Archive for June, 2011

Talking to Your Pastor

June 25, 2011

I received a query the other day regarding how to handle a situation where one pastor does (or doesn’t do) something that another pastor does.  In this case, it was the issue of making pastoral calls/visits to members or potential members.  This is something that  many pastors have found to be an important part of their ministry in terms of forging personal bonds with parishioners and making people feel welcomed, loved, and  valued.  Other pastors have found it to be a massive investment of time with little tangible return.  Some pastors feel ill-equipped for this particular aspect of ministry, and prefer their elders or others more inclined or equipped to handle visitations.

It could be any issue, though.  Pastors are people and as such differ in their approach to pastoral ministry.  While there are certain aspects of the job that are usually non-negotiable (especially for sole pastors of a congregation), there’s a considerable amount of flexibility to account for personal style and taste.  So it’s no guarantee that one pastor will do everything that another pastor has done, or be as good at it.  They may do other things instead.  You just never know.  
That being said, parishioners are people too, and they will have different tastes and preferences.  They may like a pastor to make personal visits or may consider it to be a waste of time.  They may want their pastor doing other things.  It depends.  Ask a dozen members of a single congregation questions about what their pastor ought to be doing and you may get a dozen different responses.  In other words, there’s no pleasing everyone equally!
All that being said, the issue remains – if I think that something is important but the pastor isn’t doing it, what can I do about it?  I addressed these principles somewhat in an old post, but it bears some further discussion I think.
1.  Evaluate what you’re displeased about and why.  It may seem that everything would be solved if the pastor paid a visit, or made a phone call, or implemented a new program.  But that may not be the case, either.  Maybe you’re hurting from something a previous pastor did/didn’t do, and are projecting those feelings onto this pastor.  Take the time to pray about and work through the source of your dissatisfaction.  I don’t encourage people to network on this issue – what you’re frustrated with is a matter for your own personal discernment.  Discovering that others are frustrated too doesn’t necessarily mean you’re right, it just means that others are frustrated.  Once you figure out your own motivations and issues, you’ll know better whether it matters that others are frustrated as well.
2.  Once you feel you’ve got a pretty good handle on your emotions and their causes, start evaluating what would need to change for you to feel better/differently.  If the pastor came by for a visit, would that resolve your concerns?  What if the pastor implemented a formal policy for calling on all members?  Would a single visit be enough or do you expect ongoing visits?  Are your expectations reasonable?  Before you visit with your pastor, you ought to know not only what you’re unhappy/frustrated about, but what you think the solution would be.  Is there more than one solution?  Would a call from an Elder be equally satisfactory, or does it need to be the pastor, and why?  PRAY.  Be brave enough to ask the Holy Spirit to show you the source of your frustration and to inspire solutions to it.  
3.  Once you’ve done all of this work, now you’re ready to make an appointment with the pastor.  Yes, make an appointment.  Trying to catch the pastor before service, after worship or Bible Study, or on the fly during the week isn’t adequate.  Schedule a time where both you and the pastor can focus properly and be prepared for the discussion.  If you try to catch him on the fly, he’s going to feel surprised and hassled (possibly) which might lead you to feel brushed off or ignored (possibly) which is only going to worsen your feelings.  
4.  Be prompt (a couple of minutes early) for your appointment and don’t overstay.  Both of you should be clear up front how long you are available and if you aren’t done discussing when that time comes, make another appointment to continue the discussion.  
5.  Begin the meeting with prayer.  Ask for the Holy Spirit to guide and protect everyone present, so that you can hear each other and the Holy Spirit clearly.  Pray for speaking in love and towards a resolution that will be God-pleasing and for the upbuilding of the entire body of Christ that is that congregation.  
6.  Be honest.  It helps to have your thoughts outlined so you don’t get confused and frustrated, sidetracked, or forget something.  Be direct and loving.  It doesn’t help anyone if you decide you shouldn’t address something that later leaves Satan room to work irritation and bitterness in your heart over.
7.  See yourself as part of the solution.  A mature Christian understands that they are a part of a congregation both because of what it provides to them in their Christian walk, but also because they have gifts and talents and abilities that the local congregation needs as well.  As such, work hard to see yourself as part of the solution to the situation, rather than putting it all on the pastor (or anyone else) and expecting them to figure out how to solve it.  Do you think a more personal touch would be a benefit to the ministry?  What about helping to organize a prayer chain (or joining one), or helping out with calling visitors and others new to the ministry?  While there are certainly some things that the pastor is going to have to be the one to do, don’t assume that the solution to your frustration is solely on their shoulders.
8.  Be as clear as possible about follow-up/follow-through.  It’s easy for meetings to get lost in the shuffle, and for a pastor (or anyone else) to forget about things that you discussed – including solutions.  If your meeting goes well enough that there are some clear commitments or solutions that are proposed and accepted, write those down.  Help to determine time lines (if that’s appropriate).  Is a follow-up meeting necessary or desired?  How will everyone know that this issue is being addressed and how?  Does communication need to happen with the congregation at large?  Can you write a blurb for the bulletin or newsletter to help communicate it?  
Ok.  I’m out of ideas.  But that’s a good start.  Don’t threaten your pastor (if you don’t start/stop doing this, I/we are leaving the congregation).  Threats are generally a good indication that you’re going to end up leaving regardless, and nobody works well under the threat of compulsion or penalty.  If you’re concerned enough about something to talk with the pastor, it’s because you’re committed to the congregation and the pastor and genuinely are committed to working towards a solution – even if the solution isn’t the one you’d prefer!   What may seem like a perfect solution to you may be untenable for a variety of reasons that you aren’t aware of.  Be open to that possibility.  
Other thoughts/suggestions/critiques?  
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Nugents of Wisdom

June 24, 2011

I’m pretty sure that everyone who has any idea Ted Nugent is, let alone grew up listening to his music, is stunned to consider him a social and political commentator.  And yet, such is life.  If anything truly surprises people, I think they simply haven’t been paying very close attention to stuff.  

In any event, Mr. Nugent recently published an op-ed piece in the Washington Times.  In it, he rails against the apathy of the millenial generation, particularly in comparison to his generation of youth in the 1960’s, known for their more rampant political activism.  Mr. Nugent is quick to admit that he wasn’t a part of that political activism, but is probably correct in saying that by and large the younger generations of today are not going to be known for sit-ins or protests or other acts of political conflict.
I think his conclusion is accurate.  The only problem is that his rationale for his conclusion is more likely part of the factors contributing to the very malaise he’s irritated with.
Nugent’s argument as stated is essentially:
  1. Today’s generation is “stoned on apathy”  
  2. Today’s generation may be the first in US history to make less money than their parents
  3. The national debt levels today are indefensible
  4. The economy is already suffering so that many college graduates are being forced to live with their parents
  5. Ongoing engagement in war around the globe without clear commitment to victory is ridiculous
  6. Therefore, the apathetic response of American youth today is unwarranted and dangerous
Again, I tend to agree with his conclusion.  However I also think that the very reasons that he uses to support his conclusion are what has contributed to this situation (in the reverse sense).
We have morphed from a culture concerned with moral truth and reality into a nation that teaches publicly that truth is pretty much non-existent.  It’s all relative to what you feel or what you want, and it may differ radically or completely from what another person holds to be true.  As such, the only things that tangibly can matter are how we’re doing financially.  Do we have a nice place to live and a car to drive?  Are we able to eat out at the places we’d like to?  Are we wearing decent stuff?  Then life must be ok.  Since we can’t have any discussion about truth or morality because it might offend someone and wind up in a law suit, we have to talk about the most trivial of things.  Have you seen that new movie?  Did you see American Idol last night?  
Our younger generations have been progressively isolated from any sort of important interaction with the world around them.  The generation of youth in the 60’s may have been the bridge generation that accomplished the transition from youth as functional members of society to youth being a state of mind and being by definition isolated from and exempted from any expectation of functionality in society.  Our creation of the idea of teen-agers as a distinct socio-cultural phenomenon has been disastrous, I think.  We put our kids in a bubble and then are surprised that they don’t feel particularly inclined – let alone equipped – to deal with the real world that may be rapidly crashing down on their heads.  Add to this the fact that because of marketing and advertising (and perhaps something deeper on the part of the Powers That Be) this bubble continually expands, so that rather than lasting until graduation it extends through college, or now extends into the late 20’s, and now extends well into the 30’s.  
I know congregations who define their young adult ministries for ages 18-40.  Who the hell are the adults?!?  You’re telling me that at 45 someone might finally be considered a fledgling full adult?  No wonder kids opt out of church, and no wonder they opt out of the world of politics and reality in general.  We’ve given them permission to.  We continue to give them permission to.  We practically insist on it.  And then we lament that they have trouble finding purpose and direction in their life.  We lament that they’re comfortable living with us after college, when that’s really all they’ve ever known and all they’ve been primed to do.  
It’s a complicated issue, but I’m pretty positive that economic security is part of the contributing problem in some ways, rather than the solution to the problem.  If we build a culture that says nothing can really matter, and therefore nothing really does matter outside my own personal satisfaction and happiness, we’ve created a culture where people not only don’t care, they can’t care.  On what basis can they care?  Economic security?  The idea that every generation has to do better than the generation before is appealing, to be certain, but is it sustainable?  Is it realistic?  Is that what the American dream is?  Didn’t it used to be that if you worked hard, you had a shot at success?  Now success comes simply by being born later than somebody else?  
Economic success or personal satisfaction is not the determinant of whether or not a government is doing it’s job, though it certainly might be.  It certainly isn’t the only determinant.  We would be quick to castigate the dystopic future of Brave New World  as improper and undesirable, even though by certain standards, most people in that world would say they are happy.  We need a better standard of what happiness means – one not determined by those most anxious to remain in positions of power and authority. 
Are we sick of interminable wars and military actions where our people continue to die and nothing ever improves?  On what basis?  Are the bad guys not really bad?  Are they not really a threat to us?  Do we have a global responsibility if there are bad guys hurting other people but not us?  Are we morally responsible for nipping evil in the bud, so to speak?  On what basis?  Who defines who and what is evil?  On what basis?  More and more the continually shifting alliances that form the backdrop of Orwell’s 1984 make sense.  What is true?  Whatever the State says is true.  Who is good and who is bad?  Whoever the State deems to be so.  Ought this to scare the hell out of us?  Yes, it should.  But we’re losing our ability to talk about these underlying definitions and issues of control because we’re allowing our media to browbeat us into silence.  The same media we support with our attention span and our dollars.
Are there alternatives?  Yes, there are.  They’re complicated, to be sure.  And they involve sacrifice.  Not just sacrifice for our youth, but sacrifice for all of us.  We have to realize that perhaps the systems that we take for granted are not ultimately serving our best interests as individuals or a nation, and if that’s the case, we need to be willing to opt out of those systems even though it requires personal sacrifice.  We have to realize that we can’t have our cake and eat it to, nor can we eat our cake and simply insist that our children forego theirs.  
Is this a vague definition of alternatives?   You bet your bippy.  But no less vague than Mr. Nugent’s critique of our youth.  

I Know I’m Paranoid…

June 22, 2011

…but this sort of stuff makes me very, very nervous.  I just wish I could remember why…

Happy Holy Trinity Father’s Day

June 19, 2011

Today is Holy Trinity Sunday – a day set aside by liturgical Christian churches to dwell on the mystery that is the Trinity.  In our congregation as in many others, we’ll recite the third and least well known (and least liked!) of the three Ecumenical Creeds that lay the framework for what a Christian believes based on Holy Scripture.  While the Apostles’ and Nicene Creed are recited more frequently, the Athanasian Creed is not.  It’s long, it’s cumbersome, and it sounds repetitive.  

Today is also Father’s Day.  So it’s interesting to dwell on the concept of the Trinity and the relationship particularly between God the Father and God the Son.  This is the way that both God the Father and God the Son describe their relationship with one another.  It’s unlike any other father-son relationship in all of existence.  In part because it’s eternal – there was never a time when the Father was without the Son (else He wouldn’t have been the Father at that point!) – and it’s perfect.  God the Father and God the Son work in perfect unity of purpose.  They also work in perfect harmony.  While both are coequal, coeternal, and due the exact same honor and glory as equal aspects of the Triune God, the Son is subordinate to the Father in function (not in essence).  
That’s a tall order for any relationship.  Perfectly equal, perfectly aligned in purpose and intent.  Impossible for human relationships in the here and now.  Though I have hopes that someday we’ll experience that perfection of our relationships.  
The eternal aspect of God the Father may be the most helpful of the three.  There was never a time when the Father was without the Son (or the Holy Spirit, but that’s not my focus here).  God the Father didn’t ever have to learn how to be a father, because He never wasn’t one.  But among us folk, fatherhood is something that occurs for some at a point in life, after a period of life where they weren’t fathers.  Fatherhood is something that is acquired (intentionally or otherwise), it isn’t a fundamental aspect of maleness.  Some guys are fathers.  Some aren’t.  Some fathers don’t have kids.  Some guys who aren’t fathers have kids.  In any event though, fatherhood is something that has to be learned.  It’s a status that can arrive relatively instantly, but it’s a skill that has to be developed.  
I never took any classes for fatherhood.  Maybe if they had offered those sorts of electives at some level of my schooling, I would  have taken them.  But probably not.  And even if I had, you can’t really adequately prep someone for the responsibility of fatherhood (or motherhood, of course).  You can talk about specific aspects of the role.  You can provide some rules of thumb.  You can provide handouts and Power Points and toll-free numbers and web sites to provide support.  But at the end of the day (or the end of life), you either figured it out or you didn’t.
I don’t know many dads who feel as though they’ve done a good job in that role.  There are always regrets.  Always curiosities of the male psyche that cause us to do and say things that we spend a lot of time regretting afterwards and wishing we could undue.  We’re wired for action, and there’s a lot about fatherhood that isn’t action oriented.  It’s just being.  Being patient.  Being present.  Being understanding.  Being supportive.  And of course, being a father in the many senses of that word.  Provider.  Sustainer.  
Traditionally,  the father is the creator of the family unit.  The man approached the woman’s father with the marriage proposal and related arrangements.  The man was responsible for doing whatever was expected of a husband and future father – providing a place to live, providing an income, providing protection.  It was a lot of responsibility, and I’m pretty sure they offered even fewer courses on it throughout history than they probably do today.  Just as we confess that God the Father is the creator, the one who sets all of creation into motion through his Word, earthly fathers generally have been tasked with that same role at the family level.  That’s a huge responsibility if you can’t take a class or read a book on it.
However speaking in broad terms, if there weren’t formal classes in being a father, there was the opportunity of watching others do the job.  While it’s not popular to talk about out loud these days, the role of a father is not one that can be swapped out, because only a man can be a father, and only a man can demonstrate what it means to be a father.  For better, for worse.  With all of the regrets as well as those memories of shining moments when we really felt like we were doing what we were supposed to, when we were who we were supposed to.  You can’t reassign that example out to a robot or a woman or a nanny or a school teacher or anyone else.  Despite the best intentions or the cruelty of necessity.  It’s never the same.
I learned a lot about what it means to be a father from watching my dad.  It wasn’t a quick and simple process.  As a son, you aren’t watching your dad to learn dad techniques for a majority of those formative younger years.  You watch to learn how to be a man, or how to be a different man, but you don’t think about the father aspect until later.  Perhaps not until you have kids of your own.  Then you have the flashbacks, the moments of insight where you understand why something was said or done or not said or done.  What once seemed at best an inconvenience or an example of foolishness or being out of touch of reality or whatever kids call it these days suddenly takes on a different perspective.  Like rotating a gem so that a new facet comes into view and alters the light and suddenly the whole gem looks different.  Not perfect.  Not fully comprehensible, but different, and oftentimes, beautiful.
I’m sure there are plenty of sons who make these realizations too late.  Who never have the chance to say thanks.  Or I’m sorry I made it so hard.  Or how in the world did you do this, day in and day out for decades and decades?  Or any number of other things they might like to say.  Those who do have the opportunity still are often hampered by the very fact that they and their dad are both guys, and guys don’t make a big fuss about those sorts of things.  
God the Father in his wisdom modeled human families and relationships off of his own relationship with God the Son.  Our relationships are marred by sin and brokenness and rebellion and all manner of other interference.  But I believe that at the core, the echoes of that perfect relationship that we were intended to have with one another and with our God resonate through our relationships with one another.  And as I and other men have watched their dads to learn what it means to be a father, God the Father and God the Son model what that looks like in perfection – the Father rejoicing in the obedient Son who brings glory to his Father in the very act of obedience.  
It’s beautiful.  And I know I’ll never have that perfect relationship with my children or grandchildren or father because I’m not perfect, and I won’t be until after those relationships take on a whole new dimension and meaning that I have no way of fully grasping now.  But in the meantime, I give thanks for the model of God the Father and God the Son.  And I give thanks for my own father and how he modeled – and continues to model – who a father is.  

No Big Surprise Here

June 18, 2011

In case you weren’t aware, it’s possible that there is a liberal bias on the part of key individuals in the television and movie industry.  Really.  This article proves it.  Or at least it promises that the book will.  Then again, will there be a book that counters this with secret interviews of conservatives in the industry (assuming it can find them)?  

If and when the book comes out I’m sure it will be juicy reading, but I doubt it will do much in the way of addressing whether or not people find this troublesome or problematic or any number of other adjectives.  If we keep watching whatever is put out, are we really in a position to claim we’re not happy with it?   

Christianity & Marriage

June 17, 2011

This is a great little essay a colleague shared on Facebook the other day.  It briefly summarizes the unique and counter-cultural nature of Christianity as it pertains to having children, getting married, or living life as a single person.  

Christianity is unique in that it posits a positive, engaging approach with the world around us while at the same time calling us to constant remembrance that this is transitory.  We make decisions about the world (our marital status, whether to have children or not) based on larger scale criteria than selfish personal interests, and in the understanding that our ultimate hope lies in a new creation.  This manifests itself in our family relationships without placing a stigma on decisions to remain single and celibate (the Bible places no such stigmas and actually affirms the celibate single life as a valid & God pleasing option.  Particular Christian communities have and may stigmatize the single life but they do so in error).  
Another example of the very other nature of Christianity compared not simply with non-theism but with other religious traditions as well.  It also highlights the constantly challenging nature of Biblical Christianity in regards to our assumptions about the world around us and the purpose and nature of our individual lives.  These challenges have some very tangible blessings in the world around us that extend beyond the personal spirituality that is sought to be enforced in policy and public opinion.  Faith is never a purely personal matter – it ripples out from us into the relationships around us, affecting our families, communities, and the world at large.  

The Political Christian

June 15, 2011

Red or blue?  Liberal or conservative?  Republican or Democrat?  Is there an appropriate way for Christians to vote?

To hear many people talk, there is.  The association of the Republican party with Christians – or at least more conservative and evangelical Christians – has become ubiquitous in recent elections, a trend that reflects a longer-standing but less-publicized  broad understanding.  Because of the policy platform of the Democratic party for years – abortion rights most particularly – many people have assumed that if you vote along Democratic lines you aren’t a good Christian.  Of course this seems overly-simplistic, and now we have research to back up that hunch – in case you needed research.  
This study indicates that there are two types of Christians that are driven to vote in opposite ways based on where the emphasis of their faith lies.  Those concerned more with issues of personal sin vote more conservatively.  Those concerned more with helping others tend to vote more liberally.  This shouldn’t exactly be a shock to anyone, but it’s one way of quantifying one potential factor in what makes Christians vote a certain way.
What ought to be more obvious to a committed Christian is that these are not either/or inclinations.  We are called to both be concerned about morality as well as helping others.  We are not offered the option of focusing on one and ignoring the other.  Which leaves the Christian voter in an interesting predicament, it would seem.  But it would seem it’s not strictly a matter of personal preferences.  Denominations and congregations have fallen out along party lines – at least based on my unofficial observations over the years.  And I know Christians who have been made to feel unwelcome – or at least less included – at congregations based on their political leanings.  Yet if neither party fully or adequately represents the sum total of Christian policy making (or ever claimed to, for that matter), how do congregations open dialog on this topic?  
Is there an issue that is a make-or-break issue?  Traditionally abortion has been viewed as that very issue – the one that can’t be tolerated in conservative Christian circles.  Is it that easy, though?  Note that this is not the same as asking whether or not abortion is Biblical or not – it’s not.  What is the committed Christian to do if neither party offers options that allow them to vote with a good conscience?  What do you do?  Should there be a viable third option?  Could there be?

An Evening in Jail

June 14, 2011

All of the jumpsuits are the same drab bluish grey.  The tables are stainless steel, polished to a spit shine so that the overhead lighting is reflected painfully up even when you bow your head to avoid it from above.  The sturdy stainless steel seats that jut out from beneath the tables are designed specifically to make sitting an immensely unpleasant prospect after just a few moments.  When we arrive the small room off of the main cell block is filled with the blaring noise of the television on the wall.  A guard comes in and uses a special key to turn off the television so we can hear one another.  

The women trickle in gradually.  Who knows what the relative trade-offs are in an incarceration environmentof sitting in on a Christian service for an hour?  How one manages the web of complex relationships of both power and need in that environment must be fascinating, and these women have not only the time but the necessity of learning those ropes very quickly.  My host – one of my parishioners and our congregation’s designated chaplain to the county jail facility – calls out to the women that she sees several times a week in various capacities, encouraging them to come in.  Tonight there is the added incentive of sitting in – there’s a man here!  I somehow doubt that I’m much in terms of bait in that respect.  I assume that the 20 or so women who crowd around the two small tables in the room are there for a variety of reasons other than myself – or that I’m of far more value as a curiosity than a source of sexual curiosity, even for a group of women cut off with contact with men other than prison guards for weeks or months.
Still, that tension fills the air initially.  These are women who for perhaps a disproportionate amount of their life have relied on their sexuality for all manner of things – a master key of sorts to access emotional and physical needs ranging from food for their children or a roof over their heads or temporary comfort in the storm that is their life.  There are comments that float through the air initially, testing, probing, seeking reaction or acknowledgment.  The innuendos are sometimes as simple as the eyes that make contact and then dart away furtively with a small grin.  There is no offense taken – and after a few moments of not reacting adversely or responding positively, the tension subsides a bit and there is something else for them to focus on.  
These particular medium-security prisoners are being housed for the next two months in the basement of the jail facility, a particularly harsh environment because until recently they were enjoying a much more comfortable surface-level life replete with windows and exercise facilities and a small library.  For the next two months at least, as work is done on their former residence areas, they will breathe nothing but recycled air, see no light other than the fluorescent harshness overhead, and have no way of accurately gauging the day or the time.  It makes for unhappy people, which is saying a lot in a place as unhappy as a jail facility.
There is the eagerness that always surprises me when I’m with prisoners for a few moments.  There is an eagerness to interact:  to read, to sing, to answer questions, even to share relevant life experiences.  In the free world, people are rarely so quick to jump in with both feet.  The act of jumping is itself fascinating, regardless of the promptings to it.  The break this time of worship and teaching offers in their daily and weekly schedule is probably in itself enough of an incentive for half of them to be there and to play along with whatever their leader has in store for them.  Learn a new song?  No problem – sing loud.  Look up Bible verses?  They’re on it with a ferocity.  They defer to one another in amazingly humble ways.  If two women begin to read at the same time they both quickly back down and attempt to encourage the other to read.  One woman gets up from the other table to bring over a Bible because she sees two of the ladies next to me don’t have one.  Are they this considerate of one another all the time?  What beauty that might create even in such a dismal and foreboding place if they are!
Some of them are so sincere it hurts.  Your heart leaps out to them, praying that next time will be different, that this really was just a bump in the road, that maybe they can make better decisions next time.  Maybe their husbands will agree to make changes in their lives together.  Maybe they won’t have to be separated from their children again because of drug abuse.  Maybe, just maybe.  
You have to have that hope.  You have to have that confidence that whatever these women need is not to be found in themselves, under the hardscrabble exteriors and fading hair dyes.  You have to have confidence that the Jesus they speak about so easily and the Holy Spirit they invoke so willingly are not just bedtime stories but real and true and capable and willing to do what they promise.  You have to have confidence that the process of breaking hearts hardened by abuse and indifference and neglect and addiction really does occur, and that despite the pain and suffering that accompanies it, there is new life waiting in the here and now as well as the there and then when and where the blood begins to flow again.  
I get to leave after an hour, winding my way back up through the warren of tunnels and locking doors and elevators.  I get to breathe in the sea-salt laden air and stare over the valley to the ocean beyond in the lackadaisical dwindling light of the coastal evening.  I get to scrub off the germs with hand sanitizer and, once home again, a more thorough scrubbing.  And I pray that what was left behind with those women in that one hour will be enough to help them hold on.  That it will give them not just peace and comfort but also the painful clarity that one only gets when the Word cuts through our excuses and pretenses and facades.  Much of that cutting has been done courtesy of the county taxpayers through this facility.  But the most important cuts are the deepest, and I pray that in the harshness of the concrete and steel and fluorescence, they will find not just their own blood, but the blood of their Creator already mingling with and flowing within their own hearts.  

No Higher Power

June 10, 2011

This is surprising only in that it has taken so long for this issue to arise.  There is a battle against Alcoholics Anonymous by people who wish to utilize some of the basic concepts while rejecting the most fundamental one.

Alcoholics Anonymous has been around for over 80 years.  They have millions of members in countries around the world.  I assume this is because their program is effective.  I assume this is because what they teach people in this program has relevance and is able to accomplish what they believe it will – namely the hope of normalized lives free from addictive behaviors (and possibly the addictive tendencies or desires themselves).  
The program’s creator Bill Wilson founded the program on a faith in the Judeo-Christian God of the Bible.  As the program grew in scope, Wilson had to deal with the fact that not everyone who wished to be helped believed in God.  In the 1960’s, according to the article, Wilson dealt with this, but not by eliminating the understanding that God is the real healing agent.  Rather, Wilson insisted that acknowledgement of an objective, external, higher power was fundamental and non-negotiable.  But that higher power could be literally anything.  In other words, you didn’t have to believe that the God of the Bible is real and able to help you, but you have to believe that there is *something* out there who is stronger and more capable than not only you, but people in general.  Wilson believed that this was an initial step of faith.  He seems to have believed that this first step into the realm of faith in general would eventually lead a person to faith in the God of the Bible.  Wilson talked about this as the “God of your understanding”.
However this isn’t good enough for some people today, who are offended that they are required to place their faith in any sort of outside power.  On the surface level this doesn’t sound much different than any other battle in recent decades over any sort of public or instrumental insistence on or acknowledgement of the Judeo-Christian God of the Bible.
But this is an interesting one, because it drives to the heart of what AA claims to do and how it claims to do it.  AA is founded on the fundamental idea that we ourselves as human beings do not have the ability (in some cases) to break addictive behaviors.  We  don’t have the willpower,the strength, the stamina – none of it.  Unless we are receiving strength and willpower and stamina from a source greater than ourselves and outside of ourselves, a source that is unfailing and always available, we will fail.  God must exist, in other words, if healing is going to occur in some people because they will not be able to heal themselves and because nobody else is capable of being there for them 24/7 every part of their lives.  While you may claim that your higher power is in fact a rock or a cloud or a star, the only way your healing can occur is (philosophically and theologically) if that rock or cloud or star has all of the qualities and nature and personality of the God of the Bible.  
What the atheistic groups and individuals want to do is eliminate this presupposition completely.  They may claim that they just object to overt talk of God, but the revised 12 steps that they created demonstrate that this is not the case.  In reality, what they are doing is reversing the fundamental principle and basis for the entire AA program by putting the responsibility for healing back on the individual – or at best on other individuals.  
In other words, we believe your program works, we want the benefits of healing and restoration your program brings, but we want to completely alter and undo your program’s core principles.  I find that fascinating.  People want the benefits of something without the something that purports to provide the benefits.  It’s like saying I want the benefits of stronger muscles without the actual necessity of exercising them in any way.  I want the benefit of food without actually eating.  I want the benefits of marriage without actually being married to someone.
At stake in this argument is not just a matter of theology, but the interesting issue of applied theology.  These people are free to form their own groups and do whatever they like in terms of their programs and steps and whatever else they think will bring healing and restoration.  But what they want to do instead is to lump themselves in with AA groups even though they are in fact working a program that is fundamentally different from AA.  They want AA to deny it’s foundation, despite the fact that it is this very foundation that has made such a huge difference in the lives of millions of people for the last 80 years.
That doesn’t make sense to me logically, not just as a person of faith.  If you believe that something can work, why would you insist on modifying it fundamentally?  It seems to say to me that people want healing but only on their terms, and they are indignant and insulted when it is suggested that healing is not always available on our terms.  All of which lines up remarkably well with what the Bible says about our overall condition of rebellion against God.  We want everything on our terms, despite the fact that our terms are fundamentally antithetical to how we are made and how everything around us is made.  Healing has only one source, and it is not ourselves or any other human being around us.  

Common Cents

June 9, 2011

I haven’t seen this issue come up in the headlines more, which is kind of surprising.  The governor of Florida signed into law a provision requiring drug tests for adults applying for welfare assistance.  There is a fee for the screening which the applicant must pay.  If they pass the screening and are eligible for aid, they will apparently be reimbursed the cost of the screening in their benefits.  If they fail, they are not reimbursed.

The ACLU is challenging the law, claiming that it violates the Constitutional rights of citizens.  The article seems to indicate that the ACLU views this as a search without probable cause.  There doesn’t appear to be any formal information on the ACLU web site so I can’t substantiate it much further.  
I have a couple of questions about the objections though.  There have been similar efforts to this that have floundered on the shoals of the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable search.  However, can it rightly be said that someone who is requesting assistance and willingly providing their personal information as part of that process is being unreasonably searched by including a provision for drug testing?  Nobody is forcing these people to apply for aid.  And certainly nobody is forcing these people to use drugs – if indeed they are.  In exercising their personal liberties (one in an illegal manner), how is it that the State is suddenly seen as intrusive by wishing to ensure that the benefits that are being paid out are not likely to be funneled into a drug habit?
If employees of companies are expected to submit to drug tests if so requested, how is it that people looking for assistance from taxpayers should be exempt from a similar requirement?  Where is personal responsibility and accountability in all of these objections?  If certain opponents of the measure feel that it is unfairly profiling welfare recipients as drug abusers, this does not logically preclude the possibility that there are drug users who are receiving taxpayer assistance.  If the problem is not endemic, I would imagine that legislation will be reversed in due time in order to reduce the costs of administering the program.
As for the argument that people who are requesting financial assistance are least able to afford the drug treatment programs the provision requires for those who fail the screening but still hope to receive assistance, what is the alternative?  The promise of a steady supply of cash assistance (the law does not apply to programs such as Food Stamps) without any need for changing habits and lifestyles?  That seems equally problematic if not more so.  Is the goal to truly help people make lasting changes and improvements in their lives, or to perpetuate a cycle of poverty and abuse?