Archive for September, 2009

Quick Takes On "America’s Got Talent"

Friday, September 18th, 2009

I am not the most astute observer of pop culture you’ll ever meet. I am out of the loop in discussions of Big Stars, and when it comes to what I like to pop into my CD player, I’m a study in contrasts (ska, punk, AND bluegrass?), which is not an indication, I’m afraid, of any sophistication in musical appreciation on my part.

But you already knew that.

Anyway, I love bluegrass and old-time country music. A three-CD set of “classic” (read: “Not on the radio”) country music makes for a happy afternoon as I sink into the unapologetically twangy sounds of Kitty Wells, Bill Monroe, and early Johnny Cash. I love Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss, Ranch Romance and Ricky Scaggs, and I loathe what passes for country music these days — insipid melodies performed by crushingly dull macho “patriots,” swaggering and hard-partying sex symbols, and the tepid, beige tones of “country rockers” who are neither country nor rock. My idea of eternal conscious torment would include having to listen to Rascal Flatts, Kenny Chesney, Toby Keith, or whoever G. Gordon Liddy and Laura Ingraham proclaim to be cool these days.

And so I was delighted to see Kevin Skinner win this season’s America’s Got Talent, with the million bucks and the headline show in Vegas and the attention of everyone in the nation more pop culture-savvy than I am. Skinner is an unemployed, unsophisticated farmhand from Kentucky with a rumbling drawl that calls to mind every nasty impersonation of the archetypical dumb redneck — he doesn’t sound, when speaking, like what most of us lamentably think “smart” sounds like, and he endured not-too-subtle scorn from the judges when he took the stage the first time in a backward baseball cap, jeans, and a worn Baja jacket. Then he sang.

It was stunning. He has a voice like that of George Jones and a presence like the anti-Elvis, strong and sweet and utterly sincere. He beat out opera singer Barbara Padilla, whose voice might well be the ultimate, absolute argument for a personal, intelligent Creator, God-As-Artist who inhabits not just the praises of his people, but the soaring, achingly beautiful tones that carry their words. I’m not much for opera, but beauty and wonder poured from Padilla’s voice every week, just as warmth and graciousness flowed from her when Skinner’s win was announced. Yeah, I got all
teary . . .

The presence of Skinner and Padilla, as well as Internet sensation Susan Boyle, wasn’t enough, however, to rescue much of the evening from near-Purgatorial awfulness. There were performances from Cirque d’Soleil, who managed to combine cabaret with clowns AND mimes — a Trifecta Of Extraordinary Cringe-worthiness — and country group Rascal Flatts, who are almost, but not quite, as cool as the guy at Home Depot who holds you hostage in “Lawn and Garden” as he yammers on about his new hose winder. But it was fun to hear disco matriarch Thelma Houston, and Boyle has a voice like an angel. Then came Shakira.

Oh, my. I’m not a prude, and I’m also not a dancer. And so it’s quite possible that I simply can’t appreciate the artistic honesty and profundity of what I believe was conceived as choreography interpreting the intentions of a song called “She-Wolf.” But I have been on a stage before, and sat on a piano bench before, without engaging both quite as she did. It was something to behold, in an “I’m so embarrassed for her! Where’s her mother????” kind of way.

In a jumpsuit with the net body-coverage of, say, a generously sized Garden Burger, Shakira managed to exhibit at least 90 percent of what’s wrong with music and culture these days, and did so to an adoring crowd full of men who gave her a near-complete standing ovation before realizing that, ummmmmm, they really ought to sit down. Likewise, the women in the audience were captivated, applauding wildly as the Colombian singer-dancer illustrated, in six-inch stiletto heels, why the goals of feminism have still not been reached, and why the Birkenstocked among us must continue to fight. (And please spare me the “she’s a powerful woman taking charge of her sexuality” crap. Truly empowered women don’t simulate sex with furniture on stage and in front of millions, and I absolutely can — and do — envy her figure while nonetheless wanting to toss her a muu-muu and sensible, if not rascally, flats).

I sincerely wish Kevin Skinner well in his stardom, and I hope that he and not our She-Wolf In Spandex represents the future of popular music. While it would be inappropriate to write his name all over my Pee-Chee folder, Jeff and I do intend to buy his CD, if for no other reason than gratitude to him for not once stalking the stage in leather Speedos, oiled pecs, and high heels.

Stay tuned for a serious take on women, high heels, and the folly of crippling footwear . . .

Insight From The SPLC

Friday, September 18th, 2009

“People who want this country to remain a white-dominated country have lost. They have completely and utterly lost the battle and they can never win it . . . (They) feel that this is no longer the country that their Christian white forefathers built, that they have been robbed, that this isn’t the world they grew up in and that they are very, very frightened.” Southern Poverty Law Center legal counsel Mark Potok, quoted by Leonard Pitts, Jr., September 18, 2009

Moscow’s Doug Wilson hates the SPLC because it has linked him, his ministries, and the neo-Confederate movement with the rise of right-wing hate groups. I love the SPLC because it has linked him, his ministries, and the neo-Confederate movement with the rise of right-wing hate groups. As Christians, Wilson and I ought to have a lot in common, but here’s an example of things we just don’t seem to see the same way.

I challenge you to line up the teachings of Christ with the actions and words of the Hateful Right. Follow the Tea Partyers and sign-wavers and suspicion-mongers if you want, but let’s stop pretending theirs is in any way a true Christian movement.

Really? You Have To Ask?

Friday, September 18th, 2009

A Tea Party organizer says Barack Obama is “a Muslim and a thug.”

Rush Limbaugh says his presidency now gives black kids permission to beat up white kids with impunity.

The “birthers” are convinced a newborn Obama somehow arranged for a fake birth notice to be printed in a Hawaiian newspaper announcing his birth. Even a local pastor speculates that there’s something sinister the President is trying to hide regarding the circumstances of his birth to a white woman and a Black African man.

Racist “Christians” announced his election with a knock-knock joke: “Who’s there?” “Ise.” “Ise, who?” A grinning Barack Obama — “Ise Yo New President!”

Another jokes about his entering the pearly gates a mere 20 minutes after his inauguration.

Others rejoice over a Black pastor — a lunatic they would never otherwise quote — who condemns Obama as “a pimp daddy.”

And still others yuk it up over a satirical news article, printed for undiscerning, hot-headed readers without reference to its fictional nature, about his attempts to grant statehood to Kenya — the home of his father and the nation in which the crazies say he was born.

An acquaintance sends me dire emails noting that Obama has “never renounced his Muslim faith.”

Congressional bully Joe Wilson, of “you lie!” fame, is a dedicated defender of the Confederate flag. Cries of “the battle continues!” ring out from those poor, deluded folks who think the Civil War was nothing more than a program of race-mixing, white-hating, plantation-busting federal oppression of the Anglo-Celts living in Dixie. To what effect?

Well, while 90 percent of whites in the Northeast believe the President was, in fact, born in the United States, fewer than half of white Southerners agree.

And you have to ask if racism is at all behind the recent mass protests against Barack Obama, demonstrations that have little to do with policy and much to do with ontology — who he is as a person, the product of a white American woman and a Black African man, a “secret Muslim,” a shadowy, radical, deceptive pretender with “proven” socialist intentions and terrorist ties?

Not every protester is a racist. But not every protester is a clear-thinking, rational, sincerely concerned citizen, either, and when the fringe Right decides to call in the troops and go on the rampage, only the foolish would accept that love of country and concern for policy is what leads them to ugly rhetoric, vicious slander, and the insouciant carrying of weapons while reminding each other that bloodshed is a necessary part of revolution — not just dissent, but revolution.

And every single person who engages in the kind of talk I’ve outlined is guilty already of slander, malice, gossip and troublemaking. I just pray they don’t become, all of them, guilty of abetting the murder of this man they hate so much.

Yeah. That includes local pastors and blogmeisters and “Christian” elders who damned well know better and choose not to do it.

Understanding The Poor (With A Nod To Hebrews 10)

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

I appreciate the comment from Ashwin, below, following my recent posts on ministry to the poor and government social service programs. I’ve left out some of his comments about successful programs in India, where he was born, and will focus on his charge that Witmer, to whose comments I was responding, and other “leftists” and I don’t understand the poor. My response follows.

(September 16, 2010) “The problem here of course is that both you (Ms Mix and assorted leftists) and those you chastise (Pharisaiacal, legalistic Christians and assorted conservatives) are missing a crucial bit of information.

Neither of you know what the poor want.

Why not? Neither of you can understand them. Sure, you may talk to them for a bit – but you will only get the sound bites they reserve for patricians like yourself. The poor will tell you what they think you want to hear. They will not tell you what THEY want. You are not one of them.

But to be one of them you must give up your wonderful house and your expensive car and actually go live in the slums. And you must endure their distrust for a couple of years before they start trusting you. And then they will open up.”

My response:

Ashwin makes some important points, and I would agree with him that I don’t truly KNOW what the poor want or need because I’m not poor. I’ve written at length about the fact that while I may have been broke at various times in my life, I haven’t been, and will never be, poor. That’s not pride on my point, nor is it an assessment of my worth, skills, or work ethic. On the contrary. My secure economic and social position is the result of unjust and un-Biblical power structures that work to benefit white, literate, legal citizens of the U.S. from upper middle-class families — and God’s graciousness to me for his glory as I work to alleviate suffering and call for justice in the face of it all. It’s an indicator of how unjust the world is, and how unjust my own little corner of it is, that the lack of power, money, and education that define poverty hasn’t happened to me. I get no credit for my position, other than my trying to be responsible, honest, and discerning in my position.

But I think I DO know quite a bit more about poverty in the United States than, perhaps, most of my readers. I was raised in a relatively poor, ethnically diverse neighborhood, with parents who worked tirelessly to collect food and clothing and furnishings for those in need around us. And from 1989 to 2001, I devoted countless hours and many thousands of dollars working with the poorest of America’s poor — undocumented immigrants forced to live in squalor while working in dairies, farms, factories and fields under deplorable conditions, conditions that most Americans would find surprising and too many would deny exist.

I taught English (in Spanish, as most of my friends and congregants were sub-literate), translated in schools, hospitals, and other institutions, and advocated for their rights — and yes, Chris, the undocumented workers among us have legal rights and “moral rights” that were very often denied them. I co-pastored a church comprised of undocumented immigrants, rejoiced at births and weddings, grieved at deaths and abandonments and other tragedies, and opened my home to the people I worked among. They opened theirs to me, and I was pastor, friend, counselor, Auntie and sister to a couple of hundred people who escaped gross poverty in Mexico only to find gross poverty here in the U.S. I have stood ankle-deep in cow manure to fight for a worker’s paycheck more times than I can count, and I have eaten the most wonderful Sabbath feasts in stinking, rotting, unplumbed and unwired trailers that no human being or their dogs should ever live in.

Let’s establish right now that none of this makes me heroic, virtuous, or a paragon of decency. It makes me obedient. That’s all — the glory goes to the Lord of Righteousness. I followed God’s call on my life, and because of it, I think I have as clear a picture as I can of what some impoverished people need, because I worked and lived and celebrated among them, and I tried to listen as they told me what their hopes and dreams were. And while I provided a lot of help, practical, financial, and spiritual, I got back so much more than I ever put in — because these were RELATIONSHIPS. Very few of my friends got any government help; they worked, and worked harder than most of us will ever know to make a decent life for their families here and in Mexico.

The name of my one-person ministry, supported by my dear husband, was Vecinos, which means “neighbors” in Spanish. I was only affiliated with a church for about a year and a half; I preferred to work alone because I couldn’t accept financial or practical help from people who would’ve denied it if they’d known of my friends’ legal status. My mission statement or vision statement or statement of purpose or whatever strategic planners would call it was simply “Service, Empowerment, Relationship, Advocacy, only for the Glory of Christ.” The acronym, SERA’, means “It will be,” and by God’s grace, I think it was.

My point in writing all of this, and at the risk of provoking warm feelings toward Keely in doing so, is simply to say that I am more aware than some of what Christians ought to be doing and what government can and cannot do. I would never suggest that churches sit on the sidelines, enjoying Covenant-only Sabbath feasts and youth softball games and ladies conferences that stress grooming as a means of Godliness — while government does the dirty work. I simply recognize that the Church is equipped to do the SERA’ work of ministry, while government is equipped to pay for poor people’s medical care, housing, and education, both as a means for maintaining the order described in Romans 13 and as a vital, but not exclusive, part of the social contract that should exist in partnership with Christ’s people. Government can’t “do” relationship; churches can’t “do” Medicaid, Medicare, WIC, and other programs on the massive scale that reflects the need for them.

Predictably, Chris Witmer has left a long, critical comment on my earlier writing, and you can find it in the comments section. But I would ask him, when he writes of the “gun-to-your-head” thievery of the State in providing for the poor, to consider Hebrews 10:33-34:

“Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.” (TNIV)

You know, I’m not sure that I’m strong enough to “joyfully” accept the confiscation of my property, if that meant the occupying government’s seizure of my home and all of my possessions. But it’s not. The government is exacting taxes, which the Lord expects us to pay, in order to maintain order and promote the security of our society. We — Jeff and I — pay a lot in taxes. I’m not at all “joyful” that so much of our money has gone to this obscene war in Iraq or to exploring space while people on Earth are suffering. But while I pay my tithes and offerings to the Lord, through my church, the ministries we support, and our own individual efforts, I’m grateful to God that my government — which, by the way, has thousands of dedicated Christians working in it — has programs that aid the poor, and that do so with my gladly given money. It has programs, too, that build roads, hospitals, schools and parks and provide national defense, however mistakenly it does so. I think we’re not “piglets suckling at the teat” of government — you can direct your grimace towards Doug Wilson for that colorful phrasing — when we enjoy the wonders of Yellowstone or drive to Pullman on something other than a mud skid.

The government, regardless of what the Recons and the Libertarians among us think, isn’t likely to seize all of my possessions and my home because I’m a Christian — which is the context of Hebrews 10. I’ve never been persecuted as a believer and I very seriously doubt any of us has; the Christian witness in this country, my own included, is far too impotent to pose much of a threat to the secular world around us. And while there was a time, not so many years ago, that Christians could be counted on to enthusiastically do their part in supporting the social contract living in community requires, there are pockets of ugliness and indifference in Christiandom that believe that this sort of thing couldn’t possibly have anything to do with love of one’s neighbor and is instead a vicious, sinful accommodation of a vicious, sinful occupying force.

Much of this has to do, I’m convinced, with the excesses of post-millennialism and Calvinism. After all, if you’re convinced that some are damned for all eternity because they were damned before all eternity, it becomes easier to practice studied indifference to the poor outside your church. And if you believe that the Second Coming will happen only after the Church ushers in a real period, a thousand years or otherwise, of theocratic (not democratic), patriarchal (not egalitarian) majority rule by Covenant males, I suppose you’d have to hate the government that comes before it and that you eventually will vanquish. There is, I’ll admit, a real-world benefit in holding to the hope that Jesus’ “turn the other cheek” thing will be done away with, as Gary North asserts, when Christian theocracy ushers in a Jesus who bashes in the faces of his enemies. I mean, calls for government aid to the poor do look suspiciously gentle and liberal and feminized and pacifistic. No wonder Witmer and his pals hate government and long for the return of an ass-kicking Savior.

I just wish that hating the government didn’t look so very much like hating the poor, and I wish that poverty and oppression were seen as the enemy, not the poor and oppressed themselves. Because Jesus identified with them, and it’ll be hard to rally to his side at the parousia when he’s surrounded by all of these “others” who hunger and thirst not just for righteousness, but also for food for their kids.

Looking Biblical, Sounding Conservative, And Not Even Remotely Christian

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

To continue my analysis of “Biblical” calls for abolishing “government welfare programs,” let me summarize Reconstructionist and Wilson admirer Chris Witmer’s assertion that the answer to our nation’s healthcare crisis requires both repentance for our sins — presumably individual and corporate — as well as restoring the care of “the least of these” to the church and family, doing away with any tax-supported social safety net. His quote, taken from a comment on an earlier post, appears in my “A High Price To Pay” article. I think I’ve done it justice here.

I gave my “short answer” in that post; I hope it provoked some consternation, because it deserves to. There are many issues at play in this discussion, not the least of which is the tragic insistence of some Biblical conservatives in wrongly, and callously, dividing the Word of Truth in the name of fidelity to Scripture — with tragic, and most un-Christian, consequences.

Where to begin? Witmer is right when he observes that injustice and inequality, as well as economic catastrophe, will continue until God’s people repent and seek his will — although Witmer and other Reconstructionist types haven’t exactly distinguished themselves as champions of justice or equality. Nonetheless, the people of the United States, and particularly those who claim the name of Christ, must humble themselves — I must humble myself — and seek God’s forgiveness for our multitudinous sins. But I imagine Chris and I have an entirely different idea of what those sins might be, and therein lies a key to our disagreement.

We have sinned as a nation, as a “Christian” nation, in allowing, perpetuating, and benefiting from injustice that we’ve watched seeping into public policy, contemporary culture, and civic affairs — when, that is, we haven’t actively poured the toxins of racism, sexism, classism, incivility and idolatry ourselves. The Church has stood silent in condemning the “I’ve got mine, screw you” attitude that destroys community and fouls the integrity of the Gospel; worse, it often embodies it under the guise of “Christian” Libertarianism, Reconstructionism, and a post-millennial, Covenant eschatology fawning and undiscerning in its admiration of an unfettered free market.

And while most Christians are grieved at the loss of life represented by abortion, this believer, at least, refuses to equate the tragic decision of a desperate woman to have her unborn child killed with that of the 9/11 terrorists who slaughtered more than 3,000 people out of nothing other than blind, seething hate. While 3,000 aborted babies a day is a horror, it’s a symptom of things our Covenant patriarchs and Reconstructionists embrace — poverty, a “pro-life” movement enamored of war, gender inequality, and a theology of male headship in the home that dishonors Scripture and imperils women. The nation, and the Church within its borders, carries a tremendous sin debt against a holy God, and only repentance and faith in the Perfect One can erase it.

But Witmer’s idea that the United States also must eliminate “all government welfare programs” and return complete responsibility for the poor, sick, and suffering “to the family and to the church, to which they rightly belong,” has the advantage of looking Biblical, and its conformation to the written instructions given the early Church seemingly argues for its validity. Nobody, Christian or not, would suggest that families and their faith communities carry no responsibility for one another, and most Christians would extend that responsibility to “the least of these” outside the church walls. Most, not all; the American Church has many thousands of saints who minister tirelessly to the poor and sick, but the churches you more often hear about minister tirelessly to pastoral power, the already converted and comfortable, and general contractors who profit from enormous buildings and ambitious growth. Still, it’s not incongruous to think of “Christian” and “church” and “ministry to the poor,” although you might, in some areas, have to furrow your brow a bit. Nonetheless, you cannot read in Witmer’s words a mandate for Church-sponsored benevolence without also considering his call, and the call of most “Christian” Libertarians, for the elimination of any government action on behalf of individuals in need.

And that ought to sicken your heart and scare you to death.

It would be absurd to argue against the truth that the Church has a Biblical, moral, tangible responsibility to care for the needy, whether in the pews or outside the sanctuary’s doors. In fact, I’d like to see a whole lot more of it. I’d be delighted, for example, if the largest Christian church in Moscow decided to spend four days in September ministering to the community around it — collecting and distributing food, hosting a Sabbath dinner for the hungry and homeless, preaching a Gospel of class-shattering freedom in Christ — instead of indulging in a self-congratulatory and culturally-insulated “Celebratio” featuring bad theology and worse practice dressed up in family activities, concerts, and lectures downtown that don’t reach those outside of Christ Church, Logos, NSA and Greyfriars — and aren’t intended to.

(Side note: Perhaps Wilson, et al, might consider hosting a “Charitatio” of outreach to his neighbors, or a “Communitatio” that offers a wary and weary Moscow an opportunity to interact with him regarding his interesting views on the Confederacy, slavery, women on school boards, the root causes of 21st-century American poverty, the stoning of gays, evangelism, and voting rights for non-male non-property owners. I’m afraid, though, that that would lead to “Absentatio,” or a duck-and-cover that would have them scurrying back to lectures on the breathtaking social relevance of Calvin’s passion for singing the Psaltery, a topic of urgency only for those who figure that their being in the Covenant requires no particular interest in or engagement with those presumed to be outside of it, God be thanked and sweater vests be donned).

To advocate for a Biblical view of government, one that recognizes the State as God’s perfect will for civic order worked however imperfectly through imperfect human institutions, it’s necessary to acknowledge that modern society differs enormously from first-century Rome, Palestine, and Greece. Ours is not a pre-industrialized, New Testament world where serious illness usually ended in death, medical care was based on equal parts hope and herbs, families encompassed two or three generations living together, and life expectancy was significantly less than it is today. It was easy to expect that families and the Church would, as Paul’s epistles command, take care of the poor, sick, and aged in their midst — so they wouldn’t be a burden or bad testimony to the world. The early Church sought out those the larger society considered “aliens and strangers,” the social “Other,” and invited them to become an entirely different kind of alien and stranger, pilgrims whose hope and suffering in this world were enlivened by their hope in the sufferings of Christ Jesus and the promise of life eternal. They went out, suffered with, brought in, worked among, and provided for. They didn’t decide that Covenant numbers were set in such a way as to relieve them of responsibility for going out and preaching the Gospel, and they didn’t consider arrogance in judgment of the less fortunate or disenfranchised a pastoral virtue.

The early Church, then, modeled the fruit of the Holy Spirit in welcoming and caring for the poor and sick. However, while the blessing of modern medicine and the range of social inequalities and crises experienced today make that a noble imperative still, it’s unreasonable — and, frankly, utterly callous — to expect that any church or family shoulder the entire cost, both financial and emotional, of caring for those most in need, whether because of a sick body or a sick economy. In the early Church, serious illnesses were confronted with extraordinary hope tempered by insufficient medical knowledge and resources. A child born with a hole in her heart, a woman dealing with ovarian cancer, a man mangled on the job, a young person stricken by mental illness — all might have been deeply loved and valued by their families and their church, but without a miracle, death was generally inevitable. Now, encouraged by enduring hope in Christ, we can ask for healing and very often see it happen, whether by instantaneous miracle or by the steady, God-given skills of the doctors he has graciously gifted us with.

That help isn’t cheap, though, and often results in the financial ruin of those who benefit. For families, one malignant biopsy result or MRI report can result, these days, in economic ruin, even with private insurance. It’s true that entire churches don’t suddenly get laid off or hurt on the job; still, one layoff or injury can devastate not only a single family, but also a church struggling to keep its people from the evils of government welfare. A church that relies on its own congregation’s benevolence to the sick can incur thousands upon thousands of dollars of costs just from one congregant’s illness — no less grateful for the medical advances that heal, yet overwhelmed by the expense of heart surgery, chemo, physical therapy, psychiatric, neonatal, or chronic care, and other gifts from God. His gifts of advanced medical care are, in his providence, freely given; at the same time, they can be enormously expensive in their realization. It’s easy to call for the elimination of “government welfare” for the sick when the church’s and the family’s care for them was limited to tonics, poultices, herbs, and bed rest. It’s easy to scold that “he who doesn’t work, shall not eat.” It’s another thing entirely when the good news of advanced medical care, or the bad news of innocents suffering for the vagaries of unjust economics, comes with a price tag beyond what families and their congregations can ever pay.

And that’s really at the crux of Witmer’s point, I think. Families who can afford private insurance, which he presumably is not opposed to, are at much less risk of ruin from the emergence of serious medical problems, although even they struggle with the capriciousness of the profit-driven “managers” of their medical care. But even having health insurance is a sign of relative affluence and security. The uninsured frequently become very sick — profoundly and expensively sick — precisely because they lack the money required for preventive care, routine exams and tests, and early treatment of disease. And since calls for an “only church and family” approach to medical care and aid for the poor come from those who appeal disingenuously to the Proverbs for reasons to condemn the poor, it’s clear that even the Bible-believing Witmers among us draw a terribly cruel line in the sand when it comes to ministering to the unfortunate and underprivileged. They often get sick because they can’t pay for health insurance; they’re buried under medical expenses that suck the joy right out of God’s healing them, and yet the Church to which they appeal for help is too often more interested in parsing the Proverbs to explain why their poverty is because of their failures — failures that shouldn’t, they conclude, be rewarded by the Covenant community to which they aren’t often seen as members anyway.

Perhaps Witmer’s church would be interested in funding mammograms and Pap tests for low-income women, or “adopting” the family of a breadwinner injured and unable to work. I’d love to see churches sponsor dental clinics for poor children, provide free lunches for laid-off job seekers, or joyfully pay off a single mother’s medical bills. Many of them do, and many Christian individuals worship the Lord by ministering this way to his people — not in spite of the sufferer’s poverty, but because of it. I’m sure Witmer would like that, too, if the recipients were deemed worthy of help and innocent of offense against the Covenant.

Of course, there would have to be rules. Not Biblical principles derived from the balanced, context-appreciating hermeneutic of a loving, Spirit-filled heart bathed in humility, but wooden, literal, inviolate instructions from both the Old and New Testaments, adapted not one simpering, feminized liberal whit for the world today. Ants scurry and gather, poor people apparently didn’t, and there you have it: a benevolence policy for the Church, right there in black and white — although, curiously, not in the red. The sayings of Christ tend not to guide the Reconstructionists, but that doesn’t make his words hard to understand.

But maybe Christian Libertarians, to make sure that the most literal Biblical hermeneutic isn’t violated, could develop a criteria for which illnesses and conditions the Church should offer financial support — a good Libertarian approach to managing costs. I wonder if that would include, for example, denying one of the brethren financial support after a heart attack brought on by years of Friday morning breakfast platters buried under ham, sausage, bacon, eggs and French toast, or shooing away another whose troubled real estate investments crash. A congregation dedicated to providing the benevolence that families can’t surely must take into account one’s culpability for his own health and pocketbook — the kind of “personal responsibility” extolled by the Scriptures and embraced by its most passionate adherents. I hope for good health and abundant provision for Christian Libertarian families across the nation — particularly if their call for a slashed-and-burned social safety net comes true. And a summer’s worth of Blog and Mablog wrist-slapping of those father-hungry souls who worry about saturated fat, food allergies, and whole foods probably ought to offer its author, in the spirit of Biblical literalism, the opportunity to chip in for their care if it turns out that prevailing medical wisdom is correct. After all, the Proverbs that diagnose poverty also preach against gluttony and excess, and pastors are especially charged with not causing their flock to stumble. The wood from a doggedly literal, context-absent interpretation of Scripture, employed to bolster Libertarian politics and dismissal of both government and the poor, splinters both ways.

A proud insistence on not ever shrinking back from Scripture can easily, and has here, become a proud insistence on cultivating the skill of walking over the poor and sick while never wavering from a detailed hermeneutic of self-rewarding insouciance in the face of suffering. The priest who ignored the man beaten and robbed prided himself on being right in ignoring him; the Samaritan who helped the victim simply was righteous. Jesus ignored the letter of the Law in healing a blind man on the Sabbath and in not declaring unclean the bleeding woman who touched his robe; He is Lord of the Sabbath and the fulfillment of the Law, and we can be like him in revering the entire meaning of the Word of life, or we can devote our energies to studying only the words and missing the Word. The issue here is not “charity at gunpoint,” as Witmer and his pals call taxation and social services. The issue is simply this: What will most benefit the ones Christ died for, and benefit them in his name and for his glory? The answer, I’m afraid, isn’t going to be found until we look up from the text and seek to apply it all in the context of Christ’s amazing, astonishing, powerful redemptive Word.

Jesus And The 100-Yard Dash

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

Overheard at a Moscow High School football game:

“Dude, if Jesus and (running back Jason) were in the 100-yard dash, Jason would, like, SOOOOOOOOOOO take him . . . “

Huh. And here I was, thinking our Savior was built for both speed AND endurance . . .

A High Price To Pay, Indeed

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

Chris Witmer’s recent comment on my “Palin-Drones” article deserves examination — not just because I think it’s wrong, but because it’s a passionate paean to the idol of “Biblical literalism,” an approach to Scripture that promises “never to be embarrassed by any word of Scripture” but unfailingly ends up as an embarrassment both to the interpreter and the Church. His is a perfect example of an argument that relies on a strict, literal, and seemingly Biblical foundation — I mean, the words are right there in black and white (or red) — and yet manages to result in practice that is entirely un-Christian, un-Biblical, and unfaithful to the message of Christ.

Here’s what Chris says:

“Pointing out the problems in Obamacare is not difficult, but neither the Democrats nor the Republicans are capable of understanding, let alone actually implementing, the only solution that would really work over the long haul, which would necessarily include 1) repenting before the Triune God for our sins, and 2) the elimination of all government welfare programs and the complete return of such functions to the family and to the church, to which they rightly belong.” Chris Witmer, comment on “Palin-Drones,” Prevailing Winds, September 10, 2009

And here’s my short answer: Where does the unchurched clerk at Dollar Tree, raising kids on $9 an hour, go when she’s diagnosed with cancer and her family is far away, broke, and her ex isn’t paying child support?

If “government welfare programs” are abolished, is a lingering, painful death the penalty for not being a member of a church in Witmer’s Reconstructionist heaven-on-earth?

If you think the question is tough, consider the answer. I’ll explain in my next post.

Insight From Great Britain

Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

“All over the U.S. there are people whose lives are being destroyed for lack
of proper health care provision, and there is no sight more odious than
the rich, powerful, and arrogant trying to keep it that way”

- Simon Hoggart, political sketch artist for the United Kingdom’s “Guardian” news magazine, September 2009

Hoggart correctly diagnoses not only the dire need for healthcare reform in the United States, but also the “we ain’t broke, so don’t fix it” mentality shown by for-profit insurance company executives and the GOP Congress in bed with them. You have to wonder why other nations — literally, every other industrialized country in the world — understand the moral and economic imperative of uniform access to quality healthcare while the United States holds on for dear life to a broken, corrupt, immoral and economically unsustainable system that kills people.

The GOP, and, oddly enough, the Christian conservatives in it who continue to wield influence they neither deserve nor understand, are hell-bent on tightening their death grip on a system that would be immoral even if it worked. But it doesn’t work, it does kill people, it’s crippling our economy, and appeals by the Religious Right for a free market-only system illustrate more tragically than I can the disconnect between Christ and those of his followers who are consumed with a hermeneutic that rewards being Right over being righteous.

And stay tuned for my response to a comment on my “Palin-drones” post that rips the disconnect even more violently . . .

Sarah Palin As The New Voice Of The GOP? (Or The Evolution Of Palin-Drones)

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

Right-Mind.us has Palin’s “tutorial” on President Obama’s efforts to reform healthcare. Right-Mind author Dale Courtney, positioning himself as a Palin-drone, wonders if Palin is positioning herself to become the voice of Republican America.

Gee, I hope so. Republicans haven’t been particularly good for the United States over the last three decades or so, and we’re just eight months out of our national eight-year Bush nightmare, courtesy of the vicious machinations of Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, Alberto Gonzales, Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, and the rest of the bad guys. It would delight me if what is now the Party of the Petulant “No!” would continue its slide into utter, irredeemable irrelevancy. Palin could take care of that easily.

On the other hand, it’s more than a little disconcerting that Sarah Palin is actually taken seriously by people — real people, evidently, who apparently swoon, eyes fluttering, at the sound of her grating, cajoling voice every time she elbows her way into serious discussion. That anybody would confer even the most trifling legitimacy on Palin is disappointing; that Christians would join them, in many cases leading the charge, is absolutely horrifying.

If Palin lands on the 2012 GOP ticket, it will be because millions of Bible-believing Christians put her there. Sure, she’s curried the appearance of wrongdoing at best, and at worst she may have broken the law while in public office, demonstrating a disconcerting tendency toward dishonesty and evasion. Sure, she’s a hypocrite and an opportunist, and, sure, she’s evidently dumb as toast and quite content to stay that way. And sure, the Religious Right, cynically tossed a bone by the McCain people during the presidential election, embraced not only Palin herself but the Machiavellian hypocrisy her selection represented — as some sort of conferring of legitimacy, whether on their faith, their politics, or their desperate hunger to be aligned with the Cool, New Girl In School.

Of course, in very, very few of their churches would Palin even be considered for the office of pastor or elder. The Religious Right is the branch of Christiandom that almost uniformly continues to believe, somewhat conveniently, that Scripture prohibits women in church leadership. Further, even if Sarah Palin were up for consideration for church office, her conduct would prohibit her elevation. She may well be a sincere believer, but no church would risk placing her in a leadership position when she demonstrates not simply a blithe disregard for truth, common sense, and civility, but also wallows in self-imposed ignorance, self-elevating arrogance, and self-satisfying judgment that only the most kindly among us would call “questionable.”

But the Presidency of the United States is evidently now held in such contempt by Palin’s supporters, and their own patriarchal notions of “women’s work” so carelessly adopted and embraced, that a woman unfit for the diaconate of the tiniest church in Wasilla is catapulted onto the national stage as a likely presidential candidate. The scorn in which the GOP holds Barack Obama is so bitter and so overpowering that a rush is on to satisfy Rush, whipping up support for someone from the Rabid Right who is attractive, young, energetic, and able to spew the most venomous, vapid garbage from her honeyed mouth. And until the madness stops, millions of Christian men and most of their wives will have to repent of having committed “adultery in their hearts” by slobbering over the woman who carries a banner assuring folks that if you say “Jesus” just right, you can be as dumb, mean, and dishonest as you want to on the national stage. But there’s a more powerful, more beautiful, more enduring banner carried by just a few in the Church, one that proclaims that we are bound by God’s love, part of his family, and probably, really, definitely ought to start acting like it on the political stage and off. Palin knows about that banner, no matter how much she runs from it toward gaudier, more glittering ones waved by her pals.

What Do I Have Against Learning Latin?

Thursday, September 3rd, 2009

So my new friend asks me why I seem to be so “anti” the classics and why — at least to her — I appear to have a real chip on my shoulder regarding Christian kids learning Latin. It is, she said correctly, the foundation of language; to understand Latin is to understand more deeply our own English language.

And, you know, I have no problem with all of us understanding more deeply our own English language. Anything that would keep people from saying “anxious” when they mean “eager,” or referring to any act of destruction as “decimation,” would make me happy. I love words. I think I use them well — in two languages, English and Spanish.

On the other hand, it’s a serious, time-consuming endeavor to study a second language; you don’t learn Latin, Swahili, Tagalog or English, which I taught in Spanish for more than a decade, by dabbling. That commitment, then, won’t lead to mastery unless the reason for learning a new language in the first place is of sufficient importance to keep you going through the subjunctive tenses and reflective verbs. Without strong motivation, even the smartest kid will emerge from the classroom mono-lingual, her frustration describable in a dozen words in her native language.

Whether the impetus to test the waters of bilingualism comes from curriculum, business, evangelism, or sudden immersion — your wife, for example, just got transferred to Poland — the goal is the same. You want to speak to people and be understood in their language. For the Christian, there’s the added motivation that bi- or trilingualism results in an explosion of opportunities to talk with people about Jesus Christ, whether or not you originally picked up a second language because of other reasons not at all less noble, or much less noble. (“Less noble,” by the way, would include the study of another language solely as a means to meet suitable young men your Daddy would approve of). So, if you move to Sweden, you’d study Swedish, not Italian. Very few people in Sweden speak Italian, and your most flawless Italian presentation of the Roman Road will be lost to your listener; you will have acquired a language that no one around you knows. Yes, you’ll feel smarter. Yes, your resume will glow, and yes, your efforts were impressive, albeit not even remotely appreciated by Sven and Mats in Stockholm.

The same is true with learning Latin. It certainly is difficult, primarily because, as a “dead” language, there isn’t a contemporary, evolving, reciprocal Latin language spoken anywhere to refer to. It’s the province of classicists, an honorable exercise in learning, but the linguistic equivalent of busting a gut riding a stationery bike by the side of a wide-open road. Same expenditure of energy, but with a much different outcome.

Learning a dead language brings about fruit, I suppose, that certainly edifies the learner, but does so by doggedly plowing a field with no expectation at all of its eventually bearing fruit that can edify others. People who have mastered Latin have put enormous effort into a dead language, increasing the opportunities to speak and share Christ with, perhaps, the other five young classicists in their seminar at NSA or classroom at Logos. Never, then, with Macario, Ying-sui, or Akosua across the street, whose language could have been learned instead.

It seems to me a shame, if not an outrage, to choose a language that guarantees never being able, with the presumption of also not being willing, to talk to other people — about stock indices, Giant Schnauzers, plans for dinner, or the Gospel of Christ. When I learned Spanish, it became clear that my world — specifically, the number of people I could talk with about Christ — exploded. And while I may have only actually talked to a couple of hundred people, I could, theoretically, talk to any of hundreds of millions more in a couple of dozen or so Spanish-speaking countries. Spanish became a tool, like the study of Biblical doctrine or the memorization of Scripture, to enable me to minister. That’s my job and my call as a Christian — to be equipped, to “be prepared always to give an answer, a reason for the hope that lies within” me. Being equipped to offer an apologetic to Opus Dei in a shared, dead language probably isn’t what St. Peter intended.

If ministry — not just evangelism, but meaningful contact, service, and relationship with non-believers — were a priority of Classical Christian schools, a basic foundation in Latin might well be offered. But the expectation that there’s a message to share, and that it could be shared via a language people actually speak, seems to be less important than the acquisition of “lost tools of learning” as a reaction to a secular world that actually reads vampire novels without a true understanding of the literary tension involving syphilis. (See “Blog and Mablog” for a discussion of vampire literature and why other people aren’t as smart as the blog’s author).

These “tools,” particularly the study of Latin for the sake of, well, the study of Latin, certainly build up the learner. There is no shortage of puffery and ego, as we in Moscow have seen, among the classically trained when forced to deal with public-school refugees and the “lesser” homeschooled. The lost tools now recovered by our Pedagogue-in-Chief are a gilded crowbar — or perhaps a dainty, silver pair of tweezers? — with which to separate these students from those presumed to be not in the Covenant, or at least the classically enlightened Covenant. The tools, carefully etched and unscarred by use, do work well at excising and plucking out, but in a world crying for spiritual renovation, wouldn’t it be better to have a less-pretty toolbox filled with the stuff you can actually use — if, in this broken world, you were at all inclined.