Archive for the ‘Citizenship’ Category

Suspending Worship

March 20, 2020

After some unofficial legal counsel from two Christian attorneys, I’ve made the difficult decision to suspend worship service this coming Sunday.  To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time churches have been told not to gather for worship since the Spanish flu outbreak in 1918.

I do this in obedience to Romans 13, not detecting in the governor’s Executive Order anything specifically targeting religious institutions.  I remain wary, all too aware of how reasonable laws can be turned to troublesome ends.  I am sad, because of the comfort only possible where and when the people of God gather together in praise and prayer, responding to our Creator and Sustainer’s good gifts to us in Word and Sacrament.

But most of all I remain hopeful.  Not simply of the passing of this virus, which history teaches us will indeed pass one way or the other.  Not simply for a return to normalcy, as by many standards normalcy is problematic in and of itself.  But ultimately that God will receive glory and honor as people are shaken from the doldrums of routines and forced to confront things of a much larger scale.  There is an opportunity for God the Holy Spirit to be at work in and through his people and churches to give witness in acts of love and service to the ultimate, sacrificial love of God for his creation through the death and resurrection of his Son, Jesus the Christ.

Soli Deo Gloria.  

N-33-20

March 19, 2020

The Governor of California tonight issued Executive Order N-33-20.  It makes mandatory the closure of non-essential businesses, defining 16 key industries that MUST be maintained and are not subject to what amounts to a general business shutdown.  Those 16 industries are identified in this document.

The Executive Order lays out the rationale first off,  then explains that the Governor does, in fact, have the authority to make such Executive Orders and bring to bear governmental resources to enforce them.  It then references a Health Order  from the California Department of Public Health on the same issue.

Both the Governor’s order and the CDPH order it is based on deal primarily with the issue of who should be going to work and who should not.  If you aren’t in one of the 16 defined critical infrastructure industries, your job is non-essential and you should close your business.  Neither order specifies any cutoffs for gatherings, but simply indicates people should stay home except to work in one of the pre-defined industries, or to otherwise facilitate authorized necessary activities.  I cannot find a definition of authorized necessary activities that wouldn’t simply be repetitive with the key industry guidelines.

It seems people are allowed to go out for necessary things – to obtain medication or medical care, to buy food and other necessities of life from those places like grocery stores and convenience stores that aren’t simply allowed to continue operating but are commanded to.

None of which addresses the issue of what religious groups should do during this time.

I know quite a few churches in town and in nearby towns that made the decision to suspend worship even before this Executive Order.  The question in my mind is whether that is now mandatory by law, or whether it falls into the nebulous zone of authorized necessary activities.  I have little doubt the Governor and other state officials would say it does not.  But since they haven’t clarified the issue, it is undefined.

The Center for Disease Control has recommended no more than 50 people gather in any one place unless absolutely necessary, and the White House recommends no gatherings with more than 10 people, and churches that violate this are getting press attention.

But these are recommendations, not laws.  And in general, I think they are wise.

The question becomes is worship a necessary activity?  And by what definition?  Again, I have no doubt the government does not view worship (in any religion) as a necessary activity.  But how should Christians define worship?

I don’t fault congregations and pastors that have opted to suspend worship and other gatherings.  But I don’t personally feel called to follow that route.

At least not yet.

Should more clear language be forthcoming, or should someone explain to me how (since I’m not a lawyer) I am misunderstanding what the Executive Order says, then it seems to remain at my discretion as a religious leader as to whether I should suspend worship services.  As I read it, the language of the order seems to be as unclear as possible.  This prevents specific outrage (from, say, religious groups) but rather relies on a great deal of social pressure.

Worship is not a command for Christians, but it is a strong encouragement and a privilege we should not abandon lightly.  Hebrews 10:19-25 is very helpful in this regard.  It isn’t simply the legal technicality of must we worship, but the reminder that worship is a massive blessing.  It emphasizes the communal nature of our faith (note the we and us throughout).  It references confession and absolution (v.22).  It centers us in who and what our hope and faith is – hope and faith in Jesus Christ who has made forgiveness possible to us.  It is God the Father who holds us in his hands, and ultimately him who holds the power of all health and healing in his hands.  This is NOT to toss our worldly wisdom and knowledge out the door, but it is to hold in the proper tension.  Medicine and treatments and other things are blessings from God intended ultimately not simply to elongate our lives but to direct our hearts and minds back to the source of all life and health not simply temporally but eternally.  Worship is also an opportunity to focus us on what we are called to do each and every day – love God and love our neighbors (v.24).  This does not justify needless recklessness, but does remind us that many of the heroes of the faith were willing to set aside their own well-being in order to tend to the needs of others.

Because of all these things, we should not lightly abandon meeting together particularly during difficult and frightening times!  We can still be wise about close contact and social distancing as we gather for worship!

And of course the second text to consider here is Romans 13.  This passage insists that Christians are not exempt of civil authority, but should be subject to it.  Of course, this obedience is mandated up to the point at which civil authority contradicts the Word of God.  At that point, we must like Peter and the apostles insist that we must obey God rather than human beings! (Acts 5:29).

If this Executive Order does mean gathering for worship is illegal for the time being, then I in good conscience as a servant of Christ can (and should) cancel public worship.  For a period of time.  At some point though – whether a point defined by civil authority or not – I will also be equally compelled to begin calling the saints to gather for worship.  It is very possible for a civil law to begin as good and necessary but eventually be misused.  God-willing, that time will not come.

In the meantime, all of God’s people should be praying for the deliverance of the world from this new virus, and a speedy return to a healthier environment both spiritually as well as physically.

 

It’s Not About the Money (But it is)

March 5, 2020

California has suffered the first death from the corona virus.  News reports indicate an elderly adult with underlying health conditions died from this newly identified virus.

In the meantime, without much fanfare and despite increasingly dramatic efforts to convince the population of the benefits of  flu shots, over 10,000 Americans have died from the flu so far this influenza season.  Ten thousand deaths, 180,000 hospitalizations and 19 million estimated cases of the flu this flu season, but California declares a state of emergency over one death.

Governor Newsom insists the move isn’t about money, but about mobilizing resources.  Said resources including additional Federal support, of course.  The City of Los Angeles also declared a health emergency as they have seven reported cases.  All of which certainly has nothing to do, I’m sure, with the fact that the US House of Representatives approved a bill for $8.3 billion dollars to be used in dealing with corona virus issues, and President Trump could sign off on it as soon as Friday.

The flu doesn’t qualify as a health emergency apparently.  Otherwise the more than 150 flu deaths in the state alone surely would have prompted a state of emergency declaration.  Money appears to be plentiful, as just a few weeks ago Governor Newsom was demanding $1.4 billion in new appropriations to fight homelessness.   And of course he wants to expand health care coverage to undocumented senior citizens at a cost tag of perhaps $80 million.  And facing the prospect of reduced incoming Federal funds because California doesn’t want to go along with Federal immigration laws, I can totally see how the decision to declare a state of emergency has nothing at all to do with money.

We’re apparently swimming in that.

 

Picture Language

October 24, 2019

Here’s a fascinating image gallery of anti-Christian propaganda posters produced during the time of the Soviet Union.  Hopefully it isn’t lost that some of the same caricatures of religion as backwards compared to the progressive movement of the State are being utilized today.

In our own country.

 

What’s Good For You

September 17, 2019

A lovely article about politics in the great state of California.

Reasons cited for parental reticence on vaccinations include complacency, the inconvenience of accessing vaccines and a lack of confidence in vaccines’ effectiveness.

I would be interested in knowing how the World Health Organization gets the statistic of 2-3 million lives saved via vaccines.  I’ll also point out how it’s a bit misleading to quote a global vaccination statistic rather than a national one, or even a state one.  I wonder if those are accessible, and if so, why they weren’t cited instead?  I’m assuming the numbers are lower (logically) and not as compelling.

I’m not anti-vaccinations per se, but I am deeply suspicious of global and national documentation regarding them.  I’m suspicious of a field that seems intent on criminalizing or delegitimizing any opposition or concern over vaccinations.  And I’m very opposed to the idea of the government forcing me or my children to have things injected into our bodies without being given the right of refusal or even the right to say which vaccinations we do or don’t want.  The State of California passed vaccination legislation a few years ago to make vaccinations mandatory, but provided  no opportunity or mechanism for public awareness or education about what vaccinations were being mandated.  A list was published at the time of the currently mandated vaccines, but it was  also clear that  list could  be amended by a committee at their discretion, and no mention was made about consulting constituents for their agreement.

That’s a recipe for potential disaster on a scale far exceeding a measles outbreak – which was the non-lethal illness that prompted the forcing through of  mandatory vaccination laws and now laws excluding religious  and philosophical objections and actively trying to cull or investigate doctors that might have some good reasons for providing medical exemptions.

I’m grateful for the benefits of health science, but vary wary of the government insisting I partake of the alleged benefits.  I’d prefer that to be listed as a reason as well, rather than lumping people with vaccination concerns together with the  woman throwing used feminine hygiene products at our lawmakers.  Questioning authority is not necessarily crazy.

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.

 

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.

Repeatedly.

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.

People of the State

June 26, 2019

Our state legislature is considering adopting an assembly concurrent resolution encouraging religious leaders to reject conversion therapy and not recommend or promote it within their circles.  ACR-99 has no binding effect – it does not create a law.  It’s simply an encouragement from both houses of the state legislature indicating the hope of the people of the state.  The governor is not required to sign an ACR, but I’m sure he will sign this one.

What I find interesting is how religious leaders are encouraged to act in the best interests of the people of the state by rejecting conversion therapy as an option for people with same-sex attraction.

I’m a citizen of the state, and yet I’m being told my best interests arbitrarily are not to be considered.  Likewise, those desiring conversion therapy in hopes of mitgating  or eliminating same-sex attraction are being told that their best interests are not considered, despite them being citizens as well.

Religious leaders do  not interact with people primarily in terms of their citizenship of a state or a country for that matter.  At least in the Biblical Christian understanding, ministers are ultimately to deal with people as children of God.  Creations and creatures being their most fundamental identity rather than the state flag on their drivers license or their voter registration cards.  And as such, how I interact with people will be driven by that level of identity understanding, not the whims of the current cultural or political climate.  It is not possible for me to adequately love people – as the ACR indicates – reliably from any other source or through any other identity.

I haven’t had to refer anyone for counseling for same-sex attraction issues.  Yet.  But I take issue with the state implying I should take my cues on how to do this from them rather than from the Word of God.

The Cost of Education

June 4, 2019

The cost of education is something parents need to grapple with.

This is usually used as a means to spur parents to save for their children’s college education.  In which case, it’s not doing a very effective job by all accounts, as the price  tag of higher education continues to skyrocket, necessitating the need for student loans.

When I started my undergraduate degree at a major state school, tuition and fees per semester was $498 for 12 or more credits.  Not including books, room & board, etc.  I could work part time jobs to pay for my college education without taking out student loans.   Not really practical for most students these days (presuming the concept of working to pay for your education is even part of popular parlance these days).

It’s easy to take out student loans, but paying them back is often overwhelming.  So overwhelming that people are actually leaving the country after graduation in order to avoid repaying them.

And whatever they learned at college, they don’t appear to have learned the concept that if you borrow money from someone else, you ought to pay it back.  They’ve learned some brutal practicality – following your bliss can be very expensive, and regardless of what your bliss pays, if you borrow money you’re going to be expected to pay it back at some point.  So if your bliss requires you to skip out on that debt, so be it.

 

Slow Moving Train Wreck

May 1, 2019

The Los Angeles Times reported today that for the first time since records have been kept, the county of Los Angeles experienced a growth rate of 0% last year, and California as a whole grew by the smallest amount since we’ve tracked these sorts of things.

The article duly noted a variety of potential causes for this slow in growth rate.

  • Fewer immigrants from Mexico and more from Asia.  Asian immigrants apparently on the whole are better educated than Mexican immigrants, and better-educated people tend to have fewer children.  Tuck this particular detail away in your memory for just a moment – we’ll come back to it.
  • Native-born Americans have been experiencing a decline in birth rates for years.
  • A lack of housing (affordable, of course) is another possible contribution to slower growth rates as people can’t afford to move here.  Or stay here.
  • Economic uncertainties over the past 20 years are also likely to blame as people are less able or inclined to have kids in rugged economic times.
  • Natural disasters such as the devastating wildfires of 2017 and 2018 contributed to a rearrangement of population in certain affected areas.
  • California lost roughly a million people between 2007-2016.  Six million people moved out of the state and only five million moved in.

What the article didn’t see fit to note is the popular idea – pushed for the last 50 years – that we are overpopulating the planet.  This idea – pushed in schools particularly – is likely to take psychological root in many people who then decide to have smaller families.  The longer you’re in school (the better educated you are, as per above), the more often you’re going to hear this over-population mantra and will likely feel greater pressure to respond to it by not having lots of (or any) kids.

However the article mentions in passing the completely devastating this false idea is and will continue to have on our society as fewer young people struggle to support a larger population of older people.  Is it any wonder that socialism and a restructuring of our economy is gaining popularity among younger generations?

Also not discussed in the article is the trend for people to wait longer before marrying.  I’d presume that there is a corresponding delay in having children, at least among people inclined to think that those two things are related.  And if you aren’t marrying until your very late 20’s or early 30’s, and need to get your economic ducks in a row before contemplating children, then it’s going to be getting more and more difficult (biologically) to get pregnant and carry to term.

And I wonder about possible links about delaying having children and whether people who have built enjoyable lives without children are having a harder time considering adding children to the equation and spoiling some of the fun.

No conjecture was offered as to why more people are leaving than coming to California, but many Californians will quickly offer some explanations – over-regulation, over-taxation, and a disconnect between the major population centers and the rest of the state.

Lots of factors to consider, both ones that the Times chose to talk about and a few it didn’t think to mention, but which likely have a real impact as well.