Thinking Out Loud

June 21, 2015

The Price to Pay for “The Right to Bear Arms”

Filed under: current events — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:18 am

“But let’s be clear: At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency. And it is in our power to do something about it.” – President Obama

In light of events this week in Charleston, I am repeating two columns this weekend that were posted in the wake of similar events. The second one below appeared in December, 2012, after Newtown. Also, before you get angry with me, if you’re reading this from the U.S.,  take some time to see how these stories play out in foreign media; look at how the rest of the world views the U.S.


handguns

To Our American Friends: It’s Time to Have the Conversation

To our friends in the U.S. in light of events yesterday;

Please accept our heartfelt sympathies.

Even though we’re close neighbors, we don’t fully understand the U.S. gun culture that is part of the DNA of those with whom we share this continent. And before we start to sound judgmental, we don’t always get it right up here, either; neither have we been immune to gun violence.

But we don’t think the framers of the U.S. constitution had yesterday in mind when they drafted the 2nd Amendment. Rather, I think they would be appalled, provided they were not completely bewildered trying to process where things presently stand.

This is only going to get worse. And worse and worse.

It’s time to drop everything else you’re doing and have the conversation necessary to save America.

It’s time to repeal the 2nd Amendment.

I know this subject rips at the emotions of people within the U.S.; and I’m not trying to open existing wounds. I am simply stating an opinion commonly held by people outside the U.S., an, “It’s broken; you need to fix that thing;” opinion which I know does not play well with some Americans. The push-back in the comments section was fully anticipated. I’m just saying that this is how it looks to outsiders. We grieve with you, and know the pain you are experiencing as a nation because this thing hits close to home for us as well. But it represents a set of circumstances that are unique to the U.S. that I truly wish were different; that Americans would begin now to beat their swords into plowshares.

June 20, 2015

The Sun Sets on Another Week of Mass Killing in the U.S.

Filed under: Christianity, current events — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:13 am

“But let’s be clear: At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency. And it is in our power to do something about it.” – President Obama

In light of events this week in Charleston, I am repeating two columns this weekend that were posted in the wake of similar events. The first appeared in July, 2012, a few days after Colorado.


Another Day of Random Violence

Like so many in North America, I turned on the television this morning only to find there has been a mass shooting in Colorado.

Mass shooting in Colorado. I’m having a deja vu. Haven’t we been down this road before?

It would be very easy for me as a Canadian to get all self-righteous about how this is a consequence of the American constitution’s “right to bear arms;” were it not for a similar shooting that took place in Toronto just a week ago. But oh, how I wish the framers of that constitution had been a little more particular in their wording on this item. (And what they meant by separation of church and state.)

The alleged perpetrator has been arrested. You have to say alleged. Or suspect. Due process of law is guaranteed for all. But the facts on this one are fairly established. There is no way he knew the people he killed. Whatever his motive, there was no individual reason why those people died.

He simply had no regard for human life.

Whatever he learned in school about science, math, spelling, history, geography, music, art, literature; he did not learn the basics of moral law or moral ethics.

He had no regard for human life.

Families are now dealing shock, and loss, and planning funerals; and only beginning to contemplate life without their loved ones; while meanwhile others hold vigil outside hospital rooms hoping for a favorable outcome.

It’s almost 12:00 noon, and I still haven’t posted this. I turn on the television again, and Drew Carey is explaining the rules of a game to a contestant on The Price is Right. The major networks have returned to regular programming; so I title this, Another Day of Random Violence. Just a typical morning in the USA. Does anyone really care today if Drew’s contestant wins the prize package?

No regard for human life.

No regard.

At all.

None.

God, when will it end?


For some reason this morning I can’t get this song off my mind. There Will Never Be Any Peace (Until God is Seated at the Conference Table) is actually a song about war, but the chorus hook keeps replaying in my head in light of today’s events. There won’t be any peace, until the Prince of Peace returns.

June 12, 2015

The Disconnect Created by Fashion Jewelry

From Java, a beaded wood cross necklace from Gifts With A Cause.

From Java, a beaded wood cross necklace from Gifts With A Cause.

You’ve seen it, I’m sure.

The tabloid by the checkout lands an interview with a well-known porn star and her picture is on the cover, wearing a cross.

“Wait, what?” you ask out loud, causing the shopper ahead and the cashier to look at you strangely.

Whether it’s an actor known for his very dark, very Godless roles or a marcher being interviewed at the Gay Pride parade, the cross around the neck almost always surprises any person of faith. It certainly raises a number of possibilities.

  • The contrast is intended to shock.
  • The person doesn’t really know or understand the significance of the cross.
  • They believe that they are a Christian.
  • The cross-wearing somehow cancels out the wrong in that person’s life.
  • They take a different, pre-Christian meaning to the symbol.
  • It represents what they’d never admit verbally; that God has blessed their life with good things.
  • They are somehow appealing to a religious demographic, hoping that in spite of what they’re saying or doing, those people will like them.
  • The cross was a gift from someone, and by wearing it once in awhile they can say…that they’re wearing it.

Are there other reasons I’m missing?

The point is that there is a disconnect between the symbol and the person’s reputation or lifestyle or even activity at the moment the photo is taken or the video is recorded.

It’s a symbol that should be dear to the devout believer; the sincere Christ-follower. And so some get incensed that it’s being misused or misapplied or even mocked.

When I see these pictures on an online news feed, or in a magazine at the grocery store, I try to find the redemption in the moment, and I gotta admit, I’m not seeing it…


Tangentially: For those in the know, what do think of the trend in the last few years of wearing sideways crosses on necklaces and bracelets?

 

 

February 6, 2015

Rethinking The Baby Factory

This article first ran here 4 years ago, but seemed timely given Pope Francis’ comment last week, “Some think — and excuse the term — that to be good Catholics, they must be like rabbits.”  So we found this article and as a bonus, all the links still work!

This is the second of two blog posts inspired by subjects covered by Ken Gallinger, ethics columnist for The Toronto Star. This one, at this writing, is still available online under the self-explanatory title: It’s Time to Rethink Call To Go Forth and Multiply.

He begins:

Back in the days when my wife and I were spawning our three kids, that was a perfectly reasonable thing to do. Indeed, back then, couples who failed to produce were looked upon with suspicion; we wondered “what was wrong with them,” even opining, if only in private, that if they were “able” to have kids and chose not to, that was pretty selfish.

But today’s truth is self-evident: There are enough of us. Likely too many. And if there aren’t too many now, there soon will be.

The reason for this discussion of course, is the sheer size of the number of us that populate this planet vis-a-vis an ever decreasing stock of natural and physical resources.

Gallinger is concerned about this, but equally concerned about the ones, “judging those couples and individuals who choose not to spawn their own replacements.” He finds both positions somewhat untenable.

I remember feeling that judgment one time about a dozen years ago when, after explaining that my wife and I had two sons, was told by an individual, “So you replaced yourself.” He meant those words in the sense of, “You’ve accomplished nothing so far.” We had clearly violated “Go forth and multiply” in his eyes, I’m not sure that our two offspring constituted having gone forth and added.

There are still denominations of Christianity wherein people are encouraged to have large families, and I’m not simply referring to old-school Roman Catholics or Mormons. In typical tongue-in-cheek style, Darrell at Stuff Fundies Like notes that “fundies” (i.e. conservative fundamentalist Christians) join the Amish in this category. (Of course, he points out that this becomes more cost-effective as the kids get older if they all learn to play a musical instrument.)

However you smile as you read SFL, there is another view, as stated by Craig Carter, professor of theology and ethics at Tyndale University in Toronto, that God has never rescinded “go forth and multiply.” He bases this on the idea that the Genesis commandment predates Israel, and is thereby not Old-Covenant specific. (In an earlier blog post, he speaks in terms of what he calls “The Contraceptive Mentality.”)

So the question — with the paragraph below notwithstanding — that I intended to ask today is this: In light of the population stats and the depletion of scarce resources; but also in light of the command given to Adam and Eve; should Christians keep making babies to the height of their ability, or is there a time when we say, “enough is enough?”

…And now the twist.

Views on this subject in the last couple of decades have been moderating lately because of data showing that the Muslim population is expected to double worldwide in 20 years. There is an us versus them mentality that would want to suggest we must continue to procreate lest we be outnumbered.

Should this be a factor in our thinking as we try to answer the “How many” question?

About the first chart: Not all experts agree. Some see an industrialization of the rest of the world contributing to a slowing of birth rates with a peak population of about 9.5 Billion.

July 9, 2013

Everybody’s Not Doing It

Because we’re inundated with media that tells us that everybody is doing it, the other side should probably have equal time. If you’re on the fringes of the whole God scene, or maybe not even that close, here’s what I think some people I know would tell you…

Materialism

  • many of us are not going to a vacation resort this year
  • what you think is our ‘new’ car actually came off a three-year lease
  • I really don’t want a bigger house, in fact I’d like to downsize
  • those new appliances we ‘bought’ were free with credit card points
  • we think all those electronic gadgets are a waste of money

Boasting

  • yes, we paid off the bank loan, but then we took out another
  • many of us have kids that did not get straight A’s on their report card
  • Harry’s new job was a departmental move, not a promotion
  • the ten pounds I lost wasn’t exercise, they closed the local Krispy Kreme
  • the little league team we coach made the finals only because another team had to forfeit

Ethics

  • there are many people who do not embellish their resumé
  • no, actually I don’t cheat on my income tax
  • since you asked, not everybody looks at porn online
  • sorry, you’re wrong; not everybody tells lies to get ahead
  • if you look carefully, most of us really do drive the speed limit

Sexuality

  • the kids in my core youth group at church actually aren’t sexually active
  • the truth is, I haven’t thought about having an affair with the receptionist
  • I’m not that insecure that I need to flirt to prove I’ve still “got it.”
  • a lot of us women are not interested in reading the fantasy bestseller
  • there are many people who think inward qualities matter more than outward appeal

Anything you’d like to add?

June 20, 2013

Thursday Link List

Saint-Michel d’Aiguilhe chapel in Le Puy-en-Velay, France. Not exactly visitor friendly. My wife wants to know where the pastor's parking space is.

Saint-Michel d’Aiguilhe chapel in Le Puy-en-Velay, France. Not exactly visitor friendly. Where the pastor’s parking space?

My dog ate my homework.

Seriously, I couldn’t think of anything original today. I keep having this bad habit of posting great stuff in the summer on Saturday and Sunday when nobody’s online reading; and then the well runs dry during the week…

Well, we could do this all week, but…

April 15, 2013

Who Are You Sleeping With? Tim Keller at Gospel Coalition

Filed under: issues — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:16 am

On the one hand, I no longer give a lot of space here to what the New Calvinists are up to.  My feeling is that when they finally reach consensus on the question, “What is the Gospel?” they can send up smoke signals like they do in The Vatican.

But there’s no denying the wisdom and influence of Redeemer Presbyterian (New York, NY) pastor and author Timothy Keller.  So there was a lot of excitement over the weekend over a post by Derek Rishmawy who has a Patheos blog Christ and Pop Culture, and wrote ‘Who Are You Sleeping With?’ My Conversation with Timothy Keller.  

First, here’s the context:

…Drawing on his experience in urban, culture-shaping Manhattan, Keller responded that one of the biggest obstacles to repentance for revival in the Church is the basic fact that almost all singles outside the Church and a majority inside the Church are sleeping with each other. In other words, good old-fashioned fornication.

The major substance of the piece comes in the second section:

Keller illustrated the point by talking about a tactic, one that he admittedly said was almost too cruel to use, that an old college pastor associate of his used when catching up with college students who were home from school. He’d ask them to grab coffee with him to catch up on life. When he’d come to the state of their spiritual lives, they’d often hem and haw, talking about the difficulties and doubts now that they’d taken a little philosophy, or maybe a science class or two, and how it all started to shake the foundations. At that point, he’d look at them and ask one question, “So who have you been sleeping with?” Shocked, their faces would inevitably fall and say something along the lines of, “How did you know?” or a real conversation would ensue. Keller pointed out that it’s a pretty easy bet that when you have a kid coming home with questions about evolution or philosophy, or some such issue, the prior issue is a troubled conscience. Honestly, as a Millennial and college director myself, I’ve seen it with a number of my friends and students—the Bible unsurprisingly starts to become a lot more “doubtful” for some of them once they’d had sex.

And it makes sense, right? When you’re engaged in behavior you’ve been raised to believe is wrong, but is still pretty fun, more than that, powerfully enslaving, you want to find reasons to disbelieve your former moral convictions. As Keller pointed out, Aldous Huxley famously confessed in his work Ends and Means that he didn’t want there to be a God and meaning because it interfered with his sexual freedom. While most of our contemporaries haven’t worked it out quite as philosophically as Huxley has, they’re spiritually in much the same place.

I’ve heard it said that one of the reason people love to debate Noah and the Ark and Jonah and the Whale is because they are looking for an out. If they can find a problem with the Biblical text in one section, it absolves them from responsibility in others. So much of the debate clearly is about something other than what it appears.

In one of the comments, I noted:

I’ve heard it said that one of the reasons churches are finding it so hard to get male volunteers is because a lot of guys don’t feel ‘worthy’ because of their online addiction to porn. Someone has already noted in the comments here its possible application in this situation as well.

In other words, spiritual intensity wanes as spiritual truth comes into conflict with actual individual behavior. 

Keller’s thesis did not sit well with Rachel Held Evans.  In a piece titled Is Doubt an STD? — the title itself confuses the cause and effect — she challenges the sweeping generality of Keller’s response:

Keller seems to assume that thoughtful questioning among young people are typically the result of sexual activity and their desire to justify it. This was not true for me, and it is not true for many of the young adults who leave college with questions about science, philosophy, politics, and religious pluralism that challenge the fundamentalism with which they were raised…

…Furthermore, learning that a college student is sexually active does not somehow discredit his or her faith experience.

But while she accuses Keller of being dismissive of the real spiritual concerns of young people, I felt she was just a little too dismissive of Keller.  I wrote:

Keller is teaching us to look for “the question behind the question,” not unlike Jesus with the woman at the well in John chapter 4. I think he may be on to something; but Rachel, I agree that this approach could backfire if it is dismissive of genuine questions and spiritual concerns. I think you have to earn the right to ask someone who they’re sleeping with.

There was a lot of push-back on Rachel’s take on Keller, and so yesterday, she published some of the highlights of the critiques she received.  You can read those here.

If you don’t know it, read the story of the Woman at the Well in John 4 here.

March 7, 2013

The Edge, Shock Value and Shifting Standards

There are going to be people who think me a little too conservative for not posting the cover of the book referred to in today’s earlier post. Sigh.

no-godIt seems that we live in a time when standards are shifting, and even if your values are less progressive, it never hurts to go for shock value, as in Peter Enns’ article Why I Don’t Believe in God Anymore. Perhaps it’s just that people who blog on the Patheos platform are expected to be more controversial, but the word “God” with the red circle and red slash through it seems a bit over the top.

Peter Enns actually does believe in God, at least in the way most of you think. His article is saying that for him it’s really about trust.

…“Belief” in God connotes–at least as I see it–a set of ideas about God that may, if time allows, eventually make their way to other parts of my being…

…I see a huge difference between “I believe in a God who cares for me” and “I trust God at this particular moment.” The first is a bit safer, an article of faith. The latter is unnerving, risky–because I have let go…

In a way, Enns’ view is at the heart of Christian living. As people approach crossing the line of faith, our great desire is to see them reach that point of belief; but once the line has been crossed, the center of the Lordship of Christ is trusting Him with every area, every department of our lives.

I know someone who hasn’t crossed that line yet, but I know the ‘gay’ question is going to come up at some point and when it does I’m going to say, “Look, I want to let you in our playbook. Right now our concern for you is about believing, but for those of us on the inside, the fundamental question is: Can God be trusted? Can we see that out of good, better and best, He does indeed have a best for each of us, an ideal which represents His highest intentions?”

Trusting God has having our ultimate highest good in mind is a better way of framing difficult questions. It’s possible to look at people in an adulterous relationship and say, “I know you expect me to say what’s wrong with what you’re doing, but I want to ask you, ‘What’s right about what you’re doing? What do you derive from this that makes it worth the various inconveniences?'” I believe you could equally ask, “What’s right about your incestuous relationship that makes it worth the effort of keeping the secret?” or “What’s right about your gay relationship that makes it worth the separation from your family?”

It’s not rhetorical.  You’re going to get some answers in most cases. What makes it good. And then it’s easy to say, “I believe God’s intention was beyond good, beyond better. I believe God had a best, but we’re afraid of fully trusting Him.”

However, it’s important not to let this much more compassionate, much more sympathetic approach not undermine the idea of trusting God for the best. It’s vital that in the process, we don’t take scissors to scripture and excise the passages we think don’t fit.

Which brings us to United Methodist pastor Dave Barnhart’s article How Being a Pastor Changed My Thinking on Homosexuality. This piece has received a lot of attention online and is emblematic of what happens when theological convictions are transferred to real people engaged in real living in a real world.

Most people who have wrestled with this issue have come to recognize the personal disconnect that takes place when the convictions we would write on a list shatter in the face of people who have been damaged by dogma. No one reading scripture thoroughly can help but be caught in the middle of God’s holiness and judgment versus God’s compassion toward those who ‘miss the mark’ of His greatest standards.

The article says,

Being a pastor is more about being willing to be led by God and changed by the people I meet than issuing infallible decrees from a pulpit, more about admitting I’m wrong and sharing my frailty than pretending I know God’s will on a given subject. One friend describes preaching as a “homiletical wager,” and I’ve come to believe that pastoring, presuming to be a spiritual leader, is bit like gambling with God, where the stakes are very high but I’m betting the game is rigged toward grace.

So again, the title is edgy, it certainly goes for shock value, but has the writer really changed his view on the standards that God holds up for us, or has he simply come to see those standards in the light of mercy, come to a desire to confront the way The Church attempts to mete out its version of upholding God’s best?

Conservatives and traditionalists may feel the spiritual sky is falling, but I prefer to think of the present spiritual climate more in terms of a shaking. Too many people wrote things in ink that they should have written in pencil, or even chalk. But a massive rethink of terminology or approach doesn’t mean that we’ve completely tossed all our formerly held convictions.

As pendula swing wildly, the place of balance, the place of rest, is ultimately somewhere in the middle.

February 7, 2013

Should the Tip for the Waitress Exceed Your Tithe Percentage?

I Give God Ten Percent - Applebee's Receipt

Q: What’s the difference between a canoe and a Christian in a restaurant?

A: A canoe tips.

The bill for the meal at Applebee’s came with a pre-calculated 18% tip, but you certainly had the option to override it with any tip you chose.

But one customer argued that God only gets 10%, so why should wait staff get 18%.

But then he [update – see comments] she left nothing.

So another server took a picture of the receipt containing the comment.

And the restaurant fired her — really a third party in all this — despite years of exemplary service and management aspirations.

Apparently the customer — who to make matters worse claimed to be a pastor — was outraged when the story went public and demanded that heads roll.  To appease the customer, Applebee’s rolled one head, and lost a perfectly good employee in the process. Not sure I want to eat there again.

And then, the story went world wide. The link I have is to The Guardian in the UK. The newspaper’s online version takes a line from the server, “…tipping is not optional. It is how we get paid;” and renders it as some kind of quaint American trivia headline, “Tips are not optional, they are how waiters get paid in America.”

Excuse me, don’t people tip in Great Britain?

But before we go to far here, are we led to believe that the person who stiffed the waitress really gives ten percent? Because statistics on both sides of the Atlantic don’t support that notion. And if the type of person who does give ten percent is also the type of person who doesn’t leave a tip, personally I would rather they tithed less.

For example: Recently we attended a youth outreach event that is being held in a large restaurant complex and entertainment center. Many of the attendees — in their late teens and twenties — go out to eat afterward and since they are identified as being from the “Christian” event, the last word to them before they are dismissed is to be kind and generous to their servers.

The last thing the world needs is another hot-headed Christian alienating others from Jesus. It might take an army of Christ-followers a lifetime to undo what this person did in just a few seconds.

What I really like about Chelsea Welch’s story is that in the end, she takes the high road, something the customer in the story didn’t do:

As this story has gotten popular, I’ve received inquiries as to where people can send money to support me. As a broke kid trying to get into college, it’s certainly appealing, but I’d really rather you make a difference to your next server. I’d rather you keep that money and that generosity for the next time you eat out.

To see the discussion on Reddit provoked by this, click this link.

Related article at Christianity Today: Why Are Christians Such Bad Tippers?

July 20, 2012

Another Day of Random Violence

Filed under: current events — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 11:57 am

Like so many in North America, I turned on the television this morning only to find there has been a mass shooting in Colorado.

Mass shooting in Colorado. I’m having a deja vu. Haven’t we been down this road before?

It would be very easy for me as a Canadian to get all self-righteous about how this is a consequence of the American constitution’s “right to bear arms;” were it not for a similar shooting that took place in Toronto just a week ago. But oh, how I wish the framers of that constitution had been a little more particular in their wording on this item. (And what they meant by separation of church and state.)

The alleged perpetrator has been arrested. You have to say alleged. Or suspect. Due process of law is guaranteed for all. But the facts on this one are fairly established. There is no way he knew the people he killed. Whatever his motive, there was no individual reason why those people died.

He simply had no regard for human life.

Whatever he learned in school about science, math, spelling, history, geography, music, art, literature; he did not learn the basics of moral law or moral ethics.

He had no regard for human life.

Families are now dealing shock, and loss, and planning funerals; and only beginning to contemplate life without their loved ones; while meanwhile others hold vigil outside hospital rooms hoping for a favorable outcome.

It’s almost 12:00 noon, and I still haven’t posted this. I turn on the television again, and Drew Carey is explaining the rules of a game to a contestant on The Price is Right. The major networks have returned to regular programming; so I title this, Another Day of Random Violence. Just a typical morning in the USA. Does anyone really care today if Drew’s contestant wins the prize package?

No regard for human life.

No regard.

At all.

None.

God, when will it end?


For some reason this morning I can’t get this song off my mind. There Will Never Be Any Peace (Until God is Seated at the Conference Table) is actually a song about war, but the chorus hook keeps replaying in my head in light of today’s events. There won’t be any peace, until the Prince of Peace returns.

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