Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Some Reflections on Harry Potter

I want to do a littel mini-series in review of Harry Potter, so I will get going with this one and explore a few themes and characters as I go. Hope you enjoy.

The more I think about the Harry Potter series, the more marvelous they become to me. Indeed, I am convinced that the series is magical in every sense of the word, and I find it a pity that many of my brethren have been unable to enjoy it because of their superstitious fear of Harry's magic. This series is not about magic. Magic is a prop, just as lightsaber's are a prop in Star Wars. Truthfully, the use of the Force in Star Wars is far more theologically problematic than the use of magic in Harry Potter. I will leave that statement for now, I can pick it up later if anyone would like.

I believe that the Harry Potter series has suffered from being classified incorrectly. I suspect that this has as much to do with marketing as it does with Mrs. Rowling's intent. Harry Potter was marketed as a children's book, and in some ways it is a children's book, but it is far more than that. This is a series about death, life, loyalty, friendship, courage, and love. These themes grow as the series progresses, and as they grow, the content seems to grow darker and darker. This is on purpose, for such is the nature of life.

Harry's adventure begins with an invitation to Hogwarts' school of wizardry, which if I remember correctly, Harry receives on his twelfth birthday. Hogwarts is a welcomed escape for Harry, for Harry lives with an abusive Uncle and Aunt. Harry's foster parents are over-the-top belligerent. They threaten Harry constantly, but it is evident from the outset that they are simply full of bluster. This does not lessen their cruelty by much, but it will serve as a tremendous contrast to the type of evil we will see in Voldemort.

Ah Voldemort! The man whose very name brings a curse on those who speak it. He is the perfect villain. I confess that I have hardly ever read a more sinister character. He is a nearly souless, pitiless, murdering, self-loving, others-loathing fiend. There are no redeeming qualities in Voldemort. If you want a peek at what the devil is like, then Voldemorte is a good place to start.

Early in the series, the scariest, most evil characters we meet are Harry's Aunt and Uncle. As I mentioned, they are simply full of bluster. The other evil characters we meet are the Malfoys. They are cronies of Voldemort. Draco is a classmate of Harry. He is arrogant and annoying, and he serves as a proper rival and foil to Harry, but he poses no real danger beyond rivalry. Lucius, Draco's father, is a far more imposing figure. He hints and threatens that he could do harm to Harry, but he is mostly harmless. By the end of the series, the Malfoys are cowering in fear in their own home, terrified of their own master. It is striking that Lucius, so feared in the early books, is reduced in our eyes to a powerless toady, so impotent that he willingly gives up his own son, his own house, and his own wand. Lucius is evil because Lucius is a coward.

And so it is in the world of Harry Potter. Things that seem terrible to a lad of twelve are going to pale in comparison to what he will know as a man of eighteen. Harry has to grow up fast due to the horror that is Voldemort.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Old Testament Law as Martial Law

One way I like to think about the Old Testament law is to view it as a sort of divine martial law. It is interesting that even the Ten Commandments do not make their debut until Exodus chapter 20, that means we have fifty chapters of Genesis and twenty chapters of Exodus before we have much law at all. Why is it, then, that discussions of the Old Testament are dominated by law? Is there another point to the narrative of the Old Testament besides the "Thou shalts" and "Thou shalt nots"?

The law makes it debut only after Israel's rescue from the captivity of Egypt. Specifically, the law begins to pile up on the nearly salvaged nation after each transgression of the law only recently given. God rescues Israel, gathers them at the foot of Mt. Sinai, calls Moses up the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments, and Israel throws a party and makes an idol before Moses can get back. You've all seen the movie, probably, of Charlton "Moses" Heston breaking the commandments and having to go back for more, right?

The Apostle Paul tells us why God gave the Law to Israel. He writes:
This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise. Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made" (Galatians 3:17-21).

Paul says that the law came 430 years after the promise was made to Abraham that all nations would be blessed through his "seed" or his "offspring." Paul interprets this Messianically, meaning that the "seed" through whom the world would be blessed is the Messiah, whom Paul professed to be Jesus of Nazareth. Paul's explanation of the law is rather simple. Israel was so obstinate in the wilderness and so unfaithful to God, that God had to issue a sort of "divine martial law" to keep Israel in check until the Messiah came to redeem them and establish a New Covenant with them.

Martial law is established in a country that has become chaotic, often during a rebellion or riotous protests against a government. This is what we see in the Old Testament. The sinful people of God rebelled against him time after time in their wilderness travel. So God clamped down on them through the enforcement of divine martial law. He told them what to eat, how to shave, what to wear, when to take a holiday, when to work, and when not to work. All of this so that their rebellion would not utterly destroy them before the time of redemption.

Since Jesus is the promised Messiah, the offspring of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, and David, and since he has instituted the New Covenant by his own death and resurrection, martial law has been lifted. That isn't to say that the divine martial law was wicked. It all, every rule, jot, and tittle, flowed from the two commandments of loving God with all one's heart, mind, soul, and strength, and loving one's neighbor as oneself.

So it isn't moral relativism to insist in one epoch the abstaining from shellfish and then to eat it in another. It is simply a different circumstance. It is a good thing for a government to institute curfews during a period of martial law so that order can be maintained. This is the purpose that the law serves: to restrain wickedness. It serves, spiritually speaking, to keep the spiritual looters and rioters from harming the people of God.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Djembe

I've never given a thought to percussion. I have dabbled in the piano, the guitar, and learned to sing harmony in the choir, but for some reason the thought of percussion being part of the "music" had escaped me. That is, I hadn't until I heard a guy sit and play the djembe. It blew me away, and I instantly wanted to learn to play that instrument. Only three or so things stood in my way:

1) My perceived inherent lack of serious rythmn.
2) The "Africanness" of the djembe: I didn't want to look like a poseur.
3) I didn't own a djembe nor know anyone who did.

I finally swallowed my excuses, bought a djembe, and even though I may be a rhythmnless white dude from rural America, I love it. I can, sort of, keep 4/4, 3/4, and 6/8 time now. I'm still working on really playing, which means hearing and replicating cool "grooves.".

Anyway, I thought I'd include a video for your enjoyment of what a skilled djembe player can make it do. It's marvelous. Her name is Adjoa Skinner, and I think that this is a combination of three African folk songs which means "For all that you have done for me, I thank you everyday, I thank you all my life." I suspect that it is a sort of folk worship song.

And no, I can't play this well. Not even close. And I can't smile that pretty, either.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Uncomfortable Old Testament Laws

My friend Alvin brought up a few salient in the comment section about Old Testament laws and the effect that Jesus had upon the Law through his life and ministry. Did Jesus abrogate the laws of the Old Testament? Did God change them because they were flawed? Should they be a source of embarrassment for Christians? These are good questions, and they have to be answered if a Christian expects anyone to take his faith seriously.

So, let me put forward a few propositions that should make my position on the matter clear, and then I will deal with one of the verses in particular:

1) It is just to put adulterers to death.
2) It is just to put a son to death who beats his parents.
3) The bond of marriage is sacred.
4) Evil is to be resisted to the death.

Now, the obvious come back to this is that we do not put adulterers to death, and Jesus let an adulterous woman go. So, are we, and more importantly is Jesus, acting in a morally relative manner?

I will say that being merciful necessarily means that justice has not been served. If it were just to be merciful, then mercy would be meaningless. If Jesus lets the adulterous woman go, it does not mean that she did not deserve death. It simply means that Jesus demonstrated mercy. Christians believe that this woman will meet Jesus one day as judge, and in that day she will give an account for her deeds. Until then, she has been blanketed with grace by the King himself.

Because the Lord Jesus has extended this mercy, it is now acceptable for us to live by his example. This does not mean that new laws giving the death penalty for adultery would be unjust. Nor does it mean that Christians no longer believe that adultery is a crime against our neighbor and against God. We believe that hell awaits the unrepentant, and that is far worse than death by stoning.

Now, let me deal with what I think is the most difficult of the OT passages mentioned:

Deuteronomy 22:28-29: If a man is caught in the act of raping a young woman who is not engaged, he must pay fifty pieces of silver to her father. Then he must marry the young woman because he violated her, and he will never be allowed to divorce her.

This sounds horrible, if we understand "seize" in this passage to mean rape. The NIV certainly translates it that way, and I think that is a mistake. The verb used here in the Hebrew is a different verb used in verse 25. In verse 25, the verb definitely means "to prevail over, to strengthen against." Here in verse 28, it means, "to grab, to seize, to lay hold of." I believe it is significant that the verb is changed. Further, we have an almost exact parallel to this passage in Exodus 22:15-16. I understand Deut. 22:28-29 to describe a consensual scenario as is paralleled in Exodus 22:15-16. The verb "to grab" is used here to underscore the passion of the moment and the violation that occurs in intercourse outside of marriage, not that it is forced on the woman.

I also have an explanation as to why it is okay to eat shellfish and catfish now that Jesus has been crucified and resurrected, and it has nothing to do with moral relativism either. Hopefully that is enough to get the discussion going for those who are interested.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Vocation and Education

I have a few regrets about my college years. The most keen regret that I feel is that I was a poor student for most of my time in college. I had no understanding of what an opportunity for enrichment education truly is, nor did I realize that education is far more than the learning of facts or learning a trade.

I fear that the notion I had about education is endemic to our culture. When children are very small, we begin to ask them "what they want to be when they grow up." It is an interesting question or else we would not ask it, and I believe that it is an important question because it gives us a little peek into their souls if we are wise.

If you ask a child what he wants to be when he grows up, especially a little boy, he may tell you that he wants to be an astronaut, a fireman, a garbage man, or a police officer. Surely, no adult is under the illusion that the child has the slightest idea of what it means to be an astronaut or what it takes to become one. Children just like the idea of going into outerspace, and that is a fine thing for a child to want to do.

When a child says that he wants to be a garbage man, what he is really saying is that he wants to ride on the back of a great big truck all day and explore the town. (Alas, garbage men no longer get to do this in my town.) When a child says that he wants to be a fireman, he really means that he'd like to be someone's hero. When a child says that he wants to be a police officer, he really means that he would like to capture bad guys and carry a gun. It is the budding virtues that ought to be encouraged in a child, and that is precisely the foundation for all good education: the teaching of virtue.

This is why there is often a disconnect between education and vocation. A boy who wants to be a police officer does not understand the point of studying Shakespeare. A girl whose greatest ambition is to be a nurse may not see the point in studying Western Civilization. But police officers ought to be schooled in Shakespeare, at least, they ought to be taught why he is relevant to non-barbarians.

Shakespeare is important to police work because Shakespeare wrote about criminals. MacBeth was a criminal. He was a murderer and a usurper. He struggled with his decision. MacBeth struggled with his criminal impulse. He said, "We but teach
bloody instructions, which being taught return to plague the inventor." Ah, you see, MacBeth knew that murder was a bloody schoolmaster, and that murderers tended themselves to be murdered. Murder is unwise, MacBeth says. Think of it, MacBeth was murdering the king in order to be the king. If king's are subject to such betrayal, then what will stop the next opportunist from killing MacBeth? If everyone behaved as MacBeth, then the society could not function.

MacBeth is filled with the idea of morality, criminal activity, and the consequences thereof. So is Hamlet. All the classics of literature grapple with these great questions and help to shape our moral thinking. History is a grand drama in itself, greater than anything that Shakespeare imagined. I say that because he pulled his stories from the common experience of mankind. He echoed in his fiction what was wrought in the reality of the world. This is why nurses ought to study history and firemen should study literature. This is why we do not go to college to simply learn engineering or accounting. This way, when an officer is offered a bribe, he will be prepared to refuse it because all the greatest sages have warned him of the consequences of corruption.

I should like it very much if, instead of bending down to little toddlers and asking them what they would like to be when they grow up, if we would also ask of their parents, "What would you like for your child to be when he grows up?" This would probably stump most parents. They might say something like, "Whatever he would like to be." I would say, "And what if he would like to be a criminal?" I imagine no parent wants that for their child. For myself, I wish for my children to be people of virtue and character. I do not care if he is a ditch-digger, a landscape architect, or a medical doctor. I want my children to be, above all, godly. My endeavor is to instill in them wisdom, virtue, and moral character. After that, they can do whatever they like.

I wonder, is that how we look at education? Do we agree with this from Solomon? "How much better to get wisdom than gold! To get understanding is to be chosen rather than silver" and "The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight" (Proverbs 16:16, 4:7).

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Another Reason to Believe

There are a number of reasons that I find to believe in the veracity of the gospels and the New Testament. One that always sticks out in my mind is the brutal honesty with which the followers of Jesus are depicted, and even the way in which the ministry of Jesus itself is depicted.

The first and most obviously interesting thing about the gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, is that they were not written by Jesus. They were written by his immediate disciples. Either Matthew or Mark were written first, depending on who you believe, with John being the latest. Luke composed his gospel account based on eyewitness reporting (Luke 1:1-4). Mark, according to tradition, composed his gospel account under the watchful eye of Peter himself.

Most of the time, when someone writes a book that is a bit of an autobiography, you expect that person to appear in a somewhat favorable light. This is not the case in the gospels. There, we find the disciples being a group of near bunglers. They are constantly misunderstanding Jesus, apparently clueless as to his teaching, and seem to bicker incessantly about who is the best disciple (Matt. 16:10-12; John 12:12-16; Luke 9:46, 22:44). They are not, to say the least, portrayed in a very flattering light.

Imagine if you were Peter, the great leader of the early church, would you be especially keen on including that episode where Jesus called you Satan? (Mark 8:33). Or, would you want to include that part where you denied Jesus three times out of fear being identified with Jesus? (Mark 14:66-72). That took some serious humility to include that, something almost unprecidented in the history of autobiography.

And what are we to make of John's gospel account? By the time John wrote, many of the other disciples were already dead. Yet, he doesn't even name himself in his own book. He only refers to himself as "The One Whom Jesus Loved," which might also be translated, "The One Whom Jesus Kept Loving." What sort of men are these who write about themselves in such a manner?

So imagine these men, these great men, Peter, Matthew, and John. All three of them are followers of Jesus from the beginning. They all had the chance to write down the greatest adventures of their lives, and instead of their books being about them, they chose to write themselves a bit part in order to introduce the world to Jesus. We would not even know of Peter's raising Tabitha from the dead if it weren't for Luke's account in Acts.

I can understand writing a biography about a great man. I can even imagine the disciples wanting to write a great book on the things that Jesus did. I understand seeing greatness and wishing to share that greatness with others. Jesus, since so many books have been written about him, must be great indeed. Yet, here is what I do not so often see. I do not often see a man that is so great that he not only compels men to write books about himself, but that he is so great that he compels men to write truth about themselves. That is the marvelous thing about Jesus, and that is why I believe his disciples. They tell the truth, not only about Jesus, but also about themselves.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Cam Newton: This is Beyond Football

I need to make a few disclaimers before I write this piece so that my biases, if any, are clear to the reader who may stop by. I'm an Alabama fan. I spent four years of my life on that campus, actually received a diploma from that distinguished University, and I will be making a trip down on Thursday to introduce my son to Alabama football, tailgating, and Denny Chimes. I also want to confess that this controversy has put me in the uncomfortable position of being proud of an Auburn football coach for defending his player. It seems obvious to me that Coach Chizik is not simply concerned about his career or his program, but that he is genuinely interested in protecting Cam Newton as an individual. I say good on him. I tip my hat to you, sir. I will never call him Coach Cheesedip or Coach Cheezit again, and that privilege is a right to every Alabama fan that I give up willingly for his manful defense of his player.

This business with Cam Newton has horrified me. It has brought me zero joy as a fan of Alabama football and the sworn enemy of all things orange and blue. It has horrified me as an American, and it has horrified me as a Christian. This isn't funny. Nothing about this is funny. To me, this is dead serious.

Let me deliver a few more disclaimers, if I may. I have no doubt that Cam Newton or his daddy is capable of taking a bribe. I believe that I am capable of taking a bribe. I believe in the falleness of humanity, the power of greed, curfews, and not letting my daughter date until she is 20, and even then I want to vet every candidate. The reason I believe in these things is because I believe in the sinfulness of humanity. All this to say that every Alabama football player could be taking bribes and it would not ruffle my worldview in the least. As G.K. Chesterton rightly notes, "It is a part of Christian dogma that any man in any rank may take bribes. It is a part of Christian dogma; it also happens by a curious coincidence that it is a part of obvious human history...In the best Utopia, I must be prepared for the moral fall of any man in any position at any moment; especially for my fall from my position at this moment." Indeed and amen. Since Cam Newton and his family are human, it is no trouble at all for me to imagine them being attracted to the prospect of a $180,000 signing bonus to a top-tier University.

Our wise forefathers recognized this tendency toward reprobation in the best of men, and therefore they designed a system of law that declared every man innocent until proven guilty. That, at the outset, may appear counter-intuitive. Actually, it might be one of the greatest strokes of genius in the history of the world. We must assume every man innocent precisely because we are prone to believe, as history and the Bible inevitably teach us, that all men are capable of the most heinous crimes. The catch is that sometimes men are innocent. Sometimes they refuse bribes. Sometimes they behave altruistically. Sometimes, men are not scoundrels. Better to set ten scoundrels free than impugn the beauty of the one man who said no to wickedness.

Therein lies my revulsion at what has occurred in the media. Cam Newton, a young man of undeniably superior talent, has been the victim of slanderous accusations with no recourse whatsoever. He has not had his day in court. Records which are protected by Federal Law have been unsealed for the world to mock. His rights as a citizen have been violated. Irrelevant charges have been brought forward to besmirch his reputation. True or false, these are matters for investigative committees who have the authority to look into such things. So that, if these charges are spurious, they may pass by without the character of an individual being assassinated. These are basic human rights over which we go to war and shoot and kill and die. This is beyond football. This is beyond rivalry. We are talking about due process and the rights of a fellow citizen, not just whether or not a young man ought to play football next week or win the Heisman trophy.

There are many things that I would like to see happen in the weeks to come. One is that I would love to see Alabama take Auburn to the woodshed. I want this to be an honorable and fair context where the best team wins. I want sportsmanship to prevail throughout the contest. I would also like to see every lawyer that graduated from the University of Alabama prepared to defend the civil rights of Cam Newton and the lofty ideal of due process. Let the man have his day in court, and let him have his privacy as well.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Jesus Said That

I always find it curious when someone who is not a Christian proceeds to tell Christians that they are not good Christians. Usually, the phrases that get used are something like, "Judge not that you be not judged!" or "God loves everyone just the way that they are." Usually, this comes about when a Christian has voiced his or her opinion about some type of behavior being sinful.

Now, the first thing that a Christian must keep in mind is that this sort of argument is not to be taken personally. Secondly, they must remember not to get angry about this because it is patently silly. Silly things should not make us angry or defensive. If my buddy Matt tells me that he is the Queen of Sheba, anger should not be my first impulse.

Once these first two impulses are squashed, the third imperative can follow. That is, we must remember that the main issue is always Jesus. Who is Jesus? What did Jesus teach? Did Jesus really rise from the dead? This is far more important than debating marriage laws, polygamy, homosexuality, or whether or not someone should vote Republican.

So if I say, "I believe that 'gay marriage' is as ridiculous as a squared circle," and someone retorts that I'm being a judgmental bigot who is unworthy to call myself a human being, much less a Christian, because Jesus would never say such a preposterous thing, I need to think, "Heeeey...this person doesn't know about Jesus very well" not "Heeeey...he just called me a BIGOT!"

Here is something that Jesus actually said, "He whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him" (John 3:34-36). Jesus makes some pretty big claims in this passage.

First, Jesus claims that God sent him. Next, Jesus claims that when he is speaking, he is uttering the very words of God. Then, Jesus claims to be the rightful ruler of all things because God gave him everything. Finally, Jesus says that whoever does not obey him will perish under the wrath of Almighty God. Jesus made it abundantly clear throughout the gospels that he believed himself to be the only way to get to God (John 14:6). He also defined marriage, and a great list of other things whilst he was here, including affirmations of the Old Testament.

This is how the Christian can deal with name-calling and misunderstanding. Jesus said, "It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household" (Matthew 10:25). Basically, if someone objects to the teaching of Jesus, even though it is a hapless Christian merely parroting the words of the Great Teacher, the one who is objecting falls under the condemnation of which Jesus spoke. In reality then, it could be Jesus who is the judgmental bigot who is unfit to be a human being, or he could be the King of the Universe who gets to make the rules for the creation that he himself helped make and currently sustains.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Straight Couple Wants a Civil Union

Despite having a terribly misleading title,this AP article is interesting to me on several levels. There is a straight couple living in Britain who would like to form a civil union instead of a marriage. Their reasoning, and I quote from the article here, is that "In our day-to-day life we feel like civil partners — we don't feel like husband and wife, and we want the government to recognize that."

My problem is that I cannot understand that statement at all. Forget the controversy about "gay" marriage and "civil unions" for a minute. I'm having trouble following simple language of late.

I know that I said to forget the controversy, and I hope that you can because my point here is more subtle. For all of known history, the very definition of marriage has been a union between a man and a woman. I don't think that this is seriously disputed by anyone. What some would like to do is to change that definition to include homosexual unions. I don't know what that definition change might be. It's going to have to be more complicated than it used to be. I know that for certain. Somehow, you have to define it so that we can put the whammy on polygamy, beastiality, child marriage, and the appearance of incest. (Yes, there are adult people out there who do all of these things, I've seen them on Jerry Springer. There is even a polygamist with his own show now.)

My problem today is when people start using words, words that are well defined, as if they weren't well-defined. Or, at the very least, using words as if they cannot be bothered to look them up in a dictionary. Figuring that it must be me who is the dim-wit, I took the time to look up "Civil Union" in the encyclopedia. Here's what it said, "legal recognition of the committed, marriagelike partnership of two individuals." Underscore "marriagelike" in your brain and look at the reasoning behind the straight couple's desire to have a civil union. I wonder what part of their relationship isn't marriage-like? The vowing part? The forsaking all others part?

As if this didn't cause me enough confusion, I saw that "gay activists" are supporting this couple's bid for a civil union. This didn't surprise me, and at the very least I am glad that they are being consistent. But look at their reasoning behind backing this couple, "They are being backed by gay rights activists, who hope a ruling that allows straight couples the right to a civil partnership would mean, in turn, that gay couples have the right to wed." You see that? They are hoping that this will allow them to wed.

So, let me try to sort this all out here for my sanity's sake. Remember, this is about definitions here, not just marriage controversy. The straight couple does not want to be "married" because they don't feel particularly husband or wife-like, but they still want to be recognized in a legally binding union that is legally equivalent to marriage. This gives them what they want because they can be united under law, before their peers, and get tax breaks without them having to feel like husband and wife. The gay people, on the other hand, want to get married because they want to feel like husbands and wives. Even though it has previously been impossible for one to be a husband unless one actually had a wife. They want the state to legally bind them together in a way that benefits them with taxes, gives them equal rights, and etc., which they already have in civil unions, only they want to be "wed."

I think that this is marvelous in our mad, mad world. The only thing standing in either the gay activists or this straight couple's path is this nonsense of definition and meaning. And perhaps, common sense.

But what do I know? I'm a dinosaur who believes in objective truth and www.dictionary.com.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

What is Truth?

Pontius Pilate, in his fascinating conversation with Jesus of Nazareth, asked Jesus if he were a king. Jesus said, "For this purpose i was born and for this purpose I have come into the world--to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice." Pilate said to him, "What is truth?" (John 18:37-38).

This conversation stops me in my tracks. Pilate asked a great question, and interestingly enough, John does not give Jesus' reply. He leaves the question dangling in the air, echoing down the millennia until it reaches us. I can still hear Pilate ask it. He was so close to truth that it was literally staring him in the face.

For several centuries, Christianity has enjoyed a hegemony on truth in the West. Western civilization was shaped by the Bible, Christendom enforced the Bible onto the populace to the point where unbelievers and deviants were persecuted. For good and for ill, the Bible was used and abused to force conformity amongst the Western populace.

That is, until the rise of the Anabaptists and Mennonites and others like them. They rebelled against the "church-state" paradigm. They believed that conversion could not come by the government or the sword, but only by grace through faith in the gospel. Eventually, persecution led many of them to the New World. There, Baptists would eventually be instrumental in insuring the separation of Church and State and the freedom of religion for all people, even freedom to worship the devil.

Believe it or not, that grand and great dream laid down by the early American Republic has had a major impact upon truth. As the early Baptists suspected, if given the chance to freely worship the devil, some people would. And some would be Buddhists, and some would be Hindus, and some would be Moonies, and some would be atheists altogether. Being a Baptist myself, I am altogether delighted that they have the freedom to be as wrong as they please.

For the first couple of centuries, the people of the United States spoke Bible, as did their ancestors in Europe. I do not mean that all the people in the United States were Christian; I would never argue that. However, it is apparent that they all filtered their understanding of life, predominantly, through a Biblically colored lens.

Take Thomas Jefferson as an example. He was, from what I can tell, a Christian heretic par excellence. He famously cut out the miraculous parts of the Bible, leaving in all the laws and the moral code and the ethical teachings of Jesus. It seems that he admired the teachings of Jesus. Such would have been the attitude of many in that day: the default lens for interpreting right from wrong was a Biblical one. One can hardly read a novel or or thinker who wrote from the beginning of the republic until the early 1950's who wasn't profoundly aware of Biblical traditions of right and wrong, and even the moral stories* that the Bible contains.

Now, things are on different. Christianity does not enjoy the hegemony it once did. That's not to say that its influence isn't strong and felt. It surely is. However, there is a much greater competition of ideas out there in the market. Some are compltely foreign to a Biblical worldview. Jefferson did away with the miracles. Post-Modern America has ditched most of the Christian ethic.

This brings me back around to Pilate and his question to Jesus: What is truth? I think for many, Pilate's original question may even assume too much. Instead, the question of the day might be, "Is there such a thing as Truth?"

I believe that there is Truth that is objective, real, and unchanging. I believe that Truth is embodied in the person of Jesus Christ. The challenge for Christians is now, as it has always been, is to take the gospel, the story and teachings of Jesus, and put them into the market place of ideas. The gospel is a narrative without parallel. The beauty of Jesus is without rival. He is a teacher without equal. If Christians would just see that He is the message, we could be a far more winsome and compelling people.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Does This Make Me the Bully?

Many of you will remember the very recent tragedy of the young man who committed suicide at Rutgers because his roommate recorded him in an "encounter" with another male. The young man's name was Tyler Clementi. You can read the story here. Tyler's suicide prompted a nation-wide call to end the bullying of people based upon their sexual preference. This was a call echoed by many Christians as well, myself included.

I firmly believe that no one ought to be bullied. I find it reprehensible that Tyler's roommate recorded his tryst and put it up on the internet. I can only imagine the shame that could have been mine if any of my roommates had a well-placed camera hidden in my room back in the day. Perish the thought! How awful!

Today, I saw this article about Kye Allums. Kye is a female who believes that she is male. Upon graduation, Kye wants to undergo surgery and hormone therapy to become a man. Until that time, she wants to be recognized as a man on the women's basketball team. George Washington University has honored her request and now recognizes her as a man on the women's basketball team.

You really should go and read the article. I want to give you a quote from it here for consideration, "At a time when many college athletes feel uncomfortable publicly revealing that they are gay or lesbian for fear or backlash or repercussions, Allums should be lauded, cheered, propped up and respected for being brave enough to announce his differences without shame." First, notice that Kye is always referred to as a "he" throughout the article. Secondly, notice that Kye is to be lauded, cheered, and propped up for her decision to be recognized as a man, even though she is still biologically a woman. She feels like she is man, therefore she is a man.

I find myself in a dilemma. Upon reading this article, the utter insanity of Kye's request, the fact that it was granted by George Washington University, and the fact that this decision is to be lauded initially made me check to make sure I wasn't reading the Onion. When I found out this was a real story, I immediately realized, to my horror, that if I said out loud that I thought this was absurd that people would immediately call me a bully on par with Tyler's roommates.

Is this situation absurd? Is Kye's request that she be recognized as a man because she feels like a man absurd? Is my pointing out the absurdity of the request evil and mean-spirited? Let the reader judge, but let me first give a goofy scenario that is actually true.

My grandfather's name was Nokomis Williams. My great-grandfather's name was Powhatan Williams. My father wanted to name me Powhatan but my mother refused. I got the interesting name of John Williams instead. The fact is that I have enough Native American heritage to apply for, and perhaps receive, a tribal card and Native American status. I could have gotten money for college and received the benefits of a minority. I felt at the time that this was taking advantage of the system since I am at least 4/5's white dude, live in middle-class suburbia, and I have no immediate relations to a single indian. Would I have been an abuser if I had insisted on being called an Iroquois? Perhaps not.

But what if I decided I was an African american? I have no black ancestry. But, I have always felt African American. I like their clothing. I'm a good dancer. I'm more attracted to black folks than white folks. Therefore, I insist that everyone treat me as black, give me full status as an African American, and after college I intend on dying my sin darker and take hormone treatments to look more African American.

I imagine I would get bullied. People would think that this is ridiculous. African Americans would probably be offended. Would it be wrong if people said I was being ridiculous?

Or am I just being a bully?

Election Day is Over

It is good to be a citizen of the United States of America. This morning, we awake again to a peaceful transition of power in the House of Representatives. It may not seem peaceful with all the rhetoric and accusations that fly about during election cycles, but it is. I am so very thankful that even my political enemies will ascend to Capitol Hill with mud-stained and not blood-stained vestments.

For the Christian "non-statesman", it is time to get back to the work that God has called us to do. That is, we are to "be subject to the governing authorities." And, we are to remember that "There is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment" (Romans 13:1-2). And again Paul says, "Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed" (Rom. 13:7). If Paul wrote this concerning a regime that would eventually chop off his head, surely Christians can pray for Barbara Boxer and Harry Reid.

It is true that some government officials are immoral rascals. It is imminently true that all government officials are capable of the most heinous crimes, even our darling favorites. G.K. Chesterton puts it nicely: "It is a part of Christian dogma that any man in any rank may take bribes. It is a part of Christian dogma; it also happens by a curious coincidence that it is a part of obvious human history...In the best Utopia, I must be prepared for the moral fall of any man in any position at any moment; especially for my fall from my position at this moment."

This is why it is the duty of Christians everywhere to pray for and to support those who rule over them. We are to encourage our officials; we are to help our officials. This does not mean we are not to speak the truth to them, or that we are not allowed to disagree, or that we should not give our opinions. These things are all helpful to our leaders. We must, however, always conduct ourselves with a posture of submission, humility, and respect. We are never to speak slanderously of our rulers, and we are never to debase them by name-calling. Such things ought never to happen amongst Christians, yet it does and the faith suffers.

So Christian, pray for your leaders today. Remember that your hope rests in the kingdom that is coming. King Jesus will be here soon enough. Until he appears, obey him by submitting to the leaders he has appointed.