Thursday, April 30, 2015

Calvinism and Pacifism?

I read a post by Thomas Kidd a few weeks ago and it really stuck with me. The title alone, Why Aren't Calvinists Pacifists? and being posted on the Gospel Coalition page makes for an interesting article. Alas as I have been censored for opinions not conducive to the mission of the Gospel Coalition I was not able to join the conversation but it seemed odd to me that it only drew 8 comments. Odd but not unexpected. This is an uncomfortable topic for Christians and especially for Calvinist/Reformed Christians with a decidedly checkered past when it comes to supporting state sponsored violence. The post gets to the heart of what might lead to Calvinist rejecting "pacifism" although I tend to avoid the term "pacifism" because it a) understandably carries so much political baggage in our culture and b) doesn't truly encompass the broadness of the Biblical message on non-resistance which goes way beyond warfare. As Kidd points out, a lot of the defense of Christians engaging in and otherwise supporting state violence comes from reading the Bible in a "flat" manner. He wouldn't call it that but I feel free to do so. In contrast to the Anabaptist hermeneutic which accepts and reveres all Scripture as God-breathed but also recognizes that the New Testament is a more complete revelation and ought to be used to guide the interpretation of the Old, the Reformed tend to see too many similarities between the church and Israel:
Reformed Christians have similarly tended to see certain continuity between the Old and New Testaments. Although Israel and the church are distinct entities, they contend, there are similarities between the way that God related to Israel and the way he relates to the church. Thus, if God at times commanded Israel to take on military assignments and conquer territory, it isn’t a stretch to think he might ask Christians to do the same things through the agency of the governments under which they live.
That is exactly why I prefer a type of New Covenant theology to the two main camps, the Dispensational theory which can't get the church and Israel together and the Covenant Theology camp which can't get them apart. There is continuity between the church and Israel but there are also critical differences. While I think Dispensationalism is wrong on just about every single distinctive point, I do have a deep affinity for Covenant theology but refusing to see the differences between the Old Covenant and the New gets us in trouble every time.

I think he really gets at the core of the problem here:
Herein lies the more problematic factor in the relative absence of a Reformed pacifist tradition: Reformed Christians have often been too comfortable with state-sanctioned violence. Since the Reformation, many Protestants have seen an important role for nations, kings, and militaries in advancing the ends of the kingdom. If one believes in providence, then of course the acts of nations do somehow fulfill God’s plans for humanity. But Reformed Christians could borrow a dash of pessimism from Christians such as Anabaptists (Mennonites and others), and theologians such as Stanley Hauerwas, who are inherently skeptical about the agenda of any nation-state and its military pursuits.
This comes with ample evidence in the history of the church where a lot of Reformed Christians have a bit of a black eye when it comes to being unequally yoked with the state, leading all too often to the persecution of fellow Christians. You aren't going to see many writers for TGC speaking positively about Hauerwas but that is an issue for a different day. I am starting to think that the vitriolic response from some Reformed Christians to  the Anabaptists has a touch of guilt hidden deep down. In the end Kidd comes away rejecting pacifism but kudos to him for at least raising the issue.

Anyway, I think it is an interesting read and hopefully it got some people thinking. I believe in non-resistance for the same reasons I believe in the doctrines of grace, simply put they are both the most direct understanding of the Scriptures on their respective topics. Ironically I found both positions to be distasteful initially but now I see them as the best understanding of God's revelation in the spheres they cover. I don't see a contradiction in being a "Reformed Anabaptist" who believes in divine, sovereign election of an elect people and at the same time seeing that God calls us to a life of non-resistance. Many people do but if you try to see past your traditions and cultural church baggage you might just see that these two positions are not only not incompatible but are in fact two truths that stem from the same faithful trust in a sovereign God.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Remain Calm. All Is Well.


Unless you live under the social media equivalent of a rock you know that three things are going on today. First, thousands are dead and millions are in jeopardy of starvation in Nepal. This news is rapidly fading in importance because it is far away, most Americans can't find Asia on a map much less Nepal and it isn't very interesting news when compared to Bruce Jenner mutilating himself. The second major news event going on are the ongoing riots in Baltimore as thousands peacefully protest a very suspicious death and a lot of people are using this as cover to strike a blow for freedom by burning down their own neighborhoods and stealing liquor.

The third news item, largely ignored by most of the media in favor of the latest news about the Kardashians, is that the Supreme Court is hearing arguments today in the case of a homosexual couple that flew to a state that allowed "gay marriage" to have a quickie "marriage" on the tarmac before flying back home and finding, to their apparent amazement, that Ohio would not recognize their "marriage" (see this article on NPR regarding their surprise). Of course the very fact that they flew to Maryland, had their ceremony performed on the tarmac, apparently without even getting out of the plane, and flew back to Ohio where they knew homosexual "marriage" was not recognized (which is why they left the state in the first place), sort of destroys any credibility to the notion that they were "heartbroken" and that they, like others, were not setting out to be "activists". Anyway, I fully expect the risible "Supreme Court" to do what it so often does, namely to do the exact opposite of what it is intended to do by creating laws and rights out of thin air. I can't imagine a scenario where anything other than a decree coming from the Court that every state will have to recognize "gay marriages" performed in other states or perhaps even to require all 50 states to recognize and perform "gay marriages" in  their own state.

Not surprisingly this is causing a great deal of garment rending and teeth gnashing among my social media circles. The church in America has for most of our history had a cozy relationship with the state, performing marriages for Caesar and keeping the peasants in line in return for favorable treatment for our institutions and clerics. The look on the face of most of the church is that of a loyal dog right after their master, having a rough day at work, gives them a kick. My message to the church is a quote from the Prophet Kevin Bacon in that most cerebral of films, National Lampoon's Animal House:

Remain calm. The actual Supreme Court has the Lord God Almighty as the sole arbiter and His definition hasn't changed. Likewise preventing a homosexual couple from dressing up and holding a "wedding" ceremony doesn't do much to advance the Kingdom. Neither does a religious professional officiating a wedding between two unbelievers make their marriage God honoring. I have been an advocate for divorcing the church observance of marriage from the civil union process of Caesar and for once I am looking in retrospect like I am ahead of the curve on an issue.

Remain calm. Preach the Gospel. Model the Kingdom in our lives and communities. Caesar can no more redefine what God has ordained than he can declare God is dead. We of all people should know better.

Monday, April 27, 2015

What if the church in America is where the real help is needed?

Americans want to save people from themselves. It is just in our natural character. Usually this means making them more like us whether they want to be more like us or not. This is infinitely more true when you look at the church in America, so concerned as we are with saving the savages around the world. Not from hell mind you but from being not American. After all, who wouldn't want to be an American?

So let me tell you about Saturday. We woke up Saturday morning to news of the earthquake in Nepal. With a child heading there soon on a mission trip, it was a jarring news story so we spent a lot of the morning watching the news, trying to get updates from the people we know in Kathmndu and prayer. It was a deeply troubling morning for us and those who were suffering, and especially the church ministering in that part of the world, were at the forefront of our minds.

Saturday night was a different matter. We went shopping and thanks to a fortuitous confluence of special offers and coupons we got an enormous haul of groceries that will last us a long time. Like a really long time. Anyway as we were checking out we were all pretty whiny. It was late, I was on my last nerve, it was taking way too long to check out. I was wallowing in self-pity while at the same time I was taking home several carts of staple foods that would have been quite literally life saving in the hands of my brothers in Kathmandu still reeling from aftershocks. My concern was getting it all put away at home.

What in the world is wrong with me?

I don't think I am especially unique in this regard, American Christians are just as impatient and entitled as the rest of the country, sometimes more so. We have no interest in suffering for the sake of the Gospel. We don't even want to be slightly inconvenienced while getting our supposedly superior religious fix on Sunday. I suspect that while the church in the much of the world welcomes our money to deal with issues on the ground, they are probably not as interested in importing our American form of culture and religion. We are like an especially irritating but rich cousin that dispenses unwanted advice at every family reunion on all sorts of topics and often we have no idea what we are talking about (but that doesn't stop us).

More and more I think that maybe we should stop using our money to send American missionaries to the heathen and unwashed overseas and instead spend that money to help missionaries from other countries come here to teach us a little humility.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

When the shoe is on the other foot

We spend a lot of time with the Amish in our area, driving them around and otherwise providing services to them. Hopefully that is going to expand very soon, more on that later. Even in our area where there are lots of Amish, numbering in the thousands, most places find them still in the minority. When we take them to the store or a doctor's office, even in places like Grabill that have tons of Amish, they stand out a bit among the "English". I generally don't notice it because I "fit in" in English clothes but it is definitely there.

Last night was a different story. We took some friends to an auction in Shipshewana, a town in LaGrange county Indiana that can only be described as an Amish tourist trap. There were several hundred people there and 95% of them were Amish from all over the area. This part of Indiana is home to the third largest community of Amish in the world so the volume of Amish buggies, Amish on bikes and Amish walking along the street is staggering. For us it was a very different experience as we were in the tiny minority. It was easy to recognize other English people but next to impossible to pick out specific Amish in the sea of black coats and white bonnets. We have been settings like this before but it is still jarring and never on this scale. You can't help feeling weird and out of place wearing blue jeans and a t-shirt. Even my wife wearing a long dress and a head-covering was clearly out of place.

I thought back this morning to my early days in the church after coming to faith in Christ. We were an oddity in our Kentucky Southern Baptist church, a large family with five young children who had just left mormonism. We were something of a sideshow attraction. Nothing gets attention at a typical evangelical church like a family with a bunch of little kids, especially when they came from a mysterious cult. Looking back at that I wonder, do we recognize this when new people without a "Christian background" come to our gatherings? I am not saying that you need to change to look and act like the world to make people comfortable but are we at least aware of how jarring that can be and what a barrier to fellowship and discipleship it can be to be an outsider who doesn't fit in? It can be pretty easy for me to go somewhere different, I can go to a Sunday school class and jump into almost any conversation with ease. I know how to dress and how to talk the religious talk. I can fit in, although I choose not to. It isn't as easy for others who want to follow God but don't know how that looks and aren't experienced enough to recognize the difference between religious mumbo-jumbo and actual edifying teaching. Even in largely orthodox gatherings, we must be aware of our tendency to speak in a secretive lingo and engage in confusing behavior. I fear that many new brothers and sisters miss the fellowship of the church because they don't know how to fit in.

It is a fine line like so many other tangible aspects of the faith. We must be separate from the world while not being unwelcoming to others. We have to avoid straying into our religious fortresses to keep the world out and we also have to avoid being indistinguishable from the world in order to be welcoming. The best advice I can give myself as well as others is to never get so caught up in what we want that we miss what others feel. Hospitality is an integral aspect of the Kingdom community, not just for those who look, talk and think like us but just as much (or more) for the stranger and sojourner among us.

At some point we will all be that English guy in a barn full of Amish in our church gatherings. Remember how that can be disconcerting and remember as well that a friendly smile and a warm greeting can go a long way to making others feel welcome.

Friday, April 24, 2015

That is not what the word participate means

I like to watch trends in social media to see what people are talking about. For example, some relatively recent trends have focused on the need for "membership" as a response to the mass exodus of religious attenders and also the backlash against the "radical" movement that purports to call religious folks out of their general apathetic position by extolling the virtues of just being run of the mill church attenders.

I have started to see appeals from church status quo defenders on the idea of participating. Now when they talk about "participation" it is not what you might expect. We aren't talking about meaningful, 1 Corinthians 14:26 sense. No, we are talking about "participation by being passive". For example, Tim Challies linked to an article by Joe Thorn, Making the Most of Sunday. Right out of the gate we have on display the Sunday-service-centric view where all week is apparently nothing but time to prep for Sunday morning and make some dough so you can drop a check in the plate. Joe breaks down how a good churchgoer can maximize their religious experience on Sunday by preparing, participating and reflecting. It boils down to "Get ready for a sermon, listen to the sermon, think about the sermon afterward". What is really exposed is the emphasis on "participation" while maintaining control and the focus on the clergy. For Joe "participation" means: showing up early so you are ready, listen eagerly and attentively to the sermon, sing the songs you are instructed to sing when you are told to and do so enthusiastically, pray along when the pastor is praying, be sure to focus on God while actually focusing on the various scheduled events occurring in the church and then leave.

What is notable about this list of how to participate is that you really aren't participating at all. While you might be considered to be "participating" in some of what Joe lists if done occasionally, if that is all you do when the church gathers you are being passive, not participatory, and those two are really mutually exclusive. I don't think that a gathering being participatory is the only factor or a cure-all for what ails the church. Participating in bad theology is just as bad as being passive, or perhaps even worse. But if we are going to make noise about participating and then describe something that is the complete opposite, something is wrong.

We don't know exactly what the meetings looked like in the early church. I don't even like calling them meetings because it sounds so formal, like something on my Outlook calendar. I prefer gatherings but regardless I believe that the Scriptures are intentionally vague on this point, giving us guiding principles without providing legalism-prone lists of "dos" and "don'ts". We do see some important principles and hints and one thing that they point to is that the brethren were tangibly involved when the church gathered. To summarize it was "one anothering", not "one and all the others". Participatory church can become an idol like anything else and it can also become a shtick to make money and gather influence for yourself but those potential errors shouldn't dissuade us from seeking ways to give the brethren the opportunity to make meaningful contributions to edifying and encouraging one another when the church is gathered. I don't think we have to do away with monologue teaching but I do think we need to a) place less emphasis on it and b) create ways for the church to engage in the teaching by allowing and encouraging many brothers to teach and the entire church to interact with what is being taught. A passive, spectator church is fertile ground for errors and cultists. To show that we really care about orthodoxy we need to encourage more of the brethren to teach and engage the Scriptures in the hermeneutical community.

If we are going to talk about participation, and we should, we ought to actually discuss ways for the church to participate, not just be more enthusiastic about being passive.

Oh the irony, Episode #1,455: Quit farming the way we pay you to farm!

Our benevolent overlords in Washington, D.C. have turned their keen intuition to a new frontier in the fight against global warming climate change, our nation's agricultural system.
Federal agricultural officials announced Thursday voluntary programs and initiatives for farmers, ranchers and foresters meant to build on President Barack Obama's efforts to combat global warming — and they don't require congressional approval.
Gotta love the sweeping new powers that our President has granted himself. No Congressional approval needed. How long until "No Congress needed at all" is the law of the land? So how exactly are we going to conquer "climate change" via "voluntary" cutbacks to carbon emissions? Easy!
Specific actions include reducing the unnecessary use of fertilizer and methane emissions from cattle and swine, reforesting areas damaged by wildfire and disease and encouraging tree planting in urban areas. For methane reduction in particular, the federal program promotes installing more anaerobic digesters, which use naturally occurring bacteria to break down organic waste to produce biogas, a fuel similar to natural gas.
Oh the irony....

Our government subsidizes in every way the system of agriculture that demands huge machinery, confinement operations, massive chemical application, burning of enormous amounts of fossil fuels, going to war to keep that fuel "cheap", etc. and then wants those same farmers to "reduce emissions" to combat the mythical "climate change". Only in America does that inherent contradiction not seem apparent to any and all. People will mostly do what they have an incentive to do so if you provide an incentive to farm that way and disincentives to farm any other way (like armed raids on those who sell "raw milk").

Thanks to the "get big or get out" mentality, our farms have gotten bigger and bigger with each passing year. Our land grant universities put out a largely monolithic message that reinforces this because they are subsidized by the big agribusiness firms that profit from the industrial farming system. Our government pays farmers and subsidizes them in various ways that make it almost impossible to not have giant machinery that spew carbon, compact the soil and require massive doses of chemicals. The same is true of animal husbandry that makes it incredibly difficult to raise livestock profitably unless you accept the industrialized, subsidized system which requires you to cram more and more livestock into your facility which in turn concentrates methane, creates mountains or lakes of manure that need to be disposed of, requires unhealthy doses of antibiotics and depends entirely on cheap feed grains which in turn require....huge, carbon emission spewing tractors. We are paying people to do the very thing that we want them to do less of. America, what a country!

Stuff like this is why I appreciate writers like Joel Salatin, Wendell Berry, Gene Logsdon and David Kline. Rather than hipsters who want to farm so they can have a beard and be groovy, these are guys who are actually farming the way it can and should be done. I am under no illusion that a substantial portion of the population is going to start 20-30 acre farms, I mean seriously, we can't get a lot of people to even get a job and those that do want an exorbitant hourly wage for unskilled work. But if we can get more people to start farming like this it will certainly help to stem a small part of the tide and perhaps even avoid the seemingly inevitable food catastrophe that I see in our future.

It just kills me that the government says and does stuff like this and no one even sees how dumb it is.

Film Review: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (Also known as Please Make It Stop)

As mentioned, we finished the trilogy of films created from a single children's book The Hobbit. It took a day longer than expected, costing me an extra $1.50 from Redbox but the price paid by my soul was much greater.

Let me sum it up in this way. It was one of the least enjoyable films I have ever forced myself to sit through. There are films that are hard to watch because the subject matter is difficult (Schindler's List). There are films that are just fun and require no thought (Pacific Rim). Some movies are not very good, some are really good, but most have at least some entertainment value if nothing else. The Hobbit trilogy in general and the Battle of the Five Armies in particular had not one iota of entertainment value. It wasn't fun, it wasn't exciting, it wasn't thought-provoking. It was just bad. Even my wife who normally is more gracious about stuff like this even commented how bad it was. Making it worse, it was way too long.

All I kept thinking was: please let it be over. In the end I was rooting for Azog to just kill Thorin just to get it over with. The orcs winning the battle of the five armies and conquering Middle Earth would be a small price to pay to reach a swifter end to this cinematic disaster; an audio-visual assault on the senses, on film-making, on acting and on simple human decency.

The interminably long battle at the end seemed to be the result of locking a dozen teen-aged boys locked in a room with endless Mountain Dew and incorporating every hair-brained idea they had into the scene. "Dude you know what would be awesome?! If they fought on ice floes! Sweeeeettttt!". "No, no, how about trolls with catapults on their back?! One of them could be a self-propelled battering ram!" On and on and on. Every single event was dragged out well beyond what was necessary. The crazy scene where Thorin sees himself drowning in gold looked like a scene that got cut from the original Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, missing only a whimsical song from the Oompa Loompa's.

Martin Freeman was the lone bright spot in the movie. Perhaps someone could redo the book adaptation into a single movie, keeping him as Bilbo and ditching the rest. Even Ian McKellen looked like Ian McKellen trying to act like what Gandalf is supposed to be like. There was none of the smile barely hidden behind the gruff exterior, it was just "Hey, we are paying you a ton of money, act Gandalfy or something!".

It is hard to imagine the same guy who brought to the screen such a wonderful adaptation of the Lord of the Rings could somehow botch at every turn what should have been a fairly simple tale to tell. It went wrong when the decision was made to make a small, simple novel into three full-length films. Some huffing self-appointed Tolkien experts defend the film for incorporating other Tolkien lore into the movie but it is supposed to be the Hobbit, not a mishmash of Tolkien writings and an overly large CGI budget. The book is a wonderful story that is mostly light action woven into a story about friendship. Tolkien could have spent a lot of time writing about the battle at the end but he instead has the main character get knocked out and miss a bunch of it. Peter Jackson seems to have completely missed that.

In summary, you are much better off watching the old animated version or even better than that, just read the book.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

What keeps them in also keeps them out?

I have been slowly working through the talks from the 2015 Anabaptist Identity Conference held very near to me in Indiana (and I didn't find out about it until after it was over. Sadface.). Some are very delightful like the talks from David Kline, an Amish farmer who has a wonderful if wandering way of telling a story and seemingly accidentally making a point. Some are troubling, more on that later. I was just listening to a panel discussion titled The Turtle Wins on the way home from work and one of the panelists (David Bercot maybe?) said something interesting. I will paraphrase a bit here: What keeps our children in the church also keeps others out.

As I listen to these talks, one thing that kept popping up from these largely conservative, even "Old Order", Anabaptists was the concern about keeping their kids in the tradition. The world, including the religious or even the Christian world, is always beckoning kids away from a simple lifestyle and into the latest and greatest fads and innovations. We see this all the time among our Amish friends and community so I understand their concern. I also wonder about what the speaker said so simply but powerfully. It has been our unfortunate experience that in more conservative Anabaptist circles it seems to be more important to keep kids in than it is to welcome new people from the outside. I am not talking about welcoming someone to a Sunday service or a potluck or a singing. I mean meaningful, integrated fellowship in the community that comes without a bunch of strings attached or hoops to jump through.

I don't blame the conservative folks (and it is weird for me to talk about other people being "conservative" when I am pretty conservative myself but that term holds specific connotations in the Anabaptist world) for their concern about protecting their kids but I wonder if many groups are concerned that this often means keeping others out, making their community inherently less rich and diverse. Have they had these conversations?

So speaking more broadly, how do we (or should we) maintain standards for the church and our families while still being open to new converts, seasoned fellow believers on a new path and those who seek fellowship with us? This is one of those questions that I have no answers for.

So it has come to this

Although I hated, loathed and was emotionally scarred by the first two installments of Peter Jackson's shameless money making scheme by making one small kids book into three CGI nightmares adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's classic novel The Hobbit, I find myself compelled tonight to watch the third and final installment ("the defining chapter", a title in and of itself ironic because the actual battle takes place over the course of a couple of pages in the book, not even an entire chapter). I figure I have come this far, I might as well finish it out.

I anticipate hating this movie as well so anything less than that will be a cinematic triumph for Mr Jackson. Angry denunciation of Mr. Jackson and company will be forthcoming once I finish the movie.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The "white privilege" hoax

This is not going to pull any punches, which is rare for me.

Of all of the nonsense that oozes from our university system, and there is a lot of it, the latest dung heap is one of the most pernicious. I am talking about "white privilege" (followed in a close second by "micro-aggressions"). The concept is pretty simple, you just declare that white folks are all caught up in a supposed privilege upbringing based on their skin color which gives them an unfair and insurmountable advantage. Of course you can't suggest any sort of sweeping generalizations about blacks or Latinos based on their skin tone or ethnicity 'cause that is racist but hey hypocrisy and double-standards don't exist in the rarefied air of the ivory tower. You can't even call them out for it because that just means that you don't understand it.

"Man, you just don't get it. You are so caught up in your own white privilege that you don't even realize it."


I am not saying I didn't have a "privileged" upbringing, because I did, but it wasn't because I am white. Let me tell you about real privilege, I know a little something about that. I grew up in a fairly small town outside of Toledo, Ohio. It was a sleepy community for the most part when I lived there. My neighbors were all over the economic scale, from blue collar workers to highly paid professionals. Nobody was shooting each other and most of the criminal mischief in town was carried out by bored boys (and I may have been involved in such shenanigans including one trip in the back of a police cruiser). Granted my dad was the town doctor so I not only had an intact family but never wanted for money and was never concerned about how to pay for college. Going to college wasn't something I fretted over, it was a given and the only question was where I would go. The same was true for many of my classmates with parents who were not physicians. Looking back some 25 years later I can see many of my classmates have built pretty good lives for themselves, some in professional careers, some in the skilled trades. Many would look at us and say that we are just the product of "white privilege". I have a term to respond to that and it has to do with what happens to hay after horses digest it.

Our main privilege had nothing to do with being white. It had to do with growing up in intact families. Sure there was divorce and there were single parent households in my community and school but the vast majority of us were in intact two-parent homes. In fact, when I was growing up you didn't need to add the qualifier "two-parent" because that was the norm. In the era before the normalization of divorce and single parenthood kids had an enormous advantage compared to far too many children today. Like I said, there were certainly broken homes (back when you were allowed to call them that), parents who fought incessantly and parents with substance abuse problems. It wasn't entirely idyllic but the basic setting was more conducive to a successful future for kids, whatever that looks like, than the norm today. The reality, supported by innumerable studies, is that children do better in homes where both parents are married (to each other) and present in the home.

Unfortunately for a lot of children, several entire generations of them in fact, that reality is a political liability. No one in government or academia prospers from telling society that the best thing we can do "for the children" is to encourage people to not have those children outside of marriage. Rather our elites find it more profitable to advocate for subsidized child care or dumping endless funds into the public school system or more broadly creating a "social safety net" that is intended not to supplement families down on their luck but rather to replace fathers as breadwinners and guardians of the family. Even if "white privilege" existed, there is not really a solution to it. Perhaps that is the point. It is an amorphous, unsolvable pseudo-issue. When it comes to the real privileged upbringing a lot of kids have and a lot more don't, there is something to be done about it but it would necessitate taking money and power away from the self-imposed elites of our society and returning a level of trust to parents.

A black or Latino or Asian kid growing up in a home today with a mother and father who are married has limitless opportunity in this country. Just about anyone who wants to and has a modicum of intelligence can go to college or a trade school. Even being poor and a minority only makes it easier, not harder. A poor black kid from Harlem or L.A. who works moderately hard at school will have their choice of college opportunities. In fact they will have an easier time being admitted and paying for college than a middle income white kid with comparable grades. Those are simply facts and they are indisputable, even if they are inconvenient.

Instead of encouraging kids with these simple facts, many try to discourage them with fatalistic moaning about "white privilege". The message they get force fed through the media and their peers is that achievement is beyond their grasp and their behavior doesn't matter because they are simply the victims of the inescapable "white privilege". Far from "empowering" minority kids, it simply reinforces the notion that they are victims who can only sit back and helplessly watch their lives unfold before them.

A privileged upbringing has nothing to do with race and an awful lot to do with family. The now prophetic words of the late Democrat Daniel Patrick Moynihan still ring true. There is nothing to be gained from suppressing self-motivation except from those who are invested and enriched by a system that created and now perpetuates generational poverty and dependence. When someone complains that I don't understand because of my "white privilege" I am simply going to tell them that real privileged upbringing comes from having two parents at home.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Getting schooled on scholarship

A cursory reading of my blog might give the impression that I am against scholarship or that I am anti-elders or anti-any number of things. That is patently untrue. I am against the abuse of these things or the overemphasis of these things to the detriment of the rest of the ministry of the church. Scholarship is a prime example. I think the church needs more scholarship, not less, but needs it in the right way. Enter Dave Black, a scholar of some note in his own right, on that very topic:
My own view is that scholarship does not exist for its own purpose but only as a servant of Christ and the church. It serves God's purposes but must never control them. It serves the world as well, but must never forsake it. Servanthood is the key to biblical scholarship. Scholars, having received the benefits of their studies, now go forth into the life of the church to render to Christ that form of service or that ministry for which God has equipped them. The apostle Paul -- possibly the greatest Christian scholar who ever lived -- was fundamentally a missionary and church planter. What then is the scholar's role? He or she is a member and leader of the Christian community. Such leaders can be authoritative but never authoritarian. They serve to inspire and animate the congregation. They arouse enthusiasm for personal Bible study. They feed the church of the living God and develop the talents and energies of all God's people....
...Faith in Christ is a dynamic thing. It can't be confined to the halls of academia. We need to gratefully recognize the scholarly guild. It has done great things in Christian education. But it includes training for all aspects of discipleship, not just the intellectual. We biblical scholars need to ask: Are we as active in the church and the world as we ought to be? Do we "operationalize" biblical truth? Have we limited the term "interpretation" to an idealized representation of what the Bible meant? The old Scottish proverb was right:
Greek, Hebrew, and Latin all have their proper place, but it's not at the head of the cross where Pilate put them, but at the foot of the cross in humble service to Christ.
Think about it.
That mirrors my own thoughts. Scholarship in the church properly understood and practiced seeks to serve the church, not just the rarefied air of the academy or behind closed doors in the pastoral study. Scholarship that serves to invigorate the sending of the church on the mission of God is good, scholarship that seeks to puff up the scholar's reputation among his peers with no practical use in the church is not.

So study and scholar away my friends, just always remember that if it isn't serving the church, it really isn't serving Christ.

Why Are Villains Cooler?

These are the kinds of things I think about.

If you love sci-fi and fantasy movies like I do, a pattern starts to emerge after a while. The pattern I am talking about is that the bad guys always seem to be a lot cooler than the good guys. Here are some examples....

Now let's be serious. Who is the more intimidating and cool figure, Daddy Darth or whiny, sister smooching Luke? I would be afraid of Darth but I would be more likely to take Luke's lunch money. Grand Moff Tarkin is in charge and tough, Admiral Akbar mostly sits in his chair being google eyed and realizing that the obvious trap is a trap. With keen insight like that it is no wonder he is an admiral!

What about Sauron who is totally gnarly and intimidating versus Gandalf who looks a little like a crazed homeless guy? Even the non-humanoid heroes versus villains is decidedly one-sided. Ooooh, we have slow talking, walking trees! Oh yeah, well I will see your Ent and raise you a Balrog.

Oh wait, there is of course the polyester garbed Federation types in Star Trek with their cell phone phasers and ships that look like a dinner plate with two flashlights hooked to it versus the Klingons with warships that look like actual warships and cool weapons like the Bat'leth.

In the Road Warrior the "good guys" are a bunch of whiners in rags hiding in their compound while the Lord Humongous is....well Humongous. The toughest good guy is a girl wearing hockey shoulder pads. Come one!

Sure in the new iteration of Battlestar Galactica the Colonial good guys have some cooler heroes but still it is hard to compare the clunky looking Viper with the Cylon Raider and the coolest Colonial is not even in the same ballpark as a Cylon Centurion.

You get my point.

So why can't we come up with some cooler heroes? Is it an issue of style over substance?

Or is it that we naturally are attracted to the powerful, the violent, perhaps even the evil? There might be something inherent in human beings that craves those who break the rules because maybe we want to break the rules. Give me lip? How about I force choke you to make my point. Which would you rather be, a wizard who apparently is incapable of performing any actual wizardry and needs to get hobbits to carry out tasks for him or a guy with an all-powerful ring and 9 minions who are nearly invincible?

Maybe I am just reading too much into this but whatever the case, even though the bad guys invariably lose to the good guys, the bad guys always look a lot cooler doing it.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Such Encouragement

I love it when people are thinking and talking about critical issues rather than leaning lazily on tradition or screeching at one another. While I often seem (overly) negative and alarmist, I also see regular reminders that many of my brethren are deeply delving into the Scriptures and seeking to be the change the church so desperately needs.

First, Dave Black takes aim at a most pernicious error, the idea that in a local fellowship of the church one man is the sole source of authority when it comes to interpreting the Bible. Dave writes in Pastors Are Not The Ultimate Authority On Bible Teaching (And Who Is) :
Put all this together and you arrive at the conclusion that God has provided multiple teachers in His church: gifted leaders, our fellow Christians, and ultimately the Holy Spirit Himself. I “preach” regularly in churches. But to be honest with you, I would never want anybody to hang on my every word. I would rather point them to the only infallible source of knowledge about God and His will for us, and that is the Bible. It is this Bible that we are to teach one another. We need each other, not least when it comes to understanding and obeying God’s word. I urge you to find a church home that encourages this kind of mutual edification. If there is a strong teaching ministry where you attend (and hopefully there is), make sure the teaching is sound and feedback encouraged. (A monologue need not exclude audience participation.) Make a point too of participating in small group Bible studies. Remember that believers are all on a par with each other: teachers and taught alike are fellow-sinners and fellow-learners. If possible, make room for more formal courses in the Bible. If a local church is to make a significant impact in its community, it must become a learning center, a place where truth is valued and taught. 
I love that. It is infintely better than the common responses which often boil down to demeaning or diminishing the Bible, an "anything goes" attitude toward teaching or a lack of teaching altogether. I am an advocate for a "Community Hermeneutic" where the church is collectively responsible for interpretation (See my post Toward A Community Hermeneutic ). We don't need less Bible teaching in the church, we very obviously need more. What we don't need is more "one man show" gatherings where the sole authority for what the Bible teaches is invested in the opinion of one man, no matter how learned he might be.

The second post is from a new source that I really have been blessed to find, Dwight Gingrich. Dwight looks at a topic I frequently post on, who is permitted to share the Lord's Supper? Should we restrict it and if so, how? Dwight turns to the earliest Anabaptist confession, The Schleitheim Confession, for a look at what the Anabaptists taught back in the era of overt persecution in his post The Schleitheim Confession: Who May Share The Lord's Supper?. Dwight writes:
 Perhaps significantly, no mention is made of sharing a oneness merely with one specific congregation; the vision of these Anabaptists extended to all who belonged to Christ. In this context this meant, at minimum, that scattered, rapidly-growing, loosely-connected network of what we now call Anabaptist congregations, which at the time were not formally united into one denomination or church alliance.
I love that! I hope I am not misrepresenting Dwight but what I read is that the Supper is restricted to the church the church has never meant to be sub-divided into one specific congregation to the exclusion of all others. Certainly this does not mean that we never restrict anyone from the Supper, 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 makes that clear, as does the Anabaptist practice of the Ban but holiness and unity are not and cannot be made into adversaries. They are two facets of the same concern for the Body of Christ. I look forward to reading more from Dwight on this topic as he has teased in this blog post and others.

Give both of these a read and think them through. Maybe comment or write your own thoughts in some venue. Never stop seeking to return the church to Her roots.

Taking Marriage And Going Home

A quick note on the Great Divorce.

I have been an advocate for a while for the church getting out of the wedding business and really focusing on the marriage business. By that I mean no longer serving as a useful patsy for Caesar to administer weddings and instead make marriages within the church something done without the approval or permission of Caesar. See my post Is this the start of a separation of marriage and the state? Let's hope so. as a primer.

More and more we are seeing the church and other religious groups moving away from state sanctioned marriage. I would rather see Christian churches and groups like mormons, Roman Catholics, etc. administering marriage within the confines of their own faith traditions and leave the secular civil and legal aspects of marital-like relationships to the government. They can call it whatever they want but it really wouldn't matter to us because we would not be beholden or dependent on Caesar. I just find it baffling that two Christians who want to be married in the church have to come to the official ecclesiastical event with a permission slip from Caesar.

It is in light of this I was interested to see this post from Rod Dreher, A Separation of Church and State. Rod writes about an email notification from "Father" Patrick Reardon, pastor of All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church in Chicago. Patrick wrote:
Because the State of Illinois, through its legislature and governor’s office, have now re-defined marriage, marriage licenses issued by agencies of the State of Illinois will no longer be required (or signed) for weddings here at All Saints in Chicago.
Those seeking marriage in this parish will be counseled on the point.
Father Pat
I think that is a good start. If I read this correctly it means that this particular religious group will perform an Orthodox wedding without the need for a license from the state of Illinois and also that they will not counter-sign wedding licenses. You can get married there but you can't get married there, if you see my meaning.

I really contend that the marriage process for Christians should be two part. Getting married in the church is the first and only required step. Our definition done our way. No one who is not a believer should be married by the church. The second step is optional, getting a state sanctioned recognition of marriage to confer legal and tax benefits. If you don't care about those you don't have to get Caesar's blessing. This is a pretty radical step but given the direction of marriage in our society it is really a necessary one. I hope that churches and other religious groups continue to move in this direction.

A Uniquely American Holiday

Happy Tax Day America!

Wait a second, you aren't happy today? Why not? This is the date that your overlords have decreed for you pay up or face the wrath of Caesar. Just imagine if you had to save up your tax money all year and write one big check today like some people do. That would sting a lot more, wouldn't it? In fact it might make some people upset enough to do something about it. Fortunately the benevolent wizards in D.C. have devised a scheme whereby you are slain each year by a death of a thousand cuts, bleeding  you little by little each paycheck to help keep you in line.

Of course today is a non-event for a lot of Americans like me that don't have to pay anything. We get all of our money back and then some, in my case usually thousands of dollars that I didn't even pay into the system. I wonder how that still qualifies as a "refund"? Anyway for people like me filing taxes is awesome. I know I am getting a bunch of money that I didn't earn and I get to enjoy the benefits of living in 'Murica without having to contribute.

As you gather family and loved ones around the table today to celebrate tax day with the traditional meal of Ramen noodles and SPAM, you might want to think about what happens when we run out of people putting money into the system to pay for the rest of us. You can only kick the can so far down the road before you eventually run out of road. When that happens all heck is going to break loose but don't worry about that. Worrying leads to thinking and thinking gets us into trouble. Just keep giving Uncle Sam a chunk of your wages each paycheck that he can use to bribe other people and retain his power. Somebody else can do your thinking for you. Hasn't that worked pretty well for us so far?

Monday, April 13, 2015

The Minimum Wage Isn't The Problem

In what passes for our contemporary economic discourse there are lots of people who seem to think that all of our economic woes can be cured by picking an arbitrary wage level, divorced from any old-fashioned notions like experience, skill and work ethic, and applying it to every worker. The mindset apparently is that if you don't simply give people a higher wage they are helpless to ever make more than entry level pay. The real world doesn't work that way. Case in point from an article in my local newspaper. It is about the Burmese population, the largest outside of Burma, but the article, Stronger Burmese presence, made some interesting points that are more broadly applied (emphasis added):
For the companies and organizations that participated in the fair, it’s a win-win situation, Soe said.
Brian Moreno, a pipefitter representing the Plumbers and Steamfitters Local Union 166, said the local trade industry expects to lose 50 percent of its welders and 30 to 40 percent of its high-end HVAC technicians in the next 10 years because of retirements.
He said the union has a partnership with Ivy Tech that allows apprentices to train during the day and take evening classes that require only a small monetary contribution. 
As a product of the program, Moreno said he was able to work and get a college education without accumulating any debt.
“We’re scrambling right now to get our workforce up and educated,” he said. “There’s a huge generational gap, where high schools have pushed college, college, college and forgot about the trades.” 
Did you catch that? Half of the welders in my area are going to be lost to retirement but the need for welders is not going away. These are not minimum wage jobs, they are in demand, well paid and highly skilled jobs. This is a job that any parent should be pleased to see their child working at. The guy quoted was able to get the technical training to be a welder "without accumulating any debt"! One online salary source I looked gives a pretty impressive wage picture for welders:
The median hourly wage—meaning half of the people in this group earned less than this amount and half earned more—for welders (and related machine operators) was $21.00, which is on par with the hourly median wage for all other occupations. The average hourly wage for welders was $22.80.
Like in other professions, pay increases with experience. New journeyperson-level welders can make between $40,000 and $51,000 per year, while salaries for experienced welders range from $50,000 to $67,000. Welders often have opportunities to work overtime, which can also increase their yearly take-home amount.
Making that kind of money in a job with huge and increasing demand without any college debt should be a no-brainer. Doesn't that make more sense than sending a kid to some private college to come out on the other side of four (or five or six or..) years with a degree in Philosophy and $100,000 in debt with absolutely no practical skills? It took me a lot of years and hard work to make and exceed those salary levels with a degree in political science. I could have skipped college, where I didn't really learn anything of use, and learned a trade and made as much money at an earlier age. I don't regret my college years but I don't see college as a one size fits all solution for young adults. Sure welding is not easy work and you are going to come home dirty but that isn't something to be ashamed of, in fact it is something you should be proud of. Hard work is not a vulgar phrase. Plenty of college grads come home from work with their khaki pants still neatly pressed but their souls drained from sitting in a cubicle farm doing mindless work all day. I would rather get dirty to be honest.

In my current work role I have the opportunity to recruit and hire people for essentially entry level jobs. It is amazing how hard it is to find people to even apply for a job in a time when the number of people on government assistance is exploding. It is just as hard to actually hire people who want to a) come to work and b) do so at the scheduled time. I have long contended that the only reason people are "stuck" in low wage, dead end jobs is that they choose to stay there. Learning to be a welder or an HVAC technician or an aircraft mechanic or a machinist can be accomplished by anyone with the desire to better themselves and for essentially no money. Instead we insist on telling every high school kid that they have to go to college, even if they have no business going to a university, and tell anyone who doesn't go for a four year degree that a job flipping burgers is the best they can hope for. This is a lie and a disservice. We end up with unmotivated young adults who allow themselves to be stuck in dead-end jobs and never seem to understand that they need to take charge of their own career rather than waiting around like entitled brats expecting someone to hand them a fabulous, prestigious and high paid job just for showing up. On the flip side we have something like a trillion dollars in student loan debt held by people who probably shouldn't have gone to college and have no way of paying it back because they were shoved into college with no clue how that time and monetary investment was going to pay for itself. The only people who benefit from this system are the college administrators and professors who have a captive audience feeding the university system with an unlimited supply of unsecured debt.

If you think you deserve more money, do something about it. Yourself. Don't sit around waiting for the salary fairy to show up to give you a a raise or walk around carrying a sign demanding McDonalds pay you like a banker. Everything just about anyone needs to advance their career is available for the taking and is more or less free. No one has an excuse and no one should seek one. Take charge of your career and find out how much more rewarding that is than sitting around moaning and groaning about how unfair life is.

I'll see your poppycock and raise you a hogwash

Eric Carpenter posted about poppycock the other day. Well in the spirit of one-upmanship let me drop some hogwash on your unsuspecting eyes and ears. Someone I know posted this video on Facebook, and he was not trying to be snarky, I think he was serious, and I felt the need to inflict it on you as well. Behold Todd Friel of Wretched suggesting that failing to speak with sufficient deference to your pope pastor is a sign you don't take the faith seriously and might just be one of them lib'ral seeker-sensitive types.

Go ahead and watch it. I dare ya!

Notice the appeal to the Old Testament to bemoan the lack of fancy robes and the invocation of the "seeker sensitive" bogeyman. Notice also what he says about clerical attire at 4:30 and why it is like the captain of an airplane wearing his funny hat, namely that it tells you "who is in charge". Now I find the practice of pilots wearing a pseudo-military (and generally tacky) uniform to be a silly practice but since I don't know how to fly a plane I guess it is nice to have someone wearing a ridiculous get-up so I know who is able to fly it. That isn't the church. We don't need titles or suits to know who is in charge because I am pretty sure that Jesus Christ is in charge and He doesn't need a co-pilot.

The church is (not supposed to be) a hierarchical organization where we walk on eggshells around some people and avert our gaze from our betters. We are a family, we are brethren. The idea of holy men speaking to their underlings in a holy place at a holy time is not found in the New Testament and we are supposed to be a New Testament primacy, New Covenant people of God. We are not ancient Israel. Needing to be addressed as something more than "brother" indicates to me that you have no idea what the church is. Furthermore, if you are so insecure in your place in Christ that you must demand that others address you formally with a fancy address, you are quite likely unfit to fill the role of a servant leader in the church. I mean seriously, what is next? Kissing his ring? Being prostrate before him until permitted to speak? Backing away from his presence so as not to show him our backside? That is the attitude of ancient emperors, fascist dictators and popes throughout history. It has no place in the church.

Let me share a personal example that I might have shared before. My father is a doctor. He put himself through medical school, built a medical practice and was by all measures a pillar of the community where I grew up. Often people who met him for the first time and didn't know he was a doctor would call him Mr. Sido rather than Dr. Sido. Never, not one time, did I ever hear him correct someone who failed to call him Dr. Sido (and I know of doctors who do correct people in that respect and they are just as ridiculous as this video). He knew he was a doctor and his self-worth and his professional ability were not contingent on people calling him Dr. Sido.

Your "pastoral authority" such as it is, is not derived from how deferential the sheep are in addressing you. As Christians we are not expected, nor should we be expected, to doff our caps, grovel at the feet and kiss the rings of our elders. They are not kings or princes or even popes, they are brothers that we as the church have recognized for their manner of life and maturity in Christ. Likewise your commitment to Christ and the faith is not reflected in whether you wear a suit and tie to church or jeans and a t-shirt. I have a lot more respect for a brother in plain clothes with calloused hands from serving others than some fancy pants popinjay with soft hands that labor only in turning the pages of a book while cloistered away from the smelly sheep he has to "minister" to (for a fee of course).

If this is how you envision the church, let me point you in the direction of Vatican City because there is no place for this sort of blasphemous nonsense among the people of God.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Being Wrong About Being Right

Being right is important. Really, really important. I expend a lot of energy and thought in thinking through the issues that concern the church. That is not an admission that will get you invited to the hip church conferences or get lots of links back to your blog from people who are more into "nuance" but it is critically important, especially today.

I was prompted to think about the "how" of being "right" as much as the foundational belief behind it. Is it enough to be "right" or do we need to be cautious about what that looks like? Examining my own behavior and the behavior of others leads me to believe that we need, especially on the conservative end, to constantly look at how we put into practice the doctrines we have correctly worked out. There is also a real need to constantly examine what we believe to make sure we are really right but that is a topic for a different day. In this post I am looking at how a specific group, the conservative Anabaptists, deal with the "being right" issue.

I do a lot of poking at "progressive" neo-Anabaptist types but lest I be accused of playing favorites I have plenty of concerns about the conservative, traditional Anabaptists. Some of it is doctrinal. I think that in some (and one in particular) areas we see holdovers from the early days of Anabaptism when they didn't have the time to work through some issues. A lot more of it has to do with the way they relate behaviorally to the rest of the church. To generalize, I think that the conservative Anabaptists errors are (mostly) in the area of behavior while the progressive neo-Anabaptist errors are mostly in the realm of theology.

The conservatives tend to be split along a spectrum of "conservatism" from "Old Order" toward "worldly". To a typical evangelical Christian the difference is unfathomable. One group looks a lot like the others. The differences tend to be largely externals as far as I can tell. Women wearing one-piece dresses with a yoke versus a skirt and blouse, that sort of thing. I have been around enough conservative Anabaptists to sort of see the difference but they do appear monolithic to the rest of the church and more critically the seem less than welcoming. That doesn't mean unloving or unfriendly, just not fully welcoming without a commitment to complete conformity.

It is ironic that a group historically known for non-conformity is now a largely conformist group. The neo-Anabaptists are uniform in their positions that line up with the world and the conservatives are conformist to a set of externals that make them seem alien. Being alien to the world is one thing, but being alien to the rest of the church is a different question. I was reminded of this the other day from a post on Facebook. The writer, Dwight Gingrich (and I recently came across his blog and really appreciate it, as it is one of the few blogs from a conservative Anabaptist perspective out there) linked to another blog, The Brown Brink. The post in question is The Freedom of Simplicity and examines her reasons for not wearing jewelry or make-up. This was the quote that stood out for Dwight:
Multiple times in the past few months I have been asked about my choice to fore-go make-up and jewelry (other than a simple wedding band).
What about that was of note to Dwight? This is a sister in Christ who dresses very modestly and has thought through the issue. She covers her head. She wear no make-up or jewelry beyond a wedding band. Dwight wrote:
This woman has a wonderful testimony of a heart and life turned toward Christ. Yet she would not be welcomed, as she is now, as a member in any church where I have been a member. How should I feel about this? What should I do about it?
That is the issue I want to look at and call out to my conservative brethren. While this sister would get strange and possible hostile looks in "progressive" churches for looking so "conservative", she would also not be considered appropriately dressed in many conservative Anabaptist groups because she wears a wedding ring. I am not making that up as we have direct experience with this. A while back while seeking fellowship with local Christians we began meeting with a great group of Christians that exhibited a lot of the practices we were seeking. We were invited to have dinner with their pastor after a bit and that night sticks with me. Not for the fellowship of the table but for something else. What I remember from that evening was that he didn't seem all that interested in our testimony or how they as a fellowship could minister to us. What he mostly seemed concerned with was whether my wife's headcovering was the "right" kind and especially in pointing out that the wearing of wedding rings was frowned upon. Our full acceptance required conformity to a series of externals that, even if legitimate, were hard and fast lines. There was no grace in growing in sanctification, just a list of the rules you had to meet. After that evening and a series of clashes over other issues we walked away with heavy hearts. I had no desire to be a source of conflict in a local gathering but the memory of that event still stings.

Conservative Anabaptists tend to be very focused on the externals. Do you have a TV? Do you listen to worldly music? Is your attire too fashionable? I understand why this is the case. Looking back at the history of Anabaptism in America in the 20th century shows a great deal of schism and a lot of it can be traced to the embrace of liberalizing influences. The reaction from conservatives was to erect more and more barriers to keep people from drifting off into liberalism, while the "progressives" seemed to take great pains to move as far away from the conservative Anabaptists as possible. Today the two streams of Anabaptist look nothing alike. It is not a stretch to say that other than sharing the name, the progressives and conservatives exist in two separate worlds. I clearly find much more affinity with the conservatives but even still as an "outsider" I have concerns.

If you are overly focused on external particulars, even if they are legitimate and important, it probably masks a deeper issue in your heart. Do you primarily see other Christians as people to be kept away from "your people" lest they infect them? Or do you see them as brothers and sisters who, while not in the same place you are, you welcome and walk beside as the grow in Christ? Don't get me wrong, elders have a responsibility to model correct doctrine and correct error. But the church is not "your" church, it is His church. His people should therefore be welcome, not a conditional welcome but just welcomed as family ought to be welcome.

One of the great balancing acts in the church is to have and hold seriously convictions on secondary but important topics while allowing people the grace to grow in understanding. Since the incident I referenced above, my wife and I have stopped wearing our wedding rings. Not because we were guilted or extorted into doing so but because that was the conviction we came to, just as we did on the issue of headcovering. I don't know that I have the answer and I really can't answer this question for them. All I know is that creating barriers to fellowship with the rest of the church is not healthy for anyone involved. It creates theological in-breeding where some issues are just assumed because no one questions them. It foster theological and denominational xenophobia toward other Christians. It keep "regular" Christians from fellowshipping with these wonderful Christians in the conservative Anabaptist branch of the church and in turn means that these Anabaptists are mostly a curiosity to be gawked at rather than a robust and active part of the church.

The challenge I put forth to my brothers in the conservative Anabaptist camp is this: spend some time in serious consideration of how you interact with the rest of the church (or if you even do so at all!). Think about how to extend grace to others who may not historically be part of Anabaptism but are interested to learn more. Remember that you are one part of a larger whole. The church has much to offer and teach one another. Don't reject that rich treasure for the sake of a simple wedding band or the lack of a headcover. In the days to come we are all going to need one another more than we have for hundreds of years. This is no time for walling ourselves off from one another.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Book Review: Of Dice And Men

For those who know me mostly by my online scribbling it might come as a surprise (or perhaps not) that I do more than rant about theological lib'rals and the institutional church. I read books about stuff other than the Anabaptists and ecclesiology. In fact I read a ton of fiction works, almost exclusively fantasy and science fiction. This goes way back to my childhood and even though I have had times when my love of adventure and fantasy was set aside, I still retained both my passion for them and also the historic artifacts that were the focus of my younger days. If you doubt that, stop over some time and I can show you my pretty complete set of first edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons rule books, modules, early edition Dragon magazines and a vast collection of fantasy and science fiction novels from the 70's and 80's. Keep in mind that I didn't move out of my parent's house and into my current home in Indiana. My wife and I have moved over and over again, from Ohio to Wyoming to New Hampshire back to Michigan with a number of other states in-between (my 8 children were born in 5 different states and only the last two were born at the same hospital consecutively). Throughout all of these moves it would have been easy to ditch this stuff but my loving helpmeet never let me. In a time of multiple thorns in the flesh I have found myself once more delving into this world that formed who I am as a person and provided my main outlet for creative thought long before blogs. Into this time of crisis I came across a book that delighted me like few have recently, David Ewalt's Of Dice and Men: The Story of Dungeons & Dragons and the People Who Play It.

At this point let me stop and offer a bit of friendly advice. If you are someone who is still caught up in the hysteria of the 80's that painted Dungeons & Dragons as a satanic plot that led to kids murdering their families and killing themselves, please stop reading and go elsewhere. If you are fixin' to wag your finger at me for such a worldly waste of time, same thing. Take your SEC football jersey and foam finger and hit the road.

Still here? OK, on with the review!

Of Dice and Men, ODM from here out, is not a deep read. It isn't going to give earth-shattering insight to people who have played D&D for any length of time. It is a pretty lightweight introduction for those unfamiliar with Role Playing Games. It still was so much fun to read. I also learned quite a lot about the history of this game. I was born in 1971 and started with D&D when I was in middle school if I recall correctly but I was into fantasy and sci-fi long before that. I was an early reader and read books like the Lord of the Rings when other kids were struggling with Dick and Jane books. As with most of my family I was always with my nose in a book: in the car, at the dinner table, before bed, on vacation. I would go to northern Michigan on the shores of a beautiful lake and sit inside and read. Those books were almost always a fantasy or sci-fi novel. When I started getting into D&D it opened a new world for me. No longer was I restricted to the world created for me by the author, as amazing as the world of Tolkien and others might be. I could create my own world and boy did I ever. I actually rarely played the game with others, for me the joy came in creation even if no one else ever saw it. As I grew older, D&D got to be a social liability and it was boxed away but those books were always there. Even as someone who is by most accounts an ultra-conservative fundamentalist, I love the world and adventure creating that goes on in role playing games, whether D&D or a MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game) like Eve Online (I am too awesome to play World of Warcraft) where I play as a character with a name derived from my favorite childhood elven character in D&D.

This is a similar story to David Ewalt, the author of ODM who is also a journalist writing for Forbes. He was a D&D guy back in the heyday like me, although a little younger, who moved away from the game but also kept a lot of his old stuff. ODM is his story of rediscovery as much as it is a history of D&D but I still learned a lot. As a middle-schooler I didn't see the  turmoil that rocked the founders of D&D and TSR, Inc. I just loved new stuff coming out. ODM helped fill in the blanks for me. It also served to give me a crash course on what has happened since I stepped away from the game although a lot of the details of the ill-fated editions is left out. I mostly enjoyed his own personal journey back into the game. Like David I have a spouse who is pretty much supportive of my weird habit and that has made a ton of difference in my life (in a lot of ways not related to gaming as well).

ODM provides a look at what happens when a game played in the basement becomes a world-wide phenomena and the subsequent squabbles over money and control that would ultimately lead to founder Gary Gygax losing control of his own creation. The game has gone through a lot of struggles but with the latest iteration described in ODM it might be posed for a comeback.

I don't know if many (any) people who frequent my blog would find this book interesting. I kind of suspect more might than you would think. If you share some secret, closeted geek street cred give this book a shot. There is some colorful language but the story is a fun one and well told. Who knows, you might want to try your hand at being a half-orc or gnome with some local nerds!

All Coalition And No Gospel?

The Gospel Coalition has caused a stir in the world of social media by announcing a panel on Race and Justice at the upcoming national conference that will include a number of unbelievers. Correctly seeing that this would cause some raised eyebrows they posted Why Are Non-Christians TGC15 Panelists?, an attempt to explain why they went this route. It kinda backfired as the comments on the post that have yet to be censored indicate.

The central excuse for why they invited people who deny the Gospel to a conference that is supposed to be about the Gospel is the notion of cultural co-belligerence. This idea goes back to Francis Schaeffer:
There was another term important to Schaeffer and his work—co-belligerent. “A co-belligerent,” he said, “is a person who may not have any sufficient basis for taking the right position, but takes the right position on a single issue. And I can join with him without any danger as long as I realize that he is not an ally and all we’re talking about is a single issue.”
That notion is at the heart of a lot of efforts in the church to link arms with Roman Catholicism, mormonism and other "shared morality" groups that have teaching contrary to the Gospel but are allies in secular cultural and political issues. As the church loses political and cultural power and influence (and of course money), it has been more and more willing to "find common ground" and "let by-gones be by-gones" and "stop fighting the Reformation". I don't buy it, not even when it is someone like Al Mohler speaking to a crowd of blasphemers at BYU.

As two writers both pointed out, TGC… Just Social, Or Social Justice? and The “Gospel” Coalition to Include Non-Christians in Panel, the real problem here is ironically a Gospel issue. I say that because "social justice", whatever that means, and racial tension is nothing more and nothing less than the result of sin. Men hate one another, men kill one another, men steal from one another, because of sin. As a group that purports to stand for the Gospel they should realize that sitting around and talking is not the solution to sin, the Gospel is. As others have pointed out, no one is saying that unbelievers don't have anything useful to say on this issue but it is to say that unbelievers will present solutions that will fundamentally be flawed and incomplete because they are missing the central assumption of what the problem is and therefore what the solution ought to be. The confusion that results from believers trying to find solutions to Gospel problems by asking unbelievers has long been a mark of the "progressive" wing of the church but now it seems to be bleeding into the more "conservative" end as well.

Will any of the panelists who are Christian turn to the unbelievers on the panel and publicly call on them to repent and correct their proposed solutions by putting for the Gospel as the only remedy for sin? Or would that be considered impolite and politically incorrect?

I am starting to wonder if this entire enterprise is devolving into a machine to provide a platform to increase influence and sell books. From questionable theologians at conferences to unbelievers providing secular advice on a Gospel topic to censoring comments on their social media (on that topic the first link I posted above has this quote: "Yet, TGC continues to block people on Facebook and Twitter for questioning their decisions. Very thoughtful men and women, definitely not trolls, have been blocked because they have attempted to hold TGC accountable for their poor decisions. ". So it is not just me but anyone who ask awkward questions of TGC and distracts from the party line), it seems that the real focus of TGC and increasingly other "ministries" is to keep the "ministry" going, keep selling books and conference tickets and continue to be revered by others. If that is what they are out to do, that is their business but they might want to reconsider having the letter "G" in TGC.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Money + Control = Power

In this country you gotta make the money first. Then when you get the money you get the power. Then when you get power then you get the woman.
- The Prophet Tony Montana, Scarface
My prior post, An Unusually Honest Statement Plus Some Bonus Eisegesis!led to an interesting question from Dan Edelen, one of the most thoughtful people I read on the internet. Dan asked:
How is it that "meet together" only passes the sniff test if it happen in a church building? Can't I meet together with a half dozen believers over a lemonade at the local bistro Tuesday evening and have it count?
And an hour or two on Sunday with nothing the rest of the week--the typical American version of church--is a poor example, especially when compared to the Church in other countries.
A very good question but one we rarely ask. Why is it like this? Why don't people even question it for the most part, after hundreds of years? Certainly there are some good reasons to meet on Sunday morning but there are lots of good reasons to meet other times, either in addition to or in lieu of meeting on Sunday morning. I don't think it is an exaggeration to say that in most corners of the church world if you told someone that you never attended a "worship service" on Sunday morning but met 4 times a weeks for a total of ten hours with believers in other settings (home Bible study, ministering alongside them for the poor, etc.), you would be accused of violating Hebrews 10:24.

There is absolutely zero evidence that the church met on Sunday morning, either primarily or exclusively. In fact we read that the early church met far more often than Sunday morning:  "And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved." (Acts 2:46-47)

Yet here we are 2000 years later and most of the church still demands we narrowly define "meet together". It is bad enough that this makes it hard to experience church life outside of this narrow, extra-biblical traditional understanding but it also de-legitimizes the experience of many Christians who have fellowship apart from pews and pulpits.

Getting back to Dan's question of "why?". I am pretty sure I know the answer and it hasn't changed in over 1700 years and remains in place in spite of a Reformation and a Radical Reformation, despite the "religious liberty" we cherish in America and the general religious pluralism of our setting. Although Tony Montana was speaking about women, he got the order right (yes I know he is a fictional character in a movie full of sex, violence and coarse language). In the church it comes in this pattern.






Men don't really want money. Men desire power. In the beginning of the first Lord of the Rings movie (and I really am someone who doesn't normally use movies for blogging material), when the forging of the Great Rings is described, the fall of men is attributed to the lust for power shared by all men: "Nine rings were gifted to the race of men, who above all else desire power." That is a true statement and it is the story of humanity for all of history. It is also our history as the people of Christ.

The church is rarely much different than the world and that is the wellspring from which the "Only on Sunday morning and only in a church building and only under the 'authority' of clergy" model comes from, a desire for power fueled by money and control.

I am meandering a bit so let me draw it back together. When the church is told it can only legitimately meet when...

1. In a holy space
2. At a holy time
3. Officiated by holy men places people in bondage. Those who control the time, space and who gets to be in charge dictate and control everyone else. This is most obvious in Rome where access to Christ is controlled via the Eucharist and threatening to withhold it has been used to keep people in line for 1000 years but it can also be found in Protestant churches of all stripes. When someone challenges this model and steps away from the boundaries of control, it is a threat. When people leave they take money with them and they take back control from the professional clerical class. This diminishes the power of men and that is a far greater threat to them than heretical teaching or Islamic extremists. Even well-meaning, sincere men fall into this trap, often made all the more subtle because it is cloaked in religious respectability. "Sure I want people to obey me but it is for their own good!". I doubt that many guys go to seminary because they want to control people but just like some men become cops or politicians for that reason, so do some clergy.

The power issue is also deeply tied to the atmosphere of distrust among the clergy toward the laity. From the beginning of the church there have been those who look at the common people in the church as dangerous to themselves. Catholic priests refer to themselves as "Father" and demand others do as well, referring to parishioners as "my child". This attitude has followed the Reformation down to today in the form of paternalistic clergy protecting the laity from themselves like a parent keeping a child from sticking a screwdriver in an outlet. Ironically most of the great heretics of the faith delivered their message (and still do) from behind pulpits.

So why do we only regard the "official" meeting as legitimate? Because those who derive their power from controlling the means and the money have declared it so. Mull that over for a while and then make the time to meet with the church on a day and in a place that is not officially sanctioned!