Friday, May 30, 2008

Soccer Parents

Stereotypes are often based on reality. There is a great deal of truth in the Soccer Mom stereotype of constant transportation from school to home to practice to home to games to home to training to…all the while in a Mini-van sufficient loaded with snacks, Gatorade (the 2000’s answer to Kool-Aid), and with some (but not all) of your own children and some (but not all) of your friends’ children.

The schedule might modify. The Mini-Van might be an SUV. But the basic creature is the same. This is the person who works relentless throughout the week. When the father comes home bushed from working and is ready to relax after a “hard day’s work,” the mother has just punched in for her evening shift after already working the morning, mid-morning, afternoon and late-afternoon duty.

But on the weekend the Soccer Father comes out. This is the guy who is 50-100 pounds overweight yelling at his son/daughter to “Suck it up! Run harder! You aren’t out of energy!” Or who is convinced he knows the rules better than the referee and was blessed with eagle vision, giving him the ability to clearly see that forward was 2.2 centimeters offside and the fact the referee missed such an obvious call may require an after-game lynching. The Soccer Father knows coaching better than the coach.

Things I have heard from Soccer Fathers:

“Get up! This isn’t a spectator sport!” (His daughter was still cart wheeling in the air after being leg-swept.)

“JESUS FUCKING CHRIST! That was the THIRD time you crossed the line! Don’t you have any God DAMNED SENSE?!” (The boy was 9.)

“Take that player out!” (As in “cause him some injury.”)

“Your kid got what he deserved!” (To the other player down on the ground.)

And of course the famous—“No Call! No Call!” meaning the trip should be ignored, equally followed by the “Where is the Call?!” meaning the trip on our team must be whistled.

Not all Soccer Mothers or Soccer Fathers are like this, obviously. As one referee put it to us this past weekend, “There is one on every team.” Often it is only one. Yet the one that shows up is always…interesting.

Together we are Soccer Parents. As Soccer Parents we interact with other Soccer Parents. We see each other and chat about this team or that. This coach, or this player. We may be in the same league and playing each other on Saturday, but Sunday – Friday we are as pleasant and polite and happy as can be.

However on Game day we develop a completely different relationship with the other team’s Parents. They are “those” parents. We sit on our side. They sit on theirs. In-betwixt exits an imaginary line which is only rarely crossed, and never breached. We may occasionally nod to the other parents. Speaking feels like a concession to the enemy.

We are aghast when the “other” Soccer Parents dare question a call in our favor. We are equally aghast when the “other” Soccer Parents don’t see how the next call should never have gone against us. Our Parents yell “encouragement.” The “others” yell criticism.

The reality? There could be a mirror on that in-between line. We are really looking at ourselves. On Monday those parents are taking their sons and daughters to soccer/ballet/competitive horse racing. So are we. They hurt when their children hurt. So do we. They yell just like we yell.

Yet on game day—when we are at war—we treat those most like us as the enemy.

Friday, May 23, 2008

I, Robot

Jon, over at Evangelical Agnosticism provided me with a vivid flashback from my years in Christian youth groups—the Revival.

Every so often, at least yearly, we would have a special speaker come in for a week-long session of Bible study. The speaker was touted as being especially designed for teenagers, with the appropriate accolades regarding all the places he (sorry—no females allowed) had been, or how many lives he had touched, or the size of the venues in which he had spoken.

Most of these came and went with nary a response. A shrug. A “meh.” Back to our life routines. Once in a while—once in a great while—we would have one cause Revival! How or why no one could explain. Perhaps it was on mere teenage whimsy.

At every occasion there was such a speaker you could count on one or two teens feeling the renewal of the spirit, and stepping forward with a sparked interest of re-dedicating their life to Christ. It was always the same two teens. And they went back to being the same people in a matter of days. However, when Revival happened, after the standard teens went forward, more and more and more would pour in the aisles, going up front, confessing their sins, and getting back on the high for Jesus.

One such revival happened when I was in 8th or 9th grade. I hate programmed emotional response. I dislike doing things simply because the crowd about me does it. And I knew that was exactly what this was—an emotional compulsion, with a fear of exclusion. It is one thing when one teenager goes forward and 59 stay in their seats. But when 40 go forward, all of a sudden the 20 left are the minority. The ones being left out.

The worst thing for a teenager is to be “left out.” There is some sort of balance, undetectable, when the impetus swings the other way. When it goes from “those going forward are ‘left out.’” to “those staying behind are ‘left out.’”

We weathered the sobbing, the confessions, the prayer groups, the exclamations, the vows, and the speaker moved on to the next town—pleased to add one more notch to his accolades. (Do I need to say we all returned to our normal teenage selves within a week? I do not.)

The following Sunday, right before the service, our Pastor approached me (He was the father of one of my best friends.)

Pastor: I hear you kids had quite a week of revival.
Me: Uh…yeah. I guess so.
Pastor: I want you to speak to the crowd. Tell ‘em what happened. Tell ‘em how your life has changed because of this week.

My palms went instantly sweaty. I hadn’t gone forward. I hadn’t been part of the sobbing, etc. The Pastor presumed I must have been. (Who wouldn’t want to be part of a Revival? Who would want to be “left out”?) But this was my Pastor. My friend’s dad. An adult I saw at least 3-5 times a week!

Me: [gulp] O…….kay….. [gulp]

Now I had about 10 minutes to think up something to say. Part of my problem is that I wasn’t that bad of a kid. I didn’t have much to confess. I didn’t go to movies; I didn’t play cards; I didn’t cheat; I didn’t have the teenage political power to do any of the cool things the cool kids did; I didn’t drink alcohol. No smoking, no pot, no drugs. Heck, I didn’t wear blue jeans!

I hadn’t murdered, I hadn’t pillaged a village. The closest thing I had come to sex was being repulsed by my girlfriend for daring to attempt to French kiss her.

One thing you must know—despite these teenagers being in the throws of emotional ecstasy, and the competition to confess sins—we were smart enough to not confess too much or too little. Confessing to not putting money in the offering plate which your parents had given you was…too minimal. Confessing to stealing money from the offering plate would forever brand you as a thief. You might get away with something in-between--confessing swiping a candy bar from a store. (But you had to follow up with how it made you feel so guilty, you didn’t enjoy a single bite and threw away half of it, and later went back to the store and put money in the jar for homeless kids to make up for it.)

You never confessed to sex. The closest thing we would hear might be someone saying they went “too far” with their girlfriend/boyfriend. The term “too far” was never explicitly defined, nor examined, and was left for the hearer’s imagination as to what “too far” could possibly mean. Never confess to pornography. Serial murders read pornography. You’d be slapped into a mental institution so fast your head would spin.

Okay to confess to alcohol/smoking if you say only did it once. And didn’t like it. Not good to confess to anything harder than that. Even pot might result in drug rehab.

So we all played this little role of confessing “correctly”—enough so we could see it was a “real” change in the person’s life—not enough to land you in any permanent or serious trouble. Cussing was a good middle ground, too.

I now had about five minutes to come up with some “safe” middle ground that the audience would cluck their tongues disapprovingly, yet not permanently ostracize me. What to say; what to confess to? Poor “Rock ‘n Roll” got the chop. I found myself, at age 13 or 14, standing in front of what seemed like a terrifying audience of 1-2 Billion people (probably 250 or so), confessing to listening to the “devil’s music” and vowing to never do so again.

The people simultaneously frowned in disapproval for the sin while nodding their heads in approval for the repentance (an art we master), and I had managed the gauntlet. Not too much sin; not too little. Goldilocks and I had found “Juuuust Right.”

Obviously I went right back to listening to Rock ‘n Roll (careful, kiddies. In my day this meant the Bee Gees. Perhaps that WAS the devil’s music!), which was not a difficult feat, considering I never gave it up. One particular parent hounded me for years—reminding me how I had stood up in front of the whole church and vowed to never listen to that awful music, and why was I listening to it now?

How does one say they felt coerced into confessing something? One doesn’t.

Yet as we continued to grow up out of the teenage years…we didn’t. Even as adults, the sins being shared were in that safe middle ground. No one confessed to having an affair (even though we knew it was happening.) No one confessed to stupid little sins like flipping off the driver who cut us off.

We picked safe middle grounds. “Impure thoughts”—undefined, unexplained, but universally understood. “Not being loving enough”—again, safe. Like robots, we never showed too much emotion, never showed too much error, certainly never showed too much sin.

The ones who never confessed to gossip (but should have) would have a field day if we dared confess to anything horrible.

And we have developed of generation of “middle sin” Christians. Christians who never commit the gross atrocities, but never solely sin the light ones. It has become accepted practice for Christians to accept other Christians who are committing these “middle sins.” As if this is what a de facto Christian is—a robot with some minor malfunctions which occasionally need tinkering.

Do you know why people cannot tell the non-theists in the crowd? Because for so long Christians have acted like humans there IS no difference. Just like Christians, we atheists commit these “middle sins.” Sure there is an occasional non-theist who commits an atrocity. Sex as a teenager. So, too, Christians. An occasional non-theist who is better than most. So, too, Christians.

The failure of Christianity does not stop at the lack of proof. The failure of Christianity is confirmed by the lack of moral difference. With or without a god-belief; we look the same.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Get Yer Tokens Here!

“Jesus loves the little Children,
“All the Children of the World.
“Red and Yellow, Black and White;
“They are Precious in His sight.
“Jesus loves the little Children of the World.

This was a regular song cycled through our repertoire as Sunday School attendees. The tune was catchy; the words simple; the memory firmly ingrained. It could even be illustrated by a flannel graph of Jesus looking passively down on one (1) “red” children in full Native American garb, one (1) “yellow” oriental child in straw hat and kimono, one (1) “black” child in full African dress, and one (1) Midwestern child in non-descript Midwestern clothes. (In case you were too thick to get the point of the song.)

[For those of you heathens who never went to Sunday School, if you wonder why Flannel Graph Jesus wasn’t smiling at the kiddies, it was because Flannel Graph Jesus NEVER smiled. He had three looks—Disapproval (vs. the Pharisees), Disappointment (vs. the Disciples) and Tolerance (vs. Women or Children or General Audience.)]

Which is kinda funny, considering it was a large group comprised solely of extremely Caucasian, Middle America Children. The closest thing we came to “red” was playing Cowboys & Indians; to “yellow” was slideshows from missionaries; and our entire township had one (1) token African-American family. Since they weren’t Baptist (apparently)--not represented in our Sunday School either.

Growing up in a Conservative Church environment, we learned what “token” meant. Our churches had one, maybe two African-American families. The token representation. Maybe one oriental family. Another group represented. Native Americans? Rarer than hen’s teeth, but you could still find a few. Not a large minority—oh my no!

Yet what always cracked me up was when any racial discussion came about, we would hear people within my social group exclaim the old adage, “Some of my best friends are black!” (Evidently that one family had a LOT of best friends!) As if this exclamation gave the person a pardon against the possibility of being prejudice.

One of my friends made a keen observation. “You want to know if you have African-American friends? Ask yourself this simple question—when is the last time you ate dinner at an African-American home? How many times in the past five (ten?) years have you done so?” That will answer the question post-haste!

The reason I bring this up is that I am observing a new phenomena of this old trend. “Some of my best friends are homosexuals.” Or “Some of the best relationships I see are among homosexuals.” But I am seeing this from people who then go on (and on and on) about how homosexual acts are SIN, and homosexuals should NOT be allowed to marry, and how homosexuality is tearing apart the very fabric of our society to the point we will no longer be able to function. (O.K., that last is a bit hyperbolic. Sorta.)

And I have to wonder where they are getting all these homosexual friends? Are they the same black friends my social group claimed to have? Because I have no homosexual friends. None. Nada. Zip.

But that shouldn’t be a surprise—look at my social upbringing. My friends were conservative Christians. We socialized with people who would make homosexuals extremely uncomfortable. “Gay” was a derogatory term in my social group. We socialized at events in which homosexuality would be ostracized.

I grew up in a social environment that deliberately and consciously excluded homosexuals. Oh, some of my classmates and associates may have been homosexuals; I am not referring to people who were forced to hide their same sex attraction, or considered such an attraction a sin and something to be avoided.

I am talking about a person who recognized themselves as homosexual, and accepted it. No—no such persons would be welcome within my group. At the very end of my gamily holding on to Christianity, the topic of homosexuality came up in our Sunday School. The teacher was trotting out the tired line of “Love the sinner; hate the sin” and expounding upon how our church would be welcoming to homosexuals.

I (being me) challenged that observation. I pointed out how uncomfortable the members would make them feel, and how the attitude against homosexuality oozed from almost every pore of almost every person. The teacher argued with me that the church folk could disguise their disgust (not exactly his words, mind you) and welcome them with open arms.

At this point the pastor quietly spoke up and said, “Let’s be honest. If two guys came to church holding hands, do you really think they would ever want to come back here?” The room grew silent.

I don’t have gay friends. My former friends (‘cause we hung around the same people) do not have gay friends. I have never eaten dinner in a home of two homosexual people living together. Never.

I am uniquely UNqualified to make any statement such as “some of my best friends are homosexuals” or “some of the best relationships I know are among homosexuals.” Which causes me to continue to wonder about these people I read on-line, in books and in articles who are so vehemently opposed to homosexual sex, yet claim to have these relationships giving them insight.

Where are they finding all these gay friends?

Of course, I am in serious jeopardy of projecting. While my experience has resulted in no gay friends—this doesn’t mean every Conservative Christian has had the same experience.

Certainly someone who converted later in life could have already developed relationships with homosexuals. Which really causes me to wonder how that works:

“Hi. Hey—I’ve converted to Christianity. And I’ve learned this new thing. Turns out God HATES homosexual acts. It is a violation of His Moral Character, and the equivalent of spitting in his face. So I gotta tell ya—I can’t approve of what you and your partner do…er…late at night…uh…in your…well…you know. And I can’t support you all getting married. Nope—wouldn’t be right. And I don’t think you are entitled to equal protection under the law anymore.

“And if you converted to Christianity with me; you’d have to give up any homosexual sex. Oh, you can still be attracted to another person of your gender—you just can’t have sex with them. And the two of you…well…you can’t…you know. Because it is a sin. And God hates that.

“But don’t worry—God still loves YOU. Just because I find what you do is a sin, and will be petitioning against you having any of the same rights as us heterosexuals, we can still be friends, right?..........Right?”

I get how a liberal Christian could have gay friends. I get how liberal theists could have gay friends. I get how a Conservative Christian could have friends who are gay, but won’t tell anyone of their same sex attraction. I get how Conservative Christians could have friends who are gay, but the Christian won’t tell them of their belief homosexual acts are a sin.

What I don’t get is why a homosexual would continue to be friends with a person who informs them who they are results in a heinous sin, and the person will do everything in their power to keep the homosexual from being able to marry their partner, or be protected from discrimination, or be protected from hate speech.

Why would a homosexual want to be the “token” pardon for why the person is not prejudiced against gays? ‘Cause their best friend is gay…

Friday, May 16, 2008

Why Fat People Can’t Marry

The current social wave of banning marriage for homosexuals (excuse me, “Defining marriage legal in such a way that homosexuals can’t marry”) is a form of coercion. It is a way of saying, “I don’t like what you do; so I am going to make it as uncomfortable as possible for you in another aspect of your life.”

Why do we care if they marry? (I say “they” because I am a heterosexual.) Seriously—why? I don’t care if two teenagers marry. I don’t care if two people 50 years difference in age marry. I don’t care if people marry in mixed races. I don’t care if divorcees marry, if Ohioans marry, if two people of different religions marry or if two people marry when one of them is pregnant. Oh, we may care from a concerned standpoint—but no one is out petitioning laws to ban such practices.

If Bob and Tom want to marry—how exactly is that affecting you? What great tragedy has just entered your life which is so insurmountable we must enact amendments to State constitutions to keep this tragedy from happening again?

What I see is a group of people (not just Christians) who simply don’t like homosexuality. Whether for religious reasons, or the way the person was raised, or cultural pressure. And since the laws making homosexuality illegal have failed; the next best thing is to deny them some other privilege. Some other way to make ‘em uncomfortable.

We don’t have a problem with homosexuals driving. They seem adapt enough to do so. We don’t have a problem with them working—they make fine customers and patrons and tenants and debtors. We don’t have a problem with them voting, or serving in governmental positions (not legally, anyway), or walking in the park, or being on television.

But if they want to marry—GASP! The horrors! Have you ever stopped to think why? What the big deal is?

I will submit the two worst arguments for banning homosexual marriage are the slippery slope claim and “The Bible says ____.”

Slippery Slope

This argument is typically framed, “If we let gays marry it would start a slippery slope. What is to stop polygamists from marrying? Or people marrying pets? Or pedophiles marrying small children?”

Hmm…let’s think about that for a second, shall we? *snaps fingers* That’s it! That’s what would stop such a slippery slope from happening--we can actually think! Do you know it is possible to enact laws to allow some groups of people do some things, without the necessary eventuality that ALL people will do ALL things? Really—you can!

Do you also realize we could use the “slippery slope” argument on just about anything to preclude us from passing laws on just about anything? For example: If we pass a law to allow 18 year olds to marry, this could dangerously lead us to allowing 17 year olds to marry, which could, by slippery slope, lead to allowing 16, 15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6…. Oh wait. Why doesn’t that happen?

Because we actually can figure out how to determine a cut-off and stop. Lawmakers do look at the laws they are passing, and the reasons behind them. They do not shrug and say, “Aw, gee. We let homosexuals marry. Guess we gotta let people marry a tree as well.” Frankly, if I was a representative, senator or governor I would be insulted to think it was claimed I was so stupid I couldn’t figure out how to put limits on anything once I passed a law.

The following is the classic example of how silly a claim of “slippery slope” can be:

But you can't hold a whole fraternity responsible for the behavior of a few, sick twisted individuals. For if you do, then shouldn't we blame the whole fraternity system?

And if the whole fraternity system is guilty, then isn't this an indictment of our educational institutions in general? I put it to you Greg -- isn't this an indictment of our entire American society?

Well…you can do whatever you want to us. But we're not going to sit here and listen to you badmouth the United States of America. Gentlemen!

”The Bible says ____”

…or “God says ___.” Now at first blush, this may seem to be an infringement upon another person’s right to petition for laws which they favor. It is not. They can. I have no problem with that. If a person said, “I don’t want homosexuals to marry because I don’t want it”—they are perfectly within their constitutional rights to pursue such a cause to their utmost.

However, if they are going to cloak this right in some sort of divine admonition, or divine ordinance—I will look to that with a far closer scrutiny. To see what that basis is, and further to determine whether they are making up what their god says to justify what they want.

First of all, it should be noted the Bible is silent (both in the Tanakh and the New Testament) regarding homosexual marriage. Probably because it was not being practiced during the time of either writing (certainly not on a large scale, if at all). The same way the Bible is silent regarding e-mail, or coffee in church, or whether to buy an SUV compared to a Mini-van. The issues didn’t exist at the time—so the Bible wouldn’t address it.

The Bible does address acts of sex which are homosexual. Rom. 1:26-27. “A-ha!” the person may say, “If homosexual acts are sinful—we have every right to ban them from marrying to commit such acts.”

Where did it become your obligation to stop others from sinning? When did you become the “Sin Police”? The ending of Romans One is a list of sins which the world (the non-believers) are engaged in. In one of the greatest turns of irony, vs 26 starts off with, “For this reason God gave them up…”

According to the very verses you use, your God isn’t trying to stop them; who are you to assume a duty even your God won’t do?

I’ll let you in on two (2) not-so-secret secrets.

Lean in close.


1. They are having sex regardless of not being married.

Yep, it’s true. Did you honestly think the entire homosexual community consists of frustrated virgins aching for the laws of America to change so that one day they could actually have sex by consummating their marriage? In fact, in yet another short-sighted irony, the fact they cannot marry makes them less likely to wait for marriage. ‘Cause they can’t!

How many people do you really think are not committing homosexual acts because they can’t be homosexually married? Do you think this is making even a dent in your duties on “Sin Patrol”? Do you think you are preventing a single homosexual act of sex by virtue of not allowing marriage?

Why not pass a law prohibiting homosexuals from having driver’s licenses? This would be far more effective in reducing acts you consider sin.

2. Being homosexual is more than sex.

I am not qualified to talk in this area, but in reading what homosexuals write, and having associated with a few, I have come to understand it is who they are. It is more than a preference for a certain sexual act. It is an attraction to the same gender.

Much the same way I am attracted to my female wife for more than just a certain shape of bones and skin. I am fascinated with the way she smells. The way she talks. The way she moves. The way she thinks.

If a person feels that same way about another of their same gender…you won’t be able to legislate it away.

Secondly, as I look at your Bible and your God, I start to read other sins. Sins like allowing someone to marry who was previously divorced for reasons other than adultery. (Matt. 5:32, 19:9) Where is the call for laws prohibiting divorced people from re-marrying?

Look, if you are trying to convince me you…er…I mean your God…has its panties all in a pinch over sins occurring, then why is it only the sins YOU don’t like? Why is it you…er…your god is not equally all up in arms over a violation of this sin as well? Shouldn’t the laws define marriage as “One man and one woman, neither of whom has been divorced, unless the divorce arose out of adultery or the person was previously married to a non-believer who left them”? (1 Cor. 7:15)

Many Christians hold that 2 Cor. 6:14 (“Do not be unequally yoked with non-believers.”) is a prohibition against believers marrying non-believers. A sin! Where is the call for the laws of marriage to be changed to prevent this grievous harm? Now our definition reads, “One man and one woman of one belief, neither of whom has been divorced, unless the divorce arose out of adultery or the person was previously married to a non-believer who left them.”

And don’t forget the famous passage of 1 Cor. 7:9. “Better to marry than burn with passion.” Is it a sin to be so horny? Although no specific verse addresses it, many Christians infer pre-marital sex is a sin. If you can’t wait—we should order marriage quickly. Where is the call for the definition: “One man and one woman of one belief, neither of whom has been divorced, unless the divorce arose out of adultery or the person was previously married to a non-believer who left them, who must get married before they become so horny they fornicate prior to hearing, ‘I now pronounce you husband and wife.’”

Ah—we don’t want to follow all those pesky sins associated with marriage, do we? Just the ones that affect others. You know—the gays.

The Bible equally speaks against gluttons. Prov. 23:20-21, Titus 1:12. Just as homosexuality is amongst a list of sins in Romans 1, gluttony is included in a list of bad character traits and sins in Matt. 11:19 and Luke 7:34.

Where is the call banning fat people from marrying? Oh, I hear the cries of differentiation. The reason homosexual marriage is to be banned is that homosexuals will continue to be sinning throughout the marriage by committing homosexual acts.

Yet equally, won’t fat people encourage each other to eat more? To sin? Worse, will they provide a lifestyle which will encourage their children to become gluttons? At least homosexuals will allow their children to choose their orientation—will gluttons provide a similar choice for their own children? To eat healthy?

Further, this concept of “their marrying will provide more opportunity to sin” falls flat on its face when viewed in light of all the other areas which marriage provides more opportunity to sin. You can’t commit the sin of a wrongful divorce without marrying. Gay or straight. The only way to commit the sin of failing to love your wife is to…yeah…you get it. Have a wife.

Regardless of who marries who—according to your God and your Bible, the roles of marriage offers greater opportunities to sin. If it is post-marriage sin you are so worried about, let’s ban it altogether.

I tire of the cloaked justification for why a person is “entitled” to be against homosexual marriage. If you don’t like it—fine! I can understand preference. But don’t try and sell the concept it has nothing do with your likes or dislikes and you are (reluctantly) bound to follow some moral code you secretly don’t like. Don’t try and sell you are just doing what your God wants you do to, and if it was up to you--it would be a fine thing.

Nobody buys it anymore.

(Endnote: I wrote most of this yesterday, prior to the California ruling. Good timing.)

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


This past weekend I entered a new experience—I became a grandfather.

Not permanently, thankfully! My sophomore daughter, in her child development class, brought home one of those fake babies. It cries, needs to be feed, needs to be held, needs its diaper changed, and within its little plastic body contains a computer critically recording the attention it receives.

My daughter’s grade depends on appropriate care. Folks, if you want an effective method of birth control—this is a splash of hard reality for a 16-year-old to discover the responsibilities of motherhood. By the end of the weekend, we heard the following phrases:

“I’m only 16—I shouldn’t have to take care of a baby!”
“I’ve done everything I can, and it is still crying. Why won’t it stop crying?”
“Why won’t you go to sleep?”
“Just leave me alone. I am exhausted from watching the baby.”
“If I get a bad grade, it is the baby’s fault. It won’t tell me what to do.”
“Not again!”

(Do you see yourself in any of those phrases?) She couldn’t go out with her friends—had to take care of the baby. Couldn’t swing and veg out with the iPod—had to take care of the baby. Couldn’t watch movies with us. Had to watch the baby.

I thoroughly enjoyed watching her being dropped into a duty she was clearly not prepared to handle. Nuts, none of us first-time parents were ready for the awesome responsibility of taking care of a new human. But over time, as we became more familiar with the steps that worked and the steps that miserably failed, we just naturally took on the cloak of accountability that comes with parenthood. Did it without thinking.

And if we had a second child, some of the previous memories came back and a quick refresher as to the responsibility, and again, over time, we simply fall back and do things without thinking. It was fun to see someone else have that brand new experience and re-remember those feelings.

Which got me to thinking—how many other things do I do, in which I have a responsibility and I am simply going through the motions? Just doing what I did yesterday, the day before, the week and months and years before without ever taking a moment and contemplating the awesomeness of the adventure?

As a citizen—how cognizant am I of my responsibility? It is always discouraging to an attorney to hear people attempt to get out jury duty. As if it is some torturous implementation of our government. Yet the same people can be the first to complain about the inadequacies of our justice system!

How many people know their state representative/senator? Or their federal representative/senator? How many of us have never written to either—yet complain about what our government is doing?

How many of us have never gone to a local school board meeting? Or a local governmental meeting? Yet we wonder why our school’s sports program requires a fee to play, or why our children’s books are 5 years out of date.

As I watched my daughter struggle with what is natural to me, I realize I have fallen into a malaise toward my own responsibilities in other areas. That I have reduced my citizenship responsibilities to paying taxes, reading reports in media and whining with the best of them.

It is time for me to become more actively involved. To take on some responsibility rather than let this life lazily pass by.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Which Dictionary to use?

Half an hour. Between Sunday School, Bible class, Vacation Bible School, Primary Church, Teen church, sermons, Prayer meeting and small groups it was universally understood the amount of time dedicated to teaching/preaching was to be a half an hour. Not enough to cover the Sermon on the Mount. Certainly not enough to go through the book of Revelation! But just the right amount of time to give a complete discourse on a Parable.

Therefore it was common (especially by the proliferation of all that Bible study) to cycle through many of the Parables. And within the speech on the Parable, we would enter a familiar formula. First read the passage. Then assign the “actual” names to all the participants within the story. Give the spiritual point of the story. Tie in some historical fact to anchor the tale within the time period (and impress the audience with your ability to own and read a Commentary) and finally reinforce the application the recipients should utilize out of the story. Often one would work in a personal tale to illustrate the parable. Beginning, end or middle—it could go anywhere.

Since my friends and I had sat through the same routine on countless previous occasions, and having half a brain a piece—we figured out the point, the illustration and “who’s who” long before the person finished reading the verses. We were raised to be polite enough to listen through the next 27 ½ minutes of a person telling us what we already ascertained.

The Parable of the Talents entered the rotation on a regular basis.
For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them. And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey. Then he who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and made another five talents. And likewise he who had received two gained two more also. But he who had received one went and dug in the ground, and hid his lord's money. After a long time the lord of those servants came and settled accounts with them. So he who had received five talents came and brought five other talents, saying, “Lord, you delivered to me five talents; look, I have gained five more talents besides them.” His lord said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.” He also who had received two talents came and said, “Lord, you delivered to me two talents; look, I have gained two more talents besides them.” His lord said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.” Then he who had received the one talent came and said, “Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed. And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground. Look, there you have what is yours.” But his lord answered and said to him, “You wicked and lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I have not sown, and gather where I have not scattered seed. So you ought to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I would have received back my own with interest. Therefore take the talent from him, and give it to him who has ten talents. For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Matt. 25:14-30

The teacher would enter the tired monotone, we would hear (as we expected to hear) that the man was God, and the servants were Christians, and the talents were abilities, and we should use our abilities with hard work toward God’s work, and it was bad to not use our abilities, and someday we will be rewarded/punished for how we used our God-given abilities.

A story about a Christian who stopped singing for God, and started singing Rock-n-roll and then lost his ability to sing in a horrific blender accident…and the half hour was up…Time to go!

Seemed pretty straightforward and obvious. Hard work rewarded. Different people have different special abilities. Shouldn’t squander what we have.

And 100% wrong. This was not what the parable was about. We thought the first two servants were the “good guys” and the third servant was the “bad guy.” This is a total reversal to what the first century Judean audience would have understood. To them—the first two servants (and the man) were the bad guys, and it was the third servant who was doing the right thing.

How come they never taught that in our Sunday School?

See, to the Judean mind, including the peasants to whom this story was directed, “goods” were of a pre-determined quantity. One person gaining was ONLY possibly by another person losing. The first servant’s gain of five talents would only be possible by another, most likely a poor person, losing an equivalent sum.

Therefore, the only commendable person in the parable was the sole person who did not cause harm to others, yet retained what was rightfully the masters. The audience would understand a man who “reaped where he did not sow, and gathered where they did not scatter seed” was—in essence—a bad person who was only becoming rich at the expense of others.

Luke 19:12-29, further exemplifies the character of the man in highlighting the fact the man was going to receive a kingdom, which was opposed by the citizenry. When he did receive the kingdom, the man killed those who opposed him.

Eusebius, in reviewing this parable, thought Matthew was using a literary device to demonstrate the real person who was punished was the first servant who had gain illicitly. Even Eusebius understand the “good” guy in the parable was the third servant, and the “bad” guy was the first servant.

(And a side note not often pointed out—when there were multiple items it was often the “oddity” that was the exemplary item in Jesus’ Parables. One good seed, the rest were bad. One good Samaritan; the rest were unhelpful.)

O.K. so we have two very different interpretations of this parable—one very 20th Century (“use your abilities”) and one very 1st century (“The rich get richer.”) Which one did Jesus intend? Which one is the one we should use?

I ask this because often, in Biblical discussions, people talk about how Jesus’ words would be perceived by the people of the time. What it meant to them. Why he used certain terms. And how, to fully understand what Jesus was saying, we have to immerse ourselves in First Century Judea.

But in doing so—this parable is much different than what most of us were taught in our classes. Were all those classes wrong? Or are we to derive two completely different, even juxtaposed interpretations of the same passage?

Was Jesus talking to 1st century peasants, but in the back of his mind also talking to 21st century capitalists?

I often see Christians hopping back and forth between two opposing positions—that the books of the Bible were written for a specific period of time as compared to the books of the Bible written for ALL time. When it comes to the skeptic questioning the scientific or historical accuracy—we are assured the books were only written for what the people knew at the time. Yet then we are told the moral implications of the Bible are for all time.

Are they? Or is the Christian picking and choosing which suits them best? Which conforms to the culture they know?

We are told slavery was appropriate at that time, or polygamy was appropriate at that time, or genocide was appropriate at that time; but not now. Not once we have come to understand the full moral implications of such practices.

Well then—what about women preachers? Oh, THEN I am assured THAT one is universal! That has nothing to do with “at that time” but rather is a mandate from day one until the earth blows up. Literally. The bit about women covering their head or not wearing gold…well sure…THAT bit was only appropriate at that time.

You know the question is coming…

How do we determine any consistent methodology of what was appropriate only for that time period, and what is universally mandated? How do we determine the Parable of the Talents was to mean one thing at that time, and a complete role reversal now?

When we are to define the terms of the Bible—which dictionary do we use? The one the First Century would use for the New Testament and the Sixth Century BCE would use for the Tanakh? Or do we toss those out and use our dictionaries of today?

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Evangelical Manifesto

So have you seen the Evangelical Manifesto? (The link will take you to the website where you can download the Manifesto in PDF form.)

Seems those who claim the title of “Evangelical” are attempting to distant themselves from…something. What, exactly, is not patently clear. I understand the distaste these individuals feel with being constantly associated with political movements—but then I didn’t see anything specifically saying what political movements they either do not want to be associated with or do want to be associated with.

It speaks in great generalities, with few specifics.

I did find this statement interesting:

On the one hand, we repudiate those who believe their way is the only way and the way for everyone, and are therefore prepared to coerce others.

Why? Isn’t this exactly what the Evangelical is doing? Notice these other quotes from the document (emphasis added):

First, we believe that Jesus Christ is fully God become fully human, the unique, sure, and sufficient revelation of the very being, character, and purposes of God, beside whom there is no other god, and beside whom there is no other name by which we must be saved.

Second, we believe that the only ground for our acceptance by God is what Jesus Christ did on the cross …

Third, we believe that new life, given supernaturally through spiritual regeneration, is a necessity as well as a gift; and that the lifelong conversion that results is the only pathway to a radically changed character and way of life. Thus for us, the only sufficient power for a life of Christian faithfulness and moral integrity in this world is that of Christ’s resurrection and the power of the Holy Spirit.

On the other hand, we repudiate all who believe that different values are simply relative to different cultures, and who therefore refuse to allow anyone to judge anyone else or any other culture. More tolerant sounding at first, this position leads directly to the evils of complacency;. for in a world of such evils as genocide, slavery, female oppression, and assaults on the unborn, there are rights that require defending, evils that must be resisted, and interventions into the affairs of others that are morally justifiable.. [emphasis in original]

Sure seems to be saying they think theirs is the only way, the way for everyone, and they are quite prepared to coerce others. If they deem it “justifiable.”

Frankly, the paper comes across as (a touch whiney) public relations piece. The “why” of this manifesto is more interesting to me. Why did they think such a document (which they obviously spent a great deal of time wording just so) was necessary right now?

The obvious answer is the concern “Evangelical” is becoming a bad word. That the general public is associating certain demeanor or characteristic with a person who calls themselves an “Evangelical” and this document is an attempt to provide a new spin on the same thing.

I am in no position to speculate as to all the nuances of this document coming out now. I thought it might be an intriguing read for some. You might also want to read some of the comments. My favorite was:

Dear Sir: I would like to know more about the individuals who have worked on the manifesto. Have all these people truly "trusted" Christ as personal savior, before they can write about such issues? You do realize that not every theologian, pastor, etc. are not all born again believers.

Wouldn’t want some of those writing such a historic piece of work! *wink*

Wednesday, May 07, 2008


I’m tired of arguing over concepts in the collection of books entitled “The Bible” with people who hold it to a far greater origination than I do, yet care less about how it was formed.

I’m tired of arguments which start, “It is possible…”

I am tired of people telling me what I believe, giving me long titles I don’t want, and then defining my position (which I don’t hold) and tearing apart the definition as stupid.

I am tired of Arguments by Wikipedia.

I’m tired of “interpretation.”

I am tired of people trying to win points in a debate (as if there is some universal scoreboard) and gamely holding on to what few points they think they scored.

I’m tired of “normal” being a standard which must be complied with.

I’m tired and scared of how little concerned many of my fellow citizens are about the on-going war, the economy, the health situation, and the future of our planet because they think a magic genie will make all the bad stuff go away for good people.

I’m even tired of my study of Christianity—at what point is wrong so wrong, it couldn’t be any wronger?

I’m tired of people who pride themselves on their moral standards, and then seeing how close they can skirt to not…quite…violating the moral standards, but just dance on the line.

I’m tired of Argument by Uninformed Indignation.

I’m reinvigorated by watching others actually give a damn about people who can give them no benefit whatsoever.

Monday, May 05, 2008

A new blog discovery

I recently discovered Stuff Christians Like. You might read a little to catch such statements as:

(By the way, if you're partaking in Taco Bell's "Fourth Meal" or the food they feed you between dinner and breakfast, you better pray. Lots. You've just introduced a grilled, toasted, roasted, 17 layer, bean bandalero to your stomach at 2 in the morning.)


So instead of using that bathroom, my friend Billy Ivey and I started walking down the street to Dawson Baptist. We had stumbled upon that rare secret church bathroom and it was like Shangri-La.

Have you ever found one of those? They're delightful. While the masses wait and grumble in line after church in one of the popular bathrooms, you can steal away to your own private Fortress of Solitude.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Ben Stein as…Jesus?

On a blog that I read was a mention of a Canadian Christian Show interviewing Ben Stein and a producer of Expelled.

I was ready to leave this topic, but caught this fascinating quote by Mr. Stein:

Ben Stein: I get a lot of mail from scientists saying, “We thought you were smart…you turned out to be an idiot. Evolution explains everything, you idiot. Don’t you get it.” And I usually just delete them. But then sometimes I write back, if the letter has some spark of reasonableness; I will say, “Does it explain—does evolution explain gravity? Does it explain the creation of matter? Does it explain the creation of energy? Does it explain physics? Does it explain thermodynamics? Does it explain all the organizing and governing principles of the universe?

And generally speaking, they write back and say, “Well, no it doesn’t.” And then I will say, “Then how can you say it is the basis of everything?” And they will say, “Well it is the basis of the variations in the species” and that I agree with.

As I was reading this quote, it seemed strangely familiar. Where had I heard this before? The lone, unjustly accused person facing the big, bad establishment? Despite the unsavory nature of his opponents—a willingness to be reasonable? The (apparently) sharp accusation rebuffed by a quick wit and rapier reply? The big, bad establishment slinking away after being dealt a death blow?

Then I got it. This is exactly like the tales of Jesus!

But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?" Jesus said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets." While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, saying, "What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is He?" They said to Him, "The Son of David." He said to them, "How then does David in the Spirit call Him 'Lord,' saying: 'The Lord said to my Lord, "Sit at My right hand, Till I make your enemies Your footstool" '? If David then calls Him 'Lord,' how is He his Son?" And no one was able to answer Him a word, nor from that day on did anyone dare question Him anymore. Matt. 22:34-46

No, Ben Stein does not think he is Jesus. No, he was not mimicking the gospel accounts. But what this does demonstrate is our human nature to “puff up” or tell a fish story that makes us look a little better than those who disagree with us. Make us look a little cleverer.

Often, when talking to lawyers or litigants, I see them go into this sort of trance. Their eyes glaze over, they enter almost a monotone or rehearsed speech in which they play out what they think will happen next.

“I will go in and tell that judge about my legal argument,” eyes glaze, “And there the judge will see how unfair and unjust and unsupported your position. That judge will rule in my favor and will even give me attorney fees for appearing here today.”

(All right. I’m human, too. I’ve engaged in similar fantasies myself, playing out what I think the other side will say, and what I think the judge or jury will do. And how sharp I will be to come up with a response which I will act as if it came completely off-the-cuff but was in reality carefully crafted ahead of time.)

Did Ben Stein get letters from scientists? Possibly. Did such letters tell how stupid he was? Likely. After praising how smart they used to think he was? Not likely. Did the scientist say, “Evolution explains everything”? Maybe. But I wonder about the context.

Does anyone know of a scientist who holds to “evolution explains everything?” It explains how I pick a spouse? Which road to take on the way home? Coke or Pepsi? “Tastes Great” or “Less filling?” The capital of North Dakota?

And do you believe the scientist is stunned into submission—having never once contemplated the notion evolution might not explain gravity? Honestly?

Or is it far more possible Mr. Stein made this conversation up in his mind? Saying what he thought the opponents would say. And replying what he considers quite, quite clever on his part. And proclaiming what he thinks the scientist would be forced to do—wander away properly rebuffed.

This is an old and tired polemic. In the same way, we have Jesus being asked what is supposed (to the author of Matthew) to be a clever and death-dealing question—“What is the greatest commandment?” Yet this response was previously recorded—even in Paul’s works! It was a saying spoken before the gospels were recorded. (Rom. 13:9; Gal. 5:14)

And what is the likelihood the Pharisees would be silenced by one simple question? Part of the Jewish enjoyment of the Tanakh is to wrestle and engage the text. To derive midrash from it. To spend hours contemplating it, perusing it, and digging through its richness.

Like the scientists in Stein’s made-up world, these Pharisees are presented as two-dimensional (at best) characters solely there to give our hero a foil to demonstrate a point.

(And if you think Stein was reasonable in his response, he later goes on, in the interview, to malign evolution for not answering the very questions he says it shouldn’t answer!

Patricia Patty: Why does it matter where we came from? What we believe about how we got here?

Ben Stein: Oh—that’s a very good question, too. It matters a lot because if we are to believe the Darwinian hypothesis that life began with lightning striking a mud puddle then we are basically just specks of animated mud. We don’t have any spark of the divine within us; we have no moral content within us; we don’t have to abide by any rules ‘cause there’s nobody to judge us…uh…so we’re just free to do just anything we want, including murder, rape, steal, maim, torture. And if we are animated by a spark of the divine or if we believe that the divine wants us to act well—that’s a big if—but if we believe that then we have to believe that we have to behave better.

Ben Stein: It is pathetic. Pathetic that the Darwinists have such a grip on the educational process that this cannot even be—that their theories which admittedly don’t even cover the most basic parts of the story such as how do we go from inorganic to organic life—the fact you cannot question a theory that doesn’t even touch on a big issue is astonishing.

I thought he just cleverly informed those scientists evolution shouldn’t touch on this issue. Ah well—consistency is too much to ask.)