws clench, and they are Making a Stand about something that we have asked them to do – or not do.  The determination is palpable.  It rolls off of them like noiseless sonic booms that vibrate against our hearts as though to break them.  There is a moment in which this is cute.  There are times when we even want to laugh – and sometimes do.  Such determination in such small bodies is an amazement to me.  Surely I could never have been like that?  Surely I never am like that?  
But we are caregivers and guardians.  It is our duty as relatively responsible adults to take care of and ensure the well-being of our small charges.  Even when they are not particularly thrilled with the form that this takes.  Even if it means that they are expected to pick up their toys.  Or not pummel their siblings.  Or not to refuse to follow a request or a directive from my wife and I.  The stakes are small at this point.  A cluttered floor or not.  Clean hands or not.  
But the stakes rise as they grow older.
And at some point, the difference between obedience and disobedience is no longer cute.  No longer laughable.  It becomes devastating.  And the waves of determination don’t just threaten to break our hearts, they threaten to capsize the small crafts of our children’s lives in ways they can’t even recognize.  Because they are children.  And because children need caregivers and guardians, whether they’re seven years old or 17.  The nature of the care and guardianship changes.  The principles don’t.
This is not easy work.  It’s relatively easy now, but I expect that it will grow more challenging and difficult as our children grow and establish stronger peer networks.  The pressures of fitting in and countless other measures of self-worth will compete more actively with the principles and guidelines that we seek to undergird our combined existence with.  It won’t be easy work, but it will be very, very important work.
One of the most important aspects of that work is for them to learn to see themselves as part of a larger whole.  A family at first.  A school later, perhaps.  A congregation of believers.  An employer.  Society as a whole.  The world.  To see their gifts and desires and abilities not simply in terms of what they want or think they should have, but in terms of how they can benefit those around them.  How they can make the world a better place in tangible terms.  
This is not a popular approach to parenting these days, apparently.  (http://www.salon.com/mwt/col/tenn/2009/06/18/16_year_old/index.html)  For reasons I have not yet ascertained, I am suddenly not able to create hyperlinks in my posts.  Please be patient until I work this out with my hosting provider!  
Now the emphasis is on the individual child.  Only on their needs, never on their obligations or responsibilities.  They are not part of a larger entity where their actions have consequences and repercussions.  They are too young to be held accountable for that sort of thing.  But they apparently are old enough to determine their own behaviors regardless of how it might affect others.  All privilege, no responsibility.  The benefits of being an adult with none of the responsibility that helps to check our natural impulses from time to time, and which generally make us halfway bearable as neighbors, employees, colleagues.  
There is a kernel of wisdom in what this ‘advice’ columnist says.  Tragically, it is buried beneath such a momumental pile of crap that you can’t really see it any more.  You can only hope that it somehow germinates and tunnels up through the crap to tower over it someday.  But by then, the writer and his daughter will likely be far worse off because of the advice of this person.
The world is in many ways designed around teenagers.  The fashion and entertainment industries are dominated by their input and buying power.  The values of those in their 20’s and even 30’s are being dictated by the whims of people barely into their teens.  Our culture is hyper-focused on the teenage years as the most important and best years of our lives.  And as our society attempts to portray them, how could they not be?  All play and no work!  Sit in school for a few hours a day and go party at night!  Put up with your parents as little as possible, flaunting their authority and the very practical reasons for certain rules, and be supported in your insolence by advice columnists!  What a field day!  
No, the advice columnist is clearly not a parent.  Because a parent should be able to tell you that cherishing your child does not mean that there are not rules.  That empowering your child does not mean eliminating their responsibilities as a human being, as a member of a family, as a student.  That attempting to allow your child to do as they see fit, chalking it all up to valuable learning experiences, is actually a fair guarantee that they aren’t going to learn, and that consequently a larger portion – or perhaps all – of the rest of their lives will be spent making up the learning curve their parents didn’t have the strength to support them in as teenagers.  
Children are a gift from God.  They enrich the lives of their parents and the world around them.   But they arrive in need of guidance and shaping and molding, so that they can discover who they are and whose they are, so they can gain the confidence necessary to live their lives with meaning and with dignity.  God does not provide children to us fully formed, fully shaped, and full of wisdom.  Parents are expected to provide some of these things.  And to create the parameters for the child to acquire more of each in their own experiences.
Don’t listen to this person’s advice.  It apparently comes from no experience other than the self-centered memories of a typically turbulent adolescence.  A teenager’s happiness is not the measure of good parenting.  Perhaps someday this columnist will discover that.  
I certainly hope that my children do.

In the Dumps

June 17, 2009

We are blessed to be able to pretty much take for granted the fact that each week we can roll our accumulated garbage and recycling to the curb and leave it there to be taken away the following morning.  It’s a simple arrangement which we pay for each month.  Whatever I have thrown into the garbage or the recycling bin is pretty much no longer of use or interest to me.  I’m happy the city takes it, but I don’t really care *who* takes it.  

Not everyone feels this way. (http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-outthere16-2009jun16,0,2611118.story)
It was fascinating to read how adamant some people are about the ownership issue of their trash and recyclables.  I particularly found the last quote to be rather telling – “No matter what anybody says it’s not trash.  It has value.”  Apparently, this translates to roughly the idea that anyone is going to take the materials in trash or recycle bins other than the designated city authority is guilty of theft.  I’m pretty positive that once the owner throws something into the trash can or recycling bin, they don’t remember and value what they put there.  
Where does value come from?  Economically speaking, it makes sense that value is something that exists in the act of someone wanting something.  Interestingly enough, this is the case theologically as well.  I tend to think that the latter fact ought to inform the former behavior – but I’m often disappointed in that assumption.
Convenience vs. a very modest income opportunity for some people.  Once a week dog barking vs. the ability to eat or not.  It seems like a no brainer.  And yet it strikes at the heart of our assumptions about ownership, private property, the nature of community.  It derives from peace of mind that drives how people decide where they are going to live.  Several of the residents interviewed are older, a demographic particularly vulnerable to abuse, intimidation, and other violations that younger people don’t perceive as a real risk.  Unfortunately, the article doesn’t bother to indicate if there have been any incidents of theft, or violence, or intimidation directly linked to foragers.  It would seem unlikely though, if they’re coming through late at night to avoid encounters with the residents.  Nor does the reporter bother to indicate whether or not there are other incidental annoyances due to the foragers, such as litter and spilled garbage or recyclables.  
So who’s trash is it, anyway?  Thoughts?

Defending God

June 13, 2009

As I mentioned previously, I’m reading The God I Don’t Understand by Christopher J. H. Wright.  The book has been pretty straightforward thus far.  Although the title would lead you to believe that the author has some areas about God that he doesn’t understand, most of the book thus far is spent in trying to provide understanding to some tough questions about what God reveals about Himself and our universe.  I guess this makes sense – a bullet-point list of things we don’t understand about God might be long enough to fill a book, but probably not a book that anybody would buy.  Go figure.

So Wright has been attempting to address the issue of the Israelite takeover of the Promised land as described in the Old Testament – particularly in the book of Joshua.  At issue is the wholesale slaughter of entire towns or even people groups, as dictated by God.  Wright is going through various ways of looking at these events that help to put them in perspective.  Ultimately, Wright wants to defend God against the allegation of genocide.
And whenever we try to defend God, we fail.  God doesn’t need defending, so we’re already on shaky ground.  But Wright uses some pretty poor arguments to try and place the conquest of the Promised Land into the proper perspective.  
One of his arguments is that the slaughter didn’t take up the whole Old Testament, and in most part was limited to a single generation of conquest.  As though the fact that it was just one generation of people killing others makes the situation any better.  The Nazis were a single generation of killing.  The killings in Rwanda in the 90’s was just a single generation of killing.  It doesn’t make the killing any easier to deal with.  If God ordered the killing of even one person, this is a mighty issue that we need to grapple with.  At a very basic level, the scope or scale or duration of a God-ordered killing spree is far secondary to the fact that God ordered any sort of killing in the first place.  Wright is not going to be very compelling to anyone in terms of reducing the timeframe of the killing to a single generation. This isn’t getting God off the hook.  
Wright then argues that the destruction of the Caananites was God’s judgment against the wickedness of those peoples.  This is, I believe, very true.  The problem is, that in the previous section on dealing with the concept of evil, Wright goes to great pains to show Jesus indicating that personal tragedy or suffering is not necessarily direct divine retribution for a wrong committed.  This is also very true, I believe.  However Wright doesn’t take time to address what is going to appear like a rather gaping contradiction.  God punishes in real-time, and God does not punish in real-time.  God operates differently with individuals than with collections of individuals.  Sorry, not very compelling.
Wright’s two points are valid, but he needs to grapple and deal with and explain that what appears to be a contradiction may not be.  That God is free to act in human history however He decides to, and that we can’t draw wholesale generalizations based on these interventions.  God may indeed allow or bring about the suffering of someone who has done wrong, but that is not something we can judge very well without God explaining this fact to us.  The same thing happens on national levels as well.  All things are under God’s ultimate control – but we aren’t privy to what that means in any specific situation outside of what is revealed to us in Scripture.
The difficulty of the Old Testament stories of conquest is that they remind us that we are all guilty.  None of us are innocent.  All of us rightly deserve God’s wrath.  The fact that His wrath was poured out on specific peoples at specific times for His specific purposes is a reminder that none of deserve any different.  In fact, we all deserve the exact same treatment.  It is only the saving grace of Jesus Christ that removes that terminal guilt from our shoulders, and eliminates our status as ‘rebels’ against God, and changes it to ‘heirs’ of God.  
There is no way to soften this truth, I believe.  The fact that we wish it were softened is an indictment of our own guilt – even those of us who know our guilt and have been forgiven.  The OT is a reminder that the stakes are high, and that there is no middle ground between good and evil.  We are either saved, or we are lost.  We are either with God or against Him.  And we can be saved, and can be with God, because God has acted, and has sent us salvation through the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  

Two for Me…None for You?

June 10, 2009

Another rather predictable article on the issue of global population and the need for restrictions on reproduction levels

The line that I find most telling in this article comes early, and acts as the presupposition for all that follows:
“Let’s concede up front that nothing short of a catastrophic population crash (think of the film Children of Men, set in a world without children) would make much difference to climate change, water scarcity, or land shortages over the next decade or so.”
Or, to translate:  Let’s assume that there is no room to discuss the West – and particularly  America’s – extravagant use of natural resources and a corresponding need for fundamental lifestyle changes.  
The article already notes that population levels in developed Western nations have dropped dramatically.  In fact, what the article doesn’t mention is that in much of Europe, reproduction levels have declined markedly in recent decades to the point where the population is not even replacing itself.  The French, the Italians – practically all of the European nationalities and cultures are dying off.  They are being replaced by a rapid influx of immigrants from Eastern Europe and the Middle East and North Africa.  
What this means effectively is that the proposal to limit reproduction levels will be a limit placed on somebody else.  The West, with already too-low reproduction levels – would obviously not be asked to reduce reproduction even further and eliminate their culture.  At least not *all* countries in the West would be asked to do this.  So the implication is that those areas of the world that are reproducing at higher rates would need to be the ones that curtailed reproduction levels.
But let’s go beyond this.  If the argument is being made that the Earth can only sustain a certain population level, is that population level going to be distributed equally or proportionately amongst all of the various national/ethnic/cultural groups currently represented?  Let’s say that the Chinese and the Indians and residents of Africa are all asked to reproduce less.  How much less?  An equal percentage each?  Who decides?  Who enforces?  And if it’s the West – with a declining population as it is – attempting to enforce this on larger parts of the world, what if they refuse?  What if they realize that if the West were eliminated, they could improve their lifestyles that much faster?  
If the Earth can only sustain a certain level of population, it’s a very short argument to say that only the best of the human species should be reproducing.  Only the brightest, the most productive, the most innovative, the most refined.  The whole issue of eugenics becomes front and center again (not that it’s ever really gone away).  How do we make those that are being born the best that they can be, since we’re asking (or demanding) that so many others not reproduce?  And how many ‘others’ are necessary to ensure that the best and brightest have all that they need in order to produce an even better generation of humans down the road?  Population may be an issue.  Consumption is certainly an issue.   But lurking behind these – and behind proposed solutions – are a host of other implications and ramifications that go well beyond the cheery promise that we get to keep the standard of living that we’re accustomed to.  

Moral vs. Natural Evil

June 7, 2009

I just started reading The God I Don’t Understand by Christopher J.H. Wright.  I’m only about 50 pages or so into it, and he’s talking about the Christian’s struggle with the issue of evil in the world.  

He distinguishes between moral evil – evil human actions and the results of evil human actions – and natural evil, or the terrible events that happen without a clear human cause.  This includes things like floods, earthquakes, storms, etc.  All well and good.  But he’s making the case that natural evil is not truly caused by humans – or more precisely, human sinfulness and the fall that resulted.  Rather, Wright argues the world has always been like this (full of natural disasters), and natural evil is not the result of man’s fall from an initial state of perfection or grace.  
I find this problematic.  I haven’t read his alternative theory yet, but his initial argument seems to not take the full Biblical witness into account.  He makes an interesting argument that God’s curse regarding man and the ground is really best interpreted (exegetically) as the literal ground, and not as shorthand for all of creation.  So Wright assumes that certain aspects of the earth – plate tectonics, meteorological phenomenon – have always been the way we experience them today.  In other words, the world has always been a dangerous place with the capacity to destroy human life.  
An interesting thought, but not necessarily convincing.  What about Isaiah’s prophecies about the “lion lying down with the lamb”?  This wouldn’t seem to make much sense if there wasn’t some sort of inference that the natural order as we know it isn’t nearly as natural as we tend to think it is.  Our sense of outrage and loss in the face of catastrophic disaster would also seem to be profoundly misplaced, if this is just how things have always been.  And Wright’s curious argument that, because we can’t find evidence for anything other than the way things are today in the natural order, this must be how things have always been.  In my experience, the shards of a dropped crystal wine glass rarely lead one to assume that they are part of a single wine glass – particularly if one has decided that such a wine glass could not exist.
I’ll be interested to see if he addresses this further.  But I’m very unconvinced on this one point.  Overall, the book seems good.  We’ll see how it continues.