Archive for January, 2009

Natural-Born Character Assassins Welcome!

Thursday, January 8th, 2009

I started a blog because I like to write. I’ll occasionally reprint something, with full attribution, in order to provide context to a comment. Still, I believe that the best blogs sprout from the mind, and keyboard, of the blogger. You don’t get a lot of quantity at Prevailing Winds, but the quality, or lack thereof, is all mine.

Now, this isn’t the approach of Moscow’s uber-blogger, Dale Courtney, who produces in his Right-Mind blog an astonishing number of posts daily, almost none of which include anything written by the blogmeister himself. Right-Mind was named last year as Idaho’s most influential political blog, which is quite an honor. But the honor is Dale’s as an archivist, or a news clippings clerk, and not as a writer or analyst. While I congratulate him on being #1, I would prefer that whatever kudos I get are in response to something I’ve actually written. That’s the journalist in me; it doesn’t die out easily, even with cutting and pasting and hyperlinks.

If, however, I were to have a blog whose contents rely on reprints of cartoons, articles, publications, statistics, and whatever else, I would still be discerning in what I include, because my blog would reflect not only my opinions, but my character as well. I wouldn’t crib stories from the paranoid Right, the loony Left, the gutter-skimming tabloids or the pompous posers of pseudo journalism. With a blog, you don’t have to include what you don’t want to, and there are elements in the print media and on the Internet that I’d slam the door shut on. The one who hosts a banquet of weirdness, paranoia, obsessive and dishonesty ends up, well, looking weird, paranoid, obsessive and dishonest himself.

So why post yet another breathless report from World Net Daily.com, informing us that once again, the courts will take another look at an issue burning only for the exceedingly odd among us? Yes, it’s this: Whether or not, and please stop me if you’ve heard this before, President-elect Barack Obama is a natural-born citizen of the United States.

This one’s had a long life — longer, even, than the Religious Right’s shameful, sinful speculation that Obama is the Antichrist. But the issue that enflames Obama’s enemies survives only because malice and bigotry can be relentless. I’m quite sure that a white guy named Patrick O’Shaughnessy, if born in Oahu and not Omaha, would still never be nagged by people screaming that being born in one of the 50 States, while it was a state, nonetheless makes his citizenship suspect. I’m entirely certain that, brilliant as Barack Obama is, he was not capable, in utero, of devising a plan to print public records, publicly distributed, announcing his birth two days after he emerged from the uterus of his American mom. And I’m absolutely sure that faux-journalists who pronounce dire warnings and drop deep, dark innuendo about something that isn’t true deserve the contempt with which they and their organizations are treated by those who tend not to foam at the mouth when discussing politics, even before they embraced the writings of the Rabid Badger of Right-wing Bigotry, Ann Coulter.

But Dale invites WND and its conspiracy whispers and character assassinations to litter his blog a few times a week. WND’s analysis of questions into Obama’s status as a natural-born citizen includes reminders that “for whatever reason,” he hasn’t produced his actual, paper birth certificate. (Here’s my non-paranoid, entirely rational guess at the reason: Individuals do not have their original, paper birth certificates in their possession). I can’t imagine what WND’s and Dale’s guesses would be, but I pray they don’t involve trench coats, numchucks, Jimmy Hoffa, space aliens or Vito Corleone.

The article concludes with the solemn reminder that IF this man takes office as an imposter, interloper, or imp of Satan, it will have happened “on our watch.” “On our watch”? Goodness. I think I’ll decline to take responsibility for the Obama presidency happening on my watch, but I’m left wondering why in the world an elder at a Christian church would allow such malicious drivel to proliferate on his.

For The New Year

Sunday, January 4th, 2009

All of us have our goals and commitments, even if they’re not enshrined as official New Year’s resolutions. I’m no different; there are a couple of things I want to not do and a couple more I want, with God’s help, to do. But for the Christ-follower, I think the following, by John Wesley, encompasses it all:

Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can

Amen; may it be, Lord, in all of us.

This Is Wrong?

Friday, January 2nd, 2009

Dale Courtney’s Right-Mind blog features a story from World Net Daily about a proposed requirement that Arizona attorneys not allow any religious beliefs about homosexuality to interfere with their proper representation of gay clients. Here’s a comment from the blog, warning of the slippery slope just ahead:

“More progress for the homosexuals marching toward the reaching the inevitable goal of equal rights and protections under the law.”

Equal rights and protections for gays?

Imagine that — Asking that lawyers do their best to advocate for civil and legal justice for clients, even for those clients who they believe to be in sin. To the Christian who embraces a conservative interpretation of Scripture, that would include defending the rights of racists and bigots, the un-Biblically divorced, young people who aren’t virgins, people who weren’t virgins before they married and are unconcerned by it, drunks, drug users, men who abuse their wives, women who beat their kids, people who can’t pay off their credit cards, and people like me who sometimes swear like sailors. I’d like to avoid the attorney who screens her clients through the Law before working with them. On the other hand, she’d probably want to avoid me.

All of us are guaranteed legal rights and equal protection under the law; all of us are, or should be, held equally accountable when we are found guilty of breaking the law. No one is asking the Arizona attorneys to engage in homosexual behavior, hang out in gay bars, march in Pride parades, or even like those who do. They can still believe, if Scripture compels them to, that homosexual activity is sinful. Presumably, they find the behavior of the drug users they defend sinful as well — and yet they uphold the law and advocate for its fair application for their clients.

Sorry, but I’m not upset about this. Evangelical theologian Dr. William Webb concludes in his book, “Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals,” that the Bible does teach the sinfulness of all sexual activity outside of heterosexual marriage. He adds, however, that “Within a pluralistic society, such as we experience today, Christians should actually defend the rights and freedoms of homosexuals to live out their beliefs. We should not legally impose our sexual ethic on others.” (Webb, 2001, p. 40)

I’ve met Webb, and he’s as gracious as he is brilliant. If Dale or any of his Moscow readers would like to borrow his book, I’d be grateful to loan it out. A proper exegesis of Scripture goes a long way toward reducing fear that “they” might be as safe in the world as we are.

I Believe Anyway, Always

Friday, January 2nd, 2009

Moscow’s community discussion forum, Vision 2020, has been especially lively and lamentably ungracious over the holidays. I have been a vocal participant in Vision and a passionate defender of this unmediated “public square,” and I’ll continue. I’m not particularly dismayed that the discussion of Christian communion, faith in God, and the nature of belief has gotten as rough as it has. Suggestions that participation in the Eucharist is a symptom of mental illness and “prayers” to Santa Claus that mimic a prayer of Christian commitment are part and parcel of free expression.

Still, I’ve been reading all of the comments back and forth regarding Christian communion and faith in God, and I concluded, after the Santa Claus prayer posted yesterday, that the discussion had deteriorated beyond what I could (humbly) hope to remedy. But I was reading in the O.T. last night and came across this, which I’ll submit as my contribution to a discussion I hope regains its respectful footing:

Habakkuk 3:17-18:

Thought the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines;
though the produce of the olive fails, and the fields yield no food;
though the flock is cut off from the fold, and there is no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will exult in the God of my salvation.
For God, the Lord, is my strength.

You Are What You Eat — If Wilson Says So

Thursday, January 1st, 2009

I’ve been curious about what’s feeding Doug Wilson’s recent ruminations on food, the spirit, and Christian maturity on Blog and Mablog. “Curious” is only part of it; “appalled” and “angered” go with it like butter and syrup atop a pancake, spreading and sinking in as time goes by. I can’t comment on how Wilson concludes what he does about this or anything else — how his mind and conscience work is far beyond my field of expertise — but I’m eager to explain why this pastoral error matters. Wilson often goes where angels fear to tread and veers off the path science and medicine have already cleared, and once again his lack of training fails to slow him down, just as a surplus of arrogance keeps him going. The stakes are a little higher here — this time, in dispensing bad counsel and presumptuously diagnosing the spirit within, they could pose a significant stumbling block to his congregation.

I’ve had probably a dozen pastors in my life. What I eat has never been an issue, but I suppose there might be occasional pastoral need to encourage healthy eating, particularly for a group as devoted to feasting and fudge as Wilson’s, and I guess I’d want a pastor to gently chide me if my Lay’s potato chip habit spiraled out of control. At least we would agree that while potato chips aren’t a moral issue, they do constitute a less-healthful snack than, say, an avocado, a glass of soy milk, or a slice of whole-grain toast. IF the issue came up — and that’s a big IF — we’d both be on the same page, and I would then munch away with the assurance that my spiritual leader, while not a nutritionist, pretty much agrees with those who are. If he involved himself in my dietary choices, I’d know he was basing his counsel on science, Scripture, and a humble recognition of his limitations.

Overstepping the bounds of the pastorate, butting in on matters of individual conscience, is unfortunate; doing so with counsel that flies in the face of common sense and science is truly disturbing. Most of the rest of the world concurs that food in its least-processed state is generally better for you than food barely traceable to its origins. It really can’t be, in an ecclesiastical setting, a point of discussion, much less contention, that while wheat is wheat, its ending up in a loaf of Panhandle Artisan ciabatta is preferable to its being molded into a Twinkie. My hypothetical pastor would be a humble kind of guy who knows what he doesn’t know and trusts in the expertise of others, and I would presume that he would encourage whatever reasonable decisions I made on what to feed my family. We know that Wilson mocks those who abstain from wine at Communion, pointing out that there are, at the table, a few cups with grape juice — the sign of a feminized, watered-down Gospel — for anyone who promised Grandma on her deathbed that they’d never take alcohol. It’s hard not to miss the Snarkiness Factor here; it’s harder to believe it comes from a pastor. But I would, perhaps, have nothing to fear at the Table. I enjoy wine, although I enjoy respect more. On the other hand, if I, a hypothetical Kirker, went all-organic or cut out refined sugar, I’d take a pass on worshiping with with a pastor who would presume to diagnose from my diet a gaping wound in my relationship with God.

Hypothetically, it doesn’t seem too much to expect; in reality, it isn’t, either. But Wilson has a different message and a different approach to pastoral counsel, one that sets him apart from most pastors. A theology of God’s goodness and a near-obsession with feasting has led him, it appears, to conclude two things: One, that he’s qualified to pontificate on the science of nutrition, and, two, that he’s welcome to diagnose an individual’s spiritual state based on food choices, particularly those that reasonable people would judge as prudent.

He derides label-readers and food-avoiders, those who want to eat “natural” and avoid chemicals, and those who generally just show concern about the healthfulness of the things they choose to eat. It’s quite an odd pastoral bent, and wouldn’t be truly Wilsonian without both mockery and judgment. He doesn’t disappoint as he issues his verdict: Food fretfulness is silly and immature, and its cause is, like most things in the Kirk pastor’s universe, a deep-seated Father Hunger, an inability to grasp the abundant lovingkindness with which our God provides for us, a spiritual vacuum made real by the failings of the men around us and remedied, or kept in check, by blissful liberty at the buffet.

Well, then. Blame it on Dad, the dads around me, the Father I don’t know, and pass the fudge.

The root of it all, Wilson says, and says as a strong male pastor in a hierarchy of strong patriarchs, is a yearning for Abba/Father — for the Celestial Dad. Undeniably, too many Christians view God as a stingy, cold Father, and I even agree with Wilson that Christian men — and I’d say Christian women — have often failed younger believers by not demonstrating a truly Christ-honoring approach to both Biblical teaching and Christian character. Given the unfortunate sexism in Christiandom, men must take the blame for many of its failures. So Wilson and I are two peas in a pod on this: The Church in many ways has slipped from its moorings, and individual believers are often left hurt and confused.

Whether a symptom of ecclesiastical harm and spiritual darkness is evidenced, however, in a believer’s decision to eat less bacon and more spinach is debatable.

At best, it’s a curious indictment of sincere believers; at its worse, it’s a bullying, controlling verdict issued by the unqualified and unearned by the congregant. Scripture enjoins the Christian to be sensitive and gracious when around people who have differing ideas about what to eat and what to avoid. When those choices are demonstrably wiser and healthier than their alternatives — fruit juice over Mountain Dew, for example — affirmation should abound. When the choices are unwise and unhealthy, gracious counsel ought to as well. And common decency dictates that people for whom food choices are life-and-death be encouraged to make the kind of choices in every part of their lives that lead to good health. The pastor’s own empirical experience and limited knowledge wouldn’t dictate the seriousness and respect with which health-imperiled congregants are taken.

But rather than respecting that Kirkers can make well-informed, rational decisions on what to eat and what to feed their kids, and do so without his interference, the Bishop of Bluster barrels in to dismiss with a blithe arrogance the concerns of those who do read labels, opt for “natural” or organic foods, cut out things that aren’t good for them, and generally try to eat well and in moderation. What possible concern of his is a congregant’s concern about pesticides on apples? How does it harm the congregation if a mother tries to keep her kids away from soda pop? If someone wants to go vegetarian, is Wilson bothered that he, too, will be forced to pass on the pot roast, or is he offended that someone dare exercise Christian liberty — as much the freedom to not partake as to partake — without running it by him?

If I had food allergies, I’d run like hell from Wilson’s pulpit. If I were an abstainer from wine, I’d decline the opportunity to worship with people who mock my teetotaling. If I were a vegan, or trying to eat less fat, or watching my weight, I’d expect my pastor to not cause me to stumble, maybe even applaud my imperfect-but-sincere efforts to honor the Temple of the Spirit represented by my body.
And if I had a deep regard for Scripture, ecclesiastical fellowship, and my health — and I do — I’d warn everyone who would listen to stay away from men who try to entice and seduce with ignorance, who confuse discernment and discipline with despair, who cannot accept their own limitations in expertise, and who dare diagnose a spiritual hunger in those on whose consciences they trample.

You’re a Christ Church member or faithful blog reader. You walk in communion with your Savior. You read labels on the food you buy and prefer organic produce, because you want to do what’s best for the family God has given you. From that, from your concern about fat and salt and chemicals, your pastor pronounces that you don’t know how to receive God’s fatherly love — but only after he’s mocked you and people like you.

Isn’t it time to ask why such a man is called “pastor” at all?.