Archive for August, 2013

Strategic Retreat

August 31, 2013
I may have said this before, but I’m saying it again.  I predict that before long, it will be standard procedure for churches to prohibit any organization or individual not directly a member of the congregation from utilizing church facilities for any purpose.  The legal risks are just mounting.  A few well-placed lawsuits could both deplete whatever savings a congregation might have, as well as draw an ongoing onslaught of negative press.  
I’ll be asking my Church Council to begin consideration of this matter in the near future.  Do your congregations have usage statements in place?  What do they look like?
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Meanwhile, in California…

August 30, 2013

Abortions are so urgently needed that we might as well not even require doctors to do them.  

Dear Kids

August 29, 2013

I didn’t want to weigh in on this fiasco, but I guess I will.  Of course I’m talking about the biggest media event of the last two weeks.  Which means  it has nothing to do with Syria gassing its own people to death or vague threats of US missile strikes, nor does it have anything to do with dozens of Christian churches being systematically targeted and destroyed in the chaos that currently is Egypt.  

No, no, I’m referring of course to the MTV Video Music Awards show, and the outrage and surprise generated by a performance by Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke.  Miley Cyrus is the daughter of Billy Ray Cyrus, who had a one-hit wonder twenty years or so ago called Achey Breaky Heart.  Yes, it’s about as good as it sounds.  She was the flagship product – oops, I mean star – of Disney’s youth programming in a show called Hanna Montana, about a teen who is secretly also a rock star.  Never having watched the show, I’ll assume it’s about as good as it sounds.  She has a successful single out called We Can’t Stop, which is essentially a narcissist’s theme song.  The video has been criticized for being both unintelligible and offensive.  Robin Thicke is the son of actor Alan Thicke and an emerging musical success in the R&B arena.  He broke through big-time into the pop charts this summer with a hit single called Blurred Lines.  The song is poppy and catchy and unavoidable on pop music stations, though the content (beware, these are explicit lyrics ) of the song has been criticized as both sexist and rationalizing rape.  
But together, they ignited a firestorm of outrage, dismay, and undoubtedly, money.  Cyrus got the worst of it initially, as the 20-year old was roundly criticized for her degrading performance.  Now Thicke is getting criticized as a 36-year old married man with children who is cavorting on stage with a nearly naked 20-year old.  One mother’s letter to her daughter regarding Cyrus has gone viral.  Others are penning letters to their sons about Thicke.  General mayhem has ensued, and UN forces are poised to intervene.  
No, wait, maybe I’m thinking of Syria.  If only.
So in the interest of jumping on a bandwagon and beating a dead horse and otherwise putting two cents where it should never need to go in the first place, here’s my letter to my kids regarding all of this.  I doubt it will go viral, but hey, some things you have to say anyways.
Dear Kids – 
Fortunately, you are blissfully unaware of the debacle that is currently overwhelming our media outlets regarding various performers and their willingness to degrade themselves (and thus their audience) with behavior that most people would be hard pressed to find appropriate under pretty much any circumstances, let alone broadcast around the world.  Your tyrant parents have forbidden television (other than approved Netflix viewing) since before some of you were even born.  I’m sure that any day now you will realize what a Gross Miscarriage of Justice has been perpetrated.  You can write about it in your memoirs because I am not changing my mind.  Just make sure to include some of the adorable drawings you still do showing our whole smiling family together.  Irony is delicious.
Anyhow.
People are all up in arms about the ‘girl’ who degraded herself by parading in a skimpy outfit.  Well, we live in Southern California, and you’ve probably seen more actual flesh than that on any given outing to the beach or walking around some of the shopping centers here in town.  But this particular girl is also being ridiculed for how she acted while scantily clad.  She pranced around, shaking her booty and other bits, sticking her tongue out like an exhuasted St. Bernard, and generally presenting herself as a sexual plaything.  None of which is particularly new for her, but this caught people’s attention for some reason.  Perhaps because it was broadcast all over the world.
Some people are upset now at the guy, who is almost twice the girl’s age, married with children, and yet was willing to let this young girl (who is not his wife, did I mention that?) touch him in very inappropriate ways on an internationally broadcast show.  And he certainly did some touching of his own that was very inappropriate with her.  
All of which is worthy of outrage.  All of which I pray to protect you from by hook or by crook, and all of which I will soundly kick your butts for attempting while you are still in any way dependent on me for the roof over your heads, the food in your bellies, the clothes on your back, or the money in your pockets.  When you are old enough to sustain yourselves you will make decisions for yourself that I can only pray will be respectful of your God and yourselves and those around you.  Until then it is your mother’s job and my job to try and equip you to make good decisions.  If you don’t choose to make good decisions down the road, we won’t be able to do much about it.  
I could tell you not to degrade yourself.  I could tell you to have respect for yourself.  I could tell you not to misuse your body and your sexuality.  I will definitely be saying these things to you as well.  But they miss the point.  You already know not to degrade yourself.  You already know to respect yourself.  And you will learn more and more about your body and your sexuality and the wonderful ways God has designed both.  
Likewise, I doubt the young woman on the TV the other night set out on her career years ago as a child to degrade herself and women everywhere.  I doubt the man with her set out years ago in his career to humiliate himself and his wife and the institution of marriage and the art of music at the same time.  Yet that’s pretty much what they both did.  So if that wasn’t necessarily their intent, how is it they both succeeded so stunningly?  How could two completely different people end up on the same stage behaving the same way if neither one of them consciously set out to do so?
Maybe it’s because sometimes these negative and degrading behaviors are exalted as actually good – actually liberating, actually mature, actually empowered.  There is an assertion that if you knowingly embark on a course of action, knowing the risks and the inappropriateness of it, yet still deciding to do it because you want to, it’s actually a good thing.  This is an asinine assertion since.  
Perhaps they were convinced along the way that what they were doing was worth continuing at any cost.  The fame, the money, the glamor, the perks of celebrity – these are things that it is worth sacrificing your self-esteem or your modesty or your taste for.  That’s what these people were sold on.  And they were probably sold on the idea that you can hold on to your principles privately, but that what you do on stage is a persona, and you can separate the two.  In fact, you have to if you want to be really successful, really rich, really popular, for a really long time.  Which means you have to be surrounded with people who also believ
e that any cost is appropriate to keep the party rolling.
The people we should also be yelling at are the people that know better.  The people that routinely create and use up stars and kick them to the curb for The Next Big Thing.  I don’t hear anybody yelling at Disney for creating a train wreck of a starlet.  I don’t hear Disney condemning her behavior as antithetical to the family faire it likes to think it provides.  Of course not.  They each made a lot of money off of each other and continue to do so I’m sure through the miracle of royalties and syndication and merchandising.  It’s just business, just money.  
We should be yelling at the girl’s parents for valuing her success over her integrity, and for not recognizing what must have been myriad signs that she was getting lost in her celebrity and status.  
We should be yelling at the guy’s wife for agreeing to his cavorting – whether on the show or on his video – for the sake of generating more YouTube hits, carving out a higher spot on the Billboard list, and ultimately generating fatter paychecks.  We should find her complicity appalling.  But what we’re taught in a myriad of realms is that spouses can become just as lost in things as anyone, and sometimes they have their own personal agendas which allow them to endure the poor behavior of the other spouse for their personal gain.
At the end of the day, kids, you have to realize that everyone is prone to failure, lapses of judgment, poor reasoning skills, and simple greed and ambition.  You never know how or when someone you trust is going to fail you.  And the only way you’ll realize that they might be failing you is to compare their advice to the only authority you can trust absolutely, and that’s the God who created you.  
Compare what your mom and I tell you to what is in the Bible.  Compare what your professors tell you to what is in the Bible.  Compare what your boss tells you to what is in the Bible.  And when they don’t match up, ask questions, and start to be very cautious.  I pray that you’ll embrace the value of surrounding yourself with people who are convicted that what the Bible says should trump what anyone else says, and have the wisdom and skills and desire to read it faithfully with you.
Along with this, plan your future as carefully as you can.  Consider the career that you’d like to go into.  Evaluate the requirements for it in terms not just of academics or monetary resources or skill, talent, and luck, but also in terms of what it will require of you.  How many hours a week will it demand of you?  How will that impact your friendships and eventual marriage and family?  What other demands will it make of you?  Will you have to sell out control of your principles and beliefs at some point in order to score a contract or an opportunity?  There is more to a career than how much money you might make through it.
Think about these things and weigh them out.  Ask lots of questions of people older than you who have some experience in these areas.  Try to be realistic.  The percentage of millionaires in the world is staggeringly small.  Maybe that’s not the most realistic goal to have.  And even if you choose that as a goal, consider what it will cost you to make money, and make sure that you are willing and able to pay that price.  
This is complicated stuff.  A lot more complicated than just saying don’t be a slut or don’t disrespect women, though those are very important things to say as well.  It’s equally important to remember that these sorts of behaviors can come from bad breeding – which is not the case with you.  They can come from a lack of healthy parental direction – which is not the case with you.  They can come from the lack of a stable home life – which is not the case with you.  They can come from poor choices of friends and role models – which could be you.  They can come from letting ambitions overrule common sense, which could be you.  They can come from being ignorant or naive about how the world works, which could be you.  The dots are sometimes hard to connect, and you often don’t realize you’ve connected them wrong until it’s too late to find your way back.
So be careful and confident, happy and realistic.  Celebrate what the Lord has already given you rather than waiting constantly for Him to provide something newer and better.  Be satisfied with simple pleasures, honest work, and the satisfaction from knowing that you’ve done the best you can today by the light of God’s Word.  These things likely won’t get you a headlining act on a major awards show, but that may not be an entirely bad thing, when all is said and done.
Dad

Common Indecency

August 28, 2013
** Warning!  The links embedded in this article mostly lead to articles containing excerpts from a literary work.  These excerpts are sexually graphic and explicit in nature.  If you do not wish to view this material, do not click on the links! **

Thanks to Becky for sending me a link to this blog post regarding part of the new national academic standards being rolled out, known colloquially as the Common Core (this link is safe – no explicit content here).   The Common Core is required for any school wishing to receive Federal educational aid.  This news story summarizes some basic information about the Common Core.  

There is growing concern (careful, graphic content there!) because some of the literature approved for use in junior and senior level literature courses includes graphic sexual content.  Specifically, the book The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison.  I have not read this book.  Based on the excerpts in the blog post above, I don’t have a desire to, either.  
Others support teaching this book in class.  They assert that the controversial nature of the book is what makes it ideal material.  They argue that kids need to be more challenged in their reading, and books like this accomplish that goal.
I’ll agree that a book of this nature probably fits the bill for controversial and challenging reading.  The author’s own stated intent of not giving value judgments on the descriptions of rape and pedophilia is intentional, so that the reader empathizes with the characters more, appreciating widely divergent points of view.  
Sexual material in high school classrooms is nothing new.  I well remember the controversy over showing the 9th grade advanced literature class Zeffirelli’s film presentation of Romeo and Juliet, because it included some brief bits of nudity.  My parents gave their permission.  I was excited to be introduced to mature material, and yes, the naughty bits were a topic of conversation for a few days.
But the point of the sexuality in the play and in the movie was decidedly secondary to the overall literary themes.  I was not being asked to empathize with pathological behavior.  Neither the play or the movie were graphic, describing the physicality of the acts.  Of the many meaty topics that could be discussed in the play (the nature of parent/child relationships, the power of hate, the power of love, the role of religion in the family or even civic sphere, the impetuousness of youth, differences in cultural/historic treatments of love and marriage, etc.), sexuality isn’t one of them.  The point is not to make me think about sex (something that high school students don’t have a problem, by and large, receiving plenty of stimulus from other quarters, as the recent Miley Cyrus/MTV Video Music Awards debacle demonstrates.  No, I’m not going to provide you with a link to that).  
Arguing that The Bluest Eye is simply a literary work like any other in a culture in the throes of major shifts in moral understandings is hogwash.  I will trust that it provides other challenging topics of discussion.  But for the high schoolers (if not their teachers), the sexual content is likely going to predominate.  
I seem to recall reading more than a few books that are challenging and engaging without being sexually explicit.  I continue to be amazed that in public schools, which in the not-so-distant past were devoid of sexual material of any kind, sexuality is now the conversation topic not just between students but in the curriculum and extra-curricular activities.  Homosexuality related campus groups are more and more the norm.  I can’t imagine a principal ever approving a club supporting heterosexual individuals.  Can you imagine what that might have been like?  
Youth are steeped in sexual images, lyrics, and expectations from a shockingly early age.  This is not accidental, it is intentional.  To continue to attempt that extending this assault into the curriculum of the classroom is actually good for them intellectually is ridiculous and dishonest.  Do you want to challenge adolescents in their reading comprehension?  Assign them to read Camus.  Assign them to read Shakespeare.  Have them read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein for a fascinating exploration of the roles and relationships and responsibilities between creator and created.  What about reading philosophers?  What about reading any number of hundreds of great books that can challenge students in their vocabulary and composition analysis and reading comprehension without focusing on aberrant sexual practices and experiences?  
Isn’t it reasonable for us all to agree that our kids should receive the best education possible, and that we can do this without pushing yet more sexually-charged and explicit material at them?  I can pretty much guarantee that no teacher is going to want to facilitate a conversation on the sexual parts of the book to begin with.  Those sections can’t even be read in the classroom – they are mandated to be read only at home!  So the sexual material and the ramifications isn’t even going to be dealt with.  So why insist on having it there in the first place?
Once again, under the guise of education, our children are going to suffer so that the agendas of a tiny minority of people can be advanced.  I continue to find this not only intellectually dishonest, but morally reprehensible.  

Gene-uinely Confusing

August 27, 2013

It’s no secret that I acknowledge I am not a trained scientist of any fashion.  Yet the theory of evolution and how it guides – or fails to guide – scientific pursuits is a constant confusion to me.

Take, for example, this interesting rebuttal to an argument laid out by the magazine Scientific American that trying to recreate extinct species through salvaged DNA samples is a bad idea.  What caught my eye initially was the author’s desire to involve “multidisciplinary” discussion on the topic as a means for moving towards the practice of recreating extinct species.  
To my untrained ear, that sounded interesting.  What, indeed, would be the result of gathering a variety of people from a variety of backgrounds and world views to discuss objectively the pros and cons of how such practices might or might not be pursued?  What a fascinating idea – that since these activities potentially affect all of humanity, a broader cross-section of backgrounds and voices ought to be involved in the discussion.
However, it seems clear from reading the rebuttal that this isn’t what the author intended.  That for the author, “multidisciplinary” means a variety of different kinds of scientists, not a consortium of different kinds of professionals and people.  As such, the force of the article deals exclusively with the hypothetical benefits of de-extincting certain species, or incorporating particular genetic traits of extinct species with modern species, and not at all with potential drawbacks and dangers – ethical or otherwise.  
I find it curious that if natural selection gives rise to dominant species, that the issue of de-extinction should even be on the table.  Doesn’t it violate the principles of natural selection to think that we should re-introduce species that for varying reasons did not survive?  Is natural selection natural or not?  And if not, how is it that one particular species gets to determine who does or does not survive, who is or is not de-extincted?  
I’m glad that people are discussing this issue, I just wish there was some acknowledgement that a broader cross-section of skills and viewpoints is not only helpful, but actually ethically requisite.  

QuiBids, Anyone?

August 27, 2013

I just found out about this new auction site, QuiBids.  It sounds interesting – has anyone had any experience with it?

Reading Ramblings – September 1, 2013

August 25, 2013

Reading
Ramblings

Date: September 1st, 2013 –
Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Proverbs 25:2-10; Psalm
131; Hebrews 13:1-17; Luke 14:1-14

Context: How mysterious are the
ways of a king! In a democratic society such as ours, we may scoff
at such things. A king is no better than anyone else, after all.
And yet, for a people who like to pride themselves on being a society
of kings and equals, something mysterious remains in the reality of a
king who exposes our pride and folly and presumptions. Those who
think they know what it means to be king are forewarned that there is
more to the job and the person than meets the eye, particularly when
it is not just any king, but the King of Kings we are confronted
with.

Proverbs 25:2-10: Wisdom takes
many shapes and forms, and one form of wisdom is knowing one’s place.
It is the place of God to plant mysteries, and the place of God’s
servant the king to search them out. While we may balk at the idea
of a king, Biblically we are confronted with the reality that if a
king didn’t have to deal with all of the petty foolishness that
consumes his time, he might be a great king indeed.

As such we are called to regard our
position soberly, and not arrogantly. Rather than assuming our value
and worth as equal to the king or a favored status, we should conduct
ourselves as if this is an uncertain truth at best. Nobody finds
humility to be distasteful, particularly when we are given permission
to cast aside the humility and receive honor. But everyone gets a
good laugh out of someone who assumes their importance, only to be
taken down a peg or two.

Likewise in dealing with one another we
need to assume that perhaps we are not as bright or special as we
like to think of ourselves. Humility in dealing with our neighbor in
matters of dispute can prove very valuable for avoiding embarrassment
as well as financial loss. If we are willing to try and come to
terms with our neighbor – even if we believe ourselves to be in the
right – we are likely to have a far better end than if we trust
ourselves to the courts and to the opinions of those around us.

Psalm 131: A simple psalm of
humility. This is a psalm of ascent, which would have been recited
by pilgrims en route to Jerusalem for festivals or to offer
prescribed sacrifices. It might be easy for someone involved on such
a blessed journey to begin to think a bit more of themselves than
they ought. This psalm is a gentle reminder to humility and a sober
assessment of our abilities and place. Rather than clamoring
internally and externally for more and better, we are best off in
appreciation for what we have. Acknowledging that our God has given
us all good things, we should quiet our ambitious hearts, exercising
the self control appropriate for a child who is old enough to eat
solid food rather than nurse at her mother’s breast.

Hebrews 13:1-17: Over the course
of the book of Hebrews St. Paul has moved from examining the Old
Testament, old covenant ways of doing things to contrast their
limited scope and ability with the perfection of Christ as the
sacrificial lamb who atones for our sins once and for all with his
death and resurrection. As such, we don’t have to continually offer
sacrifices for our sins. Rather, having been forgiven through the
grace of God, we are free to offer our lives as sacrifices to him.
Rather that slaughtering and burning animals, our daily lives become
fragrant offerings to our heavenly father.

Rather than smoke and blood, we offer
up ourselves and our willingness to be obedient to our Savior. We
are not to judge one another any longer regarding whether or not we
are offering the proper animal sacrifices. Now we evaluate one
another’s lives as opportunities to put our sinful selfishness to
death in order to love our neighbors in obedience to the Word of God.

Luke 14:1-14: Echoing words and
themes from the reading from Proverbs, we see Jesus as the
inscrutable king, unrecognized by those around him who assume
themselves to be superior in their understanding and behavior. Jesus
asks these men of learning who deem themselves superior to render
their opinion on whether one may heal on the Sabbath or not. The
Pharisees know enough to keep their mouths shut rather than embarrass
themselves in an answer that Jesus will tear apart.

Just watching the assembled guests of a
dinner party offers Jesus a chance to provide wisdom in keeping with
Proverbs. Don’t presume your importance over another. Doing so
reveals a state of heart that holds others in contempt, and will
prevent you from loving them as you should, because you consider
yourselves their superior. Rather, assume that you are the least of
those present, so that you might be honored by an invitation to a
more prominent place of honor.

There are plenty of people in our world
competing for the places of honor by the world’s standards, and we
are tempted to jump right in and emulate them. Ultimately, we should
not concern ourselves with such things. What matters is whether we
recognize Jesus as the King of Kings, and place our faith and trust
and status in him. When we do this, other questions of prominence
and honor should fade into the background, making it easier for us to
practice genuine humility.

Jesus pushes the envelope further,
though. While we might seek honor for ourselves by constantly
seeking the lowest position of status or honor and waiting to be told
to move up, we can’t even imagine Jesus’ admonitions regarding the
hospitality we show to one another. We are to be so humble that we
are willing to eat – to host, even – those whom our society
discards as useless, those who are unable to repay our generosity.

This section particularly should
challenge our prevailing cultural norms of isolation and fear. We
struggle with whether to give the person on the street corner a
dollar or not – how many of us would consider inviting them to our
home?! The idea is foolishness by the world’s standards. And while
Jesus is not directing us to endanger ourselves, He is showing us the
hardness of our hearts, and our selfish natures that would rather be
with people who will affirm our sense of self-worth and who might
repay our kindness.

But the King of Kings gives to all,
before they can even ask. Not only does He not expect anything in
return, there is nothing we can give him in return. We exist every
bit the beggar before Christ, needing the grace and forgiveness that
He offers with no way to pay for it or earn it or deserve it. Yet He
invites us to gather with him, offers us his own body and blood to
feed and nourish us, and in doing so builds and strengthens his
Church.

We look forward to immense joy and
wealth beyond our ability to even care about it. Knowing what an
inheritance awaits us, how can we squabble over such tiny acts of
kindness and generosity to those who cross our paths? How much more
we should rejoice at the opportunity to share and help others,
knowing how immensely more we have already received in Jesus Christ!

Now for the Bad News…

August 25, 2013

Hopefully you aren’t too fond of eating.  Or at least don’t mind paying more to keep doing so.  Significantly more, some are predicting.  

Make sure you bookmark this article and this blog post, and check to see whether or not the article is correct in predicting a 40% rise in food costs over the next 35 years.  If you want to buy the study that is being cited, you can do so here.  

Leave ‘Em Wanting More

August 23, 2013

…or, how to catch someone’s attention by providing an inadequate amount of information.

Two examples of this caught my eye today, both from the same online publication.  
The first story has to do with the exile of long-time church members based on their support of their homosexual activist children.  
It raises all sorts of questions in my mind.  I wonder whether or not the congregational leadership had been in discussion with the family during the legal proceedings, or if they waited for the verdict before deciding that they needed to act.  I’d be curious as to what a “public” repentance looks like in the church leadership’s mind.  I’m curious about why the daughter feels that “unconditional love” requires affirmation of everything a child does.  Would she have considered her mother’s love “unconditional” if her mother refused to encourage her lawsuit, yet demonstrated her love in other ways?  
The second story is just as short and has to do with a pastor’s condemnation of his parishioner’s grooming habits.  My first question is whether the pastor’s directive against hair weaves actually extends to his parishioners, or is actually limited to his leadership staff, as the first paragraph seems to indicate.  Next I’d wonder what the real issue is – is it pretending to be something that you’re not, or is it a matter of modeling financial responsibility?  Both issues are brought up by the pastor and they are confusing.  
And of course I’m very curious about the author’s high-handed tone in the final paragraph.  How is it that she assumes that the pastor is in error simply because he is a man with something to say regarding women?  Is that impossible?  Isn’t the author doing the exact same thing in reverse by her censure of him?  Has she further investigated the situation to ensure that he is only taking issue with female behavior without any words of advice to the men of his congregation?  Curious indeed.  

Is There an Unspiritual Life?

August 22, 2013

I think that, in the interest of clarity and simplicity, Christians should quit talking about the spiritual life.  I ran across this term the other day in a FB advertisement for a webinar.  It struck me how odd that is, that we feel compelled to distinguish something’s usefulness for our spiritual life.  As opposed to any other kind or type or part of life.  As though I have multiple lives, which may or may not be related to one another.  As though the spiritual life is something special and set apart and different from my physical life or my intellectual life or my emotional life.  

I have life, and I have it abundantly.  And there is absolutely no way to section off my spiritual life from any other aspect of my life.  
Or, to be more accurate, I suppose that there is one way, and that way is called death.  If I’m not dead, it isn’t appropriate to speak of a spiritual life separate or apart from any other aspect of myself.  All my life is spiritual.  That’s how I’ve been made.  Fearfully, wonderfully, and fully integrated.
I hereby give y’all permission to remind me of this should I resort to this pointless phrase in the future.  Deal?