Archive for August, 2019

Born This Way – Not So Much

August 31, 2019

A large study garnered attention this week.  This study attempted to identify genetic influences on same-sex experiences/behaviors (which I understand to be different than homosexual behavior in terms of frequency).

The study concluded that there is no “gay-gene”, a single genetic marker that determines sexual orientation.  Rather, it asserts that a variety of genes may influence sexual behavior and sexual preferences.  It also asserts what most studies for decades have shown – there are environmental factors that also determine – and likely more heavily determine – same-sex behavior or experiences.

In effect, this study reinforces most of what is already known – environmental factors (nurture as opposed to nature or  genetics) play a big role both in whether someone dabbles or experiments in same-sex encounters or whether they identify as exclusively non-heterosexual.  As such, there have been plenty of responses by LGBTQ people either associated with the study or reviewing  it, claiming that the study might be unnecessary and actually dangerous to LGBTQ causes since it doesn’t affirm a clear genetic determination for sexuality.  They fear  – reasonably – that people will interpret this to mean sexuality is a choice rather than something hard-wired.

Which of course, is what the study is saying.

A complex genetic interaction provides “significant” influence over sexual behavior, but it appears to be far from clear-cut exactly what this means, and by relegating the genetic influence to 8-25% (a pretty impressive spectrum!), my take-away  is non-genetic issues provide the greatest impact on how open a person is to same-sex experiences or – by extension – a same-sex lifestyle and identification.

Sexual behavior is complicated, the study essentially affirms.  And certainly, if there are no guidelines or rules along which to be guided, it would be strange if anything other than the mass confusion characterizing our cultural sexual landscape emerged.   Right now we seem as a culture interested only in normalizing that confusion at whatever cost.  History I think we see this as a curious and unfortunate time, whether in terms of science and how it is allowing itself to be co-opted by a particular sector of the population, or how the mental health and well-being of future generations was sacrificed to justify the decisions of a small segment of the generations before them.

Book Review: A Lutheran Primer for Preaching

August 30, 2019

A Lutheran Primer for Preaching: A Theological and Practical Approach to Sermon Writing

by Edward O. Grimenstein


Over the past several years I had the honor of supervising a deacon in our area who was responsible for the majority of preaching and teaching at his small parish about 30 miles from ours.  The irony is that despite him being much older than myself, I was supervising him since I am an ordained pastor and he was a trained deacon – two different roles in our polity.  As part of a process to allow him to be ordained and continue serving his small congregation, he was assigned a rigorous reading and study schedule and I assisted him in that.  One of the books he mentioned he was reading is this one, so I decided maybe I should read it as well.  Belatedly, I have.

I expected it to be a 50-60 year old book, but was pleasantly surprised it was published in 2015.  It is intended for a small group or classroom use, with questions for both in-class and out of class discussion.  Each chapter is very short (3-4 pages) and focused on one particular topic, beginning with the more abstract, theological topics and moving to more practical ones.  Grimenstein’s writing style is very accessible and easy to understand.  His theology is thoroughly Biblical.  His purpose is to guide potential (or current) preachers into doing what preaching should be – allowing people the opportunity to believe Jesus is the Christ and, by believing, have eternal life (p.49).  Considering the many other things that preaching can easily devolve into, this is a worthy goal!  At just over 100 pages this is an easy introduction or brush-up on some of the basics of preaching as Biblical Lutherans approach this sacred task.

Overall  the book is helpful, particularly if you’ve had little to no homiletical training.  There are places where Grimenstein strives to forge theological supports for the homiletical task and falls short, such as Chapter Six as he struggles to relate tangibly the Holy Spirit’s role in homiletical work.  Of course, this is difficult! I also question his assertion on page 74 that sermon preparation should “not be work” for the preacher.  I don’t know many preachers who would agree with this statement.  There are times when things come together easily and nicely and times when they don’t.  Good preparation is of course helpful but no guarantee that when it comes down to writing the sermon it will come together easily.

This is a good resource.  He takes issue (rightly so) with the move in the last 50 years of homiletics to shy away from the Bible as the primary text for sermon writing.  Whether this is a novel concept or not for you will likely depend on your theological training as well as your view of Scripture.  If it’s the authoritative, inspired Word of God there can be no other appropriate book to base Scripture on!







Weekly Devotional – August 29, 2019

August 29, 2019

I’m starting a new thing with my congregation – a weekly electronic devotional based on one of the readings of either the previous or upcoming Sunday.  This is the first one.  I trust they’ll get better :-)

Begin by reading the verses indicated below, and then continue on with the devotion.

Psalm 50:1-15

Growing up chores were a source of little enjoyment for me. By all standards expectations weren’t excessive – taking out the trash, washing up dishes (or more accurately, putting them in the dishwasher) after dinner, those sorts of things. As kids these often seem like major impositions but as adults we realize how easy we had it and how much else our parents did, and we do now!

Predictably, chores were often done hurriedly and without much attention or love. This would result in lectures about pride of work and a cheerful heart and….well, I’m sure you remember such interactions with your own parents or your own kids/grandkids! And you may also recall this resulting in slight improvements in the short-term, but not necessarily a larger-scale change of understanding.

Our relationship with God can be very similar if we begin to see his gifts to us as chores. Instead of the opportunity to gather in worship with other believers, we might feel Sunday worship to be more of an obligation, as though we’re doing God a favor with our presence. Similarly with tithing – instead of an opportunity to grow in trust of our God and to live out our belief that all we have comes from God, it’s easy to give to God grudgingly and sparingly, clutching tightly to the rest.

God does not need your worship or your money. What He wants and deserves is thanks and trust (v.15). To help show us these things He gathers us for worship each week so we might hear again how He has loved and served his people not only in the past, but you and I today as well. So that we might hear again of God’s faithfulness and look forward to the final fulfillment of his promise that our Lord Jesus will return to deliver us finally from the sin in ourselves and the world around us. He gathers us to feed us with the body and blood of his Son, that we might taste forgiveness and experience a unity with him as well as one another and all the faithful before us that strengthens us for the week ahead and changes our perspectives and feelings from the inside out.

Don’t come to church or workdays out of a feeling of obligation. Don’t tithe or sign up for clean-up duties on Sunday mornings as though you’re doing God a favor. You aren’t. But receive them as opportunities to align your hearts and minds in thankfulness and trust for who God is, what He has done, is doing now, and promises to do eternally in the future.

What Are Your Values?

August 28, 2019

An irritatingly  vague article forwarded to me this week on the changing values of Americans over the last two decades.

Twenty-one years ago hard work, patriotism, commitment to religion and the goal of having children were the most important principles cited by respondents.  The article reports that an other survey recently revealed dramatic drops in the priority of those areas for many people today.

It’s mostly an annoying article for how much it doesn’t tell you, though.

I had hopes they would provide a link to both the surveys involved, so I could see all the questions asked and the respondent rates.  They don’t do that.  As such, I have to assume the survey issued recently used exactly the same questions and language as the one from 21 years ago.  It may seem like an obvious thing taken for granted, but even similar questions worded differently could account for changing respondent levels.

Secondly they don’t indicate what the top principles are for the respondents today.  Are they still those four, but at lower levels than 21 years ago?  Or are other principles now more favored?

Certainly each of these four areas have come under strong cultural attack over the last 20 years.  Rather than emphasizing the importance of hard work, most everything is now oriented towards those who don’t or can’t or won’t work.  Rather than seeing assistance as something that might be necessary in extreme situations but not something people should desire, assistance is seen as natural and ordinary and good.  I can’t remember a single advertisement for ObamaCare that didn’t lay heavy emphasis  on how much assistance was available, so that pretty much nobody would have to pay full price!  I routinely hear people talking about getting Obama Phones.  Some of these folks are in genuine need, but it’s disturbing that aid is sought from a government program rather than their local communities.

Patriotism has taken a lot of hard hits as well.  Superman was criticized for being too America-oriented.  There are groups who view patriotism  not only as misplaced but actually evil, as though people would not naturally form attachments to their communities of origin.  The funny thing is when I talk with people from other  countries, they naturally espouse a strong patriotism.  Unlike the insistence of many pundits today, patriotism is not the same as xenophobia or racism.

Of course religion has taken a beating as well, both from horrific abuse issues as well as a growing misunderstanding of what the separation of  Church and State started out as and should be.  As Biblical Christianity refuses to budge on issues of gender, sexuality, and a host of other popular cultural reforms, this trend of painting Christianity and the Bible as actually evil will only continue, so that naturally more people will distance themselves from it.  But I think a drop in this area also represents an overall lessening of loyalty and trust to any institutions secular or religious (or even family), a continuing effect of post-modernist philosophy and disappointment.

And finally, as children are more and more deemed obstacles to personal fulfillment, the priority of having them will continue to erode.  With monumental debt levels for young people from college student loans, the need to delay having kids until reaching a certain level of financial security has only grown more dire as well.

In other words, there are reasons behind some of these shifting numbers.  I wish the article had done a better job  of providing additional information that might help us make sense of the why’s rather than just the what’s.  There’s a lot more at stake than just the  2020 election cycle.

But you’d never know that from reading the news.


Being Gathered

August 27, 2019

Thanks to Lois for shooting me this article.

I can’t find a previous post I’ve done on this topic – non-religious Sunday morning gatherings.  But I’m not surprised to find that it is a difficult thing to sustain over the long haul.  Seeing Christian community as a good thing but thinking that you can take God out of it and still have the same sort of experience reveals a naivete that is almost humorous.  Then again, given our devotion to the gods of psychology, it’s hardly surprising, either.  But this idea is pretty clear at the outset of the article when church is defined primarily as people, psalms, and stained glass windows.

Of course a key difference that the author of the article as well as the people she talks to are not able to articulate and would likely reject outright even if they could is that Christian community is not a matter of choice, but rather obedience.  This is painfully easy to forget, and is likely at the heart of how many congregations go through splits and divide.

We are called together, we don’t simply decide this is what we feel like doing.  The reality is there are plenty of Sunday mornings when we’d rather sleep in or  enjoy a leisurely and casual breakfast or get a head start on the yard work.  And all of those things are fine upon occasion, but we are called to gather together in worship.  Why we gather is a matter of great debate among Christians in the past century, and perhaps accounts for why fewer and fewer Christians are attending  at all.

Traditional Christian understanding is that we are called by God to gather together, because in public worship we receive the gifts of God in his Word and Sacraments.  In the many times and places where Christianity was or is actively persecuted, this understanding of worship is very comforting and encouraging.  To gather with others who believe the same as you, to be taught the Word of God so that you can apply it to your life, to remember what matters most as opposed to what the world or your local community wants you to believe is important is crucial.  Small wonder that even under brutal, intolerant regimes, Christians still risk imprisonment or death to gather with other believers for encouragement and strength – which comes first and foremost from God himself and secondly from those you gather with.

This is important because sometimes, you may not be thrilled  with everyone you gather with.  Community is hard – a mantra of mine – and nearly always your community will have at least one person in it you don’t see eye to eye with or whose personality grates on your nerves.  That’s human nature.  So if it’s all up to me whether I put myself with that person over and over and over again, I’ll eventually quit doing it.  But if I understand that I’m called to be there, that it is an act of obedience and not simply a personal preference, then I ideally have to figure out how to deal with that person in love.

But in times where the faithful are not persecuted or a minority, it becomes easier to think of worship as something I do, as something that I offer to God.  Worship becomes almost exclusively a matter of me praising and thanking God, rather than being fed by Him, or  it becomes a time where the main focus is how I feel.  Do I feel uplifted?  Do I feel as though I’ve given adequate thanks to God?  Those are some pretty subjective questions and the law of diminishing returns seems to indicate eventually those emotional highs will become more sporadic.  At which point it’s a lot easier to just forgo the whole  thing.  If worship is a matter of what I give to God rather than what I receive from God, then the popular argument that I can worship God anywhere makes a lot more sense.

Yes, you can worship God anywhere.  You can talk to him and sing to him and think about him anywhere.  And you should!  But is that what worship is?  Is that all worship is?  And if that’s my only form of worship, at what point does my conception of God begin to slip into a God of my own understanding rather than the God of the Bible?  At what point do I slip into any number of misunderstandings or heresies about God, which could ultimately lead me to reject him completely?

Christian worship very quickly becomes more than just something that’s fun to do.  It might not be very fun at all.  But it is an essential part of the Christian life of faith, and untold numbers of people over several thousand years have known this and preferred the risk  of torture or death to giving it up completely.

Tastes and preferences change.  Very few people maintain something on a weekly basis over the course of their whole lifetime – except for worship.  It’s not surprising that something that has no basis other than personal preference is hard to sustain over the long haul.  You might really enjoy listening to U2 and love the opportunity for a communal karaoke event, but without a deeper  meaning and purpose, that music doesn’t ground you in anything deeper, doesn’t call anything from you, doesn’t demand anything from you, and can’t offer you more than a few moments of nostalgia or some other emotional fix.




Book Review: Protestants

August 26, 2019

Protestants: The Birth of a Revolution by Steven Ozment

I was loaned this book, and enjoyed it.  It’s popular currently (and perhaps always) to interpret the past in the light of present.  Perhaps it’s impossible to truly do otherwise to at least some extent, since historians are products of their time even when examining a very different time.

In our current Western culture that devalues and is highly skeptical of Christianity (ironic, given how many people claim to be spiritual), historians have taken to reinterpreting the Reformation not so much as a spiritual matter but a political, social, or economic one.  And while all of those certainly have roles to play, Ozment’s main intent is to demonstrate that it really was first and foremost a spiritual revolution.

To do this Ozment draws from primary source documents – woodblock prints that were popular at the time to quickly summarize and drive home key points, as well as excerpts from letters and other materials written by ordinary people rather than the political and religious movers and shakers.

At times the book can bog down in these references, but overall it moves well and is accessible to a broad range of readers and interests,  whether cultural, historical, or theological.  Ozment’s writing style is engaging throughout.




Reading Ramblings – September 1, 2019

August 25, 2019

Reading Ramblings

Date: Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost – September 1, 2019

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

Context: Humility is hardly a popular character trait in our society today. Everyone is promoted and encouraged as though they are the next Nobel Prize winner or Poet Laureate. Perhaps this contributes to skyrocketing levels of depression and suicides. Yet Scripture calls us repeatedly to humility. This is not a defeatist mindset, but rather a sober assessment of who we are. This assessment is grounded first and foremost in our relationship to our Creator, from which we should be freed from the pressure to aspire to worldly greatness. Some will attain the accolades of those around them and perhaps even from history itself, but these are very few, and whatever there is to gain is insignificant to the eternal crown of life we receive only from the grace of God the Father through God the Son.

Proverbs 25:2-10 – The book of Proverbs is attributed to King Solomon in the middle of his life and reign, the result of a wise king seeking to provide Godly wisdom to his people. This section has first to do with the king, who needs a court free of pandering and other foolishness (dross, v.4) which could pollute his wisdom. Rather, the king needs the best and most unselfish advisers and courtiers so that he can be guided well and the kingdom as a whole flourish. As such, people aspiring to greatness should consider the risks their ambitions might pose to others. Would they put themselves forward regardless of their lesser talents or abilities? A humble wisdom regarding our abilities is a blessing, something we should attain in part from those around us in Christ who we trust. While everyone should be encouraged to do and be their best, it is dangerous folly to encourage people to overreach their talents and abilities.

Psalm 131 – Where is our hope? Is it in ourselves or others? Or is it in God? Once again we are called in very blunt terms to be wise in assessing our abilities so we might not overreach ourselves. Ultimately, this extends to our relationship with God. The temptation to try and overreach ourselves, to answer where God has not spoken and inquire where God has not revealed himself can be overwhelming but, as with Job, fruitless. Rather than attempt to make ourselves equal with God (the primal sin of our ancestors!) we should trust in God even when we don’t understand what He is doing or why. This requires an active effort on our part – calming our aspirations or our ideas and preventing them from trespassing where they are not reliable and could be dangerous to ourselves and others.

Hebrews 13:1-17 – What we anticipate (the kingdom of God) our lives here and now should be guided by what we are destined for. The world behaves according to principles it derives for itself, but we as followers of Christ and heirs of an unshakable kingdom are to behave differently. We are to acknowledge everyone we come into contact with as created by God and redeemed in Jesus Christ, potential brothers and sisters in eternity. So we do not use one another for our own benefits but exalt and honor one another, even those who may be in difficult circumstances (the imprisoned). Furthermore, within the community of faithful we are to treat one another differently, seeking unity as well as maintaining good understanding of the Word we have been given, in order to resist dangerous false doctrines, and recognizing God has appointed leaders in order to assist us with this but whom we must take seriously our obedience to.

Luke 14:1-14 – The theme of humility established with the Old Testament and the psalm continues. The context is a Friday evening (Sabbath) dinner party where Jesus is an invited guest. But the environment is hardly hospitable – the entire occasion is organized to catch him in some false teaching or other practice they can discredit him for. Pretending to honor him, their intentions are dishonorable. As such, Jesus challenges them directly, first healing someone on the Sabbath and then confounding their efforts to criticize him before then can even articulate them. Their understanding of Sabbath would prevent them from doing good to a creature of God, though they would extend that healing indulgence to an animal rather than a person! Their doctrinal wisdom is hardly that, yet is the basis of a pride that puffs up their self-perceptions and prevents them from hearing and learning what Jesus has come to teach them.

Jesus exhorts his hearers to a humility that would enable them to see the children of God as God himself sees them, exhibiting grace and mercy to them rather than judgment. In such a situation our worldly distinctions of wealth or social equality mean nothing. Knowing who we are in Christ and what we will inherit at his return, we are free to share ourselves and our resources without expectation of repayment, in genuine love and care for one another and a frank humility that will not allow us to hold ourselves aloof or expect others to defer to our social standing. We think this is simple and that we do these things, but far more often we are influenced by societal and cultural assumptions and expectations.

Reading Ramblings – August 25, 2019

August 18, 2019

Reading Ramblings

Date: Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost – August 25, 2019

Texts: Isaiah 66:18-23; Psalm 50:1-15; Hebrews 12:4-24; Luke 13:22-30

Context: Our relationship to God is one not simply of creature to Creator – that would appear to more accurately describe the relationship between all other living species on Earth and God. Rather, human beings created in the image of God (imago dei) are invited into a personal relationship with him that makes us his children. And as children, we should expect discipline from our heavenly Father just as parents are expected to discipline their children. Once upon a time such a concept was common sense. But years of psychological theories have reduced the willingness and ability of parents to discipline their children. Remembering their own discipline experiences in their youth, they overlook the long-term character formation created in moments of transitory, unpleasant discipline, and vow not to discipline their children. In foregoing temporary unpleasantness, long-term character issues become not just possible but likely. Our readings remind us that discipline from our Creator (and therefore from our parents) is a gift, not child abuse.

Isaiah 66:18-23 – The people of God are always apt to adopt an exclusionary attitude towards those outside the faith. But God’s intention and desire is that all might be saved, and to that end works unceasingly towards reaching all nations and peoples with his Good News of Jesus the Christ. Our apathy must always bear correction from our Creator, a reality which is unpleasant as it forces us out of our comfortable routines to question seriously how to follow God the Holy Spirit’s promptings. It is God the Father’s good pleasure that everyone – not just Hebrews – receive the Good News of Jesus Christ and turn to him in faith and trust. As they do, they become full co-heirs with God’s existing faithful, not just second-rate newcomers. We must continually check our own hearts and the hearts of our faith community to ensure we are not allowing ourselves to become indifferent to God’s plans, both for ourselves and in the lives of those who have yet to hear of him.

Psalm 50:1-15 – The Lord’s discipline will come to all of Creation, either as a refining fire that purifies, or as the fire of destruction. God’s faithful should expect that they will feel the refining fire, and we are dangerously mistaken if we presume even our acts of worship and obedience to be completely free from sin and error. We seek always to worship God in fullness and truth, acknowledging that the sin within us keeps us from doing even this correctly, and further acknowledging that we are prone to going through the motions, or enshrining practices we consider pleasing to God that may well not be. What God desires is the sacrifice of our hearts and minds and wills not in mindlessness but in active, searching, joyful obedience to his will and Word. We should not presume that our tithe checks or our estate planning are what satisfies God – He who created and owns all things has no personal need for our assets, whether firstfruits or leftovers. But He desires our day be day leaning on him as both our wisdom and strength as true acts of worship and adoration.

Hebrews 12:4-24 – The Lord’s discipline will be, by definition, undesired and unpleasant. Whatever contradicts our willfullness we seek to avoid. And whatever pain or discomfort we might experience we presume to be solely from Satan. But God chastises and disciplines those He loves. We are to see this discipline as good, then, shaping us for eternity and beginning the process of burning away the dross and impurities from our lives. It will not be easy or pleasant, necessarily. Therefore we must strengthen ourselves and those around us for God’s discipline, that we might bear up under it not in cursing and confusion but in continued trust and reliance on the one who sustains all Creation. What we are being prepared for is nothing less than the presence of the Holy One, the Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier of all things. We are being prepared for communion not only with the saints who have gone before us but with angels and all the hosts of heaven. Are we ready for such a union? Hardly! Therefore rather than speculate on the nature or source of the burdens and struggles in our lives, we continue to bear up under them as faithful children promised the kingdom of God, and knowing that even the work of Satan in attacks against us can be used by God the Holy Spirit to make us that much closer to readiness for our eternal glory in Christ.

Luke 13:22-30 – In direct contradiction of our cultural mantra today that everyone is essentially good, Jesus makes it clear this is not the case by a long shot. Our random and inconsistent and selfish acts of kindness to others are hardly the holiness and righteousness our Lord created us for! Moreover, Jesus makes it plain that not even all those who consider them to be his people are actually his people! Some of those who think they are followers of Christ are in fact not, and will be denied entrance to eternity. Simply having your name on the membership roster at church does not make you a follower of Christ. Relying exclusively on the grace of your baptism when the entire rest of your life has been lived in denial or ignorance of that baptism does not automatically include you in the redeemed.

Does Jesus seek here to rattle our faith? Of course not. But He does intend that we should consider our faith soberly and seriously, and we should be active – striving – in our lives of faith to take seriously the Word of God as it guides and directs. The life of faith is never one of rest and satisfaction. While we don’t live in fear and anxiety, neither do we reach a place where we ‘retire’ from an active faith, assuming that all we’ve done already is enough to sustain our faith in Christ. It is not simply the young who can wander away from the faith through spiritual apathy – it happens to the elderly as well!

Each day, each week should be a celebration of Christ’s work on our behalf and the Holy Spirit’s continued work within us. Each day and week should include times of self-examination. Are we apathetic or anemic? Do we prefer our little creature comforts over the Word of God and his Sacraments? Do we assume that we’re good enough, and no longer need these things, or that God doesn’t really provide them to us for good reason? These are dangerous paths to wander down. Our works do not save us, but how we prioritize our time and money and thoughts goes a long way towards showing us what really matters in our lives.

The road is, in fact, narrow. Not because God’s grace is limited, but because our sinfulness is so deadly real and serious that it continually strives to lead us away from that narrow road into fields of poppies (or worse yet, flying monkeys!) that ultimately prove to be dangerous and even fatal. Together, the people of God set our eyes on the promised new Jerusalem and the Word of God that alone can lead us through the sinfulness of this world and the sinfulness of our own heart by the power of the death and resurrection of the Son of God to life everlasting.

Clashing Worlds

August 15, 2019

She is very young.

In the language of today, which must constantly judge and categorize, she would undoubtedly be called privileged.  Sheltered.  But that is to some extent the condition of the young.  And here she is on the other side of the ocean from her home, interning in the court system in our town for a few weeks as part of her course of study in law in her home country.

She arrived home harried, which is not uncommon, but also agitated.  Today I went someplace I never want to go again.  I guessed where she had been before she revealed it – the jail.

Not as an inmate, but as an observer.  Her first time in a jail, and the first time is always overwhelming in one fashion or another.  It was terrible, she said.  It’s easy to know what the law says and know that if I break the law I could go to jail.  But people think they won’t get caught, won’t go to jail, and if they do, it won’t be that bad.  But it’s bad.  It’s terrible.  

I think back over my many years ministering in jails.   Yes, it’s bad.  But what you learn over time is that there are worse places.  That for some, three squares a day and a bed and a shower and a lot of regiment are just what they need.  Far better than the uncertainty of addiction or crime.  But that first time, well, the first time you simply know it’s terrible.

And by extension, you know the people there are terrible.

Why else would they be there, right?  For all the media talk about misjustice and injustice and all manner of very serious and very real issues, the vast majority of the people behind bars are there for very sound, real, good reasons.  Most of them will admit this to a greater or lesser extent.

It’s easy to see only the crime and not the person.  Probably as easy as seeing the person without seeing the crime.  And of course there is a tension between the two, a relationship to be acknowledged, a dance that must be completed and hopefully not repeated.

She gathers her dinner plate.  Mostaccioli and salad and toasted garlic cheese bread.  We’re eating out back on the patio tonight.  It’s cooler than inside and we have three extra guests tonight.  Three women, at least one if not all three who were at some point or other – perhaps very recently – in jail.


Addiction does that.

But they are gathered for dinner at our house tonight because for the time being they are working very hard to beat the odds and their addictions in hopes of a life free from jail in the future.  You wouldn’t know it to look at them.  A statuesque blonde.  A young Hispanic woman with beautiful long straight hair, though she looks with admiration at the naturally curly hair of my wife and daughter.  All three of them laughing and carrying on together like girls and women do together, enjoying food and the cool evening air.

I wonder what she would say if she knew.  Knew that but for a glitch of timing she might have met these ladies in jail, in that terrible place with terrible people who have done terrible things to themselves and others.  Her  disgust and disdain are palpable, but she’s happily engaged speaking in another language with one of our resident guests.  She doesn’t know.

I pray that as she enters the field of law she will be able to walk the difficult tightrope of never forgetting the law but also never forgetting the people.  That she will remember that ultimately our hope is not merely punitive but restorative, and that her faith – however perfunctory it may or may not be – will guide her to give  both thanks and praise to the Creator.  The God who created her in her youthful inexperience, as well as the people in the jails and prisons of our world.  People who perhaps need to be there, but hopefully don’t have to be there forever.  I pray that she never loses hope that lessons can be learned, debts to society can be repaid, lives restored, and glory given not to the magistrates or parole boards or wardens but to the God who alone has the power and will to restore life from death, hope from ashes.

And I pray that if she can be sustained on that tightrope, she won’t be adverse to sitting down with people she may have been required to put in jail at one point or another, in anticipation of an eternal feast where our places are guaranteed not by the purity of our lives but by the grace of our Creator through his Incarnate Son, who pays the penalty for our sin that we might be set free.

Free Tuition?

August 12, 2019

Democratic candidates are stumbling over themselves in a bid to offer the most sweeping promises of college student loan debt to young voters.  Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are the most detailed and perhaps the most generous of the candidates in this respect, offering partial loan forgiveness based on current earnings (Warren) or complete forgiveness of all debt regardless of current earning levels (Sanders).

It’s a smart ploy, of course.  College tuition has skyrocketed in the past 40 years and now even in-state students can easily rack up tens of thousands of dollars in loan debt – per year – at a public institution.  The local state university near me estimates $30,000 a year for an incoming, in-state freshman living off-site.  Just tuition is over $12,000 a year.  What a campaign pledge – imagine not having your student loan payment any more!

Funny how none of the candidates are questioning the outrageous tuition rates.  Funny how none of them are questioning whether it is reasonable, rationale, or moral to set a 4-year degree as an expectation for every single person in our country, regardless of their aptitude or the necessity or applicability of such a degree to the work they’d like to do.  Funny how the party that likes to portray itself on the side of the working person presumes that the average working person should be a college graduate no matter what the cost.  In fact, the cost is irrelevant because if you vote for us, we’ll eliminate the cost!  Well, the upfront cost.  In reality, you’ll still be paying college tuition not  just for yourself but for everyone else through higher taxes and other fees imposed either personally on you or the financial institutions you rely on who will pass the costs on to you.  For the rest of your life.  But right now?  When you’re 18 or 25?  Poof!  No more $500 student loan payment a month!  You’re instantly richer!  If you vote for us, that is.

This is what I call the short-term view of the situation, though.  Trading student loan forgiveness for short-term votes.  What I believe is going on though is a much bigger and long-term play for votes.

Universities and colleges – especially public ones – are overwhelmingly liberal/progressive/Democratic in outlook and philosophy, both as institutions as well as in terms of the personal views espoused in and out of the classroom by professors as well as in the textbooks used.  Of course Democrats are going to push for everyone to go to college, because by and large everyone will be exposed to the ideologies and assumptions that undergird progressive/liberal platforms.  While this will obviously be the case at public institutions, it will also be the case at many private ones as well.  I’ve talked with multiple recent graduates from the local private, Christian university in town.  They jokingly laugh about how they entered the school with one set of ideas – generally more conservative and traditional both politically and spiritually –  and emerged with a more progressive/liberal set.  Some can recognize this and chuckle about it – sometimes.  But I don’t see many of them resisting it very much or very well.  To get through the system you need to at least be able to repeat what they want you to say, even if you don’t believe it or agree with it.  Do that often enough, and it’s hard not to internalize the ideas you are required to regurgitate.

So of course Democrats want to subsidize higher education.  It’s in their best interests in the short term (since once this becomes a policy, there will be a gradually decreasing level of  support and therefore votes specifically for the Democrats as the ones that inaugurated the policy).  But it is also in their best interests for the long haul.  They have the best chance of creating people who agree with their policies if everyone goes to college.  That’s a frightening reality, but not a very far-fetched one, unfortunately.

As a former college educator I highly value education.  But I question the outrageous costs associated with it, and I question why nobody wants to tackle that question seriously.  I also question the honesty of trying to prep everyone for college as though this is the path to financial success.  The past decade at the very least has shown this is not necessarily the case any longer.  While there are some  professions that legitimately require not just a four-year degree but more advanced degrees beyond this, for many professions and companies a 4-year degree is just a box to be checked off on a job application rather than a directly relevant matter of knowledge and experience.

Voters should be skeptical of the plan to offer free college education.  Not just financially but ideologically.  On both fronts, this isn’t nearly as good a deal as it sounds (and frankly it shouldn’t sound like a very good deal to anyone with the ability to think clearly – college-educated or otherwise!).  The government offering to subsidize an industry is pretty much a guarantee that costs will rise and quality will drop in that industry – at least if health care is any gauge.