Monday, September 9, 2019

From Hurricane Forecast Molehills To Sharpie Mountains

Recently I was talking with a friend who was wrestling with the reality of working with people who lied all the time. “It’s not just big things. They lie about things they don’t need to lie about. It makes no sense.” The fact that they so easily lied about mundane things seemed to unsettle him more than knowing they lied about big things. 

I understood my friend’s frustration. I used to work with a guy who lied all the time to people around him.  He, too, fudged the truth on everything almost instinctively. He would lie to others in front of me all the time - and he knew that I knew he was lying. It didn’t take long before I not only didn’t believe anything he told me, but I generally didn’t trust him. 

Most ethicists would agree with the following premise: as a general rule, lying isn’t the right thing to do. I suspect most of us would agree with the following corollary: there may be exceptions (we would lie to save a life, for example). We might even begrudgingly acknowledge yet another aspect: it’s to some degree understandable (even if it's not defensible) to lie in certain situations when the stakes are personally high. 

Of course you lied about cheating on your taxes when the IRS called; of course you denied the affair; of course you said the bloody glove wasn’t yours. Both the lie and the act that triggered the lie are wrong, but it’s a lie that makes emotional sense even as we disapprove of it on a rationally moral level.

The ideal is that we set our moral bar at the highest level on this issue. The rule is “Don’t lie.” This includes an understanding that genuine moral dilemmas exist in which lying might serve a profoundly greater good (think Corrie Ten Boom lying to the Nazis about hiding Jews).  

So, how much lower is that moral bar set when lying becomes acceptable for situations that are not at over genuine moral dilemmas but are instead over issues of serious personal impact? 

How much lower is that already lowered bar set when any situation is fair game to get you out of a merely uncomfortable situation?  

How much lower is that already lowered bar set when someone constantly evades the truth on even the most mundane and inconsequential things? 

And just how much should that concern us? 

What does it reveal about the character of the person in question?

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Did ICE Solve Local Unemployment Problems By Arresting Illegal Immigrants In Mississippi?

I have seen a number of articles and conversations about how the ICE raid in Mississippi of the chicken processing plants opened up jobs for locals by getting illegal immigrants out of the employment mix.

I offer the following information to bring some clarity to a number of issues swirling around this topic. I'm not trying to make an argument per se in this post. My goal is to present the context surrounding the situation.

I'm sure we will all draw our own conclusions, but I hope we can at least agree on the facts. 

* * * * *

1. Mississippi’s unemployment numbers have been dropping for years starting in 2012. The state average in June was 6%, though it's been as low as 4.7% one month this year. It was at 10.9% at one point in 2012. Meanwhile, the percentage of population that is made up of illegal immigrants  (0.7% of the overall population) has stayed the same since 2007. 

2. While opportunity varies from state to state,  last year in the United States, there were more open jobs than people who wanted them. 

3. When ICE raided Koch foods, there were signs posted that they were hiring. There were 730 jobs available. Peco foods, which was also raided, is hiring. There were 1,964 in-state job openings on the Mississippi Works job search engine for “meat, poultry and fish cutters and trimmers.” Pearl River Foods posted 200 job openings on Aug. 1 for “cutter/sizer.” That’s 78 percent of local job openings within 10 miles of Carthage, the county seat of Leake County. In July, there were over 40,000 jobs open in Mississippi, a state where 78,000 are unemployed.

4. The plants that were raided were in Sebastopol (Leake and Scott counties), Canton (Madison county) and Bay Springs (Jasper county). There are 82 counties in Mississippi. As of June 2019, Madison ranks 3rd best in employment, Scott is 4th, Leake is tied for 17th, and Jasper is 60th. Here is where 2019’s employment average ranks in the past 30 years for each county:
  • Leake County: tied for 1st for the best employment rate ever in the county
  • Madison County: tied for 3rd highest employment rate ever in the county (they had several good years at the end of the 1990s)
  • Jasper County: tied for 3rd  highest employment rate in the county ( a couple good years, once again, in the late 90s early 00s).
  • Scott County: tied for 2nd highest employment rate ever in the county
5. Beginning in the 1990s, Latinos were actively recruited by these industries in Mississippi with something called the Hispanic Project. The owners of the chicken processing plants wanted to avoid labor unions and the impact on their financial bottom line, so they went for a demographic that would work for dirt cheap. There have been numerous lawsuits over the years in this industry and in Mississippi in particular, but as of today, the work remains hazardous, painful, and at times degrading, accompanied by bottom of the barrel wages. 

6. It is not new news that illegal immigrants work at chicken processing plants in Mississippi. I read an article from 2013 that talked about this, including the insight that Mississippi locals aren’t clamoring to work at these factories (see #5 for why). Baseline salary for a floor worker at Koch foods is a $22,000 -$28,00 a year. Peco foods is probably comparable. Pearl River Foods hires at the federal minimum wage - $7.25 an hour. 

7. The companies can be found guilty of civil and criminal violations for hiring and recruiting undocumented workers.  If a company employs more than ten undocumented workers, they may be found guilty of 'harboring' illegal employees, which is a felony that carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison. From a legal perspective, the companies hiring this many undocumented workers are guilty of a greater law-breaking (a felony) than the illegal immigrant ('improper entry' is a misdemeanor; unlawful presence is a civil infraction, not a criminal one)

8. President Trump is continuing to do the kind of  'audits' Bush and Obama did, in which businesses that hire undocumented workers are penalized in order to take away the "pull factor" for undocumented workers. ICE audited 1,360 organizations in 2017, resulting in 71 indictments and 55 convictions of business owners and managers. The fines exceeded $100 million dollars. They upped their audits to over 5,000 in 2018.  According to ice.gov, "From Oct. 1, 2017, through July 20, 2018, HSI opened 6,093 worksite investigations and made 675 criminal and 984 administrative worksite-related arrests, respectively. In fiscal year 2017 – October 2016 to September 2017 – HSI opened 1,716 worksite investigations; initiated 1,360 I-9 audits; and made 139 criminal arrests and 172 administrative arrests related to worksite enforcement."  ICE is looking to do over 15,000 audits in the average year. 

9. A  very small percentage of employers are actually penalized; they have to 'knowingly' hire undocumented workers, and that's hard to prove. When they are penalized, it is almost never jail time.

10. Though President Trump has promoted E-verify, Republicans are very reluctant to make it a federally mandated law. There seems to be a reluctance because of how disruptive it would be to the economy, specifically in industries that heavily employ immigrants (both legal and illegal).

(I will offer my one bit of commentary here: follow the money. Many business don't want a crackdown because it harms their bottom line, and they have clout with their representatives. Fines have forced more than one business into bankruptcy, and that's not good for job numbers in a representative's district. I suspect there will be an ongoing tension here. Even the President has employed undocumented workers through the Trump Organization. I dare say that for every new law passed, there will be  loopholes such that business as usual can continue for the businesses that matter most to the politicians. Commentary over). 

11. Listen to or read the transcript from the podcast This American Life about the monumental shift taking place in the past 40 years in the chicken factory industry. It's insightful. If I were asked to identify "villains,"  the ones that rise to the top are the industry owners. What they have done is pretty shady, highly manipulative, and sometimes illegal. They have created and perpetuated a culture that attracts workers who are 'in the shadows.'


Monday, August 12, 2019

Amazon Prime's The Boys: Super Unheroes Among Us


Amazon Prime put a lot of hype into The Boys. I really, really like the superhero genre, so I geared up for this show with some anticipation.

The main plot line is driven by superheroes
very unlike those to which you have become accustomed. I thought this meant it would be a little more edgy. It was that, to be sure. I just didn’t realize it meant throwing moral caution to the wind to the degree this show does (and from what I understand, it’s tamer than the comics).

I’m not opposed to tales of sin. If I were, I would have to jettison a lot of stories in the first half of a book I love. [1]  I do, however, appreciate a storyteller that manages to tell tales of moral muck without wallowing in it. The Boys likes wallowing at times. You could argue it made it easier to distinguish between the “good” and “bad” characters, [2] and that would probably be a valid observation. You could argue that one needs to see what was sown in order to best understand what ought to be reaped. That, too, would be a valid observation. I would argue that I could have heard and seen much less and the point would still have been made just fine.

Though I don’t usually comment much on the ratings of shows I review, consider that a caution.  This is a well deserved TV-MA.

Now, to the worldview part.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Clarifying Some Mass Shooting Statistics

I am not providing commentary on recent events or gun control. These are just facts I have found in the past couple days that I thought were interesting, and were just a little more nuanced than all the memes sliding through my Facebook feed. 


2. Depending what chart you look at, you will see large differences in “mass shootings” over the years. That’s because some include in-home violence and drug and gang related shootings. Obviously, those chart will show more mass shootings. Don’t assume people are trying to be dishonest when you read different stats. It’s just different metrics. Know the one you are reading.

3. Massshootingtracker.org offers an easy-to-understand compilation of death and injuries in mass shootings by year (they include all incidents, not just the FBI’s 'public attack'). 

4. There is no clear correlation in the US with mass shootings and a particular religion. The vast majority of shooters appear to be irreligious, or at least their religious affiliation is not reported.  

5. It's true - the United States has a proportionately lower rate of mass shootings than a number of countries that might surprise you – Norway, Switzerland, France, Finland, and Belgium, for example (there are a few more). That’s interesting, but it needs a context. Norway, for example, had one mass shooting in six years, but because it’s population is only five million, that one shooting pushed the proportion past us. Other than France, that kind of statistic holds true for the list I just gave.  So we are not as sweepingly bad as some say, but... that may largely be to the magic of statistics. 

6. The strong majority of mass shooters in schools (around 80%) come from homes of “parental absence, separation, divorce, infidelity, parental alcoholism or drug addiction, criminal behavior, domestic violence, and child abuse.” That’s probably the clearest sociological common denominator other than “male.” 

7. Very few shooters were diagnosed as mentally ill, but many had mental health issues. I'm not sure that necessarily sets them apart from the average population. 

8. If you factor in ALL mass shootings (3 or more in any scenario), there is racial proportionality of perpetrators. No one demographic stands out as more likely to be violent.  If you stick to the FBI’s stats, white dudes stand out as mass shooters. That's why you will here different arguments about the race of shooters - it all depends on the metric you use.


10. “Red flag” laws like President Trump has suggested are an attempt to let concerned parties petition law enforcement to take away guns from people about whom they have credible concerns. Even the NRA is open to some form of this.  


12. There is no good reason to believe that  immersion in violent media and games turns non-shooters into shooters. Based on feedback I have received from students who play VR first-person shooter games, I am guessing this debate is far from over. 

13. I did not find anyone that suggested there is a cookie-cutter model to predict a shooter. I did not find anyone who said there is one sociological tweak that will solve the problem. 

14. If I had to summarize an impression after all my reading, it would be this: As far as I can tell, no one who was clean and sober, had a strong sense of their self-worth, and was embedded in a family and/or community in which they felt loved and valuable shows up on a list of shooters. 


Saturday, July 27, 2019

Why Christians Think Sex And Marriage Are A Big Deal

One of the encouragements of the Bible is that, as much as is possible, Christians are to live at peace with all people. [1] It doesn’t always work – “as much as is possible” - but as someone who is called to be a peacemaker, [2] I feel the need to try to do just that in reference to a subject that is causing a lot of friction within the church and between the church and the surrounding culture.

I am going to offer a succinct presentation of why the church has historically drawn fairly specific boundaries around issues of sex, marriage and sexuality. I don’t expect everyone to agree. I simply ask that you attempt to understand the foundation which has shaped traditional Christian thought for centuries.

I don’t know if a better understanding will or even can bring about more peace in a diverse and tense world.

I just know I want to try.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

THE CULTURAL CREED OF THE UNHOMED

If I’m honest, I’m not sure where I fit in anymore.

When I look around to see who is my political neighbor, I realize I’m in a land triangulated between the liberal Left, conservative Right, and those chaotic Libertarians. I didn’t feel like the 2016 presidential candidates from any of those three parties represented my moral universe adequately enough to get my vote. I cringe at CNN and Fox in equal measure. I increasingly feel that it is important for me not to be beholden to a “side” culturally or politically.

I’m just not the kind of guy who can say, “This party or person, do or die.” 

So I increasingly find myself wandering uneasily in the topography of a world that seems intent on filling in all the Valleys full of Gray Uncertainty and leveling all the Hills of Important Nuance.  

Don’t get me wrong - I like the Plains of Certainty and the Fields of Truth. I just want to acknowledge that those mountains and valleys of Uncertainty and Nuance exist. And I don’t want to climb them with cable news talking heads, youtube faux philosophers, conspiratorial bloggers, tweeting politicians or blindly partisan Christian leaders. 

I want fellow explorers who don’t mind the hard work, who know when and how to pick a philosophical fight full of grace and truth, and who will join me at The Brew afterwards at a table full of the laughter and tears of friends because, in the end, we are determined to love each other well in a world that is broken enough already.  

If we can do that with mutual thoughtfulness and respectfulness, that table might just feel a bit like home no matter what land I inhabit.

Here we go, in no particular order: The Cultural Creed Of The Unhomed.

                                                              * * * * * * * * * *

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Vaccines and Autism

I've been looking up vaccine rates and autism rates around the world since that topic just can't seem to leave my news feed. I enjoy doing research on issues like this if for no other reason than I am interested in the truth.

The stats can be tricky for several reasons.
  • There are a LOT of things for which people can be vaccinated, and the focus can vary around the world depending on what diseases are prevalent. Most charts focus on either DTP3 or something specific. I have not found a chart that captures everything going on in a particular place. 
  • I can't tell if the full spectrum of autism diagnosis is the same everywhere. In other words, some places could show more cases of autism or an accelerating/decreasing prevalence based on how they establish the range of the spectrum and how many personnel are available to diagnose. It's clear that in the United States, that method and ability to diagnosis are huge factors. The variance of ASD rates between states is crazy simply because of the difference in resources to diagnose and treat. 
  • It's absolutely true that autism have been rising significantly. However, keep in mind that autism wasn't even in the DSM until the early 80s, so there was not autism data before that. Since then, as the definition/understanding has expanded, obviously the diagnosis has grown. In addition, many people who have once been diagnosed with mental illnesses are now considered to be on the spectrum. (See "The Real Reason Autism Rates Are Up In The United States" for more information.) A number of years ago, a study was released showing that certain states in the US had much higher rates of child abuse. That wasn't actually true. Abuse rates are pretty consistent -  if we define abuse the same way in every state.  Poverty can appear to rise and fall in the US not because people's financial situations change, but because we change how we define poverty. In the same way, autism is rising - but that's obviously going to happen as we continue to broaden the diagnosis and focus on diagnosing.
I've always done research on this topic by reading the competing studies, but that usually just leads to my reading a lot of sound and fury. (I don't believe there is a connection, btw - see articles like this from the Annals of Internal Medicine, or "Safety of Vaccines Used for Routine Immunization of US Children: A Systematic Review" from the American Association of Pediatrics, this podcast from Science VS. (which also talks about some of the other possible side effects), or the tons of resources from the Immunization Action Coalition.)

So, I thought I would take a different approach this time and look for what is happening around the world. In spite of the caveats I mentioned earlier, there are trends we can observe. I will be using data from OurWorldInData.org. They compile data from other organizations and make it understandable; they also allow downloads of their charts for use in presentations :)

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

It's Not About The Zombies. It's About Us.

I was talking with a friend recently about monsters and the prevalence of zombies on our screens. For better or worse, this got me thinking. There are three types of fantasy monsters that keep recurring in our cultural storytelling: vampires, werewolves, and zombies. The history of these legends and the ways in which the stories change over time is a fascinating study on its own. I’m more interested about what is happening right now in American culture, and what our take on the stories - particularly the zombie genre - reveals about us.

* * * * *

I think it's worth making a general distinction between how these three monsters have been used as archetypes or stand-ins for the monsters with which we wrestle in the real world. I am painting with a broad brush that is dipped in the stories with which I am familiar. Indulge me. If you would like to broaden or brighten my pallet with your additional observations, feel free. I am exploring this topic, not closing it.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Three Years Later: The Heart Attack Chronicles

My wife just reminded me that on March 31, it will be three years since I had my heart attack. I have blogged before about what went down after that happened ("A Pastor's Reflection On An Unexpected Heart Attack," "Blogs And Heart Attacks," but it's been a while since I've posted any heart attack related thoughts. An anniversary seems appropriate. So... here come thoughts. 

* * * * *


Trauma is real. I'm still coming to grips with the emotional and physiological toll. While my heart is medically cleared to do whatever paces I put it through, my heart was not the only thing that took a hit. It was a systemic attack. The closest thing I've found to an explanation is something called epigenetic trauma. My body has been building a new kind of Anthony for the past three years. I will never be the same. Wrapping my mind around that - and adjusting my expectations for who I am and what I can do - has been a daunting and frustrating journey. My peer group is small, since not a high percentage of folks survive a 100% blockage Widowmaker.

I have had a really, really hard time finding anyone in person or online whose recovery resonates with me. By most accounts I should have bounced back relatively quickly and felt a lot better. Nope, and nope. I am learning to be comfortable with not knowing/understanding and not having people around me know/understand. It's okay, even as I wish it could be different.

Rest is beautiful. Before my heart attack, I was a guy who did a lot. A lot. I really struggled to enjoy rest and relaxation: "I should be doing more"; "I don't want to be lazy"; "successful people push themselves"; "my worth is reflected in my accomplishments". My heart attack forced me to rest, and even now it forces me - if I am wise - to rest proactively rather than reactively. I am still not entirely comfortable with how much less I do, but I am learning to embrace napping, lounging, and not accomplishing much on a given day. Turns our rest is a gift. Who knew? Also, naps are the best.

Health is pursued medically, naturally, and existentially. I got lost for a year reading all kinds of helpful/unhelpful stuff online. There came a point where I had to either throw up my hands and say, "Nobody agrees, so I'm just going to do what I want," or say, "Nobody agrees perfectly - but there are genuine experts, and there are some common threads I can tie together."  I had to make an authentic choice (*nods toward existentialism) that I can follow boldly. That kind of mindset and attitude matters, sometimes as much as the path that is chosen (barring genuine foolishness). 

I like and trust my doctor, which I why I take a statin among other medicines. When I asked her about all the conflicting studies, she smiled gently and said, "Well, I've read the hundreds of studies while in medical school, and you are a prime candidate to be on a statin." Hundreds, you say? But I read 10 online! See how that sounds out loud? I also takes supplements and changed my diet (still working on getting that consistent) because that matters too (and my doctor agreed). Which supplements? The ones I chose after researching and talking with my doctor and the nutritionists at the hospital. (I recommend a book called How Not To Die, by the way. It's very good and not as morbid as it sounds.)  

Time is shorter than I thought. There is a nagging sense of impending death, not one that haunts me but more like a soft nudge that reminds me I am moving toward the end of this life, and that the end may not be as far away as I had planned. This will prioritize some things, let me tell you. I don't want to put off vacations I had planned with my wife; I want to have conversations with my boys now instead of later; I want to help my congregation unpack the Bible more than ever; I spend more time with people vs projects. I still want to maximize my time, but it has to do more now with relationships and presence. My tiredness gets in the way of that more than I would like, but when I'm up and about, that drives me far, far more than it used to. 

I have replaced dreaming about the future with entering into the present. This, for me, is a good thing. I used to be restless and unsettled about unfulfilled dreams I had. My post-heart attack experience has refocused my attention on what I have - and I love it. My family, my church, my friends, my opportunities here in Traverse City, my teaching - this really is what I have wanted. I just didn't see what I had. So it's not that I've lost a vision for my life; my vision is now to appreciate more fully what I have been given.

Practical example: I've thought for a while about a new and better house. You know what? My house is fine. You know what I would do in a bigger house? The same thing I do in my house now, except I would have to spend more time cleaning and mowing. I'm good. If, however, you would like to give me property by some water somewhere, message me. 

Dear God, I love my family. My imperfect, wonderful, challenging, soothing, annoying, delightful, confusing, lovely family. Also, shout out to my lovely and gracious wife. My heart attack has impacted her. I am a different man than the one with whom she spent 23 years, and, as she told a friend, it's like learning a new and difficult dance just when you thought you had the dance figured out. She is patient, and kind, and in my corner - a corner in which I am often napping. 

Naps are the best.

I'm fed up with Empire. The values of the American Empire and the alluring siren call of political power, Wall Street wealth and Hollywood glitter bother me more than ever. What does God require of His people? To do justice and love mercy. Dear God, our nation is so bad at both. We, His people, ought to be the ones who don't follow people, personalities, and parties that live large lives of arrogance, greed and lust in an empire that is not our home. We don't have time to be distracted by this. We don't have time to have our witness compromised by this. It's boots-on-the-ground, love-thy-neighbor time in the most practical of ways with people whose faces are in front of us. I might not see the person I am having coffee with again. Dear God, let my distractions be few, my priorities right, my loves ordered in the service of the Kingdom. 

I love the community of God's people more than ever.  I long for a taste of heaven now, and I believe God intends His church to be the place where we experience what an old hymn called a 'foretaste of glory divine': love, repentance, forgiveness, grace, graciousness, patience, truth, justice, mercy, kindness, radial generosity, relationship, transparency, honesty, and a sense of family. 

It's hard, y'all. 

I need this kind of Kingdom community more than ever, and I'm trying to offer it more than ever. I don't have time to mess around on this. Not to be morbid, but I don't know how much time I have. I want my wife and my boys to be deeply implanted in a community that is all of those things listed above because I don't know what my future holds, and I don't know when God's people will need to be God's comfort and peace for them. If I can be a part of building that kind of community, I want to do that with my time not just for their good but for God's glory.  

* * * * *

I've been telling more and more people lately, "I really recommend a heart attack." I'm kind of joking, but only kind of (and granted, they don't laugh). I don't like the ongoing physical impact it had; what I mean was that it did indeed refocus my life in important ways. 

I don't want another heart attack so I can mature more - I'm not stupid. But if I have to walk that road again, I pray that it will do what the other one did: lead me out of where I am, as broken and blessed as it is, and into an even better place either here or in the world to come.  God gets to make that call - and He is good. #all the time

Sunday, March 10, 2019

If We Want To Be Taken Seriously

The list of people I know who are leaving the church or questioning their faith during the past several years is growing. The reason they give is consistent. It's not a growing doubt because of an intellectual struggle; they lose interest in Jesus because they have experienced the people of Jesus, and they begin to think, "If this is what Christian transformation into the image of Jesus looks like, I'm not interested."

Some of it is being around Christians who leave no room to wrestle with questions and doubts. Some of it is being publicly shamed by Christians on social media over standard disagreements that should never have escalated like they did. Some of it involves private confrontations characterized by harsh judgment rather than grace and truth. Some of it is the unequivocal  support by Christians of President Trump, who for them is a deeply confusing champion for evangelicals.

A lot of it is that, actually. President Trump seems to represent for virtually all of them the separation between what they thought Christians were supposed to support and applaud vs. what they apparently do. This is the new tension in the American evangelical church, particularly for those under the age of 30. This is not a mere reflection of my musings; this reflects what I have learned through numerous personal conversations and plenty of surveys.

If you argue that it's not there, you're wrong. If you argue that it's not fair, you may be right. The Trump-supporting evangelicals I know – at least the vast majority of them – are undeserving of most of the vitriol aimed at them. They are about as far from ‘deplorable’ as they can get. They constitute many people in my family, my church family, and my friends who love Jesus and love others, and I wouldn't trade them for the world.

Yet, fair or unfair, the reality is that the public witness of the church in general has suffered a huge blow, and this is a matter that must be considered. There is a confusion in a watching world brought on by the perception of an unflinching embrace of a man whose history and many of his ongoing actions stand in sharp contrast to both the ethics and the people whom Christians have historically supported.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Loving Well In An Unwell World

As a culture, we seem to be trending in the wrong direction in so many ways.

  • We shout when we should whisper and whisper when we should shout. 
  • We deride and antagonize those with whom we disagree rather than seeking first to understand and then thoughtfully engage. 
  • We try to win arguments by bullying people rather than compelling them
  • We vomit anger and hurl insults on total strangers before settling for those we know. 
  • We let partisan politics cloud our rationality and empathy. 
  • We worry far more about policies than the people impacted by those policies
  • We want to be first, right, and best without doing the moral or intellectual hard work that would justly place us into any of those positions. 
  • We want to be seen rather than see; be known rather than seek to know; live in comfort, security and ease rather than give sacrificially of ourselves for the sake of others. 

The world is not well. Neither are we. This is probably nothing new. Maybe I'm just noticing it and feeling it more than I have before.

Is there an answer? I think there is: love. This sounds trite; even as I say it, I've got pop songs that make me laugh or cringe running through my head.



There is a danger that saying "Love is the answer!" trivializes the situation. But love - real love - is not trivial, and neither are the situations into which it enters.

So let's talk about loving well in an unwell - and often unloving - world.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

One Pastor's Thoughts On Teaching The Bible In Public Schools

I’m an evangelical pastor. I taught in a Christian school for twenty years, and I have taught an introductory Bible class for a Christian college for the past several years. I love the Bible, and I love the literary aspects of the Bible. It may seem odd, then, that I am uncomfortable with the idea of a Bible class being taught as literature in public schools. I will give you my reasons; I welcome your feedback and discussion.

First, I think that presenting the Bible merely as literature reduces it to just another book. England has taught the Bible in public schools for years. Meanwhile, the percentage of people claiming to be Christian has plummeted, especially among those under thirty. Here's the dilemma: teaching the Bible as literature is entirely different than teaching that the Bible as revelation. There is a reason atheists like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens advocated for the Bible being taught in schools. They weren’t concerned at all about it having a religious influence, because they knew who would control the context. Just to get  feel for where this would go in the United States, check out this article from The Telegraph: “WANTED: Atheist to teach religion. Knowledge of the Bible not necessary but experience of asylum seekers an advantage.” 

Second, whoever writes the curriculum is going to have a HUGE influence on how the students absorb what they are presented. I think we can all agree it’s not going to be a curriculum from David C. Cooke or Zondervan. It’s going to be from someone like Harcourt-Brace (they make great resources for teaching literature, btw. I used their stuff for years). If David C. Cooke were to make a curriculum about Islam, do you think their bias would creep in? Of course it would, and that's not an insult. It's inevitable. There will be a position taken about the subject matter by whoever makes the curriculum, and that position will influence how teachers and students process the information.

Third, asking someone who is ambivalent or even directly opposed to the messages of the Bible to teach the Bible would be like asking me to teach a class on Scientology. Yeah, it’s never going to get the benefit of the doubt. When I taught an Introduction To The Bible class for a Christian college, I used a Christian curriculum and still supplemented like crazy with resources like The Bible Project. I did this because I had the freedom to seek to make the Bible compelling; I could go into the highways and byways an compel people to come in. This is not what is being proposed in a public school Bible class, and rightly so. A Bible class now is a Quran class later.  In my opinion, this is not a can of worms we want to open.

Fourth, this is going to be difficult for Christian students. Envision a class that claims the book of Exodus chronicles God-ordained genocide. How many middle or high school students can offer John Walton’s or Paul Copan’s arguments against that reading? Old Testament Law? Oh boy. Apocalyptic literature? An understanding of covenants, and why animal sacrifice was important to the ANE? Any concept of cultural context that adds soooooo much explanation to so many confusing things? How the Household Codes of the Romans are echoed and improved in Paul’s writing? Would they be assigned Sarah Rudan’s Paul Among The People or Matthew Rueger’s Sexual Morality In A Christless World before engaging Paul's teachings on sex, slavery, and the role of women in the family and church?

* * * * *

My sense is that this kind of environment will do more to dissuade Christian students from their faith than it will to persuade non-Christian students toward the faith. Until churches all across the United States have a rigorous training program in place for children teaching them to understand and defend their faith, I fear that a class like this will do more harm than good to the enterprise of the gospel.

It is the job of the church and Christian educational institutions to make the gospel message of the Bible compelling. The government’s job is to protect our freedom to do that. If we are deeply unhappy with what our local school is teaching or not teaching to our kids, maybe it’s time to reconsider our educational choices.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Toxic Men, Toxic Women, And The Toxic Cultures That Nourish Them



Gillette, in an oddly incongruous act of virtue signaling [1] - or, more generously, cause marketing -  has recently released a controversial ad about what has been called "toxic masculinity."  You can watch the video above; here is an (imperfect) script based on my notes from watching the video:
"Bullying, the #metoo movement, violence, pornography, sexual harassment... Is this the best a man can get? Is it? We can't hide from it. It has been going on far too long. We can't laugh it off. Making the same old excuses (group of men: "Boys will be boys..."). But something finally changed (female news anchor: "Allegations involving sexual assault and sexual harassment..."). And there will be no going back. Because we ... We believe in the best in men (Terry Crews: "Men need to hold other men accountable." Two other clips show guys stopping other guys from harassing/catcalling a woman).  To say the right thing. To act the right way. Some already are, in ways big and small. (Clips of men playing with daughters, connecting across racial lines, and stopping bullying). But some is not enough. Because the boys watching today will be the men of tomorrow."
There are a number of things worth addressing in this cultural moment, so here we go.

WE ARE APPARENTLY AGREEING THAT THERE ARE SOME CHARACTERISTICS THAT ARE MASCULINE VS. FEMININE

I think we have to in order to even have this discussion.  The Atlantic quotes a bunch of studies that  think so:
“In a 2008 study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, a group of international researchers compared data on gender and personality across 55 nations. Throughout the world, women tend to be more nurturing, risk averse and emotionally expressive, while men are usually more competitive, risk taking, and emotionally flat. But the most fascinating finding is this: Personality differences between men and women are the largest and most robust in the more prosperous, egalitarian, and educated societies. According to the authors, ‘Higher levels of human development—including long and healthy life, equal access to knowledge and education, and economic wealth—were the main nation-level predictors of sex difference variation across cultures.’" 
In other words, men and women are different. [2] This does not mean all men or women fit neatly into a particular mold. My wife and I are exhibits A and B of this. It's simply an acknowledgment of generally correlative characteristics that emerge in men and women. I know this is a hotly debated topic, but we can't even talk about something that is uniquely, toxically masculine (or feminine) without at least have some kind of foundation that acknowledges gendered differences. As a friend and fellow pastor/blogger noted:
"In order for us to rail against toxic masculinity we have to admit there is such a thing as healthy masculinity. Any bad is dependent upon the good. Any evil is a deprivation of the good or a violation of a good purpose. You must have a good purpose before you can violate it. Yes, masculinity exists, or else it couldn’t turn toxic."

WHAT IS TOXIC MASCULINITY, REALLY?

There is no universally accepted definition, but the explanations I found follow a general theme.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Jerry, Jeffress and Jesus

On January 1, Joe Heim published an interview with Jerry Falwell entitled“Jerry Falwell Jr. can’t imagine Trump ‘doing anything that’s not good for the country.’” Last week, Robert Jeffress made headlines for defending President Trump’s wall by comparing it to Heaven’s wall. 

I am offering a response if for no other reason than to let those outside evangelical circles know that these two men do not speak for all of us, and that their application of biblical principles is suspect at best and deeply problematic at worst.

I am not eager to step into this mess. I just can’t not say anything.