Archive for December, 2013

Thrivent Update

December 20, 2013

Thrivent has issued a statement regarding the flap that has erupted over a Planned Parenthood branch winding up on a list of approved non-profit organizations that Thrivent members can direct dividend dollars towards, as I noted yesterday.  

Their statement places a moratorium on funds headed towards any pro-life or pro-choice organizations (although they don’t indicate what sorts of organizations might be affected by this).  They also are temporarily stopping the process of adding (or removing) any organizations to (or from) their lists while they undertake a “comprehensive review”.  
While I’m surprised that they took this step, it doesn’t promise any change in the organization’s fundamental direction.  Because they cater to a broad range of Lutherans – and now non-Lutherans as well – Thrivent is going to find that these sorts of fiascos are going to be hard to avoid.  On one end of the spectrum or the other, somebody is not going to be happy with decisions that local chapters and members make regarding who can get funding.  It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if they scrap this whole Thrivent Dollars program and go back to other forms of distributing dividends to member organizations.  

Funding Frenzy

December 19, 2013

Who knew Lutherans were so exciting?  (trick question – Lutherans aren’t very exciting, as a rule)

Yet another controversy is exploding across the vast (mostly frozen) Lutheran landscape, this time involving Thrivent Financial, the formerly fraternal investment and insurance company that resulted from the merger of two smaller Lutheran fraternal organizations a few years back.  Last spring members voted to open up Thrivent to non-Lutherans.  Undoubtedly the change will allow Thrivent to grow.  But at what cost?
Apparently, part of the cost could be in funding abortions.  This great article summarizes the situation.  In the upper Midwest, a Planned Parenthood branch has been listed by Thrivent as an organization eligible for Thrivent members to direct funding to.  Thrivent allocates a certain amount of money back to their shareholders each year, which the shareholders can direct to various ministries and other causes in their local communities.  You can direct dollars back to your congregation or other organizations in the area.  And now one of those organizations, at least in the upper Midwest, is Planned Parenthood, the leading provider of abortions in the United States.     
This is troubling, obviously, as many, many Lutherans are against abortion.  According to Thrivent’s bylaws and the article quoted above, any organization eligible for Thrivent funding has to meet certain criteria, and the fact that an organization is officially listed means that it has already met the criteria.  Even though no monies appear to have been directed to Planned Parenthood yet, the key word is ‘yet’.  There’s nothing to stop a member from doing so at this point.  Thrivent has already approved it in principle.  
The larger issue is that there is not a “Biblical Standard” as part of the criteria for approval of an organization.  Not that this would be foolproof, given the broad diversity of opinion about what a “Biblical Standard” might mean, but it’s rather jarring to have it not even part of the consideration.  
Rumors are that this disclosure has begun to cost Thrivent members, as Lutherans firmly opposed to abortion begin moving their investments out of Thrivent’s hands.  Whether there is another organization able to handle their funds in a way that is consistent with their Christian faith is a difficult matter to discern at this point.  I don’t think that really matters.  I think that what matters is that Thrivent hear loud and clear that their decision last spring to pursue a larger base of clients is going to cost them some of their existing and, in many cases I’m sure, oldest and most faithful clients.  
I also have no doubt that there will be no reversal of the decision to exclude any form of “Biblical Standard” for organizations.  The die has been cast, so to speak.    For many members, the hassle of rearranging their investments and insurance policies will ensure that they stay with Thrivent.  Thrivent will ride out the initial firestorm (which, in the big picture is going to be fairly small) with the assumption that they will gain more members than they will lose.
Unfortunately, they’re probably right.  

Wet Bar Wednesday

December 18, 2013

Want to know an absolutely delicious and aromatic liquor that can balance out some harsher liquors like tequila?  Amaretto.  The name is a variation on the Italian word for bitter, but because this liquor is often enhanced somewhat with sweeter tones, some prefer it to mean “a little bitter”.  

Amaretto smells like almonds, but it is made from the pits of apricot pits, more frequently (though some are derived from almonds in whole or in part).  Personally I prefer Disaranno Amaretto, though most other brands (other than generic!) will work well enough for many mixed drinks.  
A delicious drink with amaretto and tequila is similar to the frozen matador, but more mellow.  Unfortunately, I don’t know a good name for it.  The site I use to search for drinks (webtender.com) calls it an “Almond Casa Noble”, because the recipe calls for Casa Noble tequila.  But that’s pretty specific in terms of a name, and not very accurate if you aren’t using Casa Noble.  I think I’m just going to call this an Almond Tequila.  
  • 1 part orange juice
  • 1 part amaretto
  • 1/2 part tequila
  • 1 lime wedge
Mix the first three ingredients together well and add ice.  I give the lime wedge a little squeeze before dropping the wedge into the glass and stirring quickly one more time.  Tasty, refreshing, and another good way to enjoy tequila if you’re somewhat wary of it.  

Gender Stuff

December 18, 2013

I hate posting repeatedly on similar topics, but there is so much going on in so many major arenas in our culture right now, it’s hard not to.  Hopefully you’ll bear with me and I’ll have a book review on an old but good book very shortly!

Last week I blogged about legislation in Utah that could pave the way for greater acceptance of at least unofficial, non-legally binding polygamy.  Not to be outdone, North Dakota’s Attorney General last week issued a legal opinion on a hypothetical situation.  If someone in a gay marriage from another state wanted to obtain a North Dakota marriage license to someone of the opposite sex, could North Dakota do it?  What would be created would be a situation where one person was married to two different people, albeit with marriage licenses from different states.  Since North Dakota does not recognize gay marriages from other states, it does not believe the person seeking the marriage license in North Dakota to be legally married already.
The Attorney General’s opinion is that yes, North Dakota could in good faith issue the marriage license for a heterosexual marriage in North Dakota, since North Dakota does not recognize the gay marriage license from another state.  Polygamy becomes technically legally, though as this article points out, the legal and tax implications are mind boggling.  This is a different front on the polygamy war.  The Utah situation paves the way for unofficial polygamous relationships, which as I pointed out, is only a VERY short stopping point to recognition of polygamous relationships under Common Law marriage grounds.  The North Dakota opinion sets states against each other and leaves the IRS to figure out how the hell to tax people like this.  It creates a monumental mess for a tiny fraction of people – a mess that the rest of us will undoubtedly have to pay for in the costs to local and national government to sort through this mess.  Thanks a lot, everyone.  
Next up, this fascinating little essay sure to generate a firestorm of criticism.  The author takes exception to the more radical nuances of modern feminism, particularly its direct antagonism towards men.  Men as  a gender.  Men in general.  Not bad men, rude men, selfish men, lying men – just men.  The Camille Paglia argues that such attitudes are not only short-sighted and defeatist in the end of both genders, they are patently wrong.  Paglia argues that men are still the ones who enable civilization because they are the ones who are far and away doing the hard, dirty, unglamorous work that allows a white-collar economy to flourish.  
Unfortunately, Paglia’s argument also paves the way for further denigration of the male species, seeing them essentially as grunt labor to do the jobs that women physically can’t or do not wish to.  Let me do the dirty work, and let women make the decisions that dictate what dirty work is to be done, and where and when and how.  This isn’t Paglia’s intent, but she inadvertently also denigrates men by ignoring their continued prominence in all aspects of our culture and economy, and inferring by silence that men aren’t necessary at all in these other realms.  
Finally, in case you haven’t heard, Obamacare’s glorious advances in making healthcare available to dozens more people comes at the expense (literally) of a lot of high-priced prescription coverages.  As a means to remaining solvent under the mandates of Obamacare, many insurance companies are reducing coverages and benefits for some top-tier prescriptions, exposing people with very serious medical conditions to financial ruin so that women can have access to free contraceptives and morning-after abortion medications.  
Additionally, some high-priced hospitals and even doctors are being written out of insurance coverages.  You need to look very carefully at the fine print of your insurance plan to make sure that your existing doctor and hospitals are included under the plan.  Ironically, some of those affected would seem to be part of the voter base that propelled Obama into both terms.  True – every insurance plan covers certain things and not others.  But given that Obamacare was touted as a keep-whatever-you-like solution to providing healthcare access to more people, it’s hardly what many folks were expecting.  

Gender Stuff

December 18, 2013

I hate posting repeatedly on similar topics, but there is so much going on in so many major arenas in our culture right now, it’s hard not to.  Hopefully you’ll bear with me and I’ll have a book review on an old but good book very shortly!

Last week I blogged about legislation in Utah that could pave the way for greater acceptance of at least unofficial, non-legally binding polygamy.  Not to be outdone, North Dakota’s Attorney General last week issued a legal opinion on a hypothetical situation.  If someone in a gay marriage from another state wanted to obtain a North Dakota marriage license to someone of the opposite sex, could North Dakota do it?  What would be created would be a situation where one person was married to two different people, albeit with marriage licenses from different states.  Since North Dakota does not recognize gay marriages from other states, it does not believe the person seeking the marriage license in North Dakota to be legally married already.
The Attorney General’s opinion is that yes, North Dakota could in good faith issue the marriage license for a heterosexual marriage in North Dakota, since North Dakota does not recognize the gay marriage license from another state.  Polygamy becomes technically legally, though as this article points out, the legal and tax implications are mind boggling.  This is a different front on the polygamy war.  The Utah situation paves the way for unofficial polygamous relationships, which as I pointed out, is only a VERY short stopping point to recognition of polygamous relationships under Common Law marriage grounds.  The North Dakota opinion sets states against each other and leaves the IRS to figure out how the hell to tax people like this.  It creates a monumental mess for a tiny fraction of people – a mess that the rest of us will undoubtedly have to pay for in the costs to local and national government to sort through this mess.  Thanks a lot, everyone.  
Next up, this fascinating little essay sure to generate a firestorm of criticism.  The author takes exception to the more radical nuances of modern feminism, particularly its direct antagonism towards men.  Men as  a gender.  Men in general.  Not bad men, rude men, selfish men, lying men – just men.  The Camille Paglia argues that such attitudes are not only short-sighted and defeatist in the end of both genders, they are patently wrong.  Paglia argues that men are still the ones who enable civilization because they are the ones who are far and away doing the hard, dirty, unglamorous work that allows a white-collar economy to flourish.  
Unfortunately, Paglia’s argument also paves the way for further denigration of the male species, seeing them essentially as grunt labor to do the jobs that women physically can’t or do not wish to.  Let me do the dirty work, and let women make the decisions that dictate what dirty work is to be done, and where and when and how.  This isn’t Paglia’s intent, but she inadvertently also denigrates men by ignoring their continued prominence in all aspects of our culture and economy, and inferring by silence that men aren’t necessary at all in these other realms.  
Finally, in case you haven’t heard, Obamacare’s glorious advances in making healthcare available to dozens more people comes at the expense (literally) of a lot of high-priced prescription coverages.  As a means to remaining solvent under the mandates of Obamacare, many insurance companies are reducing coverages and benefits for some top-tier prescriptions, exposing people with very serious medical conditions to financial ruin so that women can have access to free contraceptives and morning-after abortion medications.  
Additionally, some high-priced hospitals and even doctors are being written out of insurance coverages.  You need to look very carefully at the fine print of your insurance plan to make sure that your existing doctor and hospitals are included under the plan.  Ironically, some of those affected would seem to be part of the voter base that propelled Obama into both terms.  True – every insurance plan covers certain things and not others.  But given that Obamacare was touted as a keep-whatever-you-like solution to providing healthcare access to more people, it’s hardly what many folks were expecting.  

What’s Good for the Goose

December 17, 2013

….gets really annoying when anybody else tries it.

I saw this interesting little New York Times article about the startling fact that some sheriffs in parts of the United States are not going to be very aggressively enforcing recent legislation regarding gun control.  It seems that there are more than a few sheriffs who take exception to recent legislation in their states, claiming that it is vague and unConstitutional, and furthermore pointing out that actually enforcing the laws are virtually impossible.  So, for a variety of reasons, they aren’t going to enforce them.  Or, in more nuanced language, enforcement of such laws will enjoy a very low priority in their jurisdiction.  
The article ends with some thoughts on how these scofflaws might be pushed to enforce these laws, logistics and other issues aside.  
What struck me funny is that these sheriffs are basically adopting a play from the President’s own playbook.  Not enforcing laws that the Executive Branch disagrees with has been quite a hallmark of this administration. So much so, in fact, that there are legislators who are trying to bring civil action against the President for failing to adhere to the oath that he swore to uphold the law.  All the law, not just the laws he agrees with.  
This Wall Street Journal article from July 2013 points out the President’s decision to alter portions of laws already passed by Congress, altering the laws arbitrarily – something the Executive Branch does not have the authority to do.  
Arbitrary enforcement of the law creates some pretty dangerous situations, pretty quickly.  While the prevailing political powers have little trouble defending their own preferences in this regard, it leaves them little moral high ground for criticizing others that rely on the same tactics.    All of which leaves us all far more vulnerable to arbitrary interpretations and enforcement than any law intends us to be.  

Reading Ramblings – December 22, 2013

December 15, 2013

Date:  Fourth Sunday in Advent, December 22, 2013

Texts:  Isaiah 7:10-17; Psalm 24; Romans 1:1-7; Matthew 1:18-25

Context: This is the final Sunday of Advent, and the readings move most clearly to our Savior’s birth, and away from anticipation of his Second Coming.  

 

Isaiah 7:10-17 —These are some of Isaiah’s most familiar words, yet the context is probably not nearly so familiar.  Israel is divided into the northern kingdom and the southern kingdom.  The northern kingdom of Israel has allied itself with the nation of Syria to attack the southern kingdom of Judah.  Judah is much smaller, and would seem to be no match for these combined forces.  Yet Isaiah is sent to reassure the Judean King Ahaz that their plans will not succeed.  It is not Judah that will be destroyed, but rather the northern kingdom in 65 years.  Ahaz is then called to have faith in the Lord’s Word. 

God graciously offers Ahaz a sign so that he will have faith in this unlikely prophecy.  Ahaz refuses to ask for a sign.  While we might be inclined to view this as a sign of great faith, it might be wiser to consider that if the Lord asks you to ask for a sign, perhaps you should, since the Lord probably knows that you need it! 

The sign is undoubtedly a double one.  It must refer to a child born close to Ahaz & Isaiah’s time, a child that will be very young still when the prophecy against the northern kingdom is fulfilled in 65 years time.  Yet it also points forward to the messiah, an example of prophetic telescoping, where a single prophecy may incorporate several different events, each separated by significant periods of time yet all reported as a whole. 

Psalm 24— This psalm praises God as the master of all creation (v.1) by virtue of the fact that He created it (v.2).  What does this owner of all creation require?  That his creation be fit to receive him.  The congregation that comes to the Temple of the Lord should be characterized by professing faith in the Lord’s ownership of all things, and in lives oriented towards this reality as they seek to encounter this Lord.  Verses 7-10 are a call and response section associated with the entrance of worshipers to the Temple.  Perhaps associated with the entry of the Ark of the Covenant to the Temple, this psalm outlines three major topics—faith (in the God of all creation), what that life of faith looks like, and how to appropriately worship this God.  It is a very fitting psalm then, as we remember the entrance of the King of Glory into creation 2000 years ago, and as we anticipate him returning to his creation in majesty, glory, and kingly power. 

Romans 1:1-7 — Paul’s apostolic introduction and greeting to the Christians in Rome whom he had not yet met.  Who is writing?  Paul—an apostle of Jesus Christ and set apart for the good news of God.  But this good news is not new news—it is the good news already revealed in part through the Hebrew Scriptures (v.2).  That good news concerns the Son of God who is both human and descended from David (v.3) as well as divine as evidenced not just by the power of his works during his public ministry, but most especially by his resurrection from the dead (v.4).   It is through this Son of David and Son of God that Paul has received his calling in order to create obedience in the faith through the power of Jesus’ name, which is to be proclaimed among all nations, and which the Roman Christians are already evidence of (v.6).  It is these Roman Christians that are loved by God, and because of their faith in Jesus Christ are called to be saints, and therefore the recipients of grace and peace in the name of the one who has saved them, Jesus Christ.

Matthew 1:18-25 —Matthew’s account of the birth of Jesus is terse and to the point.  It follows a genealogy that traces Jesus’ lineage from Abraham to David, from David to the exile, and from the exile to the birth of Jesus.  Matthew refers to Isaiah 7, clearly seeing in Isaiah’s words and the circumstances of Jesus’ birth a fulfillment.  Whatever Isaiah’s words meant to the people of God over 700 years earlier, Matthew (inspired by the Holy Spirit) sees them applicable to the current situation as well.  Mary and Joseph were not married yet—or were married but not finished with the engagement period which could last a year or more, and therefore they were not intimate with one another.

Mary’s pregnancy is a major complication then.  It casts both she and Joseph in a very bad light in their small community of Nazareth.  In order to exonerate himself Joseph plans to end the engagement to Mary quietly, rather than asking that she be executed or publicly shamed for inappropriate sexual relations.  The same God who reveals to Mary through divine messenger his intentions for her, shares with Joseph via a dream that he should marry Mary as planned.  Joseph, to his credit, listens to the Lord’s instructions in his dream and follows through on his commitment to marry her, while not having intercourse with her until after the birth of Jesus.

Matthew’s intention is to demonstrate that Jesus matches the prophecies concerning the Messiah.  He is born of a virgin, just as Isaiah spoke of a sign from God in a child born of a virgin.  Matthew will strive to demonstrate to his hearers that none other than Jesus has fulfilled all of the prophecies regarding the Messiah.  He alone is worthy to be worshiped as the fulfillment of God’s promises to his people in Old Testament times. 

Christmas is the celebration of a promise fulfilled.  A promise to Adam and Eve in the garden that one day their offspring would triumph over the serpent (Genesis 3).  A promise to Abraham that through him all the earth would be blessed (Genesis 12).  A promise to David that his throne would be secured forever (2 Samuel 7).  Jesus comes as the perfect fulfillment of God’s covenant promises, as well as the perfectly sinless and obedient new Adam, able to set creation free from the curse by fulfilling perfectly God’s will.  We cannot adore the baby in the manger without seeing in that cherub face the agonized, dying face of 30-some years later.  It is not enough that the Messiah is born.  It is only in the fulfillment of God’s purposes for him that good news comes to all humanity. 


 

 

Meanwhile, in Utah…

December 15, 2013

…and the rest of the other, lesser 49 states, of course.

A Federal judge has dealt a blow against traditional marriage from another angle, ruling that Utah’s anti-polygamy laws are unConstitutional as written.  While he stops short of completely dismantling the law, he does leave a lot of reinterpretation for what constitutes marriage moving forward.
Put another way, the judge is drawing a distinction between cohabitation between multiple people, and the attempt to procure multiple marriage licences for a single person.  Bigamy laws are broken when one man asks for more than one marriage license for himself.  They are not broken, according to this judge, when multiple consenting adults cohabitate and choose to describe their relationship as ‘marriage’.  
Of course, this isn’t going to last long.  Many states for years have recognized that two people living together as husband and wife, though without the marriage license, ought to be treated as married for practical considerations – common law marriages.  If you act married long enough, then you are married – and the protections offered to spouses ending a relationship are offered to the parties in the common law marriage.  
It will be readily argued that there is no fundamental difference, legally, between two people having a common law marriage and three people.  Or four, or five, or six, or whatever.  All the parties deserve the same protection that common law marriage laws attempt to provide.  A few legal challenges and sympathetic judges later, and suddenly polygamy is legal as common law polygamy.  and if we’re going to recognize it as common law, then it isn’t fair to not treat it as actual marriage.
So, just in case you thought that all the ruckus about gay marriage was really about sexuality, no, I don’t think it is.    By the end of all of these legal challenges and rulings, marriage as we have known it in America for over 200 years, and in the rest of the world pretty much since the beginning of humanity, is not going to exist.  No outside observer will be able to distinguish the unique duties and privileges and obligations of raising healthy children as the defining intention of marriage.  Anybody will be able to marry anyone (or anything), or more than one person (or thing).  This is what happens when marriage is separated from it’s purpose of raising healthy children and turned into an arbitrary expression of personal will.
And it will happen much sooner than anyone really believes possible.  

Every Eleven Minutes…

December 13, 2013

…a Christian is killed.  For their faith.  

By the time most of us have finished Sunday worship, five people will have died.  At least one during the sermon.  Possibly two if your pastor is long-winded.  Six or more if it’s a Communion Sunday.  We need to be in prayer for our brothers and sisters around the world.  And as Christians we should be actively working to figure out how to alleviate their suffering, whether through private-based donations and programs to provide assistance and support, or through raising publicity on this both locally and nationally.  
President Obama has come under heavy criticism in the past week or more for failing to make the release of Pastor Saeed Abedini from Iranian imprisonment for his Christian faith.  Saeed is an American citizen, and is one of three American’s currently believed to be imprisoned by Iran.  The other two are being held on espionage-related offenses.  Secretary of State John Kerry insists that it was inappropriate to include Pastor Saeed in recent negotiations with Iran, negotiations which allowed for billions of dollars in humanitarian aid to Iran, and that the government is actively working towards Saeed’s release through other, classified channels.  
Meanwhile, another Christian has died since I started writing this.  

Health-Related Topics

December 13, 2013

An assortment of articles that have caught my eye over the past couple of weeks regarding health care and the continuing battle over who gets to decide what healthcare is not only appropriate, but mandatory.

First off, from Michigan, early reports on an effort to eliminate abortion coverage from all insurance policies, and offering abortion coverage only through special riders that women would purchase from their health care providers.  No mention is made of what the cost of such an insurance rider would be to provide abortion services.  The one statement condemning proponents of the measure for analogizing rape to an accident like an automobile accident or flood insurance.  She insists that “rape is not an accident”.  No, rape is not an accident.  But rape is an unforeseen possibility, much like a car accident or a flood.  Proponents appear to be saying that women who know that they might want an abortion could purchase such coverage.  Women who know that they would not want an abortion – even if impregnated as a result of rape – would not have to pay for the services for themselves or others.  
I also find it interesting that the Republican legislature is blamed at the end of the article.  Yet the measure was brought to the legislature for a vote because of a voter signature campaign.  The legislature would need to address any proposal that had attained the proper number of signatures to put it up for their consideration.  Clearly, if there were enough signatures validated, then at least some voters find this to be a compelling option.  And should a counter-proposal generate enough signatures, the legislature will be forced to address that as well.  Republican or not.  
Here’s an essay describing the shift in language to portray opponents to mandated contraceptive/abortifacient coverage as somehow waging a war against well-established rights.  Although proponents of expanded contraceptive/abortifacient coverage prefer to cast opponents in the light of radicals, the fact remains that such expanded and more specifically mandatory coverage is the new, radical move – not the insistence on individual liberty to make such decisions not only for oneself but for the business that one runs. 
And finally, two articles on the same situation.  A Catholic hospital is being sued for not providing a woman with an abortion.  First off, this article, rooting for the lawsuit against the Catholic hospital as an example of a deliberate decision to not offer “proper” care to a patient because of the hospital’s philosophical and theological directives against abortion.  It certainly paints a startling picture of a distraught woman who didn’t receive proper care.
Now this article, which takes the opposing position, siding with the hospitals against the ACLU suit.  The severity of the woman’s condition and the alleged likely results of her condition appear to be misstated in the ACLU’s lawsuit.  Also, the larger picture of attempting to force hospitals not simply to violate their own moral dictates, but to actively assume opposite moral dictates, is a serious issue.  
Finally, from Belgium – good news!  Children are one step closer to being euthanized!  Wonderful!  Clearly children – and more particularly, their parents – should share in the freedom to end life based only on an inadequately defined or regulated opinion.  Of the parents.  Or the child.  Or a doctor.  Or a nurse.  Who is deciding this, once again?  Oh, who cares.  Let’s just kill them first and sort through the mundane details later, right? (heavy, heavy, heavy sarcasm throughout this paragraph)
The greatest gift we know, the gift of life itself, is actively under attack in various ways around the world, ironically in the name of mercy and care and love.  Pray.  I’m sure it will only be a matter of time before objecting to such acts of love and care and mercy becomes grounds for euthanization.