Friday, September 26, 2008

the debate

I watched the debate tonight and found myself really liking the demeanor of both candidates. What do you do when you like the character and personalities of both men running for President?

Some political races don't boil down to issues but instead revolve around personalities. Most people walk into the voting booth, look at the two names, and check their brain at the door. Most people go with their emotions and their gut. They ask themselves whether they "like" the candidate or not. It all ends up being a high school popularity contest in the end.

But it changes the way you vote if you really "like" both of them. If you appreciate the character and personality of both candidates then that won't drive your voting choice. If both men are respectable, good men who are smart and capable, then you are forced to vote on the issues.

I am happy that we have two great men running for President. And though I resonate more with one candidate than the other on the issues, it is nice to know that the American public did a good job this year in the primaries. We are left with two very different options yet two very good men.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

homosexuality and same-sex attraction

This past week on Sunday, Ryan tackled to tough issue of homosexuality. This is not an easy thing to do from up front is a "speaking" setting. These sort of topics are usually best done in conversation. But he did a good job laying out the hot button issue and the way we as Christians should address it.

The church has handled this poorly and has not understood the issue. Some churches try to stake their claim politically in the debate over whether gay marriage should be legal. But that is a political/legal argument. And while there is room to debate it, that shouldn't be we address on Sunday mornings.

What needs to be address from a Christian worldview are questions like "Is homosexuality sin?" and "Are homosexual lifestyles what God intended or did he intend something else?"

Where do we find the answers to these questions? Like all moral and theological issues, we have four pillars to stand on in our search for truth. Some call this the Wesleyan Quadrilateral: Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience. These four pillars are our tools in seeking truth.

But they are not all equal partners. As Christians we believe Scripture has supreme authority. Tradition (the way believers have interpreted scripture down through the centuries), Reason and Experience all come in tied for second.

Scripture is clear that homosexuality is not what God intended for humanity. Just as it is clear that He did not intend extra-marital affairs, or hatred toward others. "Tradition" supports this interpretation of Scripture. It is a "reasonable" conclusion and it fits with the "experience" of many who have come out of the gay community and have found freedom from that lifestyle.

Those who argue that homosexuality is part of what God intended usually argue that point by making "experience" the chief source of our pursuit of truth. They argue that if someone has "experienced" being gay, even from childhood, then it must be something God is ok with. And then they interpret scripture, read tradition, and use reason all based out of that "experience." But "experience" was never meant to be the chief source of truth. When it gets placed above all the others, our world view becomes skewed.

But what do we as the Church do with those who struggle with homosexuality? Well, first, let's get our terms in order. Homosexuality is an identity based on a lifestyle. As Christians our primary identity should not be found in our sexuality, or anything else for that matter. Our primary identity is "follower of Christ."

So the term that fits better is "same sex attraction." There are those who have found their primary identity in Christ and yet still struggle with being attracted to the same sex. And from what we know of that experience, people are not "choosing" to be attracted to the same sex any more than I choose to be attracted to the opposite sex.

But just because it seems natural to them, doesn't make it ok. There are lots of things that seem "natural" to me that are not right. It seems natural to me to blow up in anger at people but it is not what God intended. It seems natural to lust after women but it is not what God intended. We must accept the reality of our "Fallen-ness" when it comes to our desires.

There are three main issues to wrestle with when it comes to someone who struggles with same-sex attraction: behavior, identity and attractions. Let's start with behavior. Those with same-sex attraction should no more act on their attraction than I should act on my attraction to women who are not my wife. But not acting on the desire is just the beginning.

It is tempting for those who struggle with same-sex attraction to identify themselves as "homosexual." But I think this is a mistake. Our primary identity is in Christ, not in our sexuality. While our attractions are not necessarily a choice, how one identifies oneself is a choice. And our identity should not be what we struggle with or our sin, but instead the freedom and hope that we have in Christ.

This leaves us to the final issue of attraction. The reality is that once a person's identity is firmly grounded as a "follower of Christ," then behavior will likely line up with God's will. But while a person may win the battle of identity and behavior, the battle of having same-sex attractions will be harder. There are those whose testimony is that in Christ, they no longer feel a great attraction to the same-sex and instead find themselves attracted to the opposite sex. But this doesn't happen for everyone. Some Christians will have to deal with same-sex attraction for the rest of their lives. Some will deal with this struggle as single people, others as happily married people.

But is this really all that different than many of the other fights against the flesh that Christians must endure for a lifetime? Is it that different from an alcoholic fighting against taking another drink for the rest of her life? Is it that different from newly converted Wall Street executive battling against the temptations of power and greed for the rest of his life? Is it that different from a guy who is addicted to pornography fighting off the temptation of images all around him? Each follower of Christ must take up their cross and follow Him. Each must deal with the parts of their lives that don't line up with what God intended for humanity. Each must fight the good fight in putting to death the sinful nature.

This battle lasts a lifetime for all of us. But in the end, Jesus has won and the victory will be ours.

Friday, September 12, 2008

the church

The Church is a complex animal. We have people of all shapes and sizes. Represented in the Church are a wide variety of beliefs and views.

I was hanging out with a friend the other day who struggles with the idea of women in leadership in the church. But what was so amazing was that this friend was willing to stay in our community during the struggle. Many would just look at our church, see that women make up part of the leadership, and declare us heretical. Even though my friend disagrees with how we do things, the desire to be a part of this community is stronger than the disagreement.

In the worldwide Church, we have gay Episcopal ministers and those who believe homosexuality is sin. We have women pastors and those who believe women teaching men is unbiblical. We have those who believe in predestination and those who lean more toward free will. We have Catholics and Protestants, Orthodox and Coptic. We are a mosaic of ideas and methods all united by the belief in Jesus as our Messiah.

If you take our Presidential candidates seriously, then what we have in this election is not just conservative vs. liberal or Republican vs. Democrat. What we have is one member of the Church competing against another member of the Church to get elected. McCain is an Episcopalian who goes to a Baptist church. Palin is an evangelical who goes to a non-denominational church. Obama is from an African-American United Church of Christ. And Biden is a devout Catholic.

So whether we want to admit it or not, all the candidates are a representation of the Church. If McCain wins and brings "reform," he will do so as a part of the Church. If Obama wins and brings "change," he will do so as a part of the Church.

We are a mixed bag. We have sinners and saints, hypocrites and holy ones. It seems we often disagree more than we agree. But what we do agree on is what matters in the end. Jesus, above all else, is where our loyalties are. Jesus is Lord and we are His Church. Our primary identity is "follower of Christ" before it is anything else.

In the end, there is only one Church. There is no "Plan B" for God. We are it. And even with all of our warts and scars, struggles and mistakes, Jesus still claims us as His own. We are His Body. We are His Bride. And He loves us like a groom loves his bride on their wedding day.

He invites us to be a part of His Church, no matter what, through thick and thin, whether we like what the Church has become or not. Because, in the end, the Church is not about itself, but about Someone greater. The Church is not about the fractures and disagreements, but about the One who united us through His love and by His grace.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

the spin war

Now don't get me wrong. I really like Anderson Cooper. His show AC 360 is on late but is pretty good. He has a young fresh way of dealing with the news.

But one thing he said today was interesting. He wanted to look at the views that the VP candidates have on abortion. What was really strange was the way he described Palin's view of abortion. He said her view was "anti-choice." Since when did the "pro-life" view get re-named "anti-choice."

The way the AC360 reporter who actually reported the piece described McCain/Palin as "anti-abortion". The way he described Obama/Biden was "for abortion rights." Notice the subtle shift from "pro-life" to "anti-abortion." Also notice the positive language used in the labels "pro-choice" and "for abortion rights."

These are the subtle battles over language that few notice but many are affected by. "Pro-life" sounds positive. But if the media calls it "anti-choice" or "anti-abortion" they can paint that view in a more negative light. Both "pro-choice" and "for abortion rights" have a positive spin on it.

If the media wants to remain "unbiased" as they claim, they should stick with the language of "pro-life" and "pro-choice." If they want to start using "anti-choice" or "anti-abortion" to describe the pro-life view then they need to do the same on the other side. This means they would need to change "for abortion rights" to something like "anti-life" or "pro-abortion." Of course this is not something they are likely to do. If they wouldn't do the latter then they should avoid doing the former.

Framing language in certain ways changes the way people view the issue. Biased framing of language is what we call "spin." News organizations should try to leave "spin" to the pundants and try to stick to using fair and equal language.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

bumper campaigning

I saw a funny sticker on a car today. It read:
"Obama is Palin comparison!" As in, Obama is "pale in comparison" to McCain. I thought that was a cute way to use her name.

Also, while studying for this week's sermon, I ran across the Greek word "παλιν." παλιν is pronounced "palin," just like the last name. It is the Greek word that means "again."

This fun coincidence could be used by the Democrats to make a sticker that reads: McCain/Palin = Bush "again"(παλιν).

It could also be used by the Republicans to say, "If we want to win the White House "again" (παλιν), we need McCain/Palin.

Of course, the only people who would get either one of those slogans would be geeky, Greek-studying seminary students or ancient history majors. But I still thought it was a rather funny coincidence.

Do Republicans care about the poor?

Often Republicans get a bad reputation for not caring about the poor. This is because the conservative economic policy calls for less government spending, less government programs and lower taxes. Many wonder, "if government spends less to help the poor, won't that create more poverty?"

I think a better way to understand conservative thinking is that the desire isn't to cut all spending altogether. Instead, conservatives believe that there is a lot of waste in our spending. So the idea is not just to cut spending. The hope is to spend less and make what we do spend more efficient and effective.

One example of how this works was written about in July of this year in the New York Times. As hard as it was for the Times to admit, the Republican Congress and the Bush administration over the last eight years have managed to reduce the number of chronically homeless nationwide. This wasn't done with "more programs" or "more spending." It was done by redirecting funds in a more productive and efficient way.

Here are some quotes from the article:
"The number of chronically homeless people living in the nation’s streets and shelters has dropped by about 30 percent — from 175,914 to 123,833 — from 2005 to 2007..."

"...officials also attribute much of the decline to a policy shift promoted by Congress and the administration that has focused federal and local resources on finding stable housing for homeless people suffering from drug addiction, mental illness or physical disabilities, long deemed the hardest to help in the homeless population.

Under the strategy, known as “housing first,” local officials have over the last eight years increasingly placed the chronically homeless into permanent shelter — apartments, halfway houses or rooms — and provided them with services for drug addiction, mental illness and health problems."

"Mr. Culhane attributed much of the decline in chronic homelessness to the efforts of Congress, administration officials and local communities. In 1999, Congress told HUD to direct about one-third of its financing for homelessness to permanent housing."

This is concrete evidence that conservative policies can be compassionate while also being efficient and productive. More spending is not always the answer to our nations problems. What we need is not "more" spending but "better" spending. And better spending requires spending less in a more efficient way. It requires doing more with less.

Raising taxes and making government bigger isn't the answer. One would think that if the liberal economic policies of increasing taxes and creating more programs was the answer, then all the Democratically run cities would have the lowest homelessness rates. But the cities with the highest homelessness rates (Detroit, Boston, & DC according to a Weingart Center study) are run by predominantly Democratic politicians.

What might surprise many is the possibility that conservative economic policies might have more success in reducing homelessness than liberal economic policies. What we need on both sides of the aisle is more people who are willing to avoid "more" spending and instead figure out ways to promote "better" spending.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

tragedy and triumph

This election is history making and will only continue to be so. Either a black man will become President for the first time in history or a woman will become Vice-President for the first time in history. So in either case, the American people will have triumphed together in moving our country forward in important ways.

What is even more historic is that if Obama is President, it won't be "because" he is black but rather in spite of it. And if Palin becomes VP, it won't be "because" she is a woman but rather in spite of it. They will be elected because of their qualifications to lead and not their race or gender. This above all might be the greatest triumph of all. It might signal a movement in the direction of getting away from race and gender politics. It might be a step closer to Dr. King's dream that we would be judged not by external characteristics but by the content of our character.

The tragedy in the midst of these triumphs is that there are still those who will not vote for a black man or a white woman precisely because of their race or gender respectively. Racism and sexism still exist and we see them in both parties and in all socio-economic classes. So unfortunately some will vote for McCain simply because the thought of a black man in the White House makes them cringe. Likewise, some will vote for Obama simply because they dread the idea of ovaries in the Oval Office.

Our hope is that the triumphs will outweigh the tragedy this election year. And we hope that God will change the heart of those who allow racism and sexism to cloud their vote and their lives.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Can Palin do it?

The presidency is a job that takes long days and long weeks. There is not much time off when you are the Commander-in-Chief. McCain has always put his country first and will continue to do so if he is President. But the question is out there: "What if McCain dies and Palin has to step up to the presidency? Can she handle the highest office in the land and be a good mom?"

Let's think about other people who serve their country. When a soldier goes off to war, he does so in service of his country. He leaves the bulk of the parenting to his wife who stays home with the kids. He could be gone for years with just a few visits home. Sometimes when one parent is serving their country to the fullest extent, the other has to take on more responsibility for a time.

We also see the flip side of this when our women soldiers go off to war and the husbands stay home with the kids. There are many families like this right now in America. For a time, while their mom serves the country, the kids are taken care of primarily by their father and the extended family. But when mom gets back home a few years later, the balance is restored. Would we call that mom a "bad mom" because she went to serve her country? By serving her country is she putting her family second? I would say "no" on both accounts.

And this same principle applies to Palin. No doubt, as VP she will have a busy, time-consuming job. So I am sure her husband might take a little bit more of the parenting load for the next 4 to 8 years. This is even more the case if something tragic happens to McCain and Palin takes the lead. But even if her husband has to take more of the responsibility for a time, is that any different than what all the Presidents' wives have done? Not to mention his family who will rally around them to give them all the help they need.

Just like sending a mother off to war, sending a woman to the White House will require sacrifice. But that sacrifice is a noble one. It doesn't make a woman less of a mom. Instead, these are exactly the kinds of moms we want in America. And when that mom comes home from war or comes home from the White House, she comes home to a thankful and loving family. The balance of parenting is restored and their kids have a hero for a mom.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Obituary of the late Mr. Common Sense

I thought this was funny. So just for fun, I decided to post it here. Oh, that we could resurrect Common Sense from the grave! This is the obituary of the late Mr. Common Sense:

"London Times Obituary of the late Mr. Common Sense interesting and sadly
rather true!

'Today we mourn the passing of a beloved old friend, Common Sense, who
has been with us for many years. No one knows for sure how old he was,
since his birth records were long ago lost in bureaucratic red tape. He
will be remembered as having cultivated such valuable lessons as:
Knowing when to come in out of the rain; why the early bird gets the
worm; Life isn't always fair; and maybe it was my fault.

Common lived by simple, sound financial policies (don't spend more than
you can earn) and reliable strategies (adults, not children, are in

His health began to deteriorate rapidly when well-intentioned but
overbearing regulations were set in place. Reports of a 6-year-old boy
charged with sexual harassment for kissing a classmate; teens suspended
from school for using mouthwash after lunch; and a teacher fired for
reprimanding an unruly student, only worsened his condition.

Common Sense lost ground when parents attacked teachers for doing the
job that they themselves had failed to do in disciplining their unruly

It declined even further when schools were required to get parental
consent to administer sun lotion or an Aspirin to a student; but could
not inform parents when a student became pregnant and wanted to have an

Common Sense lost the will to live as the churches became businesses;
and criminals received better treatment than their victims. Common Sense
took a beating when you couldn't defend yourself from a burglar in your
own home and the burglar could sue you for assault.

Common Sense finally gave up the will to live, after a woman failed to
realize that a steaming cup of coffee was hot. She spilled a little in
her lap, and was promptly awarded a huge settlement.

Common Sense was preceded in death by his parents, Truth and Trust; his
wife, Discretion; his daughter, Responsibility; and his son, Reason. He
is survived by his 4 stepbrothers; I Know My Rights, I Want It Now,
Someone Else Is To Blame and I'm A Victim.

Not many attended his funeral because so few realized he was gone."

Wednesday, September 03, 2008


Well, the media attack dogs are on the loose. Palin's introduction to the political world in Washington is a harsh one. The liberal pundents will say anything and do anything to get their candidate in the White House.

Here is what Palin has already had to face just in the first few days of being a VP candidate:

1. Rumors were spread on the blogosphere saying that her youngest child actually belongs to her daughter. (internet media)

2. Because she is a mother, her ability to do the job is in question. (Washington Post)

3. She is being criticized for not having enough foreign relations experience. (all media)

4. Her ability to be a good mom has been doubted because her daughter got pregnant as a 17 year old out of wedlock. (Washington Post)

5. Her views of teaching abstinence education have been criticized because her daughter got pregnant. (CNN)

6. She is being criticized for being nominated to the VP position solely because she is a woman. (all media)

7 . Her leadership as governor has been called into question because of her interaction with the boss of her state trooper brother-in-law. (all media)

That is a lot to take in just the first few days on the national political scene. As brothers and sisters in Christ, we should being praying for her and her family that they will be able to sustain the onslaught. We should especially be praying for the daughter who is pregnant. Can you imagine being a daughter and having your mom trashed by the media because of a mistake that you made?

So are any of these criticisms legitimate? Let's walk through them.

#1. This one is blatantly false and is just tabloid rumor.

#2. If being a mother excludes women from being in high powered jobs, then the women's movement hasn't made it out of the 50's. Maybe we should ask all of the high powered CEOs who are mothers. I wonder if they would think this is a legitimate argument? I think they would give a resounding "No." This argument is ridiculous.

#3. This criticism is also an empty one. We elect governors to the presidency all the time with no foreign relations experience. Maybe you have heard of two of them: Reagan and Clinton. Plus, Obama also has little foreign relations experience and he is at the top of the Democratic ticket. One thing Palin has as governor that Obama doesn't have is executive experience commanding the National Guard. And Palin is just the VP candidate. McCain has tons of foreign relations experience to make up for any she lacks.

#4. If people doubt her as a mother because her daughter got pregnant, then they would have to doubt the parenting of millions of women in America. In fact, these same people would then have to doubt the parenting of Obama's grandmother, whose own daughter got pregnant at 18 with Barack. His grandmother played a big part in raising him as well. This whole line of thinking is just silly. It also misses the point that she has a son who is willing to serve his country by joining the military. I would say that is pretty good parenting.

#5. This idea is ridiculous. Her views of abstinence education don't have anything to do with her daughter. That is like saying a parent who has kids who try drugs should then suddenly be for legalized marijuana. Again, silly.

#6. This sexist attack discounts her record for reform in Alaska. She is a fighter that has a proven track record of working against corruption. If this attack was leveled against a woman running from the left, the whole media would be crying "Sexism!" But the rules seem to be different for a woman who is running from the right.

#7. This might be the only criticism that has any merit. But as the investigation unfolds and we find out that the trooper tasered a kid for no reason, we might think differently. I think that the McCain campaign wouldn't have invited her onto the ticket without investigating this thoroughly.

So out of the many attacks that are coming her way, only one has any merit. And that one is under investigation. When it turns out that she did nothing wrong, she will be in the clear.

The media attacks will hopefully self-correct much like they did with the Reverend Wright scandal for Obama. At first the media will attack repeatedly. Then, they will self-criticize and realize how ridiculous their coverage has been.