Friday, May 31, 2013

Some new ladies down on the farm!

How about something not quite so deep or at least self-important? We obtained a couple of mares, a 20 something year old mom and her 3 year old daughter, Both are bigger than a quarterhorse so they can easily support adults and the intent is to breed them to our Percheron stallion. The mom is half paint and half Shire and her daughter is out of a Shire stallion so she is 3/4 Shire and 1/4 paint.

The new ladies in the paddock

Out sampling the grass

For perspective

No King But Caesar

Work and life alike have been busy all week so I have lots of half finished posts and little else. Some of what I have been pondering has to do with my earlier thoughts on Memorial Day, the Pledge of Allegiance, etc. and what it means for the church. As I was thinking this morning I remembered the account of Jesus, Pilate and the religious leaders of the Jews.

From then on Pilate sought to release him, but the Jews cried out, "If you release this man, you are not Caesar's friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar." So when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Stone Pavement, and in Aramaic Gabbatha. Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, "Behold your King!" They cried out, "Away with him, away with him, crucify him!" Pilate said to them, "Shall I crucify your King?" The chief priests answered, "We have no king but Caesar."  (John 19:12-15)

What an odd statement that seems to be. We have no king but Caesar? This from the leaders of a nation that knows quite well that they have a real King? Perhaps this speaks to the warning from Christ about why we cannot have two masters. The religious leaders of the Jews seemed to be trying to have it both ways but what this revealed is that they ultimately were more concerned with their own security in prestige and position than they were about honoring their true King. Make no mistake, they knew who Jesus was. They knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that He healed the lepers, returned sight to the blind, raised the dead and was fulfilling Scripture over and over again. I don't think they saw Him as a political figure or a revolutionary, they knew who He was but they preferred to preserve what they had rather than forsake all to follow their King. They chose Caesar over God because Caesar gave them security and Christ offered them the cross. There are some interesting theological implications of that for another day.

How foolish! How sinful! I am so glad that we are not like that!

We aren't?

Dave Black weighed in on this topic yesterday at 6:04 AM, an hour so early as to be unfit for blogging or anything else other than coffee, and had some pretty sound and unflinching words on this issue, especially as it pertains to the blending of politics and religion with a smattering of Christianese to paint the worldly aspirations of politicians and Christians alike with a veneer of religious respectability...

Herein lies one of the greatest challenges of modern American evangelicalism. Today God and conservatism have practically merged into one. The "wonder-working power" of politics now drives a large segment of the Christian right. But sin is our trouble, not liberalism in government. To treat cancer by temporary measures is to endanger the victim still worse. David Kuo will probably be considered a neurotic pessimist by his cheery fellow-preachers, but he is right and they are wrong, even if he learned his lesson the hard way. Modern political machinations – whether by the right wing or the left wing of evangelicalism – are nothing more than fads that work up mere optimism and positive thinking. Whenever government tries to make men good without being righteous – something the devil would love more than anything in this fallen world – the professing church becomes cluttered with hosts of superficial saints who never sell out to Christ.

We think our political struggles of the day are so critical that they seem to consume everything in the church. Meanwhile the world burns down around us and our biggest concerns are borderline frivolous and often outright sinful. We seem to think that if (on the right) we can just make being bad illegal, people will stop being bad or (on the left) that if we can just shuffle enough money around from one person to the next we can eliminate poverty. I can only imagine what Paul and Peter and James would say if they saw how much effort we put into our political fighting and how much we elevate our worldly citizenship, we who have every advantage and wealth to squander and yet reach so few people (unless they are willing to come to "our church" of course).

So what is the solution? It is not just more blogging. I think Dave might have an idea....

If there is to be today a new politics of faith based on the cross of Christ, it will have to meet critically these issues. This means for me personally that it is not enough to question the just war tradition or to condemn the Constantinian compromise in the abstract. Nor is it enough to rail against the Christ-washed militarism being offered in His name by our politicians. Nor can I merely exegete Jesus' mandate in the Sermon on the Mount disinterestedly. The only responsible Christian ethic is for me to become an active participant in service and sacrifice for the sake of the Prince of Peace. I must discover what it means to rid myself completely of the baggage of self-will and to plunge into the tranquil sea of God's will where alone I will find joy. There are countless situations in my life in which I must decide to put the interests of others above my own life-interests. The power of nonviolence is an important step on the downward path of Jesus, but only if I deliberately chose such a path can "peace on earth" begin to be realized.

So just talking about peacemaking and ministering is not quite the point? I need some real grace on that. I am part of the way there with an acceptance, and quite a begrudging one, that the way of the world which demands violence, exploitation and coercion in the pursuit of my own security and comfort is not only not compatible with the values of the upside-down kingdom of Christ but is in direct conflict with those values. I keep remembering something about being able to serve only one master.... When it comes to acting on that and living it out I have so far to go.

These entanglements with the political and economic concerns of the world are incredibly seductive but our obsession with security and comfort is a far greater impediment to our mission and witness than Islam or militant atheists or even Barack Obama! Because we are so concerned with "security", being protected from the "others" in our society, we fail to see that they are the people we are supposed to be reaching.

I think if most of us had any real exposure to the world all around us, a world we drive through going to sporting events or on our way to "church", we would be terribly disturbed. Perhaps that is why we don't spend any more time outside of our religious enclaves and suburban bunkers than we have to and even then with our car doors locked. It is a world where women are forced into prostitution by criminal rings, where getting to school each day means dodging drug dealers, murderers and rapists, a world where "where are you going to college?" is not even a thought for most kids, where parents often make the choice between food and heat. We rarely see them and when we do we ignore them because they make us uncomfortable or we avoid them because they frighten us.

The questions that are raised regarding nationalism, patriotism, militarism, conservatism/liberalism are not largely irrelevant theoretical discussions. They are not just question posed by lib'rals and 'Murica haters. They are questions that get to the very core of what it means to be a disciple of Christ and why we are warned against trying to serve two masters. We need a much broader conversation in the church about these questions. I am starting to see some signs of it but I would love to see more of the "popular" teachers in the church asking them. When John Piper suggests pretty gently a position that sounds even vaguely non-resistant people jump all over him. Maybe when we lose our wealth and privileged position in America we can start getting serious about the downward path of Jesus.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

I pledge allegiance to the standard of the Roman Empire

I got into an interesting discussion on Christians pledging allegiance to the flag of the United States last night. What got the conversation going was article by Matt Young titled The Pledge of Allegiance: 2 Reasons Why Christians Should Not Say It. That is a pretty controversial topic among religious Americans as pledging allegiance to the flag is just something we have always done from a very young age. The article argues from two primary passages that Christians should not say the pledge of allegiance, Matthew 5:33-37 and Matthew 6:24. These passages, taken directly from the teachings of Jesus, teach that Christians should not swear oaths of any sort and must not have divided loyalty because we cannot serve two masters. One of the individuals who was arguing that we could freely swear allegiance to a flag suggested that the Sermon on the Mount was not intended to be normative or binding on non-Jewish believers but was merely illustrative of our inability to keep the Law.

There are many Christian theologians who make that argument, perhaps most commonly to get around the commands of Jesus to "turn the other cheek". I am not sure that the implications of that are really thought out as well as they should be. If the teachings of Christ in the Sermon on  the Mount are not normative or binding for us then perhaps it is OK for me to ogle another woman with lust in my heart (Matt 5:28). Likewise divorce and remarriage must be OK (Matt 5:32). Retaliation is not only OK but perhaps even a positive trait (Matt 5:39). If someone sues you, sue 'em right back! (Matt 5:40). Loving your enemies (Matt 5:44)? Pshaw! Kill 'em all and let God sort 'em out! We definitely should pray loudly in public to be seen by men (Matt 6:5) but we definitely should not pray as Jesus taught in the Lord's Prayer (Matt 6:9-13). We of course should lay up treasure here on earth (Matt 6:19) and boy have we embraced that one. Got problems? Of course you should be anxious about them (Matt 6:25). I am belaboring the point and engaging in hyperbole but hopefully you get what I am trying to say.

This neglect, or perhaps the inconsistent application, of the ethical teachings of Jesus was one of the drivers of the Anabaptist "radical reformation". They believed that being a Christian meant following Jesus in word and deed. With the Roman Catholic and magisterial Reformers alike teaching  infant baptism, giving the New Covenant sign to those who cannot exhibit the slightest notion of being born-again, and intentionally bringing unbelievers and believers alike into the "visible" church, what people came to understand as the church became hopelessly muddled and indistinguishable from the world. That is largely the same issue we have today. It seems that too much of the church is content to leave the ethical teachings of Christ to the "progressives" and the results are apparent. Just because we are not literally expected to pluck out our eye lest it cause us to sin, it doesn't follow that we should feel free to lust after a woman by gawking at her. We ought not look at women lustfully because that is adultery in our hearts. We also ought to turn the other cheek, love our enemies, pray as Jesus taught and store up treasure in heaven rather than earth. Our inability to follow these commands perfectly is not the point as the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us and our sin redeemed by Him (2 Cor 5:21). As followers we need to follow Him and the teachings of Christ were preserved for a reason, and that reason is not just for illustrative purposes. 

Back to the main question re: a Christian pledging allegiance to a rectangle of fabric and what it stands for. If you step back and ask the question more broadly, I think you get a different view. Is a Christian in China OK with pledging allegiance to the Communist Party or the Chinese flag? What about a Roman legionnaire who converted to Christianity pledging allegiance to the Roman eagle standard? What about a Christian German solider when the Nazis took over, would pledging allegiance to the Third Reich be acceptable? In other words is it equally OK for Christians to proclaim oaths of obedience to secular nation-states regardless of which nation-state they have been placed in by God?

That question is intentionally designed to make American Christians uncomfortable. It makes me uncomfortable! Love of country is a deep seated American middle class value and that demographic is who makes up most of the public thinkers in the church, which perhaps explains why these conversations so rarely happen. I think that deep down a lot of Christians in America think pledging allegiance to a flag is OK for us because America is different. You can almost picture American Christianity praying the Pharisees prayer from Luke 18:11: The Pharisee American Christian, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners Canadians, unjust Iraqis, adulterers French, or even like this tax collector Bolivian.  I am not sure what Christians in other countries do or what they think of our pledging allegiance to a flag but I am pretty sure that our general attitude comes across as pompous and arrogant, as if America is uniquely "God's favored people".

America is different in degree, not kind, from other secular nations of the world whether we are speaking of modern Switzerland or the Roman Empire or Nazi Germany. Now that sounds jarring. Didn't we nobly smite the Nazis in World War II? Yes but as I have written before the noble narrative of World War II is not quite as clean cut as we have been taught.

Not to go all Noam Chomsky on you but....

- America was founded in armed rebellion over what would today be pretty minor issues.
- Much of the economic growth of America for our first hundred years was built on the backs of slaves, European immigrants that lived in squalor and Chinese workers who helped build the intercontinental railroad.
- The bloodiest and costliest war fought by Americans was fought on the one hand to preserve the enslaving of human beings and on the other to prevent an allegedly free people from choosing their own future.
- A lot of the land where many Americans live, manufacture our goods and grow our food used to be inhabited by nomadic people that we killed and institutionalized in reservations. Sure the American Indians often fought with European settlers and could be quite brutal but it was hardly a one sided affair.
- Even though slavery was outlawed in the 19th century, the after effects of racial discrimination haunt America still today, from widespread racism to institutionalized generational poverty.
- America is the only nation on earth to effectively use weapons of mass destruction and the only nuclear power to have actually used nuclear weapons, not to mention the targeting of civilians for the purpose of terrorizing civilian populations and sapping their will to fight in Germany and Japan. Not to mention the mass imprisonment of an entire population of people for looking like our Japanese enemies.
- Our history is replete with wars for territory, wars of aggression and wars under false pretenses (Iraq anyone?). While the Nazi regime rose and fall over the course of two decades, America has been at war for most of our history.

Now by virtually any measure, America is better than Nazi Germany. That kind of goes without saying. That doesn't mean that America is without serious flaws because we certainly are and always have been. That is why I say America is different in degree and not kind from other nations, even the most repressive regimes of history, because at the core America is a nation founded and led by flawed human sinners, few of whom were Christians, just like every other human nation that has or ever will exist.

Thus we come to my point at long last. Christians ought not, I would even say must not, pledge allegiance to America or any other country. Our loyalty is to Christ and His Kingdom and there is no room for divided loyalties there. I am an ambassador of the King, sent to the nations of the world as His emissary and representative (2 Cor 5:20). I cannot pledge allegiance to the very nation I am sent to in order to call her people to repent. Further I may be called to take the Gospel somewhere else, thus making my pledge of allegiance meaningless. Or do we do an un-pledge or a transitional pledge to our new nation? I am where I am by the sovereign will and purpose of God and I am here for a purpose. That purpose is not to sustain American traditions or fight in her wars but rather to proclaim Christ.

If we follow the teachings of Christ, both in specifics likes not swearing oaths or serving two masters as well as in more general terms having to do with our relationship to the world, I think we will find that it is not only not advisable but potentially damaging to our witness to swear oaths to an earthly power while claiming to have allegiance to the King. There is no reason and no advantage to doing so and all sorts of reasons to not do so. It doesn't need to be a dogmatic, "Look at me, I am making a political statement!" sort of thing, just simply a quiet refusal to follow the culture and refusing to teach our children to do so. I have enough to do in struggling to stay loyal to Christ without adding a secondary allegiance that often seems to trump the primary.

I pledge allegiance to no one and nothing but Jesus Christ my Savior and dedicate my life to His Kingdom and no other.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Repost: Freedom Doesn't Come At The End Of A Gun

I am reposting my annual Memorial Day post. This is a day when it is probably best for me to stay off of social media as it presents unique challenges to a Christians who abhors war and the blending of nationalism, civic religion and Christianity. Anyway, enjoy your day with your family and friends in whatever way you choose today!


Today is Memorial Day in the United Sates and as a people we are going to be remembering those who died fighting for America.

Let those of us who know and are known by Christ remember that our freedom was not won or preserved by those buried under a field of crosses in Normandy Cemetery in France, as noble and heroic as their sacrifice was. Our freedom was won on a single cross on Calvary. Our declaration of independence is not found on a parchment in Washington, D.C., it is in the words cried out by our Savior "It is finished!"

So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:36)

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Islam Is Not The Enemy of Christianity

As shocking as the events of 9/11 were, as horrible as the various random attacks in Boston and other places are, the recent hacking to death of a British soldier by two young Muslim is, at least to me, something different. It was so brutal and yet so casual, the men waiting for an audience so they could rant about British foreign policy and why it led them to slaughter a man in the street. Their fairly calm speech while a man they butchered lay in the street behind them, along with the instinctive filming of these men by passerby's is chilling and speaks to the general coarsening of our society.

When Western Christians observe events like this, we can easily fall into the trap of seeing horrors like the one in Woolwich and other terrorist attacks as part of a religious war between Christianity and Islam. Nothing could be further from the truth. Certainly there are secular issues surrounding Islam, Western foreign policy, immigration, assimilation, oil and of course terrorism but those are not issues that are the primary concern of the church. There is nothing inherently more sinful in these two young Muslim men than there is in your next door neighbor that let you borrow his hedge-trimmer.

The same thing that makes two young men hack up a man they apparently didn't know on the streets of the U.K. also leads people to believe that flying a plane into a building full of people going to work gets you rewarded in paradise. It also is what leads people to believe that Joseph Smith is a prophet or that Jews are deserving of mass death in gas chambers or that people of one tribe should be hacked apart with machetes in Rwanda by members of a different tribe. It is also the same issue that leads to the ambivalence of so many people in America who think they are basically good people and if there is a God, He certainly wouldn't keep them out of heaven. It is the same thing that every single human being that destroys every single human being that ever has or ever will live that is not born-again: sin.

These two young men in the U.K. are unregenerate sinners who need something, Someone, desperately and don't even realize it yet. Outside of the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit I would be in the same state even if I was not hacking people apart in the street. We can be saddened and troubled by what we see. We can and ought to pray for the family of the young man who was killed but we likewise ought to do the same for these two men and their families. What we must not do is lose sight of the truth that the men who perpetrated this crime are the very type of people we are called to reach and commanded to love. Islam is not the enemy of Christianity. If we believe what the Bible teaches we know that our future is secure, that our Lord reigns now and forever and that the end is set. As we eagerly await the return of our King we must be about His business and not caught up in the wars and rumors of wars, the hateful endless exchange of violence and the picking of sides in conflict. Even when it is difficult, especially when it is difficult, we must love our enemies, do good to them that hate us and overcome evil with good.

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Local Church Or Seminary?

Very interesting post from Phil Newton today writing on the idea of the local church being the place to learn the work of ministry:Founders Ministries Blog: The Local Church: The Training Ground for Ministry. Phil is a sharp guy and I have always enjoyed reading and listening to him.

I liked a lot of what he had to say in this piece. In places I think he elevates or overemphasizes the "local church" organization but much of what he wrote is spot on. This was my favorite:

The typical church’s approach with someone that expresses a call to gospel ministry has been to immediately send him to a seminary for training. While every local church may not be able to replace a theological seminary education (and I am not advocating such replacement), churches must realize that seminaries cannot replace the shaping influence of the local church community for future ministry. Instead, churches must not relegate to seminaries what local churches do best: preparing the next generation for gospel-centered ministry by mentoring young ministers in the context of church community. 

Spot on. The church has been given the task and responsibility to equip the saints for the work of ministry. That is why we have elders, men who lead by example and teaching of others so that they in turn may reach spiritual maturity (Eph 4:11-16). It makes no sense to have elders in your local church only to send young men from that local church away to be trained rather than staying put where the men that Christ has charge with equipping them already are!

There is a place for the seminary in the church but not as a subcontractor for the work properly done by the elders in the local assembly of the church. In a post-Christendom America we won't have the "luxury" to send men off to get an expensive degree, we will need to carry out that task right where they are. This is another one of those areas where we need to radically change our thinking and get back to the Biblical example. Great article, give it a read!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

When Sovereignty Stinks

As always happens when there is a “natural disaster” of some sort we see a lot of soul searching and question asking, especially as it applies to God. Many people seem eager to put God on trial, as if He needs to answer to us when something horrible happens in a world that is polluted by man’s sin. This is of course happening right now with the tornado in Oklahoma and it inevitably raises the question: if God is sovereign, why did this happen? I don’t have an eloquent, theologically deep answer but I wanted to throw out some thoughts as someone who relies on Christ as sovereign over everything, from my salvation worked out and predestined before the world began (Eph 1:4) to a dear friend and co-laborer in Christ looking for a house.

First and foremost, we are not in a position to dictate to God. I don’t get to ask God why He permitted or ordained something I don’t like. My position is not an innocent man hauled in before a kangaroo court where I might be justified in demanding that the judge answer why God is infinitely and perfectly good and as such He is not only incapable of doing evil, anything He ordains to do is by definition good. When God slaughtered all of the first born males of Egypt, He actively killed children. He didn’t just “permit” it to happen, He did it. Is that evil? Well we consider killing children to be evil but God cannot commit an act that is evil so in this case no it is not. Further it is dangerous ground at all to even entertain that idea. In our hubris born of privilege and cultural arrogance Christians in the West and especially America have often gotten too big for our britches and deign to stand in judgment of God. Let me take it a step further. God would be justified, simply because He is God, if He destroyed the world in fire today and incinerated every single human being. Thanks to His forbearance He chooses not to but if He did it would be good because God and God alone is the standard of what is good.

If we lose sight of this foundational truth, we run into the question of whether God is able to stop evil from happening and chooses not to or He wants to stop it from happening but is unable. Either way God comes across poorly in our eyes. I find it helpful to look at every event through the lens of God as infinitely sovereign, omnipotent and omniscient and then to ask: what does God want from His people as a response?

I want God to do things. I want God to heal people of cancer and I know He can. I want God to stop terrible things from happening at places like Sandy Hook and Boston and Moore, Oklahoma. The real question I should be pondering is: what does God want me to do in response? Our acceptance of God as sovereign doesn’t mean we don’t suffer along with those who suffer and show compassion and minister to them. It doesn’t mean we don’t pray for healing or intervention. It means that we trust in God that all He does is good even when it is precisely the opposite of what I want. That is so hard. We want God in a manageable format. We want a God who will do what we want and not do what we don’t. God doesn’t work that way and I am glad He does not. What we should want is what God wants and how we react says a lot about how we view God. I liked an article from Tony Reinke writing for Desiring God, God’s Sovereignty and Personal Compassion in Public Tragedy. Below is his summary:

Maybe I will just close with one of the most practical illustrations. It says in Acts 4:27 that God predestined what Herod and Pontius Pilate and the Gentiles and the Jews brought to pass when Jesus was crucified. In other words, the worst sinning that has ever happened in the history of the world was planned and predestined by God, for the death of his Son, that we might be saved. The murder of the Son of God is the worst act in human history, and it was planned by God according to Acts 4:27.

Now God wills that evil for the sake of thousands of good responses. He wants us to be saved by it. He wants us to trust this Jesus. He wanted Mary to come to the tomb with compassion in her heart. He wanted to show that Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus were men of courage and godliness because they were willing to take the body and put it in their own tomb.

God had millions and millions of good and holy purposes in willing that this happened. And the same would be true of everything he wills in this world. So we should determine how we respond, not by any false, human, logical deduction that we are drawing from the sovereignty of God. We should determine it from what the Bible says should be our response, namely compassion, and outrage at sin, and efforts to be involved in bringing relief.

Exactly. Our question shouldn’t be “why”, it should be “what”. What do I do when bad things happen in a sinful world? How do I honor and glorify God in the midst of tragedy? If we focus there and not on the “why” we will do more to honor and glorify God and after all is said and done that is the chief end of man.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

A Lack of Leadership

How about a broad sweeping generalization on this fine Tuesday?

The church suffers from a lack of leadership.

Now I am not saying we have a lack of attempts to cultivate "leadership". Books and seminars and professional education/vocational training aplenty purport to help men be leaders in the church. We are told to defer to leaders. On this very topic I give you an interesting quote from a few days ago from Dave Black on that very topic.

I am not saying we should not have seminaries or Bible schools. What troubles me is that we so often equate a formal biblical education with true biblical understanding. It seems to me that it is time to say "Enough!" to the fallacious notion that a degree in theology makes one qualified for leadership in the church.

We also don't have a dearth of those who claim to be leaders, leaders like "Bishop" Katharine Jefferts Schori who seems to think that what the world needs is diversity rather than Jesus. Then there are those who seem to buy into the hype surrounding themselves and think much of themself based on the accolades on their books. Of course there are plenty of people enriching themselves

I am also not saying we don't have any leaders in the church at all. We certainly do! What we lack is a recognition of people who are actually leading in the church through the Biblical means of service and example in favor of focusing on people based on position and title.Those are the leaders, the people who live and love as Christ lived and loved as best they can. It is the example of your life, the way you live, that makes you a leader.

The church is full of leaders and those leaders rarely if ever make demands of deference to their supposed "authority". Say what you like and dress it up all you want in religious jargon but someone who is more concerned with people "submitting to their authority" than they are with serving people in humility and love is not a leader in any Biblical sense.More pointedly, the more you have to remind people that you are a leader, the less of a leader you really are.

Being a leader isn't easy. Sometimes being a leader means saying difficult things. Anyone can say something to please people. It is harder to say something that you know will anger the very people you depend on for your paycheck. Even harder yet is to not only teach hard truths but to extend people the grace to grow while modeling proper behavior.

Being a leader also isn't hard. Just worry about living your life as Christ taught and modeled. It doesn't require a certain educational achievement or a certificate on your wall or a title in front of your twitter or facebook profile. It just requires taking up your cross daily. Under your own power that is impossible but with the Scriptures and Holy Spirit to guide us we have all we need to be leaders in the church.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Why The Old Labels No Longer Work (And Probably Never Did)

America is deeply divided along political lines. That is no surprise to anyone. While that has always been true in our two party, winner-takes-all system, it certainly has grown sharper and nastier over the last few decades. Old fashioned opposition has turned somehow more ugly, more personal. I usually point to the ridiculous "borking" of the late Robert Bork as the turning point but there is no credible doubt that we are a nation that is at war with itself, for now limited to rhetoric but I fear that in the future it may morph into something else.

I have started to see this dichotomy, once a critical part of my life, as entirely unhelpful both politically and doctrinally. I blame some of this on the two party, win take all system we exist in where it is natural and expedient to draw a line in the sand and then start appealing to lowest common denominator positions. What we are left with is a two party system loosely based on two ideologies that have little to do with the original meaning of their labels and I (and many others) find ourselves without a home in either party.

Modern "conservatism" is not terribly conservative at all. Rather than conserving it is about consuming. To protect our consuming, "conservatives" are willing to send young people to kill and die over and over, intervening in wars we have no business in and no real chance of "success", whatever that means. This means that the same people who complain about larger government when it comes in the form of food stamps are the first to freak out if we even suggest cutting back on military spending. Quaint notions like liberty are steamrolled by "security". Shameful though it may be to say it, the Republican party (the "conservative" party) is largely built to appeal to middle and upper class, mostly white, voters who are terrified of minorities and foreigners and angry at the poor.

Modern "liberalism"? Please. Unlike early liberalism what we call modern liberalism is simply replacing a hereditary elite ruling class with a bureaucratic elite ruling class. While homosexuals can "marry" and women can kill their unborn children, by virtually any other measure modern liberalism seeks to reduce liberty and make people less free. That is not liberalism, it is servitude and enslavement.  The Democrats take a different approach from their opposites in the GOP, rather than appealing to fear they appeal to envy, painting everyone who has more than you as your enemy, an enemy that needs to be punished. Dress it up all you like in the language of "fairness", what it really comes down to is stealing from some people to bribe others for their votes.

While the modern conservative movement is deeply, perhaps fatally flawed, it is less wrong than what passes for modern liberalism. That is faint praise indeed and intended as such. With these two "choices" that are not really choices at all, it is little wonder I am done with the whole dog-and-pony show that happens on the first Tuesday following the first Monday of November. The American electoral process is a farce and everyone that pays attention knows it but most people keep doing it out of some misguided notion of civic responsibility and virtue. That isn't my primary concern.

As clearly inadequate as the terms liberal and conservative are in a political context, they are both inaccurate and deeply harmful in a church context. I say inaccurate because the things that modern political liberalism and conservatism alike stand for, or at least advocate for, have no bearing on Christian discipleship and Kingdom living. Lower taxes, defending 2nd Amendment rights, a strong "national defense"? Um no. Abortion on demand, forced income redistribution and institutionalized generational poverty. Double no.

What about harmful? Indeed and even more so than inaccurate. When we use these terms within the context of church discussions we invariably divide ourselves into camps that are as much political as they are doctrinal and the differences between the two categories is lost. Just because someone is "conservative" from a theological standpoint it doesn't always follow that they are "conservative" from a political standpoint, especially on an issue by issue basis. For example as someone who fits most possible definitions of "conservative" theologically, I am also someone who is strongly opposed to war in all forms even when it allegedly serves the national interest of America. I oppose war for the same reason I support complementarian gender roles, namely a consistent and "literal" interpretation of Scripture.

A perfect case in point was an older article someone linked to that purported to prove that reading your Bible more makes you more "liberal": Survey: Frequent Bible Reading Can Turn You Liberal . Granted it in Christianity Today and as such was immediately suspect but as I read through the article what kept jumping out to me is that the way the article defined "liberal" didn't seem so much theological as it did political. For example one statement said: But the more someone reads the Bible, the more likely he or she is to believe science and religion are compatible. Well I am pretty conservative by any measure and I think they are compatible and would affirm that statement. Now if you start getting into the particulars we would find some major points of difference on issues like evolution and "climate change". Other examples included questions about the Patriot Act and social justice issues: Some of the most interesting findings relate to moral attitudes. "How important is it," the survey asked, "to actively seek social and economic justice in order to be a good person?" Who is against social justice? Now again when you start to define "social justice" in political terms it can become code for "forced income redistribution", something the Bible never supports. I am all for social and economic justice but I also don't think that a welfare state and a permanent dependency class does anything to alleviate injustice. So the flaw here is in methodology but the message is that reading the Bible more leads to voting for Democrats.

Our insistence on using political labels loaded with cultural baggage to divide from other Christians is enormously unhelpful to our mission and harmful to our witness as the church. It happens on both sides, many "conservatives" use "liberal" as a way to dismiss anything another believer says and likewise there are many "liberals" who sneeringly use terms like "fundie" to mock those who have a more literal view of the Bible. Both groups do it and both claim to be preserving the foundations of the church in doing so but what they are really doing is dividing us up based on our positions on tax policy and national security, issues that have no bearing on our universal call to be ambassadors of a King with no army, no taxes and no borders. Can we declare a moratorium on using this language to bite and devour one another? I will volunteer to try to start with my own writings and would call on anyone reading here to do the same.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Happiness Is....

...a huge bag of free leaf lard! We got this from our Amish guy who butchers and processes our hogs. The bag must weigh 35-40 lbs and we have our first batch chopped up and in the crock pot rendering down!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Our Double Standard Is Showing (Again)

There was quite an uproar a few days back when President Obama addressed an event for Planned Parenthood and closed his comments with "God bless you", a "blessing" aimed at Planned Parenthood. The uproar was understandable. Planned "Parenthood" is the face of the American abortion industry, a business that is responsible for unimaginable butchery on a daily basis. To invoke God's blessing on their endeavors, even in the throw away manner that politicians typically say "God bless ", is an affront. George Weigel writing for  First Things described it as blasphemy in his essay yesterday, Tribulation Compounded by Blasphemy: 

But there was worse. For President Obama concluded his remarks as follows: “Thank you, Planned Parenthood. God bless you . . .”

And that is nothing short of blasphemy.

Too harsh? No. For in its discussion of this grave sin against the Second Commandment, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (paragraph 2148) teaches that “it is also blasphemous to make use of God’s name to . . . reduce people to servitude, to torture persons or to put them to death.” That is precisely what happens in Planned Parenthood abortuaries. And on that, the president of the United States called down the divine blessing.

Pray for him. Pray for the United States, which is in very, very serious trouble.

Now I don't put much stock in what the Catechism of the Catholic Church has to say on a topic but it is interesting that it says that it is blasphemous to use God's name to put people to death. I would agree that invoking God's name in the process of putting people to death is blasphemy (an irony I will leave unexplored for now). To ask for God's blessing on a group that murders children for money on a daily basis is a perversion and gross blasphemy indeed. No issue there but that also raises a sticky question that most Christians in America not only refuse to consider but get awfully mad when someone else does. Many, many Christians and generic religious Americans alike pray loudly and fervently for God to "bless our troops". What is the connection you ask?

We don't say "God bless the troops of every country". No, often Christians in America thank God for our soldiers, the soldiers that "keep us free" and ask God to "bless our troops". A quick Google image search for "God bless our troops" brings up some pretty extensive results as a testimony to the notion that somehow American soldiers are more deserving of blessing and serve in a more righteous capacity than soldiers of other nations. After all America is a "Christian nation" founded on "Judeo-Christian values" so of course our soldiers are carrying out God's will.

If someone were to say "God bless Planned Parenthood" and mean "God bring repentance to those engaged in their bloody work of murder for profit" that would be one thing. Likewise if our desire for God to bless our troops was a call to change hearts and bring repentance that might be something else indeed. However I cannot imagine that is what President Obama meant in his attempt to invoke God's blessings on the mission of Planned Parenthood nor is that what American Christians mean when they pray for God's blessings on "our" troops to prevail over "our" enemies. The blessing in both case is for a blessing on their current efforts to continue and that is problematic.

Just as I cannot divide my loyalty by pledging allegiance to a flag, I cannot pray for God to intercede on behalf of one side of a secular military conflict over another side. I don't see that God calls me to be concerned over a "way of life" or state sponsored "religious liberty" or the various economic, territorial or ego driven reasons we go war. I understand the very substantive difference between the military which has a legitimate secular function even if I don't agree with the policies and a business that makes money from carving up unborn children in the womb. They are not the same but that doesn't change the very real double-standard in play here where we place our loyalties to nation on a pedestal and pray for God to bless the armies of Caesar because we are terrified that we might lose our precious "rights" or have to pay more for gasoline. We have not faced a real threat to America proper since the beginning of the 20th century but those intervening decades are filled with war after war that American Christians have dutifully and often eagerly participated in not just by praying for our troops but by filling the ranks of those troops with our sons. In spite of this, if you dare to ask the question of why God should bless our troops you can be sure that you are in for a hostile response.

The double-standard in our pro-life position is glaring and if you think that the world we are called to reach doesn't see it you are fooling yourself. We pray outside of abortion clinics but cheer when unbelievers die. We talk about loving out enemies on Sunday and pray for God to smite them or at least assist our troops in smiting them on Monday. We worship a Savior executed by the state and have no problem with the state executing others. We speak of the sanctity of human life, especially children, but turn a blind eye to the dead children who are "collateral damage" in American wars. The often hurled charge that American Christians only care about children until they are born is spurious but we seem bent on trying to prove our accusers right. After Kermit Gosnell was convicted of the heinous crimes of which he was accused, some Christians seemed to be tripping over themselves to call for his execution while the majority of the church seemed disinterested once the cause of the day left the headlines. Even while it was going on the church in America was largely silent on the killing in our name of innocents abroad. Out of sight, out of mind I guess and after all when it comes to "national security" you have to break some eggs to make an omelet.

Few things undermine our witness more than hypocrisy and even when it is in our blind spots, the world sees it clear as day. People reject Christ because of the hardness of their unregenerate hearts but they reject "Christianity" because they see our hypocrisy and double-standards, preaching one thing and practicing another. No matter how much we cherish our American identity and the privileges that come along with our worldly citizenship, it pales compared to the holy and eternity impacting mission we are called to. If our loyalty to our land of birth impedes our witness, it is unhealthy and needs to be cut out of the church. If we can rail against President Obama asking for God's blessing on an organization of butchers and do so while driving cars asking for God's blessings on those we send to kill and die on our behalf for secular reasons we shouldn't be surprised at the derision of the world. 

Being pro-life means all life. Loving our enemies means all of our enemies. The commandments of Christ don't change at the borders of America.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Control the food, control the people

The older I get, the less crazy some conspiracy theories sound to me...

You can live without cars or cell phones or cable TV. In fact a lot of what people think are necessities are little more than luxuries and a many of them are actually harmful. But food? You simply cannot live for very long without food. Food, water and shelter are the essentials of life but with each passing year all three become less free and more controlled by the government.

Our food system is completely and almost inextricably linked to our government control. For the vast majority of Americans, even families that raise some of their own food like we do, it is virtually impossible to feed your family without eating food that has been regulated, controlled and subsidized by the Federal government. Walk through a supermarket with me and I bet that you would be hard pressed to find a single food item that didn't get handled, subsidized or regulated by the government. Now that may not seem like a big deal, after all don't we all want "safe food"? Sure but at what cost? I am not talking about the price sticker on a bag of Doritos, I am talking about the real costs of food that you don't see at the checkout line but that we all pay.

Thanks to onerous and usually unnecessary regulations that make smaller scale (and more local) operations economically nonviable, more and more of our food is produced hundreds or thousands of
miles away. Have you ever stopped to wonder how it is that you can buy virtually any food you want, regardless of where you live and what season it is? We used to live in one of the northernmost towns in North America, a place where the growing season is very short and winter is very long, but I could still buy "fresh" fruits and vegetables year round even though the nearest place that could raise strawberries in February was over 1000 miles away. I wasn't buying produce that was "produced" locally, I was buying food that had been trucked from all over the country (and outside of the country) to provide me with whatever food I desired, whenever I desired it (and at a low price of course). Gone is any sense of the seasonality of food, something that makes sense when you realize that the harvesting that happens in fall now is mostly field corn and soybeans that are completely inedible for humans. The crops that are harvested in the fall will be shipped off to a food processing plant or a feedlot somewhere far away or stored until the prices hit the right level.

Of course to move that food efficiently requires a key ingredient, namely cheap fuel. If we paid $7 or $9 per gallon for diesel fuel you can be sure that it would be far more expensive to buy food from far away processors and you wouldn't be able to obtain produce in the winter, or at least not at such a low price. One of the most insane features of our modern food system is that it is built not so much on sun and soil as it is on petroleum, petroleum that we on the one hand refuse to extract from our own domestic sources but on the other hand are perfectly willing (and often eager) to sacrifice countless lives and limbs of our young people and innocent by-standers overseas to keep the river of cheap oil flowing. If we ever suffer a real petroleum crisis you can be sure that a food crisis will follow right behind. Our food system is dependent more on oil than on crop yields or biotechnology or the good old American farmer. Without oil, cheap and plentiful, we could not continue to feed ourselves as we are used to doing. Maybe that wouldn't be such a bad thing. It also shows what a farce the idea of cheap food really is. Between crop subsidies, disaster insurance, trade deals, military interventions around the world, etc. we pay an enormous cost for our food supply but the difference is that it is an indirect cost, something lost in the morass of the income tax system.

Another way that Uncle Sam controls food is simply having the government become the provider of food for many Americans, more now than at any time in history which is a symptom of the bitter irony of the "War on poverty" that has made poverty generational and more common rather than reducing it in any meaningful way. There are over 23,000,000 American households receiving food assistance via the SNAP (Supplemental Assistance Nutrition Program) program administered by the USDA Food and Nutrition Service. Broken out by actual people and we see that over 47,000,000 people or 15% of the population is enrolled in the SNAP program with some states like Mississippi and the District of Columbia having over 20% of their population enrolled in the "food stamp" program. The modern day United States Department of Agriculture is mostly involved in regulations and in supplementing tens of millions of Americans food purchasing budgets rather than anything having to do with actual agricultural practices, having long ago abdicated the development of agricultural practices to international food and agriculture companies like Monsanto, Tyson and Conagra as well as land grant universities funded in large part by those same companies. This isn't a knock on people who legitimately are in a position to need food assistance but it is an accusatory finger pointed right at the same organization that on the one hand provides "free" food for some while perpetuating an economic system that leaves so many people in need in the first place, namely the United States government. Not only can you not really buy much food that isn't controlled by the government, many families simply cannot afford to feed themselves at all without that assistance.

So what is my point other than conspiracy ranting? Not much other than pointing out that the majority of Americans and the citizens of other industrialized nations are more or less completely dependent on the government for feeding themselves to the point of being completely incapable of procuring even the most basic food needs without the assistance and permission of their government. It is easy to assume that the government will always be there but given the troubling instability of European nations and the incredible debt level of our own government that permanence is no longer a given. The seemingly steady and secure food system we enjoy is actually on pretty shaky ground and any disruption could have serious, potentially catastrophic consequences.

Each little step toward food independence, no matter how small, is important. Whether you have a small square foot container garden or a few backyard chickens or you raise most of your own food yourself you take a small step of peaceful, lawful rebellion against those who would enslave us by controlling our food supply. Cheap food is anything but inexpensive and a people cannot be free when they are not able to even feed themselves without a by your leave from the government.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Having A Baby Is Not A Disease

I saw this video linked the other day and liked it a lot....

Again, we had all eight of our kids in hospitals, the last couple attended by a midwife. We have never given birth at home. We also don't think that women who choose to should be seen as backwoods kooks and furthermore don't think that midwives who assist a woman in doing one of the most natural events in life should be criminzalized for doing so.

There might be a point when more and more drugs and c-sections and inductions and extraordinarily expensive hospital care might be overkill, frightening women into thinking they are incompetent to deliver their own child. Sometimes the old ways are really better.

My How Things Have Changed (And Not For The Better)

Sometimes the best blogging is the simplest and I love Dave Black's lists. This morning features a great list of bullet points, each one dead on the money and worthy of extensive study in its own right (and I would love to see him do a point by point on each topic below) about how the church has changed from the New Testament model.

  •  The Lord's Supper has changed from a celebration to a ceremony. 
  • Worship has changed from participation to observation. 
  • Witness has changed from relationship to salesmanship. 
  •  Leadership has changed from servanthood to professionalism. 
  •  Mission has changed from being missionaries to supporting missionaries. 
  • Body life has changed from edification to entertainment. 
  •  Buildings have changed from functional to sacred. 
  • Child care has changed from the hands of parents to the hands of strangers

All true I am afraid. Then he simply adds this:

The New Testament shows us that the need great of modern Christianity is to return to biblical faithfulness and the profound simplicity of the New Testament. 

Indeed. Many of us tend to blog in great volumes about the church but that simple statement kind of captures it. Anyway I don't have anything to add to that (well I do but it probably can wait!) but I think it is worth pondering.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Pray For Kermit Gosnell

The news is abuzz with the verdict of guilty for Kermit Gosnell. Caesar has meted out a just verdict and now will carry out the wrath of the state on an evil doer. While many who kill children for profit still walk free, a mockery of justice, at least in this one account justice will be done. As far as what is to happen to Gosnell next, there remains the possibility of a death sentence. Many will cheer if that is the sentence.

I will not.

First, Mr. Gosnell is 72 and unlikely to live long enough to have a death sentence carried out. More importantly, as heinous and inhuman as his actions were no one is too great a sinner for Christ. I will not call for his death because he is already dead in his sins. I will instead pray for his life, a new life in Christ where he can receive forgiveness for his crimes. Mr. Gosnell, a butcher of children, is no more deserving of hell than I and if a killer of children is not the sort of enemy I should pray for I don't know who would be.

Pray for this man that while he still draws breath that God will call him to Himself. If God chooses not to, He will see to it that Gosnell faces the eternal justice that he deserves (and that I do as well). Regardless there is hope for Kermit Gosnell in Jesus Christ and I am far more interested in seeing his salvation than I am in seeing him strapped to an electric chair.

Replay: Christians and the sword

I thought it was about time to post this series again, especially since someone yesterday posted something on Facebook  about why non-resistance was naive and invited conversation about his post only to get mad when I very gently suggested some alternatives to his theories, unfriended and blocked me. I am afraid I don't understand why someone would post something, invite comment and then get mad when comments come in but I have seen this before on the topic of the sword and followers of Christ.

Why the anger at the suggestion, from Scripture, that Christians should not take up the sword and commit violence toward others? Do we love bloodshed so much? It is not a difficult case to make from the Bible, a case made from the teachings of Christ, the manner of His life and His death, the testimony of His apostles and the witness of His people throughout the ages who have gladly laid down their life for the sake of the Kingdom. Nevertheless I get more backlash from this topic than almost any other.

I would hope that I would not be misinterpreted as saying that those who take up the sword are not Christians, I simply ask if we should not seek the way of the towel and basin rather than the way of the sword and not just when it is safe and convenient but especially when it is not safe or convenient. It is easy to talk about loving our enemies in theory but many of the teachings of Christ are easy in the abstract. It is when we are faced with a situation where following Christ means great cost to us that we find out where our allegiance lies and who our trust is in.

The sword is the tool of the world, a tool that wields the power of finality by taking the life of another. That is what it is made for and that is what the powers of the world have always used it for. It is what the Jews expected from their Messiah, that He would lead them in overthrowing their oppressors. Jesus showed them a different way, a way that makes no sense to the world. He showed them and the Romans and His sheep throughout the ages that love of enemy can overcome the sin of the world.

Anyway, here is the series presented for your enjoyment and consideration.....


The state, the sword and Christians

Can Christians take up the sword? - Intro

Can Christians take up the sword? - The pro-sword view

Can Christians take up the sword? - The anti-sword view

Can Christians take up the sword? - Conclusion

Thursday, May 09, 2013

What Does Success Look Like?

How do we know if "church" was a success on Monday morning? We often ask questions like: Was the sermon good? Did people pay attention? How was the music, uplifting and tailored to the sermon? How many people showed up? What was the offering?

Dave Black offered some pertinent thoughts last Sunday on the critical importance of what happens after Sunday:

If, then, the ministry of the laos is God's means of fulfilling His mission in the world, it is necessary that we view what we do on Sunday mornings as merely the beginning, not the climax, of our work. In other words, we need to change the basis for evaluating the effectiveness of the ministry of our churches. The question is not "How many attended on Sunday?" but "What did those who attended on Sunday do during the week to advance God's mission?" This is what it means to be the People of God. It is a people who understand that the mission of the church is to fulfill God's redemptive mission. Our calling is to join God's army and become aggressively involved in His mission in the world.

My point was that God's call to salvation and His call to mission/ministry are one and the same. To follow Christ in this way is not optional for the one who is truly born again. It is to this life of mission/ministry that we must respond. Not only is this possible and practical in this day of over-professionalization; an emphasis on anything else is, I think, a perversion of the Gospel.

That is a powerful but accurate statement. God does not call us to salvation and then expects us to run out the clock sitting in pews until we die or Christ returns. As Dave says the call to salvation and the call to mission are one and the same. No one who is called to saving faith in Christ is not likewise called to ministry. To truly know if the gathering of the church accomplished what it should have on Sunday we should look to how the church lives Monday through Saturday. A major reason we are exhorted to gather together in the first place is not to "worship" but to "stir up one another to love and good works" (Hebrews 10:24). if people are not encouraged, equipped and exhorted to mission work when the church gathers, you might as well stay home.

There has been some backlash recently against the calls for a more "radical" Christianity. In the response to the Platt/Chan radicalism, which isn't really terribly radical, I fear that many Christians are having the "show up, pay up and shut up" model of "church" reinforced. For example a recent article in World magazine, The 'new legalism', seems mostly designed to comfort people who are content with "going to church" as the sum total of their Christian life. The problem with the "new radicalism" is not that it makes people who live comfy middle-class suburban lives interspersed with a couple of hours of "worship" feel bad about themselves, it is that the definition of radical doesn't go nearly far enough! What passes for the life of disciples of Christ in the west is so radically (pun intended) different from what being a disciple meant to the 1st century church, to the Reformers and later the Anabaptists and for all of those who live in places of the world where being a disciple often means laying down your life, that those saints who went before wouldn't even recognize it. Can you imagine an Anabaptist who watched friends tortured, drowned and burden at the stake for their faith being told that a suggestion that Christians don't need multiple iPhones was excessively radical and "legalistic"? I don't think they would be very sympathetic.

Calls for radical discipleship, every member ministry must be coupled with a proper theology of justification so that we don't confuse exhortations to ministry and good works as somehow aiding our justification but that is no excuse to not call every Christian to engage in the privilege and solemn and sacred duty of being on mission for Christ. The church exists for mission and the mission is too big for any by-standers, too all encompassing to be subcontracted to a select group of professionals, too critical to be left to chance. Our faithfulness in this generation of the church will not be judged based on political victories or bank accounts or membership statistics. It will be judged on how faithfully we carried our the Great Commission and lived out the Great Commandment. If the Lord was passing out mid-term grades to this generation I am afraid we would all be looking at summer school.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Who Doesn't Love A Baby Horse?!

We have a couple of visitors to the farm, an Amish friend's Halflinger mare who is going to be bred to our Percerhon stallion and also her week old baby that is also from our stud horse! He is awfully cute and you can tell that his daddy is jet black from his coloration. Dad is not very interested in the baby but he is quite happy to see momma horse!

Monday, May 06, 2013

The One Place We Should (But Still Don't) Find Unity In The Church

Over at Eric Carpenter's blog he raises a very good point, namely that if there is one place the church should be unified it is in missions. He says in his post,Church Unity and World Missions, that our agreement in the Gospel should lead invariably to unity in the field of world missions and he is planning on series on that topic. I am looking forward to his series but I also am reminded that even though we ought to be unified when it comes to reaching the lost around the globe, this is an area where factions and denominations still are largely disunified. Would the Southern Baptist Convention support and send a Presbyterian missionary to Belize? Would a Reformed group send and support a charismatic missionary? Or do we only send out missionaries that meet our standards for doctrinal purity?

Maybe I am being overly cynical or perhaps my inexperience in world missions is showing. I know that there are groups, especially aid and mercy groups, that cross denominational lines but I have to wonder if we are as concerend with reaching the lost with the Gospel as we are with spreading our own theological positions to the ends of the earth? Check out Eric's post and subsequent series, maybe we can find out together...

The Ethics of Fertility

Apparently some people think you can, as if we can tell God that we know better than He. Enter Sarah Richards in an essay in the weekend Wall Street Journal, Why I Froze My Eggs (And You Should Too). She has a new book coming out titled Motherhood Rescheduled: The New Frontier of Egg Freezing and the Women Who Tried It  and it promises to raise a whole host of questions that should be troubling. Her essay comes out swinging:

Between the ages of 36 and 38, I spent nearly $50,000 to freeze 70 eggs in the hope that they would help me have a family in my mid-40s, when my natural fertility is gone. For this baby insurance, I obliterated my savings and used up the money my parents had set aside for a wedding. It was the best investment I ever made.

Egg freezing stopped the sadness that I was feeling at losing my chance to have the child I had dreamed about my entire life. It soothed my pangs of regret for frittering away my 20s with a man I didn't want to have children with, and for wasting more years in my 30s with a man who wasn't sure he even wanted children. It took away the punishing pressure to seek a new mate and helped me find love again at age 42.

I decided to freeze on the afternoon of my 36th birthday, when I did a fresh round of baby math on the back of a business card at Starbucks. Even if the man I was dating at the time agreed to start a family in the near future, I was cutting it close to have one baby, let alone a second. Several months later, after injecting myself for nearly two weeks with hormone shots, I was in surgery at a Manhattan fertility clinic as my doctor pierced my ovaries, suctioned out nine eggs and handed them to the embryologist to freeze until I was ready to use them. As soon as I woke up in the recovery room, I no longer felt as though I were watching my window to have a baby close by the month. My future seemed full of possibility again.

The ethics around issues of infertility and intentional delaying of childbearing are perilous ground indeed. Enter into this debate the practice of intentionally pre-planning to have children after a woman's normal window of fertility and you take the debate to a completely new level. I am not talking here about a woman facing cancer treatments or women who are naturally infertile. We are talking about yet another step to commoditizing children, making them into something that can be quantified on a financial ledger and manipulated into being as convenient as possible for busy parents.

Let me make sure I am getting what Ms. Richards is proposing because it doesn't seem to add up based on what real life tells us. Women should put off marriage and child
bearing until they are established in their careers and presumably financially secure (without having to rely on a man) which means that they can then spend tens of thousands of dollars in a desperate attempt to thwart nature and have children on their time frames rather than the time frames God has ordained. Freezing eggs, fertility treatments, etc. are hugely expensive as well as unnatural but they are becoming the norm for many women who have been convinced that they need to chase a vague notion of financial security and relational stability before starting a family. This strikes me as a symptom if a deeper problem in our culture.

It is not just a matter of a "biological clock". There are very real consequences to delaying child bearing that go beyond merely not being able to get pregnant.

Delayed childbearing is rarely coupled with delayed sexual activity, leading to a perfect situation for perpetual male adolescence (a very lengthy post on that topic has been in the works for some time). Women have bought into the theory of delaying marriage and child bearing, two events that have historically aided the maturation process of young men but are largely unable/unwilling to avoid companionship which invariably leads to sexual activity. So young men get the sex they want without the need to “settle down” by getting married and grow up to care for a family. In fact with such a huge number of women in the work force the numbers of men who not only don’t bother to get married also don’t bother to get a job, leaching off their girlfriends or parents indefinitely enjoying a life of perpetual casual sex and X-Box. Viva la feminism!

It is also simply a fact of nature that raising a family is best suited for the young. Not to suggest that older parents are not great parents, in some ways I am a better parent as I get older thanks to a modicum of maturity and experience gained by making mistakes as a young parent. When it comes to the daily routine of parenting children though, from sleepless nights as the parents of a newborn to the endless energy of toddlers and preschoolers, younger parents have decided biological advantages. When I was in college and my wife and I had our first two children those sleepless nights weren't a big deal. After all that is part of the college experience! When we had our last child in the latter part of my 30's? That was a different situation for my wife and I. Everything in how God designed men and women points to a very specific time when getting pregnant is easier and raising children less exhausting and no amount of biological tinkering can change that.

Missing from this conversation is a deeper discussion of how our views of family and specifically children has changed. In a world where more and more we view children as a hassle and burden to be managed, controlled and avoided for as long as possible it is no wonder that we see conversations about egg freezing given serious consideration. What I find especially of concern is what seems to me to be a delayed but very real acceptance of these same norms and attitudes in the church. Sure we might talk a big show about family in the high level conversations but when you look at the way church going parents raise their children it often seems like the expectations are very similar. Career and financial stability take priority over family, children need to be kept to a "reasonable" number, both parents working, etc. The result in the church are families, like mine in many ways, that look almost exactly like the world. Before we publish yet another book/blog/article on why "kids leave the church", we need to examine why they would want to stay.

You can save money in a 529 plan, have just the perfect nursery and thought out birth plan, pre-registered your as yet unconceived child in the best preschool in town but you cannot turn back the clock or change the fundamentals of human biology. I understand that some women just don't want kids. That is their choice just as some people choose celibacy. What I find troubling is that so many women, and especially so many of my sisters in the church, have been deceived into denying what is a deep seated longing that God has placed in their hearts for the sake of capitulating to a sub-culture that hates children, delaying parenthood until it is too late and hugely expensive and ethically sketchy steps need to be taken to fulfill a yearning for children that was suppressed for most of a woman's natural child bearing age.

The fruits of radical feminism include empty wombs and empty hearts. No amount of financial security can offset that. The same movement that promotes artificial birth control as a great advancement now finds itself scrambling to find a way to undo the results of generations of women who bought into the lie that they can "have it all" and now are facing a childless future. In this quest to change the rules is anyone asking the question posed in Jurassic Park, in our quest to find out if we can has anyone stopped to ask if we should? I am sure there are plenty of women who are quite content to be childless and others who struggle with infertility who cannot have children naturally but there are also countless other women who waste their twenties and early thirties in cubicles and relationships that are going nowhere because they have been fed these lies for generations. The church has a responsibility to provide a counter-culture, a culture that cherishes children and gladly, even joyfully, accepts and embraces the glory of bearing each others burdens, including caring for children when they are young and in turn caring for our parents as they grow old.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

I’m not committing treason, you are!

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, and of course he also gave the church Fox News to keep Christians informed of how they are being persecuted in a land where the church gets all sorts of tax breaks and preferential treatment from Caesar. (Ephesians 4:11, American Judeo-Christian Traditional Values Version)
I confess. I tend to read Fox News when I am checking on the events of the day. I find CNN to be entirely too busy and clearly slanted (of course so if Fox but everyone knows it unlike CNN which pretends to be unbiased). MSNBC? Please. So along with the Wall Street Journal and our local paper, Fox is a frequently viewed page for me. But I find it troubling that many Christians seem to think that Fox is somehow more friendly to Christianity than other news outlets.

Maybe it is just me but when your news site that posts articles all the time about "attacks" on Christianity also posts smutty articles about which star had a wardrobe malfunction or published a sex tape or photos of stars in various states of undress (see a screen shot from today, about noon).... is hard to take it seriously as the media defender of the faith.

In the screen shot above we see an article right above the links about a Kardashian and Amy Bynes "racy tweet from self-appointed cultural warrior and selective religious freedom crusader Todd Starnes, Pentagon: Religious Proselytizing is Not Permitted with the obligatory flag waving picture:

So yeah. I am not sure when religious freedom in the ranks became a top priority but whatever. The question I am asking is this: what exactly is being threatened? Are soldiers being muzzled and prevented under threat of firing squad from sharing their faith with fellow soliders and sailors? Not really, at least not based on the article.
Here is the portion of the article, way down the page, that addresses the source of the complaint by Mikey Weinstein of The Military Religious Freedom Foundation :

Pentagon officials met with Weinstein and his group were to discuss a policy called “Air Force Culture, Air Force Standards,” published on Aug. 7, 2012.

Section 2.11 requires “government neutrality regarding religion.”

“Leaders at all levels must balance constitutional protections for an individual’s free exercise of religion or other personal beliefs and the constitutional prohibition against governmental establishment of religion,” the regulation states.

Military leaders were admonished not to use their position to “promote their personal religious beliefs to their subordinates or to extend preferential treatment for any religion.”

So as I read that the regulations discourage superiors from using their position to promote a particular religious outlook to those that report to them. I fail to see how this is a violation of religious freedom. I would certainly wonder how Mr. Starnes would respond to a Muslim major that was aggressively proselytizing enlisted members that reported up to them to try to get them to convert to Islam? I think the real underlying issue here is the notion that Christianity is the proper or preferred religious expression for the U.S. military. After all, the military recruits and compensates clergy as an integral part of the military structure.

It isn't like this is an unknown policy. The military has a policy in place that prevents proselytizing:

The Pentagon confirmed to Fox News that Christian evangelism is against regulations.

“Religious proselytization is not permitted within the Department of Defense, LCDR Nate Christensen said in a written statement. He declined to say if any chaplains or service members had been prosecuted for such an offense.

“Court martials and non-judicial punishments are decided on a case-by-case basis and it would be inappropriate to speculate on the outcome in specific cases,” he said.

So in a rigid, hierarchical military there are rules against religious proselytizing. Again this makes sense given the diversity of the military and the inherent coercive nature of superior-subordinate relationships in the military. I would think it only sensible to keep political/religious coercion out of the ranks for the sake of cohesion in the ranks.
But what really takes the cake is this exchange between Mr. Weinstein and Family Research Council president Tony Perkins:

In an interview with the Washington Post, Weinstein called proselytizing a “national security threat.”

“And what the Pentagon needs to understand is that it is sedition and treason,” he told the newspaper. “It should be punished.”

Perkins said it was troubling the Obama Administration would place so much trust in someone like Weinstein.

“Unfortunately, it appears our military is on a forced march away from the very freedoms they are sworn to protect,” he said. “This language from Weinstein that Christians who share their faith or offer comfort to others from their faith in Jesus Christ is “sedition and treason” is a treasonous statement in and of itself.”

I am not sure which charge of treason is more silly. You're a traitor! No, you're a traitor. I know you are but what am I?!

Bottom line, the church really needs to find better spokespeople than Todd Starnes and Glenn Beck. When the world looks at us and these sorts of silly squabbles when people are homeless and orphans are languishing in orphanages, why would we expect them to be interested in hearing about Jesus?