Thinking Out Loud

March 6, 2018

“Stopping a beating heart is never health care.”

At least one reader took me to task last week for wading into the gun control debate. Truly, I try to keep the blog’s “faith focus” mandate top of mind as I choose topics for articles here. But at risk of offending others, here we go again.

The topic is the state of Iowa’s “Heartbeat Bill” which would ban abortion if there is a beating heart. I’ll just let the story tell itself, from LifeSiteNews:

DES MOINES, Iowa, March 1, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – On Wednesday, the Iowa Senate passed landmark pro-life legislation known as the “Heartbeat Bill,” which if put into law would outlaw aborting babies with detectable heartbeats.

Pre-born babies’ hearts begin to form around 21 days into pregnancy, and are detected on ultrasounds just a few weeks later.

Iowa’s Republican-controlled upper chamber approved the bill in a 30-20 vote along party lines.

The legislation which now awaits a vote by the state’s lower chamber – also controlled by a Republican majority – would make it a felony for doctors to commit abortions after detecting a fetal heartbeat.

The only exception would be for pregnancies that threaten a mother’s life.

“This bill is the logical beginning point for all of civil governance,” said Sen. Amy Sinclair, adding that it strikes “at the very heart and soul of what it means to be an American, what it means to be a person.”  …

…Sen. Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig, who served on the subcommittee which produced the legislation, said he believes culture has been moving towards a pro-life view for decades – a view that has become repulsed by a “holocaust of death” related to abortion.

“This may be what our culture is ready for,” Schultz continued. “Stopping a beating heart is never health care.”

But the bill faces opposition, including from one very pro-life group you would expect to be in its corner, the Iowa Catholic Conference. They see it opening up a constitutional challenge that could result in greater access to abortion, not less.

We acknowledge the efforts of legislators and groups who challenge the current legal precedents to abortion.

We respect the fact that legislation often involves judgments about the most effective and timely means for advancing the protection of unborn children.

At the same time, we should take into account that this bill is likely to be found unconstitutional. We should consider the unintended long-term consequences that could result from a court finding a robust right to an abortion in Iowa’s Constitution, which could include the elimination of some of the limitations on abortion we already have in Iowa. Therefore, the Iowa Catholic Conference is registered as neutral on the legislation.

The same thing happened in Tennessee:

When a similar Heartbeat Bill was introduced in Tennessee last year, Tennessee Right to Life opposed it. The organization’s president, Brian Harris, was as far as to testify against the legislation, saying that his group wants to support measures that stand a stronger chance of holding up in court.

Read the full story at LifeSiteNews.

I guess they don’t want to pick a fight they can’t totally win. But there’s no escaping the logic of the statement:

“Stopping a beating heart is never health care.”


Related: In a more recent story from the UK, there is a movement to lower the abortion limit from its current 24 weeks. (A full term is 39 weeks.) “Maria Caulfield MP said that the current limit was introduced ‘at a time when babies were really not viable at 24 weeks’.” She also noted, “We’ve got one of the most liberal abortion laws in the world.”


I don’t know how sensationalist this video animation of an abortion is, but I suspect there’s more truth in this than people would want to realize. Again, this blog doesn’t get into this issue much, and neither do I on Twitter, but I felt this was worth sharing. Warning, content is graphic and disturbing.

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January 2, 2018

“Dad, I’m gay”

Filed under: children, Christianity, Church, issues, parenting — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:37 am

What do you do when your son says, “I am gay?”  There’s a lot contained in that three word statement, certainly more than initially registers. A Christian friend experienced this several months ago and continues to wrestle with the implications. Recently, he asked to share this with readers here.


“Dad, I’m gay.”

When my son says “Dad, I am gay”, what he is saying is . . .

I had the courage to tell you something very important.

I have been trying to figure this all out for quite some time now.

I’m more likely to deal with depression than a straight child.

I’m more likely to have suicidal thoughts than a straight child.

I am more likely to be picked on or talked about than a straight child.

I would be arrested in certain parts of the world.

I would be put to death in certain parts of the world.

I’m not sure I will be accepted at church.

I’m not sure you will be accepted at church either depending on how you handle this.

Though I am your son, I am not just like you.

I am still your son, and in many ways, just like you.

I am still your child, but am not a child anymore.

I will want you to meet my boyfriend someday.

If I take a step of covenanting with a man to be faithful to him the rest of my life, many of your friends may tell you that you should not attend that celebration. My friends will not hesitate to be there for me.

You may not change your perspective on homosexuality, but I do expect you to be understanding of mine.

I want you to celebrate and have joy because of me, not merely tolerate me.

I know that you love Jesus and the Bible. I am also aware that you love me. You need to figure out what all that looks like.

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.

 

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.

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