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Friday, January 14, 2011, 11:37 AM
I was recently part of a group of Christians visiting together and passing the time with stories. One fellow told a story about how he had to get a haircut for the first time in years. He usually uses clippers and buzzes his head. But his wife asked him to let it grow and then get a professional cut. He complied.
Having no habit of getting his hair cut by professionals, he drove around until he decided to wander into J.C. Penney’s salon. He did not inquire as to price. He also did not give a lot of guidance about how he wanted his hair trimmed.
The woman who cut his hair proceeded to use the clippers at the nape of his neck. He protested with annoyance in a belated fashion when it was too late to change course. She finished the haircut, using scissors on top and clippers around the back and sides.
As they walked to the counter for payment, he was feeling somewhat surly. She then announced the price would be $30. He was flabbergasted and let her know through his attitude that he thought the price was ridiculous. She asked if he wanted to add a tip. He said, “No.”
Now, the way he told the story, a number of people in the class were amused. I have to admit, his telling was colorfully rendered.
But my question to you is this: Did he conduct himself in the right way? Would you have wanted the woman at the salon to know he is a Christian?
Monday, December 20, 2010, 12:42 AM
This has nothing to do with the Left Behind books by Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye.
Nor am I referring to writers behind recent surprise hits like Facing the Giantsor Fireproof.
In fact, the individual I mean to talk about isn’t considered part of the Christian subculture at all.
He has sold over 400,000, 000 books. According to his website, the number is growing by about 17 million a year globally. He has made a reputation writing about evil, but his most popular character is one of the finest fictional human beings you can imagine.
Who am I talking about? Who has those kinds of sales figures and yet sets forth a philosophy which embraces the Christian faith, tradition, and a generally conservative philosophical viewpoint?
Thursday, December 2, 2010, 10:03 AM
In a recent “Review” section containing a variety of lifestyle content, the Wall Street Journal chose to give front page real estate to a short essay by Erica Jong, the author and pioneer of a certain feminist sexual frankness. The piece in question was an attack on attachment parenting (which has features such as babies sleeping in the bed with mother and father) and environmentalism (of the type which would urge the use of cloth diapers). Jong’s critique is broad and encompasses more than advertised. For example, at one point she expresses her frustration with Gisele Bundchen’s declaration that all women should breastfeed.
Of course Jong is upset. She is from a generation that eagerly embraced things like bottle-feeding and formula so as to gain a degree of freedom from the immediate needs of the infant. The important thing, from the ideological perspective, was that the child not get in the way of the aspirations of the mother.
Her attitude is summed up nicely here:
Women feel not only that they must be ever-present for their children but also that they must breast-feed, make their own baby food, and eschew disposable diapers. It’s a prison for mothers, and it represents as much of a backlash against women’s freedom as the right-to-life movement (italics mine).
Jong repeats the tired old libel that the REAL reason for the existence of the right-to-life movement is that SOME people want to keep women down, keep them penned up in a kitchen or chained to a vacuum cleaner. It could never be that such people have some greater concern for, I don’t know, the right of an unborn child not to be arbitrarily killed. Nah.
The type of feminism on display is one which believes completely in doing what comes naturally when it comes to sex, but not with regard to reproduction or the nurture of children. To the extent that people such as Angelina Jolie or Gisele Bundchen (both singled out for criticism by Jong) represent a backlash against such callous attitudes, I say rage on.
Wednesday, November 17, 2010, 9:05 PM
Irene Rosenberg recently passed away. She was a longtime member of the University of Houston Law Center and a lion-hearted liberal. Irene and her husband Yale were two of the brightest lights at the law school. They were orthodox Jews and unapologetic leftists.
While I disagreed with the two of them about many things in law and politics, I learned a great deal from them. They were intellectual powerhouses with probing, critical minds capable of wonderful acts of analysis. When Yale died several years ago, I wrote her to express my appreciation for him. She wrote back with great warmth and affection. I still have that letter in a box marked SENTIMENTALS. It fills me with happiness to look at it and to think that it meant something to her that I wrote after his death.
Irene was emotionally transparent and very blunt. I can remember her asking a girl if a particular piercing was painful. The girl was taken aback. I was nearby and was greatly amused.
At one point, Irene figured out that I was a pretty religious person, like she and Yale were except Christian. She once told me she felt sorry that my faith lacked the detailed ritual and observance of her orthodox Judaism. The remark wasn’t meant offensively, nor did I take it that way. When Yale taught Jewish law, I took the course enthusiastically. He confided that conservative Christians tended to be his best students in the class because of their interest in the Hebrew scriptures.
Irene was sensitive to students, but she argued hard for her views. I had the chance to talk to her about them on many occasions offering my conservative challenges. At one point, she confided that she sometimes thought all political and legal discourse might be a screen for what’s really in our guts.
If her intuition was true, I can say this much: Her guts were made of solid gold. She was an orthodox Jewish humanist in the best sense of those words.
Friday, October 29, 2010, 3:27 PM
My students and I just reached the part of the semester in political theory where we cover Martin Luther’s On Secular Authority. In that book, he brilliantly addresses the Sermon on the Mount, insisting that Christians must observe it. But how, you might say? If we constantly turn the cheek, evil men will prey upon the whole earth. Not so, it is for this reason that God has ordained the state, says Luther.
I am especially taken with this passage:
[T]he kingdom of the world is nothing else than the servant of God’s wrath upon the wicked, and is a real precursor of hell and everlasting death. It should not be merciful, but strict, severe, and wrathful in the fulfillment of its work and duty. Its tool is not a wreath of roses or a flower of love, but a naked sword; and a sword is a symbol of wrath, severity, and punishment.
As I read it, I can’t help but recall Dirty Harry wondering aloud before a notorious criminal whether he’d fired six times or only five. Or perhaps better yet, I think of Wyatt Earp in the film Tombstone provided with a marshall’s badge and declaring, “Tell ‘em I’m coming, and hell’s coming with me!”
Why do we like these movies? It is because we recognize there is something wrong with a state that ignores its primary function which has to do with the restraint and punishment of those who do evil.
Wednesday, October 20, 2010, 6:00 PM
In my book The End of Secularism, I have a chapter which is a case study demonstrating that the high-minded adherence to secularism is easily discarded by leftists whenever they find religion convenient to their agenda. Were I to rewrite the book today, I would include the ad being run against Rand Paul by his opponent in the Kentucky senate race.
Here’s the text of the ad:
“Why was Rand Paul a member of a secret society that called the Holy Bible ‘a hoax’ – that was banned for mocking Christianity and Christ?” asks a voice in Conway’s ad. “Why did Rand Paul once tie a woman up? Tell her to bow down before a false idol and say his God was ‘Aqua Buddha?’ “
Now, first off, I have to say that the claim against Rand Paul has to do with a stunt from his college years at Baylor. Having read the original story about Rand’s classmate’s claim, it was clear that he and a friend engaged in a fairly typical fraternity-style prank. I am familiar with the “secret society” he belonged to at Baylor. It is a humorous part of campus-life. A little edgy, but viewed as a real part of the Baylor tradition.
More important, though, the text of the ad shows that liberals are more than ready to use religion as a political issue when it suits their purposes. If the shoe were on the other foot and a conservative were running an ad of this nature, many gray eminences of church-state separation would come forth from the Ivy Leagues, Washington, D.C., and New York City to explain to us how scurrilous and unprincipled it is.
I have yet to hear from Barry Lynn or any of the other great separators of church and state about the Conway ad being run against Rand Paul. And we won’t hear from them. Because this story doesn’t fit their template of conservatives using religion to engage in holy war.
Thursday, October 14, 2010, 10:31 PM
You know, I’m looking at the two most recent transfers of power in Communist countries — from Fidel to his brother Raul Castro and from Kim Jong Il to his young son — and I’m wondering how I missed the part in the Communist Manifesto where the leaders of the revolution leave their offices to their family members.
The state doesn’t wither much, does it?
Saturday, October 2, 2010, 4:10 PM
Ruth signed me up to be the surprise family reader at Grace’s kindergarten class on Friday. I showed up the end of lunch and Grace was thrilled to see me. As was the rest of her class. When a parent shows up, they all act star struck, as if Angelina Jolie or Brad Pitt had suddenly arrived.
We walked to her class from the lunchroom with our hands behind our backs to prevent us from interfering with one another. Upon reaching the classroom, the kids sat down on a rug and Grace’s teacher briefly introduced me. I read The Little Red Caboose (who always came last, but saved the day) and Robert the Rose Horse (about a horse who prevents a bank robbery with a giant sneeze). As I read, I kept catching Grace’s eye and felt my heart leap as I saw her bursting with pride and satisfaction to have her daddy holding forth in front of her class. Each time, I struggled to master myself so as to avoid choking up with a surge of emotion to see my child so pleased with me. Somehow, I got through it. What a wonderful experience.
Later that day when I got home from work, I asked Grace questions to get her reaction. Was she happy I came to her class? Did Daddy do a good job reading? Did her friends have a good time? She astutely avoided all these queries and said directly what I was trying to discover from her in a roundabout way: “Daddy, I love you.”
Tuesday, September 28, 2010, 10:33 AM
Cross-posted from First Thoughts
My students and I have been discussing Aristotle’s political thought recently. Yesterday, our discussion centered around Aristotle’s insistence that the political association must be about more than the protection of rights (in essence a mutual defense alliance). Aristotle instead endorses civic friendship in which our lives are truly interwoven in pursuit of substantive justice.
As we talked, it occurred to me that President Obama ran as an Aristotelian in this sense. HE would be the one to lift us beyond our petty, individualistic concerns toward a higher vision of community justice. WE, upon joining him, would become the ones WE have been waiting for. Candidate Obama successfully pleaded his case for a left-of-center version of civic friendship. President Obama has had a tough go of implementing it as the consequences become manifest.
All the way around the table, the students were skeptical of the possibility that a government can move from our current pluralism to unity around some vision. Instead, they seemed to prefer the idea that government sets fair rules and conditions for people to pursue their individual ends. Because my students are mostly Christians, I moved the example away from President Obama to a Christian republic in which people aren’t forced to be Christians but where Christian moral norms hold sway. They didn’t have much hope or enthusiasm for that, either. Or, at least, they thought it was equally impossible in our current culture.
I wonder if there is a clue here indicating to us the limits of an instrumentality like the state and pointing toward the possibilities of the church.
Monday, September 6, 2010, 2:02 PM
I’ve now had the chance to finish Lott’s book about William F. Buckley. He wrote the book as part of the Christian Encounters series for Thomas Nelson. The book is a quick read and is absolutely packed with interesting information about WFB. I say that as a person who has been reading Buckley and reading about him for many years. Lott’s book (titled William F. Buckley) gets past the half dozen or so anecdotes we’ve all heard and shares lots of great stuff about Buckley as a thinker and controversialist.
A few interesting features:
- Lott compares Buckley’s charges made in God and Man at Yale with the recent experiences of a Yale student (Deepthink!). Perhaps unsurprisingly, but humorously, the recent student utterly vindicates young Buckley’s concerns about his alma mater.
- We get a great moment in which Buckley protested Kruschev’s visit to America by renting a hall and giving a rousing speech. He told the crowd not to despair because of the moral resources Americans had that the Soviets didn’t and added that the Soviet leader, “is not aware that the gates of hell shall not prevail against us . . . In the end we will bury him.”
- We learn that WFB could well have become the senator for New York instead of his brother, Jim, who served one term. After Robert Kennedy was shot, Buckley decided to stand down in favor of Jim. What might that chamber have been like with the most eloquent and cutting Buckley on the floor????
The book is highly satisfying and extremely well done. I am impressed that an evangelical publishing company has offered the best biography since WFB’s death. We would expect it from ISI or Regnery. Of course, we all await the authorized volume someday to come from Sam Tanenhaus who was so successful in his treatment of Whittaker Chambers’ life.
Saturday, September 4, 2010, 9:58 AM
The Thomas Nelson company sent me AmSpec alumnus Jeremy Lott’sWilliam F. Buckley. I will write a full review later, but I have just begun the book and can already tell that Lott is going to bring attention to some underappreciated territory.
His hook is that Bill Buckley was more or less a prophet. His aim is to show how Buckley’s faith influenced his life and his politics.
Only nine pages in I have been treated to the following quote by JFK in response to a Harvard speaker who crowed that the school had never graduated either an Alger Hiss or a McCarthy. JFK roared, “How dare you couple the name of a great American patriot with the name of a traitor!” (Whatever happened to the Kennedy’s?)
Of course, the book is not about JFK, but about WFB, and I am sure from what I have read so far that the effort will be a worthy one.
Thursday, September 2, 2010, 12:07 PM
Cross-posted from First Thoughts . . .
Many of us who are Christians and/or conservatives have enjoyed Russell Kirk’s books over the years. Although The Conservative Mind gets most of the attention, I suspect some may have found The Roots of American Order to be a better read. The difference is that The Conservative Mind is early scholarship that happened to hit just the right note at the time whereas The Roots of American Order is the wide-ranging reflection of a learned academic wise-man with a heck of a jazzy hook. The Roots of American Order, it turns out, can be found in Athens, Rome, Jerusalem, and London. It’s a wonderful way to start a book which is a fusion of historical and political analysis.
Neither of these volumes is Kirk’s best seller.
The all-time champion of the Kirk canon, supposedly outselling all the rest combined, is The Old House of Fear. Quite a few conservatives know that Kirk wrote some ghost stories, but haven’t read them. I took the plunge several months back and read Ancestral Shadows, which is a fantastic collection of his stories offered by Eerdmans. You can read that review here.
The publisher recently sent me The Old House of Fear so I could read Kirk’s novel length entry in the supernatural story genre. Having finished the book, I can again express satisfaction with Kirk’s handiwork. The novel features a good plot and a excellent character study. A wealthy old man wants to buy land on a semi-inaccessible Scottish Isle, but has a terrible time pulling it off despite his fantastic means. He hires a military veteran turned lawyer to travel there and find a way to make the purchase happen. Events unfold in an exciting manner from that point. The veteran/lawyer character is wonderfully drawn. He is in his late 30′s, single, physically sturdy, resourceful and somewhat wasted in legal practice. Part of what makes the book work is our desire to see what this complex man will do as he encounters obstacles. The villains are well established, too. And fairly creepy.
When you have that open weekend when you want to spend time in your favorite chair reading a good book, the kind you can just enjoy instead of alertly marking up and taking notes, I highly recommend The Old House of Fear and Ancestral Shadows.
Wednesday, August 25, 2010, 10:36 AM
Evangelicals spend a lot of time fighting about Genesis and the proper interpretation thereof. Catholics spend a lot less time on it for reasons which are not fully clear to me. My area of scholarship is religion, law, and politics, so I am far from expert in this controversy as either a theologian or a scientist.
What I am curious about and would like to see discussion of here at this blog is why this issue commands so much attention relative to other matters. Let me explain what I mean. I became a Christian because I became convinced of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. To me, his resurrection is the point upon which a person must become convinced. Nothing else is comparable.
The resurrection of Jesus is where the whole thing rests, isn’t it? If he rose, then we need to follow him. If he did not, then we are back to just choosing our faith on the basis of preference or a mystical experience.
How does the Genesis battle get in front of that? Am I missing something? I am completely open to the possibility that I am.
(In bringing this up I am not jumping on the Darwin train. I think reasonable people of all faiths or none should probably have strong reservations about buying that package, especially in its widest-reaching forms.)
Saturday, August 21, 2010, 8:36 AM
I will make this short and simple, but I have hopes that many will be interested in the idea.
We have all seen that huge amounts of foreign aid pouring into Africa through the years has done relatively little to make the lives of Africans better. They still lack some of the basic things like access to clean water or reliable food supplies.
At the same time, I imagine many American Christians have also been part of small efforts to provide money to dig wells, build small bridges, and other attempts to improve the quality of life in Africa. It seems to me the time has come to push harder on this front.
Through personal relationships formed by American pastors and missionaries with African pastors, we should be able to directly channel aid to our brothers and sisters in Christ (and thus to the communities of which they are part) without encountering the corruption and waste through which foreign aid seems destined to pass. I mean, who needs the U.N. when we have the Kingdom?
I would love to hear in comments about people who have been involved with this kind of activity or who would like to comment upon the wisdom (or unforeseen challenges) of the idea.
Wednesday, August 18, 2010, 11:44 PM
I’ll go on record predicting that liturgy is going to make a big comeback among evangelicals. Preaching is content and content is now everywhere. You don’t have to be at James MacDonald’s church in order to hear him preach. He’s on your computer, in your iPod, etc. Anyone can listen to their favorite pastor almost any time.
What you cannot get anywhere on an on-demand basis is a community experience of worship. You cannot take communion online, for example. The churches that move away from the pure content model and toward a community worship model will attract more young people.
For those inclined to comment, I am NOT suggesting this means a de-emphasis on orthodoxy or a lack of attention to the ministry of the word. I am simply proposing that the way we “do” church (especially among the low church evangelical crowd) is going to move in the direction I’ve suggested.
Wednesday, August 4, 2010, 3:01 PM
By now, most have read Anne Rice’s emphatic rejection of Christianity. She laid out her template of left-wing values which are more important to her than being part of the church which rejects these things (anti-science, anti-Democrat, anti-gay, anti-life, waitaminute, did she say anti-life?) and declared her allegiance to Jesus alone.
What fascinates me about the way she has done this is how Catholic she is in her rejection of the Catholic Church.
If Anne Rice were a Protestant of almost any kind, she would surely flee to a denominational group or congregation which embraces Jesus while more closely approximating her values. There is no doubt it would be possible to do so. There are liberal Baptists, liberal Lutherans, liberal Methodists, etc.
But Rice doesn’t avail herself of that opportunity. And I think I know why. Anne Rice movingly wrote of her Catholic childhood and of her dramatic return to the church. At no point did she apparently consider returning to faith as a Protestant. She clearly believes that the Catholic church is the only true manifestation of the Christian church. And thus, when she rejects it, there is no other church for her to join. She is affirming the church at the same time she loudly and publicly is slamming the door and running away.
Monday, July 19, 2010, 9:18 AM
I’ve been reading through Eric Metaxas’ biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. It is truly excellent. At points it almost has a dreamlike quality. I highly recommend it.
What motivates this post is the point in the narrative where the German state church is confronted by the Aryan Paragraph designed to prohibit Jews (Christian Jews!) from membership in the German church. The point of the exercise was to sharpen the contrast between Jewishness and Germanness. Bonhoeffer and others, aghast at this turn of events, begin to develop an interest in the concept of a free church. The free church is the idea of the church as a regenerate body (voluntary) instead of a comprehensive one (coextensive with the political community).
This part of the book caught my interest because it perfectly captures the theme I‘ve been pushing for a while now which is that Christians should aggressively push for separation of church and state while drawing a sharp line between separation and secularism. Separation means the state does not fund the church nor does it control the church. Separation does not mean the church refrains from engaging in advocacy or organization (political or otherwise). One of the primary features of separation is that it should free the church to criticize or applaud the state depending on the degree to which it pursues an unholy agenda or a more righteous one.
In other words, a regenerate church is not a private church. It is rather like a volunteer army. Members enlist for a mission to the world.
Cross-posted to First Thoughts
Wednesday, July 7, 2010, 5:04 PM
I recently read a biography of Henry Luce. He was the co-founder of Time magazine and founded Life, Fortune, Sports Illustrated, and other prime American media properties. He co-founded Time with a Yale classmate who died young.
The book, Henry Luce: His Time, Life, and Fortune, probably doesn’t do justice to its subject, but Luce is so interesting I found myself hungry to know more. The author of this volume clearly disagreed, to some extent, with Luce’s conservatism. I think the writer, John Kobler, saw Luce as a retrograde businessman with a genius for publications.
Luce grew up as a missionary kid in China. His father was a Presbyterian with a vision for a Christian university in China. As a child, Luce grew up with a powerful sense of the value of American culture and, as he called it, the American proposition which was a mixture of “courage, private initiative, responsibility, honesty, and independence from government aid and interference.” His country had a destiny to fulfill in providence and had “a constitutional dependency on God.”
His first prospectus for Time (in the early 1920′s) contained the following “catalogue of prejudices”:
- A belief that the world is round and an admiration of the statesman’s view of all the world.
- A general distrust of the present tendency toward increasing interference by government.
- A prejudice against the rising cost of government.
- Faith in the things which money cannot buy.
- A respect for the old, particularly in manners.
- An interest in the new, particularly in ideas.
Luce was especially repulsed by the philosophy Oliver Wendell Holmes espoused when he suggested men had little more significance than “baboons or grains of sand” or that truth is defined by the nation with the ability to “lick all the others.” He rejected Holmes’ cynical “materialism, militarism, relativism, and agnosticism” and he worked hard to see that his publications promoted a different set of values. One of the interesting things about the book is to see Luce trying to control the content put out by his media empire while at the same time respecting the right of his writers to call things as they saw them. While he was a Republican, most of the writers he hired were Democrats. Perhaps, it was true then as it is now that journalism draws the more liberal minded.
Growing up in China formed him in ways other than ideology. He ate substandard food so many years that even when he became wealthy, he had little interest or enjoyment in eating. He looked at food as fuel necessary for life and ate whatever was brought to him. He also maintained an interest in global events. Having grown up on the other side of the world kept him well aware that the United States was not the only theater for news.
It is also fascinating to consider his personal and spiritual life. Luce grew up with a strong family all of whom sacrificed a great deal to promote the gospel in China. He kept that faith all of his life, working to the glory of God, giving every ounce of energy to personal industry and excellence. Yet, he casually divorced his wife in order to marry the beautiful and talented Clare Booth. She later became a committed Catholic and never won him away from his devout Presbyterianism.
They shared a great love of America and worked hard in the fight against Communism. The chapter about Clare’s work as the American ambassador to Italy is particularly interesting. She worked to kill American contracts for companies that had a majority of workers affiliated with the Communist party. Both Henry and Clare engaged their work with seriousness about results as well as intent.
Something else is interesting about the book. By reading, you learn that Luce was able to generate great publishing successes by thinking deeply about what the magazines would be about. As an example, he insisted that Sports Illustrated couldn’t be a reality until the team had a handle on the philosophical foundation for their coverage of sports. What is the philosophy of leisure? Luce wanted to know. He was incredibly curious about everything. The author presents his constant peppering of people with questions as an annoying personality characteristic, but his desire to be informed appears laudable.
Luce seems to be a bit of a forgotten man for those of us living in the 21st century. I’d love to hear from those who are aware of an authoritative treatment of his life.
Friday, June 18, 2010, 3:29 PM
We all know the circumspect pro-lifers who will endorse restricting abortion only to rapidly follow their statement with a modifier. It goes like this:
But if you plan on telling women they can’t abort babies, then you’d better be ready to establish orphanages, pay for healthcare, add welfare benefits, etc.
For a long time, I accepted this as sage advice. On first blush, it seems to be clearly true.
A friend brought up that point to me earlier today. I suddenly realized it is in many ways a cop out.
In order to demonstrate, consider a similar position on theft, which does not of necessity entail the ending of someone’s life. Here we go:
If you plan on making theft illegal, then you’d better be ready to remove the sources of material deprivation. You’ll need to be ready to provide healthcare, food stamps, welfare, etc. Until you remove the incentives for theft, you had better be ready to live with theft.
Do you see the problem? Abortion is an evil. Theft is an evil. Both are sometimes resorted to because people are desperate and don’t know what to do. At other times, the act is chosen in a more cynical fashion and without the tragically beautiful wrapping of travail.
I think we should do things to make abortion less attractive to women. But I do not think that we should propose to people that they may not legitimately oppose abortion until they are willing to enact a host of social welfare reforms. The evil is the evil. We can seek to prevent the evil by making it less attractive through palliative measures, but we may also seek to prevent the evil by making it unlawful. The second does not logically depend on the first.
Monday, May 24, 2010, 4:45 PM
On my way out of Houston, my pastor asked me to preach a sermon about truth. I took the opportunity to return to first things and to try to help people have their own faith rather than just belonging to the Christian tribe.
You can hear it here. It begins with the pastor talking about my wife and then Robert Sloan talking about me, but the preaching begins at about the 6:30 mark.
Monday, May 17, 2010, 11:13 AM
I have been leading a study of John’s Gospel at church. Something interesting occurred to me yesterday as we went through the fourth chapter.
Nicodemus, who is described as a Jewish ruler, comes to see Jesus. The gentile official, who hopes for his son to be healed, comes to see Jesus.
The woman at the well, the one who is a sinner with five former husbands and a live-in boyfriend, gets a different treatment.
Jesus comes to see her.
Wednesday, May 12, 2010, 11:16 AM
I did an interview with the Harvard Political Review several weeks ago. The story is largely a paean to secularism. Steven Pinker even takes credit for democracy as an achievement of secularists. I know. That’s the history you get from an evolutionary psychologist.
To the author’s credit, I was certainly treated fairly. I only wish she’d offered more of our interview to her readers. For those who would like to read it, I have posted it in full over at First Thoughts.
Tuesday, May 4, 2010, 9:18 AM
Like the vast majority of southern kids during the 1970′s and 80′s, I went to church from time to time. My parents took us to an Episcopal church for several years and then sporadically attended Baptist churches after that. For the most part, I was bored. The one outlier was a Sunday school class in middle school with a teacher who talked almost exclusively about the coming Armageddon. He had little difficulty keeping the attention of his group of boys.
Like most people, even those who think they are Christians, I was not one. But when I went to college, I came to understand the Lord. It happened at Florida State University.
Without giving you my testimony, I can just say that it began with the meetings of Intervarsity Christian Fellowship on campus. I experienced worship and teaching, but it wasn’t like church. We didn’t dress up. We met in a room in the student union.
Music varied in quality with students playing any instruments they could, especially during my first year. We sang words from an old overhead projector and shook keys and made noise. Once I learned not to be self-conscious, it was fun.
The teaching wasn’t like the sermons I remembered (or didn’t remember) from church as a kid. Speakers connected with us, reached out to us, talked about very practical things. The persistent theme was the ways being a Christian should affect your life.
But what made it all work was probably less the programming and more the community. I learned to love the students in our chapter. They became like a new family to me. I was so happy to see them. We met as a group and became part of each others lives the rest of the time, too. They were my social group, my worship group, my homework group, my neighbors, my community. We practically colonized one of the apartment complexes near campus. On top of it all, they were the people who supported Ruth and I by attending our wedding, wishing us well, desecrating my car as a honeymoon-mobile, and giving us gifts.
Tuesday, April 20, 2010, 8:36 PM
I had half of my day blocked out for the kind of assignment at HBU I would normally avoid. Our student life director wanted me to help interview candidates for Mr. and Ms. HBU. When I was an undergraduate, I avoided student life activities and spent most of my time with Intervarsity Christian Fellowship or friends from Landis Hall. This sort of competition was, in my mind, likely to be a contest of resume’ builders.
How wrong could I have been?
The students I met through the interview process stunned me with their poise, records of accomplishment, desire to experience community with their fellow students, and their spiritual insight.
One young man had overcome a stuttering problem to become the determined editor of the college newspaper. He has interviewed me before. The kid is tough. Despite the bad economy, he has a job lined up ready to go when he graduates.
Another one has studied to be a pastor. When we asked about his legacy at the institution, he wept as he recounted his experience of reaching out to others and finding them ready to reciprocate. His record at the university showed he had taken up almost every helpful task he could find.
One young woman talked about being a leader for other students. She explained that she understood the role of leader to be striving to follow Jesus so that when others follow her, they will be following him. When I asked her which outside speaker had made the biggest impact on her, she mentioned Archbishop Chaput of Denver. She was impressed by his “humble boldness.” As she was speaking, I was taking notes. Spiritual wisdom seemed to flow from her like water from a spring. I could imagine her as a great English professor with a big family of her own.
We interviewed a girl who trained at our school to be a nurse. She discussed her determination to learn the liberal arts in addition to nursing so that she would avoid a narrow, professionalized view of the world. With regard to her faith, she insisted on the need to embrace a “God-centered reality.”
Still another talked about her failures, but distinguished herself through an indefatigable commitment to maintaining a great attitude and working to succeed. I felt so proud listening to her. I can’t know the mind of God, but I can’t help feeling that he would observe her and smile.
I could go on. Each student did something that touched me personally. How long will it be before I forget the girl who went to Mission Waco to learn about being homeless and who gave up her senior cruise to witness to kids on the beach at spring break, instead? Interviewing the candidates for Mr. And Ms. HBU turned out to be the most encouraging thing I have seen in a long time. I only wish I could have had ten good donors to the university sitting there with me, taking it all in. They would have realized that their money has been well spent. I wish I could have had the people who have yet to donate.
I learned something else as I talked with these kids today. The entire group, ten kids or so, had something in common. Without exception they put themselves forward among their fellow students. They volunteered. They got involved. They reached out, risked rejection, weren’t afraid of looking like eager beavers. Many of their peers think that just being in school is enough. They go through the prescribed motions. They want grades to be given to them. They want someone to give them a job. They want to be given a really good salary. This group of students I met today could show their friends something about living.
Tuesday, April 13, 2010, 9:53 AM
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If you really want to have your sensibilities twisted up in a knot, try listening to sports talk radio when the topic of discussion is some player’s malfeasance. The current version of that particular play has to do with Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s treatment of a 20 year old woman who was intoxicated at a bar.
I’ve now heard this conversation multiple times on various shows. The great interest, of course, is focused on whether the alleged bad behavior will affect the quarterback’s career. What will the NFL do? Will he be suspended? Will the Steelers perhaps lose a few games as a consequence?
The point that callers and some hosts keep returning to is this: Is there an NFL rule that has been broken? If there is not a specific rule against this behavior, then how can the commissioner do anything?
This is a mistake people often make. Contra Aquinas and Martin Luther King, Jr., many people are obsessed with what the law and official rules as the arbiters of right and wrong. No. Human laws and rules are merely instruments by which we attempt to give life to our understandings of right and wrong. They are not, themselves, ultimacies. Laws and rules can be wrong. They can be unjust. What if there were an NFL rule encouraging quarterbacks to take advantage of intoxicated women? Would that make Roethlisberger’s conduct righteous? Should he then receive an award for fulfilling the rule very well? Would the existence of such a rule cause us to endorse such behavior?
The question for us as fans is not whether Roethlisberger broke a rule or regulation. The question is whether he did something wrong. And if he did, he may have injured a young woman, himself, his team, and his league in the process. That might require some action by those who employ him to demonstrate their commitment to justice and correction. If they do otherwise, they send the message that they don’t care and that they find his qualities as a man, outside of leading a football team on the field, irrelevant. If that is what we believe, then we merely think of human beings as cogs in a machine designed to fulfill a function. As long as they fulfill that function, nothing else matters. Is that what we think about people? Are people just things we use?
To obsess about the rulebook is to leave aside the ability to engage in moral judgment. Moral judgment makes us human.
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