More Mixing

October 11, 2017

It’s not just Sears  mixing up girls and boys, treating them as essentially the same thing for the sake of convenience, ideology and profit.  Today the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) announced that girls will be fully integrated into the organization.  As Matt Walsh put it (on Facebook, so I can’t link you to it), this removes from the BSA “any remaining reason for their own existence.”  Ironically, this move was criticized by Girls Scouts USA (GSUSA) which interprets the move as an attempt to lure girls away from GSUSA and bolster a declining BSA membership.  Integration is good unless it hurts your membership numbers.  I look forward to feminists criticizing GSUSA for their response, but I’m not holding my breath for it.

At least the GSUSA understand that there are benefits to having all boys or all girls organizations, and that the existence of such organizations is not a de facto affront in any way to members of the opposite sex/gender.  But in our bizarro-world culture, such obvious truths are now given very little airplay, let alone respect.  Boys and girls, men and women in the same locker rooms and restrooms?  Sure thing!  No problem!  The common sense respect offered by single gender places and organizations has been decimated by a miniscule (comparatively) group of people bent on an agenda of deconstructing our society from the inside out.

I assume it won’t be long until BSA renames itself.  After all I can’t imagine that, once admitted, girls are going to care for being labeled as boys.  I hope that boys and men would have the courage and honesty to admit that the name is no longer accurate.  And if we continue down (and it is a downwards movement) this road of confusing sexes and genders, particularly denigrating men and masculinity, any such male-oriented label is going to be seen as a detriment rather than an asset.  Self-preservation of the BSA entity (brand), rather than the ideas upon which the BSA was founded, is ultimately a betrayal and rejection of those ideals that serves and benefits nobody.

Advertisements

Sears

October 10, 2017

I don’t like to shop for clothes.  I told my wife before we married that I would gladly help wash dishes or do the laundry or clean windows, but I would not go with her while she shopped for clothes.  I’m too cheap and impatient to even enjoy shopping for myself.  I can still remember taking my Mom with me many years ago on an annual shopping trip.  I think she was in shock from the speed of it all.  My distant memories of going shopping with her as a small child to the mall are of endless hours spent wondering if we were ever going to go home.  On that particular shopping trip with my Mom, I got all the clothes I needed for two years in less than two hours.

But even a cheapskate recognizes that shoes are a necessity and when they are all worn through the soles, it’s time to go shopping.  Since my FAVORITE shoe store of the past decade was gone the last time I stopped by the outlet malls, I had to resort to a new shoe store.  I went to Sears.

Let me just say that not only have the door handles to Sears not changed in at least 50 years, it smells exactly the same as I remember it decades ago.  The only slight difference being that this Sears doesn’t have a candy stand selling chocolate covered peanuts.  That’s definitely a change for the worse!

But it’s not the only change.

I volunteered to do some shopping for our youngest son, who had no interest in going to help pick out his own clothes.  I located the boys clothing area and started looking (in the discount racks, of course).  I was surprised as I shuffled through hangers full of shorts to find a girls skirt tucked in there.  I chalked it up to some hooligan’s work.  But I noticed other girls clothing items mixed into the rack.  All the racks.  Then I noticed the signs – indicating that these were boys and girls clothes.

I have enough trouble shopping as it is.  Now I have to differentiate which items are boys and which are girls?  Or is the assumption that boys and girls clothing is interchangeable?  I suspect that it’s the latter.  Rather than risk offending some customer upset that the skirts are in a segregated girls clothing section while the shorts and t-shirts are segregated in the boys clothing section, this Sears decided to just combine them.  Not completely, mind you.  There was still an area that seemed more girl-oriented and an area that seemed more boy-oriented.  But there were also places where the two were mixed together.

Sears isn’t as unchanged as it seems.  Maybe, like much of our culture and even we as individuals, it has and is changing a great deal, reluctantly or eagerly, to accommodate new notions of gender identity and how to raise children.  I suspect that’s a more difficult and complicated and ultimately unfortunate change than getting rid of the chocolate covered peanuts.

No Surprises

October 9, 2017

This morning I drove out to the state university to see if I was given a slot for the next eight weeks on the campus AM radio station.  I can’t say I was terribly surprised to not find my name on the list.  Several people had two hour shows, but there was apparently no room for me.  C’est la vie.

Sharing Community

October 9, 2017

Last night we had three new people come to Happy Hour.  Friends.  Former roommates.  Classmates.  The connections weren’t always clear to me in the blur of looking after 13 or so guests.

Happy Hour continues to grow and evolve.  We’ll be losing our two founding members before the end of the year, a prospect that none of us are happy with, yet we’re also excited for them as they continue to discover the trajectories in their lives.  But we have plenty of other folks stepping up and stepping in.  More people are bringing food items to share which broadens the experience further and adds to that sense of belonging.  It is becoming less something that they show up at, and more something that they participate in.

One of our stalwarts brings a variety of musical instruments with him each week, whether it’s a banjo or a mandolin, an electric guitar and amp, a miniature steel drum – there’s always something new to throw into the mix with our bongos and guitars and ukuleles.

The evening wrapped up about midnight when I kicked the last 3-4 folks out after they  finished up the games our kids taught them (Jungle Speed and Dobble – lots o’ fun!).  Watching our three kids play games and laugh with these people who are becoming more like older brothers and sisters is beautiful.

Change is hard, but so is remaining static.  It will be fun to see what the coming months hold with this group!

Reading Ramblings – October 15, 2017

October 8, 2017

Reading Ramblings

Date: Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost – October 15, 2017

Texts: Isaiah 25:6-9; Psalm 23; Philippians 4:4-13; Matthew 22:1-14

Context: While we struggle to make our world better, both individually and as a society, events continue to remind us that our efforts are flawed at best and oftentimes seem pointless. The power of sin in a broken creation rages, whether in the power of hurricane winds and rain or in a rain of bullets on unsuspecting people. As Christians, we continue to strive for improvement regardless of the setbacks. We do so in the understanding that one day, not by our power but by the power of our God, creation will be remade. Perfection will be attained. Peace will come. Suffering will end. Struggle will cease. In the light of those great promises we continue to place our shoulders to the wheel here and now, being shaped in the process into people suitable for life in such a beautiful future.

Isaiah 25:6-9 – God is the actor in this passage, the one who sets the feast for his creation, people who come from every background and walk of life. The richest and most desirable of food and drink are offered, food fit for a king! Mountains in the Old Testament are symbolic of the power and presence of the divine. It is in God’s power and presence that his creation will be feasted, once He has removed from creation the pall that lies over it, the shadow of sin and brokenness and rebellion. Death itself He will destroy and remove, setting his people truly free to celebrate not just for a time but for eternity. As we wait for this day we sometimes seem foolish. We are sometimes defined as part of the problem rather than heralds of the solution. It is easy to see our pointing towards the horizon as foolish and unfounded optimism. We bear these reproaches in good grace. One day the truth will be revealed, and our waiting will be shown to be faithfulness that leads to eternal joy.

Psalm 23 – There are those who take exception to the depiction of God’s people as sheep. It’s not an attractive comparison, to be sure. Sheep are not particularly bright or creative or brave. They very much need someone to watch over them. Some people find this offensive, and argue that Christians are now, in Christ, to consider themselves lions rather than sheep. But this is a patently unBiblical change of roles. We are sheep, and we have a shepherd whether we want it or know it or not. In Christ we have the good shepherd who knows how best to care for us. He knows where the best food and water is – not the stuff that will give us indigestion or make us sick. He knows when we need rest and insists that we do so, echoes perhaps of God’s love and care for us in giving us the Sabbath day of rest. His care extends to the edge of and through to the other side of the Valley of the Shadow of death. Nothing can separate us from our good shepherd who leads us to the feast on the other side of that dark, silent valley. Once again the imagery is of the God who provides a feast and celebration for his people. We are solely the guests, lavish recipients of God’s outpouring of love on his children.

Philippians 4:4-13 – Paul concludes his letter to the church in Philippi with final exhortations and encouragements. First and foremost they are called to rejoice in the Lord’s forgiveness and grace. This is the constant spirit of the Christian, regardless of the difficulties of life. We give thanks to God and rejoice that He sustains us even in our tribulations. In this state of gratitude our difficult times are mitigated, so that we can be reasonable in all situations, knowing that our Lord is coming back for us. This assists us not only in being reasonable, but also in avoiding excessive worry or anxiousness. Not that we have to hide from God what is on our hearts and minds (as though that were possible!). Rather, knowing that He has given us all things through his Son, we are bold to come to him in prayer, lifting up not only petitions for what we need but also thanksgiving for what He daily provides us. In this flow of rejoicing, giving thanks, praying, and anticipating our Lord’s return we will find that the peace of God sustains us in all things. This peace has a source and a context, and it is Jesus the Christ. It is not something that we create for ourselves or can provide to others. It comes only from and is based only in our relationship with the Son of God. This peace comes from God through Jesus Christ, but we take an active participation in that peace by choosing to focus on those things that are good rather than on things that are not. Paul concludes this section by thanking them for the gift that they have sent him via Epaphroditus (2:25). Paul does not want to focus on his need – that would be in contradiction to what he has just exhorted them to in the previous verses! His situations have been varied indeed, but he exudes the peace of God that he has just assured the Philippians that they too can experience!

Matthew 22:1-14 – Once again a feast is prominent in the story, but there’s a problem. Those who are invited to the feast don’t wish to attend. They have better things to do than celebrate with their king. Note the patience and persistence of the king! He has gone to such elaborate preparation, yet still takes time to pursue the invitees. Yet they persist in rejecting his pleas, to the point of violence. Seeing that their hearts will not be changed, the king sends his soldiers against them and destroys their city. The opening verses target God’s own chosen people, the Jews. They are the ones invited to his celebratory feast, yet they do not wish to come. They refuse to come and will resist his persistent pleas with violence. Many scholars see the king’s punishment of these people as prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD by the Romans, following a large Jewish uprising.

The king now extends the invitation to those who did not previously receive one. These guests recognize the bounty and grace of the king and fill his hall as the invited guests had been intended to. Jesus now points towards the Gentiles – the non-Jewish people – who will receive the Gospel and respond to it where God’s own invited people would not. Yet among those who do respond is one – at least one – who does not bother to prepare himself for the event. What is the wedding garment that the man should be attired in? Some scholars say it is the works of faith appropriate to someone invited by the king. Others say it is the grace found in Christ. The parable seems to rule out the former. None of this second group of invitees is likely to have on hand a garment suitable for a wedding. It remains then that the king himself has provided the appropriate attire yet this man sought to enjoy the king’s generosity inappropriately, flouting the king’s graciousness and insulting his host. Might this be the one who insists that she needs no forgiveness, no grace – she is good enough on her own merits! Surely the king will be pleased with the humble and honest life she has sought to live?

This is not possible. The king invites, the king clothes, the king provides the feast. Those who attend do not do so on their own terms. The idea is ludicrous and insulting! As though no invitation was necessary, as though anybody who so desired could wander in and out at their leisure, without regard for the king. Such a misunderstanding is a dangerous and potentially eternally fatal one. Scripture describes a loving and gracious God but this does not mean a God who can be ignored – either in his invitation or in the manner in which his invitation is accepted. The king remains the king, after all.

Safe Space?

October 6, 2017

This morning I attended the mandatory initial training for folks hoping to get a program for the next ten weeks on the local state university public access AM radio station.  Not surprisingly, I was the oldest person there, which is kind of weird after nearly 15 years away from active campus ministry!

I was struck by a poster stuck in the window of the station office, declaring that this office and radio station was a safe space.  That really struck with me.

We hear a lot about safe spaces these days, whether you side with the concept or ridicule it to the secondary issue which is that we have always as human beings sought safe spaces.  But for a long, long time, those safe spaces were connected in one way or the other with the spiritual and religious.  The hunchback crying Sanctuary! in Victor Hugo’s famous novel is but one beautiful example of countless others spanning thousands of years.  God himself designated sanctuary cities for his people in the Old Testament.  Rather than being places of exception to the law, they were places where those accused of major crimes might flee in the hope of being announced innocent by the law and spared the retributive justice otherwise in force.   Even science fiction has availed itself of this concept.  In the questionable cult-classic movie Highlander and the myriad offshoots and sequels, the age-old process of might makes right is hindered only on sacred ground.  Only in a church could an immortal be safe from the predations of other immortals intent on becoming the only one left.

Is a church a safe space?  It isn’t to those who reject God and his mercy, who either embrace only his Law as a means for justification, or reject his Law in rebellion against him.  To the unrepentant the Church is not a safe space because there they will be confronted with their sin and their need for a Savior.  They will not be coddled or swaddled in false affirmations for the sake of niceness.  The Word of God is never safe to those who think they satisfy the demands of God’s Word or to those who reject or ignore repentance.

But the Church is the ultimate and only safe space for those who recognize their shortcomings, who are willing to deal as honestly as possible with the reality that they are broken and ugly inside, and that no matter how hard they try, they can never become the person that even their own moral standards – let alone God’s! – say they should be.  For the broken, the penitent, the hopeless, the Church is the only safe space this side of eternity.  Here they will hear about the love of God manifest in history and geography and culture in the incarnate Son of God, Jesus of Nazareth.  Here they will hear about how the innocent sacrifice of the God-Man makes forgiveness and grace available to them here and now.  Here they will hear that there is no sin that cannot be forgiven, cannot be washed clean if they are repentant and receive the death and resurrection of Jesus as their own.  Only in the Church is the means and assurance of salvation objective and changeless.  Only in the Church will God’s Word stand consistent and clear, not shifting with the tides of culture and preference.  Only the Church can announce and deliver the only true safety in this world – safety in the love and forgiveness and the hope and life promised to us in the Word of God and made palpable in his Sacraments.

Can a radio station be a safe space?  I can applaud the goal.  But I don’t think it can.  This particular station prides itself on being alternative.  But the very definition of alternative shifts and changes over time.  Sign on to a major record label after sweating blood in small venues for years?  Sorry, you’re no longer alternative enough (the station’s definition, not mine).  I can only imagine the number of groups over the past few decades that started out sufficient alternative and anti-establishment, but with the passage of time have been judged outdated or even mainstream.

We’ve already seen in other arenas how those that start out as part of a unified front can be cast off for not being alternative enough.  It’s all well and good to support women’s rights, for instance, but if you happen to also support Trump, you might no longer be welcomed, as Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama both stated in the past few weeks.   What is considered alternative or edgy or counter-cultural is prone to shift as culture itself shifts and changes.  Someone who might be championed today might be left in the dust tomorrow if it’s discovered that they somehow disagreed with others in the alternative realm about something or other.  Like any clique, loyalty and membership can be fickle, and the line between being edgy enough and too edgy can be difficult to discern.

The safety that the radio station office can offer is pretty limited.  Walk out the doors and you’re once again confronted by a big, bad world that doesn’t necessarily care about your feelings or your ideas or your aspirations.  It doesn’t care that you’re hip and edgy and cool, and will be happy to squash you or not.  The variables are myriad and uncontrollable.  You might be safe in the confines of the radio station office, but that safety disappears at the doorway, and even the safety offered within is transitory and solely at the discretion of the university administration or other Powers-That-Be.

The safety the Church offers doesn’t end at the door.  It’s not dependent on being surrounded by other people who think and act the same way you do.  It doesn’t require everyone else to set aside their perspectives in order for yours to be heard and respected.  The safety offered by the Church is the only real safety to be had in this world.  Nestled in the arms of the God who created us and loves us and is committed to making us holy and perfect.  A safety that isn’t dependent on being successful on the world’s terms or raging successfully (or unsuccessfully) against the machine.  A safety that acknowledges the inherent danger in every moment of our lives, from the unpredictable and uncontrollable world around us to the hatred of our immortal enemy, Satan.

It’s a safety not couched in the acceptance of the world but rather a looking forward to a world that is yet to be but is already starting to break into reality here and now by the grace of God.  A safety that is based not in ourselves but rather in the promises of the God who made us and died for us and works towards our perfection here and now and in eternity.

A radio station can be a lot of things to a lot of people.  But there can only ever be one truly safe space in this world, the space that the Son of God created through his disciples, and against which He promised the gates of hell would never prevail.  I’ll keep broadcasting that message as long as I can, whether I get a slot in the university radio station line-up or not.

 

 

 

 

Blaming God

October 5, 2017

Here’s a good post on the inevitable efforts of some Christians to explain why God would allow – or even actively cause – terrible things like the Las Vegas shooting.

This is nothing new – for Pat Robertson or for any number of other well-intentioned Christians who want to make sure that people are doing the right thing and repenting and changing their hearts.  As such, catastrophes are an opportunity to preach the vengeance and anger of God against sin.  Those catastrophes may be national or personal in scale, but it’s the same basic sermon.

Now this is a thoroughly Biblical sermon, to be sure.  There are plenty of places in Scripture where God discloses what He’s going to do and why He’s going to do it.  It isn’t that God can’t and won’t work through world events to draw people to repentance.  The problem is that the only time we can really know that this is what is going on is when He tells us.  If He doesn’t explicitly tell us, then we can’t explicitly claim that God caused or allowed such-and-such to happen for such-and-such a reason.  At least not in anything more than the vaguest of language.  God always desires that we should repent and draw near to his forgiveness and grace.  So at that level, I can explain my breakfast bagel and tea this morning in those terms.  Or my sleep during the night.  Or that bout of gas I had yesterday.

God is God and we are not.  This irks us and frustrates us and frightens us, but that’s the reality.  We are not going to have a perfect understanding of what God is going to do and why He is going to do it.  I’d tend to listen to Pat Robertson and other people’s explanations of these things more seriously if they were explaining it before it happened.  You know, like the prophets.  When God wanted people to connect the dots, He connected them for them.  Before, during, and afterwards.  To pop up on TV after the fact and declare God’s will and purpose in a particular event is not very convincing or compelling.  It shouldn’t be to those who don’t know God already, and it shouldn’t be for those who do.

Defending the Press

October 5, 2017

President Trump has taken a lot of flack from nearly the beginning of his presidency for his dismissal of the press.  Humanly speaking, it’s hard to blame him.  The press has not exactly been kind to him, constantly seeking for some malfeasance or other transgression to invalidate his election, his presidency, his existence.  His public and sometimes official policy of ignoring representatives from certain press outlets infuriated some people and resulted in allegations that President Trump is anti-press.  Dan Rather now routinely writes on Facebook posting his dismay and disgust on this topic as well as many other issues wherein he disagrees with conservatives and President Trump.  So be it.  He’s entitled to his say.

But I believe there is a distinction to be made between having a press badge and being what the press has always supposed to be – an unbiased and investigative community reporting the news in as objective a manner as possible.  This is a press I think most people – conservative and liberal alike – can get behind and support.  This is the press at it’s finest.  You want to uncover the misdoings of Watergate and topple a president?  Go for it – but be objective!  You want to defend wantonly criminal actions of a sitting official or candidate because you agree with them ideologically?  I’m not nearly as impressed.  Press representatives on both ends of the spectrum fall into this dangerous pit repeatedly.  At this point, I don’t think I’m the only American who thinks that ideological bias has been institutionalized in most major media outlets.  The press is not free and objective, but rather dedicated to fostering a particular view of events that support their ideological leanings.

So it was that I turned on NPR the other morning for the first time in months.  I want to like NPR.  I really do.  Hell, as a taxpayer I pay for it.  But I can’t listen to it for too long before the inherent bias’ in their reporting leaves me frustrated and I have to turn it off.  This particular morning it was discussing President Trump’s upcoming visit to hurricane ravaged Puerto Rico.

Of course, most of the initial discussion was about the anticipated tenseness sure to be present at his meeting with local officials, some of whom were loudly critical of his response (and our nation’s response as a whole) to the devastation suffered in Puerto Rico.  The reporter and the radio anchor person eagerly opined about how it would be awkward indeed.  The reporter then duly reported about how there was no power in Puerto Rico and the situation was dire.

But the more you listened, the more you realized she was only telling part of the story, the part that accented her desire to make President Trump look bad.  A few minutes later, she lamented that not many people in Puerto Rico would know about the President’s visit, though some would, because, actually, there were some radio stations broadcasting.  And if you have radio stations broadcasting and people picking up their broadcasts, there is likely at least *some* power on the island.  But rather than talk about how some power is being restored – whether through the grid or through shared or individual generators, the narrative is simply that there is no electricity to speak of.

Furthermore, discussion was about how aid was being distributed.  Meaning the materials and aid were already present, but there were difficulties or delays in distributing it.  Which sounds a lot different from the impression I’ve had in the news that we haven’t done anything.  Things are happening, but it’s difficult.  That’s news I can understand, but it doesn’t happen to make Trump look bad and so the presentation needs spin, apparently.

I want a free press.  I need a free press.  And frankly I have no problem with a president or anyone else who wants to point out that our press isn’t exactly objective and unbiased.  I’m not naive to think that it has ever been – or ever could be 100% objective and free from bias.  But it could do a lot better.  That’s what I was taught as a news reporter and then news editor way back in the Dark Ages of high school.  Report the facts.  Leave the interpretation to the Op-Ed pages.  Make sure readers can trust there is a clear distinction between what happens on the news pages and what happens on the Editorial pages.

Maybe our press outlets could use a reminder of this basic fact that undergirds the American concept of a free press, yet seems to regularly get ignored.  Educate the people on the facts and let them draw their conclusions, don’t presume you have to pre-package the facts to make sure that people reach the conclusion you want them to reach.  You’ll find your readers and hearers more appreciative and more supportive.

At least this one.

Wet Bar Wednesday – Negroni/Boulevardier

October 4, 2017

My wife’s friend and daughter have been staying with us for the past few days, and tonight is her last night here.  Even though I got home late after a(nother) twelve-hour day, they decided they should have a celebratory final cocktail.  Her friend likes gin as well as bourbon, while my wife doesn’t like gin.  I opted for the Negroni, a classic gin cocktail, and the Boulevardier – heralded as a bourbon version of the Negroni.  Despite an unpleasant experience with another Negroni alternative nearly a year ago, I decided to take the chance.  After all, I’m not drinking it!

Both drinks balance sweet (sweet vermouth) and bitter (Campari).

Negroni

  • 1 oz Campari
  • 1 oz gin (I use Bombay Sapphire)
  • 1 oz sweet vermouth (I use Noilly Prat currently)

Shake the ingredients together well and pour over ice.  You can garnish with a twist of orange peel for a little additional class.

Boulevardier

  • 1 oz Campari
  • 1 oz bourbon (Woodinville Bourbon – a gift from our friend!)
  • 1 oz sweet vermouth (again, Noilly Prat)

Shake the ingredients together well and pour over ice.  You can garnish with a twist of orange peel for a little additional class.

Beware, these are pure alcohol cocktails – nothing to tone them down or mellow them out other than ice!  The flavors are very well balanced in each, with an initial sweet taste finishing with slightly bitter and citrus tones.  I prefer the bourbon version to the gin, but I even found the gin version to be palatable, pretty impressive given my general avoidance of gin!  Enjoy!

Drunk Confessions

October 3, 2017

I often joke with my colleagues that theology is best done over drinks.  People become a lot more honest after two or three drinks.  A lot more comfortable.  A lot more real.  This is true of applied theology as well, namely confession.

Last night I’m hanging out and shooting pool as I often do on Tuesday nights – at a bar.  There is a cross-section of players and friends from various teams around the league and we’re enjoying ourselves moving in and out of rotation on the one table there.

And soas not to keep you in suspense, yes, I won frequently :-)

My nickname in the league is The Preacher.  Ironic given that I never preach when I’m shooting pool (I haven’t been asked yet).  But I do a fair amount of listening.  One of the women there likes to call me Preacher, and comes from a Southern Baptist background.  I think she’d had a few drinks by the time I started talking with her.  Which began a roughly 30 minute conversation, or more like monologue, wherein she shared a lot about where she grew up, her grandfather the Southern Baptist preacher, and a little bit about her own religious leanings.  She expressed an interest in coming to my church despite the fact that I told her she’d find us pretty Catholic-looking and that I wear a dress.  I think I want to find a way to encourage her to do some more conversing rather than just showing up randomly to a church service.

Towards the end of the evening I’m watching a game when another woman starts talking with me.  We don’t know each other well but we see each other pretty often on practice nights (usually Mondays).  I know she’s not a Christian, but again, after a few drinks, she’s comfortable talking about relationship stuff.  But the tricky part about drunk confessions is that they aren’t necessarily repentance-oriented.  People need to talk, but they don’t necessarily really want advice, and they aren’t necessarily saying what they’re doing is wrong.

So I keep listening, and praying that somehow there will be an opportunity to proclaim the Gospel clearly.  Those opportunities come up, they just seem very few and far between.

Maybe I need to actually start preaching while I play.