Archive for the ‘Current Events’ Category

Three in a Row

May 31, 2017

Scanning the news this morning I came across three interesting articles.

The first is a not-so-veiled criticism of President Trump’s ban on certain electronic devices in airline cabins – meaning passengers have to put these items in their checked luggage instead.  As I reflected on this  article, it strikes me as one of the dumbest articles I’ve recently read.

The article ignores the fact that lithium ion batteries are “inherently volatile” beyond wanting to criticize a policy decision.  If they’re that dangerous, why are they allowed on flights at all?  Why are we using them in electronic devices that we carry with us everywhere if they are essentially the equivalent of little time bombs?  Wouldn’t the article be better aimed at critiquing why such a volatile substance is accepted beyond the parameters of certain airline flights from certain countries?

The second article is a great discussion of what may appear to be  rather arcane Supreme Court ruling that actually has a great deal of actual and potential impact for consumers everywhere.  I’ve long been distrustful of the growing trend of virtualizing ownership.  Seen most clearly in computer operating systems and software, it’s the idea that you don’t really own a product, per se.  Rather, you are paying for the right to access something that still belongs to someone else and who has ultimate say over what you do or don’t do with what you’re accessing.  Physical and intellectual property issues are critical not just for their economic implications but in terms of privacy and consumer rights.  Definitely worth a read through!

The final article describes the renaming of a NASA project to send a probe closer to the sun than ever before.  Instead of calling it the Solar Probe Plus (which is admittedly a lousy name!), it is being renamed the Parker Solar Probe in honor of a scientist.  But the article immediately reminded me of one of my favorite author’s short stories – The Golden Apples of the Sun.  It’s the name of both one of his short stories – about a manned trip to the sun to actually scoop up and bring back to earth some of the sun’s essence – as well as the anthology that includes the story.  Since Bradbury’s story pre-dates Eugene Parker’s solar scientific contributions, I think it’s at least worth considering.  Plus, The Golden Apples of the Sun is a far more beautiful name for a solar probe!

Fear or Life

March 22, 2017

In a few weeks we depart on an epic family vacation that has taken us almost four years to plan and save for.  It is the culmination of persistence and hard work and great blessing as well as a particular approach to education and life.

But in the past few weeks there have been multiple reports of terrorist attacks throughout Europe.  Paris.  Dusseldorf.  London.  Not all places that we plan to visit, but reminders that there are dangers to this type of education for our children and for ourselves.  I don’t believe that the world is a fundamentally more dangerous place today than it has been in times past.  But our ability to know instantaneously what is happening across the globe certainly affects our way of looking at the world and the people in it.

On a regular basis people in town here die on a particular highway just outside of town.  I don’t drive it often but there are times that I do and I think about the fact that it is a notoriously dangerous stretch of road.  Sometimes I opt to take the longer way around, but sometimes I don’t.  Life is full of risks and dangers.  Ones close to home somehow seem less ominous than those far away, where we’ll be guests and visitors rather than locals and residents.

Our children have to learn to balance fear and life.  They have to learn to make the best decisions possible given the available data.  They have to recognize that there are no guarantees of a happily-ever-after.  Every day there are people just like us who become statistics out of no fault of their own.  It is not what I wish for myself or my children or those people, but it is a reality of this broken, sin-infested world.  We have to learn to handle the statistics and the fear they create if we hope to live.

I believe that ultimately, this means that we have to learn to look death in the face and acknowledge it.  We are taught to avoid thinking about death, regularly coddled and swaddled in assurances that if we just do the right things, good things will follow and bad things will stay away.  But this isn’t necessarily true.  Certainly we can and should make good decisions.  But sometimes those decisions don’t protect us from the variable, the random, the unknown, the unpredictable.  And those things can kill.

It’s possible to be run down by a terrorist in a foreign city just by being at the wrong place at the wrong time.  I also know people who get hit by distracted drivers right here in town.  These things happen.  I have to acknowledge that this is a possibility and then determine whether or not to get out of bed in the morning, or drive on the freeway, or fly across an ocean, or find my way through lands where I don’t speak the language.  I have to decide whether those things are important enough to my wife and children to expose them as well.  And I have to be able to live with my decision, whether we return from an amazing, life-altering but fundamentally safe trip, or whether some or all of us never return.

I can face death and reality through my faith that death has been defeated by the God who created everything.  I rest that faith on the historically accurate material contained in the Bible.  It tells me some things that are hard to believe.  But it also tells me other things that plenty of people assumed weren’t true or real, only to be proved wrong.  Incredulity is not a reliable means of determining truth.  I trust the accounts of people 2000 years ago who saw a dead man raised to life and then raised to heaven with the promise to return.  I trust that my life and my children are not accidents of chance and time, that we have meaning and purpose beyond mindlessly perpetuating genetic code, and that our lives don’t end in a plane crash or a terrorist’s explosion.  We don’t go out looking for these things.  We try to avoid them.  But we recognize that if they should find us, we are together in the hands of the God who brought us into existence and has promised to sustain us for eternity.

So we’ll keep finalizing plans.  We’ll keep assembling the final elements for our trip.  Shoes and jackets and fleeces all crammed into carry-on luggage to sustain us on an adventure that will require us to face down death.  That is the adventure that every single one of us is on, ultimately.  Not a matter of if but when and how.  I’m ready.  I’ll do my best to make sure my children are ready.  And I’m always prepared and willing to talk to anyone – even you – who want to be ready as well.

Glitter and Ash

March 1, 2017

Of course, it can’t simply be Ash Wednesday.

We wear the ashes to remind ourselves of what we are.  We are dust.  Not glitter.  Dust and ash.  Sin and rebellion and all manner of other mean ugly things that we pretend aren’t there or mitigate by comparing ourselves to worse people.  We embody death.   We wear the ashes to remind ourselves of this.  All of our plans and goals, all of our hopes and dreams about what cars to drive or what school district to live in, what position we aspire to in the company or what we hope our children will choose as their careers – all of these things are dust and ashes.  There is no hope in any of it.  Ashes are bereft of hope.  They are the leftovers, the detritus of everything else.

Stopping by a used bookstore last week while waiting for a meeting to begin, I purchased a big book of newspaper front pages.  My eldest son has an interest in history and current events and I thought he’d get a kick out of looking at the daily news over a span of time.  Browsing through it, I was struck by the importance attributed to events that today are almost meaningless beyond a historical perspective.  All the successes and tragedies are smoothed over by the steady passage of time, day by day, until the divas and demons of the day are forgotten.  None of this matters.

We can stare at that reality only so long before we move one of two directions.  One is the direction of hopelessness and despair, the path of existential crisis that curtails or destroys our ability and desire to function.  I believe that we are dealing with this in our culture today.  The other direction is to find a source of hope, or to cling more tightly to the hope we already have.

That is what the ashes also do.  They remind us of death, but within the context of Christian worship they also remind us of our hope.  Life beyond the ashes.  Through faith in Jesus of Nazareth as the Son of God who died and rose from the dead on our behalf, we embody not only death, but new life as well.  Life free from the sin and self-centeredness that defines our sinful reality and all-too-often eclipses the new life within us.  Those in Christ can look into the meaninglessness of all our temporal aspirations because of the hope – grounded in history and geography – that there is something greater waiting beyond as well as within.

There will be no glitter in our ashes this evening.  Just as I wouldn’t mix ashes with whiskey for alcoholics, or cut the ashes with cocaine for drug addicts.  Just as I wouldn’t mix the ashes with chocolate for someone with an eating disorder, or shredded money for someone who is greedy or miserly.  Our cultural attitudes about what constitutes a problem or a condition will fluctuate.  But the Biblical standards regarding sin never will.  They can be ignored or followed, but they aren’t subject to change based on popular opinion or who yells the loudest.  Our sin – whether we approve of it or recognize it – is what brings us to ashes.  And it is only the forgiveness of Jesus Christ who can bring us – recreated and without sin – out of those ashes and into new life.

The ashes remind us that all sin leads us to the grave.  Not simply what we do or don’t do, but what we think or don’t think, what we feel or don’t feel.  Sin is not an action, it is who we are.  Sin-full.  The size of the sin doesn’t matter.  Gossip or genocide.  Murder or shoplifting.  And it doesn’t matter whether we think of our sin as sin, or whether we wish we were free of it or not.  Sin simply is.  I don’t place the ashes on one person’s head to proclaim them a greater sinner than the next person in line.  And the fact that there are glitter in one person’s ashes doesn’t mean they are any less of a sinner or more of a sinner than the next person in line.  The ashes don’t celebrate anything.  They are the solidarity of the dead.

My hope as I place the ashes on the heads of my people tonight and my own head is only and always that all of that sin is forgiven in Christ, and that we one day will be free of all that sin forever, even the things we refuse or are unable to see as sinful today.  I suspect there might be glitter involved at that point, despite the fact I really don’t care for glitter regardless of the reason.  Glitter would be appropriate then, though,  as perhaps it might be appropriate on Easter.  Glitter to celebrate not who we are and what we do, but who God is and what God has done for us in raising Jesus from the dead.  He gives us a reason to hope in the face of the futility of our lives, a hope offered to everyone whether they have glitter in their ashes or no ashes at all.

Postscript:  I nearly deleted this after I posted it.  Perhaps I still should.  I realized how bleak it sounds, and that is hardly in keeping with the Christian faith.

Like many people (I presume) I had anticipations of greatness.  Hopes for the future and Big Achievements and Accomplishments.  I dreamed of being a famous writer.  But then the Internet and self-publishing came along and people don’t read so much anymore and there just isn’t the same appeal as there was when books were a bit harder to come by.  I began teaching with hopes of being a wise and beloved professor, but realized after the fact that teachers come and go, and most administrations don’t appreciate them the way they should when they’re on payroll, let alone after they leave.  And while I hope I had influence on a few students, that’s an elusive and unquantifiable thing.  I came to Seminary with ideas about the Church and the future.  But I learned a lot along the way, which is the whole point I suppose, not just about theology but about myself.  Maybe I’m not the person who inspires and points the way to the future.  Maybe I’m not St. Paul or St. Peter or St. Augustine or St. Aquinas.  

As 50 looms closer and closer I presume I’m dealing with the existential angst of mid-life, recognizing that the odds of being Important and Influential on any sort of grand scale are dwindling literally by the day. That I’m not the extraordinary person I hoped to become when I was younger.  Not on the larger scale, where strangers talk about you and marvel.  This is the reality for 99% of us.  Very few are lauded in history books and monuments, and for those that are, it probably isn’t much the source of pride because they’re dead.  I won’t be heralded through the ages as a great visionary or an erudite apologist.  If I’m lucky, I can speak God’s Word to people in a way that anchors them more firmly to the foundation of Christ.  That’s not exactly lousy in terms of consolation prizes.  Neither is being a spouse, or a parent, or a neighbor, or any of the other things you and I do every day.

What I do matters.  What you do matters.  Maybe not on the national or global scale.  Not in ways we’re going to appreciate and feel good about and enjoy the benefits of here and now.  What we do matters a great deal to the people who know us.  To our families and friends.  It matters that we do a good job at our work because that’s how we love our neighbor.  It matters because those people will go on to shape and impact others and future generations, so that a life spent invested in family and honest work and an admirable if not extraordinary example of dignity and honor and love of God matters a great deal, far more than we can recognize in our own lifetime.  I pray it’s one of those happy surprises of eternity, that we’ll be able to trace out the impacts we had on others.  I pray that the good impacts outweigh the bad.  

Life isn’t without meaning, and I apologize for my midlife grumpy-ness.   



Legalizing Courtesy

February 28, 2017

Wouldn’t it be nice if we as a people could agree tacitly on common courtesy rather than requiring the government to make courtesy a matter of law?

That’s basically what’s at issue regarding the use of cell phones during flights.  If people could simply understand that it’s rude to hold a conversation with someone who isn’t even there, while surrounded by a bunch of other people, things would be so much more, well, courteous.  Is it illegal to use cell phones in movies?  I don’t think so, yet we all recognize that it’s not appropriate (or at least most of us do).  Simple logistics would seem to dictate this.  If I’m trying to hold a conversation with someone on the phone while the person on either side of me is doing the same, it’s going to be hard to hear my own conversation.  I’ll have to raise my voice.  Which of course will cause the people around me to raise theirs.  It won’t be long before everyone is yelling and still can’t hear their conversation.  Shouldn’t that be obvious?

What an opportunity we have on plane flights to actually get to know someone new without any sense of obligation.  To simply strike up a conversation and learn about them and share about yourself and see the world through another pair of eyes for a short period of time.  If it goes well you can always talk with each other on the phone in the future.  If there isn’t much chemistry, well, you never have to talk with them again.

But can we just agree that it’s impolite – and ultimately very difficult – to have hundreds of conversations going on with people who aren’t even physically present, fully ignoring the hundreds of people who are physically present and sitting incredibly close to you?  Do we really need the government to make yet another law ?



Practical Immigration

February 8, 2017

Much has been said about hypothetical immigration and immigrants.  I prefer to wonder what my role can be in this complex issue.  Certainly leading a Christian institution, I would consider it our duty and honor to be a blessing if there were immigrants in our midst to minister to.  Particularly if those immigrants were actively seeking us out not just for material assistance but spiritual sustenance.  But how complicated the matter would become were politics also part of the picture – as it almost inevitably would be.

So I found this letter from the Lutheran pastor of a church in Germany who is dealing with this issue firsthand eye-opening and more than a little terrifying.  In Germany, those seeking asylum are evaluated as to their suitability for integration with German culture and society.  One of the evaluation points centers on their faith.  Christians are at least in theory given points in that they share a faith with the historic faith of German culture.

This creates a complicated situation.  How do you tell if someone is simply calling themselves a Christian in the hopes of improving their odds for acceptance permanently in Germany, as opposed to someone who genuinely has converted to the Christian faith?  It’s a question that the Church has had to deal with for two thousand years.

But in Germany, it is politicians and bureaucrats that are deciding who is and who isn’t Christian, and by some accounts, without an ability for themselves to understand what the basic tenets of Christianity even are for themselves.  The result, according to the letter, is that those who have converted to Christianity and received baptism in the Church are being declared non-Christian by the State and slated for deportation.  Despite the fact that some of them are enduring persecution for their conversion from militant Muslim refugees, and despite the reality that they will face greater persecution in their homelands for converting.

How do you sort out a Gordian Knot of this scope and scale?  As a pastor, my emphasis and priority would be on preaching and teaching the Word so that people might come to faith regardless of the repercussions in their lives.  But what a terrible thing to be blessed to proclaim Good News to a people who have been oppressed and persecuted for so long – by their prior fellow-adherents! – and then watch those children of God ordered for deportation.  How awful to be privileged to share the Good News of Jesus Christ, only to have these converts deemed non-Christian, oftentimes by people who are not even Christian themselves but have inherited the blessings of being born in a traditionally Christian culture!

What a terribly important ministry evolves then, the ministry of preparing these people for whatever may come down the road because of their conversion.  The ministry of distinguishing between the Good News of Jesus Christ, and the bad news that inheritors of Christian benefits won’t recognize these converts.

Is it a good idea to make Christianity a determination point for asylum seekers?  It’s a logical one I suppose.  Certainly there will be some percentage of people who claim to have converted but haven’t really, and who will take up their Muslim faith again as soon as they are safely settled for good.  But Christianity has always dealt with those who seek the status of the faith when it mingles with cultural and societal status and ambition.  The Church must be discerning to the best of our ability, but our discernment is necessarily imperfect and limited by sin.

How do I determine whether a person is Christian or not?  I begin by acknowledging this ultimately is not my job but Christ’s.  For the purposes of my work, I look for signs of the faith in a person’s life.  Have they been baptized?  Are they regularly in worship and hopefully also communal Bible study?  Have they been instructed in the basics of Christian doctrine as outlined in the Ecumenical Creeds?  I would not resort to some sort of Christian or Bible trivia game, asking for obscure details from the Bible or complex explanations of Christian doctrine.   If someone comes to me seeking Christian instruction, and after receiving it indicates that they believe this and wish to become a Christian and want baptism, I will baptize them.  If they continue coming to church (or I know they are attending elsewhere regularly), and if they are taking seriously the teaching of the Bible in terms of how they live their lives and make their decisions, then I acknowledge them as a brother or sister in the faith.  My evaluation of that may be off the mark, but it is an evaluation with some solid criteria to recommend it which relies on something beyond an overly simplistic mastery of basic data.

The Church’s long history of discernment on this issue might be of use to the State in seeking to determine who is authentic and who is not.  Again, the results will not be perfect, but they are likely to be better than having the State arbitrarily determine what makes a person Christian or not.

Colliding Worlds

January 30, 2017

Last night we sat around our dinner table as we do most every Sunday night, the surface littered with snacks and appetizers and the air filled with conversation.  This particular night was pretty small – only two people joined our weekly Happy Hour.  But these two people were very busy.

One is a politically conservative man with a degree in business administration.  The other is a politically progressive young woman with a degree in the sciences.  They were energetically engaged in an argument over the issue of banning immigrants from our country.  Not surprisingly, the argument echoed much of the rhetoric we read in the headlines and on social media.  Protection and caution vs. mercy and love, as though these two things are mutually exclusive somehow.  While passionate, I appreciated the way these two debated – out of mutual respect rather than mutual derision.

And as with the clash of emotions elsewhere, nothing was accomplished.  Neither one had convinced the other, both remained steadfast in their position.  Although parting amicably is in and of itself an admirable things these days, it isn’t helpful beyond that.  Afterwards my wife and I sat and talked about the evening, trying to determine how we might have guided things towards a more helpful direction.  Not in terms of topic, but in terms of process.

Despite the clear warnings of our Founding Fathers, we’re saddled with a two-party system that is intent on gaining and maintaining power.  Both John Adams and George Washington had pointed warnings against such a system.  As we see, such a system ultimately bogs down into competition.  Neither side is really all that committed to solving the problems facing our nation.  Each is too focused on how to regain control and hold on to it, hoping to prevent minor policy changes or enact minor policy changes without addressing the big issues because doing so might backfire and cause them to lose power.  Add to this  a system where our elected representatives in the Senate and House of Representatives have no term limits, and you end up with a system where members primarily focus on getting elected and re-elected.

So despite a plethora of needs in our country, these things aren’t ultimately going to get dealt with because both parties are more interested in staying in control or gaining control.  That’s what matters!  Promises are made about how to fix things but of course, as we know, those promises are rarely kept, and poorly implemented even when they are.

Last night’s discussion aired out a lot of ideas on both sides of a complicated issue.  But what it didn’t accomplish was a solution.  How do we balance security with mercy?  If we can rule out both poles of the issue as untenable, how do we find a middle ground?  How do we find an actual solution that addresses both sets of concerns and goals?  If we don’t learn how to do that again, there’s no hope of accomplishing much of anything.

We can quickly outline our basic starting points – national security and the moral obligation to help those in need – and then move on to how do we find a solution that addresses both starting points.  Imperfectly, obviously.  Both sides will have to give a bit, and the solution will undoubtedly be ultimately unsatisfying to both sides, while still accomplishing some of what both sides feel is very important.  I don’t know many people who advocate for national security because they hate refugees or Muslims and have no desire to help people in need.  I know very few people who advocate for more open borders and more generous refugee programs because they hope that they and the people they love will be hurt and harmed by any of these people.  The two sides are not mutually exclusive, in other words, and the issue is mainly one of prioritization.

Perhaps this is what we can try to foster in our Happy Hour discussions.  Practical ways of moving forward so that these practical suggestions could be what people begin communicating instead of simply regurgitating polemical rhetoric ultimately aimed not at solving problems but controlling elections.  I’d much rather see that sort of thing on my Facebook feed, and it’s something far more valuable to our society as a whole.





Christian Persecution

January 13, 2017

While the American press – allegedly representing a population that is overwhelmingly Christian in one degree or another – fails to talk about this, the reality is that persecution of Christians around the world is on the rise.

Two separate reports from two different groups highlight the growing acceptability of Christian persecution.  The first report is from a UK-based group – Open Doors UK – that reports that the rate of Christian persecution has risen around the world for the last four years.  I don’t know how they determine this, though from the use of numbers throughout the summary article, perhaps it’s based on the number of deaths reported world-wide as faith related.

The second report is from a US-based group – International Christian Concern – and it puts the United States on its list of countries where Christians are persecuted.  Obviously this group could be considered somewhat biased since they’re based in the US, and they clearly articulate that persecution in the US is not like persecution in other countries.  But they also want to draw attention to disturbing trends of persecution in the US.

A parishioner gave me a copy of this essay this morning.  It’s important in highlighting a very current example of persecution.  I looked up the video of Kim Burrell’s sermon on homosexuality.  The quality is so poor I can’t understand the majority of it, though enough is clear that she’s preaching very strongly against homosexuality.  The irony is that in trying to discredit Ms. Burrell for her point of view, her co-stars and ‘friends’ claim that prejudice against someone who disagrees with homosexuality is allowable and honorable under the guise of “there’s no room for any kind of prejudice in 2017”.

That is persecution.  Ms. Burrell is being persecuted for her Biblical stance on homosexuality.  Publicly shamed, financially damaged.  I’m fairly certain that if a gay person was rejected from appearing on a promotional tour, uninvited from a guest spot on a television show, and had their radio show cancelled for saying things that are pro-homosexuality, it would be decried as gross prejudice and malice and anti-freedom.  It might be argued that homosexuals have dealt with such issues for a long time.  But that does not allow them to utilize the same techniques against those who disagree with them and claim they are doing so in the name of freedom and anti-prejudice.  If it was prejudiced when it was done to them, it is prejudiced when they do it to others.  We don’t get to redefine the terms.

Please pray for people everywhere who are persecuted, regardless of their faith or the reason for the persecution.  Suffering is evil.   And I pray for Christians who are persecuted.  For those who are more than socially embarrassed or chastised, but who are imprisoned and executed and abused in numerous ways that are – as yet – still somewhat unthinkable here in America.  But beware.  Trends move in directions.  And if the trends in the US are for Christians to be increasingly marginalized, it’s a fantastically short leap from public shaming to death camps, and that reality is demonstrated around the world not just in history but in real numbers and lives today.

Charges Set

December 14, 2016

I read today of the unsurprising conviction of Dylan Roof, the 21-year old man who slaughtered nine African-American Christians during a Bible study in 2015, and severely wounded several others.  He has freely confessed to being guilty, and his defense never argued this fact but rather focused on trying to get him out of a death sentence and into a life-imprisonment sentence.  That decision will be made next month.

I thought it was interesting though, that the Washington Post talked about his conviction in regards to “federal hate crimes”.  This led me to view the actual Federal indictment, a surprisingly short document that summarizes the charges against Roof.

Roof is charged with 33 counts total, summarized as:

  • 9 counts of a hate crime resulting in death
  • 3 counts of a hate crime with the intent to kill (but not successful)
  • 9 counts of obstruction of exercise of religion resulting in death
  • 3 counts of obstruction of exercise of religion involving an attempt to kill and use of a dangerous weapon
  • 9 counts of use of a firearm to commit murder during and in relation to a crime of violence

Technically only a third of the charges are related to hate crimes.  I wonder why the WP chooses to summarize all of the charges as hate crimes.  I wonder why they didn’t summarize all three of the categories of indictments?  Maybe I’m just a tad sensitive, but characterizing the nature of the crime only based on the motivation seems a bit lopsided.  The Federal Bureau of Investigation defines a hate crime as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.”

But we don’t describe or summarize all crimes by their intent or motivation, do we?  Would the WP describe a husband who kills his wife in a fit of rage after discovering her infidelity a “crime of passion”?  Or would they simply say murder?  Why is it that the motivation becomes the definition of the act?  Isn’t Roof basically guilty of murder?  Isn’t that the primary issue?  Yet by classifying it as a hate crime, it makes it sound as though his main offense is his hatred or prejudice.

Of course there are various reasons that people kill other people, and the law recognizes this reality with various types of charges (murder, degrees of murder, manslaughter, etc.).  I believe passionately that Roof was wrong in his ideology and way of thinking, but the main issue is that he committed murder.  By emphasizing the motivation, I wonder if we continue to move down a path towards outlawing certain attitudes and making certain attitudes or beliefs prosecutable, even if no actual criminal offense takes place?



When Life Is Too Good

October 10, 2016

Thanks to Ken for sending me this article from the Wall Street Journal, which discusses the skyrocketing numbers of students seeking mental-health services from colleges across the US.  On the surface, it seems as though more and more college students have difficulty coping with life or college or a combination of the two.

But the article doesn’t clarify adequately what the numbers mean.  If mental-health staff are actively promoting their services and luring students to come by to pet service dogs, and if students are attracted by the “warmth and accessibility”, and if these centers are reaching students that would not otherwise have sought them out, does this accurately portray a greater need among students for mental health services?   If a student misses their dog at home and comes to the mental-health center to pet a therapy dog, does that mean the student needs therapy?  Why not just allow dogs in dorm rooms?

The article also doesn’t make any attempt to ask why students are increasingly feeling alone and inadequate to the tasks that face them in life.  I can’t help but wonder whether the rising levels of young people with little or no religious/church experience – the nones – are correspondent to a rise in levels of people looking for things that used to be gained through religious practice.  In other words, does religious belief (and in America, that overwhelmingly has meant Christianity) provide benefits which, when absent, leave people vulnerable, anxious, worried?  If students are looking for warmth and accessibility, it seems that congregations near campuses could be reaching out to these students through activities that are not – initially – specifically religious.  If members show up every evening with their pets for a play-time, does that qualify the pets as therapy pets?  Mid-week, home-cooked meals and times where students could sit in a home with a family and eat them have always been a great blessing to many college students.  Must love and care and compassion be reduced to a clinical diagnosis?

College is a stressful time for many students.  The drive to do well, the awareness of the huge costs they personally or their families are undertaking to make college possible, the growing list of things that are necessary to do in order to leave not with just a degree but a robust resume, all of these things are stressful.  But they seem to be distinctly first-world, self-created and self-perpetuated issues as well.  Not that they aren’t real, but they are real because of a very small bubble of possibility and prosperity.  Outside that bubble, stress and the problems of life quickly take on much more dramatic and lethal dimensions, as this article about the torture and execution of Christians by ISIS illustrates.

Stress is stress, and the causes and reactions to it are likely defined primarily by our culture and society – what is considered normal and reasonable.  But it’s bitterly ironic that people are willing to suffer horrendous things and die in humiliation for their belief in Jesus as the Son of God, while here such beliefs are seen as irrelevant despite the many warning signs in our culture to the contrary.


Out of Options?

September 19, 2016

Someone posted this article on Facebook.

I dislike the fundamental assertions of this article and I think they’re erroneous.  It equates accepting refugees with being a Christian, as though accepting refugees is the only Christ-like solution to this bad situation.  It removes the refugees from their context, allowing us to ignore the underlying issues that are creating refugees.  It makes a shallow appeal to emotion in lieu of really examining a complex and heart-wrenching situation. It ultimately ignores the well-being and best interests of the refugees themselves – and it’s difficult to argue that you’re loving your neighbor like Jesus if you aren’t actually paying attention to what your neighbor wants and needs.

I suspect that most of these refugees don’t want to be refugees.  They aren’t looking to create a new life out of nothing.  They had lives already – established lives uprooted, disrupted, and destroyed by a brutal civil war in Syria.  The loving, Christ-like thing to do is help these people return to and rebuild their homes and lives in safety, rather than to set them up in a completely new and different culture where they and their children and perhaps their grandchildren as well will be cultural outsiders.

Could it be that the most Christ-like thing would be to center our attention on stopping the civil war that is killing and displacing these people?  That the most Christ-like thing to do would be to help them rebuild their lives and schools and infrastructure there, where they call home, rather than assuming they should recreate their lives in our culture and infrastructure?

Certainly, we need to address the real and current needs of refugees in crisis. But this should be a temporary measure, sustained until peace is established at home and they can all return there.  It’s a shame that there isn’t an equal emphasis on Christians leading the charge to resolve the conflict in Syria.  I think that would ultimately be the best Christian witness of all.