I’ll Do This if You Do That

Husband: “Here’s my offer. I’ll stop beating the kids, if you’ll let me buy a new flatscreen TV for my man cave.”

Wife: “How are those two things even related? Besides, you promised–over and over and OVER–that your friend Morty would buy the TV for you.”

Husband: “I asked Morty, and he said no. So what can I do? We need to buy it ourselves.”

Wife: “So, if I write the check, you’ll stop beating the kids?”

Husband: “For now, I’ll stop. Believe me. It’s a win win.”

This is kind of how I view the President’s offer–that he’ll make a deal on DACA only if Congress makes the American people fund the border wall, which he always insisted Mexico would pay for.

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All Humans can Show Bad Judgment. Even…Jesus?

Was Jesus capable of exercising bad judgment? According to most Christian teaching, no. Bad judgment sounds too close to sin. We explain away everything Jesus said and did, even when it grates on us in some way. We focus on his “divine” side. We portray Jesus wandering blissfully through Israel, pious and smiling and always saying and doing the exact right thing.

In the words of Philip Yancy, we view Jesus “from above.” But when we view Jesus “from below,” legitimate (in my view) questions arise.

Like the one story from Jesus at age 12 (which I read yesterday), when he stayed behind in Jerusalem and inflicted a three-day panic on his parents as they frantically searched the city for him. Imagine Mary praying, “God, we have lost your Son. Please help us find him.” And it took three days, during which Mary and Joseph no doubt considered every possibility, including the very bad ones.

They finally locate Jesus in the Temple. Perhaps they had already looked there–maybe even started there. Jesus surely didn’t spend three days straight at the Temple, but spent part of the time elsewhere. Mary rightfully scolded her 12-year-old boy: “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”

Jesus replied, “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” That explanation always seems sufficient in modern sermons. But I’m guessing it didn’t satisfy Mary. Perhaps she immediately responded, “I don’t care! Don’t you ever do this to us again!” But when Mary (let’s assume) told the story to Luke, she left out that part.

Was Jesus oblivious to his mother’s concern? Or did he realize he had done something (dare I say it?) wrong? Did he apologize? There’s not story of him repeating that behavior in subsequent years.

Jesus was 12, and he was human. Was he not capable of bad judgment, even in the midst of righteous intentions?

In the next chapter, Jesus is teaching in his hometown of Nazareth. Initially, people respond positively. Then he takes it too far, crossing a line into heresy, and he alienated people who had no doubt played important roles in his life. For what purpose? Was this just the human side exercising poor judgment? A case of saying more than (he should have known) they were ready to accept?

There are other examples where, looking at Jesus “from below,” we could conclude Jesus didn’t ALWAYS know the exact right thing to do and say. For me, it doesn’t make him any less God. But it goes against the view of Jesus we normally teach and portray.

Just musing.

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That Highly Inefficient Roman Census

Reading about the census in Luke 2, it seems highly inefficient, having people travel to their ancestral home.

For Joseph, that meant going to Bethlehem, known as the City of David. But why stop at David? Joseph was also a descendent of Boaz, and Joseph, and Isaac. How did he know the lineage cut-off point? Did he get a letter in the mail? Was there a Census Bureau website he could consult? Was the rule, “Wherever your descendents lived at the time of David, that’s where you go”?

And why should the Romans care about everyone’s ancestral home? Wouldn’t they be more interested in, “How many people currently live in Nazareth? How many currently live in Capernaum?”

If we did the US census that way, imagine the confusion, with people traveling all across the country. I would go to either Lake Odessa or Lowell in Michigan…or maybe Kadoka, South Dakota. Maybe I would arrive in Lake Odessa and be told, “A-L is in Lowell. Only M-Z is in Lake Odessa.” Or maybe they would say, “No, Dennies have to go to South Dakota.” That would be a bummer.

What about immigrants who had no ancestral home in Israel? Where did they go to register? I’m sure the Romans wanted to tax them like everyone else.

How did people prove they had registered? Did they get a paper of some kind? It’s not like a Roman soldier could call up the office in Bethlehem and ask, “Did a Joseph from Nazareth register there?”

These are my questions for today.

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When Kids Find a Gun in the House

I’m continually disturbed by how many young children find a loaded gun in their home, “play” with it (that’s always the word used), and end up shooting themselves–often fatally. For several years, I’ve been reading gunviolencearchive.org, which daily compiles stories of unintentional shootings and accidental discharges. Every time, there are stories about children shooting themselves.

  • A 4-year-old girl shot herself with her father’s gun hidden in a couch.
  • A 2-year-old, going to the kitchen in the night, shot himself with a gun in a kitchen cabinet.
  • A 9-year-old found a gun in a car, and killed himself with a bullet to the chest.
  • Two children are “playing” with a gun, and one gets shot.
  • A girl, 5, found her Dad’s .45 handgun in a backpack in the bedroom and shot herself in the head.
  • A boy, 5, shot himself in the hand with a gun found in an unsecured safe.
  • A boy, 3, shot himself in the head with a gun left out in the bedroom.
  • During a 3-day period in Memphis, three children accidentally shot themselves–boys 8 and 4, both of whom died, and a girl, 4. (Memphis leads the nation in accidental shootings of children.)
  • A 10-year-old shot and killed his brother, 8, with a Glock found in their home. He thought it was a fake gun.
  • A 4-year-old boy died after shooting himself with a gun found at a babysitter’s house.

In one gun class Pam and I took, the instructor said kids always have some instinct to look down the barrel of a gun. Shudder.

Usually, accidental shootings happens at home. Sometimes they are visiting a relative and find a hidden gun. Sometimes it’s not your kid, but somebody else staying overnight who finds the loaded gun that your own kid has been taught to leave alone. Sometimes, it’s a gun kept in the car; the mom runs into the store, and the child finds the gun in the console or under the seat. There are a zillion scenarios.

Growing up, us cousins would hang out in my grandpa’s utility room, where a shotgun, a .22 rifle, and a handgun hung on the wall. We NEVER touched them. Dad told me recently that, as a young father, he worried about that, knowing the guns were loaded. But really, we left them alone. (If any of my cousins want to confess to something, feel free.) But kids can be curious.

In some states, it is illegal to leave a firearm where an unsupervised minor can access it. In many of the stories I read on gunviolencearchive, it’s chalked up as a terrible accident. But in many other stories, the parent is arrested.

No matter how well you train your own kids regarding weapons in your own home, you can’t speak for what will happen when your kid goes to somebody else’s home with other people’s kids, or when other people’s kids come to your own home. I’ve read articles about how today’s parents sometimes, before allowing their kid to visit another home, ask about the presence of firearms there. It’s not a matter of being anti-gun. It’s smart parenting.

All across the country, the clear trend is to loosen gun laws. I’m not a fan of that, especially with so many child shootings occurring.

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Book Review: “Jesus: a Pilgrimage,” by James Martin

Today, I FINALLY finished one of the best Christian books I’ve ever read: “Jesus: a Pilgrimage,” by Jesuit priest James Martin. At it’s most basic, it’s a travel guide: Martin and a fellow priest visit Holy Land sites from Jesus’ life, and Martin writes about them. Most chapters have three parts: he tells the biblical story that happened there, he relates his own visit, and he shares insights about the story. He also includes the actual Scriptural text at the end of each chapter. Seems simple. But he delivers such wonderfully rich stuff. The trip isn’t about tourism and taking selfies. It’s a true spiritual pilgrimage.
Maybe it’s especially interesting to me because he’s a Jesuit priest. He’s sharing things from angles outside of my own religious tradition. If an evangelical minister did the same thing, I’d probably hear the same stuff I’ve heard in a zillion sermons since childhood. But it was made more interesting (to me) because I learned so much about the Jesuit lifestyle and the many intentional spiritual practices built into being a Jesuit. I learned to greatly admire that lifestyle and how they pursue God.
Martin is quite traditional in his view of Scripture, no different from me. Many chapters dealt with miracles performed by Jesus. He often mentioned ways scholars, even evangelical ones, have dismissed the miracle with a natural explanation. But Martin will have none of it. It’s a miracle, and he’s not budging.
Martin says in the intro, “Humanity and divinity are both part of Jesus’ story. Omit one or the other, scissor out the uncomfortable parts, and it’s not Jesus we’re talking about any longer. It’s our own creation.” His trip was to better understand the real Jesus by visiting what he calls “The Fifth Gospel,” the Holy Land itself where Jesus lived and walked.
He writes, “I would like to invite you to meet the Jesus you already may know, but in a new way. Of, if you don’t know much about Jesus, I would like to introduce him to you. Overall, I would like to introduce you to the Jesus I know, and love, the person at the center of my life. Getting to know Jesus, like getting to know anyone, has been a pilgrimmage. Part of that pilgrimage was a trip to Israel, one that changed my life.”
It’s a long book, 500 pages with 25 chapters. I read it slowly, savoring it over a period of two years. I’m glad I did.
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Freak Out in the Dentist’s Chair


This morning I had the blessed joy of getting fitted for not one, but TWO crowns. A double coronation. One tooth has been a candidate for a crown for years, but hasn’t caused any problems, so the dentist said not to worry about it. But a few weeks ago, a big piece broke from a neighboring tooth. It requires a crown to repair, and it made sense to just do both of them.

The thing I hate–and let me stress, “hate” is an accurate word, is “dread”–is that insidious rubber dam they put into your mouth. I guess it makes a dentist’s life easier. But it triggers all of my claustrophobic impulses. All of them. They are legion.

My dentist apparently noticed my white-knuckle grip on the chair as he prepared to insert the loathsome thing. He said he would work quickly.

I told I would try not to freak out, but couldn’t guarantee anything. The words “freak out” caught his attention. He said he thought he could do the necessary procedure without the rubber dam…and he did, just fine.

All that to say: dear patient, we have options. And no dentist wants to see a patient freak out.

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Saul, Damascus, ICE, and Iraq

Today, Pastor Kevin preached about Saul’s conversion on the road to Damascus. Acts 9 tells how Saul, with the approval from authorities, was finding Christians–men and women–and dragging them off to prison. During our discussion time, Kevin asked what we thought Saul was thinking during those three days he sat in Damascus, blind, after hearing Jesus say, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”

I didn’t enter into the discussion, but here’s what I was thinking. Did Saul think about the human cost of what he had been doing? Of ripping mothers and fathers away from their children? Of taking a man or woman from his/her spouse? Of disrupting livelihoods and causing hardship for the people who depended on them? Of the mistreatment these people experienced while incarcerated? Of the fear un-arrested Christians lived with every day?

My mind went in that direction because I’m still extremely troubled by what happened last weekend in Detroit, when ICE swooped in and arrested scores of Chaldean Christians to deport them back to Iraq. What Saul did 2000 years ago was echoed in Detroit–families being ripped apart, people living in fear, children traumatized, livelihoods disrupted, extended family members forced to seek recourse where little recourse existed because of unbending policies. Tears, lots of tears, and anguish. Hundreds more Chaldean Christians have been targeted for deportation. Some have already been sent back to Iraq.

I don’t know what happened to those persons Saul imprisoned. How long were they incarcerated? What kind of sentences did they receive? Were some executed? What happened to their children? To their businesses? To the extended family who depended on them? Did they have any legal recourse?

Those folks in Detroit, like the countless others ICE has arrested during the last few months across the country, have practically no recourse. They are in the ICE system, and they will be deported. I’ve also discovered that, Christians or not, they have practically no sympathy from conservative evangelicals like me.

As these Christians are returned to Iraq, we can be pretty sure that at least some of them will be killed there. Sometimes crucified. Yes, that happens in Iraq. In America, they have freedom to practice (like me) their Christian faith; in Iraq, they can be killed for it. Since 2003, the number of Christians in Iraq has plummeted from 1.4 million to 200,000. This is what we are sending men and women, mothers and fathers, back to. This is what people said they elected the president to do.

As an American, I will be partly responsible for their deaths. I’m not okay with that.

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Am I That Kind of Person?

Am I the type of Christian who would shelter and aid an undocumented person to prevent a great injustice from occurring?

One of my predecessors was That Kind of Person. William Hanby, the United Brethren denominational editor in the 1840s and 1850s, and also a bishop for four years, spent 20 years helping runaway slaves who came across his path in Ohio. It was illegal. Hanby–an ordained minister, a bishop–was intentionally breaking the law, risking imprisonment. But today we view him as a hero.

I’d like to know the first time Hanby was faced with fugitive slaves, with pursuers close on their heels. Perhaps he tried to talk himself out of helping–it would be so easy to rationalize it away. But in deciding to help, he learned that he was That Kind of Person.

The incredible book “Conscience and Courage,” which I read many years ago, tells the stories of ordinary Europeans who risked their lives to shelter Jews. Author Eva Fogelman says rescuers didn’t fit a particular profile. Most didn’t set out to be rescuers, or consider themselves heroic or even sympathetic to Jews. But when presented with Jews on their doorstep, they decided to help. Only then did they realize they were That Kind of Person.

Today–EVERY DAY in our America–Hispanic families are getting ripped apart. Great injustices happen EVERY DAY. A few days ago I wrote about the Beristains in South Bend, Ind. They are just one example. What happened to that family happens EVERY SINGLE DAY. Enormous trauma is happening to families all around us because of government policies, but most of us never encounter it.

I have practically no contact with the Latino community. But if presented with a family threatened with being ripped apart and thrown into the ICE gulag, would I discover that I was a William Hanby Kind of Person? I could easily rationalize myself out of helping. Most evangelical Christians would. Would I?

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An Injustice in Trump’s Twisted Version of America


I’ve been following the sad case of Roberto Beristain, an undocumented man from South Bend, Ind., who was separated from his wife and three daughters–all American citizens–on February 6 because of Donald Trump’s dispassionate, devoid-of-humanity orders. For two months, he was shuttled around to detention facilities in six different states, while a loving family could do little but try to keep track of him. Then, at 10 pm last Tuesday night, he was dropped off at the border at El Paso, and he walked into Mexico.

President Obama was tough on illegal immigrants, earning the nickname Deporter in Chief. But he injected discretion and humanity into his actions. Trump removed all of that. I knew he would be tougher on undocumented people, but never did I dream that he would tear asunder families. Like he did with the Beristains.

The way things work, the family will never be reunited. At least, not in the United States.

This should not happen in America, and to American families.

Beristain came to the US–yes, illegally–in 1998. He met his wife, Helen, in Fort Wayne, Ind., where I live. They were married in 2001, relocated in Mishawaka, and brought three daughters into the world, all of whom are now teenagers. And US citizens. Roberto is owner of Eddie’s Steak Shed and employs 20 people.

A mistake by immigration officials back in 2000 got him classified incorrectly, making it difficult to get a green card. They’ve tried to fix it over the years, but no luck. He got by on a work permit, and followed all the laws. He has no criminal record. Everyone describes him as a perfect citizen…except for not being, technically, a citizen.

President Trump: this is dispicable. And I see no indication that you care one iota.

Breaking up this family doesn’t keep anybody safe. It doesn’t protect American workers. It’s not a matter of expelling a “bad hombre.” It’s just a rule. A rigid policy.

This is only one such case. It’s getting press attention because the wife was a vocal Trump supporter. She never imagined Trump would rip apart her family.

I realize that many supposedly family-values Christian will rationalize ways to applaude this, and spout things like, “Your sins will find you out.” Some are Facebook friends. This saddens me, but not nearly as much as I’m saddened by what the Beristain family is suffering, as a loving father has been torn from their lives because of our President is playing to his base.

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Why No Evangelicals on the Supreme Court?

I haven’t heard anything about the lack of religious diversity on the Supreme Court, and how Neil Gorsuch would fit in. Most recently, there were six Catholics and three Jews. When John Paul Stevens stepped down in 2010, it was the first time in US history that no Protestant served on the Supreme Court. (Merrick Garland, for the record, would have made it five Catholics and four Jews.)

Catholics have really come on strong in recent years. The first Catholic justice was appointed in 1836, but during the next 120 years, only six more Catholics were appointed. But since 1988, six Catholics have been appointed, all of them serving at the same time. What’s up with that?

Within Protestantism you have the mainline denominations, which tend to be socially liberal, and the more conservative evangelical and fundamentalist denominations–the ones that got Trump elected. The mainline denominations have been over-represented in relation to the population, and evangelicals have been greatly under-represented. During my lifetime, every Protestant justice has been from a mainline denomination–Episcopal, Presbyterian, Methodist, Lutheran.

So, President Trump, how about putting an evangelical on the Court? Maybe a good ol’ Southern Baptist, the country’s second-largest denomination? The last Baptist Justice was Hugo Black of Alabama, appointed in 1937 (and there were only two Baptist justices before him).

Neil Gorsuch is Episcopalian, so a Protestant would replace the Catholic Scalia. We sometimes view Episcopalians as the closest thing to Catholics. But Episcopalians support abortion rights (with some limits), support same-sex marriage, and ordain gays, lesbians, and transgenders. Not exactly evangelical-friendly.

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