Church in a Box

October 29, 2019

So you want to start a church?  Easy-peesy!  Just order Church in a Box!

It will cost you anywhere between $20,000 and $100,000, depending on how big a church you’re starting, but they’ll provide you with everything you need (materials-wise, not personnel!) to do so.  Banners.  Audio/video equipment.  Coffee.  You name it, it’s included.

Assuming you have a venue, the people to do all of these things, and someone capable of preaching and teaching, what a cool way of one-stop shopping!

 

 

Religious Trends

October 28, 2019

Here’s another article about the ongoing trend of millenials  (those born between 1981 and 1996) away from religious life and particularly Christian religious life as defined by a corporate/communal worship service.  This isn’t anything new, but it does remind us that things are not changing, and are not going to change anytime soon.

The title of the essay is problematic, as there’s no exploration of why millenials are trending this way at all, other than a passing reference to being in the stage of life where family, finances, and career tend to overwhelm all other priorities.  But this is hardly anything new or unique to millenials.  Every generation has to balance and manage these demands during this time of life, and for far larger percentages of our population, this was done alongside (or perhaps more accurately enabled through) active, sustained, committed participation in a religious faith community.  Primarily Christian.  The Church.  This isn’t so much an issue with religion in general in America, but with Christianity.  According to this data, 70% of Americans consider themselves Christian (not including Mormons).  Non-religious make up almost 20%, which leaves only about 10% of the population that follows other religions.

So blaming the demands of work and finances and family doesn’t cut it as the reason millenials are no longer participating in churches as earlier generations did.  But the article does point out some of the ramifications of this change.

Yes, people are lonelier.  But let’s draw a few more tangible connections, please.  Loneliness is likely a high contributing factor to rising levels  of both depression and suicide.  More pertinent to this is the recognition that Christianity and the Bible offer something in very short supply these days – hope.  A reason to continue on in the face of periods of bleakness or sorrow.

The article also references lower levels of sexual activity among young people as another aspect of the pressures on millenials.  But what about some  deeper analysis, please?  Could reduced levels of sexual activity be linked to less attachment to Christian community and  a much decreased emphasis on the value and beauty of marriage?  Dating apps may be decreasing in popularity, but they are also being singled out as likely culprits for increasing rates of sexually transmitted diseases.  And of course if traditional Judeo-Christian teachings on sexuality are being increasingly ignored, then the overwhelming prevalence of pornographic access at the click of a button with virtually no safeguards or obstacles also is likely to play a big part in changing levels of sexual activity.

Of course the article doesn’t deal with the biggest issue of all – as rates and levels of regular worship continue to drop, there is a very real risk (likelihood?) of people abandoning not just worship but the faith.  Rather than temporal mental health or social health, Christianity posits that what we believe has eternal consequences.  That’s not something most articles like this want to deal with or know how to.  The reality is that increasingly these people may not simply be lost to the Church for the time being, but eternally.  That’s a huge deal.

Millenials  aren’t coming back to church.  How many of them were really there before?  How many of them were raised in worshiping families where weekly worship was a priority, no matter how hard the work week had been?  How many of them were isolated from actual worship in youth ministry bubbles where fun and games eclipsed actual engagement with the Bible and Christian teachings, and where discussion of how faith applies to life were limited to purity rings and other one-off experiences?

We can look at lots of factors contributing to why young people are less and less interested in church, even if they still consider themselves to be Christian in some less-easily defined way.  But I think we need to include the Church itself in those factors.  Somehow, the faith was not transmitted to millenials (and the generations following them, don’t doubt it) in a meaningful and applicable way.  If most  younger Christians are essentially moralistic therapeutic deists, the Church has to wonder if it contributed to this tragic mistake?  If church is about being nice, can’t people get that other places?  School programs, work programs, TED talks, any number of other options.  What makes church unique if not the very message and heart of the Bible and Jesus and faith?

No, the youth aren’t coming back.  Not for a long time.  How is the Church going to adapt to this and plan to deal with it?  Especially given the reality the article notes, that collection baskets have suddenly gotten lighter?  And how does the Church attract a younger demographic that is going to see – and not entirely incorrectly – that a sudden surge in interest in evangelism is driven perhaps less by actual love of neighbor and more as an effort to prop up and sustain a model of doing church that is less and less sustainable as membership levels continue to drop?

Again, it should be noted: these are large scale trends.  There are (thankfully!) always exceptions to the rules, both individual congregations and even larger communities where this is not the case.  But it does mean that sooner or later these larger trends will begin to affect these places that may not really notice the change right now.

 

Reading Ramblings – All Saints Day

October 27, 2019

Reading Ramblings

Date: All Saints’ Day (Observed) – November 3, 2019

Texts: Revelation 7:9-17; Psalm 149; 1 John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12

Context: All Saints’ Day – in one form or another – replaced celebrations of individual martyrs when Roman persecution created too many martyrs to be observed separately. The observance also moved from only honoring those who were executed specifically for being Christian to remembering all those of the faith who have preceded us into glory. This is not a day of sorrow, though of course we miss those who have passed into glory. Rather, it is a day to celebrate the promises of our Lord that the grave is not the final word in our lives, and that the resurrected Son of God will gather all the faithful living and dead together for an eternal celebration.

Revelation 7:9-17 – Those gathered around the throne do not sing their own praises. They do not laud themselves for their faithfulness, for their willingness to suffer and die for the name of Christ. They do not locate their salvation in some merit of their own, as though their supreme sacrifice in faith was worthy of God bestowing salvation on them. No, salvation belongs to God the Father on the throne, and to the Lamb, the Son of God who lives though he was slain. He alone is worthy of praise, even in light of the sacrifice these faithful made. Likewise, our lives are to be lives of faith and praise of our Lord and Savior, rather than directed at congratulating ourselves or enticing others to give us praise.

Psalm 149 – Our living God is worthy of living praise, praise that echoes his works of the past but is always new, always being added on to as we experience the work of God in our lives in the present. Such praise is not simply private but a public affair – we sing the praise of God together as we share what He does for us individually. It does not seem to be a very staid or stoic praise, either! It is decidedly un-Lutheran, but reflects the exuberance of God’s people before their God. That anyone else should expect such praise and glory, any earthly king or prince is ridiculous! It will be the people of God’s privilege and duty to ensure that all such powers do submit on that final day, so that none may remain in their lofty places of personal majesty, but rather all will come together in worship and adoration of God alone. All – which includes the living as well as those who have entered into glory already.

1 John 3:1-3 – What is love? It is the love of God bestowed on an undeserving creation that clings to him in faith and trust. It is his calling of his faithful children, rather than rebels or thieves or any number of other names that might more accurately describe our sinful hearts. Instead He calls us his children and gathers us to himself that we might know his love eternally. One day, that love and our relationship to him will be obvious to everyone, even those who deny his reality and hate his faithful. They are unable to see who we are, who God the Holy Spirit makes us into through faith – sons and daughters of the Creator of the Universe! Rather, we are subject to mockery and ridicule by a world that deems itself wise. The reality of our relationship to a very real God is not yet visible to the world, but it will be one day. It is this hope we press toward, the hope of what God has already made us and will reveal in fullness not just to the world but to even us, who can’t see our identities clearly through the fog of sin and ignorance. But trusting his Word, trusting that we are his holy children, we strive to make our lives more holy, more reflective of the reality He declares to us. We await the day when, raised from the dead we stand with all the faithful through history, revealed in the glory of Jesus Christ and joining our voices in praise of who He has made us to be through his great love!

Matthew 5:1-12 – How do we set out to make our lives more holy? In a sense, they can’t be any holier, as God has declared us righteous through faith in Jesus Christ. Yet we remain sinful as well, and here is where our holiness can and should be cultivated. Yet, curiously, as Jesus characterizes those who receive the kingdom of heaven, their role is wholly passive. They are poor in spirit, yet they receive the kingdom of heaven. They do mourn, and they are comforted. They are meek, yet they inherit everything. They hunger and thirst, and they will be given what they hunger and thirst for. They are merciful to others – finally an actionable item on their/our part, and only made possible by the mercy first shown us in Jesus Christ. Pure in heart, because they are destined to see God and so have been made pure in heart through faith. Another actionable item – peacemakers. And finally they are persecuted, yet will receive the kingdom of heaven.

So in terms of this particular teaching, the only actionable things of God’s people are mercy and peacemakers. We grant mercy to others who do not deserve it because we have received God’s mercy. And we strive to make peace with one another because we have been set at peace through Christ. These are not actionable items our world thinks very highly of. Where’s the ambition? Where are the lofty goals and grand intentions?

If we desire to style ourselves as Christian superheroes, perhaps we need to rethink our goals and particularly our reasons for those goals. Mercy and peacemaking are things we are called to as part of the kingdom of heaven despite there being no personal glory in them, and perhaps precisely because there is no personal glory in them. Yet as we think back on those Christians influential in our lives but now in glory, perhaps mercy and peacemaking were aspects of them that made them so influential, even if we couldn’t pinpoint those traits at the time (or even now!).

Missed Messages

October 26, 2019

I wonder if he would have left a message on the machine.

I wonder what that message would have said.

You don’t call a church at 8:30 pm on a Saturday night expecting someone to answer.  Frankly, anymore you don’t call even looking for service times and information.  Even Baby Boomers know to find that stuff on the Internet or through their mobile devices.  So I wonder what he would have done if I hadn’t picked up the phone.

As it was, when I answered, there was a short pause, a fumbling  to find the right words for an unexpected situation.  And then a simple confession.  I had an experience with God.  God touched me.  

Interesting, and not the normal lead off.

Why would He do that?

Very interesting indeed.  The man’s voice is cracked and ragged.  The sinful part of me wonders if he’s been drinking,  and that has driven him at this hour to pick up the phone and call a church.

That was 45 years ago.  But I feel it just like it was yesterday, like I was still in the car.  It’s that real.  I spent my life trying to figure it out.  I majored in religious studies at USC.  I’ve been trying to figure this out for a long time.   Why did He touch me?  Would He do it again?  I need to get back to church.  I was raised Norwegian Lutheran.  I need to get back to church.

I can hear the sincerity, the reality of his questioning.  Why indeed?  Or why not, just as easily.  I talk about the Transfiguration, about those brief moments on a mountaintop that Peter wanted to stretch out indefinitely.  But Peter was told to shut up.  And then he and the others were led back down the mountain.  Into the real world again, as we like to think of it.  A place where the reality and touch of God can seem much more remote, and the presence and work of evil so much more palpable.

I need to get back to church.  

I tell him our worship time for the next morning.  I invite and encourage him.  But I doubt I’ll see him.  He reached out not expecting to find anyone, and he found someone.  The one touched by God now fumbling because he unexpectedly touched someone.  Perhaps he was unexpectedly touched back.  I pray he was.  That he does show up some Sunday for worship.  I encourage him that perhaps that is why God touched him so long ago, knowing that he would wander even as he sought God, that he would get lost in the maze of life while never forgetting that moment in the car when God touched him.  And that touch, so many years ago, maybe that touch was intended to draw him back.  To ensure there was a way back out of the maze and  into the arms of his creator and redeemer and sanctifier.

A way that maybe didn’t rely on an answering machine, but an unexpected dialogue.

 

Bad Bibles

October 25, 2019

I’m often asked to make recommendations for the Bible.  Meaning, which one should I buy?  Not being a linguistic genius or blessed with the time to read every available translation or paraphrasing and compare and determine for myself what is best, I rely on old standbys.

The King James Version is beautiful and classic but largely inaccessible to people uncomfortable with an antiquated English language.

The New International Version is fine up  through the 1984 edition, but the more recent edition makes deliberate choices to omit masculine pronouns in reference both to God as well as humans, I imagine in a play to not offend anyone obsessed with gender issues these days.

I prefer the English Standard Version.  Readable but still with attention to detail and accuracy.

But I’m grateful when I come across thoughtful critiques of different translations.  I’m not personally familiar with the New American Bible but the author of this series of blog posts makes some excellent points.  His critiques are aimed at translational decisions made by the editorial team of the NAB.  He critiques some of the unpoetic, clinical language chosen for this translation, which loses both beauty as well as great theological significance in some passages.  He critiques editorial choices that blur or narrow great theological significances conveyed in the original languages and maintained faithfully for literally thousands of years in translation.  And he critiques changes in verbiage that obscure or even hide the actual meaning of the original languages, perhaps with an eye towards making the Word of God less offensive to contemporary cultural preferences.

All of which seem very legitimate reasons to me NOT  to suggest the NAB, even if it is approved and endorsed by the Roman Catholic Church.  Thoughts?

 

Picture Language

October 24, 2019

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

In our own country.

 

Weekly Devotion – October 21

October 22, 2019

Genesis 32:22-32

Jacob’s journey home is anything but heartwarming. He’s spent 20 years away from home, leaving behind an angry brother who sought his death, a mother who schemed with Jacob to gain the advantage over his brother, prompting Esau’s anger, 14 years of hard work for a man who became his father-in-law, deceiving him on his wedding night by marrying him to Leah rather than Rachel. Laban tries to trick and cheat Jacob at every turn, but God has preserved Jacob, increased his wealth vastly, and provided him with many sons. Finally, Laban’s family turns against Jacob and with divine direction, Jacob flees to return home with his wealth and family. Only divine intervention spares Jacob from an attack by his father-in-law and extended family, and now Jacob receives word his brother Esau is coming out to meet him – with 400 men, a small army.

Jacob does all he can to ensure at least some of his family survive in the event Esau attacks. He does all he can to buy his brother’s good will, but now on the last night before they meet, alone after sending the last of his family ahead of him, Jacob is left by the Jabbok River. Alone except for his fear and anxiety.

Here, God comes to him. More accurately, the pre-incarnate Son of God, Jesus, comes to him as a man and wrestles with him through the night. Jacob has no time for worry or fear about Esau, as his attention is fixated on this struggle. Jacob brings his characteristic tenacity to the duel, never giving in, never breaking off. And the Son of God, who comes to Jacob not to crush him in defeat, gives Jacob encouragement for the tasks ahead of him with Esau, leaving him with both a new name and a blessing.

God enters into our struggles with us and for us, and his presence leaves us changed forever as well. Jacob walks forward towards his encounter with Esau with a limp, a reminder of how he grappled with God himself, and a reminder that it is not his own power that preserves him. God is with and for him, and so his encounter with Esau ends well.

May we have the faith to reach out to God in prayer, to grapple with him in his Word and the presence of his Holy Spirit. And may we each leave such encounters strengthened and encouraged by God’s gentle strength, and more aware than ever who it is that sustains us each moment of our lives!

Reading Ramblings – Reformation Sunday (Observed)

October 20, 2019

Reading Ramblings

Date: Reformation Sunday (Observed) ~ October 27, 2019

Texts: Revelation 14:6-7; Psalm 46; Romans 3:19-28; Matthew 11:12-19

Context: Properly understood, Reformation Sunday is not a celebration of division within the Church, but rather a thanksgiving to God the Holy Spirit who restored the emphasis on Jesus the Son of God who alone grants grace and forgiveness as we trust in his promise to do this. The power of the Law to condemn us for failing the Law is no longer in force. Christians are of course still bound to the Law – it isn’t as though we needn’t mind it any longer. We of all people should adhere to it knowing it as the revealed Truth of God! But we no longer fear the condemnation of the Law because we are delivered from it through faith in Jesus Christ, who suffered the full measure and penalty of the Law on our behalf.

Revelation 14:6-7 – In Lutheran circles this is the traditional first reading of the day, though I would prefer it if we varied it a bit year to year. While these verses were claimed by some to be talking about Martin Luther and his work in restoring the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, this really isn’t an emphasis I’ve ever heard, and it seems a bit of a stretch. We should and will properly give thanks for the Holy Spirit’s use of Luther, but we dare never mistake him for the Gospel itself. The Good News is Jesus alone on our behalf. We are free to worship God without fear because we are forgiven in Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit testifies on our behalf before our heavenly Father.

Psalm 46 – We can hear echoes of Luther’s hymn A Mighty Fortress in this psalm, though there are plenty of other places in Scripture that use this language as well. Where else can we turn when things are difficult? Though insulated for two centuries from religious persecution, individual Christians have clung to Christ as their rock and fortress in times of personal, emotional, economic, relational, and other crises. Christians who have faced physical persecution for their faith understand as well that everything can be taken from us – even our very lives – but not our hope. We are terribly fragile creatures, but the power of God cannot be shaken, and we are promised God’s power on our behalf. Not necessarily to make things the way we would prefer them to be, but rather to deliver his promises to us in Jesus Christ, and to make good on those promises in his perfect timing even should we meet death lifting our voices in prayer to him. God will accomplish his will and plan, and promises we will be part of that, even if the world succeeds in blotting out our memory, God knows every one of us and will never forget or forsake us!

Romans 3:19-28 – Yes, everyone is under the Law. Nobody can excuse themselves from the way God has created all things to operate. We may rage against the Law, but our rage does not remove us from it’s power to condemn us for our sins. Nobody can claim to be righteous on their own merits, either from perfect obedience to the Law, or from some sort of personal exemption from the Law. Indeed, the power and purpose of the Law, Paul asserts, is to condemn, to make us conscious of our failures and our need, before a righteous and holy God, for a savior who can deliver us from the penalties of the Law we deserve. So while obedience to the Law cannot make us or declare us righteous, God has revealed another means, another source of righteousness, external to ourselves, in the Son of God, Jesus the Christ. Faith and trust in the promises of God the Father delivered through the Son of God is our source of righteousness. God offers this redemption, this forgiveness and grace freely to anyone who will receive it. Therefore God is the exclusive object of worship and praise for his goodness, for He alone is the source of our salvation. So while we can and should seek to live our lives according to the Law, and while it is necessary and right that those who transgress the Law may suffer temporal punishment for their sins, we should not presume that God grades on a curve, and those who have scored higher on the Law are somehow more deserving of God’s grace and forgiveness, as though He owes it to them for their good works. Rather, we humbly receive the grace of God for ourselves, and humbly pray that all others would receive it as well, welcoming them into the kingdom of God as brothers and sisters rather than as inferiors.

Matthew 11:12-19 – This is a confusing passage in Matthew, which is perhaps why I tend to favor the reading from John instead, since we’re given a choice in the lectionary! Context is important here. John the Baptist sits in prison, ostensibly as protection from Herod’s wife who is none to happy with John’s condemnation of her marriage. John’s disciples are sent to make sure Jesus truly is the Messiah, since John probably never considered the Messiah’s arrival would mean imprisonment. John’s disciples return, undoubtedly convinced by what they see and hear from Jesus. But what of the crowds who remain, and who themselves may wonder what role John the Baptist plays in all of these amazing things? Is Jesus simply a greater teacher and miracle worker than John the Baptist? Should they ignore John in favor of Jesus?

Jesus asks them what they thought of John the Baptist. Why did they go out to see him, to walk out from Jerusalem to the Jordan River to listen, to camp overnight, to wade out into the muddy water to be baptized? Did they go out because John said what people wanted to say, changing his message when Pharisees and others arrived? Hardly! Did they go to hear John because of his fashion sense or because he spoke eloquently like the many schools of Greek philosophers and orators? Hardly! Such people sought a good living in a palace, not the rough life of the wilderness! Could it be they went to hear John because in listening to John, they knew they were listening to the Word of God? Was John then a prophet – the first true prophet of God in 400 years? Yes, indeed. That is why they went, and that is who John was and is – even as he sits in prison. And not just any prophet, but the very prophet the last prophet – Malachi- prophesied about! The forerunner of the Messiah!

John was given the most important task in all of human history – preparing the way for the Son of God. Yet that glory and honor is peculiar to here and now and our world so desperately in need of salvation, and doesn’t translate into eternal glory or prominence. As such, whether John is free or imprisoned, alive or dead is secondary to whether he has done his job well. He has reaped the reward of a sinful world for such faithfulness – he is imprisoned. He suffers violence from the powers of the world convinced they can silence the Word of God if they silence the speaker. Before John’s arrival, the Law and the Prophets testified about the Kingdom of God’s coming, but John’s task was to announce it’s arrival – a related but different message with some particularly thorny ramifications for the powers that be, whether worldly or spiritual. John has spoken the Word of God never before spoken in human history – that the Messiah has come, the kingdom of heaven has arrived. Things are in motion.

And if this is the case, and that is who John is and the role he plays, how important is it that we listen! That we hear John for who God intended him to be, pointing out the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! How important is it that while we don’t disregard John, we don’t confuse his glory with the far greater glory of the Son of God incarnate here on our behalf!

We prefer to set the pace, to determine things according to our good pleasure. But the kingdom of God is only according to the pleasure of God. If we think we can dismiss God’s messengers because they don’t suit our expectations or preferences, we play a dangerous game. A foolish game, the winners and losers of which will one day be revealed before all of heaven and earth.

Whoever has ears, let them hear!

A Desk

October 15, 2019

I inherited a very nice office when I accepted my current Call.  A large, dark wood desk with an accompanying side piece – I don’t even know what to call it – that has another large flat surface as well as cabinets above.  Both pieces have large, deep drawers with plenty of hanging file space.

It’s a beautiful desk – though I rarely see it because of my clutter.  I rally every so often to clear away the ministerial detritus which accumulates there naturally layer by layer.  There is a great – if fleeting – satisfaction to seeing the top of my desk.

But even as I admire it, I recognize it is not an ideal desk.  It is very much a desk of a different age, before the proliferation of devices and cables.  Phone and computer cords trail off of it in a rather unappealing fashion.  I could rearrange my office layout somewhat to compensate, but I don’t really care about it that much.  The multi-outlet surge protector lays on the floor beside it, also relatively unappealing aesthetically.

A desk for today would have options for cable management so they aren’t trailing across the top of it like anorexic octopuses.  It might even have a place for the surge protector to be mounted underneath, reducing cables across the floor.  And while large file drawers are still helpful, in this age of digital storage it seems somewhat superfluous.

It isn’t that the desk is bad.  It’s a good desk that accomplishes good things.  But it shows it’s age.  Not in terms of how it looks, but rather the functions it does and doesn’t incorporate.  The fact that wires and power outlets are more important these days than file folders doesn’t mean the desk was bad for its time, but rather a demonstration of how many things we take for granted also adapt in subtle or not so subtle ways to changing environments.

I was talking with a parishioner a few months ago who is trying to divest himself of his now-deceased mother’s furniture.  Lovely, sturdy, probably hand-made.  And yet despite being well-kept and lovely, he’s had almost zero interest in it.  Folks are more inclined to order something new and sleek off of Amazon, or take a trip to the nearest IKEA mega-store to pick up something full of contemporary functionality – even though it will never last as long as his mother’s furniture.  I love my desk, but the fact that I love it may not mean anyone else will.  They think of desks differently perhaps than I do.  We use the same word but have slightly different ideas in mind.

It isn’t that people are going to quit needing desks.  But they are going to look for different features in desks, and desks will increasingly adapt themselves to those needs and wants.  It shouldn’t compromise the core purpose and identity of a desk.  It isn’t as though desks will quit featuring flat tops to work on.  It wouldn’t be a desk any more!  But in other ways manufacturers will increasingly figure out and incorporate ancillary preferences and needs.  In the process, looks will change, although I have no doubt there is very fine, traditional-looking office furniture that provides for cable and power management and other modern niceties.

It’s probably time to clean my desk off again.  Time to admire the classic lines and finish.  I’m willing to deal with the minor inconveniences, but  I know others might not be.  I just have to keep that in mind, should I ever decide I want or need a new desk and want to sell this one.

Income Disparity!

October 14, 2019

When I was a kid, we couldn’t afford to purchase school lunches.  Every day I brought my lunch to school in a pretty cool lunch box.  My preferred sandwich was peanut butter and jelly.  I ate that pretty much every school day for lunch from as far back as I can remember to sometime probably in late high school when I started working and could afford to – from time to time – eat out.

I never really gave this much thought.  Some people could afford to buy school lunches, just like some people – once we hit junior high and high school age – could afford to buy shakes and french fries and other luxuries for lunch.  It was a reality of my life.  Yes, it meant I wasn’t part of the in crowd (although there were plenty of other, non-economic reasons why I would never be invited into that hallowed clique).  I learned to deal with that.  As generations of kids did before me and after me.

Yet politicians today are outraged that not everyone can afford to buy school lunches.  Or some people sign their kids up for them but then fall behind in their payments, racking up debts with the school.  This has apparently been handled up till now by those children getting a “cheaper, alternative” lunch.  And this stigmatizes them.  They stick out from their peers who can afford the pricier lunches, or can afford to have the luxury of choosing what they want to eat for lunch instead of just having something handed to them.

Note that everyone is getting a lunch.  But some get to choose what they have for lunch while others are denied a choice, or their choice is less desirable.

So our state has decided to eliminate the stigma for these children by assuring that all kids – whether their parents can afford to pay their lunch debts off or not – get the same lunch.  No mention is made in the article about how this decision will be paid for.  I presume it will be paid for with yet another sob-story appeal to the voters about how the school systems can’t make ends meet and need more money in taxes and bonds to ensure all children receive a quality education.

Seems as though education is in order, indeed.

Starting with the hard, cold reality – both present and historical – that some people make more than others.  Some people have more than others.  In my studies of history, this has always been the case.  Even including efforts at socialism and communism in the 20th century, a basic fact of life is that some people are always going to be a little better off than others.  Or a lot.  Whether they’re supposed to be or not.  That’s the way life works.

Yet news stories today present this as though it’s some sort of newly discovered corruption in our society.  Did you know that some people can afford to buy portable generators when faced with possible power outages?  Did you know this is evidence of income disparity?!  Wait – you mean some people live paycheck to paycheck?  How is it that reporters and politicians are so surprised by this?  For pretty much all of my life, myself and the vast majority of people I’ve known live more or less paycheck to paycheck.  We don’t have vast sums of money in the bank.  Sometimes we have a little more.  Sometimes a little less.

But we live in a country founded on the principle that if you worked hard, you could improve your situation.  You might start out with not much, but you could try to do better.  It wasn’t handed to you.  It wasn’t paid for by other people.  But you had the chance to try and improve your lot in life.  Generations of people have done just that.  Millions of people from around the world have undertaken great risk and expense to come to our country because of that principle.  And many, many, many of them have found that principle isn’t just a nice marketing gimmick.  It’s true.  They’re witnesses to it, and that reality is what continues to fuel the desire to come to our country.

That’s not good enough for our politicians, apparently.

Maybe more of them needed to bring their lunches to school.  Maybe more of them needed to deal with the fact that some people don’t eat fancy lunches every day at school.  Some people don’t wear the latest designer fashions to school every day.  Some people aren’t invited to the cool parties and hang out with the popular kids every day.  That income disparity is just one of the pervasive realities of life, and despite good (or bad) intentions to the contrary, is amazingly difficult (or impossible) to eliminate.

Now that lunches are free, I guess we can move on to mandating a fashion fund so kids with parents who can’t afford to shop at all the cool stores aren’t stigmatized by having to wear off-brand clothing.  Maybe another fund to help poor families buy nicer cars so they don’t stand out when they’re dropping off and picking up junior from school.  The list could go on and on.

Life is not fair.  Not in income and not in a stunning variety of other ways.  Kids can be very cruel, it’s true.  And if it isn’t school lunches, it will be something else where they demonstrate this truth generation after generation.

Because the real issue isn’t school lunches or portable generators or even income disparity as a whole.  The real problem, the real root of cruelty and social and economic stratification is sin.  Brokenness that can’t be legislated away.  Sin that can’t be taxed out of existence.  We have to be saved from it, but the government isn’t up to that task.  Never has been.  Isn’t now.  Never will be.  We can seek to make improvements, to be sure.  And I know that good intentions are at the basis of writing about income disparity and trying to give free lunches to everyone.  But what we really need is a God willing to enter into our world to save us from the sin we can’t always see and sometimes don’t want to get rid of, as well as the sin we’d be happy to do without.  Jesus has done this.  My state – or Federal – government can’t.  They can’t fix the level of brokenness that leads to hurt feelings and social stigmatization.  At best, they can try to give away more free lunches.

But that’s something I learned in school as well, along with the fact that some people have more money than others.  There’s no such thing as a free lunch in this world.  Somebody, somewhere, always pays.