Sunday, July 31, 2005

A Song You Need to Hear; Or, Ode to the Summer Jam

If you enjoy good music, go to and listen to the first song in the "player" that automatically cues up on the page loading. The song, "Love," represents what hip-hop fans know as the "summer jam." That's slang for a "fun, upbeat, put-you-in-a-good-mood kind of song that only comes along once in a while." This song is AMAZING. Can't stop playing it.

On the summer jam thing, you know what I'm talking about. The type of music that lifts you up, makes you forget about the bills and exams, brings on that type of joy that lets you sit in a little corner of the world for 3 and a half blissful minutes, uninterrupted and happy. Every summer has such songs, and I am crowning this one, by the rapper/dj DJ Maj, the summer jam of 2005. Make sure you check it out. It details a love story and carries that infectious happiness that lifts me up. It's a beautiful thing how music can touch and move as it does. I'm guessing if you enjoy good music that you'll play this one more than once.

Previous Summer Jams (favorites of Consumed staff)

1) "Keep On" by Braille (pictured at right)
2) "Closer to You" by Cross Movement
3) "The End" by Grits

There's a few. Feel free to leave your favorite summer song on the comments section.

Your View of Human Nature Matters, Part 1

Christians are known in the culture at large for being those who believe that people are essentially flawed, that by nature humankind does wrong, and that these wrongs are played out in ways both private and public. This view of human nature is not popular in a time when many believe that people are actually very good and that our chief struggle rages not against a hankering for objective wrong but against psychological problems, cultural pressures, and one's environment. Such a conception of human morality affects people in all kinds of ways. Do you believe that your children are basically good? You'll raise them that way, and teach them to medicate away the shame and to explain away the blame. Think that criminals are simply victims of oppressive social strictures? You'll slap them on the wrist with light penalties, or worse yet, free them based on the testimony of psychologists who take their cues from a worldview conceived in the womb of naturalism. Everyone understands human nature by some ideological framework, and that ideology must always take wings and be applied to others beyond ourselves.

It's interesting to examine this idea on a macro-societal level. One's view of human nature closely shapes the way one does politics, for example. The senator believing that people are basically good brings a different set of philosophical tools to the foreign policy workroom than does the colleague affirming the depravity of all people. When terror strikes, one will be surprised, flummoxed even, and perhaps preaching some sort of cautious containment policy. The other, unsurprised, will probably seek some sort of active justice for wrongs done and work to bring the terrorists to punishment. These policies will likely achieve results as different as the beliefs that spawned them. That of the first senator will resonate with much of the world, believing as so many do that any sort of retributive action signals a caving in to the base instincts of man. Killing under any circumstances is wrong, goes the thinking, and so must be averted at all costs. The second policy takes no delight in the possibility of punishment by way of death, yet considers justice not an option but a duty, military judgment not as a reasonless requiem but as a potent deterrent against future attacks. The first would seem to initially preserve more lives while sacrificing justice and deterrence. The second would likely involve some loss of life while preserving justice, enacting deterrence, and perhaps saving more lives in the end.

As many will recognize, the second policy reflects that of America throughout most of its history as a country. By its precepts, many have fallen, and continue to do so. But by its precepts, many more have been freed, saved, and brought to justice. One can only hope that future generations will perpetuate this policy. For though the idea seems farfetched, one can imagine many today giving a pass to military action against a Hitler, a Mussolini, or other architects of genocide. In such an instance, it would not take long for the proponents of a positive view of human nature to fall victim to their own ideology. Peaceniks may disdain warmongering, but warmongers do not. If we haven't learned this history lesson, then we've made poor students both of the human heart and the earth's events.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

What Makes a Good Magazine Article?

Being a magazine lover, I've had a fair amount of opportunity to ponder this one, and have come up with the following key idea: the article should tell you information about the subject that you cannot find out yourself. It's a simple principle, but a true one, I think. Part of the draw of Time, Newsweek, or even Sports Illustrated is that one learns new things in reading the articles of these publications. The magazine that simply repackages biographical information or, as is more common, tells the reader what's so great about the subject, is falling short of the magazine's task. I suppose that the "bravo instinct," as one could call it, relates to magazine sales; one features a famous person in whatever area and then proceeds to tell people why they're so great. But I think that it's the opposite tendency in magazines that makes their reporting sharp. I love learning about the different sides of folks. If I want a puff piece, I can log onto a fansite or read People or watch "Oprah" or some such nonsense.

While we're at it, a second component of a good magazine article: words. Does that strike you as a strange quality? It shouldn't. Seems like today the conventional magazine wisdom says that it's optimal to splash pictures across most pages and leave intelligent print to a minimum. I recall observing this with the Christian music magazine, CCM. I subscribed to the periodical because it gave me info about artists I couldn't find on a webpage. Soon, however, I was dismayed (and no longer a subscriber) because the magazine adopted a picture-heavy format. The change was strange because a) the strength of Christian music is not in the beauty of its subjects but in the music itself, and b) I could read the whole mag in about an hour. That stunk. Conventional wisdom must always be questioned, and magazines ought always to strive for freshness and to stick what got them where they are: words.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Personal Trainers, Strange Creation of the 20th Century

Has anyone stopped to think for a moment about the role of the personal trainer in today's society? It's a rather fascinating occupation, if you ask me. It purports to serve a key purpose: to individually whip a customer into shape. Hiring a personal trainer certainly seems to increase one's chances of becoming fit. Instead of bumbling through endless racks of dumbbells, countless machines resembling spacecraft prototypes, and the gauntlet of treadmills, one simply plunks down a chunk of change and--presto!--fitness comes to form. It's a very personal transaction, one that reflects a culture seemingly unable to simply exercise at the same rate everyone else is. No, we've got to get there quicker than the rest, and so we hire the trainer to walk us to the endless dumbbell racks, onto the spacecraft exercise machines, and towards the treadmill with its foreboding digital designs promising "programs" of extreme physical ardor.

This all came to mind today when I observed a teenage boy, looking rather soft and quite well-kept, going through a number of exercises with a college-age female trainer. It was an interesting partnership to observe (observation being the most common weightroom activity, just ahead of exercising), as the boy seemed to require almost second-by-second direction from the young lady. While I soon found some reason to suspect the seeming hunger for instruction from the high schooler, I also ruminated on the absolute reorientation of physical exercise this country has undergone. Recreational activity has gone from being centered in practical tasks to the opposite pole. For example, much of the fitness I get each week has nothing to do with the enhancement of the performance of physical tasks. Furthermore, this idea that one would pay somebody to help one exercise is antithetical to fitness mindsets of past ages. I can imagine a person of yesteryear observing perfectly capable people, able to research proper fitness techniques at the drop of a hat, trailing some sleek specimen and scoffing. After all, the refrain might go, physical fitness is one of the few qualities one can attain for free--who in their right mind would pay for it? All of it seems to point to a society that is increasingly self-focused, spending-crazy, and, well, helpless. Here's a good fitness program: situps, pushups, and 3 miles a day. There. Feel free to take my advice--and even hire me. My going rate is 40 bucks an hour, and if you want me to actually pay attention to you as you exercise, that'll be an extra ten per hour on top of that. Happy exercising.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Lost: Belief in Salvation

One thing has become alarmingly clear through my recent conversations with a number of non-Christians. Unlike those of the past, many people today perceive no need for salvation of any type in a spiritual sense. In place of some questing for wholeness, some search for forgiveness, one finds often vague notions about either 1) a naturalistic significance and termination to life or 2) an ethereal, one-size-fits-all, everybody and their labrador goes to heaven type of mentality. Though children are still raised to confess wrongs when committed and ask for forgiveness, this practice no longer foreshadows any greater accountability. It seems that "wrongs" are merely momentary impediments to another's happiness, not actual infractions against the standard of deity. As such, they are to be confessed merely to restore harmony, not to signal any deeper acknowledgement of objective wrongdoing. Hand in hand with this loss of the significance of sin goes the idea of salvation. Redemption sits forgotten in the corner in this age, banished there as therapy and subjective experience have their damning say.

In speaking of the loss of a belief in salvation, I'm not talking simply of belief in the Christian understanding of the idea. I'm talking about any mass subscription to the concept. This was not so in centuries past. Certainly, your average peasant in the medieval period thought some kind of personal redemption was necessary for the afterlife, however fractured that conception may have been. Similarly, in the Islamic East, the general populace certainly saw a need to be saved from one's personal sins, and saw oneself as the means to that end. Even in early post-Enlightenment Europe, which held loosely to a deistic worldview, individuals sought salvation from something, even if they located that something in man, not God, and found their means to salvation in themselves, not God. No, I think we're in a unique time nowadays, one we entered into just a half century ago, in which a large part of the population, though claiming belief in God, finds no culpability for sin and thus no responsibility for salvation. The Christian witnessing to non-Christians today may well discover themselves to be in a position very different from the witnessing Christian of most any other time period. Where once common salvific belief existed, now the Christian stands alone in that theological territory. The task, then, is a very different one than that posed to us in most any other generation: we must convince people of the desperate need of all people for salvation. The age old question of evangelists, "if you were to die today, do you know where you would go?," may give way to another: "did you know you need salvation?" The answer makes all the difference.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Zoomed In On Sex, Losing Sight of Beauty

Came across a recent Rolling Stone article that profiled actors Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson, stars of the recent film Wedding Crashers. Though both men are talented comically, and have led interesting lives, the piece focuses almost entirely on their pursuit of the opposite sex. Profiling two men are quite popular with women and so have numerous tales to share, RS is more than happy to be an eager audience and to peddle their escapades, a pattern the magazine perpetuates with seemingly every issue that hits newstands. The way in which the magazine so painstakingly and faithfully reports graphic sex tales of the rich and famous seems to me to reflect a decided, if twisted, morality. Yes, in much the same way that everyone has a worldview, or some explanation of the way things are, everyone has their own brand of morality, or the way one ought to live. It's not simply Christians and cub scouts who believe in codes of conduct. From the freewheeling coed to the atheist grandfather, everyone operates by an ethical system of some sort.

For RS, that code of morals takes root in the belief that sex is king and that there are few boundaries to the search for it. In short, it just doesn't get any better than copulation, particularly when it's committed by famous people with lots of money. But in zooming in so close on sex, RS's moral system uproots itself from any attachment to beauty it once maintained. Outside of a sense of "separated togetherness," astray from emotional connection, sex is simply an act to be done as often and with as many people as possible. Fast as you can have it, do it. But over time, this frenzied approach grinds the act into the dirt as an anything-goes morality abuses a beautiful gift. The headlong pursuit of physical pleasure, outside of a biblical ethic, leaves one dashing farther and farther from the unique brilliance of sex. Far from freeing people, the morality that seeks primarily satiation, not appreciation, imprisons them, leaving them with a bird's eye view of the act but none of the greater significance of it. The loss of biblical morality necessarily involves the loss of biblical models of living, and with them go the biblical standard of beauty, pleasure, and satisfaction. If only Rolling Stone could see that now.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

On the Marriage of Friends

This past weekend afforded me the chance to celebrate marriage with numerous friends who gathered for the ceremony bonding my friend Adam with his bride. I was actually in the wedding party, the third time I've met that call, and I must say, I'm a sucker for romance. It's a beautiful thing to see two begin their journey together. It's also a slightly mystifying event. One day, you're physically and emotionally constrained, still living separated lives, still going home at night to separate locations. The next day, those lives intertwine, and couples go home together, leaving friends to go home alone. It's a bit sudden, all of it, kind of like a mid-sized earthquake. It strikes quickly, leaving things shaken, not crushed, altered, not demolished.

It's the cessation of the sharing of life's small processes that make the most impact, I think. After all, the living of life is mostly tucked away in odd moments here and there, with the brushing of teeth, the washing of dishes, the goofy hour of needed procrastination on the couch. It's in watching silly movies with your buddies, eating slice-and-bake cookies almost too good to be true, sharing heartache when you really should be sleeping. Saturday night, standing in the communal bathroom, I thought of how I'd never again chat with my friend over toothpaste and water. My mind shifted to the kitchen, where we've had so many meaningful conversations while cooking yet another pasta-and-sauce meal. My tour continued to the room where we studied together for hour upon hour this past semester, sharing jokes, listening to Mat Kearney's cd, and eventually getting a few Hebrew words memorized. It was in these moments, precious to me now, that a friendship was forged, and once forged, it was in such times that our friendship was strengthened.

As slowly as those moments passed then, they quickly come to mind now, pleasant if bittersweet. The room that contained great laughter, difficult conversation, and much discussion lies empty save for a lonely couch and a lamp without a shade. I went in there the other night and was reminded of the promise memories make to us, that though we may never hold them in substance, they pledge to linger on in heart. Sometimes, when brushing teeth, making pasta, or studying, they walk back into sight, perhaps a bit fuzzier, lacking details, maybe, but ever pleasant, ever sweet, always tinged with the sadness of a season passed and a chapter concluded.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

It's Vacation Time for Consumed Staff

Yes, after extensive board meetings, very expensive, with only the finest catering, the Consumed staff has, at the advice of the trustees and board of directors, decided to take a weeklong vacation. Please check back for a new blog entry exactly one week from today. Next Monday morning the 25th you will see a new entry, and the stream will pick back up from there.

In the meantime, be pondering such fascinating future blog topics as these:

1) Magazine layouts--with their picture-intensive formats, do they really succeed in drawing the younger generation?
2) Online dating--what's behind it? Pros and cons?
3) Church growth and why it's a messy subject

Friends, these are but a sampling. Please do come back after the Consumed vacation.

We'll tell the trustees you said hello! :)

Friday, July 15, 2005

Coffeehouses: Church for Postmoderns

If you've visited a coffee shop lately (and living in any area with flora, fauna, and breathable air eminently qualifies your region for a Starbucks), you may have noticed an interesting trend. In an age when religion of the major denomination variety generally gasps in the dust, and in which personal spirituality thrives (meaning one can feel, not believe, anything they want--important distinction), something has to substitute for church. Feeling our inherent needs for fellowship, an appropriate setting, sharing of burdens, and enjoyment, many turn in full or in part to the coffee shop. It's not much of a stretch to say that for a good mass of people, the coffee shop is the replacement church of the 21st century.

A quick run-through of what churches and coffee shops provide reveals an eerie similarity in potential attendee experience.

1) Fellowship-This is an easy one. In the same way that church members form and perpetuate friendships, people develop camaraderie through their repeated visits to a coffee shop. Over time, one gets to know the regular rotation of staff and builds a rapport with them. One also sights fellow repeat customers and begins to build bonds with them. What begins as an addiction to a strange brown liquid, then, begets affection of a strange but lasting variety.

2) An appropriate setting- In much the same way that people shop for a church, looking generally for a friendly local body offering the product they desire, so do they prospect for a coffee shop to call home. Before settling on a store, one will visit several, sometimes bringing friends, sometimes going alone, always evaluating the environment, tasting the treats, and importantly, checking out the chairs. As with those masses of polled churchgoers who say they highly value comfortable seating, so too do prospective coffee-drinkers prize nice chairs.

3) Sharing burdens- As church members confide in, console, and encourage one another, so too do coffee-shop patrons provide a deeper level of relationship for one another. This category goes beyond mere fellowship, transcending it and passing into the realm of disclosure and direction. Staff members of the shop, in particular, seem to form some of their deepest friendships through the shop, in a way unique to employment settings. With its capacity for conversation and pleasant atmosphere, the coffee shop, like the church, invites such intimacy.

4) Enjoyment- Many church members derive enjoyment from their participation in congregational life. In a familiar environment, pretensions are discarded; laughter is had with familiar friends; and the worship life of the church presents much opportunity for enjoyment through hearing edifying messages, singing moving songs, and praying heartfelt petitions. Interestingly, the coffee shop experience strikingly parallels that of the church. As friendships form, patrons discard pretense; as familiarity emerges, laughter happens; in reading the paper, hearing good music (often something avant garde--except all coffee shops play it, so it's not avant garde anymore), one is encouraged and made happy. Coffee-shop mirrors church.

Those are some of the ways in which church can and has replaced the church experience for the postmodern. With such environments, the part of one's being that senses the absence of something vital, namely, communal involvement, is sated. How appropriate that instead of the Rotary Club or the Masons, past attempts at societal replacement of church, postmoderns enter their community by the door of materialistic satisfaction. One not only gets friends at the coffee shop; one gets an exquisite Mint Mocha Chip Frappucino, with a small reduction of life included in the four dollar tab. Yearning for people mixes with yearning for pleasure in the twenty-first century version of "involvement."

Despite all that has been noted here, none of this should be read in a tone of disdain. I can well understand why many people of today would place the coffee shop as their center of interaction. I myself frequently patronize coffee shops and have found some dear friends through them (in fact, Mom and Dad, I met this wonderful girl, and we're getting marr--just kidding). It merely fascinates me that coffee shops seem to play such a central role in the lives of many postmoderns. On that note, it saddens me that they do, because though for many the store is merely a store, a nice place to go, for others it is more. This hypothesis, which lurked in my mind for a long time, was confirmed for me recently when I was told by a patron that the shop, close to the patron's home, provided friendship, fun, and meaningful interaction. He had no church membership, no family, and few other places to go. The coffee shop truly was his place of community. Perhaps such stories will make one more sensitive to those patrons one regularly sees at the shop. In a place known for forming friendships, perhaps Christians can introduce others to a friend whose "product" of grace never runs out, whose fellowship does not cease, and whose covenant of love carries into endless ages uninhabited by the trees, the mountains, and yes, the Starbucks.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

This Adulthood Business is Tricky Stuff

In a life characterized by uncertainty, one thing is sure for me: the days of childhood and adolescence are dead and buried. Let me offer some proofs for that postulation.

1) I got a parking ticket yesterday for parking in a certain place, and there's noone to complain to. As I approached my car after leaving the Y yesterday, a tingling horror halted my steady pace. There was something on my windshield, and it wasn't animal excrement. No, friends, it was a 20 dollar ticket, and it came alone, with nary a shoulder to cry on. Given my financial state, I briefly contemplated a brief but plaintive wail, and then thought better of it. After all, 24 seems an age pretty far removed from wailing, much more so than 23, though I don't know why.

2) My aging Accord won't start, and there's no passing off the buck to a gracious father figure. I've got to go out there and jump the lifeless vehicle myself. I'm tired, my feet hurt, and I need to review my Greek, but I'm about to troop outside and start the car. Don't you just weep with me over my newfound call to responsibilty?

3) I'm going to bed at a decent hour, watching my daily saturated fat intake, and aching rather profoundly after exercise. None of these require elaboration, and each demonstrates a marked change in behavior. Add to that increased attention to one's appearance, namely, hairline, and you've got yourself an excellent candidate for early middle-agedness. It's enough to make me want to get a skateboard or something--only then I'll ache with even greater intensity in muscles I didn't even know I had. The situation, folks, is dire. :)

O'Connor's Character and What it Shows Christians

In an interesting Time magazine article from the July 4th issue, the writers commented at length no less than three times on a matter of note: O'Connor's character, specifically her treatment of her clerks. Clerking is known to be an arduous job, brutal if brief, and one can only imagine what such work entail for the underlings of a Supreme Court Justice. Yet O'Connor reportedly supplemented her clerks' experience with an underused managerial additive: kindness. According to the piece, she baked for her clerks, took them on a picnic, got to know them personally. In short, said one former employee, she became like one's "best friend's grandmother." That's a surprising comment given O'Connor's rank and place in a city known more for administering arrogance than affection.

What interests me most about the article, though, is that though it highlights O'Connor's judicial record and the character that fueled it, it returns several times to this issue of character. I find this compelling because this example offers proof of a biblical axiom: where there is character, people notice. Whether one thinks of the witness provided by loving one's enemies or of other teachings, it is clear biblically that people around us, however spiritually blind they may be, cannot fail to recognize upstanding character. This is what makes the Time article interesting. A magazine that sometimes champions ideals and persons that engender disagreement from Christians nonetheless pays homage to one of the most basic ideas of the Bible: character counts. Makes one want to honor Christ not simply in the pew or the praise group but in the public square. People are watching, and they can begin to discover the answer to their deepest questions by the lives Christians lead. After all, if even Christians don't live moral lives, why should anyone else?

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Excellent Music to Listen to

This blog never wanders far from music. Here's an opportunity for a cd recommendation: Indelible Grace III, loaned to me by excellent friend Will Kynes. Made by the fun folks at Indelible Grace, the cd sets old and powerful hymns to folksy tunes. Those who value poetic theological pieces will find much to appreciate; I can't stop playing "Jesus, I Come," "Come and Mourn," and "Jesus With Thy Church Abide." Beautiful arrangements couple with moving lyrics on each of these three songs, each of which I repeat numerous times on the local cd player. No kidding, kids: I played "Jesus...Abide" roughly nine times in a row yesterday. It's that good. (And ain't the cover cool?)

Indelible Grace has long been making edifying music for the contemporary church, which I appreciate. The previous offerings have been slightly, shall we say, rougher, but this one is a step up musically. Adults and young adults alike should enjoy it. That's great because it is a spiritual help to have meaningful lyrics running throughout one's head in place of some shallow chorus or verse. Pick this one up and you won't soon put it away.

The Truth Behind Thune's Sticky Situation

Man, this one is icy like the junior high girls sleepover turned jealous. John Thune, junior Senator from South Dakota, currently finds himself locked in a battle with the White House (specifically the Department of Defense) over its targeted closing of Ellsworth Air Force in South Dakota. A major part of Thune's campaign against former Senator and Senate power broker Tom Daschle was his pledge to keep Ellsworth open at all costs. He highlighted his connections with the White House as the ticket to the base's survival. Now, however, the Pentagon has slated Ellsworth for closing, a move that has Thune scrambling. As he eyes reelection in the future, he's seeing a massive Democrat attack against his supposed failure to deliver on the Ellsworth matter. In short, goes the thinking, he'll look like the ultimate fresh-faced stooge.

But let's think about this one for a bit. Suppose Daschle was in power at the present time. While Daschle has made no small matter of his claim to have previously saved Ellsworth, does one really think that Daschle would be able to do anything more to save Ellsworth were he in office? Negatory. One might say that Daschle wields power in the Senate and could use it to stymie Republican efforts to appoint, say, John Bolton as UN ambassador. Hold on for a sec, though; the Dems already oppose Bolton en masse. Daschle's addition to the mix wouldn't change much at all. Perhaps there are other tricks Daschle could pull; I'm not sure, though I will say this: Thune looks to be no gutless foil. He seems to be a tough cookie. Hopefully, he can endure any hue and cry that might be raised over Ellsworth's closing, if it does happen. You never know, though. Sometimes the parents get called, and in that case, the party's over, for photogenic senators or teenage girls.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Even Stranger Days in Rap

Okay, so many will scoff at me, and say that they've always known this was true, but rap as heard on the radio reflects a culture driven stark-wild with lust. Many songs no longer include any mention of romance or relational affection, but focus almost entirely on physical gratification and its pursuit. It's terrible to hear, and for me, hard to hear, cause I find myself quickly working the dial during my infrequent radio listening sessions. I am not one to say that one can't find redeeming elements within popular culture, though it may not itself be redeemed; and yet the conscientious rap fan with a moral base cannot help but struggle to "engage," so to speak, to listen to rap on the radio for any longer than a few songs.

Once upon a time, rappers made lots of songs about, well, life and its living. The pursuit of dreams, filial affection, happiness, enjoyment in rap itself, thoughts on culture and religion--these were not uncommon themes for rappers to address. Nowadays, after the music industry has taken serious losses due to legal and illegal digital downloading, companies and their artists stick more to a thoughtless formula than ever before. Creativity is at an all-time low as the industry tightens it belt to salvage profits and stay afloat. Who suffers? The conscionable rap fan, that's who. Now, if only we could get some thoughtful Christian rappers off the ground... (like Sev Statik and KJ-52 to the right)

Strange Days: America Wants to Be Europe

Here's one way to look at the contemporary American conflagration between so-called "red" and "blue" Americans. Red Americans like America for all it is, believing it to be a close realization of ideal political and socio-economic structure. We've got a representative democracy, freedom of religion, and a public educational system that purports to avoid indoctrination. Though each of these attributes of American government are subject at any time to serious attack, they are time-tested, and were made accessible to us by a war some two hundred years ago that cut us off from the hand that bled us: Europe, or more specifically, England. For that great event, we give thanks, or at least the people who schedule national holidays (most of the rest of us have historical amnesia or just don't care).

How interesting, then, that some of what "blue" Americans desire is in fact pictured in some ways in certain European states. Some among us wish for the open-armed acceptance of all religions, including Islam of the Middle-Eastern variety, which can bring with it terrible devastation, as London recently found out. Other items on the Euro wishlist include a public education curriculum that edits out the Christian worldview. Well, for precedent, we need only turn to France, which in the past year has prohibited students from wearing clothing related to their respective religions. And then, kicking around in American higher education are those who wish for a more autocratic state, one dispensing public goods with abandon to all its constituents, that system of socialism which has so galvanized certain European countries in the past (or...maybe not). Ahh, the ways of Europe. Thankfully, not all wish for a return to its scattered philosophies. The whole "Give me liberty or give me death" thing has worked quite well here, thank you, and many of the American ilk are more than happy to keep things that way.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Pictures Are Back!

In the insane world of computers, the computer I'm using has decided to let me post pictures once again. So you will see them populate the site once more populated by photographs.

Puritan Reclamation Project: Sermon Titles

I've written already about the need for the resurfacing of Puritan nomenclature in modern society. Yet it strikes me that we need a parallel return to the sermon titling system of the Puritans. Why? Well, frankly, many sermons are dull when compared to those of the past. Sermon titles in the Puritan ages were themselves works of art; today they are host to functionalism. Here are some titles from one of my favorite preachers, John Piper: "Racial Harmony and Interracial Marriage," "All Things Subject to the Risen Christ," and "Treasuring Christ Together Above All Things." Now, I'm sure these are wonderful sermons, but the titles are lacking compared to those of yesteryear. This ought not to be so! We need an uprising, a reclamation, a restoration, of the old order. Here are suggestions to spark the movement, which I'm sure will flame in only a matter of time.

Instead of "Racial Harmony and Interracial Marriage," try "The Mingling of Providentially Designed Races for the Redounding Glory of God as Treated With Excellent Magnanimity by Paul the Blessed Apostle and Applied to that Harmonious Joining of Man and Woman in that Age-Old Covenant of Consecrated Union, as Preached by the Right Doctor John Piper in the Year two thousand and five.

There--isn't that nice? Just rolls off the tongue, don't it?

One more- instead of, "Treasuring Christ Together Above All Things," try "On That Sacred Duty of The Corporate Body, That Visible Semblance of Radiant and Celestial Beauty, Namely, The Solemn Magnification, Praising, Prizing, and Impressing on the Conscience of the Immeasurable Measure of Excellence, Namely, the Great and Efficacious Character of the God-Man, the One the Ages Treasure and Worship as Christ, as Delivered by God's Servant, Namely, One Right Reverend John Piper."

I can see this one catching on like wildfire. First the names, now the sermons, maybe soon the theology--the Puritans are coming back, and we're gonna party like its 1670.

The Rise of Materialism: A Relatively New Phenomenon

This past weekend, I contemplated my current economical standing and found it: impoverished. This was no surprise. It's actually kind of fun being poor right now, because it makes for a forced ascetism punctuated by bursts of materialism (witness: Oakley sunglasses). I'll blog on poverty later, but it struck me as I contemplated my poverty that I possess a number of very nice possessions considering my economic station. For example, I have the aforementioned ridiculously expensive sunglasses, a PalmPilot, a Bose cd player, and lots of Nike basketball shorts. These are high-end goods, and though I received many of them as gifts, they reflect the rather profitable version of poverty common to many Americans.

Such a situation--being poor with my own car and several nice goods--was unconceivable in much of historical America. Early adulthood in the times of the Revolutionary War afforded precious little to the average apprentice working the gallows for twelve hours a day. I would surmise our subject knew little in the way of disposable goods, or those possessions that one could survive without. Flash ahead to the Industrial Revolution of the nineteenth century. I'm guessing the string-cutter in the factory failed to possess a chalk-tablet, or whatever good would parallel my PalmPilot. Yet today, in a state of fairly comparable poverty, I have any number of disposable goods. The times change, particularly for those of us blessed enough to have families blessed enough to give generously. The diffusion of capitalistic activity in America has given rise to a much broader middle-class than ever before, and a "tricked-out" class of impoverished twentysomethings alien in any other era.

How Christianity and Communism Are Alike

Had an interesting thought the other day. We've all heard much about how moderns have largely abandoned claims to absolute truth, to binding ideals, to a higher standard. It's funny to think, then, that communism at its strongest form, its purest water, actually accords with Christianity in claiming its worldview as authoritative and true. In communism, particularly historic Marxism, certain principles are presupposed: the evil of the upper class, the falsity of God, the malleability of man's nature. Communism, like Christianity, presents a thought-scheme containing certain ideas it considers infallible and absolute, binding and unquestioned. How strange that two systems so opposed in their actual doctrine stand on the same side--the absolutist side--imploring the other side--the relativist side emphasizing the absence of truth in the world--to believe its teachings?

Since Marxism caught on in the early twentieth century, the years have worn on, and seen many belief systems once holding to the idea of absolute truth abandon such thinking. Few thought-systems exist that still cling to any semblance of an absolutist framework. Eastern Islam, Western Christianity, South American Marxism--I'm sure there are others one could think of, but the list dwindles. How different from pre-Enlightenment days, when most everyone accepted the idea that certain principles bound all people to their ethical standard.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Scientific Darwinism Fails Morally

In a sometimes dizzying conversation on evolution a few days ago, I quickly realized two things: 1) I need to give a better defense of creation, and 2) The idea that evolution comprehensively explains life fails with clarity on the idea that it applies to morality. In other words, let's say one concedes all of the evolutionist's claims about the earth's physical development and the evolution of human beings. One in no way needs to do this, but let's say we decide to. Claiming to be the holistic worldview that it is, evolutionary theory (simplified to this: things get better and more complex with time) utterly fails to reconcile the reality of humanity.

The human race has not improved in its moral state over the ages. We are still naturally evil, we are still barbaric, we still slaughter one another needlessly over such things as land and money. Politics was corrupt back in the day; it carries its share of corruption today. Horrific acts were perpetrated against children then; so too are they now. Religions engaged in warfare to spread their message; they continue such destructive proselytization today. Nothing's changed. We haven't gotten better as a race. We are still desperate, still destitute, still as deadly to one another as we've ever been. The idea that we might not perpetuate our tragic beginnings can only begin with the worldview that denies the very act that began it all: the Fall. Christians are those who know that humanity fell to the dust in the garden, and outside of the grasping salvation of God, there we lie, today and always.

A Male "Midwife?"

A couple of days ago I came across a Swiss news story on the country's first male "midwife." The article documented the apprehensions of some of the staff and patients of the hospital, with the bulk of the concern centering in, shockingly, the fact that a man will midwife. For his part, the male attendant (I refuse to call him a midwife) sees himself as something of a trailblazer, a figure of courage and importance breaking down unnecessary barriers. He seemed to struggle to understand why women not married to him would have a difficult time with him being so intimately involved in the birthing process. Ignorance may be bliss for Mr. Male Attendant, but those he'll "assist" seem to feeling anything but.

This is what happens in a culture without absolutes, where the ingrained realities of life undergo surgery and emerge as social constructs. One can tear away those "constructs" as surely as one can tear away gauze covering a wound. When societies do so, things happen that are fundamentally out of order with those ingrained realities, those products of the conscience, and that naturally unnerve even those who scoff at absolutes. Culture is thus left with nothing to check decline save for uneasiness. How long does that last as a defense? Let's just say longevity need not hold its breath. When absolutes are tossed away, it's just a matter of time for the behaviors they once supported to topple. Male "midwifes." And I thought boys playing field hockey was off-kilter.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Leaning Hard on Evolution for Coherence

I had a long conversation today with some sharp ex-students regarding theology, cosmology, and epistemology (the study of God, the earth, and knowledge, respectively). We started out talking about the foundations for Christian thought, a discussion quickly taken over by one young man's suggestion that Christianity is merely one idea of many that for certain reasons has a disease-like quality to invade minds susceptible, for example, to fear of the idea of hell. In effect, he sees Christianity as setting up its own pit, so to speak, which it then dangles non-Christians over for a time before figuratively removing them from danger by telling them of Jesus. A functionalistic understanding of Christianity, no doubt, and one which leads for this young man to evolutionary thought.

It's fascinating to behold, really, because what the smart Christians say really is true: evolution is not simply a way to explain the way the earth started. It is a comprehensive worldview--or at least it tries to be. The answer to God? Chance and random happening. The answer to purposeful living? Randomly begotten internal drive to exist. The answer to morality? Total and utter inclusivism except--here come the caveats--for bad things that happen to evolutionists themselves. One could go on. As evolutionists talk, one feels something akin to the way we do watching the villain unfold his plan of destruction to the hapless hero. A sense of deep foreboding emerges as it becomes clear that this person, intellectual and kind and personable as they may be, has bought wholesale a worldview scrubbed clean of any notion of God and His truth. Here was a profound reminder to myself and to those who wish to offer hope to this world: don't just know the four key tenets of the gospel. We need to know what others think, and when we're engaging college kids indoctrinated in soft postmodernity and hard evolutionism, we need to be able to give an answer. It's not enough to quote verses. Know what lost people think, and then engage them, and give them the gospel. I was convicted by this today. To give an answer--that's the call, that's the responsibility, that's the help we can offer this world.

Twixters Part Two: Personal Thoughts

You might laugh at my portrayal of Twixters just blogged, but you ought not to do so, fair friend of the internet. You see, I went to school with the Twixter generation. Kids whose lives had been programmed from day one pressed through college until, like so many released doves, they flew from performance, blissful in the chaos of it all, without a clue or thought as to where they might land. I know classmates right now who are doing any number of odd things: touring France, living in their parent's basement, working construction. Keep in mind, these are the ones who were supposed to be halfway to partner at the law firm by now. That's not to say that I don't know a bunch who have continued on in the ways of high-achieverdom; there are plenty. But there is a whole group of acquaintances I know who are simply burnt out from their upbringings. You don't think so? At my school, you had to go on a waiting list for a counseling session with the school's hired hands, so in demand were these practitioners. It was sort of the silent byproduct of perfomance-ism, cause though many went for counseling, no one talked about it. One could not self-puncture the bubble of achievement so long and devoutly crafted.

Again, this is not an excuse for these people. Far from it. It is merely an attempt to inform the conversation on Gen X. The driving pace of the boomers has helped create the listless neutrality of the Twixters. The generation obsessed with success has given way to a generation determined, in many cases, to ignore it. Such is the legacy of the boomers. Moral of the story: parents ought to involve their kids in good stuff, to push them academically, to develop their children in all the ways this should happen. But they should not commandeer their kid's lives, live out their dreams through them, or rob them of the simple joys of growing up. SAT scores are forgotten eventually; cello arrangements fade from the mind; but character and a simple happiness with one's strengths and weaknesses abides. Now, we'll have to wait and see how the Twixters apply their experiences to their parenting. Should be interesting.

Don't Go Quite So Hard On Twixters, Part One

Much has been made recently of the Twixters, the band of twenty- and early thirtysomethings who flit through life, shuttling between jobs, homes, and relationships, never settling down, never embracing adulthood. There is much good in the call that has gone up to the Twixter generation to leave the trappings of youth. I've noticed, though, that in the conversation, a crucial factor fueling the Twixter's transience has often gone overlooked: the parents who helped shape the Twixters. Why are they so important?

Everybody knows the story of the Baby Boomers. They were the last American generation raised in a decidedly Judeo-Christian framework, the first to abandon it in their early adulthood, and have since dedicated themselves to raising super-successful, super-happy children, all in the context of self-interested, materialistically-driven postmodernity. Or, at the very least, the affluent boomers have followed this pattern. In seeking the above end, they enrolled the kids in elite preschools, elite grammar schools, elite junior high schools, and elite high schools, all so that the child could get in (early decision, natch) at an elite postsecondary institution. Along that blistering journey came voice lessons, violin lessons, private soccer tutoring, algebra tutoring, Latin lessons, Sunday school for character rounding-out, cultural experiences abroad, acting, and of course, intense monitoring of academic performance, replete with numerous--and huffy--visits to various unsuspecting teachers. Obscured in this process is the child, the future Twixter. As one thinks it over, one can almost see little Twixter's spirit beginning to recoil against the hyper-involved childhood handed to him with nary a voluntary choice in the matter.

For the future-Twixters who did get into good schools, a strange pattern of excess and duress developed. He played hard, for sure, indulging himself in the pleasures of college, but also undertook a pre-med or pre-law or pre-CEO curriculum. Thus, even as he projected an air of Epicureanism, he had his parent's drive to succeed spurring him on at all times, fixed in his conscience like an implanted computer chip in the mind of an unsuspecting cinematic character. This pattern continued until graduation, when it all collapsed. No longer supported by Ma and Pa, he tasted freedom for the first time. No lessons, no assignments, no counseling sessions. It was all gone. Though the absence of productive activity unnerved him a bit, he embraced it, and now you see him in various American locales, flitting here and there, a piece of driftwood happy to be free from the ship of achievement only recently wrecked on the rocks of graduation.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Kairos Speaks Wisely

As reported in a recent edition of World magazine, the editorial board of the Kairos Journal, an excellent online resource for church leaders, recently wrote a precisely crafted letter to a number of prominent Christians who have endorsed a debt cancellation program for certain African nations. Best known among the recipients was megachurch pastor Rick Warren, who has wholeheartedly endorsed the cancellations as publicized piously by Bono, everyone's favorite ballad-crooner-with-a-heart-of-gold. Amidst Warren's endorsement and cultural acclaim of the idea, the editors of Kairos pointed out several flaws in the idea, among them that the program actually rewards countries with financially irresponsible leadership and that it overlooks poor countries that have no debt and a history of fiscal care.

These are excellent points, and the Kairos Journal is to be commended for taking a stance that is unpopular at best. Sadly, it seems to me that the cancellation program involves an age-old strategy for solving problems: throw lots of money at them. Money is the answer for many. Though there is some truth in this idea, as money certainly can help things along, there is far more that needs to be considered in such matters. The hunger and disease many Africans experience stems not from a lack of money but a lack of governmental morality. Several African nations are dominated by dictators who simply refuse to help their people, preferring instead to help themselves, literally and figuratively. Sadly, it is those under them who suffer. I do hope that some good comes from this measure, though I am not as optimistic as many of this day. I'm more inclined to hope for the spread of true democracy, of morality, of the gospel and its power to transform the starving child and the indulgent official.

When Athletic Titans Fall

I just finished reading Michael Leahy's fascinating When Nothing Else Matters, a two-year chronicle of basketball star Michael Jordan's last two years of pro ball, spent in DC. I first heard about the book in my buddy Greg's Yale Alumni Magazine, which highly commended it. Though I find little time these days to read about basketball, I had to indulge, and so I bought it from Barnes & Noble. I was off to a great start.

Throughout my life, I've had a funny way with excellent literature. It's that tension that one feels when one has something one cannot wait to read but which one does not wish to see finished. Completion=no more fun. Being the son of a librarian, I've experienced this feeling often in my days. Whether it was the Redwall series, the Lord of the Rings series, or any number of basketball books, I've wrestled with this desire to derive enjoyment from books and yet to not end deriving enjoyment from books. It's a happy tension, and usually gives way to reading sections at a time. I did this with the Jordan book, and found myself totally drawn into the world Leahy creates, one dominated by Jordan's will. Essentially, the story is a case study of one of the most dominant personalities sports has ever known, particularly of the fire, the drive, that once propelled Jordan to incredible heights, but that in his twilight, with his body fast fading, ran his team into the ground. Michael Jordan had always had his way--with the refs, his coaches, certainly the opposing team--and it caved in when his unfaded will could not spur his 40 year-old body on. The highlights were gone, but the headaches only increased for his team and his teammates.

It's a sobering book, one given more to probing analysis of Jordan's mind than microscopic attention to his statistics. Yet in a world gone crazy over psychology, it somehow unearths insight while avoiding excessive psychologizing. Leahy perceptively brings out the ugliness of life, exposing the sins of Jordan and those around him without ever mentioning the word. Beyond all this, though, the book is about basketball, and Leahy writes beautifully, and what more could one ask for than a finely written basketball book? I recommend picking up When Nothing Else Matters whether you like the game or not.

Sharing Faith With Those Who Don't Want it

It's a cathartic experience, really. Fear, exhiliration, anticipation, dread all mixed up into one neat little ball, sitting in my stomach as I approach the mother of four. "Excuse, me Ma'am, could I give you some information about the church I attend?" Such a simple question. Seemingly harmless. And yet in this college town, the mention of church, particularly when coupled with "Baptist," sets off bells loud enough to wake neighbors in this woman's mind. Tersely, hurriedly, almost fearfully, she sets the super-stroller in motion. Sweeping her children away, she flees the scene, leaving the four-year-old boy to wonder if he's just seen a dirty-blonde alien. If I think about it long enough, I realize that this is exactly what I am in this city, this country, this world. I'm an alien for Christ.

Yeah, yeah, everybody knows that. We sing about it and meditate on it for a few moments when we come across Bible verses touching on our status as world strangers. But it's whole 'nother deal to embrace that reality, to invite others to recognize your alienness. In giving us the task of evangelism, God has bestowed upon us a wonderful way to take up Christ's cross. Want to do what Jesus did? Want to know what Jesus felt? You don't need the bracelet. You can just go out to the local park and try sharing your faith. The alienness all comes home then. It's a beautiful process, really, beautiful in its difficulty, its struggle, its potential result. God wins glory when His people forsake comfort, when they trade in acceptance for antagonism. He wins glory when listeners turn away, when they scoff, when they politely but icily decline to hear your words. And then, one must remember, He wins glory when souls are saved. How typical of God. Mixed in with the pain and struggle are moments of great joy. Here's hoping some more mothers-of-four hear the gospel of peace, and here's hoping they find it.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

The Reshaping of the Supreme Court

For young Americans interested in social issues, this in perhaps the defining moment of our lives. Everyone knows the effects of Roe v. Wade; we live with them like we do a disease inside us, its poison simultaneously killing us and rendering us helpless in its wake. Over thirty years passed, and millions upon millions of babies killed. The statistics, as statistics always do, leave us unmoved, after awhile. Who really can picture 40 million babies dead? And when you've pictured it a thousand times, and nothing's changed, you start to go a little numb.

But now we're waking up again. President Bush has the opportunity to make a decision that will win him love and honor in the hearts of social conservatives from now until the time he--and we--pass away. He has the chance, it seems (pending Rehnquist's retirement), to reverse the generational curse. It strikes me that he may not even know how significant the decision is to name O'Connor's successor, and yet I hope he does. One almost feels compelled to plead with the air--as one does when watching the hometown team fight back--for the President to appoint a decidedly pro-life justice. Oh, we say to ourselves, anything, anything for the lives of the innocents.

And yet one need not plead with the air. We may plead with our great God, and know He hears us. He weeps with us over the small crosses that dot our country; now, we pray that He works mercy in our country, and arranges our judicial bench so as to save infants. May grace have its triumphant work in this country once more.

A Shorter Post (phew): No Pics

The last few blogs have gone long; I hope you've found them helpful. Deep issues require deep thinking. This one, however, is neither deep nor long. It's just to tell my readership, all four of you, that I won't be able to post pictures for awhile. The computer I'm now using simply won't allow it. So, in a small drama representing the greater battle of the ages between man and computer, I'm not posting pics. Enjoy this new text-driven portion of consumed's history. Thanks for reading.

Love it or Hate it: Rap's Here to Stay, Part Two

Why do Christians place anyone in peril by outrightly rejecting rap? That might seem a bit alarmist, and it is (the whole preceding post is written under the influence of a heavy dose of glibness, so please note that; the whole matter is humorous to me, cause we evangelicals can make a huge deal of small things). That concession aside, any time Christians write off a whole category of anything, they threaten to rob themselves and their charges of material that can uplift, encourage, edify, and entertain them in a healthy way. Certain things need to be written off. But the dismissive discarding of whole genres, hobbies, interests, whatever they may be, smacks of the kind of careless, if seemingly pietistic, thinking Christians are sometimes prone to.

I could say alot about this; you can probably tell I'm a bit passionate about this, which means I have to laugh at myself a bit, too. Let me try to be productive and positive here: some of the best Christian songs that I've ever heard have been rap songs. I'll give you a couple examples. When I was young in my faith, I got a hold of a Cross Movement album, Human Emergency, and played it continuously. I had listened to alot of secular rap before finding this album and could scarcely believe that Christians made quality hip-hop (rap=hip-hop). This one song, "What Do You See?" by the Ambassador (Dallas Theological Seminary grad) exposited for five harrowing minutes the crucifixion of Christ. In exhaustive detail, gospel-focused content, and a passionate delivery, the Ambassador laid out the heart of the New Testament. He brought to life the atonement, and educated me in the process.

A second song to hit me very hard came at things from a different angle. Mars Ill's "Two Steps" tells the stories of three folks journeying through life, two despondent, one hopeful (the lead singer, incidentally). Way less mentions of God than in Cross Movement's material, but equally vivid storytelling and meaningful, life-impacting content. The song showed an attempt by professing Christians to see the world through the eyes of others. I found it exhilirating.

Thus you see very quickly two rap songs that have impacted me dramatically. There are many more. Know that, and know this: there are oodles of rap songs out there that will impact your kids and friends and that have little redeeming value. In the sad calculus of life, these are the songs your kids and friends will hear. You may not be able to prevent that; perhaps you shouldn't necessarily seek to do so. Whatever tack you take with cultural engagement, at least give those around you the opportunity to hear God-honoring music made by Christians. Much, not all, of it can help Christians in their spiritual life. If you're not persuaded by arguments that guitars and drums stem from dark, terrible places, and many aren't, thankfully, then why wouldn't you give your friends, peers, yourselves the opportunity to enjoy creativity expressed for God's glory?

Love It or Hate It: Rap's Here to Stay

Contrary to what your average middle-aged classical music listener may wish, rap music is here for good. It rose up in the 80s as a mode of expressing urban anger and passion, migrated to the suburban middle class in the 90s, and now dominates the pop charts. Signifying its broad-based appeal, rappers collaborate with everyone these days. You've got rap with rock; rap with country; rap with ska; rap with blues; rap with Vegas lounge (just kidding on that one). Rap is everywhere, and that has to scare.

It scares those who have to this point shut their eyes tightly in fear of the genre, much the way kids do when they think not seeing the monster will make it go away. Someone, please, tap them on the shoulder. "Uh, Mr. Smith--the rap's not leaving. It's actually devouring your puny little genre. Sorry." This problem is particularly confounding in the church, which just had what it thought to be the ultimate unwanted dinner guest--rock--crash the evening meal. Thankfully, after a couple of pained decades and many torturous exchanges ("No, sir, I'm sorry-I can't think of any Bible passages that outlaw guitars; I'll do a word study and get back to you"), we're at the point where Christians accept rock. I suspect that there's a surprising contingent of bearded grayhairs out there who slip Lifehouse or Toby Mac in the car after they drop Junior off at the Lock-in. Yeah, dads, I know you're out there. I see you. Rap-boy sees allllllll.

Yet when it comes to the latest unwanted friend of youth, rap, the evangelical machine, that hulking beast that guards the borders of Christian pop culture, smites the offending faction with unstudied disdain. Having just conceded to the redeemed rock crew, it sees no room for another youthful musical offshoot. With piercing logic--"Rap came from those gangster rappers with their marijuana and guns"-- and stunning thoughtfulness --"But there's something about the beat, isn't there? Isn't it a little, well, worldly by nature?," it dismisses rap. It does so to its own peril.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Local Church Involvement in Politics, Part Three

Position Two: Cautious But Active Engagement
Strengths: 1) The congregation gains a judicious understanding from the man they trust to lead them of ways in which to politically engage. This has potentially great ramifications, particularly in contemporary days, when every cultural inch won or lost can significantly impact life for Christians. (Hate-speech laws today, no evangelizing tomorrow, and the like). The average church member, who does not know The Weekly Standard exists and never will, nonetheless knows how to vote on key issues. That's a potent idea.
2) The church knows well its identity, and so do outsiders. Coherence emerges from clear statements. A transparent witness to the church's ideals greets those who wish to find it. Members know that they stand together against immoral ideas and are confident that their leaders do as well. Non-members experience no confusion over whether social issues are unimportant, as the church makes clear that such issues, while not the gospel itself, lie close by it.

Weaknesses: 1) Unity may exist on the basis of social, not theological, positions. What a sad thought, that a church might simply preserve a codified body of political thought, and there find its identity. In so doing, it ceases to fulfill the essential duties of a biblical church, and becomes a political club with some hymns and childcare. This is a great potential pitfall, one that cannot be overlooked, and one which has perhaps dominated in certain churches and even regions of churches.
2) That which is gained in political awareness is perhaps lost in theological awareness. This need not be so, but without a very skilled mind and conscientious preacher, this can easily happen. This one is also easy to prove. Look back over the twentieth century, particularly its first three decades, and you see many strong men of God drifting in concert toward politicking, all the while neglecting their call to proclaim God's truth. Fast forward several decades, and observe as several Christian leaders experience great conflict and hardship over political meddling. With sexual temptation, the tendency to politicize the pastorate has to be considered one of the great potential pitfalls of the office.

Conclusion: There is No Easy Conclusion
Each side makes a strong case here. Each considers the culture, roots itself in the Word, and seeks to respond in a biblical fashion. Each has its shortcomings, each has its strengths, both seek the glory of God. The question actually defies an easy answer. It calls for much more conversation, much work on the part of individuals to engage responsibly in the political process, and great care on the part of pastors to discharge their duties with the Word of God in their heart and the knowledge of heavenly accountability to God for their shepherding ever on their mind.

Local Church Involvement in Politics, Part Two

Having just laid out two contrasting models for local church involvement in politics, let's proceed to an ever-so-brief critique of each, assessing their strengths and weaknesses. We're using everyone's favorite intellectual 2x4 here, the generalization, but only of necessity.

Position One: Limited Involvement
Strengths: 1) This model helps to avoid embittering Christians over the non-essentials. Sure, one might prefer one's fellow member believe thus-and-so on economic policy or support enviromental causes more (or less), but at the end of the day, the mature Christian may well conclude that such matters pale in comparison to doctrinal unity on the essentials. Much that could divide and poison can thus be nipped in the bud by this position.
2) This model pushes churches toward their focus: the Bible. In this model, the church is consciously oriented around the simple toss-and-catch game of preaching and hearing, hearing and responding. Christians in churches preaching weekly the Scripture will grow in, not surprisingly, their knowledge of Scripture. Christians in churches preaching politics will grow in, not surprisingly, their knowledge of politics. Something seems right about the first when one seeks the mind of Christ and Paul, to name two, in educating Christians. Striving "only to know Christ and Him crucified" wrote the apostle.

Weaknesses: 1) Less intellectual congregations may know less of how to respond to current political happenings. This could be devastating in an age when secularism gains and directs strength at undermining and attacking Christianity and its worldview. It's pretty easy to defend this point, actually. Just think of how much cultural ground is lost (and happily so) by Christians who naively write off political engagement. Pastors, it could be said, can and should do much, even by just a few words, to teach their congregations. Aren't they to be the leaders of the flock?
2) Congregations may be less apt to divide over the secondaries, but aren't they just postponing the inevitable? Sooner or later, a line is drawn. Either political affiliation and voting choices reflect one's understanding of God and the Bible or they don't. Biblical Christians know they must, insofar as politics reflect worldview issues (don't worry, they always will). So one can subscribe to the LI model, and think oneself safe from silly issues, but sooner or later, those issues cease to be silly and involve crucial questions like abortion and gay marriage. Whence, then, do we fly? To unity or division?

Local Church Involvement in Politics, Part One

Several recent experiences have brought to mind the classic debate: how is the church as an entity to be involved in politics? Much has been said, much more has been thought over, and little consensus has been formed. I'm not guessing this particular blog is the answer to all that, but let's go through two of the main positions on the issue and mull them over.

Position One: Limited Involvement
Right off the bat, let me say that we're into heavy generalizing territory here. For the sake of brevity, we must be. That said, there are some in this camp who articulate a cogent case for this position. Namely, they argue that the church's life centers in the preaching and teaching of the Word. Construing the pastor as the shepherd of theological growth, the LI camp deflects most any opportunity for the pastor to politicize, emphasizing his duty to preach not policy initiatives but expositional sermons. The LI folks claim that the formation of a Christian worldview that naturally occurs in preaching the Bible will do much to shape the conscience of citizens, who are not only able but expected to participate in the political process as conscionable agents. This group advocates for individuals to involve themselves in national politics while urging the local church itself to steer clear of pulpit politicking that can divide churches over non-essential issues. Christians ought to separate over the Scripture's inerrancy, goes the thinking, not over tax cuts.

Position Two: Careful but Engaged Activism
The second position, also head by thoughtful believers, takes a long look at a culture systematically dashing itself to pieces and calls churches to respond. Wanting to be more organizationally salty in a decaying world, this position emphasizes that the local church as headed by the pastor must educate itself to stand against moral decline and political injustice. The more biblically sensitive in this group will not necessarily encourage unceasing or even regular political statements from the pulpit, but neither will they disregard them. The individual Christian, says the proponents, surely needs biblical instruction. But he also needs help in thinking through certain matters, many of which can be difficult, and many of which by their important nature thus necessitate such assistance. To fail to do so would be to abrogate responsible "salt-and-light" activity. Individuals must also involve themselves in politics by their voices and votes, but the church must of necessity educate its people and witness to culture by speaking truth.

Friday, July 01, 2005

I Love Braveheart and its Soundtrack

Can you believe how good this movie--and its soundtrack--are? With Gladiator and LOTR, this one contends for most inspiring film ever made. The cinematography is breathtaking. The writing is crisp and stirring. Mel Gibson's character leads the viewer on the emotional rollercoaster the story provides. He captures well the rapture of first love, the horror of the death of a loved one, the ruthlessness of vengeance, the power of a motivating principle. Watching this movie, you can't help but wish you were able to a man of such conviction and action.

The movie's got it all--entertaining, fun, terribly sad, realistic. The score captures all of these elements. If you don't have it, buy it. I'm pretty sure my grades will improve from this past summer term--I worked many nights to the movie's melodies. I mean, you take some homework and throw soaring trumpets into it, couple it with fleet violin playing, and you got the most heartfelt Baptist History homework ever completed. Awesome movie.

File-Sharing is Bad

Was interested a few days back that the Supreme Court struck down Morpheus, a popular file-sharing program. I've been mystified since the days Napster first nipped at the industry's ankles over the response of conscionable Christians to file-sharing. Many did so with impugnity, often arguing from the viewpoint that since no rules explicitly forbade the practice, it was acceptable. Being an amateur artist myself, I struggled to understand the logic behind this argument. In non-sanctioned transfers, one simply takes what is not theirs for their own possession. I've never seen any difference between file-sharing and stealing. I don't say this with venom or overstuffed indignancy. I'm speaking matter-of-factly: how is unsanctioned file-sharing not stealing? One takes a purchased product, transfers the content to one's computer, and effectively offers it to all free-of-charge, without any approval. Huh? Excuse me, sir--would you like an appetizer with your moral inconsistency?

I've recorded a rap cd. If I were actually a signed artist, hustling to make a living from that cd, I would be stunned if my friends took the product I scraped to produce and freely dispersed it to takers. And yet file-sharers do just this, albeit to people they don't know.

Now, if only I had a cd people actually wanted to copy, I'd be doing well.

What Constitutes Good Writing?

Since I entered postgraduate education, I've been exposed to a literary viewpoint emphasizing that there is a certain formula for academic writing that ought to be followed. It roots in a clean, spare style, eschews adjectives and adverbs, and favors a sentence order of subject, verb, object--"Politicians believed in a two-party system"--that feels somewhat dry to me. Now, I readily acknowledge that my writing can bleed purple at times; one professor memorably wrote on one of my papers that my style was "self conscious and florid." I had to laugh at that one.

I'm sure I deserve such comments at times, but I do have to wonder: is there a right way to write? Forget the idea that certain forums call for certain styles, which I can grudgingly accept. In general, is there one superior writing style? Are short, descriptive sentences best? Is a more stream-of-consciousness style preferrable? Or are all styles equal?

We could transpose this question to a specific type of writing to bring this question home. In preaching, you have several men that preach effectively, some think beautifully, and all with varied styles. Charles Spurgeon writes with prose so purple it threatens to turn navy blue, and yet his material stirs the heart as few other pastors can. John Piper writes with short, punchy sentences with a tone that resembles a sermonic style. Again, he touches hearts, and in my estimation, writes well. Mark Dever writes with the ghost of Puritans past guiding his pen, using a mere, penetrating style favoring sententious ("pithy" or "terse") phrases (often questions): "Jesus died with the weight of sin resting on his shoulders. I wonder--who bears your burdens?"

All are powerful, touching, moving. All in my opinion are good writers. So the question goes out, unanswered by me: what constitutes good writing? Chew on it.