Thinking Out Loud

September 2, 2017

Why the Need to Make a Statement?

Despite the presence of other things which should have been competing for our attention, the top religious news story of the week was something called The Nashville Statement, in which, under the umbrella of the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, a group first organized 30 years ago, in 1987. Its first major manifesto was released four years later, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism by Crossway Publishing. The group’s tag line is “A coalition for Biblical sexuality.” Coalition. Crossway Publishing. I think you’re getting the picture. 

Signatories to the document include MacArthur, Piper, Grudem, Mahaney, Carson, Moore, Mohler, Duncan, DeYoung, Chandler, etc.,; a case of rounding up the usual suspects so familiar that first names aren’t needed here; albeit with Charismatic Stephen Strang expected to single-handedly provide some balance.

One of the two best articles I’ve read on this to date is from Jonathan Martin. He writes,

With the 4th largest city in America underwater, in the midst of a daily assault on basic civil rights from the President of the United States, a group of largely white—to be more specific, white male evangelical (to be uncomfortably specific, largely white male Reformed/white male Baptist) leaders tried to change the subject to genitalia.  Framers of the Nashville Statement have clarified that the date of its release was set many months ago, which makes the decision to move forward with it given the timing only more disconcerting. I would contend that it is not newsworthy that conservative evangelicals in the mold of John Piper and John MacArthur still hold a traditional view of marriage, only the disastrous timing of the statement that has given the story traction in the news cycle.  That is to say, the calloused timing of the statement generates far more heat than the theological convictions, which are not in themselves new or newsworthy at all.

The other article which brings perspective to this is from Zack Hunt.

It goes without saying that the signers of the Nashville Statement see themselves as taking a stand for truth in an age they see increasingly defined by opposition to both Christianity and the Bible. They created a document they believe is grounded in the truth of the Bible, a truth the rest of the world no longer wants to hear, let alone obey. And if they face harsh criticism for doing so, even by other Christians? So be it. In the world things like the Nashville Statement are created, condemnation and criticism are spun as religious persecution and that persecution is a sign they are standing for God’s truth. It is most definitely not a red flag signaling the need for further introspection.

He then compares it something he’d seen before:

…what I’ve called the Richmond Statement appeared in the Richmond Enquirer way back in 1821 and while its subject matter was not LGBT inclusion, the tone, intent, foundation, reasoning, and form are essentially the same as the Nashville Statement. In fact, the authors of the Nashville Statement could have simply switched out the last word of the Richmond Statement for something like “condemning homosexuality” and saved themselves a lot of time.

Do take time to click the link. The similarities — it’s now 156 years later — are astounding.

But why do we need a statement at all?

Doesn’t the world at large know where conservative Christians stand on these issues?

And why do people of a certain type of doctrinal tribe feel that writing and publishing and blogging and issuing statements and having conventions is the solution to everything. They’ll know we are Christians by our words. I’ve written about this before.

I keep going back to the joke,

“Why are there no Salvation Army bloggers?”
“Because while everybody else is writing about it, they’re out there doing it.”

What does action look like in the case of gender roles? I believe it looks like coming alongside people and gently guiding them closer to Jesus. Definitely not offending them and making them run away. Certainly not doing the things that produce this type of response.

Jonathan Martin continues,

Many people feel conflicting impulses, wanting to embrace LGBTQ sons and daughters who have been wounded by the church—lives already subject to so much hardship, including the suicide rate among LGBTQ youth, which surely qualifies as a pastoral emergency—and yet struggle with how to work all of this out theologically, in a way that would be faithful to their understanding of Scripture. At the risk of offense to both my affirming and non-affirming friends that I call brothers and sisters in the body of Christ, I want to suggest that public dispute over this internal matter of Christian discipleship—as important and weighty as it is—could keep conservative and progressive Christians from having a unified public witness around that which we ought to be able to agree, right now. I am not minimizing the stakes of this conversation, nor the real lives who are threatened by it.

And then there is the damage to Evangelicalism that the 2016 US election, and now this Nashville Statement brings. This is the quotation that was posted on Twitter which drew me to Martin’s article:

The “average” Christian in the world today is a 22-year old black or brown female.  She has not been to a Passion conference; she has not read Desiring God or Christianity Today, she has not read your blog, nor mine.   People like me are merrily moving chairs around the Titanic, while the entire hijacked project of American evangelicalism comes to a merciful end.  We debate each other on Facebook with competing C.S. Lewis quotes, listen to Coldplay, drink lattes, and some of us feel liberated enough to have a drink and smoke a cigar while raising a toast to “the good old days.” Whether you think it is providence or natural selection, the world has moved on. The Holy Spirit, I would contend, has moved on.

 

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July 16, 2017

We’re Back from Europe

We are back from eleven days in Europe

In the early days of my reading faith-focused blogs — approximately 2005 to 2009 — I was often disappointed to turn to some of my favorite writers only to learn they had taken the day to talk about their latest vacation. This occurred at a time when even an out-of-state (or province in our case) trip would have been impossible. Over the years there have been four significant factors preventing us from going anywhere. In order:

  • Raising children, including one who would have been considered special needs at the time.
  • My health; though we did take some road trips.
  • Economics, especially in the sense of affording air travel.
  • My parents health which perhaps wasn’t always as much a barrier as we thought, but certainly did require us to be in daily contact, which would have complicated an overseas holiday.

So when the opportunity to catch up arose, we selected a package which took us to Hungary, Austria, Germany and the Czech Republic. We also passed through Slovakia which I later got to visit more closely while Ruth took a different side trip.

I knew nothing of these countries prior to leaving and did not have time to do much research. I probably could have pointed to Germany on a map and said something about wiener schnitzel, polka music and beer. (For the record, I don’t remember hearing an accordion and my beer consumption consisted of splitting one with my wife on the last day of the trip.)

As familiar as sightseeing destinations are in Paris and England and Rome, the recent terrorist activity in the first two doesn’t lend itself to worry-free touring. (I’ll grant that Germany has not escaped such events.) So we chose this particular set of countries. They were different. They were unknown. They were a nine-hour flight away.

The trip was certainly eye-opening. As I sit typing this at 5:45 in the morning — my body confused by the six hour time difference — I am reminded particularly of our reaction the first day to the historical sections of Budapest on our first full day, and our first glimpse of the old town of Prague last Wednesday. It was surreal.

We were there. It wasn’t a movie set. We saw it. We felt the bricks. We walked on the cobblestones. We pinched ourselves a few times to make sure it wasn’t a dream.

In North America, generally speaking nothing old is older than the late 1700s. Our old buildings are mostly mid-to-late 1800s. In Europe, tour guides speak of a structure saying, “this was erected in the year 921” as casually as they are reminding you not to leave personal belongings on the bus. “…And the one on the left was built in the 1100s.”

Europe is also all about cathedrals. Our last tour director — the trip was in two stages — told us that many travelers reach a the ABC stage, meaning “Another bloody castle.” But they might also say, “Another bloody cathedral.” You know your brain is saturated when, knowing the ornateness and beauty that awaits inside, you pass by because you are simply cathedraled-out.

But it does offer the opportunity to consider a number of faith-focused things. Tomorrow we’ll look at the emergence of a new group of conservative Christians in Germany, and then move on to look at

  • The very not-seeker-sensitive synagogue district in Prague
  • Resenting the church’s wealth
  • Church funding in Germany
  • Meeting people who grew up Godless

and other topics as I think of them and go through our pictures.

So that’s the line-up for this week, plus hopefully a return of the link list on Wednesday.

If you don’t want to hear about someone’s holiday excursion when having one of your own seems remote right now, please understand I totally get that.



The Eugene Peterson Thing

On the last few days of our trip an interview Religion News’ Jonathan Merritt did with Eugene Peterson blew up into a major tempest and then within 24 hours, as quickly as it had begun, the gale subsided. We’ll obviously be focused on other things this week, but here’s a 7:00 AM Sunday morning update from Religion News in case you missed it:

  • Jonathan Merritt’s column was actually the third in a series of Q&As with the author. | Read the story
  • Merritt’s question to Peterson was by no means unfounded, especially given what he said in this 2014 video. | Read the story
  • Our summer intern Madeleine Buckley looked at other prominent Christians who’ve had a change of heart on LGBT issues. | Read the story
  • Commentator Jacob Lupfer says the controversy shows that Peterson is exactly where most non-mainline Christians are — “confused, conflicted, and torn between fidelity to beliefs … and compassion for people they know and love.” | Read the story

Note: I thought what Peterson said about engaging in hypotheticals in interviews like this was brilliant; it’s hard for a pastor to answer a question which begins if there was a gay couple and if they were Christians and if they asked you to marry them…

May 28, 2016

Theology in Story

Clear Winter NightsRather unexpectedly yesterday, I found myself devouring all 160 pages of a 2013 novel by Trevin Wax Clear Winter Nights: A Journey Into Truth, Doubt and What Comes After (Multnomah). What attracted me to the book, besides some familiarity with the author’s many years of blogging, was the concept of using a story to teach.

As a huge fan of three novels by David Gregory which use this format — Dinner with a Perfect Stranger, Day with a Perfect Stranger and Night With a Perfect Stranger — I see the value in a genre for people who would never pick up a more commonplace ‘Christian Living’ title, let alone a book on basic theology. This is a book which has a storyline, but at the same time is using the plot at the front door to allow a lot of truth to enter through the back door.

Two words come to mind here, the first is didactic. The storyteller is truly the teacher. But the second, better word is the very similar dialectic, using a conversational style to impart knowledge, as did writers like Plato. This can also be called Socratic dialog or the Socratic method.

The banter is between two central characters, Chris Walker a disillusioned church planter whose job promise and engagement have both been broken; and Gil his grandfather, a retired pastor. You could call this Weekend with a Perfect… oh, never mind; that doesn’t work here; it’s a different dynamic.

Without giving away too much, I couldn’t get over how many of the topics Chris and Gil cover resonated with me. The book isn’t afraid to tackle some tough issues facing the church collectively and individual Christians, yet does so with tact, humor and grace. The key characters being male also makes this an ideal gift for men, something that is rarity in the world of Christian fiction, though I still prefer the dialectic label to override the fictional nature of the story.

While Trevin Wax and I are from vastly different tribes — he writes for The Gospel Coalition and works for LifeWay — I didn’t allow that to influence my reading and it doesn’t stop me from giving this book my full recommendation. In fact, a couple of times my eyes watered as the conversation unfolded. Clear Winter Nights works on many different levels.


Another author who writes in this genre is Andy Andrews. We reviewed The Traveler’s Gift and The Noticer.

Another fiction title that used the dialectic method was Chasing Francis by Ian Morgan Cron.

My review of Dinner With A Perfect Stranger by David Gregory was more of an explanation of the DVD series which came from the first two books. He did the first two books with Waterbrook, part of the same publishing group as the title by Trevin Wax we’re reviewing today; but the third was published by EMI Worthy, who wouldn’t send a review copy, so I did the write up of Night With a Perfect Stranger in bullet points.

Apologies to UK, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand readers for spelling dialogue the American way. I know. What are we going to do?

March 19, 2016

Jesus For President (It’s better than some of the current options)

While I’ve re-run many articles over the course of the blog, book reviews have not been among them. Book mentions are usually unique to a particular time and place and only relevant while the book is new. The attention of reviewers and readers alike then moves on to whatever is next.

But I was drawn to this short review because the book is enjoying a bit of a renaissance in this an election year; not to mention the release of a 10th anniversary edition of the author’s first book The Irresistible Revolution. So grab some cooking grease to power the bus engine as we head out on the road once again…

“Growing up we were taught to sing the exciting songs of Noah and Abraham and little David and Goliath. But we were never taught songs about debt cancellation, land reforms, food redistribution and slave amnesty. We don’t know if it was just hard to come up with words that rhyme with “debt cancellation” or if folks were hesitant about venturing into the ancient (and sometimes boring) world of Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy… Whatever the case, these books are where some of God’s most creative and exciting ideas come alive.”

Jesus for President pp 57-58

About fifty years ago elementary school students had something called ‘readers’ which contained base materials for a variety of subjects. Each page brought some new adventure, they were the equivalent of a variety show for students with poems, psalms, pictures, maps, science articles, biographical stories and fiction. Basically, everything in it but the kitchen sink.

I’ve just finished reading Jesus for President by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw. Like Shane’s previous book, The Irresistible Revolution, this book has everything but the kitchen sink, too. 

This book begins with an overview of the early Jewish history as recorded in the Pentateuch. There is also a great deal of focus on Constantine’s influence on the Church in the 300s. Constantine, a hero to some for his legitimization of Christianity, isn’t doing well on review these days. (See Greg Boyd’s The Myth of an American Nation for more of this, or listen online to some of Bruxy Cavey’s teaching at The Meeting House in Oakville, ON www.themeetinghouse.ca or check the blogsphere for reviews of The Politics of Jesus by John Howard Yoder. etc.)

But kitchen sink style, Claiborne and Haw then move on to practical ways that the Church can make a difference especially in terms of the environment, the economy and creating equity. They don’t stop at stamping out poverty. They want to stamp out affluence, too. In some respects, they could have got two very different books out of this, but their understanding of Israel’s history, their interpretation of Christ’s teaching, their take on the first few hundred years of Christianity; all these provide context for where they see the church today. In other words, first you get their motivation, then you get their methodology.

Like the school readers of old, you’re left with a primer on social action, with every page yielding something new. (And the visual dynamics of each page help, too.) And not one paragraph, not even one sentence in the book is theoretical. It’s about living all this out on a daily basis. 


Keep up with Shane and partner-in-crime Tony Campolo at RedLetterChristians.org

A year after this was review was published, I later covered the Jesus for President DVD which is still widely available. You can read that review here.

 

 

February 23, 2016

Deconstructing is Easy; Building Takes Skill and Time

Filed under: blogging, issues — Tags: , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:39 am

Blog Birthday 8

This was actually the 4th item posted when I launched the blog eight years ago, not the first, but I think it reflects what online opinion writers should strive for, especially when it is so easy to write and post critique. The comments following the poem itself were on one of the websites where we located this version of it.


Builders and Wreckers

I watched them tearing a building down,
A gang of men in a busy town.
With a ho, heave, ho and a lusty yell
They swung a beam and a wall fell.

I asked the foreman, “Are these men skilled?
Like the men you’d hire if you had to build?”
He laughed as he replied, “No, indeed,
Just common labor is all I need.

I can easily wreck in a day or two
What builders have taken years to do.”
I asked myself as I went away
Which of these roles have I tried to play?

Am I a builder who works with care,
Measuring life by rule and square?
Or am I a wrecker who walks the town
Content with the labor of tearing down?

Oh Lord, let my life and labors be
That which build for eternity.

Why do so many of us find it gratifying to be sideline cynics smothering ideas in a relentless barrage of “what ifs” and warnings? As the poem points out, it’s much easier to be a wrecker than a builder.

Of course it’s wise and necessary to challenge assumptions, test theories and predict problems, but that should be the beginning not an end. We should measure our value by the number of balloons we helped launch, not the number we deflated.

A builder sees problems as challenges and seeks solutions; a dismantler sees problems in every solution. A builder sees flaws and tries to fix them; a dismantler sees flaws in every fix.

 

December 1, 2015

God Talks to Bob, The Angel

One of the lesser-known angels, Bob works in the Issues Department that reports to the head of the Helping Them Work Out Their Salvation With Fear and Trembling Department. (They exist somewhat outside of linear time there, so departments can have long names.)


 

God: Hi Bob, I haven’t seen you for awhile.

Bob: But we exist somewhat outside of linear time, so what’s ‘awhile?’

God: You know what I mean. What have you been up to?

Bob: You’re omniscient. You know.

God: Work with me here, Bob; I’m just trying to have a conversation.

Bob: Well, things are settling down on the gay marriage file. I think people have decided where they stand and there’s less venom flying back and forth.

God: I’m not sure about that; the Mormon thing about refusing Baptism to kids of same sex couples kinda stirred up the debate a little lately.

Bob: Okay, so now that you mention them — the Mormons — are they part of our whole operation here?

God: I guess you’ll have to wait to find out… So what other files you working with?

Bob: Well there’s always issues involving just war versus pacifism, especially with the whole ISIS thing and what happened in Paris; and the Americans always have a unique take on things given the whole “right to bear arms” thing you gave them.

God: Bob, you’re doing it again. I gave them the ten commandments. You’re always mixing it up with the U.S. constitution.

Bob: Well, they seem to think the right to have guns is God given, and it divides Christians and non-Christians alike.

God: So maybe the Americans are up for something else to debate. What else ya got?

Bob: How about coffee cups.

God: Coffee cups? Seriously?

Bob: Well, red ones actually.

God: Next!

Bob: Okay, never mind. I’ve got them also wrestling with whether or not they should be taking in refugees from Syria. Again, even in the local churches, people are divided on this one.

God: That’s why it falls under your job description, Bob.

Bob: There are some really solid arguments on both sides, and until the refugees start to arrive, it’s hard to say what the whole process is going to look like. It’s really got them thinking and maybe a little worried.

God: And that’s why you’re in charge. This is a real test of how much they are thinking about what it means to follow me and know my ways and sense my heart on things like this.

Bob: But sometimes I think both sides make sense. I mean, no disrespect God, but if I were down there with them I don’t know which argument I would find more persuasive.

God: What do you think I would choose?

Bob: So there’s one clear and obvious answer? Let the refugees in? Keep the refugees out? Both are problematic.

God: I know. Your job is to make sure both sides of the debate have an opportunity to really consider what the other side is saying.

Bob: I just wish it wasn’t so complicated. There’s so much hanging in the balance for them of getting this decision right; both now and in the future.

God: What else you working on?

Bob: Well, I’ve been thinking also about something personal. I mean, I like my job and everything, but there aren’t a lot of angels named Bob and I was wondering if you had something a little more distinctive to offer…

 

 

 

November 19, 2015

Where Do We Go Post-Paris?

Filed under: Christianity, current events, issues, social justice — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:19 am

a guest post by Rick Webster*

To read this at source, click on the original title below:

Paris. Now What?

A few days ago there was a murderous rampage by members of the terrorist group ISIS on the streets of Paris. In light of such horrific events, and in their wake of the emotional trauma and fear, I’m left wondering what the Christian faith has to offer at times like these. Distance removes most of us from the victims, and takes us out of orbit to their pain. Few of the people reading this, if any, will have a role in directly comforting the victims, their families and loved ones. But you don’t need to be a Christian to comfort the afflicted. You just need to be a decent human being. So what does Christ-like faith have to offer the world at at time like this? Three thoughts come to mind:

  1. Transformative Justice. The work of the prophets is to call the nations of Israel and Judah to justice. Life in the ancient world was lived under the tremendous burdens of empire. Taxation was oppressive and political and economic systems were designed to keep the poor trapped in horrific poverty while the wealthy reaped the benefits of exploitation. There was no middle class in the ancient world; there were only the incredibly wealthy and the victims who supported their wealthy lifestyle. The Christian faith, at its core, calls for a radical reevaluation of how we live. To live with justice as per the ethos of the prophets and of Jesus Christ is to radically change the way we interact with others, bringing freedom from oppression, corruption and crushing poverty – the very conditions which radical fundamentalism needs to thrive.
  2. The Incarnation. One of the foundations  of Christian faith is the belief that Jesus is divine, and that he took on human form. Jesus being clothed in humanity is known as “The Incarnation.” The reason why our efforts in the middle east (and elsewhere) have failed so spectacularly, and continue to fail, and will continue to fail, is because we operate from the basis of empire to conquered people, and our work in the world suffers from colonialism and ethnocentrism. We operate from the perspective that if failing nation states are going be successful, they’re going to be like us, thus perpetuating the evils of our world. If we are to truly follow the way of Christ we are to become embedded in the culture of those we care about. If we are to follow the way of Christ we become a part of the social, cultural, political and economic lives of our friends. We can only effect positive change in the world, particularly in the middle east, from within the body of the ‘other’.
  3. Self-sacrificial Service. If we are to take the words of Matthew’s Gospel at face value, then we cannot help but acknowledge that Jesus “…came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Clearly, Jesus operated from a position of powerlessness, but the objective of his philosophy was to be a ransom – a rescue or redemption – for others. The Christian faith, as lived by it’s most noble practitioners, brings rescue or redemption to those enslaved, oppressed and to those denied hope. It takes a particular depth of faith to live with justice when we realize that we are the oppressor. The authentic voice of faith does not ask “How can I make you like me?” but rather, “How can I help you reach your full potential?”

I’m not naive enough to realize that we can live in a world without armies, and that our history will not continue to be blood-soaked and violent. But the Christian faith, contrary to popular belief and popular practice, is a radical, revolutionary call to live with justice and mercy, and offers the world compassion, redemption and hope. What Christian faith offers the world is the hope that this world, here and now, can be a better place and a vision for how we might get there.


*Rick Webster is the pastor of Third Space Church in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada and the author of Introducing Jesus: A Heart to Heart Encounter with the Most Influential Person in History.

 

May 23, 2015

Do We Have a Right to Happiness? — Part Two of Two

You need to click back to yesterday for part one, but knowing a few of you won’t, I’ve begun by repeating the introduction. Thanks again to Martin and Nancy for allowing us to run this. To read the whole thing at their blog, Flagrant Regard, or leave them a direct comment, click the title below.


C.S. Lewis For The 21st Century (2)

Have you ever, on the recommendation of a teacher, book-review website, or a friend, began to read an old book – a classic – only to discover a few pages in, “I just can’t get into this … the language is so archaic!”

Nancy and I thought it would be a challenging exercise to modernize one of our favourite essays from C.S. Lewis found in his compilation of short works, entitled ‘God In The Dock’.

The essay we chose was “We Have No Right To Happiness”. I set out to rework the article in a way that I thought would align closely with C.S. Lewis’ original style, but with a modern spin via sentence structure and word choices.

Nancy read my modernized version and felt that she too could bring some 21st century life to the piece by structuring it more like a blog post.

Below represents each of our individual attempts to present the powerful, highly prophetic message penned by Mr. Lewis that examines humankind’s pathetic attempts to justify that which is unjustifiable – that we have the supposed ‘right’ to be happy in this world.

Please feel free to provide feedback with respect to our efforts to modernize the essay and, more importantly, share with us your reflections on C.S. Lewis’ thoughts re the society-eroding, self-entitlement posturing that so many among us now eat, breathe and sleep in this present day.


We Have No “Right to Happiness” by C.S. Lewis
Adapted from the article of the same name by Nancy Douglas of Flagrant Regard

“Well, I just think everyone has a right to do what makes them happy …”

So said my girlfriend the other day when we were chatting over lattes. Luke had divorced Laura to be with Michelle who had likewise divorced her husband to be with Luke. They were hopelessly, madly, in love and, barring unforeseen health or employment issues, they were set for life in the happiness department. My friend continued giving her opinion that it was abundantly clear that neither Luke nor Michelle had been happy in their marriages. It didn’t matter that they were in love with their exes at the outset – because life happens, time passes, and looks get lost by the wayside. Things had changed.

There are any number of reasons why marriages fail and people get kicked to the curb but it does always seem to be an outworking of someone in the relationship deciding that they have the right to do what makes them happy.

Sadly, Laura committed suicide some months after her marriage dissolved. Of course, Luke was distraught but never showed regret that he had left the marriage. He always maintained they had grown apart and were floundering in the proverbial loveless marriage. When Luke had serendipitously met Michelle, she was like no one he had ever met before and leaving his marriage was, as he saw it, his only chance – his last chance – at real happiness.

I began to think about the idea of having the ‘right’ to be happy.

We live in a world where our happiness and, conversely, our misfortune is often predicated on circumstances beyond our control. That being the case, it seems that to expect – to have a ‘right’ – to be happy doesn’t seem like something that can or should be depended on; any more than we can expect or depend on perfect weather every Saturday in June so that all brides will be smiling. You pick your date, send out your invites, and take your chances.

I believe we can have ‘rights’ as far as what is legislated and guaranteed by the laws of the society we live in. For example, we have the ‘right’ to basic education because, here in Canada, we are given that privilege through taxation and public policy. That is why it is called ‘public’ education.

I can also understand a ‘right’ as it relates to a contractual obligation. If someone hires me to design a logo for them and I design it and charge them $100, then I have the ‘right’ to expect to be paid $100 for my work.

Back to my friend’s statement – “Well, I just think everyone has a right to do what makes them happy …”

What my friend was not saying was that, however you need to find happiness, whatever you need to do to be happy, is not to be held up for criticism or judgement beyond a bit of neighborhood gossip – because nobody knows the ‘whole story’.

The American Declaration of Independence laid down at the outset that one of the basic rights of any American citizen is the right to ‘the pursuit of happiness’. That did not mean that people should be entitled to pursue happiness outside of the law (i.e., through murder, rape, robbery, etc.) – but by lawful means. But this is too broad-based for what my friend meant. My friend is not philosophically deep. She watches The Bachelor and thinks the Tea Party is the party at Witzend in Alice in Wonderland. What she simply and solely mused was that people have the right to be happy when it comes to sex. Her view has been ‘trending’ for some time now and you have to look no further than the plethora of partnering change-ups in Hollywood at large.

There is no room for a counterpoint in today’s society. But, if you could get a word in, the counterpoint would be that, happiness aside, Luke’s leaving Lisa for Michelle was done in direct contravention of their marriage vow. That overarching solemn promise made up of subsets of conditions wherein two people promise that they will never leave each other – no matter what. This promissory social contract is sealed either in a civil ceremony or before God and, in both cases, before witnesses. Happiness is not even figured in to the marriage vow which is one of duty of care for the other – again, no matter what.

Today, our sexual impulses and proclivities have been put on a pedestal of preposterous privilege. And where sexual ‘happiness’ is not the order of the day, heinous acts have occurred. When lack of sexual happiness has been the motive behind murderous and unjust actions, the headlines have still – even in this day and age of post-modernism – spoken loudly and clearly in defense of the innocent. We don’t have to look past Susan Smith and the drowning of her two young sons so that she could pursue a relationship with a local wealthy man to find where the utilitarian doctrine of the ends justifying the means is so egregiously lopsided in favor of the means.

The problem with sex is that it makes more towering promises than any other emotion. All our desires make promises – that new car, that new house, that new job, that next You Tube video with over a million views – but none more so than the promise of sex. To be in love involves the irrational yet irresistible conviction that it will last forever and that our beloved will supply us with deep-rooted, passionate, lifelong sexual happiness. Everything is at stake. If we miss the chance to be in love or, as we are speaking of here, to get back in love, life will not have been worth living. Anything in the way has got to go – and fast. So thought Luke and Michelle. So thought Susan Smith.

But, if we establish a ‘right to (sexual) happiness’ which supersedes all the ordinary rules of behavior, we are chasing after the wind because the object of our behavior (erotic passion) is illusory and wishful. In the movie, The Life of David Gale, in a soliloquy on happiness, the main character portrayed by Kevin Spacey warned, “Be careful what you wish for. Not because you get it, but because you’re doomed not to want it once you do. Living by wants will never make you happy.”

As time permits, those experienced at long-term relationships know that erotic passion can sometimes last a good long time but that it will most certainly wane. For those relationships that continue long after erotic passion has waned, it is not because of the promises made at the outset. It is because the two people have found true love and contentment outside of the sex act, and have otherwise strived to make their relationship both mutually beneficial and sustainable.

In a few years, it is likely that Luke will leave Michelle to fulfill another last chance at sexual happiness. Or she him. And, again, my friend will say that she believes they have a right to be happy. That is, if her husband, Chris, doesn’t decide in the meantime that he has a right to be happy with that bubbly new hire in the Corporate Marketing Department. That could change her perspective.

For the here and now, the ‘right to happiness’ is predominantly the dominion of the sexual impulse. But, what if this ‘feel good’ principle creeps into other areas of our lives to the point where every impulse in every person has the ‘right’ to be indulged?

I hear the ticking of the doomsday clock …

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For the original article and other incredible essays and thoughts from C.S. Lewis, you can purchase “God In The Dock” at your local Christian book seller or online via any number of online book retailers.

May 22, 2015

Do We Have a Right to Happiness? — Part One of Two

I’ll keep my intro short so you can get right into this. Thanks to Martin and Nancy for allowing me to reproduce this here, but if you want to send them some link love — or not have to wait until tomorrow for part two — click the link in the title below. Comments here are open, but to communicate with the authors directly, use the link below as well.


C.S. Lewis For The 21st Century

Have you ever, on the recommendation of a teacher, book-review website, or a friend, began to read an old book – a classic – only to discover a few pages in, “I just can’t get into this … the language is so archaic!”

C. S. LewisNancy and I thought it would be a challenging exercise to modernize one of our favorite essays from C.S. Lewis found in his compilation of short works, entitled ‘God In The Dock’.

The essay we chose was “We Have No Right To Happiness”. I set out to rework the article in a way that I thought would align closely with C.S. Lewis’ original style, but with a modern spin via sentence structure and word choices.

Nancy read my modernized version and felt that she too could bring some 21st century life to the piece by structuring it more like a blog post.  (Click the link above to read today, or wait until tomorrow’s post for part two.)

Below represents each of our individual attempts to present the powerful, highly prophetic message penned by Mr. Lewis that examines humankind’s pathetic attempts to justify that which is unjustifiable – that we have the supposed ‘right’ to be happy in this world.

Please feel free to provide feedback with respect to our efforts to modernize the essay and, more importantly, share with us your reflections on C.S. Lewis’ thoughts re the society-eroding, self-entitlement posturing that so many among us now eat, breathe and sleep in this present day.

We Have No “Right to Happiness” by C.S. Lewis
Paraphrased by Martin Douglas of Flagrant Regard

“After all,” said my friend Clare, “they had a right to happiness.”

We were discussing something that once happened in our own neighborhood. Mr. A, had deserted Mrs. A and got his divorce in order to marry Mrs. B, who had likewise gotten her divorce in order to marry Mr. A. And there was clearly no doubt that Mr. A and Mrs. B were very much in love with each other. It was equally clear that they were not happy with their former partners. If the newly formed couple continued to be in love and if nothing failed with respect to their health or financial security, they might expect to be very happy.

Mrs. B had adored her husband at the beginning, but then he was severely injured in the war. It was said that he had lost his virility and had also lost his job. Life with him was no longer what Mrs. B had bargained for.

Poor Mrs. A, too. She had lost her looks was no longer her vivaciousness self. It might have been true what some had said – that she had become worn down by having and raising Mr. A’s children and nursing him through a long illness that overshadowed the early years of their married life. But please don’t think that Mr. A was the sort of man who nonchalantly threw a wife away like the peel of an orange he’d sucked dry. Her suicide was a terrible shock to him. We all knew this, for he told us so himself. “But what could I do?” he said. “A man has a right to happiness. I had to take my one chance when it came.”

I went away thinking about the concept of a ‘right to happiness’. At first, this sounds to me as odd as a ‘right to good luck’. I believe (whatever any particular brand of moralists have to say) that for the most part our happiness or misery hangs on circumstances outside all human control. A right to happiness doesn’t, for me, make much more sense than a right to be six feet tall, or to have a millionaire for your father, or to have good weather show up whenever you want to have a picnic.

Now, I get that a ‘right’ is a freedom guaranteed me by the laws of the society I live in, therefore I have a right to travel along the public roads because society gives me that freedom (that’s what we mean by calling the roads “public.”)

I can also understand a ‘right’ as a claim guaranteed me by the laws, and as it correlates to an obligation on someone else’s part. If I had a right to receive $100 from you, this is another way of saying that you have a duty to pay me $100. If the laws allow Mr. A to desert his wife and seduce his neighbor’s wife, then, by definition, Mr. A has a legal right to do so, and we need not bring in talk of ‘happiness’.

But of course that was not what my friend meant. She meant that Mr. A had not only a legal but a moral right to act as he did. In other words, Clare is (or would be if she thought it through) a classical moralist after the style of Thomas Aquinas, Grotius, Hooker and Locke.

She believes that behind the laws of the state there is a Natural Law. I agree with her and I hold this conception to be common knowledge in all civilizations. Without it, the actual laws of the state become an absolute. They cannot be criticized because there is no norm against which they should be judged. The ancestry of Clare’s maxim, “They have a right to happiness,” is high-minded in nature. In words that are cherished by all civilized souls (but especially by Americans), it has been laid down that one of the rights of man or woman is a right to “the pursuit of happiness.” And now we get to the real point.

Just what did the writers of that grandiose declaration mean? We’re quite sure what they did not mean. They did not mean that everyone was entitled to pursue happiness by any and every means including, say, murder, rape, robbery, treason and fraud. No society could be built on such a basis. They meant “to pursue happiness by all lawful means”; that is, by all means which the Law of Nature eternally sanctions and which the laws of the nation shall sanction.

Yet here is where I disagree with my friend: I don’t think it’s obvious that people have some sort of unlimited “right to happiness”, as she has suggested.

For one thing, I believe that when Clare says “happiness,” she means simply and solely “sexual happiness”, partly because people like Clare never use the word “happiness” in any other sense. But also because I never heard Clare talk about the “right” to any other kind of happiness. With respect to her political views, Clare, being rather leftist in her approach, would have thought it scandalous if anyone defended the actions of a ruthless financial tycoon on the grounds that his happiness consisted in making money and he was pursuing his happiness. I also never heard her (a serious non-drinker herself) excuse an alcoholic because he was ‘happy’ when he was drunk.

Clare is, in fact, simply doing what I think the whole western world seems to have been doing for the last forty-odd years. When I was a kid, all the progressive people were saying, “Why all this prudishness? Let’s treat sex just as we treat all our other impulses.” I was simple-minded enough to believe they meant what they said. I have since discovered that they meant exactly the opposite. They meant that sex was to be treated as no other impulse in our nature has ever been treated by civilized people. All the others, we admit, have to be restrained.

For instance, absolute obedience to instinct for self-preservation is considered cowardice. An ever-increasing desire to collect things will have us in the grip of greed. Even sleep, normally a welcomed respite, must be resisted if you’re a officer on guard duty. But every unkindness and breach of faith seems to be condoned provided that your object is to have “four bare legs in a bed.” It is like having a moral standard where stealing fruit is wrong except if you steal nectarines. And if you protest against this view? You are usually met with rhetoric about the legitimacy, beauty and sanctity of “sex”. You get accused of harboring some Puritanical prejudice against it – that you view sex as something disreputable or shameful. (I vehemently deny being guilty of such a charge: Venus, Aphrodite, Our Lady of Cyprus – I never breathed a word against you!)

If I object to kids stealing nectarines, must I then be thought of as someone who disapproves of nectarines in general? Or even of kids in general? It might be the stealing I disapprove of, you figure?

The real situation is skillfully concealed by saying that the question of Mr. A’s “right” to desert his wife is one of “sexual morality.” If I may continue with the fruit analogy, robbing an orchard is not an offense against some special morality called “fruit morality.” It is an offense against honesty. Likewise, Mr. A’s action is an offense against good faith (to solemn promises), against gratitude (toward one to whom he was deeply indebted) and against common humanity.

Our sexual impulses are thus being thrust into a position of preposterous privilege. The sexual motive is taken to condone all sorts of behavior which, if it had any other outcome in view, would be condemned as merciless, treacherous and unjust.

Now though I see no good reason for giving sex this privilege, I think I see a strong cause, and it is this: the nature of a strong erotic passion, which is completely distinct from any heat-of-the-moment, fleeting appetite, makes more towering promises than any other emotion.

No doubt all our desires make promises, but not so impressively. To be in love involves the almost irresistible conviction that one will go on being in love until one dies, and that possession of our beloved will supply us with not just merely frequent ecstasies, but settled, fruitful, deep-rooted, lifelong happiness. Hence, all seem to be at stake. If we miss this chance we shall have lived in vain. At the mere thought of such a doom we sink into fathomless depths of self-pity.

Unfortunately these promises are often found to be quite unfounded. Every experienced adult knows this to be the case with regard to all erotic passions (except the one he/she is feeling at the moment). We discount the world-without-end pretentiousness of our friends’ romantic liaisons easily enough. We know that such things sometimes last and sometimes don’t. When they do last, it is not because they promised at the outset to make it last. When two people achieve enduring happiness, this is not solely because they are great lovers but because they are also – I must put it crudely – good people; controlled, loyal, fair-minded, mutually adaptable people.

If we establish a “right to (sexual) happiness” that supersedes all the ordinary rules of behavior, we do so not because of what our passion shows itself to be in experience, but because of what it professes to be while we are in the grip of it.

So while the bad behavior is real and works miseries and personal ruin, the happiness which was the object of the behavior turns out again and again to be illusory.

Everyone (except Mr. A and Mrs. B) knows that Mr. A, in a year or so, may have the same reason for deserting his new wife as he did for deserting his old one. He will again feel that all is at stake. He will again see himself as the great lover, and his pity for himself will exclude all pity for the (current) woman.

Two final points remain:

1. A society in which marital infidelity is tolerated must always be in the long run a society adverse to women. Whatever a few songs composed by men and/or satirical offerings might say to the contrary, women are more naturally monogamous than men; it is a biological necessity. Where promiscuity prevails, they will therefore always be more often the victims than the culprits; domestic happiness is more necessary to them than to us. And the quality by which they most easily hold a man – their beauty – decreases every year after they’ve reached maturity, but this does not happen to those qualities of personality we find in women. In the cut-throat promiscuity war that rages on, women are at a double disadvantage – they play for higher stakes and are also more likely to lose. I have no sympathy with moralists who frown at the increasing lewdness of female provocativeness. These are signs of desperate competition and fill me with pity.

2. Secondly, though the “right to happiness” is claimed chiefly for the sexual impulse, it seems to me impossible that the matter will remain there. Once such a fatal principle is condoned in that department (our sexual natures) it will sooner or later seep through into our whole lives. We therefore advance toward a society where not only each person but every impulse in each person claims no-holds-barred permissions. And at that time, though our technological skill may help us survive a little longer, our civilization will have died at heart, and will – don’t even dare add the word “unfortunately” – be swept away.

April 6, 2015

Breast Feeding in the Church Sanctuary

After debating several possibilities, the editorial team at Thinking Out Loud decided to play it safe with some classical art

After debating several possibilities, the editorial team at Thinking Out Loud decided to play it safe with some classical art

It must be an April thing, because last year at this time, we asked the question, Should Couples Hold Hands in Church?

Now we want to look at a question which is often a hot button issue in some churches, that of mothers nursing their babies in the church auditorium or sanctuary. So just to be clear let’s make some definitions:

  • This would be happening as a worship service is in progress
  • We’re assuming a certain amount of modesty is in place; there is an attempt to use discretion and keep everything as covered-up as possible. (Or is that the problem where you attend? Are some moms simply not attempting enough covering?)
  • The woman in question is not sitting in the front row serving as a distraction to the pastor or worship team. (Unless, again, that’s the problem; though it’s hard to believe anyone would actually do this.)
  • There are no children or (especially) teens who might be overly distracted by the very hint of this. (Middle school boys are at an age where boobs are an obsession.)
  • The baby is not fussing, crying or providing any type of audio distraction. (Think of Maggie on The Simpsons.)
  • There isn’t a room for this purpose (ideally with opaqued glass) off to the side of the auditorium.
  • The mom isn’t a visitor (unless that’s specific to a problem with this at your church) so she’s been around the church for years and knows the drill.

Does that cover it? (No pun intended.)

So what do you think? Are there options that would allow for this, or is it a definite “no” as far you’re concerned?

Has there been a shift on this over the last few years in your church?

And where am I gonna find a picture for this article? 

The question, just to be clear, is: Do you consider breastfeeding in church appropriate or inappropriate?  Is this a divisive issue where you worship?

 

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