Sunday, October 31, 2004

Scared of Halloween?

When we lived in Uganda, our Ugandan friends were frequently curious about our culture, as we were curious and learning their culture.

We found it difficult, however, to explain Halloween to our Ugandan friends. In fact, we were awakened to the fact that any holiday that glorifies gore and darkness is suspect at best and can lead to sin at worst.

Like many other Christians recently, we've helped our children avoid dressing up as blantantly evil characters. Events have been changed from Halloween to "Fall Festivals," and trick or treating has become "trunk or treats" at churches. Yet there we were, ironically, "celebrating" a holiday in a country where we were trying to move Ugandans out of superstitions and control of evil and preaching Christ as more powerful than the evil one or evil spirits that most Ugandans very much believe in (Jn 4:4).

Over the years, we appreciate and attend here in the states "Fall Festival" activities modified for the spiritual health of our children. That said, however, Halloween has been one of the best times of the year to participate in what the culture around us is doing and meet more of our neighbors. I've heard of boycotts that encourage people to turn off their front porch light and not answer the door on trick or treat night. I don't agree with not answering the door or boycotting a time when there is potential for meeting neighbors. We're already too isolated as it is. Few days (or nights) of the year do whole neighborhoods open up their doors and expect people to come see them. Many Christians are taking this opportunity to be a light in a dark holiday.

My children are pictured (from left, Anna, 8, Ashley, 10, Jacob, 6), and we're on our way to trick or treat and will also spend some time at home, opening our door to those goblins coming to our door. Posted by Hello

Friday, October 29, 2004

I met George W. Bush when he was called "Junior"

I met George W. Bush in 1988 when he came to Harding to stump for George H.W. Bush, or as I wrote the headline, "dad."

George Jr. wasn't known then as W but simply as, "Junior." I walked him out to his car, asking him questions along the way. I don't remember many of the questions I asked, but the story in the student newspaper gives clues: gun control, pledge, early furlough from prison. The issues were certainly important but not as intense as they are in this post-9/11 world, it seems.

In 1988, he had already acquired the swagger walk, but as he got in the car, I had no clue he would be president. Do you suppose he still has that Harding sweatshirt? Posted by Hello

Deeper look at abortion

I am strongly against abortion and partial birth abortion. The church, however, has erred in the way it has gone about dealing with this. Christians have taken the stand for the life of a fetus and infant and many have left mothers and the larger structural justice in society out of what has become a single-issue voting conundrum that leaves many Christians incredulous that anyone could vote any other way but Republican.

In 1992, during the Clinton vs. George H.W. Bush campaign, I took a photo of a couple carrying a sign that said, "A vote for Clinton is a sin against God." I've searched for that photo but can't find it. The sins of Bill Clinton may justify people who held or hold that position, but we ought to look at the fruits of his administration relative to what the sign intended. It was meant, I think, to refer to Clinton's view on abortion. But did abortions increase in the eight years Clinton was president? I don't know but perhaps we could find out.

According to the ethicist/statician, Dr. Glen Harold Stassen, abortions have actually increased during Bush's administration.

Pro-life? Look at the fruits by Dr. Glen Harold Stassen.

How do we account for this? Is it justice and mercy to take a stand and not also look to the larger moral issues involved? As I have mentioned in this blog, some do take this stand with great conviction, but my challenge is to look deeper, read the above article, post others here that we can look at.

A comment earlier says I'm naive to think we can not have political parties. The intention was to wake us to the reality that we have been co-opted by political parties and we have a lot of work to do in the church to reverse this, and it cuts both ways. Democrats sometimes shamelessly use churches to get votes from the black community. Republicans sometimes shamelessly use churches to get votes from Christians. By giving the example of no parties, I was trying to illustrate that a Christian might come out with a more kingdom-focused mix of moral issues rather than being "forced" to choose between one party that says there's no way you can't vote Republican because of abortion and Christians in the Democratic party that can't understand how someone can abide this "just war" as a Christian.

Both think the other at best is missing the point, and at worst, sinning against God.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Richard T. Hughes - Myths America Lives By

Just began a series of articles on Wineskins that will run through election day: Christians and Politics. The first is a review of the Richard T. Hughes book, Myths America Lives By. Go to This is a free series of articles. Wineskins is otherwise a subscription site. My fuller review of Hughes's book will appear in the December 2004 print issue of Christianity Today. Posted by Hello

Voting for Senator John Kerry

An anonymous comment came asking me to explain how I justify voting for John Kerry.

My blog is not about campaigning for a particular candidate. I don't think I've ever said who I'm voting for in my blog. Rather, I'm trying to redemptively unsettle us all so that we come out of our corners and talk. Are we allowing our two party system to corner Christians into two camps and convince us that one or the other camp is necessarily morally rotten?

I'd encourage you to read through several posts in October where I bring in my brother's comments on stem cell research, comments on the debates, and links to sites such as Sojourners.

What if we had no political parties? Some Christians have chosen to bow out of the political process altogether because the church is diluted and splintered in the process, rather than strengthened. I don't think bowing out is the solution.

But it's interesting to consider what life without parties might be like. Without political parties urging us to polarize, I suppose we might not have to choose a certain subset of morality that comes along with the particular party we vote for. We could be Christians who want less government, spend no public funds for abortion yet begin new programs for adoption, are pacifists, seek justice for the poor, have fairness toward those making more than 200K and don't tax them exhorbitantly, and insure the poor and educate the children of our nation, and allow people to bear arms, and forbid stem cell research yet don't drop bombs on innocent children in foreign countries. Then we could vote for what our biblically- and kindom-shaped consciences call for.

But we are living in an imperfect two-party system (I know there are others on the ballot but practically we are still a two-party system). We have to chose a particular set of values and the person we feel will represent those to the best of his or her ability. This is the case in all levels of government, not only in the presidential race.

God is not a Republican or Democrat

Thanks to all who are expanding on the issues raised about civility and morality in the campaign, bouncing off of the photo of Teresa Heinz Kerry.

Sojourners is an organization that is calling Christians to non-partisan support of biblical values in this election, to the belief that "sincere Christians and other people of faith can choose to vote for President Bush or Senator Kerry - for reasons deeply rooted in their faith."

Some opponents want Teresa Heinz Kerry to appear as "Queen of Beers"

This photo has been forwarded around the internet as a character slam on Teresa Heinz Kerry. A friend sent it to me with the caption, "Kids, this is no first lady."

I would rather say something else to our children, similar to what my wife, Jill, told my daughter one day when she came in the dining room of some friends who had served us wine: "Ashley, we are drinking wine. It's OK. It is not wrong. Jesus and the disciples drank wine. The Bible does not say not to drink. What God does not want is people to mis-use alcohol and get drunk."

Had the Pharisees snapped a photo of Jesus at a wedding feast or sitting with lousy fishermen, prostitutes, and Jewish renegades, no one would have elected him. They would have crucified him, which figuratively is what opponents of Kerry want to do with his and his wife's character. Posted by Hello

Explaining how I feel to a non-sports fan

I tried to explain to a friend, who's not a sports fan, the sense of disappointment about the Cards getting swept by the Red Sox. It's like
  • An avid reader and fan of C.S. Lewis finding out he made up his life story
  • A Ford Mustang enthusiast buying the '04 and finding a '72 Pinto engine in it
  • A W. or Kerry fan and your candidate gets shut out in debates or loses campaign
Even so, we could not have been swept by a better and more anointed team of destiny than the Boston Red Sox. I may have come down with a case of the dry heaves if the Yankees had swept the Redbirds. So, not just congratulations to the Red Sox but a hearty Pedro Martinez glove slap on the rear like he did to Larry Walker in game 3, "Way to go, Red Sox! You deserve this."

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Don't use commentaries

I received a letter (not an email, a letter--you know, one of those things in an envelope that someone actually types or handwrites only to you, remember?) from a friend who taught my Bible class when I was very young. We have been corresponding about John Mark Hicks's and my book, Down in the River to Pray.

Among the many things she is disturbed about in the book (most people are troubled by chapter 10), she called for me to stop using commentaries and simply read the Bible. This has been a common mantra in primitivistic churches (meaning ones, like Churches of Christ, that want to restore the early church as closely as possible). Mix with this the idea of individualism and the modernistic idea that we can know all flawlessly by simply investigating it ourselves, and it's not surprising that my friend wants me to ditch the commentaries. There is also a long-standing suspicion of higher learning (hey, I'm not exactly an ivory tower, Greek and Hebrew spouting scholar!).

After the first of two letters from my friend, I wrote back with as much tenderness as I could muster. I want fellowship with Christians like my friend, even if they feel strongly against what I am doing. And by the way, the book is full of straight biblical exposition - what my friend is picking up on but doesn't have a category for is the fact that the book is "historical theology" while at the same time a re-examination of a sacred cow and one of the more appropriately highly regarded and practiced doctrines in the church of Christ. But the historical doctrine part, by necessity, looks at Old Testament thought about baptism, early church fathers, New Testament texts on baptism, Reformation, Restoration, and modern day interpretation. Each of these major areas is covered in a chapter, then there are several application chapters. So the thought of Christians through the ages is discussed, and it would be arrogant of us to think we could just skip the valuable thought of Christians through the ages.

So I will likely write back to my friend and resist the urge to say, "In that case, we need to stop reading one another's letter commentaries on one another's beliefs." No, I won't say that, but I will continue to sensitively and with grace and concern (as God's grace for me is exaggerated and overwhelming and undeserved), dialogue and try to remain in fellowship with some of my brothers and sisters who believe what I'm doing is wrong.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Out of the closet and into the light

Much prayer, thought, and team editorial work can go into one article for a magazine or journal. One example is one by Dr. Christopher Austin that is available both in our newest print Wineskins and our online journal NEW WINESKINS.

The article is titled, Out of the closet and into the light: ministering to those with same-sex attractions, and is one of the most frank yet nuanced and biblical contributions to the discussion of homosexuality I've read in some time.

Along with the article are several good resources for those struggling with same-sex attractions or for ministering to them. When you click over, if you are not a Wineskins subscriber, you will be asked to sign up for a 10-day free trial. Our site was on the front edge of the new movement to provide high quality articles for a small fee. Ours is very minimal: $19.95 a year for a subscription and full access to new articles daily and archives of the magazine.

Friday, October 22, 2004

Elmer Fudd and The Series

Was my Cardinals win over my wife's Astros worth the fact that she now hates me?


But I'm like Elmer Fudd in the best episode--"Bugs Bunny Opera"--of the greatest cartoon "series" ever made on the cliff calling "Norf winds bwow! Thunder Wightning! Beat the Astros, beat the Aaaa-stros" (low note). It is done.

Then I look down and see the lifeless body of my wife. I trip on her lower lip. She blames me for this. What did I have to do with it? I was just cheering for the genetically encoded team of my youth. And now I can almost see Jill in that orange Astros shirt in 8th grade, cheering for Jose Cruz, Nolan Ryan, J.R. Richards.

What have I done?! I've killed the Astros? They've never been to the October Classic, ever. Jill nearly gags when she hears the announcer say this is the Redbirds 16th trip. "We've been around much longer than the Stros," I say. It doesn't help, only serves to twist the knife. I'm filled with remorse. She says she may cheer for the Red Sox. No! I've had enough of this intra-family rivalry. No, not again!

Deep breath. Slowly climb the cliff till Saturday's game one. "Norf winds bwow! Beat the Red Sox, beat the Red Sox, beat the Red Soooooox (low note)!"

Thursday, October 21, 2004

5th - 6th graders silent?

In my class of thirty 5th and 6th graders--we call it JAM 56--we had five minutes of quiet reflection. Do you know how hard that is for that age on a Wednesday night. Actually, it's more effective than trying it with adults--might put them to sleep after work day on Wednesday.

Here's the straw poll on this group. About ten percent have some kind of structured quiet time in their homes. About the same percentage say their parents pray with them. We've been talking about developing their prayer life with God, praying the Lord's Prayer, talking about our true Father who we can address in our prayers, who Jesus invites us to call "Abba," as in a Dear Father to us. Jesus' Father is our Father.

We've also been learning how to turn Scriptures into prayers. We prayed last night during our meditation to "Open our eyes to see the wonderful things in your teachings" (Psalm 118:19).

During the quiet time, I was tempted to dash out and check the score of the tied Cardinals game. I did not pray for them because I'm not sure God would care the outcome, but they won and tied the series anyway. After church I told a friend--after talking five minutes with him--that I needed to go and check on a couple of championship games, and he jokingly said, "I'm glad my life is not ruled by such addictions." I said, "Me too. We can't all have the same addictions, brother, or we wouldn't be a body." Then I left to watch the most incredible baseball game outcome that I've experienced in my lifetime as the Boston Red Sox came back from a 3-0 deficit with the Evil Empire and won the series 4-3! Never been done in baseball history. Jill thinks Johnny Damon is cute. She also wants the Astros to win tonight, and I'm of course a Cards fan, but if the Astros do win, I'll be happy to see these two hungry teams, since the Astros have never been in history to the World Series.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

An Election Hymn? "In Times of Great Decision"

A hymn for the election? Odd? Not really. Songs have through the ages been written out of the context of political, religious, and social boilerplate issues.

While some conservative Catholic bishops say voting for Kerry would require that person to go to confession, and as the nation approaches the election in polarized voting blocks, here is a song for both sides. One that reflects the speech of Abraham Lincoln that are written on the Lincoln Memorial walls, a song of justice for the world, a song that cries out not that God be on our side but one with a plea for us to be on God's side.

Rev. Carolyn Winfrey Gillette wrote a new hymn called, "In Times of Great Decision." She also wrote a song following 9/11 called "O God, Our Words Cannot Express" that has been featured by PBS-TV and BBC-TV and used in thousands of churches. The following is from a press release from the National Council of Churches.

The Christian pinciples (of her songs) apply biblically-based, well-established ecumenical views to both domestic and foreign policy issues. To date, more than 12,000 copies have been downloaded from the NCC Web site. Evidence of their balanced approach? Critical reaction splits about evenly between those who find the Principles too 'pro-Kerry' and those who find them too 'pro-Bush.' We invite
you to study--and sing--them for yourself. And remember to vote on November 2.
Here is the text of the hymn:

In Times of Great Decision
By Rev. Carolyn Winfrey Gillette

In times of great decision, be with us, God, we pray!
Give each of us a vision of Jesus’ loving way.
When louder words seem endless and other voices sure,
Remind us of your promise: Your love and truth endure.

O God, whose gifts are countless, You send us bearing peace.
You fill our dreams with justice for all communities.
You give us global neighbors that all may justly live.
May those we choose as leaders reflect the life you give.

O God, you bridged the distance; You opened wide your door.
You call us by our presence to reach to serve the poor.
You teach us: Welcome strangers! Seek justice on the earth!
May those we choose as leaders See every person’s worth.

You call on every nation to put aside all greed,
To care for your creation and for your ones in need,
To care for those in prison, for children, for the ill.
In times of great decision, may we choose leaders well.
The new hymn’s suggested tune is Samuel Sebastian Wesley’s AURELIA D ("The Church's One Foundation") or Welsh folk melody LLANGLOFFAN (“O God of Every Nation”). To hear this tune, go to Cyberhymnal's version of "The Church's One Foundation."

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Communion Thought From the Back of the Head

Sitting in rows in church I saw the back of my real estate agent's head during the Lord's Supper and thought I need to talk to him, partly because he's my agent and also because he's an elder at my church who happens to be an opera singer who promised to bless my house with a song someday if only I'd invite him, but I'm embarrassed because he mentioned I ought to fix a crack in the front stoop of my house, which I haven't done, and I'm looking at his nicely combed hair from the back and drinking the juice, the blood of Christ, and thinking how I ought to get my mind back on the Lord and yet I can't stop thinking about the crack in the foundation and how expensive it would be to repair and could I do it myself and how do they jack those foundations up anyway but as I looked up to see that communion service was over I wondered how much I'd examined myself or thought about Jesus and how much more I'd contemplated my own porch cracks and the back of my real estate agent's head and thought he is much more to me than a salesman but also a shepherd and in that way I'm very blessed to be friends with a man I can trust who prays for me and wants to sing for my family and care for us like the sheep that we are, and he is also bowing to the Lord then looking around at his brothers and sisters he loves and singing vibrato for God's glory, and I'm drinking all this in and thinking that somehow perhaps I have recognized the body of our Lord.

I Corinthians 11:27-29

Monday, October 18, 2004

Wedge Issues

Election years bring many wedge issues intended to do just that, drive a wedge between voters and force a decision one way or the other.

Wedge issues are laid out on every front:
  • Politically. President Bush is currently stumping that Kerry is too liberal, has a liberal voting record. Senator Kerry is stumping that President Bush is not for the poor but gives tax breaks continually to the rich, too conservative.
  • Morality. President Bush doesn't seem to be using this issue excessively but for several decades morality, family values, and abortion have been elements of the Republican agenda that they have used to drive wedges and lead party members in the belief that Republican values are American values and more moral than Democratic values. Democrats, meanwhile, are calling for the liberty of people to make their own value judgments about their bodies (abortion), their lifestyles (gay marriage), but at a deeper level they are concerned for the rights and liberties of these individuals, not the particular choice they are making.
  • Taxation. Senator Kerry is driving a wedge between those who make $200,000 and above and those below that line. I can imagine his campaign has done their homework on the number of people who make more than $200,000. They certainly have written off their vote, but amazingly there are many who make much more than this--the antecdotal example would be actors in Hollywood who endorse Kerry but would be far enough above the $200,000 line that they would not feel the repeal of the Bush tax cut for the high bracket.

I wanted to give these examples for this reason: that we not allow wedge issues to divide us. We have the tendency to think, How can I live with that guy when he thinks like that? We do this with church issues, civil issues, neighborhood issues, political issues. But we should be particularly aware in times like this that affect all of us in the United States, that we not allow wedge issues to drive us apart, keep us from conversing about the issues, keep us from having confidence in one another just because we come out red or blue on certain issues.

Wedge issues are a political means to electing individuals to office. Granted, a particular wedge issue may ring with truth to a percentage of Americans, and there are issues of principle and truth on the table here, but let's stay focused on treating one another with respect and honor, regardless of how we vote. Don't let the election drive a wedge between you and someone else.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Stumbling Block

Remember hearing people talk about being a stumbling block to another person?

I’d heard this term before when I was young. I remember when someone in my childhood congregation “went forward” to confess sin: she had been “a stumbling block to others around her.” I never knew for a long time what that meant.

In a recent adult (seniors/retired age) class I teach, we were studying the curious injunction in Leviticus 19 not to put a stumbling block in front of the blind. Who would do that?

As classes often do, we got diverted on several tangents in an effort to understand stumbling blocks. One said the churches of Christ have been a stumbling block in our treatment of outsiders, because rather than draw them to the Lord we’ve often repelled them with harsh exclusivism. Another disagreed, saying the context of this text ought to lead to appropriate application. The context, he said, is a recounting of the law in terms of relationship and the distinction of Israel from the nations, and the nations had no regard for their neighbors or concern for them. Still further, a third person in the class, an elder, said we ought to remember the mindset of the ancient world, that a person with a defect, blind or maimed or deaf, would be considered not blessed by God and even cursed.

A stumbling block is “any object that may cause someone’s downfall, whether literal (19:14) or figurative . . .” (Harper’s Bible Dictionary). Idolatry is a stumbling block in the hearts of people in Ezekiel (14:3f). In Isaiah the people stumble over God himself (Isaiah 8:14), and Simeon in Luke 2:34 says the child Jesus “is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel.” Paul, in Romans 9:32-33, compares unbelieving Israel to those who stumbled over the “stumbling stone” because they pursued religion of works instead of Christ by faith. Paul calls Christ crucified a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Greeks—in Greek the word is scandalon, an offense. He parallels this with the tendency of believers who find new freedom in Christ to flaunt this and therefore make others stumble (Harper’s Dictionary).

The figure of the stone is used throughout OT and NT, yet in the dramatic turnabout that Scripture is famous for, the stone that makes us stumble is the rock that becomes the cornerstone, our rock of help, the cleft, our firm foundation . . . and, in the words of the popular song that our mission team sang nearly every time we gathered,

I know I can stand secure . . . Jesus, you're my firm foundation . . . I put my hope in your holy Word, I put my hope in your holy Word*

*©1994 Integrity's Hosanna! Music Words and Music by Jamie Harvill and Nancy Gordon)

Friday, October 15, 2004

Madeleine L'Engle on finding sacred in secular

Still uncovering from the ZOE conference and cleaning my desk . . . and found a barf bag that I had written the urgent quote from Madeleine L'Engle's Walking On Water: Reflections on Faith and Art:

There is nothing so secular that it cannot be sacred, and that is one of the deepest messages of the incarnation.

When my kids were younger, I saved barf bags from our overseas flights to use on buses in London, car rides. Advice to young parents: some--not all of course, but some--of motion sickness of kids comes from giving our kids too much to drink.

Is this post about throwing up or finding the sacred in the secular? Or to quasi-quote an investment firm commercial, "What can we learn about spirituality from a child throwing up?"

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Politics and Faith

Earlier I posted a segment from last night's debate about politics and faith. Faith still matters in American politics. We are not, as some say many European countries are, post-Christian or secular in our politics.

One of my convictions I keep returning to in this election is that the church begin to be aware and actively refute the attempt by special interests/political parties to co-opt the church for the good of that particular organization. In this the church loses and the special interests win.

Let me give you two recent examples of how "the church" (universal) has allowed itself to be used by special interests:
  • The Passion. ICON and the partner distributers and publicists have used churches to market their movie, and few churches have balked at this. Christians have swallowed the movie whole and bristle at any suggestion that in part--or many parts--the movie is not "as it was." The propensity these days of churches buying into large marketing efforts should be a concern for us, as one recent "un-review" of The Passion points out, because the church gives itself to effort, at times, in place of the Lord himself and relating directly to people with lives that reflect Jesus.
  • The erstwhile Moral Majority. Though the name has fallen into disuse, the political idea is the same: "We can win if we get churches on our side." Over the last three decades, many Christians have been convinced that a particular political party is more moral than another. I don't agree. This depends on how one frames morality. What set of morality are we talking about? Republicans know their morally conservative base and frame morality as standing strong on issues such as stem-cell research and abortion. Many Christian Republicans do this with conviction that I respect very much. Others follow blindly the Republican line, and I'm more concerned about this, because I believe the church, again, can more easily get co-opted by party interests and power when we don't carefully consider how we support political parties. Democrats, meanwhile, frame morality as just war, appropriately restricting assault weapons, giving liberty to women and gay people, and seeking justice for the poor and disenfranchised minorities such as black and hispanic Americans and immigrants.

I am seeing a new reality in America: politics and religion are not off the table . . . at least right now during an election and in the post-denominational age when we are trying to reframe how we operate as Christian churches and how we approach non-Christians or searchers (I believe more people are on a faith journey than we give credit for). I think discussing faith and politics, particularly as they relate to one another, is very healthy.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

What part does your faith play on your policy decisions?

The following is quoted from the Presidential Debate transcript, as transcribed by e-Media Millworks, Inc. and published on MSNBC.
Oct. 13 Tempe, Ariz. (Arizona State University)
Participants: George W. Bush, John Kerry
Moderator: Bob Schieffer
CBS Topic: Domestic policy

BOB SCHIEFFER: Mr. President, let's go to a new question.

You were asked before the invasion, or after the invasion, of Iraq if you'd checked with your dad. And I believe, I don't remember the quote exactly, but I believe you said you had checked with a higher authority.

I would like to ask you, what part does your faith play on your policy decisions?

PRESIDENT BUSH: First, my faith plays a lot -- a big part in my life. And that's, when I answering that question, what I was really saying to the person was that I pray a lot. And I do.
And my faith is a very -- it's very personal. I pray for strength. I pray for wisdom. I pray for our troops in harm's way. I pray for my family. I pray for my little girls.

But I'm mindful in a free society that people can worship if they want to or not. You're equally an American if you choose to worship an almighty and if you choose not to. If you're a Christian, Jew or Muslim, you're equally an American. That's the great thing about America, is the right to worship the way you see fit.

Prayer and religion sustain me. I receive calmness in the storms of the presidency. I love the fact that people pray for me and my family all around the country. Somebody asked me one time, Well, how do you know? I said, I just feel it.

Religion is an important part. I never want to impose my religion on anybody else. But when I make decisions, I stand on principle, and the principles are derived from who I am. I believe we ought to love our neighbor like we love ourself, as manifested in public policy through the faith-based initiative where we've unleashed the armies of compassion to help heal people who hurt.

I believe that God wants everybody to be free. That's what I believe.

And that's been part of my foreign policy. In Afghanistan, I believe that the freedom there is a gift from the Almighty. And I can't tell you how encouraged I am to see freedom on the march.
And so my principles that I make decisions on are a part of me, and religion is a part of me.

SCHIEFFER: Senator Kerry?

SENATOR KERRY: Well, I respect everything that the president has said and certainly respect his faith. I think it's important and I share it. I think that he just said that freedom is a gift from the Almighty.

Everything is a gift from the Almighty. And as I measure the words of the Bible -- and we all do; different people measure different things -- the Koran, the Torah, or, you know, Native Americans who gave me a blessing the other day had their own special sense of connectedness to a higher being. And people all find their ways to express it.

I was taught -- I went to a church school and I was taught that the two greatest commandments are: Love the Lord, your God, with all your mind, your body and your soul, and love your neighbor as yourself. And frankly, I think we have a lot more loving of our neighbor to do in this country and on this planet.

We have a separate and unequal school system in the United States of America. There's one for the people who have, and there's one for the people who don't have. And we're struggling with that today.

And the president and I have a difference of opinion about how we live out our sense of our faith.
I talked about it earlier when I talked about the works and faith without works being dead. I think we've got a lot more work to do. And as president, I will always respect everybody's right to practice religion as they choose -- or not to practice -- because that's part of America.

Transcript of Tonight's Presidential Debate

Here is a link for the transcript of the third and last presidential debate.

PBS Frontline on President Bush and Senator Kerry

PBS Frontline aired last night a documentary about the political journeys of George W. Bush and John Kerry.

I turned on the TV to watch the Sox and Yanks in game one, but the Frontline program was on and I couldn't stop watching it.

The documentary seemed even-handed. You could appreciate, for example, Bush's steely resolve to spread freedom and eliminate terrorists. Kerry, meanwhile, was critiqued by his own legal counsel for finding too many nuances in every issue. On the other hand, you could appreciate Kerry's drive--from the day he spoke in the Foreign Relations Committee of the Senate to now--to change the face of American foreign policy.

The online streaming video at PBS Frontline will be available October 15.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

My wife's Astros advance for first time in history

For the first time in history of the Astros, they advanced in the playoffs . . . now the team my wife grew up with (she remembers one of the precious few last times they were in the playoffs and wearing the orange, yellow Stros shirt to school in support) and the team I grew up (with my family we'd go to Busch stadium and watch Joe Torre and Lou Brock, and I too had my shirt--a Lou Brock number 20).

We made it through the conflict over watching Monday night football vs. Game 5 Braves vs. Astros. The remote "back" button saved a squabble . . . Jill is an intense Titans fan, so even though her Houston team was playing game 5, her NFL blinders to reality kept her from seeing the significance of watching every pitch of this game . . . we compromised and switched back and forth.

During the run up to the election I've seen some vehicles with a Bush/Cheney sticker on one side and Kerry/Edwards on the other. Jill and I don't always vote as a block but we likely will this year . . . except on the NLCS. It's Redbirds in six games.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Jacques Derrida fails to exist

Friend and fellow Wineskins editor, Darryl Tippens (link is to his most recent article - requires subscription or trial sub), sent this . . .

Perhaps Derrida would have laughed or at least found the aporia in this little item. --Darryl

Father of Deconstructionism Dies, If 'Death' Means Anything
by Scott Ott

October 10, 2004--French President Jacques Chirac announced today that Jacques Derrida, the father of the intellectual movement called deconstructionism, died yesterday of pancreatic cancer, "if indeed 'death' can be said to mean anything beyond the biases of culture, language, religion and philosophy."

"Of course, we can't assert anything positively about Monsieur Derrida's recent failure to exist," said Mr. Chirac, "We can't even state that he ever did exist, since he may have been a mere metaphysical projection of our own prejudices against absolutes. However, in as much as we may categorically claim anything--Mr. Derrida will not likely be showing up for work tomorrow. Although, who is to say?"

Mr. Derrida's many books and teachings spawned legions of American college professors whose stock-in-trade is to "deconstruct" literature and philosophy in order to demonstrate that, for example, the so-called classics of Western literature are so distorted by their authors' cultural prejudices as to render them useful only for literary deconstruction.

"Monsieur Derrida bequeathed a magnificent legacy to the global intellectual community," said Mr. Chirac. "He has provided us all with the intellectual infrastructure to prevent us from seeking after truth. Thanks to him we know it is fruitless to assert anything with conviction, or to say that any ideology is less true than any other. They are all equally trifling. Their value, if any, lies only in the sport they provide for college professors."

In lieu of flowers, friends of Mr. Derrida are urged to devote their lives to convincing at least one young person that there is nothing to which it is worth devoting one's life.

Jehovah's Witnesses

A few of you asked for an update on my meeting with two Jehovah's Witness members, Vida and Perry. Vida had come by months ago and gave me a Watchtower magazine. I flipped through it and threw it away (sort of like getting the mail - my operative questions are, "What can I throw away? What do I have to pay?).

The day Vida came to the door she asked me about government, a good lead in since that's on most minds these days. Jehovah's Witnesses, though I don't know if they are strictly non-participants in government, take a dim view of worldly governments and involvement in anything outside of the Kingdom of God. I told them that everything we do is a political statement: I proclaim to the government that my allegiance is not as much to the flag or the U.S. as much as to Christ. If there's a conflict, I'm going with Christ.

There are several common views of this idea of kingdoms in conflict:
  1. Oil and water view of government and religion (low involvement): "We don't mix politics and religion." This is perhaps the most dangerous position because it follows the same acultural and ahistorial reasoning that assumes we are not in some real way enculturated and tempered by our own history. While claiming our politics don't affect our discipleship, we could be more influenced than those who acknowledge bias or involvement in certain areas. I hear this view espoused by both extreme liberalists and extreme fundamentalists.
  2. Battle for Christian virtues in government view (highly involved): "We're trying to save our Christian nation." We try to win over government with Christian ideals, virtue. This has been tried in the 1800s during the Great Awakening and at many other times previously. This usually ends up being good for the government and bad for the church. The church may influence government but in the process the church's message and witness is damaged. One major and well-known adherent to this view is James Dobson and his ministries.
  3. Kingdom of God only legit government view (non-participation): "We won't vote or participate in an illegit government - the only authentic and approved participation for the Christian is in the Kingdom of God. Restorationist David Lipscomb was a non-participationist, pacifist. Many believer's church, primitivist, Anabaptist-rooted churches have strains of this notion of non-participation in government. But our views have become mixed over the years. For instance, I had a political science prof in college who was in the Navy, participates heavily in the political process, but because of principle does not say the pledge of allegiance. Consider the contrast between the "Battle for Christian virtues in government view" that wants to guard the 1954 addition (approved by Eisenhower) of "under God" in the pledge.

Well, I haven't gotten to what happened when Vida and Perry came to visit last Saturday. I asked them to come for about an hour and visit. They wanted to talk more about government and prove their points about God's government being the only legit one. I turned the discussion toward something I care more about. I asked, "What does your view of government and these church doctrines have to do with your discipleship/faith?"

Both Perry and Vida had been Baptist, and Perry said JW then answered more of his questions that his old church avoided. We talked about the relative uncertainties of life and that we don't have all the answers. They pressed the point that yes, indeed, we can have all answers to life's questions. Sounded familiar from my background. I told them I'd tried that and it didn't work and was not even biblical (questions not cock-surity abound for God's children and disciples throughout Scripture). I said that there is mystery in God's nature, identity, in how Christ and the Holy Spirit interact and who they are as one and three and their work in the world. We understand much from Scripture, our experience, but there is much (perhaps more) that we don't understand, and I'm learning to be OK with that. They didn't like that, and neither do many "mainline" evangelicals or fundamentalists or Restorationists of my own stripe.

As we moved to talk about the nature and identity of Jesus, they were teaching me the JW line on the humanity of Jesus and the oneness of God. I said I believe God is both three and one. I believe in the trinity, that Jesus was not created but has been pre-existent with God from everlasting to everlasting. They said Jesus was created before he was born into the world. I asked what happened to produce Jesus before he was born into the world. They didn't know. I said, "Well, I guess there's some uncertainty, some mystery in your view as well as in mine." I said I don't believe Jesus was merely a "form" of the one God on earth but a distinct person who was with God from the beginning but who was incarnated (became flesh) in the world through a virgin who was made pregnant by the Holy Spirit. My views are basically the Orthodox views of Christianity through the ages, so I'm not saying anything new here.

I may meet another time with Vida and Perry. They are zealous for their faith and something in that makes me want to observe how they live out this zeal, because much of the Christian and cultic world thrives on the zeal of their followers and many assumptions are made about what that looks like. I, along with many others in recent years, have come to seriously question the assumptions of exactly how evangelistic zeal is supposed to look: knocking doors, spouting certain proof texts, convincing with arguments. Yet I can learn something about God in meeting with my neighbors, something about how to treat my neighbor, something about how to move closer toward the kingdom together.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

President Bush & Senator Kerry in St. Louis Town Hall

Watched the town hall meeting last night with Jill on C-Span. They're replaying it at 10 am Saturday morning and perhaps at other times today.

President Bush answered effectively on issues such as abortion. Kerry does a better job holding forth on issues overall, in my opinion. President Bush has difficulty thinking on his feet and expressing, for instance, what the Constitution says and applying it. I would have the same difficulty, but I'm not runnning for president.

Keith Olberman compares the debate with a boxing match, and you get a good "blow-by-blow" of details and behind the scenes fact-checking from this format on his blog style piece.

Here's an example:

The Scorer's Table, having taken two hours to let the Blogosphere complete its due diligence (and to permit the scorer to retreat to a corner of the room, don cold compresses, and moan quietly), can now quote the truth from "Factcheck.Org": "President Bush himself would have qualified as a 'small business owner' under the Republican definition, based on his 2001 federal income tax returns. He reported $84 of business income from his part ownership of a timber-growing enterprise." Brooks Jackson's marvelous site noted that the timber interest was listed under "royalties" in his 2002 and 2003 returns, indicating The Texas Thunderbolt still has an interest in said concern.

The point awarded to Mr. Bush in the thirteenth round is hereby withdrawn and awarded to Mr. Kerry, for the latter's enterprising hoisting of his opponent on said opponent's own petard.

Mr. Bush is also penalized three points for a truth foul.
Mr. Bush is further penalized two points for getting snarky while in the act of being factually incorrect.

Gotta go. A Jehovah's Witness named Theta Word is coming by to have a "Bible Discussion." This type of discussion is new for me in that I approach them differently than ever before. I'm not interested in "proving her wrong" as much as engaging her with Christ living in me and praying that by the Spirit she might understand the witness of Scripture of Jesus as the Son of God and be able to seek the community that is modeled for us in the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Presidential Debate Tonight

Like millions of other Americans on a Friday night, I won't be home for the debate. I'll be taping it . . . and even if I was home I'd be taping the debate and watching baseball.

Notice I said, "taping" and not Tivoing. I'm not that advanced, though I did try to order it and the company apparently lost the order, so I just forgot about it.

My brother, Dr. Toby Taylor, wrote more today about stem cell research and the thread of discussion is under "Christians and Politics" below.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

My Brother on Stem Cell Research & Supreme Court

Scroll down to the blog entry titled, "Christians and Politics" and read the dialogue, particularly a recent comment from my brother, Dr. Toby Taylor, on stem cell research.

Toby and I were cut from the same cloth, but while I was studying Comparative Politics and International Relations, Toby was over in the science building sloshing around toxic and flammable stuff in petri dishes and test tubes and has been thinking for 20 years about the medical issues he is passionate and competent about, so naturally I'm influenced by his opinions . . . though I might still vote Democrat.

One brother wore blue, one brother wore grey! What will you do? What color shall we wear? The Smothers Brother's solution to such disagreements was non-violent: they sang, "I'll wear my dark blue pants and my grey sports jacket with the buttons made of pearls!"

Perhaps I can persuade Toby to talk more on the blog about stem cell research and other biological and medical issues related to the election, and we'll dialogue more about it together.

Read Toby's article on abstinence in public schools. (This is a pdf of whole Wineskins issue on sexuality from Jan/Feb 03). If you can't get it to open, let me know and I'll try to get the text and put in blog or make available on

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Abraham Lincoln's Humble Prayer

NPR did a three-part series on Politics and Religion.

In the segment on John Kerry, I like what he said that contrasts sharply with President Bush's comments about politics and religion:
And let me say it plainly: In that cause, and in this campaign, we welcome people of faith. America is not us and them. I think of what Ron Reagan said of his father a few weeks ago, and I want to say this to you tonight: I don't wear my own faith on my sleeve. But faith has given me values and hope to live by, from Vietnam to this day, from Sunday to Sunday. I don't want to claim that God is on our side. As Abraham Lincoln told us, I want to pray humbly that we are on God's side. And whatever our faith, one belief should bind us all: the measure of our character is our willingness to give ourselves for others and for our country.

Vice Presidential Debate

I was hopeful that John Edwards would articulate the philosophical differences between Democrats and Republicans more effectively than, in my opinion, he did. Cheney caricatured it well but I don't even remember Edwards's response because he didn't seem to directly address this important philosophical difference. There are critical differences of philosophy that the Democrats are not getting to that would be effective and convincing if they would go a few steps further.

Economically there are two main strains that have emerged: yes, one wants to cut taxes but is simultaneously created enormous debt, it seems. Is that any better than the critique of Democrats as tax-raising social spenders? One is concerned to de-regulate businesses, take burdens off businesses, and the other is more concerned with individuals and their suffering. Both address the needs of people but through different approaches. Yes, socially there are differences, too, and Democrats represent a strain that believes the ladder of success should not be pulled up by those making more money. This strain sees the nation and the world more as a community in need of aid while the Republican stream sees a world in need of democracy that creates opportunities for business and capitalism and our American version of freedom.

Edwards spoke repeatedly about the non-connection between Al-Qaida and Iraq. The reports have already established this and the Republicans are not pushing this point hard enough to warrant a counter attack from Democrats. So if Democrats would focus on the notion that our miscues in foreign policy have created an even less secure world today because they are engendering more hatred toward us with attitudes and actions worldwide, then I think more would sit up and take notice.

Further articulating the philosophical differences would help Democrats, since the Republicans position (at least President Bush's) is wrong for good diplomacy: the idea that anyone who is not with us is against us. Jesus said this after the Pharisees accused him of casting out demons in the name of Beelzebub (Mt 12:30), but I do not support our president saying it on a world scale. This has alienated many nations and continued the rhetoric that sounds as evil to insurrectionists as Islamic fundamentalism sounds to us. To say that people hate freedom and are simply evil and that's why they hate us, puts too many Americans completely on the wrong track of discerning foreign policy. Foreign policy even before the war in Iraq is part of why many nations do not support our actions and "hate us."

Monday, October 04, 2004

ZOE Conference in Nashville

The reason I haven't posted in a few days is because I've been involved in the ZOE conference here in Nashville all last week.

This is the most active time of the year for us, and though it is always a high point of the year, I'm of course always relieved to wrap up the weekend and get back to a "normal" routine.

Some highlights from the conference:
  • Brian McLaren - If hearing Brian speak four times was not enough, I was blessed as well to drive him a time or two between Woodmont and his hotel. He is a gracious and astute person and there's no wonder he's written something like seven bestselling books and is a spokesperson for an entire new generation of emergent churches. It doesn't hurt that he looks like a guru, balding, grey beard, hip glasses, warm wry smile, good timing and wit, and most importantly something important to say.
  • Friends - Deron Smith, Sara Barton, and Danny Hardman stayed with our family and that was the best part of the weekend for our entire family. We all get giddy when we have visitors.
  • Cope and Walling - these guys are ever changing and growing. They have re-made themselves over the last few years in some aspects of what they do best: redemptively challenge audiences with their gift of preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.
  • Variety of worship styles - we enjoyed the blessing of half a dozen different worship experiences led by different groups as broad ranging as Watershed to Keith Lancaster to ZOE. I'm glad for the diverse styles we have available to us in the church.

I'll be back this week posting a variety of thoughts on two events I anticipate most this fall: baseball playoffs and the election. Go Cardinals. Congratulations Stros. I hope Edwards holds his own against Cheney Tuesday night. Should be interesting.