Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Real Life Mirrors Good Will Hunting

So our neighbors to the north in Michigan at the academic and athletic powerhouse University of Michigan have decided that students can choose whatever personal pronoun they like to be addressed as on any given day, depending on their mood or something. Anyway the decision comes from an august body at the U of M:

The move is the result of a Pronoun Committee of staff and faculty that met for the past year. The committee was in response to a student petition.

When a "university" invests money, time and authority of any kind in a "Pronoun Committee", it makes a complete farce out of the entire idea of education. Or as Will Hunting says in one of my favorite movie scenes of all time, starting at 3:25 (pardon the language)

See, the sad thing about a guy like you is, in 50 years you're gonna start doin' some thinkin' on your own and you're going to come up with the fact that there are two certainties in life: one, don't do that, and two, you dropped 150 grand on a (f''ing) education you could have got for a dollar fifty in late charges at the public library!

Yeah, pretty much that. It is my contention, and one that grows more certain by the day, that unless you are pursuing some sort of specific, vocationally required education that you can only get in a university setting (nursing, accounting, etc.), then the very last place you should go in order to educate yourself is a university. Universities by and large are mostly places where young "adults" are force-fed nonsense and leftist propaganda, meaning that they are woefully unprepared for life outside of the "safe spaces" of a university. While colleges have always been far-left bastions, at least when I was in school you could hold to a dissenting opinion. Now you are required to think only a certain way, meaning that universities are doing the precise opposite of educating.

In a world where information is available to anyone at any time for free at the drop of a hat, the very reason for universities is rapidly evaporating. Do yourself and your kids a favor, teach them to love to read and have an inquisitive mind and skip the $100,000 in debt.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Wells Fargo Debacle Goes Way Beyond One Bank

I rarely talk about my jobs, past or present. I am pretty sure no one cares what I used to do for a living and while I had some casual friends for the most part the memories are pretty unpleasant. Still, as the media coverage of the unethical behavior at Wells Fargo continues unabated I am reminded of my life as a bank manager in the retail banking world that most people are familiar with. I spent about four years working as a bank manager for two banks, the one a massive multi-national bank and one a super-regional bank familiar to people who live where I have and do. The public relations nightmare that is hammering Wells Fargo is a much bigger problem than just malfeasance at one bank.

Every time is read more about this, I think "Yup, that is how it worked". The only thing is, I didn't work for Wells Fargo, instead I managed branches for two other huge banks. The incentive structure at both banks worked a lot of Wells. Bankers, the "personal bankers" rather than the bank managers, the workers who opened most accounts, are heavily incentive driven and they are hounded incessantly for more and more. More checking accounts. More loans. More credit cards. More investment revenue. The pressure was so intense that the really big bank I worked for had a conference call for bank managers only and one of the speakers casually said that the life expectancy of a personal bankers was about 18 months. They bring them in, dangle big rewards in front of them and then ride them into the ground. While the public statements are all about customer service and "doing what is right for the customer", the reality is that the incentive programs for bankers and also for managers often was driving them to do things that hit numbers but were not in the best interest of customers or the bank. Here is an example from the Wall Street Journal:

" In Tucson, Ariz., some bankers met sales goals by using a list of wealthier, existing customers who were preselected for credit cards, according to a banker who was fired last year for what the bank called unethical behavior.

The customers were told in phone calls that Wells Fargo planned to send them a new credit card as a “thank you” for their business. If a customer didn’t want the card, he was told to cut the card when it arrived in the mail, according to the former banker.

She says those customers weren’t told that issuing each new card required a credit check, which can lower a person’s credit score."

Yeah, we were told to do that. My people were supposed to call these customers from lists, rapidly explain that they were getting a new "credit line" for overdraft protection and hang up. As long as the customer didn't actively refuse the card, they got a new one in about a week and the banker got credit for a "sale". The thing is, even if people never used the card or home equity line of credit or checking account, it didn't matter. You still got paid. 

" Former branch manager Rasheeda Kamar says her Wells Fargo office in New Milford, N.J., had a goal of selling about 15 new products or services a day. If the branch didn’t hit the goal, the shortfall would be added to the next day’s goal, she says.

Ms. Kamar says laggards were threatened with termination and sometimes criticized in conference calls. In February 2011, she wrote to Mr. Stumpf in an email: “For the most part funds are moved to new accounts to ‘show’ growth when in actuality there is no net gain to the company’s deposit base.” She says she got no reply."

And that. At one bank, if your branch didn't hit it's sales goal the prior day, and most of us rarely did, we had to come in for an early morning, way before the branch opened, "sales call" to be publicly called out and we had to come up with some ludicrous plan to sell more checking accounts and credit cards that day. This is in a town with less than 6,000 people and a dozen banks, including two branches of the same bank! It would not be unusual for every manager in the district to be on the call and the "plans" never did much to change the results so it basically was a punishment. Hit your numbers or you have to get up super early the next day. It was great when you hit your numbers and got to skip the call so you could be smug for a day. 

I always believed that great customer service would lead to more sales and it often did, not to mention it retained money, but no one cared about that. If you opened 30 checking accounts in a week with $100 each but closed 40 with $1000 each, you got praised for all of the "new" accounts you opened, especially for younger customers who were more likely to overdraw their accounts. Like clockwork you could check your overdraft list on Monday and see lots of younger customers with literally hundreds of dollars in overdraft fees from the weekend. We never reversed those fees even though it was simple to do so because that is a huge source of revenue. Banks used to, and I think this has changed, pay items biggest to smallest so if you had five charges and the money for four of them, they would still run the biggest one first, overdrawing your account and then the next four would also be overdrawn and you would get 5 overdrafts fees instead of 1. Plus they charged extra for each day you were overdrawn meaning people without the money could lose almost an entire paycheck at a low wage job in fees before their next paycheck came in.

I like to think that we didn't do that sort of stuff in my branches but I am pretty sure it was going on. I hated working in retail banking and I am well rid of it. I never felt in any other job that what I was doing was immoral but in retail banking I did. I felt good when we hit our sales goals but it slowly ate away at me. When I quit and went back into retirement plan services, I took a printout of my sales goals and whenever I got irritated about my new job I would open my desk and look at those ridiculous sales goals and it made me feel better.

If you give people an incentive to do the wrong thing, more often than not that is what they will do. If you incentive women to get knocked up and not get married, that is what they will do. If you give guys an incentive to not work because getting a job would mean less take home cash, they will play video games instead. If you give guys in suits an incentive to do the wrong thing and punish them for doing the right thing, guess what most of them will do? People who refuse will get fired and people who do what they are told to will get promoted and showered with praise and money.

Whoever you are, you need to check and see what is really going on with your financial picture. Do you have bank accounts you don't use? Credit cards that you don't remember getting, especially the ones from stores? Are you paying a ton of money in fees for "expert investment advice" from someone you never hear from? Check your credit report, look at your bank statement. Make sure you know where any fees are going and what you get for them. Don't expect people with little or no incentive to do so to watch your back. Most of all, don't think "I don't bank at Wells Fargo so this hasn't happened to me." You might be surprised.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Like Hillbilly Elegy But With Indians

Because I haven't read enough deeply depressing stuff, I just started a new book from Naomi Schaefer Riley, The New Trail of Tears. The gist so far, and I just started it, is that while the academic world focuses on what happened to the various American Indian tribes 100 or more years ago, an on-going crisis is in place that leaves many Indians in this country in far worse conditions than inner-city blacks or the hillbillies of Hillbilly Elegy (my review of the latter is here). I knew Indians were in rough shape but I didn't realize how bad it was, especially in the West. I used to have interactions with an Indian tribe when I was a bank manager in Northern Michigan and while a few well educated Indians did quite well (working for the tribe), a lot were in serious poverty. One really depressing recurrence was the receiving of a lump sum of some sort when Indian youth reached a certain age. I am not sure where the funds came from but it was thousands of dollars and invariably it would get blown in short order on stupid stuff.

This promises to be another crystal clear example of the government claiming to be trying to help people while engaging in policies that make things worse. There are so many examples of the government coming to "help" a people group and just making it worse while throwing wheelbarrows of tax-payer money into the wind. As bad as you think some groups have it, the Indians have it worse and it is showing no signs of getting better.

It is not a super long book so I should be able to knock it out in short order and provide a more complete review but if you have this book at your local library it is worth your time to pick it up.

Sometimes The Simple Answer Is The Correct Answer

If there is anything "church experts" like to talk about these days it is the loss of Millennials from "church", where "church" means attendance and activity at religious services. Since they are the up and coming generation of adults it is causing something of a panic among church demographers because this generation is desperately needed to replace the older, faithful "tithe" payers that keep many local churches solvent.

One factor that keeps cropping up as a reason for the mass exodus of Millennials is that the church is too political. I agree that often we seem to conflate conservative politics with the Kingdom and to a lesser extent progressives do the same thing, they just don't have many people left. But is that why Millennials are not attending church? I don't think so, at least not primarily. While a lot of people think so, like this tweet:

...I actually think the answer is a lot simpler. Most Millennials are unbelievers (so are Gen Xers, Greatest Generation, Baby Boomers, etc.).

Churches in America have been full unbelievers for decades. Being a church-goer was a sign of respectability. A good church going man is someone you can trust to do business with. A girl from a church going family was a respectable choice for a wife. Families that didn't go to church had something wrong with them. In other words, there was a social cost to not attending church and a social benefit for attending church. If you were an insurance salesman or a stock broker, being in church made you seem more trustworthy plus it gave you a bunch of people you could guilt into considering your services. Church for many people was not much different from the Rotary or a bowling league.

Today? That social cost/benefit is evaporating. In some places (the northeast, the coastal West, most big cities, colleges, etc) it is completely gone and the opposite is now true. Being religious makes you an outcast and probably a terrible person. Even in the Bible-belt and the MidWest the social need to be in church on Sunday is about gone. That, more than any other reason, is why they are leaving.

In 2016 being social is very different from being social in  the 1970's. Today people are social online. They think that they don't actually need to be in the same room (or state or country...) as someone else to be social. They call it "social media" after all. People who crave attention don't need to go anywhere to get it, they just need to have lots of "friends" on Facebook or followers on Twitter. Heck, even being an internet troll gets you some interaction without leaving the house. So getting up on Sunday morning, getting dressed at least in clean clothes and going somewhere to be with people that are mostly sitting mutely for an hour before scampering out to the parking lot doesn't hold much appeal. You can stay home in your pajamas and surf social media and get your socialization fix.

As an aside, it also is pretty common that the most politically active people in the church are often also the most active in the life of the body. People who are passionate and highly committed in one area of life seem to be the same way in other areas. I don't think that means we should encourage people to be more politically minded but it also means that people don't have to choose between being highly faithful and politically engaged.

So what that means is something I have been saying for a long time. You don't need to commission a study and do surveys to figure out why Millennials are leaving "the church". They were never part of the church to begin with and they no longer see any need to be obliged to show up on Sunday to sing songs and listen to messages about a God they never believed in. Aside from a chance to be social, and even that is mostly gone as an incentive, what is there in a church service that would appeal to an unbeliever? Not much so we should stop trying to tailor our gatherings to appeal to people who aren't going to come anyway unless they are acted upon by the Holy Spirit.

So if we shouldn't fret so much about the Millennials leaving, what then should we concentrate on? That is the topic for an upcoming post on what Christians are actually looking for and it isn't what many people think.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Buying Eggs From "Free Range" Chickens

If you are egg shopping in most stores, you will be given the option of buying free range chicken eggs. You will be asked to pay a lot more for them but they are supposed to be more humanely raised. After all, instead of being cooped up (see what I did there) all day, they are free to go outside to frolic as only chickens can. There are several of them near us, huge buildings with a fenced in pasture for the chickens. There is only one problem. See below:

It is hard to make out the chickens in the pasture. That is mostly because there aren't very many and the ones that are out are huddled in the shade of the building. I have gone past this place literally a hundred times and never seen a single chicken under the chicken cabanas in the pasture, little matching shelters that has the same color roof as the big barn. I would estimate that I have never seen more than 100 chickens outside at any time. That sounds like a lot of chickens but there are probably 20,000 chickens inside the barn. You see, they seem to like being inside. They have food in there. They have water in there. Places to roost. Fans to keep them cool. In fact given the chance, most of the tens of thousands of chickens prefer to be inside. So why do you pay more for their eggs?

Because you are being sold an image, an idea. You think you are getting much better eggs because the chickens can go outside. 'Cept they don't wanna go outside. But you pay the same for an egg from a chicken that has never gone outside as you do for one that occasionally wanders out. They are still mass raised in a mostly confinement operation, carefully bred to fire off eggs as efficiently as possible.

So if you want to spend more and get eggs from actual free ranging chickens, look for a sign out front and chickens in the yard. Don't spend more for eggs that are basically the same you can get for a buck a dozen.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Sons Of Kohath

I have been making a real effort to read through the Old Testament more. If I have some spare time to read I instinctively open up the New Testament. That is partly the result of having a quasi-Anabaptist view of the priority of the New over the Old and also, if I am honest, because a lot of the Old Testament is a tough slog to read through. I can jump into Ephesians or Galatians or John any time but I need to really make a concerted effort to get into the Old Testament. I have been reading in Numbers and it is easy to sort of read the words without really understanding them but I read something today and then I backed up and read it again. And then again. Read what Moses had to say about the sons of Kohath or the Kohathites (emphasis mine):

The LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, "Take a census of the sons of Kohath from among the sons of Levi, by their clans and their fathers' houses, from thirty years old up to fifty years old, all who can come on duty, to do the work in the tent of meeting. This is the service of the sons of Kohath in the tent of meeting: the most holy things. When the camp is to set out, Aaron and his sons shall go in and take down the veil of the screen and cover the ark of the testimony with it. Then they shall put on it a covering of goatskin and spread on top of that a cloth all of blue, and shall put in its poles. And over the table of the bread of the Presence they shall spread a cloth of blue and put on it the plates, the dishes for incense, the bowls, and the flagons for the drink offering; the regular showbread also shall be on it. Then they shall spread over them a cloth of scarlet and cover the same with a covering of goatskin, and shall put in its poles. And they shall take a cloth of blue and cover the lampstand for the light, with its lamps, its tongs, its trays, and all the vessels for oil with which it is supplied. And they shall put it with all its utensils in a covering of goatskin and put it on the carrying frame. And over the golden altar they shall spread a cloth of blue and cover it with a covering of goatskin, and shall put in its poles. And they shall take all the vessels of the service that are used in the sanctuary and put them in a cloth of blue and cover them with a covering of goatskin and put them on the carrying frame. And they shall take away the ashes from the altar and spread a purple cloth over it. And they shall put on it all the utensils of the altar, which are used for the service there, the fire pans, the forks, the shovels, and the basins, all the utensils of the altar; and they shall spread on it a covering of goatskin, and shall put in its poles. And when Aaron and his sons have finished covering the sanctuary and all the furnishings of the sanctuary, as the camp sets out, after that the sons of Kohath shall come to carry these, but they must not touch the holy things, lest they die. These are the things of the tent of meeting that the sons of Kohath are to carry. "And Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest shall have charge of the oil for the light, the fragrant incense, the regular grain offering, and the anointing oil, with the oversight of the whole tabernacle and all that is in it, of the sanctuary and its vessels." The LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, "Let not the tribe of the clans of the Kohathites be destroyed from among the Levites, but deal thus with them, that they may live and not die when they come near to the most holy things: Aaron and his sons shall go in and appoint them each to his task and to his burden, but they shall not go in to look on the holy things even for a moment, lest they die." (Numbers 4:1-20)

One other brief Scripture from a little later:

Then the Kohathites set out, carrying the holy things, and the tabernacle was set up before their arrival. (Numbers 10:21)

Most Christians know Aaron and his sons. Aaron as High Priest and his sons had specific duties when it came to serving as priests. Aaron would go into the tent and perform the tasks enumerated for him and as one would expect he gets a lot of ink, over 300 mentions in the Bible in spite of that unfortunate incident with the gold calf and his sons and their strange fire. I had read about the Kohathites before but it really struck me today. They had an unglamorous job. They didn't handle the most holy of items among the people of God, they just carried them after they were packed up but they had a critically important task. They were entrusted with the most precious possessions of the Israelite's, doing the grunt work that needed to be done.

Not actual sons of Kohath
So what? Here is the so what. We don't have Aaron and his sons around anymore. We don't have human priests to serve as intercessors for us. Christ Jesus Himself intercedes for His people and no human today has been given the right to assume that privilege for himself. There are no longer earthly places where God manifests Himself to His people in spite of the attempts by so many men to create a cage in which to keep and control God and access to Him. It seems to me that we as His people, especially as the winnowing of the merely religious continues to accelerate, serve a similar function as the sons of Kohath. We are not the High Priest, we are not entrusted to carry out the intercessory functions but we have been giving the job of carrying and protecting what is most precious to God: the Gospel of His Son. That is a weighty responsibility. The church today and for some time has stood on the precipice. We are never more than one generation from losing the Gospel. God's purpose and God's church will never be thwarted but as the thousand year despotic reign of Rome shows when we lose the public witness of the Gospel and permit false prophets and wolves among the sheep to rise unchecked, it makes life very difficult for the remnant of His Church.

This is an era when false teachers abound just as they always have but with two major advantages for the wolves. First there is a deplorable ignorance of Scripture and basic theology in the church. By allowing a select few to shoulder the hermeneutic burden for the entirety of local churches (see my post Toward A Community Hermeneutic), many Christians have never advanced beyond the "milk" stage and into the "meat stage" (1 Corinthians 3:1-3). Many Christians simply lack the resources and training to recognize false teaching from the true. Second, never in human history has it been as easy to disseminate the truth thanks to the internet. Unfortunately it is even easier to spread lies as unregenerate people will always be drawn to the darkness rather than the light (John 3:19). The most effective lies and the most attractive false teachers are those who tell people to embrace the darkness while convincing them that it is actually the light. With the near instantaneous spread of anything from anyone, many people suffer from information overload and tend to turtle up, only listening to people they already agree with, leading to what I call theological incest where we never are challenged to stretch and grow. Certainly not every opinion is worthy of consideration, in fact most are not, but we still need to be open to learning from other believers.

In these days, the church needs to embrace our role as a modern form of the sons of Kohath. Not in the sense of mindlessly stumbling into and out of pews, content to have a Christian life of "Show up, shut up and pay up". Rather we should allow and delight in the glory all shining on the most precious things, on Jesus Christ and His Gospel, while we march forward tirelessly and courageously carrying His message and protecting His Gospel from any who would seek to pervert it.

I think there is more to be said about the sons of Kohath but that is for another day. Just let me remind you as I reminded myself today that there is no extraneous material in the Scriptures. There are powerful truths to be found everywhere. Even in the mundane, we see God working and God teaching His people. Go to His Word regularly, joyously and drink deeply brothers and sisters. His Word is an endless fountain because the source of His Word is the boundless, eternal Son of God.

This is the service of the sons of Kohath in the 
tent of meeting: the most holy things.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

A New Creation

Crossway posts photos with Scripture verses on their social media and while it seems like a small thing I often find myself deeply impacted by what they post. I pray that I never lose the sense of wonder that Scripture gives me. How can it be that God Himself condescended to communicate to us and preserve what He has communicated throughout the ages so that nearly 2000 years later I have it at my fingertips? Has there been a greater crime against the people of God than those who sought to deny access to the revealed will of God in His Word? Having God's revelation preserved for us is one of the greatest of all miracles.

Today Crossway posted one of the most powerful Scriptures in all of the New Testament, a Scripture that teaches us and reinforces for us one of the most powerful truths in the Bible. When an unbeliever, dead in his sins, is made alive in Christ, something miraculous happens. We are born-again, born not of woman but of the Holy Spirit (John 1:12-13). We used to be one thing, and now we are something completely different. Paul describes it like this:

Christians are a new creation. Everything has changed, some in subtle ways and others in major ways. I wrote on Facebook: Justification is a change in your very nature, not simply a temporary change in your attitude. As I have written before, the doctrine of the new birth, of regeneration, is one of the most neglected and misunderstood of any in the Bible.

I really think if people pondered verses like 2 Corinthians 5:17, in context with the entire New Testament, it would dramatically change how they understand a lot of issues.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Why Do We Keep Subsidizing Sports?

Americans in general and conservative and/or Christians especially love sports. I mean love sports. I mean love sports in a way that sometimes seems to trump family, faith, country. That is not an exaggeration. Many people, primarily men, find a very significant parts of their own identity based on the sports teams they follow. Many people are fervent in their support of "their team" and in opposition to other teams. This includes people who follow pro sports team in places they don't live and never have lived or even visited as well as college sports at colleges they did not attend. We pour incredible amounts of time and money into following sports.

More and more it seems to me that we are seriously misplacing our loyalty to the sporting world.

Exhibit one. ESPN reports that several teams are interested in signing former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice. Ray Rice is an incredibly talented running back, a favorite of fantasy football enthusiasts. He also was caught on film clubbing his then girlfriend in an elevator, knocking her unconscious and then dragging her limp body out of the elevator. Hitting a girl is cowardly and reprehensible. To hit one in such a way and so hard that she is knocked out is something even worse, if possible. To then drag her out of the elevator to try to cover your behavior is so unacceptable that words fail when trying to describe it. TMZ reports that he is working out like a madman. Great, he will even be stronger now. Perhaps next time he attacks a woman he will kill her instead of "just" knocking her out. No one much cares though, as long as Ray runs the ball across the goal line people will scream and cheer for him. He is hardly the only or the first athlete to beat up women, he just was unlucky enough to get caught on film. Had he not, I am sure he would already have been back in uniform for some time.

Exhibit two. NFL players refusing to stand for the National Anthem. That is fine in and of itself but the reasons should concern us. One player, Colin Kaepernick, says he won't stand until we see real change in how blacks are treated. No one knows, least of all Colin, what that means or when it will be accomplished but his faux nobility is shown to be a sham when he wears socks depicting police officers as pigs, which brings to mind the "Black Lives Matter" protesters chanting for pigs in a blanket and other slogans wishing death on police officers. Another NFL player stood with a raised fist in what appeared to be a sign reminiscent of the black power movement. These are people who make millions of dollars, lots coming from white fans, to play kids games and they cry about oppression of black people. I wonder how much of their salary goes to directly helping black people or do they think that buying a seventh car is "fighting the man"?

Exhibit three. The NCAA has decided to pull out men's basketball tournament games out of North Carolina because North Carolina thinks men shouldn't be allowed in women's restroom and locker facilities.

The NCAA said it will relocate the men's basketball first- and second-round games that were scheduled for March 17 and 19 in Greensboro.

In addition they are pulling out some other random stuff like women's championships in golf, soccer and lacrosse. Now no one cares about women's soccer or golf or lacrosse championships except for the girls playing and their families. but the NCAA men's basketball tourney is a huge event, a lucrative event for the host city. The message from the NCAA is clear. Accept whatever deviant behavior we demand you acquiesce to or suffer financial consequences, like the threat of withholding school funding from schools that don't let male students into female student private facilities. It is extortion pure and simple but a lot of people will go along because sports are just that important.

Exhibit four is more generic but when you watch sports, especially at the pro level, it seems a lot of athletes are more concerned with preening and strutting about than playing the game. Guys who make a relatively routine tackle jumping up and down like they won the Super Bowl, intricate end zone dances, ornate "handshakes" after home runs. Sports exalts and encourages self-glorification that we would find repulsive in a different setting.

All of this stuff has happened recently but at the same time stuff like this has been going on for years, In these more recent years it is obvious that sports is becoming like the rest of the entertainment world and turning into a change agent to warp the minds of fans. We have seen rampant cheating in college and the pros, players in college getting paid under the table, players in the pros using steroids from baseball to cycling. The games are not about fair play and competition, they are about the money and the money we are talking is huge. As long as "we" win and "they" lose, we are usually willing to turn a blind eye to grossly immoral behavior. Win at all costs is about as counter-Gospel an attitude as one can have.

So the question is, why are people who ostensibly hold very different values from what is on display in the sporting world, especially the higher you go from high school to college to the pros, suddenly willing to turn a blind eye when it comes to their favorite sports team and players? It is a clear double-standard and it is one that saps a lot of effort and energy away from worthwhile activities and onto worthless activities that simultaneously work at odds with what we claim to believe. I used to follow sports religiously (pun intended) but as the last few years have gone by it has become less and less interesting to me. It is now to the point that I am not really even casually checking scores for teams I used to support.

As I thought about this I came to see that organized sports is a lot like organized religion. Both are money driven, inordinately concerned with self-perpetuation, sources of tribalism where Yankees-Red Sox is replaced with Protestants-Roman Catholics, and dominated by larger than life personalities. The larger the organized sporting institution the worse it becomes, just like in religion.  It turns out a lot of the same things I dislike about organized religion apply to organized sports.

Ultimately the time and effort and emotion and money we invest in sports is wasted and now more than ever it is politicized in a way that I actively oppose. It is high time that Americans and especially my fellow Christians start to look deeper into our obsessions with sports and ask why it is we subsidize something that is so contrary to our own values.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Ultimate Cause Of 9/11

It is easy to get caught up in the geo-political reasons and responses surrounding September 11th and forget the ultimate cause of 9/11, the Holocaust, the Soviet purges, the Killing Fields and every single time man kills man, from Cain and Abel to World War II to the streets of Chicago. The reason is the same, always. Man is dead in his sins until and unless acted upon by the Holy Spirit. People don't kill each other or steal or rape or beat one another because they don't have enough job training programs. They do all of this because it is their unregenerate nature to do so and not only that but they love the darkness. People don't hate Jesus because His followers are sometimes/often jerks, they hate Him because He is the light of the world and he exposes their works as evil. Men love evil and love to hide their evil in darkness as if they can hide from God but they cannot. The light of Jesus exposes all of their evil.

We can never overcome evil by the sword. Evil can only be overcome by the life transforming Gospel of Jesus Christ, one lost soul at a time.

Fifteen Years Seems Like An Eternity

This morning the skies above my home are a piercing, cloudless blue, so blue it is almost painful to look at. The temperature is perfect and the forecast is for a perfect day.

This morning looks like that same morning 15 years ago. I am watching the news from that day on Youtube leading up to the planes hitting the buildings and everything is light and fun on the news. It was just that kind of a day. I went to work at my office for Fidelity Investments anticipating a typical boring day. It wan't long when things started to go haywire. The first reports came out. The internet kept crashing and pages like went down so we didn't know what was going on. I got on the phone with my wife at home who was watching he news live and reporting what was going on. Most of my co-worker's spouses were also at work so I had one of the few contacts that could see what was going on. My wife and I were talking when the second plane hit. I knew something was wrong, really wrong and that this couldn't be just a terrible accident. I remember getting more and more agitated because at first we didn't know what was happening but then we sort of started to realize that this was a serious attack. The rumors started immediately and I remember a co-worker who was kind of a liberal of sort going on and on about not assuming they were Islamic terrorists. It turns out of course that they were. I don't remember when it happened but I went from agitation to white hot anger, an anger made all the worse by the complete impotence I felt in an office building in northern Kentucky. It must have been like this on December 7, 1941 when the attacks were reported a world away and I am sure people knew that day that something changed.

As the images and footage came out we began to realize just how bad it was. People below the impacts rushing out of the buildings while firefighters and cops rushed in. People looking out of windows waiting for rescuers that never made it. Then some people ended up jumping like the infamous "falling man" photo. I don't remember seeing a lot of these photos until much later. It was already too horrible to see the burning and then collapsing towers on TV over and over. I don't think we could have handled seeing pictures like the one above. At some point we began to look at each other and realize that a lot of planes were still in the air and we were in buildings with thousands of workers and that maybe we should get out of there. We ended up leaving early and I still remember a friend that I worked with joking about going to play 18 holes because the course would be pretty much empty and I still want to punch him in the mouth 15 years later. I went home to my family and was glued to the TV and internet.

Those first few days were incredible in so many ways. When I went back to work I drove up I-75 to get there and the sky always was full of planes taking off and landing at the Cincinnati airport but the skies remained empty for days. When the first places did get back in the air I remember seeing them with fear. I remember those early days mostly in iconic photos and events. President Bush being alerted at the elementary school, his speech ate the National Cathedral. The first foray into Afghanistan to put the terrorists on notice that we were coming. For me the brief comments President Bush made at the site of the collapsed towers were his finest moment, his "Day Of Infamy" moment.

That moment still, all of these years later, brings tears to my eyes. We knew that someone had taken a shot at us and scored a major hit. Thousands were dead. We thought a new era of terrorism was upon us. But most of all we wanted vengeance. We would clear the rubble, bury our dead and rebuild but something else had to happen. Those people we saw later cheering and celebrating the successful attacks needed to be dealt with, and dealt with violently, and America was pretty universal in the opinion. To my deep shame I would say that in those early days if someone has proposed bombing the entire Muslim world into a parking lot I would not have objected. Looking back through our history I understand why America felt virtually no qualms about targeting civilian centers in Germany and Japan during World War II. They started the war, we were going to finish it and even the women and children were guilty by association. The same with 9/11, if we killed some non-combatants, so be it. It is an ugly memory of myself in my own mind.

It wasn't very long after that day that I started to look at options for entering the military even though we had five kids and I had a career making good money. I cam awfully close to entering, even to the point of getting the required physical at the recruitment center. I didn't go to office candidate school and I am glad now that I didn't (for the most part).

15 years ago on 9/11/01 my oldest child was 8. My kids, three of whom are now adults, grew up with the reality of 9/11. So much of our life as a people has been impacted by this event. One third of my life has been post 9/11 and everything from air travel to endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has been changed.

Looking back now at the events that followed 9/11 brings a different kind of anger. I see a lot of people who, like Rahm Emmanuel would say later, didn't want to let a good crisis go to waste. The grossly misnamed "Patriot Act", the loss of civil liberties, the excuses to invade Iraq, the thousands of dead and maimed Americans and far more civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan. Our response to 9/11 was understandable at the time but almost indefensible now.

This morning as I reminisce and bring those painful memories back to the surface I realize how raw those emotions still are. I still am not sure what the terrorists hoped to achieve that day but neither they nor us could have anticipated what we have now, the utter disaster that is the Middle East from Iraq to Syria to Yemen. All of those intervening years with almost no terrorist activity in the West and suddenly we have terror attacks from San Bernadino to Orlando to Paris. We live in a world shaped by 9/11.

Never forget. Never forget that day and those who died. Never forget how quickly men sought to use this tragedy to their advantage. Never forget that it is always foolhardy to respond without thinking. My prayers today are with the families who have had to deal with the death of loved ones for a decade and a half. My God grant them the peace that can only come from His Son.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

What Is It About The 80's?

If you pay attention to pop culture at all and don't live under a rock you couldn't miss the buzz around the new original Netflix series Stranger Things. Everyone seems to have watched it and just about everyone loves it. We sure did. It was fun and a little scary as it always is (or should be) when kids are in peril. It was also super nostalgic for my wife and I. Matthew Modine who I always associate with Vision Quest from my high school wrestling days (it was required watching for wrestlers, my friend Ted and I could and did recite the entire movie from memory) and Winona Ryder (who is actually about two months older than me) who was in Beetlejuice back in 1988, are the adult stars who hearken back to the 1980's, stars kids of the 80's know but probably not so much for kids who grew up later.

So what is it about the 80's? Is it just that people my age who grew up in the 80's are in our 40's and starting to shape pop culture more? Maybe but I think there is more to it. The 80's were sort of a transitional time in America from the old America of post-World War II affluence and innocence to the hectic, information overloaded, cynical days we live in now.

The 80's were the last days before the tawdry administration of Bill Clinton, and were an era of redemption for the American brand and the American dream. After Vietnam, the assassinations of the Kennedy's and Martin Luther King, the economic train-wreck that was the Carter administration and the impotent shame of the Iran hostage crisis America needed a pick-me-up and we found it. President Reagan for all of his faults was an incredible upgrade and contrast to the Carter, Ford and Nixon administrations. I just remember feeling good about America back then, optimistic for our future unlike today where I am pretty much pessimistic on every level.

Kids in those days were like the kids in Stranger Things (minus the monster and super powered girl). We rode bikes, we only had one phone so it was easier to hang out in person than try to connect on the phone. Our parents didn't hover over us and we actually had free time where we could play outside or be with friends as we got older instead of having lives crammed full of activities, homework and the ever-present need to constantly check for texts, tweets, updates to Facebook, etc. We could joke around in ways that are unimaginable today and while some of it was mean and some downright awful I would trade the false sanitary political correctness of today for the 80's any day of the week. I was an early player of Dungeons & Dragons and still have all of my old stuff, from my first edition Dungeon Master's Guide all the way down to old character sheets written out in my childish handwriting (my handwriting now is still childish but also incredibly masculine) and that game plays a central role in Stranger Things.

People are usually nostalgic for days gone by but that is typically tempered with a hopeful view to the future. For my generation the feeling seems to be that we have gone too far and now we can't get back. We woke up one day and our country was gone. Just try to imagine this generation of America coming together for something like World War II. It is laughable. Little wonder that the 80's are seen with such sad fondness. That country is gone and is never coming back. All we have left now are 80's stations playing Duran Duran and shows playing to our nostalgia like Stranger Things. I for one can't wait for season 2 because the real world around us is pretty depressing.

Sunday, September 04, 2016

When The Saints Go Marching In: A Prime Example Of The Difference Between Biblical Christianity And The Religion Of Man

Jorge Bergoglio, who styles himself "Pope Francis", today declared that an Albanian woman named Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu, who was usually called "Mother Teresa", was now a saint. This completes a long and convoluted process. It also causes a great deal of confusion in our muddled theological world. We are often told that Ms. Bojaxhiu is a exemplar of Christian behavior but what are we to think about her canonization and ascension to Roman sainthood?

There are many who are probably irritated and even angry that these questions are being asked. Can't we just appreciate the work she did and let the poor woman rest in peace? If it were simply a matter of reflecting on her life of service I would agree. When it comes to the Roman process of sainthood however, I think it bears examination because so many people seem very confused by what this means in the same way many evangelicals are confused by the papacy. As I wrote in my post Da pope ain't my papa, a post that generated more comments than any other post in a long while, I think it is important for Christians to be crystal clear about what the church of Rome teaches, especially in a day and age of compromise, and contrast that with what the Bible teaches. We are living in the end days of American Christendom and many Christians are looking for any allies we can find, whether Roman Catholic or Mormon or Donald Trump, anyone and everyone that can help preserve our political influence and worldly power. I have no use for those who will jettison the Gospel that so many Reformers, Magisterial and Radical alike, lost their lives in defense of. The blood of the martyrs cries out from the halls of history and I don't think they would be impressed with our newly discovered ecumenical pragmatism.

CNN put together a nice infographic on the Roman process of sainthood (culminating in often dubious claims of miracles) in a piece 'Troubled Individual' Mother Teresa no saint to her critics.

It is actually much more complex than that but this serves my purpose.

What does the Bible teach about becoming a saint? The Bible uses the term "saint" or "saints" on many occasion in both Old and New Testament. It is critical to note that no one is ever called "Saint" as a title. The church did not call them "Saint Peter" or "Saint Paul" or "Saint John". Paul often referred to himself as "Paul, an apostle" but never as "I, Saint Paul". In the Scriptures all born-again believers are saints. I put together my own infographic to show the Biblical process of sainthood:

A lot simpler, no? Also note that becoming a saint doesn't require the permission or approval of any man or man-made organization. I have made this point before but it bears repeating. When men create barriers between you and God they are doing so because it gives them control over you. The church of Rome has been the master of this for centuries. Often the struggle to maintain this control has resulted in torture and death for Christians who refused to bow the knee to the "throne of Saint Peter".

I like how Tim Challies puts it in his post What Does It Take To Be Made a Saint?. Tim writes:

But perhaps we can at least say this: We are saints who have no need of saints. All who have believed in the gospel of grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone have already been declared saints by God (see Romans 1:1-7, 1 Corinthians 1:1-3, 2 Corinthians 1:1-2, and Ephesians 2:19-21). We are God’s holy people, called by him and to him. Jesus Christ is the full and final mediator between God and men (1 Timothy 2:5) who invites us to confidently approach the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16) believing that his Spirit is already interceding on our behalf (Romans 8:26-27). We are the saints of God who have no need for the intercession of saints who have gone before.

We are saints who have no need of saints. I love that because it is what the Bible teaches us. There is one Mediator between man and God, Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5). We need no other mediator like a saint or a pope or any other human being who presumes to stand between God and His people. Ms. Bojaxhiu may or may not be in glory with the Lord today. I don't know if she is and neither do you. I do know that her status has nothing to do with whether or not a man-made organization with a history of violence and heresy says she is a saint or not.

None of this should be seen as diminishing or denigrating what Ms. Bojaxhiu spent her life doing. I freely recognize that in her own admittedly imperfect way she spent her life trying to care for the very poorest among us and my own paltry efforts are laughable in contrast. What it should be seen as is a caution for Christians to not be so eager to gloss over historical differences that men and women died to defend and the critical importance of what the Bible teaches and just as importantly what it does not.

Teresa of Calcutta sainthood protestant evangelical mother teresa roman catholic canonization beatification 

Saturday, September 03, 2016

The End Of An Era

I did something yesterday that marked a major change for me. It may seem like a small thing but it isn't to me. Ever since the early 1990's when I was a college student majoring in political science, I have always had the first button on my car radio set to the local NPR station. Keep in mind this started before satellite radio and the infinite choices for news on the internet. It was also when Rush Limbaugh was first hitting the scene but only on AM.

Now I grew up in a conservative household and a politically aware household. I knew early on that NPR was "left leaning" but I still listened with my liberal nonsense BS filter running in the background. Their stories were thoughtful for the most part, well researched for the most part and often covered topics that would otherwise not have been addressed on a news source. Sure you had to dig through some liberal nonsense but it was usually worthwhile.

Progressively (see what I did there?) NPR has become less and less listenable. I joke that you could make a pretty good drinking game by taking a shot every time an NPR story talked about "climate change", something about homosexuality or "Black Lives Matter". It started out as a joke but became really unfunny. It may seem like splitting hairs but there is a difference between news with a liberal slant and liberal opinion pieces barley disguised as news. Due to the nature of our work we own several vehicles and every one of them had NPR in the number 1 position.

That changed at the end of the week. I had actually rarely had NPR anyway but I turned over to see what was happening and I landed in a news story about the sexual harassment allegations at Fox News. I have paid no attention to that story because it is pretty obvious that Fox hires women to be on air who look good in skimpy outfits, it is marketing no different from any other. CNN hires boring liberals, MSNBC hires ugly liberals (but it doesn't matter because no one watches MSNBC anyway) and Fox hires eye candy who are willing to say conservative-ish stuff on air. Whatever. Anyway whoever they had on air was rambling about power structures or some other nonsense and I turned it off about as soon as it came on. I have heard that stuff before, it wasn't compelling then and it isn't compelling now. I then switched over to the local classic rock station and held the number 1 button down until it was set.

I am sure NPR doesn't care if I listen but it sort of bummed me out. While we have almost infinitely more sources of news and (more often) opinion, we don't have any sort of connection to each other. We are so Balkanized as a people that it really feels as if we are a bunch of little nations pretending to be one nation. I am just as guilty as anyone else on this, I read political stuff that confirms what I think, I read theological stuff that is well written but rarely tells me anything new

It is just a button. I get that. It just kinda made me sad, sad for our nation.It seems like we have more information than ever before and less knowledge. I don't pine for the days of NBC/CBS/ABC giving us nothing but carefully crafted and monolithic liberal garbage.  I just miss decent arguments and discussion.