Archive for April, 2010

Judging II

April 29, 2010

Thanks to Melani for responding to my last post on judging.  I thought she brought up some good things that could flesh this topic out a little bit further.

Although, it can hurt our feelings to be judged by our friends and family…. 
It certainly does hurt to hear someone confront us about something.  Nobody enjoys having someone come up to them and voice concerns about something we’re doing or saying.  Being confronted can make us embarrassed, angry, hurt.  But it is also possible that being confronted can be a very healthy thing for us, if we’re willing to consider it as such.  We may not be able to process what we’re being told in the moment that it happens.  I think it’s very reasonable when being confronted to thank the person for their concern, and to ask for some time to think and pray about what they’ve said.  Ideally, you can commit to another discussion time or meeting in the near future, so they know you aren’t blowing them off.
Then I’d suggest going through some of the following questions to evaluate what they have shared/confronted you with.  These questions apply when someone is confronting you as a brother or sister in Christ regarding a particular external action or attitude or word.  We’ll come back to how to deal with being confronted by a non-Christian or being confronted on issues beyond the realm of the Biblical Christian faith.
1.  Is it a matter of sin?  Are you being confronted about a sinful behavior, attitude, or comment?  Are you in some way (consciously or unconsciously) hurting someone else through your words or actions?  Are you somehow disrespecting God by your words or actions?  Does the Bible have something to say directly on the issue at hand?  Hopefully the person confronting you has been very specific – which can help you in searching Scripture to see if what they’re concerned about is valid.  
Sometimes this will be easy.  Are you taking the Lord’s name in vain?  Stop it.  Are you speaking poorly of your neighbor?  Stop it.  Sometimes this will be more complicated, as it will involve investigating your heart in the moment when you spoke or acted.  Maybe it doesn’t seem like a sin on the surface, but when you dig deeper you realize that you were secretly hoping to hurt someone or benefit at someone else’s expense.  When possible, ask a trusted Christian friend or family member or pastor to assist you in exploring whether or not the issue you’ve been confronted about is actually a matter of sin.
If after praying and searching yourself and getting some objective input you can’t see how what the person confronted you about was sinful, you can go back to them and ask for clarification.  Dialog.  Don’t assume that they confronted you out of a desire to hurt you.  Perhaps they misunderstood, or are mistaking a difference of opinion or practice as a matter of sin.  
2.   Thank the person confronting you.  You might not be able to do this in the moment.  But hopefully you’ll realize in retrospect that they’re trying to be helpful.  And help sometimes hurts.  But try to see it as the Holy Spirit working in your life.  Proverbs 3:11-12 is helpful in reminding us that God sometimes needs to smack us with a two by four to show us His love (paraphrasing mine).
3.  Be honest with yourself.  We all like to defend ourselves and give ourselves the benefit of the doubt in everything we do.  But when we’re honest with ourselves, and if we pray for the Holy Spirit to help with this, we usually know when we’ve been in error or not.  Being honest with yourself and the person who has confronted you shows more maturity than laughing it off or rejecting the person and their effort.  Remember that for most people, it’s incredibly difficult to confront someone else about something.  
4.  Take corrective action.  If a genuine issue has been brought to you, take it to the Lord in prayer and ask for His strength to help you change your actions or attitudes or words.  Ask the person who confronted you to help you as well.  Ask for their prayers on your behalf, and ask them to let you know if they see you repeating the action or word or attitude that they first confronted you about. 
5.  Give thanks for forgiveness!  Realizing that we need to change some area of our life can be painful and humbling – particularly if at the point that others are drawing our attention to it.  However, rather than begin mired in shame, confess the sin, pray for the strength to change your ways, and give thanks for the forgiveness in Jesus Christ that is already yours!   
5.  Remember the goal.  The goal of judging and confronting is not to hurt the other person, but to help them.  We should be strengthened by this process, growing to be more Christ-like in our lives.  This is a good thing – it improves the witness that we give to other believers and to the non-Christians in our lives.  Paul tells the Corinthians that they should seek to imitate him (1Corinthians 4:16).  In other words, just as we admire Christians of great dignity and honor and Christ-likeness, we should seek to be Christians that others can admire and seek to imitate.  Paul encourages Christians to imitate other Christians in Hebrews 6 and 13, and John addresses this issue in the first chapter of 3 John.  
Are there other steps we should add to this list?  Something that has been helpful for you when confronting someone else – or being confronted yourself?  
Melani also writes:  
I had a friend who had her own parenting ways and she consistently compared her parenting to mine, and we couldn’t agree to disagree. I have felt she was judging me and basically because I don’t share in the same parenting as she does, then I am less then. 
It’s important to distinguish between a personal preference and something sinful.  I really am not fond of evangelists who stand on a street corner with a bull horn to get people’s attention.  I couldn’t/wouldn’t do that, personally.  But it would be wrong of me to judge them and confront them (depending on whether or not their message was in keeping with the Gospel, of course) based on that difference of preference.  I don’t think their actions are sinful, even if I don’t care for them.
Parenting is another area with lots of areas where differences in preference or practice can cause lots of friction.  Your friend may be trying to help, but if it’s just a matter of preference, then judgment shouldn’t be involved.  Of course, if your friend isn’t a Christian, then you shouldn’t necessarily be surprised if they judge harshly rather than trying to judge in love.  At times, the inability or unwillingness to accept someone else’s approach to something (when that approach does not violate Biblical principles or admonitions) is evidence of uncertainty on their own part.  It’s easy to judge just to make ourselves feel more secure.  That’s certainly not what we are called to as Christians!
If it’s a non-Christian who has approached you in judgment, take that into account.  I’d still encourage you to go through the steps listed out above.  Seeing something that might be harmful in someone else is not the exclusive ability or gift of God’s people.  You may have a good friend who is a Buddhist, or a Muslim, or a Hindu, or an atheist.  Take their words just as seriously as if a Christian brother or sister was bringing it to your attention.  
Melani continues:
I know I judge people, but I really try not to, who am I? I am not the judge and jury in anyone’s life. 
Again, there’s a difference between pointing out to a fellow-Christian a legitimate concern that they are acting in a sinful way, and deciding that the person is no-good and won’t ever be any good and ought to be just written off.   Paul makes a strong statement at the end of 1Corinthians 5:13 about “expelling” the wicked person from among you.  However, this is not meant as a final judgment, but rather the last step in trying to show someone how seriously they have departed from God’s Word in their life.  The goal is always that the person would see the error of their way, perhaps through the shock of being expelled from a Christian community/congregation, and come to their senses and change their behavior.  1Corinthians 5:12-13 makes it clear that we have every right to question (in an appropriate and loving way) when a brother or sister in Christ acts in a way that is not consistent with the faith they proclaim in Jesus Christ.  We are not just allowed to judge such issues – we are expected to!  
This is a difficult thing to hear in a culture that equates judgment of any kind with being unloving.  St. Paul would make just the other argument – not judging is being unloving!  Not judging allows someone to continue in a sinful behavior or attitude that might very well eventually endanger their faith in Christ!  Not judging might mean that someone weaker in their faith might see this other person conducting themselves inappropriately and decide that such behavior is allowable to a Christian.  Or they might decide that the community of faith is not truly faithful because they aren’t willing to love someone by confronting them with God’s Word in a loving way.
Melani writes:  I like how you said, keep your own house in order, period!
Yes, we are to keep our own houses in order, so to speak.  However, this does not remove the obligation from us to be loving our brothers and sisters in the faith.  We aren’t being faithful to the Gospel if we do what we’re supposed to in our own life, but allow our Christian brothers and sisters to enter into persistent sin, or to disregard portions of God’s Word so they can live their lives on their terms instead of God’s.  We are Christians, and that is a communal identity, not simply an individual one.  What I may not have communicated well enough is that being a busybody with their noses in everyone else’s business while their own life falls apart is not what Scripture is calling us to be.  We should be judging our own behavior as consistently as we seek judge the behavior of others.  
I pray that others will come to me and be honest when they are concerned about my behavior or words or attitudes.  This is a hard prayer, because there are plenty of places where I need to live my faith more consistently.  But when I am confronted, I pray for the ability to hear in that confrontation the Holy Spirit’s encouragement and challenge.  And I pray for the Spirit’s strength to amend my practices to be each day a better imitation of my Savior.  I pray that in those moments when I need to confront others, I can do so in love, and with strength – the strength to stand by God’s Word, or the strength to admit my confusion or mistakenness and ask for forgiveness if I’ve confronted someone inappropriately.
More thoughts and suggestions, questions, etc?  Thank you Melani for sharing your thoughts – I hope this is helpful in further clarifying what and who I hear the Bible calling us to do and be.
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Shalt Thou Not Judge?

April 29, 2010

A reader recently asked me about judging others.  As in, isn’t judging others sinful?  Isn’t it presumptuous and arrogant and usurping the role of God if we judge someone else’s actions or thoughts?  This is more or less my response, with some additional caveats and pointers I’ve added in for further clarification to a wider audience.
First off, we have to define what we’re talking about in terms of the word judge – or at least how I’m using it here.  I’m using it in terms of judging an action – something externally observable.  A harsh word, a lie, a lustful comment, hurting someone else, being insensitive to another’s suffering, etc.  We aren’t given the ability to make assessments about someone’s internal condition or nature.  All we can effectively do is make judgments about the appropriateness of their behavior.  In that context, I’m talking about Christian standards for how to conduct ourselves, not what may or may not be legal or proper in a culture or society at any given time.  Just because something is legal does not mean it is in keeping with Biblical Christian beliefs.  There is a secular structure for making and enforcing societal laws.  I’m talking about Christians in relationship with one another, regarding actions that are Biblically identified as sinful (in contradistinction to illegal).  
I’m also using the term judge to mean only judging the action, and not judging the person.  The thief on the cross (Luke 23) had been judged by society and culture, and was being executed for that judgment.  Jesus demonstrated that the state of a person’s heart before God is not knowable to us.  I can’t see a fellow-Christian engaging in sinful behavior and assert that this person is outside of God’s love or grace, or the forgiveness found in Jesus Christ.  I can’t say that because Judas betrayed Jesus, he is now burning in hell.  A lot of people believe that, but the Bible is mum on it.  The Bible judges and condemns Judas’ betrayal without assuming that his betrayal means he doesn’t love God.  We need to judge the same way.  
Secondly, we have to acknowledge that we all judge, constantly.  People who claim not to be judgmental are judgmental.  They may have a broader list of things they aren’t bothered by, but everyone has some things that they judge as clearly improper.  Maybe it’s rape, or murder, or theft.  Maybe it’s driving a car on the Sabbath.  We may differ in the things we find meriting of judgment, but we all judge.  It’s impossible for us not to.  Just because you don’t tell someone else your judgment does not mean you haven’t judged them!  The question becomes who are we to judge, and how (if at all) is that judgment to be expressed?
Our culture’s insistence that nobody has the right to tell anybody else that their behavior is wrong (an action which in itself violates the ‘tolerance’ line they’re trying to get everybody else to follow) is confusing to Christians.  Additionally, we have the idea that being honest is somehow not being ‘nice’ or ‘charitable’ or ‘Christian’.  St. Paul has a lot to say about this – though of course the entire Bible sets the stage for how the people of God are to treat one another in terms of ‘judging’.
First off – the line about not judging other people is sometimes a mangling of Romans 2:1, which sounds like it’s saying we have no right to judge unless we’re perfect.  But that’s not what Romans 2:1 is dealing with.  Paul is talking to Jews, who feel that because God revealed His law to them at Mt. Sinai (in Exodus), they are in a position to judge non-Jews who don’t benefit from the Law and therefore don’t keep it.  Paul is pointing out that the Jews themselves, who *do* have the Law, are not able to keep it either.  They break the law just as badly as the Gentiles who don’t know about it.  The Jews have no right to feel smug or to boast about the law because they can’t keep it, which means the Law condemns *them* more than anyone!  D’oh!
Romans 14 brings up another aspect of judging – judging between Christians who are both trying to do the right thing.  He tells us in Romans 14:1-9 talks about those who are able to live ‘holier’ lives than others, essentially.   Paul is warning believers not to ‘judge’ other believers as inferior if they are not able to maintain the stricter, ‘holier’ lifestyle of another.  This is not an issue of being sinful as opposed to not being sinful, or engaging in sin as opposed to not engaging in sin.  It’s an acknowledgment that the Spirit may Call (and enable) one person (like Mother Teresa) to live a ‘holier’ life than another believer.  We don’t point to Mother Teresa and say that any Christian who doesn’t do what she did is not really a Christian.  We can – and should –  strive to emulate Christ, and we can also emulate the good we see in other Christians.  But that good is not to become judgment.
I think 1Corinthians 5:12-13 is another really important discussion of judgment.  Here, Paul makes a distinction between believers and non-believers.  Judging non-believers by the standards of believers is not our job, Paul says.  Non-believers already stand in judgment for their lack of faith.  Of course a non-believer isn’t going to live according to the standards of a believer!  It’s silly to think they would, if our only rationale is that everyone should follow what we believe is the best way to live.  
This doesn’t mean that we should pretend that all behavior is equally good, and that there is no ability to distinguish between healthy and harmful behavior.  We have no problem ‘judging’ murder as wrong.  Where the line gets fuzzy is when we are talking about behavior that some people think is just fine, and others (including Christians) think is clearly wrong.  Sexual sins, for instance (whether porn or adultery).  Suddenly, we’re being ‘judgmental’.  In any event, Christians should not be surprised that non-believers don’t choose to act according to God’s standards (or at least not to act in accordance with *all* of them – even non-believers follow *some* of God’s laws [not killing, for instance]).  Paul tells us not to spend our time trying to condemn non-believers of the law.  
He *does* indicate that we can – and should – ‘judge’ the behavior of our fellow believers.  It’s our duty and responsibility – to ourselves, to our Christian faith, and to our brothers or sisters who are in error – to ‘call a spade a spade’.  That’s what the last part of 1Corinthians 5:13 is saying.  It’s this part of the verse that makes Christians confused and uncomfortable.  In the following chapters of 1Corinthians, Paul lays out some basic expectations in how Christians ought to live.  
Clearly, some behavior is not acceptable as followers of Christ.  It is our duty and responsibility to lovingly make our brothers and sisters in Christ aware when we see them drifting into error.  Failing to do so puts us at risk to begin thinking that the behavior is acceptable (something many Christians have fallen into regarding the acceptability of homosexuality), it puts other Christians at risk for assuming that if a fellow-believer is doing it and nobody is calling them to account that it must be ok (see above), and finally it puts the erring believer at risk of drifting into dangerously unChristian behavior.  
Our goal in calling attention to a fellow-believers unChristian behavior is to do so in love.  Privately, with care and love – not wagging a finger and taking on a ‘holier-than-thou’ attitude.  We all fail, constantly, in some way or another.  But it has to be done.  And if it doesn’t work to do it in love, then Paul admonishes his follower Timothy to do it more bluntly (1Timothy 5:20), though it could be argued that Paul is talking about the Pastor’s duty here.  All we can do is help one another see where they are failing, and be grateful and humble when others do the same with us.  I think this is critical – it’s a lot easier to point out someone else’s error than to hear someone pointing out our own!  But our communal lives as Christians means that we are to hope and expect that others will be honest with us, that we might continue striving to be more Christ-like.  And as much as we hope others will be gentle and loving with us, we ought to be gentle and loving with others.  
We are expected – as Christians – to judge the behavior of others.  We are NOT permitted to determine whether that behavior means the other person really isn’t a believer or really isn’t saved.  That’s not our job.  Our job is only to cling to how God has revealed to us we are to live.  We keep our own house in order as best we can, so to speak.  If all we wish to do is judge others without focusing on our own lives, we’re probably already in more need of help than those around us!  And remember that we judge and strive in order to be more Christ-like, more faithful, more expressive of our thanks for God’s grace in Jesus Christ.  We aren’t judging and striving to earn God’s grace – that has already been given!    Rather, we judge and strive out of love and gratitude for the forgiveness and grace in which we live every moment of our lives as people of faith.  Not pointing out the error of our brothers & sisters in faith can endanger them, us, and the faith we both claim to profess.  Not doing it in love can risk damaging the other person.  It’s a thin but important line we’re supposed to walk.
Thoughts?

Marriage is Taxing. Seriously.

April 28, 2010

Thanks to my friend J.P. for sending me this link , which is a commentary on this article regarding how the new healthcare legislation could affect – and penalize – married people  and those considering marriage.

The best snapshot of the disincentive to marry – and the penalty to married folks – under the new system is this paragraph:
Two singles would each be able to earn $43,000 and still receive help to purchase health insurance, but if they got married and combined their earnings to $86,000, they would be far above the limit. As a married couple, the most they could earn and still get government help would be $58,000, a difference of almost $30,000, or 32%. This looks like a substantial disincentive to getting married, or to working while married.
Ummmm…ouch.
The question becomes, why is this the case?  Is there a reason to penalize married folks, or to encourage single folks not to get married?  
I suppose that some folks might worry that if there are financial benefits to getting married, that some people will abuse this by getting married on paper, even if they are not truly married in any other sense of the word other than on paper.  Some people might be inclined to try and work the system.  
Lord knows nobody works the system as it is, right?
I can’t imagine this is a legitimate concern, though.  How many people are going to get married on paper just to cheat the system?   Anyone who cares about marriage probably isn’t, since it would be hard for them to explain it to someone else that they’re interested in spending their lives with.  Um, I really like you Jeff, and I see us together for the long term.  But I’m technically married to this other guy in Boise.  You know, to save on healthcare costs.  So I’ll need to get a divorce in order to marry you.  What?  You’re already technically married to some woman in Tucson?  No problem – maybe we should just leave these arrangements the same and move in together.  Or, we could both get divorced and then remarried to each other.
I find it interesting that our economy has become driven by the idea that both spouses should work, and that the double income should be used to purchase more stuff, yet now we’re penalizing people for doing exactly that.  Or more accurately, the government is creating a system to reward those who do this economically, but without marriage.  What could be the reasons for this?  Can anyone give me an economic explanation?  How about a legal one?  Could this be an effort to cut down on divorce litigation by reducing the incentive to get married in the first place?  There must be something obvious I’m missing.   I need another cup of tea, perhaps.

Another Resource

April 27, 2010

Having a pastor for a source of theological musings, challenges, and perspectives is a good thing.  Lots of time and effort and training goes into the preparation of pastors in the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod.  Some folks might be inclined to think that some of that is overkill, but it’s there all the same, and it ought to be passed on to the people that pastors, DCEs, deacons and deaconesses and all the other flavors of professionally trained church workers serve.

If you’re interested in seeing the theological musings, challenges, and perspectives of the people who educate and form pastors at Seminary, you might be interested in this web site: Concordia Theology.  I was perusing this site the other day, having previously forgotten it existed (or perhaps it hasn’t existed all that long…yeah, that’s the ticket!).  There are some interesting blog-style essays, some longer and some shorter, on a variety of topics both theological and, well, not-so-theological.  This is my alma mater, and it’s fun for me to read what some of my former professors have to say about various things.  
And perusing this site might help you to be a source for your pastor of theological musings, challenges, and perspectives – and that’s a very good thing as well!

A Few Thoughts for Tuesday

April 27, 2010

Having had Mondays as a day off for the past three years or so, Tuesdays were my Monday – a little hard to get into the swing of things.  In case Tuesdays are a stretch for you in terms of vocational motivation, a few tidbits to put things into perspective.

Your salary may not be what you’d like, or even what you think you need.  But it’s still probably pretty darn good compared to most of the rest of the world probably pretty darn good compared to most of the rest of the world.
Childcare is not only a problem here in America for working parents .  
This may not make your Tuesday any easier to get into.  But perhaps it will help you feel more thankful.  

Odds & Ends

April 26, 2010

A few minor things that caught my eye in the past week or so…

I can’t wait to see Amnesty International’s take on the European Union’s commissioner for enterprise and industry’s assertion that international vacations are a right international vacations are a right that everyone should have that everyone should have.  
Another wonderful example of the growing inability to understand that policies aren’t personal, and that the world does not have to indulge your whimsical desires.  Neither does Disneyland Paris.  
A while back I wrote about someone claiming Jediism as a religion.  I ran across this related article related article a few weeks ago.  I find it particularly galling that the guy has the nerve to admit that he only took up the ‘religion’ of Jediism a short time earlier so that he could wear hoods.  It’s pretty pathetic when this sort of silliness warrants an official apology.  It reduces the importance of the real diversity and makes a mockery of it.  
Is it ever ok to pray for someone to die?  It sounds like an easy question at first, though apparently to some folks apparently to some folks it’s a little less cut-and-dried.  It’s tempting to say that it’s ok to pray for *some* people to die, with the argument shifting from the overall morality of the question to the specifics of determining what people are eligible to be prayed for in this manner.  After all, some might say, wouldn’t it have been acceptable for people to pray for Hitler to die?  No, it wouldn’t have – at least not for Christians.  It’s a minor issue with the fifth commandment (thou shalt not kill) and how Jesus extended the reach of the commandments from external action to internal motivation or desires (Matthew 5:21-30).  We can – and should! – pray that someone be delivered from error by the Holy Spirit, that their actions and understandings might be brought more in to line with Scripture.  But praying that they die?  Not an option – Biblically speaking.
Are you tired of people who swear in public?  Who don’t care who’s nearby – children, nuns, anybody?  Maybe you should consider moving to Galveston County, Texas Maybe you should consider moving to Galveston County, Texas.  
That’s all for now, folks.  

Rebutting Dawkins…Sort Of

April 22, 2010

Much ado has been made in the press of the strident efforts of uber-atheist Richard Dawkins Richard Dawkins.  Latest on his list is an effort to have the Pope arrested Pope arrested when he comes to Great Britain.  But Dawkins is better known for his polemical writing and speaking against religion.  Though he most frequently targets Christianity (since it’s the dominant Western religion and the one Dawkins has encountered most often), his logic extends to any and all religious beliefs.  Perhaps his best known volley in this war on religion is his book The God Delusion .

While I’ve read some of Dawkins‘ (The Selfish Gene ), I haven’t yet read The God Delusion.  However, on a whole, I agree with the accusations of this reviewer of The God Delusion However, on a whole, I agree with the accusations of this reviewer of The God Delusion.  At least until he starts off on a rather un-orthodox explanation of what the Biblical Christian faith is.  I think this review is worth your time reading.  It’s not short, but it does address some of the fundamental flaws in Dawkins‘ polemical and amusing and brutal attacks on faith.  
I was forwarded this review by a friend of mine who is, at best, agnostic.  She wanted to know whether I agreed with the reviewer, but then it came out that some of her confusion was on how the reviewer characterizes the Christian faith.  These problems begin to come out in the fifth & sixth paragraphs & following of the review.  Her confusion was that, if God is not personal as I have claimed Him to be in my discussions with her, then it makes even less sense to pray to Him.  The reviewer reduces God to a theological construct – the answer to the questions of existence, of why? rather than why not?.  The reviewer argues against the idea of a personal creator God as demonstrated throughout the Bible (both Old and New Testaments, as the reviewer forgets).  
Unlike the reviewer, I would argue very strongly that God and the universe do add up to two.  God is (this is the name for Himself that he gives to Moses in Exodus 3:14) and does exist, and His existence is the condition upon which all other existence is predicated.  Some of the things the reviewer goes on to discuss I do agree with – God did not have to create the universe and all of creation.  It was not something God had to do, but rather chose to do.  
The ninth paragraph is also problematic, because of course Jesus does reveal that God is in part judge, and that an account will be given for our hearts and actions (Matthew 25:31-46).  Faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God incarnate, crucified, and resurrected on our behalf removes the fear that we would otherwise have of appearing before a perfect and righteous judge, but that faith does not negate or remove the fact that judgment will occur.  
I dislike the implication in paragraph ten that the writers of the Gospel “put words into his mouth” in their accounts of Jesus’ crucifixion, as though they were attempting to fabricate a series of statements that couldn’t have possibly been authentic and accurate.  
Paragraph 14 also inaccurately summarizes the central Christian doctrine.  The central Christian doctrine is summarized in John 3:16 – God so loved the world that he sent His son to die in our place that those who believe and accept this gift might live, rather than die (paraphrasing mine).  The central doctrine of Christianity has nothing to do with us or our love or lack thereof – beyond pointing out that we are unable to save ourselves and very much in need of saving.  
Take time to read the review .  While the theological liberties and explanations the reviewer takes and makes are dangerous in the extreme, his critique of Dawkins‘ attacks are dead on.  Setting up straw men to knock down is not honest – even if it does manage to sell a lot of books.  

National Day of Prayer

April 21, 2010

A US District judge in Wisconsin has ruled that the law mandating that the President must declare an annual National Day of Prayer is unconstitutional .

There is a legal tradition going back to 1988 for the President to declare a National Day of Prayer each year.  This was several decades in the making several decades in the making.  At issue in the recent ruling is the oft-trumpeted goal of separation of church and state.  The presidential proclamation is tantamount to the government advocating religion, something which is said to violate the First Amendment of the Constitution which asserts that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion “.  
Of course, this is not what the law or the proclamation is doing.  You can see that clearly enough here is the text of the 2009 Presidential Proclamation.  On the other hand, it seems clear that the intentions behind the law that finally passed in 1988 after 30 years of work and effort is not really very generic.  I’m fairly certain that Billy Graham and James Dobson were not intending to pass legislation encouraging Muslims to pray to Allah and Christians to pray to God and Hindus to pray to Vishnu.  The lobbying effort for the legislation is clearly Judeo-Christian in emphasis.  
Not surprising, since despite our president’s assertions that the US is not and has not ever been a Christian nation, in fact we have been and far and away demographically still are a Christian nation.  Not a nation that endorses or mandates Christianity as a national religion, but a nation that recognizes that the vast majority of it’s population is Christian.  A nation that understands that the rationale for it’s very existence as opposed to still being a British colony is grounded firmly in the Judeo-Christian God who has indeed “created all men equal”.  
I can empathize with those who argue that this proclamation is generic enough as to not really cause anyone any unrealistic offense.  Frankly, I didn’t even know this day existed – let alone that it was mandated by law – until this week.  Shows the type of press coverage this proclamation gets, and the amount of emphasis it receives in the media each year.  Pretty much none – outside of Christian media.  
I tend to suspect though that the National Day of Prayer is not something worth fighting to maintain, either.  I’m kind of hoping to hear some passionate arguments about why I’m wrong.  Christians are enjoined to pray constantly (Ephesians 6:18).  We should pray for our leaders.  We should be doing this at least weekly in worship, and preferably on a daily basis.  What does the National Day of Prayer add to these sort of expectations?  Shouldn’t every day be a national day of prayer for Christians (and presumably for Muslims and Hindus and any other belief system that incorporates prayer)?

Why Not Sea Monsters?

April 20, 2010

It turns out that we’re staying practically on the banks of the largest lake in the Poconos region of Pennsylvania – Lake Wallenpaupack. I’m not sure that this is significant in any way, but I thought I’d share my vast knowledge. The Poconos region of Pennsylvania is a major destination for both commuters from Philadelphia and New York City, as well as a vacation hot spot for the same folks. It certainly is beautiful. I can’t even imagine what it must look like in the fall when the leaves change. Hopefully, I won’t have a chance to find out!

Bible time with the kids each day has taken on a more fixed routine. I’ve ‘borrowed’ the words and lyrics to our favorite Bible-oriented kids CD – Why Not Sea Monsters by Justin Roberts. Once again we’re beholden to our friends Gary & Christine, who first introduced us to Roberts almost eight years ago and his CD Great Big Sun. The guy writes clever songs with simple, catchy tunes. We love the Why Not Sea Monsters CD because he combines these musical elements with Old Testament stories. The kids can sing along to Bible stories, and they love it.

There is a New Testament CD as well, but we haven’t listened to that as much. The Old Testament CD has some hauntingly beautiful tracks on it (Make That Two, Where Were You?, Ruth 1:16-17), as well as songs that the kids like to sing (Giddy Up Gideon, The #1 Fellow, Nothing Much in Tarshish). We can’t recommend the CDs enough, and it’s nice to have them since all of our Arch books are in storage in Camarillo due to space constraints in our Mini-Van of Doom.

Since I’ve been lugging my guitar across the whole country, it’s nice to actually feel the fingers beginning to hurt from actually playing it a little each day. We sing a couple of the songs the kids choose, and then I ask them all to name someone that they want to pray for. It’s great to be praying daily for the family and friends (and pets!) we’ve visited or left behind in the last few months. Story-wise, we’re working our way through the Old Testament, and today we wrapped up Deuteronomy.

It started out with the story of Moses bringing water from the rock. I told them how God was disappointed in Moses’ disobedience, and the consequence was that Moses wouldn’t lead the Hebrews into the Promised Land. Alec wanted to know what happened to Moses, which provided a nice segue to the end of Deuteronomy. The kids were pretty impressed that God buried Moses Himself.

The stories have been good the last few days – manna in the desert, wandering in the desert, water from the rock. In our own wanderings it’s reassuring to look back to how God provided for His people in their wanderings – how He always has provided for His people in their wanderings. Sometimes our wanderings are physical, traversing a region or a nation in search for a home. Sometimes the wanderings our spiritual, emotional, intellectual. He’s there in all of them. He haspromised that He will never abandon us, and we should always take that seriously. It’s just harder to remember when we’re in the midst of our own personal wilderness. Oddly enough, that’s when we need to remember it most. It’s nice to know that in singing with children and sharing the Bible with them, we as parents and grandparents are fed and sustained as well.

God is so good!

Another Helping of Media, Son/Daughter?

April 19, 2010

A fascinating Powerpoint snapshot of media consumption by 8-18 year olds .

I think every parent should read this.  So should every grandparent, teacher, and anyone else who has any interaction with someone under the age of 18.  It’s critical that people understand some of the key things in this survey.

  • Overall media consumption has increased over time
  • Media consumption has diversified into a greater variety of sources than ten years ago
  • Media consumption levels can affect academic performance
  • Households with rules about media consumption have lower overall reported levels of media consumption
  • PARENTS MATTER!!

It’s frightening to think that this information might be a surprise to some people, but it probably will be.  One major question I have is where is this increased media consumption time being being pulled away from?   Kids report that they are consuming media for nearly 12 hours a day – almost their entire waking day.  That’s phenomenal.  So what arenas are having reduced levels of consumption?  I’d assume that for heavy media consumers, their studies are being shortchanged, based on higher levels of reported bad grades.  I’m also willing to bet – based on how many households reportedly have TVs on all the time, including meal times and when nobody is specifically sitting down to watch something – that family time is being shortchanged. 

I’m aware of – and not totally immune to – the temptation that media offers a parent in terms of occupying a child and giving parents a few minutes – or apparently hours – of breathing space.  Clearly this has long-term repercussions though in patterns set between parents and kids.  If you do not already, you need to seriously think about a set of rules that dictate media consumption by your children.  You also have to determine the healthiest ways to help your children abide by these rules.  Some off the cuff suggestions:

  • Eliminate TVs in your kids’ rooms.  This has the joint effect of lowering overall consumption levels, as well as assisting you in enforcing your rules about TV consumption – in terms of amount of time and content.  I’ll make the goofy suggestion that watching television can – at least some of the time – be a family activity.
  • Enforce child filtering software on your computers.  This type of software prevents designated users from accessing Internet content based on a set of filters and/or a list of sites that have been deemed unacceptable for kids.  Not foolproof, but a basic step that should be effective in helping protect your younger children from inappropriate Internet content.
  • Computers should be kept in public areas of the house, rather than in your child’s room. 
  • Set daily time limits for media consumption – whether television, computer/Internet, or music.  One of the curious effects of consuming media for all of your waking hours is that you have no time to think.  No time to be.  No time when you aren’t being bombarded with some sort of external input.  I can’t imagine how devastating this will be in the long run to people.
  • TVs and stereos should be off unless you’re watching a specific program.  Unless you’re home alone and use these devices for company, there’s no reason they should be on constantly.  You may not be paying close attention, but your brain is still picking up bits and pieces.
  • Be involved and communicate with your children!  Before it gets to the adolescent stage of tug-of-war over everything, set patterns with your kids that will help lead to healthier interactions as they get older, and better choices on their part both before and after they are teen-agers.  Explain why certain things are not allowed.  Explain why you’re putting limits on the time your kids can be online or in front of the TV or on a video game.  Explain why you don’t let them play certain games or watch certain things or listen to certain music.  These conversations shouldn’t be in the form of “I’m the parent and I make the rules”, but rather take some extra time to explain what you’re trying to accomplish with these rules.
  • Fill some of your child’s day with family time.  A shared meal, a discussion time over what happened at school that day, playing a board game (or even playing a video game together) – these are all bonding points that help both you and your children develop appropriate communication skills & patterns with one another.  Make it clear that being a family is a priority for your family, and help cultivate an appreciation of that  in your children by simply enjoying them.

Any other suggestions?  How does your family handle media consumption?