Owning Your Privileged Past

This is for all of you preachers’ kids. Like me.

Politicians like to portray themselves as coming from humble roots, and in so doing, tend to denigrate their parents–their work, their income, their education, etc. If I were a typical politician running for office, I would need to craft a bio like this: “I grew up in a home where we never had much. Dad was the son of immigrants, and he became a poor preacher. We lived in a small migrant community and had to get by on whatever our small congregation gave us. We struggled to make ends meet. But I learned from my parents the value of hard work and of doing good for other people.”

Something like that. Or I could be truthful and say this:

“I grew up in a privileged home. My Dad was personally called by God to work for him. It was the coolest thing having a Dad who was hand-picked by the Creator of the Universe. We never lacked for anything. God promised to meet all of our needs, and he did. Sometimes God performed miracles on our behalf. How many kids can say that? Maybe you grew up in a home with a lot of money, and parents who held important and influential jobs. But my upbringing was far more privileged than that. My Dad was a pastor, and my parents poured their lives into serving the Kingdom of God. And for many people, my parents changed where they will spend eternity.”

That’s what I would say.

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The Odd Infatuation with Putin

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This morning I went to the huge Indy1500 Gun Show in Indianapolis. One major gun vendor was inundated yesterday with people wanting to buy handguns, their inventory severely depleted. I overheard one of the salesmen: “Barack Obama opens his mouth and people go crazy.” Indeed. The gun community (Your Truly excepted) is the most knee-jerk bunch of people you’ll ever come across.

One vendor had this sign on display. I’ve written before about my old-school thinking about the President, regardless of party–that by virtue of office, he deserves respect, not the ridicule which has been directed at President Obama for 7 years.

Anyway, I looked at this vendor and said, “So you’re using a communist dictator to publicly mock America’s president.” I noticed a somewhat stunned look on his face as I walked away.

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14 Years for Stealing a Calculator?

A guy in Texas stole a calculator from Walmart, and was sentenced to 14 years in prison. He was supposed to get just 2 years max. But they incorrectly applied a habitual offender law, and nobody caught the mistake. So, 14 years for stealing a calculator. Which helps explain why the US has the world’s highest incarceration rate.

Anyway, the error was eventually recognized, and steps were taken to fix it. But the Texas solicitor general fought it all the way to the Supreme Court, insisting that the 14-year sentence remain in place. He argued that if this guy was released, it might affect the sentences of other inmates. In other words, he was a sacrificial lamb. It’s nice to be needed.

I love the words of Justice Anthony Kennedy to the solicitor general: “Is there some rule that you can’t confess error in your state?”

The matter was referred to a lower court, and eventually, the guy was released after six years–three times the maximum sentence for his heinous crime of stealing a calculator, but eight years less than his original sentence. I guess he should feel forever grateful to the State of Texas.

By the way the solicitor general who argued the case was Ted Cruz. A man of principle and compassion, obviously.

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Reflections on the Last Supper

This morning I read James Martin’s chapter on the Last Supper in “Jesus: a Pilgrimage.” You would expect a Catholic priest to focus on the Eucharist part (the bread and wine). Instead, Martin focused on Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. He mused, “I wonder how different the church would be if we spent as much time thinking about the Washing of the Feet as we do about Transsubstantiation.”

Jesus said he was giving the disciples an example to follow. Martin mentions how Pope Francis has followed that example. He spent his first Holy Thursday (the commemoration of the Last Supper) as Pope not in a grand basilica, as has every other Pope in recent decades, but in a juvenile detention center, where he washed the feet of poor and trouble youth. He spent the next year doing the same in a home for elderly and disabled people, and the following year washing the feet of prison inmates.

I couldn’t help musing, very briefly, on which presidential candidate on either side would be most open to washing the feet of, say, his cabinet members. Or even better, of Senators in the other party. That, of course, would be criticized as unPresidential.

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Thank You for Caring

Ed Stetzer, a Christian researcher whose straight-talk writing I follow, recently took his daughter on a campus visit to Wheaton College.

Wheaton is amidst a controversy. A woman professor donned a hijab to show solidarity with under-fire Muslims. That part was good. But she pushed the point by saying Christians and Muslims worship the same God. There are actually some theologically technical arguments to be made in her favor. BUT, Wheaton College suspended her. They felt her words went beyond the college’s statement of faith. Which they do.

Stetzer applauded the professor for caring about justice for marginalized people. But, he agreed with Wheaton’s decision to stick by its doctrinal beliefs. For his daughter, he wanted a school that cared deeply not only about justice, but about its beliefs.

During the past 30 years, Huntington University has released a couple of professors, with pressure from the denomination, because they held beliefs which went beyond what the college and the sponsoring denomination believed. There is a place for academic freedom, but an institution doesn’t adapt long-held theological views to fit its employees. So–blessings on them, but HU isn’t the best place for them. That seems to be Wheaton’s approach. This professor will land somewhere more compatible with her views and continue a good career.

Anyway, during the Stetzers’ campus visit, Wheaton students were demonstrating–some in favor of the professor, some in favor of the administration. Stetzer sided with the administration. BUT, he took his daughter over among the demonstrators. He wrote:

“I was not there to join in or oppose—I just wanted my daughter to see passionate students speaking up because they cared. There’s a lot of talk about making a difference, but not a lot of action beyond Facebook posts. So, we literally walked through the protest, listened to their voices, and prayed for and with them….Their willingness to speak up and take action made us more interested in the school, not less.”

I’ve seen my own pastor, in responding to complaints, say, “Thank you for caring.” Doesn’t mean he agrees or will act on their complaints. Just means he appreciates that they cared enough about the church to say something.

We live in a climate that demonizes opposing views. To applaud people who hold a view you disagree with…that is SO refreshing.

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When White Guys with Guns Take Over Federal Property

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Some amusing comments being posted on Twitter about Ammon Bundy and his merry band of militia in Oregon.

  • Every successful revolution starts with the takeover of a closed visitor center with gift shop.
  • So just to be clear, these are the good guys with guns, right?
  • So a bunch of white guys are on Native American soil crying about wanting their land back from a tyrannical and oppressive system.
  • Occupying a backwoods federal building is a brilliant way to speak truth to…4 stoned hikers just looking to pee inside.
  • Wait, men are playing in a park with actual real guns?
  • In order to avoid potential bloodshed, authorities urge the militia members to remain white.
  • White men with guns stealing land? Never heard of such a thing.
  • So does this mean I’m allowed to grab a gun and “occupy” any federal building I want? God I love being white.
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Are all Evangelicals Caucasian? Sort of, According to Politicians.

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For me, “evangelical” is a theological term. Definitions vary in nuance, but usually involve belief in the authority of the Bible, a rebirth through faith in Christ, and evangelizing the world. Various statements of faith, such as the one from the National Association of Evangelicals, capsulize evangelical beliefs.

But for politicians and pollsters, “evangelical” is a sociological term. I only recently became aware of this (duh!). When pollsters (of either party) say “evangelical,” they mean “white, politically-conservative Christian.” When Republicans talk about courting their “evangelical base,” they are talking about white Christians. And as an NPR article points out, this emphasis on Republican evangelicals can make it seem that all evangelicals are white. Notice: when news reports mention evangelicals, they typically use a clip from a suburban megachurch.

For pollsters, it’s mostly about race, not theology There are millions of black evangelicals and Latino evangelicals. Down the road from Anchor is Zion Tabernacle, a wonderful black church. We’ve held joint services with them several times, and I’ve played keyboard with their worship team. Marvelous folks. In ways, more evangelical than we are.

But Republicans include Anchor, but not Zion Tabernacle, in their “evangelical base.” Nor do they include some of our own United Brethren churches that consist of immigrants from Jamaica, West Africa, Latin America, and Haiti.

I really dislike that politicians divide evangelicals. The people they teach you to disdain as “liberals” may have the exact same theological beliefs that you have. You may sit next to them in church. And you’ll worship God alongside them throughout eternity.

This distinction–theology vs. sociology–is a distinction I just recently became aware of, thanks to a couple articles–an excellent NPR article from mid-December, followed by a shorter piece by Jonathan Merritt (one of my favorite Christian writers) in The Atlantic. I recommend both.

Don’t let the political world tear the unity of the Body of Christ.

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My 30-Year Grudge Against Florida Football

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I was in Phoenix in 1986 when the Miami Hurricanes and Penn State arrived for the Fiesta Bowl, which would decide the national championship. My parents then pastored a United Brethren church in Fountain Hills, next door to the Fiesta Bowl, and I was “home” for Christmas. Both teams were undefeated, but Miami was the overwhelming favorite.

The classy Penn State players arrived wearing suits and ties. Meanwhile, Jimmy Johnson’s Hurricanes swaggered off the plane wearing combat fatigues. It struck me as tasteless, and totally turned me off.

What a joy to watch Penn State win 14-10. Miami got their comeuppance from a team with the most boring uniforms in college football. And 30 years later, I still desire comeuppance.

That 1986 Fiesta Bowl display forever soured me on all Florida college football. I never root for Florida, Florida State, or Miami. I put them all in the same box–arrogant, and in need up a good whupping. Not even Tim Tebow can redeem Floridian football in my mind.

I know it’s irrational, like saying all Muslims are terrorists. But that’s how my mind works. And please, at my advanced age of 59, don’t try to convince me otherwise.

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An Iraqi Martyr in Mosul

This year I’ve been reading the stories of many modern-day Christian martyrs. They greatly inspire me, and give me a different perspective on the fear-mongering which afflicts American society. In reality, we live in a country with amazing Christian freedom. We don’t understand what real persecution involves, and what it means to be obedient in the face of death. But many Christians around the world live with this constantly.

This morning I read the story of Shukri, an Iraqi Muslim from Fallujah–charismatic, witty, the type of person everybody likes and enjoys being around, who makes you laugh. The life of every party. He became a Christian, along with his family, through the witness of other Iraqi Christians. They, in turn, led many others to Christ.

Then they felt God definitely calling them to the ISIS stronghold of Mosul. In ancient times, Mosul was the city of Nineveh, where God called Jonah. They viewed themselves as following in Jonah’s path.

So the entire family moved to Mosul, and Shukri began distributing Bibles in a mosque. One morning, during his private time of worship, he sensed God telling him, “Today is the day you will see me.” He told his wife this before he left for the mosque. Sure enough, he was accosted on the street by a group of ISIS men, horribly tortured, and then killed.

But he was exactly where God wanted him to be.

His wife stayed. She led two couples in their apartment building to Christ, and before long, 23 believers were meeting for worship in the middle of the night. The family was eventually forced to relocated to Erbil. But she wrote, “Many more are interested in knowing our wonderful Savior. They are desperately afraid of ISIS and need the hope the Gospel gives them. By staying in Iraq, we show that Jesus is our Protector and that we do not fear the sinister works of men.”

(From the book “Killing Christians: Living the Faith Where it’s Not Safe to Believe.”)

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Happy Thoughts

Providing Christmas cheer. I received an email from American Patriot Daily News Network, whose tagline is “Helping You Live the American Dream.” It began with these happy thoughts for the holidays:

“It’s like handing your enemy a loaded shotgun — and then wrapping your mouth around the barrel…Buried in the sea of refugees flooding the United States lurk the bloodthirsty ISIS thugs who stand ready to bring the barbaric brand of terrorism to our shores. And unless you act today, I’m worried this madness will not stop until our country starts pulling severed heads off the streets and dead bodies out of the rubble.”

Apparently, to stop the impending carnage I must sign their petition and send them money. The only question is…who exactly are you?

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