Tuesday, December 27, 2016

If You Follow Christ, Can You Also Follow Trump?

                A Tweet on Twitter doesn’t often hit me like a splash of ice water in the face. 
    This one did:
   “You can be a conservative or a liberal and be a follower of Christ, but it is not possible to be a follower of Trump and a follower of Christ.”
                Let that sink in.  Do I have your attention yet?
                Before you speculate on who made the unsettling comment, let me point out that it was uttered by a celebrated theologian whom I and many thousands of others admire and respect.  I’ll reveal who it is in a moment.
                You’re probably aware that according to several post-election surveys, more than 80% of mostly white “evangelical Christians” did, in fact, vote for Donald Trump – effectively handing him the Presidency.   
    Evidently, evangelicals, by and large, gave Trump a complete pass on his sometimes foul and culturally-divisive use of language, his anti-immigration insinuations, his misogynistic tales on video, his castigation of the media and his negatively targeted comments toward specific races and at least one world religion. This is not an insignificant muster.
               What could be the dynamics of this apparent blurred vision between evangelicals and mainline Christians?
   Let me be clear right off; I am NOT making the judgmental inference that 80% of evangelicals are not followers of Christ.  What I AM suggesting is that we – all voters who call ourselves Christians – perhaps should re-examine some of the considerations which led to our vote choice.
Also let me state that one of the most commonly heard reasons given among evangelicals for casting a ballot for Donald Trump – they said it was simply making an obvious choice between “the lesser of two evils” – is to me at best a cop-out and at worst a distressing misinterpretation of the Christian faith.
So, who made the quote at the beginning of this post? 
The author is none other than the esteemed Miroslav Volf, Yale Divinity School professor of systematic theology and founder and director of the Yale Center for Faith and culture.   One probably couldn’t find a more qualified theologian for authenticity and reliability regarding an issue like this.
What, then, did Volf mean to accomplish with his Tweet?
To get some perspective, we can look to a couple of Volf’s subsequent Tweets. In them, he suggests that it would be a mistake to conclude that Christ followers only need be concerned with things regarding the state of the human soul.  Rather, he submits, most theologians agree that Christ’s kingdom is “unmistakably political” as well.  He cites Karl Barth’s writings of Nazi resistance as but one example.
Those Christians who look at Trump and perceive him as a “political savior” are most likely focusing on the wrong person, he suggested.
“Those who do see him as a ‘political savior’ therefore ‘follow him;’ they are committed to him and his vision.  That’s not the stance a Christian should have toward *any* politician.  But whether one ‘follows’ Trump in this sense or merely ‘supports’ his character and political vision, one is still on a collision course with our Lord Jesus Christ,” he Tweeted.
Volf believes that the goal of the history of God with humanity is ultimately a “polis” – a New Jerusalem – and that Christ, the incarnate Word, is the measure of politics just as He is the measure of all things.
“If Christ is the measure of politics, then every person who aspires to follow Christ has to be able to show how the political vision he or she espouses can be justified by appealing to Christ’s life and teaching, or, at the very least, make an argument that it does not collide with the life and teachings of Christ,” he explained via Twitter.  
He continues rather pointedly, “Most of what was important to Jesus is openly despised by Trump, and most of what is important to Trump was condemned by Jesus.” 
He admits some would see things differently, but for the future he envisages the desired touchstone as being “to strive to align our political vision with the vision of Christ’s kingdom.”
             One of our sons, Gregg, is a senior pastor in Newberg, Oregon at Newberg Friends Church.  In a sermon this past May, he dealt with virtually this same dilemma but in another context.  Here is an excerpt of what he said last Palm Sunday:
My question had always been, ‘What works in this world we live in?’ When NOTHING works, a new question is raised. Rather than what works, the question becomes: ‘What choices most reflect and exemplify the character of God?’
“Did Jesus just open a gate for us, or is Jesus the gate we walk through, and is he the one who shapes our lives? Was Jesus unique in his mission to bring salvation, or is his life (also) a model for our attitudes and actions?”
Gregg, in essence, comes to virtually the same conclusive inquiry as does Miroslav Volf (coincidentally Gregg’s favorite prof in Seminary many years ago).  It’s the same query we all need to make:  Are our personal life and political vision aligned with that of Christ’s kingdom?
Our savior, both politically and soul-wise, is Jesus Christ.  Wouldn’t it be wiser to align ourselves with His life and teachings first?  Then if that benchmark permits support for the President-elect on some issues, well and good.  But so far, in the opinions of many of us, such issues have been scant.
Additionally, Trump has given indications that he is moving toward a stronger nationalistic, more militaristic and an increasingly monetarist Presidency, seemingly in resonance with his constituent voters.
Regrettably, not one of these objectives carries any status in Christ’s kingdom.
By the way, click here to find Gregg’s entire sermon (with visuals). 
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NOTE: This post is the first after a long, self-imposed respite.  We hope to change that in 2017.

Friday, July 10, 2015

There’s a Lot More to the Fishing Experience Than “Hook, Line and Sinker”…

The popular movie of 20-plus years ago, “A River runs Through It,” has a key line in it where eldest son-of-a-preacher Norman Maclean declares, “In our family there was no clear line between religion and fishing.”
One could almost say the same thing about our immediate family, as “the fishing experience” provided many venues of interesting, whimsical and allegorical conversation amongst my two sons as they were growing up, and myself.

In the movie the father is the preacher and the story revolves around the two sons’ correlation of their  father’s love of (fly) fishing and many of the spiritual aspects of life itself.  In contrast, in our family the philosophically-bent father (and mom, of course) ended up with both of the sons in ministry: Gregg, a senior pastor, and Doug, a theology professor/ordained minister.
Both of them now outfish their father, as you can see from the photo (a salmon excursion on Puget Sound 11 years ago).

So how does “the fishing experience” affect so much of life?  So glad you asked.

The late POTUS Herbert Hoover once said, “Fishing is a constant reminder of the democracy of life, of humility, and of frailty; the forces of nature discriminate for no man.”  You readily understand the meaning of this statement if you have ever spent a long day on a lake or stream throwing every bait you have at these wily finned creatures and ended up only with hunger and a sunburn.

Yes, fishing can teach you a lot about the vicissitudes of life but it also offers mind-boggling opportunities to see, touch and experience the wonders of God’s creation.  When my sons were young, we lived in Oregon and would often make our way up into the beautiful, mountainous, wooded and stream-laden areas of the State. 
The upper Clackamas river, from the confluence of the Collawash River down, was an especially great area for trout and even steelhead in the warmer summer months.   As we stood on the river bank, casting and retrieving, the boys would often ask questions about nature, creation, the skies, or the universe.  Almost always the question began with “why?”.

John Muir, said to be an avid fisherman, observed, “God is making the world, and the show is so grand and beautiful and exciting that I never have been able to study any other.”  As I think back, that’s what the boys and I discovered those many years ago.

Fishing always teaches you two things; namely, patience and humility.  The aforementioned Herbert Hoover also postulated that “a fisher must be of contemplative mind, for it is a long time between bites.”  I certainly know that I have a contemplative mind; someone else can decide which came first, the love of fishing or the latter.  On humility, famous outdoorsman Zane Grey pointed out that “there was never an angler who lived but that there was a fish capable of taking the conceit out of him.”
I resemble that.

It’s obvious, to me at least, that there is a whole lot more to fishing than first meets the eye.  For me, a lifetime of angling has provided many lessons and a richness to life itself.   The lessons it has taught are priceless.

Izaak Walton summed it up this way, “the good angler must bring a large measure of hope and patience.”  I can’t think of a much better approach to life. 
Many of the quotes in this post are from a booklet I’ve enjoyed called “A Fisherman’s Guide to Life – Wisdom and Wit Based on the Realities of Fishing” by Criswell Freeman.  It was given to me as a birthday present at least 20 years ago by dear friends Ed and Darlene Wall.

And yes, I’m hooked for life.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

What's All the Fuss?

Apparently, a lot of American Evangelical Christians got their holy noses bent out of shape by the recent U.S. Supreme Court Ruling prohibiting discrimination of same sex marriages. 

At first glance, this may seem like a normal -- or maybe even expected -- response.  But when you look a little closer, the patent truth is that nothing has substantially changed for followers of Christ.

Yes, it has come to pass that same sex marriage now has equal civil recognition in our country as does marriage between a man and a woman – as ludicrous as that may sound to many traditionalists.  But what is quite interesting to me, however, is the reaction to the ruling among fellow Christians.
As I’ve watched the responses on social media and in commentaries in various periodicals, there seem to be two general themes for the most part: a) “Keep calm; this is nothing new,” or b) “OMGosh, our country is headed for Hades.”
Has this issue sparked a strong response from you as well?

In my humble opinion, it can be very easy to convolute the spiritual with the civil for many American Evangelical Christians (or anyone).  It is easy because many folks too readily believe that America is a “Christian” nation and that God has blessed us because our founders were deists or because we hold fast for the words “under God” in the pledge of allegiance and other such arbitrary and immaterial gestures.

Nothing could be farther from the truth, and we should be thankful for it. 
Freedom to practice our religion (ANY religion) is a great gift from our forefathers.  But also part of that great gift is the prohibition of establishing any particular religion as a state practice (the separation of Church and State).  We are not a “Christian” nation; that would effectively be a theocracy, and that will only occur when Christ comes back to earth to rule and reign.

At best we are a democratic republic consisting of a (dwindling) majority of "professed Christians."  Our CULTURE may be Christian to the extent that those who profess the faith actually live it out (and this is fast changing), but our nation is not. 

Further, consider the consequences if we ever modulated to having a majority of Muslims in our country; would you want their theocracy then?  God forbid.

So, take a deep breath, cool the heels and take a look at reality.  What the Supreme Court did was to recognize equality under CIVIL law for same sex marriage. 

The significant question to ask (in my view) is: What is unique about this ruling to make it different from how Christians have dealt with (and reacted to) civil law for two millennia?  The glaring answer is -- nothing.   Absolutely nothing.
The law to which we adhere as followers of Christ is God’s law, well elicited for us in the Bible through hundreds of years of tradition and church guidance.  How we will be ultimately judged is not by how well we lived by man’s civil laws but rather by how well we live out the Gospel as revealed by Jesus Christ when he was on earth.

Last I heard no one is requiring anyone to participate in anything one wasn’t participating in previous to the SCOTUS ruling.  But if we ever do go down that road in this country, as Christ-followers we know where our allegiance lies.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Exercising To Lose Weight? It’s a Waste of Time, Says Latest Info

All my life, I’ve wanted to weigh less than I do.  Except for the summer of 1961 which I spent in Mexico – at the Summer  Institute of Linguistics Jungle Camp in the State of Chiapas.
The fall of that year was the only time I can recall weighing close to “what the charts indicate.”  Of course it didn’t last. 

I’ve been called “husky,” “big-boned” and “stocky.”  Never “thin.”  I’ve tried exercise, conditioning, and diets of every variety known to mankind.  Nothing has ever worked the way I wish it would have worked to get my weight where I wanted it.
Now, apparently, we have scientific evidence that there is a very good reason.  Evidently, exercise + diet = no weight loss (you eat more to compensate for the exercise).  It’s looking more and more like the only way to lose weight is to burn more calories than you take in as food.  Sounds so simple, but doing it is so hard.

Sugar and refined carbohydrates in our American diet are likely the most significant culprits.  And the food industry is not without guile in often blatantly misstating their effects and, in fact, promoting fitness while at the same time encouraging the use of carb-loaded “sports drinks” and such.
None of this is revolutionary.  But it sure is disconcerting that all those workouts and laps around the track didn’t take off anything that gravity pulls on.

Here is the science:  In a current article in the Washington Post by cardiologist Aseem Malhotra, he cites a large body of studies that show that basal metabolic rates tend to drop as people lose weight in spite of exercise. 
“A comprehensive 2013 literature review by Amy Luke, a public health scholar at Loyola University of Chicago, concludes that ‘numerous trials have indicated that exercise plus calorie restriction achieves virtually the same result in weight loss as calorie restriction alone,’” writes Dr. Malhotra.

Now don’t misunderstand.  Exercise is good and beneficial.  It does many good things (reduces risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, etc.).  But, alone, it does not take weight off.  And further, exercise is not even needed to lose weight.
I just knew it would turn out this way.  I guess the good news is that I don’t have to push the exercise bike quite as hard, but the bad news is I may have to get counselling for separation anxiety from the absence of deep dish pizza and bacon cheeseburgers.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The God Who Is Convincingly There

Over the past weeks and months I’ve been reading a book called “The Experience of God” by philosopher/theologian David Bentley Hart.  It’s a belief-challenger (or re-enforcer), and it’s not for the conceptually-timid, which is one reason it’s taken me a while to wade my way through it.
Let me make a few generalities about what Hart covers (and avoids):
     1) He exposes big leaks in the balloon of “New Atheism” (Hitchins, Dawkins, et al).  In short, he shows how the “anti-metaphysical method” of modern science simply is inadequate to account for existence, consciousness or bliss (defined as the desire for truth, beauty and goodness).
2) He spends a great amount of time considering, defining and providing scope for what is meant by the term “God,” and then sets out an apologetic, where a “transcendent reality” trumps naturalism.
3) He suggests there is a shared wisdom in all the major theistic traditions.  In addition to Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa and Thomas Aquinas, he draws from Jewish, Islamic, Baha’i, Sufi and Hindu thinkers.  However, the book does not specifically focus on the Bible or on orthodox Christian theology.
4) This also is not a “proof of God.” He does not take you by the hand and lead you down a flower-filled garden path to theistic happiness.  As an example, he even questions Anselm’s classic apology of God, suggesting that, philosophically, it clouds more than it clarifies.
5) On the other hand, Hart is convinced that the naturalist’s problems of accounting for the aforementioned existence, consciousness or bliss is the ultimate stumbling block to recognizing a “transcendent absolute reality.”
For individuals like me, who view life and existence from a philosophical, almost whimsical, but very logical point of view, this work by David Hart is like morphing into a bee and then finding an orchard in bloom.  It massages, and even suggests plausible answers for, so many “ultimate” questions I have always wondered about, but at the same time the book leaves open to interpretation much of the conclusive aspects.
I especially like the comment by Orthodox reviewer Michael Lotti, who says “he directly and indirectly guides his reader to a place of wisdom, which is what most lovers of philosophy are seeking.”
So, where is this “place of wisdom”?  And what lies therein? 
Hart clarifies that classical atheism itself misunderstands classical theism by making “God” to be a superpowerful perpetrator whose existence is (only) made possible as an “irreducible complexity.”  Classical theism, on the other hand, refers to God not as a being, or even an omnipotent being, but, rather, as the absolute source and end of being -- not a cause of a type that can induce change within a system of causes and effects, but the original and final cause, that which gives purpose and order to the whole system.
The greatest handicap of a naturalistic belief system is that it can sophisticatedly describe the what, but it has no clue as to the why Being, consciousness nor bliss cannot be explained by science because it is not observable.  Science becomes neurotic when it has no rational  enlightenment, and so it goes on to even  suggest the absurd; e.g., an effect without a cause, or, an infinite regress of causes – totally untenable.

At least the theist has a plausibility for being and consciousness, but, alas, the naturalist is left to pure conjecture.   A similar dilemma for the naturalist is present when trying to “de-transcendentalize” bliss.
Hart concludes (in many more words than this) it is the explanatory strength of theism’s answers to these questions, relative to that of atheism, that is commanding.   If you follow atheism’s answers, you will likely end up in a vicious circle that degrades and reduces, rather than defines and undergirds our humanity: being, consciousness, and bliss.  
At the end of the search, no matter where it takes you, there is great weight of evidence, according to Hart, that what is extant (giving you being, cognizance and hope) is a transcendental God.

Monday, April 06, 2015

It's Opening Day

Cano, Cruz & Felix
You may have heard me say this before, both here and in other venues, that the game of baseball just may be the most perfect game/sport/contest ever created.  The conjecture is verifiable at so many levels and for so many reasons.

First, and perhaps foremost, for a batter to react to a pitched ball in milliseconds and swing/place his bat in perfect position to squarely meet a speeding, spinning, curving and dimensionally moving baseball, is a skill requiring utmost hand/eye coordination.  Very few people on earth have that ability at the professional level.

It’s one thing to shoot a basket, run with a football or kick a soccer ball into the goal.  But try using a stick to hit a little ball approaching you at triple-digit speed and having some lateral movement to boot.  You get the picture.

Then there is the element of perfect dimensions.  No other sport, in my view, has the critical relationships of measures like baseball has.

For instance, the distance between the pitcher’s mound and home plate is 60-feet, six inches.  At that distance, since baseball was invented by Abner Doubleday in Cooperstown, NY, 174 years ago this summer, no human has been able to throw no-hitters at will, nor has any batter been able to claim success more than 40% of the time.  And the vast majority of even professional players are only able to get hits less than 30% of the time.  Which has made baseball a game for the ages – and perhaps for the age to come (so son Gregg and I believe).

The distance between bases is another marvel.  At 90-feet, no hitter has been able to consistently beat-out infield hits.  One might speculate that sooner or later someone would come along with extraordinary speed who could hit a ground ball in the infield and make it to first base every time.  Hasn’t happened – and likely never will.

The square that forms the baseball infield (affectionately called a diamond) is a design of perfection, maintaining continuing high levels of competition between offense and defense.  With a parity of playing ability, baseball will always remain a chess match on grass and consist of fair and difficult battles.

Last night was Opening Night for the 2015 Season, in a game won by the Cards over the Cubs at Wrigley Field, which is undergoing four years of renovation-between-home-stands.  Today just about all of the remaining teams will enjoy Opening Day or Opening Night.

Last year the San Francisco Giants, the team I have followed since the 1951 Bobby Thompson home run, won its third World Series Championship in five years, this one on the strength of the arm of pitcher Madison Bumgarner who blew away virtually every WS pitching record.

This year, our Seattle Mariners at this point enjoy the fifth-best odds of winning the World Series, something that has never happened here.  Better get used to hearing the names of Cano, Cruz, Seager, Ackley, Morrison, Hernandez and Walker.

The Modern Mariners are ready to navigate the high seas of Major League Baseball.  Let’s play ball!

Friday, April 03, 2015

Good. Friday.

I’ve been struggling this week with the implications of Good Friday – especially in terms of how it should affect us – especially my own self – and how we should observe it. 
On one hand some uber-dedicated Filipino Christians had themselves nailed to crosses earlier today in their native land “to mimic the suffering of Jesus Christ.”  Now that is ultimate identification with a cause. 

Yet others, probably the vast majority here in America, neither thought much about it nor did anything different this day than yesterday – nor will they tomorrow.  It would be easy to simply note that we need to be somewhere in the middle of those extremes (if we are a practicing Christian).  But I think that may distort the deserved impact of Good Friday.

The point is that the events of Good Friday some two millennia ago are so staggering they are virtually beyond comprehension.  That a man who proclaimed himself to be God would willingly allow an impudent, indifferent human race to end his earthly life in such an ignominious manner, defies sensibility.

But what if it is meant to be exactly the way it unfolded?  I seem to recall words from John’s Gospel, which were etched into my brain’s hard drive as young boy, that alluded to these convoluted events of Good Friday:

God loved the people of this world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who has faith in him will have eternal life and never really die.”

And that’s just the springboard.  When this Jesus walked out of the sealed tomb two mornings later, breaking all binds and boundaries of human death, he was the living “first fruits” of a new world and cosmos, from that point on in the process of being revamped and realigned by God himself – and of which we are now a part and for which we continually pray in the Lord’s prayer.  

When Jesus walked out of that granite sepulcher and interacted for a time with his followers, he established the kingdom of God on earth – then and still a work-in-progress that will find fruition when he returns to this earth.

So on this Good. Friday. Let us reflect on the immeasurable provisions of the day and allow its magnitude to affect our lives in the Kingdom here and now.