Life In General

Christmas — Setting Christianity Apart

120912_anhq_charliebrown_640

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shown round about them: and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace, good will toward men.

That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

This monologue from “A Charlie Brown Christmas” is among the first passages of scripture that I ever memorized, and specifically because of this monologue. To me, it perfectly encapsulated the marvel of Christmas, and at a time when I still didn’t really realize the full magnitude of what God had done.

But what HAD He done, really? What’s so special about God coming to us in the form of Jesus? What did Christmas — or Christianity in general, for that matter — have that other religions didn’t have?

The world’s religions are replete with moral codes and laws, each one designed to make us better people. Many of these religions start from the position of man being broken and NEEDING to be better. Some of these religions even go so far as to offer “salvation” of a sort.

Islam ostensibly shares certain roots with Judaism and Christianity. It offers the potential for Paradise to those who do certain things and live a certain way.

Hinduism and Buddhism are both karmic religions, with salvation being potentially achieved when an individual produces enough good to sufficiently outweigh their bad.

Sikhism, Bahai, Jainism, Shinto — pick whatever religion you want, and you’ll find they all share certain traits. They all ultimately center on the individual doing certain works to “buy” a certain life or a certain eternity. Even those religions that center on service to others, they ultimately lead back to the individual themselves, such that no matter who or what they refer to as God, in the end, the individual ultimately serves as his own chief priority. Either the believer is following a “more perfect” version of himself, or striving to become a better version of himself, or giving to others in order to receive unto himself, or performing works for a supreme someone in order to garner favor for himself, or even denying his own individuality because it stands in the way of him being a more communal “self”.

In the end, they all come back to “me”. Self is the ACTUAL god of these religions, regardless of who or what serves as the frontman. And that’s where Christianity fundamentally differs from them all.

Christianity does feature a “more perfect” being, but Christians don’t serve Him to garner favor. We serve Him because we ALREADY HAVE His favor.

Christianity does feature certain “blessings” for those who believe… but they also go out to those who do NOT believe. Similarly, Christianity features trials and tribulations for those who do not believe… but they also apply to those who DO believe.

Sometimes, we do petition God in prayer to move on our behalf, but far from those who “sacrifice” or perform rituals or say the right words, a move of God depends entirely on HIS Will, not on us finding the right formula to move Him to OUR will.

In all things, God — not we ourselves — is the central focus, the chief priority. We serve Him because we love Him, not because of how our service might convince Him to love us. So what does this have to do with Christmas? What’s the big deal with God coming to Earth as a baby?

The big deal is the relationship. In Christ, believers enjoy relationship with God that is impossible in any other religion, specifically because we are not the center of that relationship. We do not receive Christ to get to Heaven, or to avoid Hell, or to get healing, or to have peace in our lives, or to have peace with other people. Granted — Heaven, Hell, the miraculous, those are all FACTORS in our faith, but they are not the POINT of our faith.

You might say that the devil is in the details ūüėČ

In coming to us as a baby, God didn’t just come to us in a relatable way. He didn’t start a formulaic chain of events that would magically “create” salvation. In the birth of Christ, the God of the Universe entered into His own creation, at the very lowest point that He could enter it.

He could have wielded the authority that was due Him right from the start, but instead He shed His authority and chose to play by His own rules, the very rules that separate us from Him.

He could have chosen to be born into a family of “comparable” wealth and significance, the kind of family that we might expect the God of the Universe to associate with, should He choose to suffer humanity at all. Instead, the family He came to was as common as you can imagine — a woman who was not even married yet, a man who would forever have to deal with the fact that his son was not really his son.

He could have chosen to be born at His earthly parents’ home, in safety and comfort, but instead He was born on the road, in conditions that no mother would willingly choose.

He could have chosen to be wrapped in linens worthy of a newborn baby, but instead He chose to be wrapped in ceremonial clothes set aside for sacrificial animals.

He could have sent angels to announce His coming to priests and the aristocracy, but instead He chose to have shepherds attend Him.

NONE of these themes are consistent with any other religion — most particularly, God’s target audience, the Jews that Christ was born among. To the contrary, the details of Christ’s birth would have convinced the Jews of exactly the OPPOSITE of what the Gospel reveals Christ to be — not only the promised Messiah, but our very literal Immanuel, “God with us”.

If you were to “make up” a religion as an alternative to Levitical Judaism, you’d be hardpressed to construct one that was intentionally FURTHER from the mark than Christianity. There is NO WAY that the birth of Christ could appeal to its target audience, the Jews…

…unless it was true.

It really is astonishing to me that God should be due INFINITE honor, but instead intentionally choose such humility — even humiliation. But more remarkable to me is the fact that He did this… for a world that even today despises Him, and stands at active enmity with Him.

As dear as that scene with Linus was to me as a child, it means so much more now as an adult, seeing my sin the way that I do and able to recognize the full gravity of what God did to overcome it. All out of love for me.

Advertisements
Categories: Life In General, Religious, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The World — How It Was Designed vs How It Was Intended

Site_of_coolness

Okay, let me offer a disclaimer from jump. I am a Christian, and I do believe that God is sovereign and all powerful, and His Will irresistible.

…if He takes it upon Himself to BE irresistible, which I don’t think is always the case. Simply the fact that things happen AGAINST His Will is proof to me that God must permit resistance to His Will.

That said…

On my way home from work this morning, I was listening to my podcasts — in this case, Ask Away, put out by Ravi Zacharias International Ministries — and the speaker was talking about “natural evil”, and about how death and disaster and suffering are not how our Earth was made to run. Now, I know this is a popular concept, and that there may even be support for it in scripture (though I’d say that interpretation is hardly conclusive), but it makes very little sense to me, scripturally or logically.

Starting with scripture, the very first verse that comes to mind is “The Lamb slain from the foundation of the world”. Note here that the very INSTANT that God created the universe (whether you believe in the Big Bang or, like me, adhere to the Young Earth Creation theory), He created it with Christ’s death on the Cross as an inevitable reality. That’s not to say that God “intended” for Christ to go to the Cross, but that when God created the universe, He intentionally did so in such a way that Christ’s sacrifice would be an unavoidable consequence. Christ’s death, though unwanted, was nevertheless NECESSARY to God’s creation because God wanted Creation to be governed by certain rules (man’s freedom to reject God, and God’s mercy to redeem man, among others), and Christ’s death was a necessary outcome of those rules.

So death was a part of reality “from the foundation of the world”. What does scripture say about death AT the foundation of the world?

Well, go to the descriptions in Genesis. “The evening and the morning were the first day” speaks of the passage of time, and its effects on reality. Even before God created the sun to produce this light, the light moving to darkness moving back to light itself embodied change.

Day Two — the water cycle. This is the basis of all life, the movement of water from liquid to gas to liquid, and the movement of water from one place to another. When a quantity of liquid becomes gas, that quantity of liquid has ceased to exist as it was. Death.

Day Three — plants. God creates them to cover the dry land… but how to plants subsist? They draw nutrients up from the soil, nutrients that, if they are to be self-sustaining, necessarily come from things in various stages of decomposition. Death.

Day Four — the sun itself. It is ultimately a huge nuclear reactor, CONSUMING elements and producing heat and light in the process. The elements that it consumes are effectively dead, changed from what they were into something else entirely. Death.

Day Five — sea life and birds. What does God design them to do? Multiply, which necessitates the acquisition and use of resources. In order to produce MORE of themselves, they must add more matter TO themselves. They must consume, whether it be plant or animal matter. The matter that they consume? Now dead.

Day Six — land animals and mankind. Again, God designs them to multiply (which necessitates consumption, which necessitates death). Further, God commands man to SUBDUE the world, to bring it under his dominion. That doesn’t necessarily mean to “conquer” it, but to do as God Himself eventually does in His creation of Eden, which I’ll speak to in a moment.

So in the very creation of the Earth, it’s pretty evident to me that God created the world to be self-sustaining, with death not an “unfortunate” part of life but as an impartial, dispassionate, driving force. The solar cycle drives the water cycle, which in turn replenishes the plant and animal cycles. And all of these cycles necessitate death as a source for new life — the resources of the past, broken down and feeding the present, such that they can be repurposed as the building blocks of the future.

What gives this theory credibility, to me, is the intentional creation of Eden. Note how Genesis describes Eden as a GARDEN. Consider that every garden grows something that is (or at one time was) found out in the wild. The purpose of a garden is NOT to give space for something wild to grow, but to INTENTIONALLY grow it. A garden is where naturally occurring things are intentionally ORDERED, grown for efficiency and purpose to serve the grower, rather than left to happenstance to serve itself. This in itself is a death of sorts — the death of the wild, the feral, the self-living, at the hands of order.

Now, the scripture doesn’t speak to whether or not the plants of the Garden could have been found elsewhere in the world, but I think it’s reasonable to assume that the plantlife here was common. Rather, what set the Garden apart is the fact that it WAS set apart,¬†intentionally compartmentalized from the rest of the world for the purpose of ordering it, and with Adam and Eve placed there (intentionally) to tend it (intentionally).

To me, this speaks to God’s intentions toward Adam and Eve, and through them, toward mankind at large. Far from death (and by extension, suffering and all other forms of “natural evil”) being an imperfection in the machinery of Creation, it suggests to me that death was ALWAYS a part of God’s Creation, as a driver rather than a destroyer. This does not undermine the tragedy of death as we now see it, but rather the tragedy of it demonstrates how we recognize, even in our rejection of God, that God intended us to be MORE than self-sustaining, MORE than the physical nature that He built within us.

See, quite like the Garden was an example of God’s self-sustaining Creation being INTENTIONALLY sustained, God created mankind with the physical nature to be self-sustaining but with the purpose of being intentionally sustained. So when we see death or suffering or what have you, I can’t see that as God’s plan going awry. To the contrary, I see that as God’s design in full effect — a self-sustaining world — which makes the choice in Eden so much more profound: between remaining¬†in relationship with Him and being intentionally sustained by Him, or choosing to reject that relationship and assuming the responsibility and consequences of sustaining ourselves.

Categories: Life In General, Religious, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

“A Commonplace Life”

16386115976_fcfd905957_b

A commonplace life, we say and we sigh,
But why should we sigh as we say?
The commonplace sun in the commonplace sky
Makes up the commonplace day.

The moon and the stars are commonplace things,
And the flower that blooms and the bird that sings;
But dark were the world and sad our lot,
If the flowers failed and the sun shone not.

And God who studies each separate soul
Out of commonplace lives makes His beautiful whole.

–FW Boreham, “Mountains In The Mist”, pg 279

 

Boreham used this poem to emphasize a point he made in the surrounding passage, entitled “Poppies in the Corn”, an illustration that suggested that we draw a false dichotomy between those things we consider remarkable and those things we consider commonplace. The truth of the matter is, it’s ALL remarkable, and we do ourselves a disservice when we don’t see it as such.

Now, I don’t typically tear up at poetry, but this one was rather touching — so much so that I had to go Google searching for its source. Turns out that it’s from the book, “Mountains In The Mist”, circa 1919. It has been uploaded to Google Books and is available for free at the following link…

https://archive.org/stream/F.W.BorehamBooks/Boreham%2C%20F.%20W.%20-%20Mountains%20In%20The%20Mist#page/n283/mode/2up

I was listening to my Ravi Zacharias podcast on the way in to work this evening and he referenced this poem (and its original surrounding context) in a sermon about Naaman and Elisha in 2 Kings 5.

See, here are two men recorded in history, one a mighty prophet of God, the other a general for the kingdom of Aram in Syria who was stricken with leprosy. And yet, the reason we have this story in scripture is NOT because of either one of them, but because of a nameless — one might say “commonplace” — servant girl who got the ball rolling.

She owed Naaman nothing. She would’ve been well within her right to treat Naaman with indifference if not outright hostility. Heck, Elisha had never even healed anybody before! And yet this servant girl, whose word was ABSOLUTELY WORTHLESS in Israel, had faith enough in God to send this leprous general chasing a prophet — already a miracle, as servant girls didn’t send generals anywhere, let alone chasing¬†prophets who,¬†in Naaman’s country, were not sought but themselves¬†served at the pleasure of the king.

We all know what happens next. Naaman seeks out Elisha, but rather than meeting with him, Elisha sends out his servant to tell Naaman to dip himself in the Jordan River. After much grousing over the perceived insult, Naaman does as Elisha commanded… and was cleansed of his leprosy.

What’s really remarkable about all of this is that, as famous as Naaman and Elisha are, the serving girl is utterly forgotten by history. We have no clue as to the course of her life. She may never have done something of this significance ever again. Her suggestion to Naaman might not have impacted her life at all — certainly not as much as it impacted Naaman’s. It could easily be that her suggestion to Naaman was simply a matter of course for her, just this girl doing what she did because she was who she was.

Nothing special. Commonplace. And yet, for all the mundanity of the servant girl’s actions, we have the story of a miracle as its result. How can we then look to¬†anything we do as insignificant, if God can take a servant girl’s faith and turn it into enduring scripture?

Categories: Life In General, Religious, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Big Night

21751692_10155480246970937_6447438540794439913_n

I savor every chance I get to watch my son play football — not that I “know” a whole lot about the game, technically, but I love the sport itself. I love the struggle, the stick-to-it-iveness that separates the men from the boys, figuratively speaking.

Or literally.

Last night, I saw the first steps into adulthood for both my son and his team as a whole. It’d been a few weeks in coming, and you could see the foreshadowing of it in their (admittedly few) practices, but last night in their game against the Buccaneers, it all started to come together.

First, let me comment on the game as a whole. As is¬†expected for little league football, there were a great many youthful “mistakes”, but on the whole both teams played well. The Buccs scored against the Packers early on, but the Packers held them when they went for a two point conversion. The score stayed 0 – 6 until deep into the fourth quarter, when a young Packer broke away from the… ummm… pack, and sprinted for the end zone. Like the Packers before them, the Buccs were able to stave off the point-after. The game came to an end of¬†regular play with the score tied 6 – 6.

That’s when the Packers really showed up.¬†The officials asked both head coaches if they wanted to take the tie or duke it out in overtime. With¬†the time¬†being after 9pm, the Buccs coach gave the expected response — a tie. But when he asked the Packers, every last player said they wanted to take it to overtime. Every. Last. One.¬†The head coach tried to sway them to take the tie — it was late, they were tired, they could lose, etc — but they would not be deterred. They wanted that¬†win.

What happened next is the stuff of Friday night legends (albeit on a Thursday night). The two teams faced off over the next four — four — overtimes before the Buccs drove one down the Packers’ throats. The Packers denied the Buccs their point-after, bringing up¬†one last chance for the Pack¬†to turn everything around.

The first hike saw the Packers cut the distance to the goal by half. The next took the ball within spitting distance. Third down, and the Packers answered the Buccs touchdown, re-tying the game at 12 – 12.

Less than a minute later, the Packers did something that neither team had been able to do all night. They got the extra point. Final score, Packers 13 – Buccaneers 12.

I couldn’t have been prouder for my son’s team, driving against fatigue and frustration to snatch victory out of the jaws of “good enough”. It was an amazing moment, but I’ll be honest,¬†my proudest moment a full quarter before.

If I’ve harped on Caleb for anything this season, it would be him not driving through the offensive line. He’s a small guy, and at¬†defensive tackle he’s often¬†head and shoulders¬†smaller than the guy he’s matched up with. Rather than using his size (or lack thereof) to his advantage, he has the habit of patty-caking with his counterpart,¬†coming¬†up just long enough to push off of the player and dart back from the line, running along the backside of the pile toward whoever has the ball.¬†This often¬†puts him in chase mode, never quite getting to the ball carrier before somebody else brings him down.

But on this particular play, a little bit of magic happened. Buccs center hikes the ball, and Caleb drives forward, likely expecting to patty-cake his match-up… only to find that he wasn’t there! The Buccs player had botched his assignment. To his credit, Caleb didn’t hesitate — he drove straight forward through the hole, catching the quarterback around the waist and pulling him down with him¬†in a picture-perfect sack!

To say he was walking on clouds the rest of the game would be an understatement. You couldn’t slap the smile off his face. Even those times when he wasn’t overtly grinning, he had a look of contentment that could easily have passed for a grin. Battered and bruised though he was, I can tell you that he was feeling no pain.

Last night was a big night for the Packers, and an even bigger night for my son. But if I may be so bold, I think the night meant the most to me, because for the first time that I can remember, I saw my son push past his insecurities, exceed his limits, and lay claim to something that he simply would not be denied.

Categories: Life In General, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Shared Struggles

article-2418617-004A2ED300000258-506_634x427

Here it is, 0426 CST on another September 11th. In a three hours and twenty minutes, it’ll be exactly sixteen years since American Airlines Flight 11 flew into the North Tower of the World Trade Center, and our lives were changed forever. That day sparked a lot of fear,¬†anger, and even hatred. We’re still reeling from the effects of it today, and it has brought out the worst in our culture.

But that day also brought out the BEST in our culture. Alan Jackson’s signature song, “Where Were You When The World Stopped Turning” went a long way to highlight just how good our best could be. Even now, the thought of 9/11 moves people to “notice the sunset for the first time in ages and speak to some stranger on the street”, “stand in line and give your own blood”, or “dust off that Bible at home”.

We’re still prone to the same evils that we’ve always been prone to, but we’ve proven that we CAN listen to our better angels, and in so proving, we’ve left ourselves without excuse. That’s one of the many reasons it breaks my heart to see the crap that goes on today — the division that the media and politicians capitalize on, the race baiting, the racism of those who hate and the RESPONSIVE racism of those who are hated.

We’re sixteen years older as a nation — some of our number are LITERALLY sixteen, having grown up with the better AND worse angels of their elders, but never having lived through an event like 9/11 themselves, with all the bad and good that can come of it.

So maybe it’s fitting that, on the sixteenth¬†anniversary of 9/11, we have Hurricane Irma cutting a path of devastation through the larger part of Florida, just two weeks after Hurricane Harvey did the same thing through Texas. We don’t “deserve” this — not any more than we deserved 9/11 — but it’s fitting all the same.

And once again, we’re seeing the worst of our culture — looters taking advantage of the DISadvantage of business owners, hatemongers reveling in the suffering of others and declaring the hurricanes “justice” for one asinine reason or another, and so on.

But we’re also seeing the best of our culture, as people of character once again step up to the plate and lend their strength to others, often at great personal expense. You’ve got people braving flood waters to rescue total strangers. You’ve got churches organizing relief efforts. You’ve got people reaching through their fear and anger to lend a hand to people that MIGHT NOT do the same if the roles were reversed. My own cousin is en route to Florida right now, hauling a trailer and picking up supplies from donors along the way.

Today, sixteen years after the hatred of a handful of men shocked the world, we’re being struck again. The nature of the struggle is different, but the people who respond to it are the same — ordinary folks, being pushed off the fence and out of their facades to show the world what they’re really made of. Some will be shining examples of heroism. Others will be stains on our culture that we will forever wish we could scrub away.

And amongst it all we will have a generation, too young to pick their own side, but not too young to watch us pick ours. In the days and weeks to come, may it be that the greater portion of us will follow our better angels.

Categories: Life In General, Religious, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Irrationality of Hatred… and the Need to Let It Speak (Statues, pt 2)

Boll_weevil_monument (1)

No, this blog post is not another one about the Boll Weevil Monument, but it does effectively tie this post to my previous one.

Turns out, that one post has generated more comments than I have ever had subscribed readers! Granted, most of those comments were negative, but in a round about way, they do prove a point I was making in that post, and serve as the basis for this one.

As an aside, I’d like to point out that this blog is not intended to be some bastion of wisdom. Quite honestly, it’s something that languished for a long time, but¬†I started back doing for my kids’ sake, to save my “thoughts of the day” (or week, or whatever) for¬†them, should anything ever happen to me,¬†a possibility that became very real to me when I had my open heart surgery last year. I spend so much time at work, or writing, or gaming,¬†or lost in my own “grown up” world that my kids don’t get a chance to see the totality of who I am.¬†Right now, I’m just Daddy — a fat curmudgeon that should probably refuse that overtime day and take them kayaking instead.

ANYWAY… regarding that blog post, I got a lot of grief for trying to build a “false equivalency” between the hardships Enterprise suffered under the boll weevil blight and the hardships that¬†many people (not just blacks) suffered under the institution of slavery. The fact is, that was intentional. I wasn’t trying to downplay the suffering of blacks. Rather, I was trying to make a point about a contentious issue by illustrating it with a NON-contentious issue. Jesus used this tactic all the time in His parables. Every time He would speak on a topic that His disciples¬†presumably¬†were not equipped to grasp, He first addressed the topic using illustrations that they could grasp — not to say that His Saviorhood actually made Him a Door or a Vine, but to show the characteristics that were the same even though the metaphor was simply a metaphor.

In any case, the majority of the commenters on that post either failed to grasp my meaning regardless of my efforts, or they were dissatisfied with my approach. But rather than engage me and ask for clarification, or discuss the topic at hand, they made assumptions about my meaning — many of which were inaccurate — and proceeded to personally attack me, as have many who were dissatisfied with Trump’s response to Charlottesville (not a huge Trump fan myself, but that’s neither here nor there).

As this happens to be my blog, my personal corner of the internet, I could just as easily have turned off their comments — still could, in fact. But I chose not to, and will likely leave the comments open on this one as well, because however much I might disagree with some of the comments, and however hurtful I might find them, I think it actually serves the conversation to allow them to remain. In allowing them to continue to have a voice, they are ultimately proving my point about integrity and¬†hypocrisy. They are demonstrating, better than I myself ever could,¬†that although people in America cry out to “stop the hatred”, many have no problem with hatred itself, so long as they feel it’s justified.

I don’t share that view. As much as I might hate a thought or an ideal, and as much as I’m moved to fight certain thoughts or ideals, I still feel compelled to respect the person who holds that thought or ideal — maybe not their use of it, but certainly their right to have it.

If you’ll permit me to use another non-contentious yet applicable illustration (at the risk of being accused of false equivalency hehe), take¬†Westboro Baptist for example. I absolutely despise the rhetoric that they spew. I think it is a total insult to both Christ Himself and me as a Christian. And yet, until one of them takes their picket sign and pops someone over the head with it, I believe that they deserve the right to make themselves look as repulsive as they want to. I find their rhetoric hateful and hurtful, but they have as much right to say it as I¬†have to refuse to listen to it.

But here’s the thing. When Westboro spews their hatred, and run Christ’s name in the dirt, what they are also doing is setting an indelible, immutable¬†example — like an unchanging landmark that, when compared to actual Christianity, shows the stark contrast between Christian love and anti-Christian hatred. To some people, Westboro’s hatred illustrates BEAUTIFULLY what’s so genuinely attractive about people who shrug off hypocrisy and genuinely follow Christ.

Do I want Westboro to shut their pie holes? Every second of every protest. But I would never “make” them shut up, never censor them until they become a physical danger to somebody, because what they intend for evil, God can turn around and use for good.

Ya know… kinda like what I was telling my daughter about something “bad” not having to BE “bad”.

Now, I have no doubt that there will be precious few negative commenters from that post¬†reading this one — I kinda doubt that they cared enough about my blog to subscribe to it — but if any of them are, let me just say that everybody has¬†a point of view. Some¬†treat their views as subject to revision¬†(I do my best to treat mine that way). Some treat their views as unassailable. But one there is one truth that transcends every one of these views — if you already know everything, you can’t learn anything new.

This is why you can talk to someone who talks with you but you can’t talk to someone who talks at you. Even if you don’t agree on a single thing — before the conversation or after —¬†when you are willing to engage, and the other party is willing to engage, you are both¬†better for having had the conversation. Whether or not an opinion was changed, it was exposed to something that could¬†potentially change it, if not today, maybe tomorrow. And that’s true on both sides of the conversation, not just one.

But that’s a miracle that’s only possible when hatred is set aside, and¬†the conversants¬†allow humility — not “rightness” — to do its work. This is what it means to be rational in conversation, and sadly the single most conspicuous element lacking in today’s culture, whether we’re talking about race relations or politics or what have you. Don’t believe me? Have a single Facebook conversation with somebody you think is “wrong”, and watch how hard it is to keep that puppy from devolving into¬†personal attacks.

Categories: Blogroll, Government, Life In General, Religious, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Importance Of Monuments That Hurt

Boll_weevil_monument (1).jpg

Last week, my wife and I went to Enterprise, Alabama to pick up a chicken coop that someone was giving away. As we were driving back home, my daughter (who chose to ride in Daddy’s truck rather than the air conditioned Sequoia hehe) and I were talking about history, and about how just because something “bad” happens doesn’t necessarily mean that it HAS to be bad. It’s all in how you take it.¬†Since we were in Enterprise, I referenced the local monument to the Boll Weevil.

Yes, the Boll Weevil. A monument to a bug.

Story goes, Enterprise — like the rest of the Wiregrass area, and the South at large — depended upon cotton crops for its economy. But in 1915, Alabama suffered an influx of boll weevils, which are native to Mexico, and the beetle devastated the local cotton crops. The next year, one enterprising man (LOL see what I did there?) had the idea to change his crops from cotton to peanut. As the boll weevil plague went on, local farmers watched their cotton crops suffer while this farmer’s peanuts flourished. This taught the local farmers the value of diversifying their crops, a lesson that was so valuable to the farmers of Coffee County that in 1919 they erected a monument to the boll weevil in appreciation.

Did they appreciate the bug itself? Not hardly. It proved to be the near ruin of many a farm. But had it not been for the boll weevil and the hard times it brought with it, the farmers of Enterprise would never have learned the value of diversification. They would never have prospered without the hardship that they had suffered.

I thought it was a good lesson for my daughter to learn, but about halfway through it, her eyes started to glaze over and her attention wandered. Such is the life of a thirteen-year-old¬†— this one in particular, anyway. I finished the lesson though, if only to remind myself of its value.

As I watched the news over the past couple days, as more and more Confederate monuments are torn down, the value of monuments like the Boll Weevil is made even clearer to me. See, the local museums have all this same information… and I never cared enough to track it down. Had it not been for the monument, out in plain sight where I couldn’t help but encounter it, I would never have known what the monument meant. Had it not been for the sheer¬†oddity of a monument to an insect, I would never have¬†understood the adversity that these farmers had overcome, and how such a “bad” thing could have made them¬†better.

That’s what I find so sad — and so infuriating — about the current crop of Social Justice Warriors tearing down Civil War monuments. They think they’re fighting injustice when, in fact, they’re creating it. Their desire to wipe our evils from our history — or to pack them away in museums where we can conveniently forget about them — only hurts us because, as George Santayana is famous for saying, “Those that cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

In their righteous indignation, these SJWs don’t realize that they are becoming the very things that they claim to loathe. They decry chattel slavery, but have no problem enslaving the taxpayer. They denounce racism against blacks, while at the same time encourage it against whites by their denouncement of “privilege”. They lambast gender inequality,¬†while feeling no shame in accusing someone of “mansplaining”.

The tearing down of these monuments is but one example of a cultural cancer that, I fear, will eventually kill this country. Civilization is not something that you can inherit. You have to learn it and relearn it with each successive generation, else you revert to your inner beasts, as we see happening today. Without the monument, out there in the open — obnoxiously so, sometimes — we’re tempted to let the past stay in the past. It can’t hurt us there, sure, but neither can it prompt us to take care that we don’t repeat it.

Categories: Blogroll, Government, Life In General, Religious, Uncategorized | 35 Comments

This Libertarian’s Take on Independence Day

jefferson-drafts-declaration-hero-A

Let me preface this with a clarification — I’m not “just” a libertarian. I am a devotely Christian, staunchly pro-life, uber-patriotic libertarian.

I can just imagine the heads exploding at that. Conservatives see “libertarian” and presume that I must be a progressive.¬†Liberals, and a good many of my fellow libertarians, see all the stuff that comes BEFORE “libertarian” and presume that I must be a Republican just lying to myself. I mean, to reconcile all the above would make a good number of “liberty loving” people bleed from the eyes at the presumed inconsistency, but to be honest, I can’t imagine it getting MORE consistent than that. After all, the first part of that description deals with what I think the world should look like. The latter — the “libertarian” — only describes what I think government’s role in that worldview should be!

So how does Independence Day mean to a guy like me? Really, it’s affirmation of everything that I believe, all at once.

For the devote Christian in me, it holds true to the notion that the relationship I have with Christ is a relationship that He VOLUNTARILY entered into with me, and that I voluntarily received. I submit to Christ’s authority NOT because I “have” to (while that may be the case in eternity, while I’m in the flesh, He still gives me the ability to refuse Him) but because I WANT to. I’m in relationship with Christ because I love Him, and He has proven time and again — not just in scripture but in my own life — that He is WORTHY of all that love and more. That’s a notion that perfectly encapsulates the American dream, whether someone is a believer or not.

For the pro-lifer in me, Independence Day affirms to me that all of us, regardless of merit or status or race or gender or belief, are of equal value. This means that I am no better than someone else, and they are no better than me. My rights are not superior to theirs, and theirs are not superior to mine. This is entirely consistent with the pro-life stance, as this same argument for equality necessarily means that the rights of the unborn are neither greater nor less than that of the mother. Rather, their rights are equal, and independent one from the other.

Which brings me to the libertarian part of my worldview — and a big part it is! For me, Independence Day spells out everything that it means to be libertarian. It is a recognition that we are all created equal, and that the rights we have been endowed with by our Creator are equally inalienable. Independence Day declares that those rights do not originate from the government (as the US government was not formed until well AFTER the signing of this Declaration of Independence) but that government was formed for the express purpose of ensuring that those rights are not violated by ANYBODY, be they neighbor or stranger… or our own government.

When fifty-six¬†of our forefathers affixed their signatures to the Declaration of Independence, they affixed their NAME to it — their reputations, their wealth, their ideals, their lives, and potentially the lives of their children. EVERYTHING THEY WERE AND EVER WOULD BE, they affixed to the truth that all men are created equal, from the lowest pauper to the highest king. They said with one voice, “You are not the boss of me”, and meant that “you” for anybody that might consider themselves the exception.

In the stroke of a pen, they told the king of England that there would be no more kings in America — which, incidentally, was a notion entirely HOSTILE to the ideas of slavery and gender inequality, and led to their end in the following years.

Mostly, though, Independence Day reminds me that when we declared there would be no more kings in America, that declaration did not have an expiration date. It is still just as true today as it ever was — truer, perhaps. In this, we are reminded that every man and woman in power — the President, the Congress, our respective Governors, all of them — are the EQUALS of those they represent, and the power they wield is BORROWED from their constituency. Independence Day reminds us that even in this day where people feel justified in “ruling” over one another, our government was formed for the express purpose of guaranteeing that this would never happen, that there would never be another king in America, whether they feel justified in declaring their kingship or not.

Categories: Blogroll, Government, Life In General, Religious, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Random D-Day Thoughts…

d-day-usa

 

June 6th, 1990. I had just graduated high school and was getting ready to move to Alabama with some vague plans of going to college. I was the kind of kid to sluff off and do just enough in school to get by, and my work ethic wasn’t much better. But hey… I was an adult now, right?

Eighteen, and I thought I knew it all. It never once occurred to me that, on that same date some forty six years previous, thousands of men — kids, really, kids MY age — had jumped out of perfectly safe boats to run headlong into the face of certain death, with the impossible hope that some precious few of them would make it through the storm of bullets to the most meager — and most temporary — of shelters at the inside slope of the beach, just long enough to catch their breath and brave the storm again, offering themselves upon the altar of battle as they fought to turn the tide against the Nazi scourge.

I was eighteen, and the worst I’d had to deal with was an alcoholic step-dad (who, incidentally, was one of the greatest role models I could’ve asked for, but you couldn’t tell me that at the time) and an uncertain future at college. Eighteen, and I was gonna live forever. Those brave souls in Normandy, many of THEIR eighteens didn’t see the end of the day.

Now here we are, on the seventy-third anniversary of D-Day, and eighteen year olds are still just as self-absorbed as ever — maybe even more so. I’d like to think that, as this country becomes more politically charged and more people realize just how BAD an idea having a strong central government is, maybe the eighteen year olds of today are “slightly” more aware of the value of liberty, and maybe, just maybe, a handful of them genuinely understand the terrible price that must be paid to keep it, as evidenced by their willingness, men and women alike, to follow in their great-grandfathers’ footsteps and brave the storm of bullets to advance the cause of liberty.

I’d like to think that. And I can even trick myself into believing it, so long as I don’t turn on the news or Facebook. My only alternative is to turn into my Grandpa, who would shake his head in disgust at the idiot teenager that I was, a teenager that looked NOTHING like the brave souls he grew up with and served alongside. I’d like to never get that cynical, but when I look at the world today, I can’t help but think that the Great Generation was perhaps the last time that we as a people WERE great.

Categories: Life In General, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Official Review of “The Shack”

the-shack-58b0586c0ab1c-e1492018494745

Yep. I watched it. I swore I wasn’t gonna. I was absolutely sure that the criticisms about it were accurate. But on my wife’s insistence that I form my OWN opinion, I suffered through it.

…and confirmed to myself, once again, that context is everything.

If you’ve read all the negative press from steadfast Christians and all the positive spin from the neo-Universalist crowd, you already have the gist of the storyline — a man who’s angry at God has an otherworldly experience that changes his entire view of God. Of course, some people get stuck on the representation of the Trinity as two women and a man, or about the notion that someone can get saved after dying as an unbeliever, but if you’ll bear with me repeating myself…

Context is everything.

As I said, I’d bought into the presumptions about the Shack, but I know my wife to be a wise and Godly woman — one who ABSOLUTELY AFFIRMS the holiness of God, such that He cannot suffer sin, nor submit His sovereignty to forgive the unrepentant — and she reminded me that a wise man LISTENS to the wisdom of others but does not DEPEND upon it. So if I were to form any rock-solid opinions about the Shack, I owed it to everybody — including myself — to actually watch it and see what was what. Which is what I did.

So… my thoughts…

The Shack, first and foremost, is NOT an evangelistic movie, and it never tries to be. Quite the opposite, I take the Shack to be a commentary on the Problem of Evil/Suffering — a philosophical argument that many atheists use to undermine religion in general and Christianity in particular.

As the movie progresses, you come to realize that the main character, Mack, is not an unbeliever per se — not the way many would understand the term. To the contrary, Mack believes that there is a God, and he nominally tries to please Him, but because of life experiences with his Dad, and of course the murder of his daughter, Mack has a very broken view of God. He “obeys” (in loose terms) God in order to avoid punishment, or to “do the right thing”, but none of it comes out of any actual “love” for God. He recognizes God as the Omnipotent, Omniscient Judge and Ruler of the Universe… but that’s ALL he sees God as. He can’t look at our world, with all its suffering, and equate an all-powerful God with a GOOD God.

This, ultimately, is where the main body of the movie takes place.

When Mack first meets God (called “Papa” in the movie, because that’s how his dead daughter always referred to God), he meets God as three distinct and separate people. Of course, some theologians will cry “modalism” at this, and there “might” be an argument to be made about that, but I find it an incredibly weak one.

See, the character of Papa is played, as you already know, by a little black woman. The thing is, the woman who Papa appears as in the Shack is the very same black woman who comforted Mack once as a child, after Mack’s father beat him. Given that Mack has a broken view of God, it makes perfect sense that if God were to CHANGE Mack’s view, He would meet Mack with that view in mind. So when God first appears to Mack, He appears as perhaps the only genuinely loving face that Mack has ever known — someone who Mack did not know, and who did not know him, but nevertheless showed him unconditional love. The fact that this “face of unconditional love” was a little black woman was entirely beside the point — it was a face that would put Mack at ease, and allow him to accept God as entirely DIFFERENT from the God that Mack expected.

As the movie progresses, we run into this theme several times — Mack presumes, God corrects. In many ways, the movie is NOT about revealing who God is, but about revealing that Mack is WRONG about who God is. It does this in a variety of ways — by challenging Mack’s notion that God is (directly or indirectly) the source of evil, that God is impotent to punish the “right” people, etc.

One particularly powerful scene is where Mack, who has deemed himself worthy to sit in judgment of God, meets the manifestation of Wisdom (who is arguably another manifestation of God, one that Mack might perceive as neutral) and is asked to decide which of his children will go to Heaven, and which he must send to Hell. When Mack balks, she tells him, “I’m only asking you to do something you believe God does.” She shows him his remaining daughter, who shuts him out, says hurtful things, etc, and contrasts her with Mack’s son, who she reveals is being disobedient, sneaking out, lying, etc.

The point of the scene is to ask, “If God’s intent is to judge, then who should get a pass, and who should be condemned?” It never questions that God judges, but rather, who are we to say that God is not judging RIGHTLY?

Mack, of course, does not want to judge EITHER worthy of Hell, and tries to refuse. But Wisdom tells him that he MUST choose, that he cannot step down from the responsibility. And so Mack speaks out in love — “Take me. I’ll go instead of them.”

The message of the Cross… and he doesn’t even realize it at the time.

The movie (and presumably, the book) is riddled with scenes like that, where God deftly maneuvers Mack through his presumptions to show him that he does NOT have a complete picture of God, so that when God’s nature IS revealed to him, he is able to accept it.

Now then, there is one scene in the movie that gives me pause — the scene where Mack meets his abusive father, who Mack poisoned as a child. In the scene, Mack (who has already seen how his grandfather had abused his father the same way that his father abused him) confronts the spirit of his father. His father breaks down and begs his forgiveness, and Mack gives it. They embrace, and it appears that the spirit starts to glow a little differently, possibly in healing of some sort.

Because we know so little about the circumstances of Mack’s father’s death (whether he repented, whether he even knew Christ or was broken and backslidden, etc), we have no way of knowing whether or not God had forgiven Mack’s father before his death. Because of this, it’s “possible” to see this scene as an argument for receiving salvation AFTER an unbeliever’s death, but after a bit of thought, I think that would be a mistaken assumption. See, the entire movie is about¬†coming to know GOD — knowing Him as He is as opposed to how we expect Him to be, and coming to relationship with Him. If that is the CONTEXT of the movie, then Mack’s father receiving salvation at this point does not jibe with the rest of the movie, because the entire exchange was limited to Mack and his father — God was only there in the background. There is no message of restored relationship between Mack’s father and God, a theme which is otherwise CENTRAL to the movie. That being the case, and without any CLUE what happened regarding the father’s own redemption, the only SAFE assumption about this scene is that it’s all about Mack’s ability to forgive the unforgivable. To assume more than that is to possibly get it all wrong.

Now then… is this movie (or book) what I would call evangelistic? No, I don’t think so. It’s tailored for a specific mindset — that of one that believes in God, but can only see Him as judge, jury, and executioner. It won’t speak to people who don’t believe in God, nor will it necessarily speak to people who go into the movie with presumptions about what it is or what it should be (ironic, that LOL). What I WILL say is that the movie has the heart of a parable — it gives an incomplete picture of the truth because the truth is so much bigger than the parable can reveal. The purpose of this film is NOT to share the Gospel (though it could possibly do that), but to show how God can be both infinitely sovereign and infinitely merciful, without sacrificing either to satisfy the other.

Of course, I’m sure there are PLENTY of my friends who think that I’ve just gone heretic, blaspheming God in disagreeing with X theologian or Y preacher in their condemnation of the movie. I accept that. It wouldn’t be the first time that I’ve made my friends look at me sideways, and it probably won’t be the last. But those who know me know that I am anything BUT a heretic, that I have ZERO inclination to belittle the sovereignty of God.

To those who are open to it — I think the Shack has gotten a bum rap. To those who just feel the urge to pray for my correction, please do — I’d sooner be wrong about the Shack, AGAIN, than to get sideways with the Lord and not be given the opportunity to get right. But in EITHER case, I ask that before you pass judgment, see the movie first so that you are able to pass a KNOWLEDGEABLE judgment. Don’t rely on somebody else to form your opinion for you. Do your own legwork.

Categories: Life In General, Religious, Uncategorized, Writing | Leave a comment

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.