Monthly Archives: October 2012

Breaking the Party Chains

This is good, and goes right along with my contention, made with annoying regularity, that Christians shouldn’t give their allegiance to a political party. I contend that political parties are man-made patterns of this world, and in Romans we are commanded, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world.”

This black minister isn’t telling blacks to not vote for Obama. He’s just telling them to quit being bound to the Democratic party. Bravo!

In the same way, white evangelicals have tightly identified with the Republican Party, and will too often rationalize whatever the Republican Party wants to do. I agree strongly with some Republican stands. I also disagree strongly with some stands on which I find more affinity among Democrats. Though I spent most of my life as a loyal Republican, I can’t see myself ever feeling at home in either party.

So whether it’s black Christians unbinding themselves from blind loyalty to the Democratic party, or white evangelicals refusing to be blindly loyal to the Republican party–I approve.

I still want Christians, as citizens, to pull a lever in the voting booth. To hold your nose and make a decision. Whether you choose Romney or Obama, it will mean picking somebody who holds views in conflict with some biblical values. But don’t pick a candidate merely because that’s supposed to be “your” party. And don’t insist, just because a certain issue is paramount in your own conscience, that all other Christians must share that same priority and vote like you do.

God didn’t create any political party. He didn’t dish out the issues: “You take abortion and heterosexual marriage, and you take the poor, social justice, and the environment.” Both parties champion issues which Christians should champion. As Christians, we SHOULD view ourselves as a separate people, as caught somewhere between the systems of this world. Because we are citizens first of the Kingdom of God, not of any earthly kingdom.

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Now I Need to Buy More Bayonets!

With my new bayonet case.

I collect bayonets. My dad made me a display case a couple years ago, but I’ve outgrown it (60 bayonets now). So, Pam’s dad, Jim Mize, made me another cabinet. It looks great! Pam and I went up to Michigan this past weekend to get it, and now it stands, proudly, in our living room just a few feet down from the other case. I’m pleased to have plenty of room for expansion. I’m all set for at least another five years or so.

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The Wasteful, Inefficient Sower

I’m always pleasantly surprised to gain a new insight from very familiar Scripture passages. That happened this morning at the beginning of our Executive Leadership Team meeting, when Bishop Whipple gave a brief devotional about the Parable of the Sower. As we all know, some seed fell on rocky ground, some on thorny ground, and some on fertile soil.

Here’s the new insight I gained. The Bishop noted that the sower was never chastised for dropping seed on rocky or thorny ground. We efficiency-minded Americans would say, “Stop wasting seed! Scatter it only where it will grow unhindered!” But our job is to scatter the seed of the Gospel everywhere–where it’s welcome, and where it’s not. We won’t always know if a person is rocky, thorny, or fertile soil. But our job is to scatter. Let God worry about what sprouts up.

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The Rumble 2012: Stewart vs. O’Reilly

My wife wanted to watch The Rumble 2012, the Saturday night (October 6) debate between Bill O’Reilly and Jon Stewart. So who was I to argue? OF COURSE I would watch it.

It was just $5 via pay-per-view on our computer. Which proved to be much cheaper–and far more entertaining–than a typical movie.

The event was hilarious, but also oddly substantive. Both men made good points, while having fun. Though Stewart and O’Reilly are ideological opposites (or close to it), they respect each other and always have good chemistry (I’ve seen O’Reilly on The Daily Show several times).

Poor ED Hill, the moderator. She started out asking a serious question of O’Reilly–“How do you feel about that?” To which O’Reilly responded, “I don’t care,” and then went off in a different direction. It was a wonderful parody of last week’s first debate between Romney and Obama, in which neither man paid any attention to moderator Jim Lehrer.

I didn’t realize the size disparity. O’Reilly is 6’4″, and Stewart is just 5’7″. To compensate, a lift was built behind Stewart’s podium, which he could raise and lower with the push of a button. He played with it throughout the debate.

Like I said, it was a lot of fun. But they also tackled some issues in ways you won’t see the candidates tackle them. Since neither TV guy is running for anything, they could risk being politically incorrect and overly honest.

Very refreshing.

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Loving and Hating America

In an NPR interview, Stephen Colbert said his new book, “America Again: Re-becoming the Greatness We Never Weren’t,” is based on the notion within right-wing punditry that “our greatest days are ahead of us, and we have the greatest history in the history of history, but this instant right now is completely screwed up, and we’ve got to save America from disaster.”

That made me smile. Pundits, as Colbert humorously points out, are so schizophrenic.

I sometimes jokingly ask my right-wing friends why they hate America. They will talk about America being the greatest nation on earth, ever. And in the same breath they will denigrate the government as broken and useless, lament the country’s morality as worse than Sodom, criticize 47% of their fellow Americans as lazy and irresponsible, describe all politicians as egotistical incompetents, and gripe about pretty much everything else–the economy, our schools, the courts, unions, our foreign policy, the “War on Religion,” and you name it.

They insist we are the greatest nation on earth. But they dislike pretty much everything about us. And so I ask them why they seem to detest our country so much. And, of course, they quickly assert that, no, they LOVE America.

Are we a great nation…or not? Can we have it both ways? We’re certainly very powerful, but are we exemplary, considering all these things we denounce about ourselves? We’ll say, “We’re still better than everyone else.” But…are we?

Just asking.

(The Colbert interview, by the way, is quite interesting, at least if you’re a Colbert watcher. He does the interview out of character, and talks about what he’s trying to accomplish with his character.)

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The Partly Mythical Story of David and Goliath

In Sunday school, I was lied to about David. All in the interest of creating a more interesting narrative.

I grew up viewing David as just a young boy tending his sheep when his father said, “Hey, I’d like you to take some food to your older brothers, who are preparing for battle.” So this little boy heads off to the front, where Goliath the giant Philistine is daily challenging the Israeli troops. And we know the rest from the song we learned in Sunday school:

Only a boy named David,
Only a little sling,
Only a boy named David,
But he could pray and sing.
Only a boy named David
Only a rippling brook
Only a boy named David
But five little stones he took.

And one little stone went in the sling
And the sling went round and round
And one little stone went in the sling
And the sling went round and round
And round and round
And round and round
And round and round and round
And one little stone went up in the air,
And the giant came tumbling down.

That’s the story I was taught. But Scripture tells a different story.

BEFORE the whole Goliath episode, David was already serving in Saul’s court. When Saul was searching for someone to play the harp for him, one of his servants mentioned David. “He is a brave man and a warrior. He speaks well and is a fine-looking man. And the Lord is with him” (1 Samual 16:19). The encounter with Goliath happened in the NEXT chapter.

David wasn’t a little boy. He was a man. And he’d been in battle–a proven warrior. He had fought in battle, and he had no doubt killed people.

[Those of you who are more biblically astute–please correct me on any of the information that follows. This is just how I put things together, as an amateur theologian. I truly want to understand what happened.]

David began playing the harp for Saul, and Saul liked the guy. He even became an armor-bearer for Saul (probably one of several), which means he faught alongside Saul in battle (vs. 16:21).

David wasn’t just a shepherd. According to 1 Samuel 16:15, he went back and forth between the royal court and tending sheep. The harp-playing for Saul was just a part-time gig. He happened to be home, doing his shepherd thing, when the whole Goliath episode arose.

When David arrived to find Goliath taunting the Israeli forces, he was upset to find nobody rising to the challenge. So he decided to resolve the impasse by volunteering to take on Goliath. Saul does object, “You are only a boy, and he has been a fighting man from his youth.” But David tells how he did very un-boylike things–like killing a lion and a bear, in one case grabbing the animal by its hair and killing it.

Then there’s the whole armor thing. I was taught that Saul loaded David down with his armor, and it was too much for a little boy to carry on his small frame. So David takes it off and heads out to battle without armor. That’s the popular narrative. But according to 1 Samuel 17:29, it was simply a matter that “he was not used to” Saul’s helmet and armor. He had worn other armor in battle, but Saul’s stuff felt strange, and he preferred to go without. Besides, Saul was a big guy, and maybe David wasn’t–a great warrior, but more Tom Cruise than Arnold Schwarzenegger.

And David didn’t go out to battle with just his sling, as we were all taught. Verse 39 says he fastened on “his sword” (his own personal sword, not somebody else’s?), and verse 40 said he also took along his staff. So the picture Scripture paints of David heading out to Goliath is a veteren soldier with a sword fastened to his tunic, carrying a staff in one hand and a sling in the other, with five carefully-chosen stones in a pouch. A warrior ready for battle, with several fighting options covered.

The forces of Israel weren’t turning their fate over to a little pipsqueak boy. David was an established brave warrior who fought alongside the king. I suppose the Israeli troops figured, “David has as good a chance of slaying Goliath as anybody.”

That’s the truth of the situation. He was a man who knew battle, not an inexperienced boy. And when the giant came tumbling down, a lot of people may not have been totally surprised. Giants had been killed by Israelites before, and this wouldn’t be the last time.

But the truth of Scripture isn’t what we necessarily teach in Sunday school. We want stories that teach faith and courage, and though the biblical account is, indeed, a story of faith and courage, it’s not epic enough, apparently. And so, we turn the story of David into something it’s not.

My contention is that the TRUTH of Scripture is enough; it’s incredible on its own. We don’t need to embellish. And we don’t need to mislead little kids who, unlike me, may grow up to resent being taught stuff that isn’t true.

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The Misrepresented Christian Divorce Rate

I’ve heard for years that, according to some study, the divorce rate among Christians is the same as in the general population. That never tracked with me. I’ve always thought something was askew. Yet I’ve heard Christians repeat that statistic many times. We like to speak badly about ourselves, I guess to show that we are scum in need of a Savior.

But in my naive little world, I believe Christ makes a difference.

So I’ve never believed that stat. I’ve always insisted, at least to myself, that Christian marriages are stronger than nonChristian marriages.

Because having Jesus in your life matters. That’s what I believe, no matter what surveys say.

Now I read a piece from Ed Stetzer about the subject. He says the difference-maker is depth of religious commitment. Plenty of people call themselves Christians. But those who are serious about their faith, as evidenced by certain surveyable behaviors–weekly church attendance, reading the Bible and Christian literature, praying regularly, pursuing discipleship–have a significantly lower divorce rate.

Stetzer says this is explained in a book by Bradley Wright called, “Christians are Hate-Filled Hypocrites…and Other Lies You’ve Been Told.” That’s a book I may need to read.

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Romney (Finally) Finds Some Footing

Mitt Romney came out loaded for bear in the first debate last night (Oct 3, 2012). He was animated, full of information, and fully energized.

President Obama, on the other hand, appeared passive, disengaged.

On Facebook, I kept a running list of comments going during the debate. Early on I said Romney was kicking butt, and repeated it later. That was my perception, and all of the pundits pretty much agreed with me. (Not that they were reading my Facebook feed.)

It also appeared to me that Romney was hogging much more air time. But this morning I learned that, according to the persons keeping the game clock, Obama spoke over four minutes more than Romney did–42:40 for Obama, 38:14 for Romney. I would never have guessed that. So I’m wondering what shaped my perception. Maybe, because I found Obama’s turns so dull, I was tuning him out, checking email, or using the opportunity to go to the fridge. Or, more likely, doing a Facebook update.

I did find Romney’s aggressive style to be off-putting. It annoyed me, the way he steamrolled the moderator, and forced his way into the foray. But I don’t find many other people bothered by that.

Will Romney’s performance matter? It certainly will help at least some. But the electorate is very polarized, with minds already made up. Maybe it’ll move the needle, but maybe not.

The pressure is on Biden now. If both ends of the Republican ticket prevail, that won’t go well for the incumbents. I do expect Obama to do much better in the town hall format. They will both be interacting with everyday people, rather than going at each other. Clearly, going at each other face to face is a format where Romney excels.

That, unfortunately for Obama, will also be the format for the final debate. However, the subject is foreign policy, which (in my book) is a glaring weakness for Romney and a strength for Obama. But Romney obviously prepares very, very thoroughly. I much prefer Obama’s view of the world and generally like his stewardship of foreign affairs. Whereas some of Romney’s statements, especially his sabre-rattling regarding Iran (he sometimes has seemed to really want to get into a war with Iran) seriously concerns me.

But we’ll see. I would predict, at this point, that Romney will win that final debate as well. And then it’s just a couple weeks until people vote.

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Pastors and Political Endorsements

Since I work around ministers all the time, I found this interesting. Ed Stetzer, from LifeWay Research, polled 1000 Protestant pastors. He found:

  • 90% believe they should not endorse political candidates from the pulpit (it was 85% in a similar poll in 2010).
  • Among pastors who call themselves Democrats, 98% believe political endorsements from the pulpit, compared to 90% of independents and 82% of Republicans. So Republicans are most in favor of using the pulpit to endorse politicians.
  • 44% of pastors personally endorsed candidates outside of their church role. The percentage was higher among pastors of very small churches (56%), and among pastors in small cities (49%).
  • 54% of self-described Democrats endorsed candidates outside of their church role, compared to 51% of Republicans and 34% of Independents.

An amendment to the IRS tax code in 1954 prohibits tax-exempt organizations, such as churches, from endorsing political candidates.

Stetzer writes on his blog:

In case you are wondering, my view is simple: Pastors should preach something more important than politics– they should preach Christ. They should preach Scripture. When they preach Scripture, they will indeed address issues that the world sees as political, but they distract from their message and mission when they start using the church to endorse canididates.

An old saying explains, “When you mix politics and religion, you get politics.” When it comes to endorsing candidates, I believe that statement applies–it hurts the mission of the church.

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Details, Please

Neither candidate has gotten specific on what he’ll do to get the economy moving. I’ve decided that neither candidate really, truly, knows. We’ll see in tomorrow’s first debate if either gets specific. I don’t expect Obama to do that–he, sadly, seems to be coasting just fine on the strength of incumbency. Meanwhile, Romney must make the case for an alternative path, and he’s just not getting it done. He keeps getting sidetracked.

Has there ever been an incumbent more vulnerable on the economy than Obama? At least, since Herbert Hoover in 1933? Republican movers and shakers are going nuts over what is shaping up to be a monumental missed opportunity.

This morning on Morning Joe, Chuck Todd made a good point. He said Romney has made the case for a weak economy, but hasn’t connected the weakness of the economy to specific Obama policies. Obama, on the other hand, has successfully directed blame in two directions: to the mess he inherited from George Bush, and to uncompromising Congressional Republicans.

The September 17 BusinessWeek notes that, if Romney got more specific, it would just open himself up to more attacks. That’s true. The same applies to Obama. Tackling the debt will require some pain and sacrifice, and people won’t vote in favor of pain and sacrifice. So the candidates are dodging. Obama’s getting away with it, Romney isn’t.

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