Archive for October, 2009

7 Quick Takes Friday #10?!

October 16, 2009




Those of you who may have checked out the above site last week will have discovered that the Jennifer had taken the week off as part of fast from the Internet.  I’m not about to try anything that crazy just yet.  Suffer on.

1.
I hope that I’m not the only person who is something far shy of surprised that the little boy floating away in a weather balloon thingy that apparently dominated the media yesterday may not have been the innocent accident it was initially reported as by the family.   Just Googling the family name should have turned up enough half-baked YouTube clips and other media endeavors to warrant some further probing into the event. 

2.
That being said, the remaining posts for this week all center around various aspects of health care and the law here in the United States.  Some of you may remember this ancient news story from last week about the conviction of a Wisconsin couple who prayed rather than seek medical attention for their sick daughter, resulting in her death.

The article really doesn’t do justice to the murkiness of the law at the crossroads of religion and health.  And it is interesting to note that lawmakers are resolving to solve this situation by removing religious exemptions for cases of neglect and abuse.  What the heck does that mean?  If you don’t take your child to the doctor at the first sniffle, are you opening yourself up for a case of neglect and abuse?  How about attempting to better define when failure to seek medical care ceases to become a matter of ignorance or simply poor judgment, and becomes something prosecutable, like neglect or abuse?  Who gets to make that call on when that line is crossed, and what legal codification is going to simplify this any? 

None that I can think of.  Fortunately, who would think to argue that the death of their child was as much an issue of innocent ignorance as it was a religiously motivated decision?

3.
This couple.

I find it interesting how the reporter leads off with the weight of the child, as though that is indicative of some sort of abuse or neglect.  A two-year old boy that weighs 32 pounds is certainly nothing abnormal, and perhaps even on the larger side of the scale. 

I also find it interesting that the entire story almost is taken up with the religious aspect of the case, when the parents aren’t even attempting to defend themselves on religious grounds.  Rather, they’re arguing that they thought their child just had a cold, and therefore didn’t see a reason to seek medical assistance.  The judge states that “Your child needed medical care.  As parents, that what your duty is, and that’s why you are here in court today.”  The article doesn’t mention whether or not the parents have other, older children.  I certainly know that we were a lot more paranoid about colds with our firstborn than with our younger children.  And as parents, you’re responsible for best knowing your child and attempting to provide for their needs on that basis.  Sometimes a doctor can be helpful in that process.  Sometimes not. 

I believe that the parents should have taken the child to the doctor, especially if religion was not a compelling factor in their decision not to.  Especially if (and it’s unclear if they tried this) they tried to deal with the cold through aspirin or other over-the-counter options.  But if the child showed improvements and then relapsed?  That’s a tough call.  And no mention was made of the family’s situation in terms of finances or health insurance.  For many folks, the idea of an expensive doctor’s appointment or an interminable wait in ER would be enough to keep them searching for quicker, less expensive solutions.


4.
I found this editorial by the CEO of the Coca-Cola company to be rather interesting.  It appeared in the Wall Street Journal last week.   At one level, his argument has merit – there are plenty of factors in the growing obesity problem in the United States.  On the other hand, I felt his blatant appeal to economics and utilitarianism in the final paragraph to be out of place.  I’m sure that cigarette companies employed a lot of people before they fell under the legislative hammer.  Clearly, when people’s lives are at stake, arguing about employment figures is really a moot issue.

5.
Who ultimately should have the power to make health decisions?  Is this a personal decision, or a communal one?  This is a great, short piece by the Christian Science Monitor discussing the ratcheting up of rhetoric regarding the H1N1 threat. 

Should individual liberty place a community – even a nation – at risk?  Should the interests of the community take precedent over an individual’s freedom of body?  I’m sure that if arguments were being made that abortions had to be eliminated because they were a threat to our greater community, there would be a holy terror of shrieks of outrage regarding the sanctity of decision-making authority that every woman has over her body – regardless of the potential impact on anyone else (like the father, or the unborn baby, to name just a few). 

And yet in the arena of vaccinations, it seems perfectly legitimate to argue that for our own good, or for the good of our society, we ought to be compelled to receive a vaccination or any other procedure that poses very real – if difficult to predict – damage to our bodies.  If people are compelled to take vaccinations by the government, should the government promise to compensate them and their families if anything goes wrong after the vaccination? 

If I enlist in the military, I voluntarily place myself in harm’s way.  I acknowledge that I am willing (if not thrilled) to lay down my life as necessary.  Totally voluntary (at least when the draft isn’t in effect).  Yet if I were to be killed in the line of duty, my family is compensated for my death to the tune of $100,000.  Why don’t we have similar policies in effect for those who might be compelled to receive a medical treatment such as a vaccination, only to find that they suffer from debilitating side effects? 

To place all this in a historical context, you might also be interested in viewing this little video clip from 60 Minutes which originally aired over 30 years ago. 

6.
Chemical castration.  A process suggested for use with serial sex offenders (either voluntarily on their part or mandated by the state in light of certain crimes or repetitions of crimes) whereby the sex drive of the offender is lowered through the mandatory intake of drugs designed to reduce the sex drive of the recipient.  Some countries (such as France) already offer this option to certain offenders who volunteer for it.  In Poland, it is mandatory for certain crimes

In general, the p
rocess is reversible (once the drugs are no longer taken), and does not result in sterility.  And yet this issue raises some fierce debate, even as it’s considered in more and more places (South Korea and Russia, to name two).  Is this a viable option here in the United States?  Why or why not? 

7.
The last and most recent item of note is a recent recommendation that dementia be considered – in and of itself – a terminal disease.  At stake appears to be the issue of how dementia conditions are discussed with the patient and/or relatives and others who need to decide care options for the patient.  A new study claims that dementia should not be noted as a side-effect or some lesser disorder, but deserves to be recognized in and of itself as a terminal illness.  The study actually wishes to switch the stated cause of death for many sufferers of dementia.  Rather than attributing death to pneumonia, a fever-related episode, or eating problems, the researchers think that the dementia ought to be credited as the actual killer.

I think this is a dangerous step.  First off, it seems a dangerous confusion of attendant symptoms or concerns with core health issues.  If a person dies from pneumonia, does it matter if they are functioning normally intellectually?  If complications from a severe fever kill a person, do we blame this in some respect on the fact that they have lost their short term memory?  How is it that the mental condition of the patient supersedes actual, physical causes of death?  Does the fact that many dementia patients die from some of these things mean that dementia causes these things?  By that logic, wouldn’t old age itself become a new terminal disease, with the patients more prone to die from cardiac arrest, or a stroke, or some other specific, physical situation or condition?

It seems that the goal of this report is to encourage a change in how care options are presented to those making medical decisions for a dementia patient.  “Patients with health care proxies who have an understanding of the prognosis and clinical course are likely to receive less aggressive care near the end of life.” 





Dialog Continued

October 16, 2009

Thanks to Nancy for responding to my interest in dialog.  She writes as follows:

Here’s why I don’t discuss politics, generally: People believe what they believe, and this understanding/world view comes from a lifetime of experiences and decisions that has led them to this point.

This may sound self-deprecating or like a cop-out, which is not my intention. I believe what I believe for reasons that are hard to defend. Asking me to defend my beliefs is uncomfortable for me, because I’m not asking others to believe the same thing. So, in a way, I’m saying “this works for me.”

I agree that there are limits and lines, and that there is right and wrong, black and white on certain issues. I also believe that Jesus asks us to love each other, above all else.

My pastor says that “We see God where need meets love, where longing meets acceptance, where fear meets hope.” Church is about loving God, loving others, and serving the world.

When I worship, I don’t want the ugliness and decisiveness of these hot-button issues. In my community of believers, I want to know that we have a common purpose—-loving those that need it, and leaving the judgment to God.

I imagine the holes in this argument are immense, and I know that I perhaps am putting my head in the sand. So be it.

The world is ugly enough; let’s leave the decisive issues out of the most sacred of places, and trust that God will be just.


I trust that you don’t mind me reprinting this here rather than leaving it in the comments section, Nancy. 

If I’m hearing you correctly here, you’re writing about truth being somehow separate from – if not in opposition to – love.  Love, you state, is a command of Jesus.  But you imply that truth – which is objective (“right and wrong, black and white”) – is not conducive to love, certainly not synonymous with it. 

However, Biblical Christianity fuses truth and love together.  You can’t have one without the other, it asserts.  If you love without truth, you are deceived, or at risk of being deceived.  If you demand truth without love, you become a tyrant, usurping God’s position with your own demand to be right.  The two must go together for either of them to have meaning, for either of them to have the ability to penetrate the web of experiences that form a person’s world view. 

I agree wholeheartedly that truth is uncomfortable.  If you had asked Paul of Tarsus about his conversion, I’m sure he would have immediately admitted that it was horribly uncomfortable.  For that matter, love is very uncomfortable, when we’re actually engaged in it.  It demands that we expose ourselves to all manner of possible hurts and harms, from initial rejection to betrayal to having the object of our love taken away from us.  Love is immensely uncomfortable, and yet you and I would readily agree that it is imminently desirable as well, and that the risks we assume are far outweighed by the benefits we receive. 

I have no doubt that God will be just.  It’s our calling, our privilege to share that promise with people in truth and in love.  Not one without the other.  Not law without Gospel.  Not out of anger or hatred or insensitivity or a sense of smug moral superiority.  But out of a firm belief that there is Truth, and that this Truth can change a person not only for today or this lifetime, but for eternity. 

I hope to hear more, and welcome your clarification or correction if I’m misreading you!

Good Science…Not So Smart Barkeeps

October 16, 2009

This is a really, really good application of science.

My only question is rather than treat this as a marketing gimmick to increase sales, how about *not* advertising that you’re using these, and then letting the creeps who prey on women in this manner get caught, arrested, and prosecuted.

For you women who happen to frequent (or occasion) a bar, speak up and ask tell the bartender or owner that you want them to get these things.

…and lead me not into temptation…

October 14, 2009

Because we live in an egalitarian age where everyone has equally valid opinions about things and broad accessibility to mind-numbing technology, we have sites such as http://ratemyprofessor.com/.  It’s every bit as exciting and informative as you think it would be with a name like that. 

I checked to see if anyone had rated me, after almost 10 years with the same post secondary institution.  Sure enough, I had a whopping one review (posted just last year about this time, actually).  Not surprisingly, the review was less than glowing.  This is not surprising not because I think I’m a bad instructor, but rather because human nature tends to be more apt to complain than to compliment.  However, when I surveyed some reviews for some other folks I know who teach, it was good to see that they had some positive comments, so apparently some people are motivated to go out and leave good notes.  Which leads me to believe that I still have a lot of room to grow as an instructor.  Hopefully I’ll be that honest if I’m still teaching in some respect 30 years from now!

Anyways, as to the temptation.  Anyone can apparently leave a rating (anonymously, of course) for a professor, and it was immensely tempting to rate myself a tad more charitably than this individual did. 

However, I resisted.  At least on this one, small temptation, I resisted.   Thank God for minor victories.

NOW, Now

October 14, 2009

I read with curiosity last week a brief letter from the National Organization for Women regarding David Letterman’s situation.  You can read the letter here

The vaguely worded, poorly defined letter full of insinuations and baseless allegations is pathetic enough.  And first off, let me repeat that I am not attempting to justify Letterman’s behavior.  What he did was inappropriate and wrong – by my Biblical Christian standards.  His apologies to his wife and to others that he has hurt are warranted and have a moral ground that Letterman is well aware of – even if his critics are not.  According to our tolerance-oriented, if nobody-gets-hurt-it-isn’t-a-crime standard, he hasn’t done anything wrong – and anyone who doesn’t take offense on a Biblical moral ground really doesn’t have much ground to stand on, as far as I can tell.  Let’s investigate this a bit further. 

I’ve yet to hear any actual allegations of wrong-doing by Letterman (legally, not morally) by any of his current or former staffers.  So far, we’ve learned about two interns that Letterman was involved with for prolonged periods of time.  Other previous relationships are known about, and it won’t surprise me if more than these recent two surface.  But so far, what has surfaced is that he was in sexual relationships.   One of them indicated that she would have married Letterman if he had asked her.  Hardly sounds like a woman being forced to have sex with the boss to keep her job.  Despite long-running knowledge of Letterman’s relationship situations with staffers, nobody has yet accused him of fostering a “hostile, workplace environment”, or wielding his authority and sexual demands to determine “who gets hired, who gets fired, who gets raises, who advances, and who does entry-level tasks”.  So NOW’s letter is alleging actual crimes (sexual harassment) that appear to be – at least as yet – completely without foundation or basis.  The assumption is that if there were relationships between Letterman and employees, there had to be abuses of the employer/employee relationship.  That’s a pretty big assumption to make.

I think it’s interesting that NOW “demands”  CBS to take action, yet does not specify what action should take place.  Should Letterman be fired?  That would be problematic, apparently, since he definitely has hired some very talented women for his show over the years.  We’d hate for them to lose their jobs, I guess.  So what does NOW propose would be a proper form of rectifying the situation?  Should CBS implement a new policy that there is no dating between people in authority and those who directly report to them?  What about indirect reports?  What about people in another department?  What about staffers from another show?  How do you craft a policy that would prevent this sort of thing from happening without preventing anything from happening? 

Here’s the conundrum this brings to light, one of the moral and intellectual flaws in the assertion that sexuality needs to be free from any moral constraints except arbitrary ones.  On what basis?  In a time when Biblical morality was the expected norm, the situation would be clear.  You shouldn’t be having sex with anyone that you aren’t married to.  Period.  End of story.  Are you having sex with someone other than your wife or husband?  You need to stop immediately, because it’s wrong.  Period.  End of story.  No equivocation, no need for trying to create a policy that somehow prevents a few forms of sexual behavior that some people might feel are wrong, while encouraging other kinds of sexual behavior. 

The net effect of NOW’s statement is not to castigate Letterman, but rather to objectify the very people NOW purports to defend – the women involved.  In order for NOW to make sense, it has to turn these young, smart, talented women into victims.  Helpless.  Taken advantage of.  Wronged.  In doing so, it strips them of the sexual empowerment that it thinks it has been equipping women with for the past 30 years or more.  All that stuff we fed you about sexual empowerment and your right to utilize your sexuality on your terms?  it’s really rubbish.  You’re really still just a victim.  You’re really still not very smart.  Because if you really aren’t a victim any more, or if you really are making decisions on your own, then we don’t have a need to exist any longer.  If we succeed in our goals, we eliminate the need for our organization.  So, you women have to be victims.  Always and forever victims

I find it interesting that NOW weighs in so bravely against Letterman, yet appears to be mum on situations where women are exercising a position of control in sexual matters.  I haven’t watched it (I don’t watch TV), but I hear there’s a new show called Cougar Town, premised around the idea of more mature women seeking out younger lovers.  Yet there’s no cry of victimization here!  What about the forgettable (I’ll assume, since I don’t plan on seeing it) film The Proposal that was out earlier this year?  Wasn’t the premise of that movie a woman executive using her authority to force a male underling into an outlandish plot involving lying to multiple families and the US Government?  Wouldn’t that justify a little note of disapproval from NOW, since that involves a blatant abuse of authority?  Apparently not.  Perhaps the happy ending (I’m assuming it’s happy) means that there was really no harm done. 

We need to acknowledge that sexual liberation only makes sense within clearly defined boundaries, and that those who equate boundaries with a lack of freedom ultimately contradict themselves intellectually and morally.  There is no protection for women or men against sexual predation other than the strong support of marital fidelity.  Only within these parameters can men and women enjoy the blessings of sexuality without the constant fear of exploitation, of having their emotions as well as their bodies utilized improperly.  No, marriage isn’t perfect.  But it’s not imperfect because the idea is bad, but rather because we are sinful people who implement it improperly. 

Until we stop fooling ourselves about this, we can point fingers all we want and accuse each other of sexual impropriety.  But we won’t have any basis for the allegation.

A Dream of Dialogue

October 14, 2009

There’s a pretty marked division in Christian parlance between those who consider themselves conservative and those who consider themselves liberal.  Sometimes, these terms are used pejoratively of someone else.  Other times, they’re used with pride to describe ourselves.  Oh, she’s one of those conservative Christians still stuck in the Middle Ages!  Oh that’s not surprising he’d say that – he’s such a liberal Christian!  Yes, our church is very conservative – we believe the Bible!  We’re definitely a liberal church, we really care about our community.

Both would quickly agree that they are followers of Jesus Christ.  Both would see themselves as part of a two-millenia history of the Christian church.  Yet both are equally comfortable discounting the core tenets of the other side, of writing them off to either foolish consistency or cavalier ignoring of Scripture.  In early Church history, such fundamental differences of opinion on theological matters could come to be grounds for some pretty heavy-duty, centralized decision making.  The Ecumenical Councils of the first five centuries were fundamental in working out what was acceptable within a Biblical framework and what was not. 

We don’t have the equivalent of Ecumenical Councils today.  Not ones that command the respect of a broad span of Christian denominations.  So the liberals are free to continue being liberal.  The conservatives are free to continue being conservative.  They’re both free to keep deriding and berating the other side, and there’s no one and no thing that seems capable of drawing them back into dialogue and seeking for accountability.  No one and no thing short of Jesus Christ and the Second Coming, that is. 

We’re free to take pot shots across the widening chasm, but any effort to build bridges seems to be laughed off pretty quickly.  My personal attempts to begin conversations across the divide have been pretty unsuccessful thus far.  I tend to think that this is often because one side or the other or both sides set as ground rules for the discussion that these sorts of things are not open to discussion.  We can talk about these things over here, but we aren’t willing to engage in honest and open dialogue about these issues over here.  These issues over here are sacred cows, and we aren’t able or willing to even talk about them any more, they’re so sacred.  You want to discuss whether it’s reasonable to say that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God?  Moo!  Moo Moo Moo Mooooooo!!!!   You want to discuss whether or not abortion is more than just a woman’s decision?  Moo!  Moo Moo Moo Mooooooo!!!!  And so the talks break down before the talks can even happen.

I believe that the power of the Holy Spirit is not hypothetical, and that He can and does work when people are open to His leading, and willing to say that we have to set aside our beliefs and bailiwicks if He leads us to see that we are wrong.  I believe this because I’ve seen it happen in my own life.  In others’ lives.  And Biblically.  There were some pretty big differences of opinion in the first Church Council described in Acts 15.  And yet at the end of the day there was consensus.  There was a level of unity.  It undoubtedly took some time for that unity to feel comfortable to everyone.  But by the power of the Holy Spirit, they were able to say that It seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us (Acts 15:28, ESV).  I believe that this sort of conclusion is still possible in Christian dialog, even between liberals and conservatives, if everyone is willing to come in humility, bringing the best of their understanding and experience not as a bludgeon, but rather laying it in front of everyone to look at, to examine, to question – even as they look at , examine, and question the best understanding and experience of someone with very different conclusions.

I pray for that faithfulness in my own life, and as such, I want to seek out people that probably disagree with me on some important matters, to understand better where they are coming from, and hopefully for them to understand my perspective as well.  It seems to me that the only way we can be sure of what we believe, is by engaging with others who hold our core essentials in common, and trying to see how they arrive at different conclusions.  If all I ever do is listen to people who agree with me, I should consider myself in very real peril.  That was one of my hopes when I first started this blog, that this would be a place where people who disagree feel free to discuss honestly their disagreements, as well as their common hopes and faith. 

It’s not easy work, to be sure.  But if we all claim that this is the most important thing in our lives – that Jesus is the most important person in our lives – then it would seem that this sort of dialogue must be one of the most important uses of our time.  Because this use of our time can help focus and sharpen the other uses of our time.  So we can be better equipped, better prepared, and better supported as we go out to minister  and care for those who do not have this most important person in their lives. 

I’d love to gather a group of people who may not agree, but are willing to give their best, and receive the best of others, towards better understanding, and perhaps (gasp!) even consensus, even a change of heart.   To talk about the big issues that more often than not divide rather than unify, that polarize rather than create community.  No sacred cows.  No pre-determined demands.  I can at least pray for such a thing.  Know anyone that would be interested?



Acknowledging the Pain – Clarification

October 13, 2009

Thanks to my friend Nancy for a response to my earlier post that highlights some possible confusion I want to clarify!  Nancy writes:

Attempting to not come across as anything but respectful of your point of view…. Perhaps the first step would be to not discuss abortion from the pulpit or to not post up posters/attach papers into the bulletin.

I say this because people who have had an abortion (I imagine) already feel a sense of loss, of pain, of despair, or many other emotions. I’m not sure a sense of shaming/isolation will bring them closer to Christ/a sense of forgiveness.

Whenever I speak or hear someone else speak of abortion, I always think, “You just never know what people have experienced. You just don’t know.”

Perhaps we should allow Christ to work in these peoples’ hearts. We can acknowledge the pain without being a Pharisee about the whole thing.

Quick, not yet fully detailed thoughts, but there you go…


So let me clarify a couple of things here…and thanks for Nancy to indicating that I might have come across differently than I had intended!

My original post was intended to be critical of churches that too often just want to point the finger and wag it at people saying “Don’t you dare!”  This indeed needs to be said, but it isn’t all that ought to be said.  To those who live with an abortion, this is simply law – a reminder that they have sinned.  Law has it’s place, and within the church I believe the proper use of the law in this instance is to show people the proper behavior.  To explain to them from Scripture the sacredness of human life, and the ridiculousness of anyone drawing an arbitrary line and dictating that prior to this line, it is a fetus, and after this line, it is a human being.  Before this line, it’s like trimming your fingernails.  After this line, it’s murder.

The church needs to speak boldly and loudly to a culture obsessed with convenience at the sake of human life.  But to those who have – for whatever reason – made the decision to abort a child, the church needs to speak forgiveness and grace.  Equally boldly.  Equally loudly.  To wrap it’s arms around that woman, that couple, that family, and proclaim the Gospel to them.  The Gospel that alone can heal, can soothe, can comfort, and can give hope. 

I wanted to acknowledge that there are many women in our churches – and many more outside them, probably – who have had abortions, and who regret them.  Who suffer from them – physically, emotionally, spiritually.  And the church needs to be able to tend to them in these areas.  The goal is not to shame them – the goal is to assure them that there is forgiveness, and there is strength to live differently and choose differently in the future.  The goal is to bring them in from the isolation that many impose on themselves, and to remind them and assure them that they have a family in Christ, and that there is no condemnation in Christ. 

It’s a lot easier to speak the law than to start down the long road towards reconciliation and forgiveness.  I would like more churches to embrace both of these roles.  I believe that abortion is something that needs to be spoken about from a Biblical perspective from the pulpit and in the narthex and in the bulletins – because it isn’t likely to be spoken about (or listened to) from a Biblical perspective anywhere else.  The church has a duty and obligation to try and protect those within her folds from the lies the world tells, and the lies we sometimes tell ourselves.  But that obligation to educate and to teach and therefore to protect also requires our constant awareness that we all fall short of the lives we are to lead, and that we each need to offer the forgiveness and love that we expect when we ourselves fail and ask for forgiveness.

Does this make more sense?



Halloween Thoughts

October 13, 2009

A Facebook friend of mine sent out a query to a group of Christians asking for our take on whether or not to celebrate Halloween.  She referred us to this web page to provide the historical rationale for why a Christian ought not to observe Halloween.  My response to her was as follows:

I’m going to attempt a response as a historian, a theologian, and a parent. As a historian, I can concur that the research this article provides is accurate. Samhain is the primary predecessor to our Western celebration of Halloween, and Samhain was, as described, concerned with the appeasement of the dead so that they would not haunt the living in the coming year. As with most every agrarian culture, rituals and observances develop around planting and harvesting times, as well as with the seasonal changes. 

As a historian and parent, I question the author of this website’s assertion that these are beliefs that we are “imitating”. I was raised in a home where trick-or-treating was celebrated. I take my children trick or treating. I’m pretty sure that my parents weren’t aware of the pre-Christian origins of the practice. I was never taught that this was a satanic celebration, or that the curious practice of dressing up as something we are not was anything more than a night of childish revelry. Despite being well acquainted with the pre-Christian roots of Halloween through my study of history, I have not taught my children these roots, or in any way associated their antics with any sort of theological import – whether Christian or demonic. As they grow old enough to learn deeper history, I will teach them the origins of this holiday. But at that point, I think it will be as clear to them as it is to me that in dressing up and collecting candy from neighbors, we are not imitating the beliefs of the druids or the Celts. We are having fun. And fun can be had regardless of the origins of a practice. 

For example – Monopoly is a popular board game. Yet the purpose of the game is to bankrupt your opponents. Is this a Biblical principle? Hardly – yet I don’t know people who would seriously object to playing the game on that basis. There’s an understanding that the object of the game is not to be taken literally, or as a guide for living life or practicing business. How about the simple word game of Hangman. Does anyone believe that this is anything more than a simple game, or that it is in any way promoting or encouraging lynching? 

Likewise, many adults root for hometown or favorite football teams with names like the “Raiders” or the “Buccaneers” or the “Sun Devils”. All of these are references to practices or entities that are not only not Biblical, the original references are hardly a guide to Christian living. Yet again, nobody seriously thinks that by rooting on their favorite football team, they’re also rooting on the concept of stealing and pillaging and rape and murder and whatever practices the namesake might have been associated with. 

Are we “imitating” Satanic beliefs with Halloween? Whatever confusion existed on that matter died out (for the vast majority of people!) hundreds and hundreds of years ago. What remains is a candy-coated shell gutted of it’s theological and spiritual implications. I would suggest that parents exercise common sense about the types of costumes they allow or encourage their children to dress up in. Do you really want your 5-year old dressed up as a demon? However, I would issue the exact same caveat to parents who seem to have no problem allowing their young children to dress like teenagers or 20-somethings, and who seem to find Hannah Montana or Britney Spears as reasonable fashion icons for their young children. What are you teaching your children about their bodies and about modesty and sexuality? Frankly I see far more to be concerned about in that realm than in the realm of Halloween satanism.

The point of Halloween today is for children to exercise their imaginations and enjoy an evening of silliness. I’ve yet to offer candy to a collection of children at my door who in any way seemed to embody an element of menace, of satanic or pagan intent, or even the macabre. It’s a night for sugar-fueled imagination. Parents who do (and should) understand the history of Halloween should have no difficulty redirecting any errant obsessions by their children to see in it something more, something sinister. If a child seems to be unduly fascinated with the history of the celebration, perhaps it would be a good idea to discontinue dressing up and to focus on educating them historically and theologically. As with anything, a certain level of common sense should be exercised if it appears that something more than simple fun is afoot.

Theologically, Halloween is a ‘Christianized’ pagan practice. What began as a serious and fearful event by those ignorant of the Gospel became childs-play in light of the Gospel. We have no fear of the dead now – we know where they are, and they are not out haunting us nor seeking appeasement. The powers of fear and evil have been broken by the cross and the empty tomb, and at a certain level, our mocking of these defeated forces is a foreshadowing of their final and ultimate defeat when our Savior returns. While we still struggle with the reality of evil and death, we struggle only in the light of the coming dawn, knowing that whatever loss or damage we suffer now will be made right again in the reconciliation of all creation, in the revoking of the curse.

Unless we are willing to take the logical steps of purging our lives of anything that does not derive directly in some manner from Scriptural referent, we should be cautious about demanding this particular day and practice be expunged in Christian circles. This is the danger of legalism. When things become a matter of following a certain rule or law on a matter, we quickly find that we are entailed to observe the rule and law without exceptions. I live in the grace of forgiveness won for my by Jesus Christ. If I truly felt that Halloween were still a dangerous pagan festival, it would be best for me to not observe it. It would be important for me not to encourage my Christian brother or sister (such as the author of the web site) who has strong feelings or objections to ignore those feelings or act contrary to conscience. They need to be faithful and diligent in the living out of their lives of faith, and I commend them for doing so – even if I don’t feel the same steps are necessary for me. 

Paul was able to tell the faithful Corinthians who were worried about eating food sacrificed to idols not to unduly worry about the matter. After all, idols are false! Take reasonable steps to ensure you aren’t partaking of something that someone has gone to special effort to offer to an idol and to make you aware of that fact. Otherwise, eat in good conscience. Likewise, unless you suspect that someone in your family is treating Halloween as a pagan or satanic celebration, or unless you feel it would confuse your witness of faith to you children or neighbors, enjoy the evening in the grace of God.

Acknowledging the Pain

October 13, 2009

My friend J.P. sent me the link to this article a couple of days ago, and it set me to thinking.

Here in the United States you hear a lot of discussion and argument about abortion.  Within church culture, the polemic is fairly uniformly (rightly so) against the practice.  It’s easy to slap a bumper sticker on a car.  We can preach against the evils and dangers of abortion from the pulpit and reprint literature to insert into bulletins and tack up in the narthex. 

But how often do we actually acknowledge the pain and loss of those women who have already had abortions, and offer in a very specific, very pointed way the healing and forgiveness that they may hear (or may not hear) more generically in general confession and absolution?  Why doesn’t the church offer opportunities for women (and men) to come and to hear the words of absolution specific to them, to their situation?  To hear Jesus proclaim to them that they are forgiven, and that they don’t have to carry around the pain, the regret, the hurt, the loss any longer?

I want to offer this sort of a service.  I’d love to hear from folks with ideas about what that might look and sound like.  Maybe you can be talking with your congregations and pastors about this idea as well.

What in the World?!?!?!

October 9, 2009

I about fell out of my chair this morning when I began scanning the news feeds and realized that The Onion was not the news source on Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize. 

Nope.

It’s the BBCThe Washington PostThe New York Times.  It seems – on the whole – to be very real news.

Not that the sources make it any less baffling. 

Alfred Nobel, the man responsible for endowing the five Nobel Prizes, the prize is to be awarded  “to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses”.  Part of the rationale for awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to President Barack Obama is “his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.”  What, exactly, are those efforts? 

Maybe that’s not an entirely fair question.  After all, the Nobel Peace Prize has traditionally been awarded primarily on the basis of demonstrated actions and accomplishments but, less frequently, also on the basis of the individual’s aspirations.   Considering the nominations for the prize had a deadline of eleven days after President Obama was inaugurated, he clearly wasn’t nominated on the basis of his actions, and in terms of aspirations, there was hardly much of a window to really get a clear idea of those.  Scanning a list of former Nobel Peace Prize recipients is a pretty awe-inspiring activity.  Lots of awards given for helping to negotiate the end of various wars and conflicts.  Even those who seem to be receiving an award as an encouragement have done a lot – or suffered a lot – on behalf of their cause. 

But primarily, the choice of recipient has demonstrated a valuing of contributions towards an international community.  The Nobel Peace Prize overwhelmingly has gone to those who – regardless of their domestic roles or accomplishments – created or furthered institutions of international law.  The League of Nations.  The United Nations.  These are only the best known.  There are plenty of other organizations, and their founders were favorites for Nobel Peace Prize awards.  What the Committee values is attention to the creation of an international governance, truly a global village sort of scenario, with individual nations setting aside a certain level of sovereignty in favor of a more powerful international governance. 

I think that this is the key to understanding President Obama’s win.  What he hasn’t done doesn’t matter, because he’s at least saying the sorts of things the Committee likes to hear.  The sorts of things that others in Europe have been mouthing – with greater or lesser sincerity – for years regarding the benefits of an international governance of some sort.  The United States has traditionally been the maverick nation resisting the binding authority of any outside organization, international or otherwise.  But in talking about greater committment to international agendas and multilateral decision-making, Obama offers the hope that the US will finally enter the fold and take a more appropriate – and more controllable – place in the United Nations. 

He claims that this award has “humbled him”, though receiving such a prestigious honor without actually having done anything to deserve it other than to make a bunch of promises that you have no direct control over the fulfillment of is likely not to humble someone, but contribute to further arrogance.  But it shouldn’t really even be a matter he considers much.  It seems clear that the prize this year is less about President Obama, and more a message from the international community, a carrot, if you will, to encourage the United States as a whole to continue down the path towards embracing a truly international form of leadership and power in the world. 

I tend to agree with those who argue that this award is as much a repudiation of former President George W. Bush’s approach to international issues as it is an endorsement of President Obama’s.  Unfortunately it will also have the effect of further polarizing politics in the United States, heating up the divisive, partisan attitudes that rule the day despite President Obama’s promises of bipartisanship (another promise he doesn’t really have any control over, so it’s hardly surprising it’s not working out).   Ironically, I’m sure that this Peace Award will only be grounds for more heated conflict and disagreement. 

Further, I think  the award is a rebuke to the more conservative elements in US politics and the US population.  If you wish to be accepted in the world community (ie Western Europe), you need to set aside some of your silly notions about things and embrace the broader, liberal, humanist philosophies of post-Christian Europe.  The rebuke is not solely against our former President’s policies or actions, but against the philosophical and even theological underpinnings which created them.  Against a country that, despite decades of attempted indoctrination, still understands the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution well enough to know that repudiating our roots and the ideals and beliefs that our country was built on will only ensure that we too slide into the vaguely nihilistic stupor that seems to grip the hearts of many Europeans. 

President Obama has some pretty big things to live up to.  I frankly wouldn’t wish to be in his shoes (and there’s no danger of that either, trust me!).  I would think it would grow frustrating to be admired as much for who you aren’t, as for who you may actually be.  Tragically, receiving this award at this point in his presidency is not going to lessen either of these issues, either for the President himself, or for those who remain skeptical of the future he claims to represent.