Monday, January 30, 2006


I literally did a double take when I read it. I use the Bible Gateway all the time for research. For whatever reason yesterday I clicked on the button at the top of the page for "Daily Wisdom." I found some, but not all of it was actually daily wisdom. Some of it reeked.

Sunday's was good. Brief, insightful, and an interesting take on the relationship between faith and works. Then I read Saturday's.

The title is "Is God All-Loving?" Not if you are the writer of this alleged wisdom. It claims, several paragraphs in, that "God's love and forgiveness are not unconditional."

The point is the old, hyper-Calvinist argument that God's love and forgiveness are only offered to those whom God knows will accept them, and that, thus, they are offered conditionally.

For the writer of that unwise wisdom, "God loves those who obey Him" and only forgives those who repent.

Semantically I could find a point on which to agree. One cannot realize the love and forgiveness God offers to that famous "whosoever" unless one turns and accepts it. How that can reasonably be construed as conditional on God's part is beyond me.

Join me in praying that Melanie Schurr, the author of this piece, finds the God of grace and God of glory who sent His son to die for everyone.

Conditional grace is not grace.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

This week in history

This week marks the 33rd anniversary of the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade. This landmark decision legalized abortion on demand throughout the United States, though with some limits.

The subsequent 33 years have been filled with debate and frustration on all sides over this contentious issue. The Politics of Virtue, by Elizabeth Mensch and Alan Freeman, a book I read several years ago, contends that the Roe decision polarized the debate over abortion. So, while the Supreme Court supposedly settles matters, in this case, these writers argue, the high court only made matters worse.

That decision made matters worse, they say, but attempting to remove the matter from public debate. Though it seems amazing today, the years pre-Roe actually saw groups on opposite sides of the abortion issue working together to reach common goals.

What could have been the common goals, you ask? Both sides accepted that abortion as simply a matter of choice was not good for society. Both agreed that the number of abortions could be drastically reduced if certain steps were taken by communities. In some places, such steps were being taken.

Roe, though, made a debate out of an issue. As opposing political candidates and parties drew lines and caricatured their opponents, it became increasingly difficult to carry on a civil conversation from opposite side of the issue. Talking degenerated into name calling.

Now, 33 years later, this pattern of behavior has become the very stuff of all politics. It is rare that real, open discussion happens at a meaningful level on any big issues facing our society.

Perhaps it is time to set aside our penchant for villainizing the other side, whomever that may be, and listening long enough to find some common ground.

I will if you will. No, wait; that is the problem. I will, anyway.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Can I say this here?

It is truly a shame the way we treat our high school athletes. It is easier this time of year to hear how badly we treat them. Basketball courts are much smaller than football fields.

For example, let a child (can we all agree that they are all children?) make a mistake, and too often a handful of alleged adults come unglued. Some parents feel free to berate their children right there on the court, in front of God and everybody.

I take some small comfort in young people having told me they can’t hear everything yelled from the stands. I hope they can’t distinguish any of it and only hear the noise. Then they can tell themselves it is people cheering.

Sure; if an athlete makes a mistake, or obviously needs an attitude adjustment, he or she ought to know about it. I think that’s why they have coaches.

Take basic basketball, for example. If a child travels, makes an errant pass, or, God forbid, misses a shot, the player knows he or she did something wrong. Do we really think they need to be reminded by us?

I remember taking a youth group to Sea World once. I was amazed to learn that all the training they do of the animals at Sea World is done by positive reinforcement. Positive reinforcement is when the correct or desired behavior is praised or rewarded and incorrect or undesired behavior is ignored or not rewarded.

I’d like to think our children deserve as much.

Friday, January 20, 2006

The Tale of Two Books

It was the best of books, it was the worst of books.

Ok, So I'm overstating things. But not by much.

Last night I finally finished Jimmy Carter's Our Endangered Values. I only finished it because I wasn't fair to stop halfway through a book by a former president.

Here is all you need to know about this book. Imagine an aging Old School Liberal Modernist Baptist former President thinking that the classy way to rip the sitting president is to shroud it in the garb of a concerned Sunday School Teacher who between Mondays and Saturdays criss-crosses the globe looking for people to help come to terms with a outdated understanding of human rights. Yeah, that's this book.

I can't help but wonder, though, whatever happened to that unwritten policy that former presidents do not comment on or detract from the work and direction of the current president? Carter apparently thinks that doing so as a concerned Christian makes it okay. I think that just makes it even less classy.

I do have to give Mr. Carter some credit, though. If his reporting of the current administrations actions and attitudes is at all accurate, the U.S. has a long uphill battle to gain any respect from most of the rest of the world.

ON THE OTHER HAND, I have also recently finished Rob Bell's Velvet Elvis.

Bell is the founding pastor of the Mars Hill Bible Church in Michigan. He is also the anchor of the Nooma series of videos that both well produced and full of attention-grabbing content.

The subtitle of Velvet Elvis is "Repainting the Christian Faith." Bell certainly does that in many different ways by honestly and openly looking all aspects of historic Christianity through the lens of a thirty-something Christian.

There are captivating studies of the cultures in which the scpritures were formed, and Bell fairly and cogently offers a fresh look at how we connect with them.

This isn't your grandfather's Elvis. But then, it isn't your grandfather's church, either.

In closing, there are likely many social positions on which Bell would side with Carter, proving there are some places one can arrive from different directions.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

More on Race

I got a response to my previous post that lead me to believe that perhaps I hadn't articulated things clearly enough. I hope this helps.

The point I hoped (and hope) to make is NOT that we cannot learn to treat others with respect and love regardless of skin color, but rather that even though we learn to so treat one another we do not actually and really not (physically) see skin color.

I read someplace, perhaps in Cornel West's Race Matters, perhaps not, that a black person is reminded daily, somehow, that he/she is a black person. Not in a negative way, simply a matter of cultural fact (if there is such a thing). So, while you and I can (and I usually do) think of ourselves simply as people, not as “white” people, black folk in our society are not afforded the opportunity (by society) to see themselves simply as people.

So, ISTM, and this was the intent of the column, the best way for us white folk to really, honestly, approach color-blind living, is to admit to ourselves and to others where it might matter, that we are, indeed, white folk.

(I have found it interesting that it was the “liberals” in the 60s who spoke of a colorblind society, but now it is the “conservatives.” I dare say you will not find anyone recognized as being on the left who uses that kind of language.)

Some of this, I now believe, is that minorities have (justifiably in my book) gotten to the place that they interpret the call to leave cultural and racial identities aside and let’s all just be Americans as a call to give up any cultural heritage that is left and become just like the white folk.

The Roman Catholics felt this way in the latter half of the 19th century about the public school system. From the perspective of the Roman Catholics, the secular public school system was teaching their children to grow up and be like the Protestants. Was this a recognized goal of ANY of the public school leaders? I doubt it. I do believe, though, that it was entirely fair for the Catholics to view it that way.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006


I am a white guy. There is no denying it.

I was raised in an era that didn’t want to produce “white guys.” As I was growing up we were living toward the myth of a colorblind society.

I believed that myth for a long time. When someone told me that he didn’t see someone’s skin color, that what he was saying was that he didn’t judge the other person based on skin color. Then I realized some people had actually convinced themselves they didn’t see color.

Oddly, everyone I knew who claimed not to see color was white.

About a decade ago, I learned a valuable lesson. White folk in the United States can, and often do, think of ourselves simply as “folk;” no adjective of skin tone needed. Black folk in this country do not have the same perspective. In our society, black people are black. They realize this daily and are routinely reminded of it.

Apparently, we aren’t really all just “folk.” Or maybe we are. Dr. King said, in the midst of one of the greatest speeches in our nation’s history, “I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

I submit to you this week, in honor and memory of Dr. King and his efforts, that we have a far better chance of realizing his dream if all of us realize, claim, and accept our skin tone rather than pretending we don’t notice it.

I’m a white guy. There is no denying it.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Telling an old, old story

If someone would have told me, I wouldn’t have believed it. But I experienced it firsthand, so I assure you it happened.

Last night I was taking our youth through the story of David and Bathsheba. When we got through verse 5, with Bathsheba pregnant, the youth were overwhelmed with what Bathsheba had done.

It took me a few seconds to collect myself and respond. This story wasn’t ahead Bathsheba’s wrong. It was about David and his abuse of kingly power and his lust. It wasn’t Bathsheba’s fault. It took me some time to help the kids to see that!

We smoothly moved on into a discussion about how guys have these strong hormonal urges and they just can’t help themselves. So maybe it does all always fall on the woman’s shoulders.

I couldn’t help but observe what a sad, pathetic assessment of males that was. It is even sadder to me that our society seems to have bought it hook, line, and sinker.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Pat problems

Pat Robertson is at it again. Can he be stopped?

My friend David Alexander gives Pat the amount of space he deserves. I cannot be so brief.

I wouldn't care what Pat said if he weren't such a public face of CHristianity. Much as I would like to deny it, there are many people that think of Pat Robertson whenever Christianity is brought up. Thus, when Pat Robertson speaks, for many it is as if the entire church speaks.

What a buffoon he has become! Of course it isn't as though Pat Robertson is the only Christian who has become a buffoon, but most of us don't have our own cable television networks, so our occasional buffoonery is not as dangerous.

Last week I learned about an online polling service and wanted to try it out by making a poll inviting people to compare Pat with other notorious Christian buffoons, but I couldn't think of anyone on a comparable level!

Check this out!

Monday, January 09, 2006

Timeless Message

Check out these powerful lyrics from a Newsboys song from their 1996 Take Me to Your Leader CD

Let it go
You are waiting on a beach
For a healing word to come
Maybe an apology in a bottle
Maybe a flare that says I'm sorry
and the hurting leaves you numb

will you forgive?
will you forget?
will you live what you know?
He left his rights
will you leave yours?
you don't understand it
let it go

You are waiting on a beach
This is where the east meets west
And as another sun sets on your anger
The darkness laughs as the wound destroys
and it turns your prayers to noise

Will you forgive?
Wil you forget?
will you live what you know?
He left his rights
will you leave yours?
you won't understand it
let it go

This bitterness you hide
it seeps into your soul
and it steals your joy
til it's all you know
let it go

Will you forgive?
will you forget?
will you live what you know?
he left his rights
will you leave yours?
you won't understand it
let it go

Will you forgive?
will you forget?
will you live what you know?
Beneath the cross
you hear his words
"Father forgive them"
and you know
you can't understand it
let it go

Friday, January 06, 2006

Growing up "churched"

The American Family Association is so concerned about NBC's The Book of Daniel they want us to email NBC and contact our local affiliates. The AFA would like us all to join them in telling NBC that this show is not what we consider a favorable presentation of Jesus or the Christian faith.

Instead of jumping on the Boycott Bandwagon, I thought I would look into the show and what it is about a bit. Turns out the AFA assessment of the characters is pretty accurate: pill-popping Priest, his martini-slugging wife, gay son, and drug-dealing daughter, and my favorite, a “kum-by-yah, Jesus is my buddy” Jesus who pops up when the priest needs him.

Still, I’m not quite ready to write letters to everyone with a dog in the hunt. I wonder what the point of the show is. Ought we automatically assume the intent is to denigrate religion in general or Christianity in particular? I’m not quite paranoid enough to make that leap. (after all, my high school geometry teacher taught me what it means to ASSUME)

The creator of the show, Jack Kenny, considers himself a “recovering” Catholic. Dare any of us really try to deny there are people out there with legitimate issues from having “grown up churched”? The Roman Catholic Church may have finally learned its lessons about reappointing pedophile priests; I’m not sure my own denomination has learned that lesson about Predator Pastors. In any case, it took a civil court and huge amounts of money for the church bureaucracy to admit there was a problem. Now we cry when someone clever enough to write a screenplay brings it out into the open?

No, I tend to think that any religion weak enough not to be able to withstand a sitcom probably requires a rethinking anyway.

In fact, I hope Mr, Kenny can make peace with his past and with God; and if writing this show helps, so be it. Writing out our pain is very therapeutic. On the other hand, sometimes the best thing to do with such writings is feed them to the shredder and let them go.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

What am to do?

Question: How does one keep from making promises or assurances one does not know if one can keep?

Need a little more context? I was visiting with a person in a nursing home who sounded dejected. It seemed that this person's child had decided that she could no longer live by herself and placed her in this home. She was, reasonably, having trouble adjusting from an independent life to life in a nursing home.

My gut instinct was to reassure her that her child had her best interests in mind. I wanted to tell her that her child loved her deeply and that having considered all the options, determined this was the best one.

Trouble is, I don't know the child. I refused to promise her that I knew this had been done out of love and concern.

Well, wonder of wonders, not only did I hear from the child about my lack of support, but I was chastised for not supporting the decision. I was told that the traditional practice of active listening did not work with this kind of situation. In other words, I was asked not to talk with her anymore if I couldn't say things supporting the decision to place her there.

There are far too many people abandoned to nursing facilities because families don't want to deal with them for me to assume that wasn't the case here. I did not have enough information to offer any support one way or another.

I would be happy to receive your input.

Thanks, Guys

Hook ‘em Horns! I am still recovering from a late night watching one of the most entertaining football games I have ever seen played.

Of course, it is easier for me to say that now than if USC had won; but this attitude is exactly what I want to write about.

After taking youth home, I sat up and watched quite a bit of the post-game show. All the announcers were effusive about the quality of the game and the competitiveness of the teams.

It was the interviews that got me. Every interview I saw: Pete Carroll, Reggie Bush, Matt Leinart, Vince Young, and Mack Brown. In case you haven’t been following college football, that is this year’s three Heisman Trophy finalists and the coaches of the teams that were ranked #1 and #2 all year long.

What struck me about each interview was that each man gave credit where credit was due. Each of them recognized the strengths and abilities of the others.

It seems that so much of sports these days is shrouded in name-calling, blame-gaming, and excuse-making, it was truly refreshing to experience these top-caliber men speaking with character of the greatness of others.

There was greatness last night in the Rose Bowl, and it wasn’t just what happened with the football. Two of the top programs in college football showed, I think, what makes them great: molding teenagers into young men of character and integrity to give one’s all and to recognize and respect that others do the same thing.

Everyone cannot be a national champion. Everyone can, however, treat others with dignity and respect. We can, each of us, give our best, and recognize when others do the same.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006


Did you miss Leap Second Saturday evening? We got an extra second just before 6 p.m. CST on New Year's Eve to bring the atomic clocks back into line with the solar day.

Here is a brief look into the interesting history of why we had a leap second added. Atomic clocks were invented in 1949, with the first accurate one coming in 1955. These clocks now measure time in terms of the magnetic resonance of the cesium-133 atom. I am awestruck!

You might be wondering why on earth a preacher would care about leap seconds, atomic clocks, and cesium-133’s magnetic resonance. Here you go:

I had always thought that length of time was about the earth’s rotation and revolution around the sun. Years into days, days into hours, into minutes, into seconds. If we ought to be able to count on anything, it is time, right?

In one of the leap second articles I read this weekend, it was pointed out that a day this year is 7.5 nanoseconds longer than a day in 1980. Stop the world; I want to get off!

Or, maybe we are looking at this the wrong way. Perhaps the length of a day or a year or a lifetime isn’t really at issue. What is at issue is our ability to measure things and the standards that we use.

Our measurements and standards as humans, no matter how atomically precise, no matter how much effort, need adjustment now and then. No matter how advanced our civilization may become, we will not and cannot “arrive;” we are always on our way toward better, more accurate, deeper, understandings and explanations.

The only constant, the standard by which all other measurements and interpretations will ultimately be judged, is God, the creator of the universe, and of the cesium atom.

Isn’t it great to know that such a God loves us and wants us to know him better?