Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Reason(s) for the Season

Around this time of year there’s invariably a verbal back and forth that occurs regarding “Happy Holidays” vs “Merry Christmas”.

My own perception is that most people, while they may claim to come down on one side or the other, don’t actually get too worked up about it. The exceptions would be (and this is my take on the cause and effect - others will disagree) Christians who get militant about Jesus being the reason for the season, and reactionary types who get militant on the other side, mostly because they view the situation as Christians getting in their face and they don’t like that.

Obviously, being a Christian myself, I sympathize wholeheartedly with the view that Jesus is the reason for the season - I just wish we could be less persecution-complex-y about it.

That all said, I’d like to submit some food for thought about the season to my Christian friends. And I know you all know this, I just think that sometimes we don’t think of it in these terms.

When we think of Jesus’ birth we tend to think in terms of glory. In that context Jesus truly is the reason for the season. We should bear in mind, however, that it was our need that prompted him to obediently submit to the Father’s plan and leave his comfort and glorious reign in Heaven to come down as an unblemished sacrificial lamb for our redemption.

So, in that sense, we are the reason for the season. If it weren’t for us, he would never have had to go through what he did.

“Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till he appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!”

Friday, July 19, 2013


The other day I was listening to the Ray Charles song “Come Rain or Come Shine”. There was a line in it that went, “Happy together. Unhappy together.”  That got me thinking.

In any relationship, but particularly marriage, the most important thing isn’t that we’re happy. The important thing is that we’re together. As long as we’re together, we can enjoy happiness or survive unhappiness. Too few people rely on and appreciate God’s gift to us - each other.  

Our culture is one of selfishness. We demand to be happy. We are SO selfish that we don’t even recognize it as selfishness. We say things like, “I only want to be happy. Is that too much too ask?”  Maybe it is. Are we with the other person only for our own happiness?

Happiness is not a right. Even here in America we are supposed to believe that we have the right to pursue happiness. Nothing is promised about finding it.
So, if happiness isn’t a right, what is it? I would submit that it’s a responsibility. If you’re married, your wedding vows probably included something like, “ good times and in bad...forsaking all others...”  They probably did NOT include, “...for as long as s/he makes me happy...”

I’m not coldly saying that if you’re unhappy, suck it up. Rather, if you’re unhappy, your spouse is most likely not ecstatic either. Maybe instead of focusing on your own discontent, which will only worsen it, you should be more selfless and see what you can do to make your spouse happier - or at least let him or her know that s/he’s important to you. Redirecting your attention away from yourself makes you less self-absorbed and will, eventually, be reciprocated.

So, next time we feel unappreciated, rather then dwelling on it and getting resentful, maybe we should take a minute and examine the ways in which we are not meeting the needs of the one we claim to love above all others. Focus on them for a change and be thankful we are together.

Friday, April 5, 2013

On Marriage

There’s been a lot of talk recently about marriage - how it should be defined, and who should be allowed to marry. Religious people have stated that it’s a religious commitment between a man, a woman, and God and the state should not be allowed to redefine it. Others insist that if two people love each other, they should be allowed to marry and the religious people should mind their own business. 

Even though I’m a Christian, I tend toward the latter, and this is my attempt to explain why.

From what I’ve seen, the primary evidence in favor of marriage being a holy, God designed institution is Genesis 2:24, but I, personally, never took the same meaning from that verse that others did. For one thing, it clearly does not explicitly say that God created marriage. Any understanding to that effect is strictly implicit. 

Secondly, the language of verse 24 just doesn’t seem to flow naturally from the previous verses. It has a peculiar “added in” feeling to it. The text goes from verses 21 and 22, with God creating the woman and presenting her to the Adam, to verse 23, with Adam saying he’ll call her woman because she was taken out of man, to go suddenly to verse 24, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh. ”  Huh? Where did that come from? It just seems like a jump to me.

Add to that the fact that the word translated “wife” here is actually a word that basically means woman, or female person, and interestingly (at this point in Genesis) a mortal female person. “Cleave” means to abide, or live with, but has the connotation of (the woman) having been pursued and caught.

Another reason it doesn’t seem to logically follow (at least to me) is that why does it even suggest what happened to Adam as the reason for “...a man shall leave his father and his mother...”? Adam had neither a father (other than God) nor a mother. 

At this point, I’ll admit that all my dissension with the prevailing thought on this passage was challenged, for a while, by chapter 19 of Matthew where Jesus himself quotes this passage. After a while, I realized that Jesus quoted this for a very specific reason. He was responding to the Pharisees’ question about divorce - why did he (Jesus) teach against it when Moses allowed it. Jesus used a passage of scripture that they were very familiar with in order to make his point.

That sort of got me off the hook, but I admit that it’s not entirely satisfactory. However, I still cannot reconcile Genesis 2 with the assertion that God created marriage. God created one man and one woman. What would anyone reasonably expect to happen?

I struggled with this view (disagreeing with most other Christians) for a long time. Then, as I was researching my family history I found some solace.

My immigrant ancestors were Puritans of Massachusetts. Well, as I was researching them, I learned that the Puritan view of marriage was that it was an entirely civil affair, and not at all a religious one. I think it’s an understatement to say the Puritans were not known as a particularly secular crowd. Everything was known and experienced through the filter of their religion - and yet, THEY thought marriage was a civil thing.

As with all other things related to the Puritans, it wasn’t as simple as that. Like I said, everything in their lives was affected by their religious views, and this was no different. For example, they were not allowed to marry outside the church (but that had civil and cultural meaning {homogeneity} more than religious), and once married, they were not allowed to divorce (because they considered the family as the foundation of society). So it was a little complicated, but the marriage itself was civil in nature.

One more slightly tangential thought before I conclude. I often hear marriage referred to as a covenant. I’m not sure where this started, but if we accept that idea, it’s has some very intriguing implications. 

A covenant is, in essence, a promise or oath on steroids. Adam and Eve made no oath of marriage - they didn’t need to. Eve was formed from a part of Adam. They were literally one flesh. That’s not the case with us, which is why we need to take an oath (or make a covenant) of marriage. 

When we do take the oath of marriage, we usually say something to the effect of “forsaking all others”. In the case of Adam and Eve, there were no others. Unless you use the extreme argument that Adam could have refused Eve and lived alone (but maybe not - she was part of him), then you must conclude that Adam really had no choice. We do. And that’s where the covenant is supposed to come in. But all things being equal (and civil/secular), I see no reason that couples seen as unconventional can’t take a similar oath.  

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Panda Poop Produces Primo Paper

I just found out that panda poop is being recycled into paper. Apparently, being bamboo fed, their excrement is rich in fiber, which in turn produces good paper.

My first thought was: “Aren’t pandas an endangered species? How much poop can we be talking about that would make this necessary?”

 As it turns out, the Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding Base in Sichuan province, where the idea for this has been implemented, has forty pandas that produce two tons of waste per day. Two tons - per day! That’s a lot of doo-doo.

The processing of this natural resource involves a daylong process of cleaning the feces, boiling it in a soda solution, bleaching it with chlorine and drying it under the sun. They claim it is sanitary, but I still hope they don’t make rolling paper from it - or take out boxes.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Truth versus Fact

Most people seem to think that truth and fact are synonymous, or at least that you can’t have one without the other. Nothing could be further from the truth - and that’s a fact.

In an earlier post I suggested that nobody except God knows the entire truth. Any person seeking truth can only go by the information available to him. When different information is available to someone else, we make the mistake of thinking that truth is subjective. It’s not. Truth is truth, but knowledge is limited.

In addition to this, facts can be manipulated and presented in a way that points away from the truth without actually lying. Corporate statisticians, pollsters, and lawyers are all quite adept at this.

Conversely, allegories, parables, and even fairy tales can contain no actual fact, but lead the way to a deep truth. Aesop, the Grimms, and Jesus were good examples of this.
So don’t be fooled into thinking that facts always reveal the truth, or that a story contains no truth without facts.

“What is truth?”
~Pontius Pilate - John 18:38

My thanks to Professor Hannah B. Harvey of East Tennessee State University for the spark that inspired this post.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Second Amendment for Dummies

With all the hullabaloo lately about guns, and the Second Amendment being argued back and forth, I find myself wondering what part of “shall not be infringed” is so difficult to understand. With that in mind, I decided to break it down piece by piece so that we might, some day, all be on the same page.

Ignoring, for the moment, the whole argument about the grammatical usage of the word “shall” (about which even English professors can’t come to consensus), we are still left with the understanding that this right is not to be infringed.
Infringe means encroach or limit or undermine. This right is not to be limited in any way.

Who may not infringe upon this right? The Second Amendment does not say “Congress shall make no law...”, or in any way imply that the states have authority to make laws regarding gun ownership. It is quite clearly a blanket statement: “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. Period. By anyone.

It does say “a well regulated militia”, but that in no way authorizes the states to regulate gun ownership. It says as plain as day that it’s the militia that are to be regulated, not guns.

This right is extended to whom? The people. In every other instance of the word “people” being used (It’s also used in Amendments 1, 4, 9, and 10), it is fervently argued as meaning the people. Kind of quaint, I know. But still...

For the Second Amendment, however, some would inconsistently maintain that “people” actually means militia. In a way, they’re accidentally correct, being as the militia are the people. But they would have us believe that militia means army, or soldiers, or the police - despite the fact that elsewhere in the Bill of Rights it specifically mentions soldiers and land and sea forces, and goes on to distinguish them from the militia.

This right is constitutionally guaranteed for what purpose? The security of a free state. The alternative to a free state is a state where the people are subject to a tyrant. So, the writers wanted to be sure that “the people” had a means to defend themselves, their neighbors, and their state from tyranny. It has nothing to do with hunting or self-defense. 

This right includes which arms? Ah! Here the writers were very specific. It includes “arms”. All of them. We already know that the reason for the Second Amendment is to defend against a tyrant (who always has the military at his command). So, with what are we to be “allowed” to battle the military? A six shot revolver? That doesn’t seem very realistic. 

Friday, January 11, 2013

The American Christian's Challenge

As Christians in America, we have a unique challenge with regard to the command in Romans to “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.” We live in a culture where the people in political office were selected by us.

Until Saul, God’s people lived in a theocracy. Saul, David, and Solomon were human kings chosen by God. Since then God has stepped out of the direct choosing, apparently opting instead to turn all things to His good, regardless of how a given leader was put in place. 

Unless I’m mistaken, the only form(s) of human government mentioned at length in the Bible were monarchs (and perhaps judges and prophets, depending on how one defines government).

Despite the fact that, by the time of Jesus, democracy was well established in Greece, the Bible makes no mention of this as a form of government sanctioned by God.

In America, democracy takes the form of a democratic republic - representatives are chosen by the people to hold the various offices. This is true of legislators and of the president. So, the president is not the authority in the traditional sense. He is selected to represent the people by the people, themselves.

Add to this the fact that there are three branches of government, which are intended through checks and balances to be of equal power, then it can not be argued that the president is the leader or ruler.

As Lincoln pointed out, we are a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. It’s difficult to imagine a more stark contrast to a monarchy, where the royal “we” is frequently invoked and it’s understood that the king or queen IS the country - basically relegating the populace to vassals of the monarch (which is, in fact, the legal situation).

So, if we are (Note: not “if we have”; but “if we are”) a government of the people, by the people, and for the people . . . if the people who hold political office (as public servants, by the way) are there to represent the people . . . even assuming we all agree on what it means to be subject to the governing authorities . . . then the question becomes, “To whom do we owe this subjection?”