Archive for the ‘Current Events’ Category

Theological Discussion?

July 9, 2020

I’m working through Eric Metaxas’ Martin Luther biography. I’ve long passed the section where Luther calls for theological debate on the matter of indulgences, often described as the “nailing” of the 95 Theses. Luther had concerns and called for theological discussion. Discussion did not ensue but rather a heavy-handed insistence by the Roman Catholic hierarchy that Luther simply do what they told him to do. The result was an unfortunate further rending of the one holy Christian and apostolic church as many congregations confess in the Nicene Creed regularly.

While Lutherans are proud of this heritage we could be better emulators of it. In light of what I posted yesterday from the Russian Orthodox Church regarding California’s surprise ban on singing and chanting in worship services, I decided to check the regional resource board for our denomination in terms of COVID-19 resources. What I found was an entire page of links. But every single link was to an outside secular source. The CDC, WHO, and various California and other state web sites regarding COVID-19 best practices and requirements.

It struck me as odd that as our region of our denominational polity struggles with not just rising case reports of Coronavirus but also secular policy that directly impacts the very nature of worship, there were no links or calls on our regional website for theological discussion on the matter. Our denomination has by and large said this is all a Romans 13 issue and the appropriate response is obedience to the dictates of the State. But rather than a simple top-down decision on this matter the body of Christ could benefit from some active discussion on the topic. I don’t necessarily disagree with our denominational stance. It’s certainly a good way of avoiding legal entanglements and negative publicity. But I’d like to think there could be some proactive theological discussion regarding worship and how singing and chanting play into it not just in terms of tradition but in terms of theology.

It’s a shame if the denomination that insisted on the freedom of the Christian in the Gospel of Jesus Christ 500 years ago is unwilling to see an ongoing necessity for both celebration and discussion. At the very least, posting some theological materials that discuss the issue and offer perspectives and exegesis to assist members and clergy and professional staff understand the nuances of our stance better would be helpful.

It just seems ironic the only thing we officially have to say on the matter isn’t something we’ve said at all – we’re simply repeating what other people are saying. People who aren’t necessarily theologically trained or even inclined. I don’t expect people outside the Church to be able to give this a lot of thought. I do have some pretty high expectations for the Church in this regard, though!

Well Said

July 8, 2020

A succinct and well-stated summary of the absurdity of banning singing and chanting in worship services while sympathetic ears and blind eyes are turned towards riots and protests around the country. It is only unfortunate that it needs to be said at all.

Utopias & Sin

July 1, 2020

Not surprising, the latest experiment in radical re-imagining of city life has come to an end. The Capitol Hill Occupation Protest (CHOP) that took over six blocks of downtown Seattle was dismantled by order of the Mayor because of crime and violence in the area. Turns out that without police around to encourage people to behave, some people tend not to behave and ruin things for everyone else. People being, after all, people.

I am naturally skeptical of such efforts. In part because of a historical awareness that such efforts rarely are effective or very long-lived. Partly because as a citizen, I understand cause and effect in these sorts of things. The kind of cause and effect not typically mentioned in news reports that, at least these days, tend to be rather sympathetic to such experiments and efforts. Little details like how much it’s going to cost to clean up the debris and detritus from CHOP. How much relocating the police force for several weeks cost. Because these things all have costs, and I’m pretty sure that the very few people who actually benefited in any material or spiritual way from this experiment won’t be required to pay the cost, and rather the cost will be borne by all the city taxpayers. Just as the radical decision by a few people was foisted upon others in the CHOP area who may not have been so thrilled with either the underlying motivations, the execution, or the results in violence and fear.

Even the best intentioned of protestors here fail to take into account the common problem of all utopian visions – human sinfulness. People seem blind to the reality that we are broken through and through. Every one of us. And as such, our good intentions and efforts to love our neighbor as ourselves will be imperfect at best. Abject failures at worst, particularly when you factor in the reality that some people have no intention of loving their neighbor as themselves, and that even when that’s a common goal, there are widely divergent views on what such love looks like.

We are not going to create a Utopian society on our own. We don’t have it in us. And it isn’t just a matter of some deficiency which we can fill. That’s a common assumption in Utopian experiments, that our deficiencies can be compensated for through education or force or drugs or whatever. Sin is more than just a missing of the mark, as Aquinas defined it in the 13th century. His definition is helpful but fails to take into account that our aim can be somewhat improved, to be certain, but never perfected. Not by ourselves or any system we create for ourselves.

So you can kick out the police because you’re convinced that system is corrupt and you’re better off without them. But what you find is that whatever system you replace them with – or whatever lack of systems you replace them with – is going to be just as corrupt and problematic. It may take a little time for that to become evident or it might be obvious pretty much immediately, as with CHOP. Changing systems only goes so far, and often times it’s more damaging a process (or more expensive) than working for change and reform within existing systems.

My Biblical Christian worldview is able to explain this, whereas protesters and those working for change at any level seem to continually be shocked and surprised their efforts are short-lived or inadequate. I believe this is the root cause of so much anger and fear today – people no longer have a mechanism for explaining why some people do very, very bad things. By secular human understandings of things, such issues should be largely preventable through proper education, financial incentives, psychological retooling or psychiatric chemical (prescription or otherwise) rebalancing and controlling who has children or doesn’t have children. Genetic modifications will soon be added to this arsenal of tools.

But the problem is much deeper than these things and the psychological constructs they’re based on. They may each be helpful to some degree (as well as potentially or actually very dangerous) but they only scratch the surface. The real issue is much deeper and can’t be ferreted out of us. And so, though we should always work towards improvement both individually and communally, we won’t ever reach Utopia on our own efforts. And if we continue to deny or ignore the depth of the problem, we’ll continue to have generations of people unable to cope with the world around them, lost in a permanent haze of fear and uncertainty that at times can become paralyzing.

The Bible nails our human condition. And it does offer the cure, and the reality that this cure is external to us and not something we can control. We can only accept and receive it not just for what it is but who it is, the Son of God Jesus the Christ. I know this will continue to be an increasingly less desirable answer for a growing percentage of our population, but the reality is that it’s the most accurate diagnosis of our continued problems.

Maybe the Biblical solution is something more people should consider.

Apples & Oranges

June 29, 2020

I am not qualified to assess whether the US infection levels of Coronavirus are increasing as is commonly reported, staying the same, or perhaps decreasing. Variables in terms of reporting methodologies, the number of people being tested, and probably dozens of others I’m not even aware of are more than I’m willing or able to quantify. I’ll assume our infection levels are increasing somewhat after we bent the curve in April.

However article leaders like the ones in this news report are not helpful.

The US is compared unfavorably with New Zealand, South Korea and Singapore in our rising infection levels. The first thing I went and did was check on the populations of these countries. All of them are substantially smaller than the United States in terms of population. South Korean is roughly 1/6 of our population at 50 million people, while New Zealand and Singapore have approximately 5 million, or 15% of the US population level of roughly 330 million people.

Now maybe the article takes this into account and is comparing infection levels adjusted for population. It doesn’t indicate it, however. It seems to at least acknowledge that the geographical size of the US and therefore the reality that infections can surge in one area and then another is something different from the other countries it cites. So there’s that.

So be careful out there, but also pay attention. As I was crunching some local numbers I realized that for our particular county, infection rates are at less than 1% of the population. Of course, that’s just the cases that are tested or confirmed somehow, but still. It’s a much smaller number of people than you would think given the unrelenting news coverage.

Irony

June 29, 2020

I’m a sucker for irony, so perhaps it’s just my skewed view of the world that finds it darkly humorous that players in the National Women’s Soccer League have the option of sitting in the locker room during the national anthem rather than being on the field as has been traditional in most American sports for decades.

Perhaps people will find it interesting that a soccer league – regardless of gender – was created in part to make the world a better place by creating a “platform” for players to voice their individual opinions and preferences. I’m willing to bet those opinions and preferences are not uniformly encouraged or supported, which leads me to suspect it’s less about player rights and self-expression and more about an organizational perspective of what makes the world “a better place.”

I have a solution to this curious conundrum of a team not being unified in their expressions of national support – just remove the word national from the league name. Since it clearly doesn’t indicate anything more than a designation of location, it hardly seems necessary. And if players believe that dissent means publicly disowning their nation until their nation does what they, personally (or organizationally) want it to do, all the more reason to remove the confusing nomenclature.

Clearly the national anthem is not a requirement for citizenship, and since most (all?) professional sports teams are private enterprises, there shouldn’t be a necessity of a tradition of the national anthem being played if they are ashamed of their country. Of course, I’d think it also reasonable that such teams would repudiate any compensation they might be receiving from public funds, whether in the form of tax breaks or other incentives. To make sure they don’t feel compromised in their play. Of course. I’d hate for them to feel unduly burdened in those ways as well as in the issue of the national anthem.

Writing History

June 26, 2020

You wouldn’t know it from reading local news stories, but public officials are allowing mobs of people to destroy public landmarks – the costs of which are borne by taxpayers.

For instance, in San Francisco several statues were recently knocked over by mobs of people. The reports of what happened and why are fascinating. Consider this report, which begins as a fairly neutral account of what happened and some of the costs entailed, but then devolves into a virtual legitimization of the destruction due to essentially bureaucratic red tape. If only officials had moved more quickly to respond to input, the situation could have been handled properly. The writer ends the column justifying the destruction of public property as appropriate, despite the fact that some of the destruction mentioned in the article is also described as “less thought out”.

Or you could read this report, that begins with justification of the actions. Neither article describes any real effort to apprehend the vandals or stop them from destroying the statues in the first place, even though it seems likely the police could have effectively intervened. Perhaps fear of reprisals in the form of demands for disbanding or defunding the police department caused officers to hesitate to get more directly involved? Regardless of the rationale, those police officers will be directly involved in terms of their tax monies being used to pay for necessary cleaning, removal, storage, and whatever other costs the mobs incurred.

Closer to home an effort was made – perhaps half-heartedly – to destroy a statue in Ventura, California.

This report makes it seem like a rather innocuous discussion, really. A respectful exchange of ideas about the future of a statue commemorating a historical figure prominent in California history. A “rally” is described to “discuss” relocating the statue to private property.

Or you could read this account, which describes a far more volatile confrontation and a desire for more than discussion, at least by some of those present. Again, police presence is described as somewhat distant, but in this case enough to deter those bent on illegal activity from pursuing their goal.

I’m not quite clear how these events are described so casually despite the destruction of public property intended or carried out. Does the fact that someone is allegedly angry mean they are not subject to the law? Isn’t the law intended, at a very practical level, to discourage certain behavior by people who might be highly emotional and not thinking most clearly? I’d be fascinated to learn if Black Lives Matter has plans to reimburse cities for the forced redecorating (dedecorating) carried out in the movement’s name? Perhaps they’ll take up collections from people happy that the offending monuments are gone to defray the costs? Or is that really not at all something they’re concerned about? Hmmm. That’s a tough one to figure out, isn’t it?

It’s a dangerous situation when people believe they can act with impunity, destroying parts of their community without bothering to consider how others think or feel about the destruction, and expecting those other people to pick up the tab for their actions. If this is a foreshadowing of how things will operate in the future of defunded police departments, I can’t say I’m a fan of it.

Not that anybody’s asking me.

Well That’s a Relief

June 11, 2020

It’s a relief to know that while there are still dire news stories about churches as essentially COVID-19 factories, nobody wants to impinge on the rights of people to have sex with pretty much anyone. It’s not unreasonable to deny Constitutional rights for months on end and only allow public worship to begin again with veiled threats that the rights could be withdrawn again without warning should some undefined person or group determine the public health risk is too great, but it’s downright silly to suggest people shouldn’t be hooking up for casual sex. Just be careful!

That’s the gist of this helpful guide from New York City. Be forewarned, it’s a pretty straightforward document that deals with a variety of sexual situations and possibilities and how to engage in them as safely as possible. Sure, people are encouraged to consider abstaining to one degree or another from sex with people they aren’t close to, but it’s certainly nowhere near the moratorium on public worship we just recently and very tentatively emerged from. Don’t be fooled, more and more sex is god in our culture.

Even during a pandemic.

Racism Is Sin

June 4, 2020

Earlier this week I sent a devotional to my congregation based on the Gospel reading for this Sunday, Matthew 28:16-20. I urged them in this season of unrest and disquiet and anger and fear to remember Jesus’ promise that whatever we face we will not face alone. I encouraged them to take these words to heart rather than allow the anger and demands of the culture around us to drive them to sin in terms of anger or fear. But after I sent that message I found myself asking the question why I didn’t write to them telling them to begin working for peace?  In the midst of chaos and hatred and confusion on a variety of levels  and fronts, shouldn’t this be the message of a pastor to his people?  Work for peace?  Demonstrate for peace?


This is the proper message, but demonstrations are not only in the streets.  Some are called to demonstrate in the streets, to exercise civil disobedience.  Never out of joy but always in the hopes of change.  Change as it inevitably is and must remain this side of heaven  – imperfect, fleeting at best, flawed more than not.  Sin must be called out for what it is and when confession and absolution are not enough, it must be dealt with through courts and penal systems.  Always with the prayer of repentance and forgiveness in Jesus for all involved, not simply the accused.  Some of you may well demonstrate for change and so long as you do so without hatred and malice this is your privilege first as a Christian and secondarily as an American.


Some of you will demonstrate for peace in other ways.  Quiet ways, by some  accounts.  With yourself.  With your spouse.  With your children and grandchildren.  With your neighbors.  We are called to be imperfect vessels  of peace to all people and at all times, even when retired or less mobile than we once were or would like to be.  Whether with our doctor or the grocery store clerk or the bank teller or the gardener, we should meet all people regardless of race or gender or creed with the love of Christ as Christ himself has welcomed us with his love.  There are no exceptions to this and no excuses for  refusing to follow it.  


You also demonstrate for peace when you refuse to allow yourself to be agitated or manipulated by the media or  various talking heads.  When you refuse to allow yourself or your faith to be  co-opted by others.  When you insist on spending your time in God’s Word and meditation on whatever is true or honorable  or just or pure or lovely or commendable or excellent.  When we refuse to allow ourselves  to be stirred to hatred on the pretext of righteousness we demonstrate for peace.  In your living room  or the driveway or at family reunions or in the quiet of your own heart.  


As we will hear in the Epistle lesson this Sunday, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  That’s you and I and George Floyd and Derek Chauvin.  Christ died for all of us because we are all ungodly.   All have sinned and fallen short.  Justice should be pursued and in this sinful world that means sometimes criminal and penal systems must be brought to bear to punish those whose sins are more  egregious.  These systems are themselves comprised of broken human beings and therefore imperfect but they are what we must deal with until our Lord’s return.  We can and should work for reform and change where we identify it is necessary.  But we should always remember systems will never end sin and if we put less faith and trust in them we will be less shocked and outraged when we find that sin exists in even the  most well-intentioned systems and solutions. 

The cure to racism and all sin is not a system but a Savior.  

So yes, work for peace because I can guarantee you somewhere in your lives is a place where more peace is needed.  Advocate for those in your life who are ostracized.  Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.  Give thanks that forgiveness is available to anyone and everyone in Jesus  Christ, and look towards the horizon constantly for his  return.  Be skeptical of easy answers.  Ground yourself  not in slogans or platforms or bumper stickers but in the Word of God that alone brings us the Son of God in whom alone are we promised real and true and lasting peace in this life and in eternity to come.

Facing the Mirror

May 28, 2020

The latest in celebrity outings happened late last week when late-night talk show host and comedian Jimmy Fallon was criticized for a Saturday Night Live skit he did 20 years ago where he impersonated Chris Rock.

For clarification, Jimmy Fallon is white and Chris Rock is black. In impersonating Chris Rock, Fallon wore blackface and it was this in particular that earned the ire of certain people. Dutifully, Fallon issued a heartfelt apology for his offensive actions. That is the expected response whenever anybody anywhere anytime criticizes you for something they decide was racist.

I was pleased to see that actor/comedian Jamie Foxx came to Fallon’s defense, drawing an important distinction between appearing in blackface to make fun of an entire race, and doing a particular impression of a particular person who happens to be of another race. Fair warning if you click on Foxx’ response above it is not exactly child-friendly. While doing a comedy sketch is unpardonable, public profanity is perfectly acceptable these days.

Foxx makes an important distinction. Fallon was impersonating a particular individual who happens to be black. He was not doing a caricature of all black people. I tend to agree with Foxx that Fallon’s impersonation was pretty good, though understandably tastes will vary. Comedic tastes may vary widely, but just because you didn’t find his impersonation very good or funny shouldn’t (and hopefully wasn’t) be the basis for alleging racism.

Is it impermissible to impersonate any other race but your own? I imagine it should have a great deal to do with what the purpose is, although we have to admit at the same time that what is considered an acceptable intention in one age may not be considered acceptable in another age – even just 20 years later.

Still, if the overriding principle is that nobody should ever portray another race other than their own, this principle should be evenly applied rather than targeting white people impersonating black people.

Is anyone calling for public apologies and/or self-immolation from the Wayans brothers and their whiteface movie White Chicks? That movie is only 16 years old and they were impersonating a particular kind of white female, but not specific white females. Seems like this ought to be grounds for an outcry, right?

Or Martin Lawrence might be called out for putting whiteface on as a recurring character on his TV show, Martin? Again, not impersonating a person but a kind of person. Appropriate?

Whoopi Goldberg in The Associate?

I’ll leave off pointing out Eddie Murphy or Dave Chappelle because their purposes were ostensibly to expose racism.

But we certainly needn’t limit it to white and black people impersonating each other. What about the universally lovable Tom Hanks? Should he be blackballed for dressing up as a woman for Bosom Buddies?

Pretending to be someone you’re not is not necessarily criminal. We teach kids to do this for Halloween. What you do with your impersonation could indeed be very, very wrong. That judgment has to be exercised within the current cultural conditions, though, and it’s unfair to call out a racist impersonation if it was not considered racist at the time – admittedly a complicated if not Gordian Knot to unravel.

It would be more helpful in the pursuit of better race relations to have conversations about these things rather than flinging hateful accusations to elicit knee-jerk reactions. This matter with Jimmy Fallon is going to quickly disappear, as it should. But it’s unfortunate that it was raised without an ability or desire to actually engage in discussion about whether what he did was racist in general, was racist 20 years ago, or racist only now. A chance to educate about comedy and that funny doesn’t always equate to insulting.

No word from Chris Rock on what he thinks of the allegations or what he thought or currently thinks of Fallon’s impersonation. Hopefully he’ll have something helpful and witty to contribute, something fitting for a man with a keen insight into human nature as well as race relations.

Cults of Personalities

May 27, 2020

I often am critical of our culture’s obsession with personalities. Individuals. Compelling figures of at one extreme of the spectrum or the other without much concern about which is which. People find themselves drawn towards one or the other embodied less articulately by ideologies and beliefs and more simply by the people who espouse them in compelling or symbolic ways. Our obsession with people as representative of positions is the equivalent of bumper stickers in lieu of serious thinking and communication. Bold. Eye-catching. But ultimately poor embodiments of whatever ideology they are supposed to be representing.

Or claim to represent when they really don’t.

A couple of articles in the past week caught my eye, bound up with the person of Jane Roe, the plaintiff pseudonym of Norma McCorvey and the landmark Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade which legalized elective abortions in America. The first is here, the second here. Much was made of McCorvey’s change of heart, the fact that she denounced abortion and her role in legalizing it. Pro-life people were heartened by the fact that even the woman technically responsible for abortion becoming legal was not beyond the Holy Spirit’s reach and could be brought to repentance. Powerful symbolism. Quite a personality to be able to say came around to the opposing point of view.

Though now that symbol appears rather tarnished. McCorvey claims in a documentary that she never really changed her mind about abortion, but rather accepted money from pro-life activists and organizations to simply say she had changed her mind.

The curious thing is that pro-choice supporters use this confession of duplicity as some sort of evidence of overall duplicity on the part of the pro-life position. In other words, if you’re slimy enough to pay someone to lie, your cause must be slimy as well. No critical comments are leveled at the now-deceased McCorvey by pro-choice folks, though in the first article the author claims that pro-life supporters knew she was willing to stoop to dishonesty to further her personal goals.

But what the authors of these articles miss is that McCorvey is not synonymous with pro-choice ideology and theology. The fact McCorvey was willing to lie for money, or that some pro-life advocates were willing to pay her – does not discredit pro-life ideas at all. I’m not happy people thought it was necessary to bribe this woman to lie. But her lying doesn’t mean my commitment to life is wrong or unfounded. My commitment to the sacredness of human life isn’t tied to one person or one organization. It’s much deeper and more comprehensive than that.

So yes, we put people on pedestals. Sometimes they deserve to be there and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes our accolades are misplaced and sometimes they aren’t. But the qualities for which we put people on pedestals – those are the things that really matter, that transcend the individual and that individual’s ability or inability to bear the weight of those qualities and ideals.

Just because you’re obsessed with individuals, don’t make the mistake of thinking they matter more than they do. As with most things in life, there are bigger issues at play. Individuals come and go, but the ideals and goals they espoused or embodied predate them and continue on after their death or disgrace.