Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father

So there’s this movie critic whose blog I read on occasion. This guy is so tough, he rarely raves about movies. In fact the highest rating that I've seen in the 3 or 4 months I've been reading is an "A-".

Last week, he mentioned that "one of the best movies of the year" was scheduled to be on MSNBC. So I DVR'd it.

I watched “Dear Zachary” last night.

Wow. Just wow. Absolutely incredible. I’m still thinking about it.

So, in the interest of public service, I’m letting you know. If you get a chance go see this movie, watch it. It’s not out yet on DVD, but it’s supposed to be on Amazon in February. Watch your TV listings for it, it might come on again.

But whatever you do, do not read anything more about this other than this posting and the review below. (see below especially the parts I bolded).



Eric D. Snider’s Review of “Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father”

In November 2001, a man named Andrew Bagby died in Pennsylvania. His lifelong best friend, Kurt Kuenne, a filmmaker, set out to honor Andrew's memory by interviewing everyone who loved him and compiling it into a little movie. The result, "Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father," is one of the most heart-wrenching, emotionally exhausting films I've ever seen -- and not for the reasons you'd expect.

Andrew, who was 28 when he died, was apparently adored by all who knew him. He was easy-going, charming, self-effacing, and eminently good-hearted. He had just become a doctor and was doing his residency in the small community of Latrobe, Penn. Kuenne, demonstrating an admirable knack for film editing and compilation, rapidly shows us one testimonial after another from Andrew's friends, relatives, and co-workers. Before you know it, you're a little misty-eyed over the memory of a decent man who tried to make the world a better place. And you didn't even know the guy!

But in addition to being a memorial for a lost friend, "Dear Zachary" is also an account of Kuenne's own moviemaking process. It took months to travel the world and interview all these people, and during that time an extraordinary series of events took place that changed the whole project. Kuenne expertly weaves these facts with Andrew's life story, revealing crucial bits of information piece by piece.

What kind of events are we talking about? Well, for one thing, Andrew was murdered. We learn that right away. The killer was a mentally unstable ex-girlfriend, the sort of woman who is frequently the object of restraining orders. What's more (and hence the film's title), that ex-girlfriend was pregnant with Andrew's child when she killed him.

I'm not going to tell you anything else about the film's story, and you should avoid people who want to. See it unspoiled and let the full weight of it hit you in the gut like it did me. Rare is the film that can reduce a room full of movie critics into a sobbing mess, but this one does it.
In addition to being a tribute to Andrew, the film also becomes a true-crime documentary, following the mishandled case of Andrew's killer through one frustrating turn after another. Having fled to her native Canada, she is let out on bail pending extradition, even though she's been accused of first-degree murder. In the logic of the judge, she's not a danger to the general public because her alleged crime was specific -- in other words, she's already killed the one person she wanted to kill, so there's no need to fear her now.

But the movie is also a portrait of Andrew's parents, David and Kate, one of the most saintly, perfectly matched pairs you'll ever see. They move to Newfoundland to oversee the legal proceedings. They want the best life for their unborn grandchild, even if it means interacting with the child's mother, who killed their son. The trials and tribulations these two experience would break most people, yet they persist. As one friend of the family says, "I think God put some people down on Earth just to be examples for the rest of us."

Kuenne has no interest in making a fair, objective documentary of the murder case, nor in presenting an unbiased view of the Bagby family. Nor should he -- this started as a personal project, and it remains one even though it's now of interest to outsiders, too. His method of storytelling is clear and concise, and he's unafraid to use music and editing to maximize the story's emotional impact.

We cry at movies for a variety of reasons. We cry when they feature tragic events, or when they depict good people triumphing over adversity, or when they remind us of our own treasured friends and family. "Dear Zachary" hits all those buttons and more. It is almost indescribably painful, yet just as powerfully inspiring, a mix of good and evil and victories and setbacks that are sure to move even jaded viewers.
Grade: A

Not rated, probably R for a lot of harsh profanity, intense themes

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Fatty Melt

Ladies and gentlemen what you are looking at is called "the Fatty Melt", also called perfection. What is it, you ask? A hamburger with grilled cheese sandwiches as buns:

And this, is the bacon fatty melt, which improves upon perfection:

Finally this is the Double Bacon Fatty Melt:

My brain is trying to ignore the chest pains...

How to make these? Here and here.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Obama on Abortion

Huh, it seems that this is national abortion blog week.

From Jason Boyett's Blog,

Obama and Abortion

First, I'll apologize up front. I know not everyone wants to read about politics on this blog. You'd rather read funny stuff and gentle religious sarcasm and blatant self-promotion about my books and writing. I understand that, so this will probably be the last presidential-themed post I'll do up until the election. But I need to put this one out there so I ask that you indulge me, baby, one more time.

Very few people in Texas, where I live, plan to vote for Obama. At least, very few people I know. Most of my friends and family are pro-McCain and see support for Obama as downright unChristian (though they still love me and probably wouldn't ever say this to me outright). Because Obama is pro-choice, a vote for Obama is often equated with a vote for killing babies.

Just to ease my parents' minds, let me make it clear that I have no interest in killing babies. I'm pro-life, and I have credentials. Once, when I was 16 or 17, I participated in a March for Life, holding an "Abortion Is Murder" sign that someone handed to me on the way out the door. Of course, I'm not sure how effective a 100-person march against abortion is in a city that's overwhelmingly pro-life already, other than making the participants feel good about their activism, and especially good when a passing motorist flips them the bird, because: persecution! I've even done marketing work for the local crisis pregnancy center and donated money to their operating budget.

So I'm pro-life but I intend to vote for the pro-choice candidate. And I'll be honest: Obama is unapologetically pro-choice. This makes me a slobbering hypocrite (at least in this area...I'm a hypocrite in lots of other areas, too.) So how in the world do I justify this?

It's simple: I'm a pragmatist. Despite his claims to being pro-life, I don't believe voting for John McCain will do anything to end or even reduce abortion in the United States.

Point #1: We have had a pro-life president in the White House for 20 out of the last 28 years, since Reagan's election in 1980. Has this led to abortions being reduced? Yes, but barely. Has it led to Roe vs. Wade being overturned? No.

Point #2: What about Supreme Court justices? If the president has any sway on abortion, it's by picking pro-life judges to fill vacancies on the Supreme Court, right? Sure. Except in 1992, in Planned Parenthood v. Casey -- the first real opportunity to overturn the abortion law -- five Republican-appointed justices voted to uphold Roe v. Wade. And in this case, only two of these justices (Blackmun and Stevens) were supporters of Roe v. Wade when the case began. I doubt we will ever see this law overturned. But don't trust me on this. Trust Bush appointee and Chief Justice John Roberts, who said Roe v. Wade was the "settled law of the land," and vowed he would uphold it. (H/T: Bryan)

Point #3: But let's say it were overturned by the Supreme Court. Then what would happen? The abortion issue would be given back to the states. (This was how it worked before Roe vs. Wade.) Some states would maintain its legality. Some states would outlaw it. But if you wanted an abortion, you could still get one, simply by traveling to an abortion-friendly state. Would it reduce abortions? Probably not. It would just make the process of getting one -- at least in a pro-life state -- a little more challenging.

Conclusion: There is little chance of overturning the abortion law. That being the case, what can we then do to reduce the number of abortions? That's the question we need to be asking.

John McCain does not have a good answer to this question. His answer -- if he gives one -- always involves the repeal of Roe v. Wade, the argument about appointing Supreme Court justices, and various "abortion is evil" statements. Which are fine, but if you agree with points 1-3 above, those are useless answers. What we need are some ideas about how to reduce abortion. But the Republican party's only idea seems to be repealing Roe v. Wade. That's it. In fact, the Republican party's 2008 platform says very little about abortion other than opposing it and promoting "every effort" to "enable and empower [those considering abortion] to choose life." Fine. But how do you do this? What does this empowerment look like? Do issues like poverty and health care and family planning play any role in reducing abortions? Unfortunately, the platform doesn't give answers. Let's just demonize Roe v. Wade and that's enough. According to Catholic legal scholar Nicholas Cafardi, the RNC actually removed abortion-reducing language from their platform this year.

Removed. Abortion-reducing. Language.

Meanwhile, Barack Obama fought to add language to the 2008 Democratic platform after consulting with religious leaders and pro-life Democrats about the issue. The platform calls for reducing abortion by promoting abstinence, adoption, and personal responsibility. It also provides for reducing unintended pregnancies through family planning services, education, parenting skills training, and health care. These are the kinds of resources many pregnant women don't have when they find out they're pregnant, and which make them think abortion is the only option. Catholic and Protestant leaders called the addition of this plan to the platform a "historic and courageous step" for Democrats. To be fair, others have criticized it as adding a good thing to an evil position (I'd label it "lipstick on a pig" but that phrase has pretty much jumped the shark). Regardless, it is a hopeful plan and a big shift in the usually antagonistic relationship between Democrats and pro-lifers.

(Update: Pro-Life Democrats have proposed the 95-10 Plan, the goal of which is to reduce abortions by 95% within 10 years. I really like this plan, but it's unclear at this point whether or not Obama has come out in support of it.)

When it comes to reducing abortions, the Republican party talks about a pie-in-the-sky scenario -- repealing Roe v. Wade -- that still wouldn't have much effect on the issue. Barack Obama has a concrete, serious plan any pro-life voter can (and should) applaud.

Two final points and I'll step off my soapbox and put it away until the election's over so we can all be friends again.

#1: There is more to being pro-life than fighting against abortion. For me, the pro-life platform includes things like poverty, women's rights, global human rights, environmental stewardship, torture, war, and racism. I think Obama is a more compelling choice than McCain on all of those. All of them. How can I be pro-life if I vote for the lesser candidate in 7 out of 8 pro-life categories?

#2: When it comes to elections, I am not a single-issue voter. Some people are, and if that's how you choose to vote, that's fine. But if a member of my family is in a terrible accident and we're rushed to the hospital emergency room, and I have the option of choosing one out of two doctors to perform emergency surgery, I'm not going to choose based on which surgeon is pro-life. I'm going to pick the professional I believe will do the best job in healing my injured family member. I apply the same reasoning when I vote for president. Parts of this country are broken or are in the process of breaking (and I include abortion among the "broken" stuff). But I'm going to choose a candidate based not just on his beliefs about that one issue, but on how I believe he will respond to all the issues. Which candidate will be the best healer?

Obama's stance on abortion falls far short of the Christian ideal. In fact, I think it's on the wrong side of the Christian ideal. But there are lots of issues to consider in addition to the abortion one, and when it comes to healing the rest of the brokenness, he's the doctor I'd choose.

Owen likes the planet Mars. I like Obama. Both of us are standing firm.

We'll return to inanity tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The A-word and the current US Presidential campaign

Well, I'm shocked. James Dobson has publicly urged his listening audience to vote for McCain. I never saw this coming.

He specifically gives 4 reasons for this choice (which he insists is not an endorsement):

1. McCain & Obama's Saddleback forum comments about life
2. Pro life & general conservative positions of the republican party
3. Sen. McCain selected pro life/pro family VP Palin
4. Obama’s liberal views. His record is more liberal than any other senator.

Let's focus on #1. Some points to consider are below. But first, a disclaimer: I lean right of center, and am unashamedly pro-life. I also haven't decided who I should support. Abortion is one topic I have recently put a lot of thought on, much of which is below:

1. One of Dobson's reasons for voting for McCain is that he wants someone in the White house that will appoint conservative judges who will consider the "protection of life in the womb".

Is that right? Consider these statistics: (source)

What Supreme Court Justices did the pro-life folk put on the court? Seven of the nine Justices were appointed by Republicans. Does that startle anyone? Further, Justices appointed by Ronald Reagan (Sandra Day O'Connor and Anthony Kennedy) participated in voting down challenges to Roe v. Wade -- two such cases being Planned Parenthood vs. Casey and Webster vs. Reproductive Health Services.

George Herbert Walker Bush appointee David Souter also participated in defending Roe v. Wade in Planned Parenthood vs. Casey, writing that to overturn Roe would have been "a surrender to political pressure... So to overrule under fire in the absence of the most compelling reason to re-examine a watershed decision would subvert the Court's legitimacy beyond any serious question."

Secondly, from Dobson's himself: (source)

"I am deeply disappointed the Republican Party seems poised to select a nominee who did not support a Constitutional amendment to protect the institution of marriage, voted for embryonic stem-cell research to kill nascent human beings..."

So is it a slam dunk that McCain will appoint those judges that Dobson wants? Not really. Even if it is, I think it may be more likely that if McCain were president, he'd get gunshy about the approval process and appoint a moderate.

2. If one says he/she is pro-life, does that only apply to the womb? What about prevention of unwanted pregnancies? Christians are good at crisis pregancy centers, where they counsel pregnant women not to get abortions. But what about career advice/Job training to help moms take care of their families? Child care to help moms provide for their families? What about parental training? We Christians are so preoccupied with keeping babies alive, we forget about keeping them alive.

3. How have pro-life republicans rewarded Christians' support? Not much. Why will it change with McCain? If abortion is one of the most important reasons for going with McCain, will he deliver?

4. Is Obama really that bad in his support of late term abortion? We know he is pro-choice, but what about the horrific late-term and live birth situations? See below for excerpts from his interview with Cameron Strang, publisher of Relevant Magazine:

Strang: Based on emails we received, another issue of deep importance to our readers is a candidate’s stance on abortion. We largely know your platform, but there seems to be some real confusion about your position on third-trimester and partial-birth abortions. Can you clarify your stance for us?

Obama: I absolutely can, so please don’t believe the emails. I have repeatedly said that I think it’s entirely appropriate for states to restrict or even prohibit late-term abortions as long as there is a strict, well-defined exception for the health of the mother. Now, I don’t think that “mental distress” qualifies as the health of the mother. I think it has to be a serious physical issue that arises in pregnancy, where there are real, significant problems to the mother carrying that child to term. Otherwise, as long as there is such a medical exception in place, I think we can prohibit late-term abortions.

The other email rumor that’s been floating around is that somehow I’m unwilling to see doctors offer life-saving care to children who were born as a result of an induced abortion. That’s just false. There was a bill that came up in Illinois that was called the “Born Alive” bill that purported to require life-saving treatment to such infants. And I did vote against that bill. The reason was that there was already a law in place in Illinois that said that you always have to supply life-saving treatment to any infant under any circumstances, and this bill actually was designed to overturn Roe v. Wade, so I didn’t think it was going to pass constitutional muster.

Ever since that time, emails have been sent out suggesting that, somehow, I would be in favor of letting an infant die in a hospital because of this particular vote. That’s not a fair characterization, and that’s not an honest characterization. It defies common sense to think that a hospital wouldn't provide life-saving treatment to an infant that was alive and had a chance of survival.

Strang: You’ve said you’re personally against abortion and would like to see a reduction in the number of abortions under your administration. So, as president, how would do you propose accomplishing that?

Obama: I think we know that abortions rise when unwanted pregnancies rise. So, if we are continuing what has been a promising trend in the reduction of teen pregnancies, through education and abstinence education giving good information to teenagers. That is important—emphasizing the sacredness of sexual behavior to our children. I think that’s something that we can encourage. I think encouraging adoptions in a significant way. I think the proper role of government. So there are ways that we can make a difference, and those are going to be things I focus on when I am president

The conclusion: Abortion is always wrong. But should abortion be a litmus test in selecting our leaders? No. Should it be a consideration? Sure. But why is it the only issue that many Christians consider?

Saturday, September 20, 2008

99 Balloons

Wow. The faith of these parents is truly inspiring.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Is there a "Christian" way to vote?

I've wondered about this for a while now and have a lot of questions with no clear answers.

Most American Christians are right of center because of the myopic (in my view) focus on two hot-button morality issues (abortion and homosexuality). But how should a Christian respond:

*to war? Is the Iraq war just? Is the war in Afghanistan just? Is war ever "just"? What should a Christian's response to war be? Is pacifism Biblically supported?

*to economic hardships? We all know it's a believer's job to help the poor and downtrodden; the widows and orphans. Do we? If we do, how often is it only a gift of our money but not our time and effort.

How should this translate in a political context? Should the government also assist in the care of its society? If it should, to what extent should the government help? how big should the "social safety net" be? On the other hand, if we do think government should have a social agenda, does this (subconsciously or otherwise) cause us to abandon our own personal responsibility because we (subconsciously or otherwise) think that the government is "taking care of it"?

*to wealth? What should our response be to wealth? We see the mantra "the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer". Part of one party's answer is to eliminate tax cuts to the rich. The other party believes in "trickle down economics". Is there an aspect of class envy here? Or is an injustice? If so, how should it be corrected?

*to abortion? OK, fine, it's wrong. But is an outright ban the answer? It may very well be; but even if it is, is it worth the time and effort we Christians have historically put into this issue? If that time was spent spreading the gospel, or caring for the poor and downtrodden, wouldn't the Kingdom of God be furthered more?
Also, we Christians are good about crisis pregnancies, but what about help for new mothers?

Politically, why do we give so much attention to the pro-life/pro-choice views of our leaders? Why has it become a litmus test for Christians? Other than Bush's partial birth initiative, has there been any action other than simple lip-service by a pro-life politician? We hear so often that we need to get a conservative leader in the white house because of upcoming vacancies in the supreme court. When push comes to shove, will Roe v. Wade ever be overturned?

*to homosexuality? Does it really matter that homosexuals are getting married? Most Christians can agree that homosexuality is anti-Biblical, however, I have not heard one cogent non-theological argument against gay marriage. Doesn't there need to be an argument that will appeal to non-Christians also? Do non-Christians care that the Bible says homosexuality is wrong? Should they? Do we need a broader political reason? If not, why?

Again, I have some opinions on these issues (some of which may have leaked out because of my writing). But I honestly do have questions on these. Questions, that I don't think have a clear answer; and answers that cannot be answered by one political party or another.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Article: Ten Commandments of Talking (or blogging) Politics

Posted for your enjoyment this election season. And just in case I have any Canadian readers, you can modify this for yourself as needed. ( Although we all know that the NDP is of the devil. (-: )


Ten Commandments of Talking (or blogging) Politics

It’s that time. Now that both parties have had their convention, things could get heated. Here’s a reminder to folks to behave appropriately. In fact, let’s hold each other accountable in this network to a higher level of discourse for the next few months with these Ten Commandments of Talking (or blogging) Politics.

1. Do not worship political theories or parties. (You shall have no other gods before me.)
Do not worship ideas or theories instead of God. Not your stance on global warming or Capitalism or deregulation or education or abortion or gay marriage or health care or international trade or war. Do not put your hopes in a political stance or party line or economic theory. Those things are important, but they should not distract us from our unity in Christ Jesus.

2. Do not worship political figures or images. (You shall not make for yourself an idol.)
Obama is not the savior. Neither is McCain. Neither is the Republican Party or the Democratic Party. Do not bow to Elephants or Donkeys. Good leadership is important. Political pep rallys and mascots are fun, but they should not distract us from our unity in Christ Jesus.

3. God is not divinely endorsing your political opinion. (You shall not make wrongful use of the name of your God.)
This is slippery. But it is important. We can’t answer the question Who Would Jesus Vote For? except in the privacy of our own hearts. I’m serious. This doesn’t mean Christians can’t express political opinions if they are so inclined. But it does mean we must humbly represent our opinions as our own personal opinions, not God’s opinion. Neither party is God’s party. And in a sense, both candidates already belong to God because they both acknowledge him publicly. (And of course, we don’t judge hearts.)

4. Do not use God to prop up your politics. (Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.)
OK, people. Both sides fail at this too. Corporate worship is not the place for political messages. Period. This is a fine line to walk. It doesn’t mean politics can’t come to church at all. Rick Warren did a fair job at Saddleback recently. But it wasn’t under the guise of worship. In your blogs, do not use the Word of God to prop up your political hopes. Don’t.

5. Honor your father and mother. (Honor your father and mother.)
Election season is probably not the time to try to convert your parents to your political viewpoint. Here’s my suggestion. If they start ranting and raving against your candidate, respect them by keeping your mouth shut. Don’t take the bait. And certainly don’t bait your parents! This doesn’t mean all political discourse is off limits—but remember that elections aren’t sporting events. Do not let abstractions become a wedge between you and your family. It’s not worth it.

6. Don’t be cruel. (You shall not murder.)
Elvis may have said it best, but Jesus had some good words on this too. He said, “Anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment… anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” (Matt 5:21-22). If another blogger slanders you, talk to him or her privately first (Matt 18:15-16). Don’t air ugly conversations in your comment sections. Don’t attack people or ideas in public posts. This doesn’t mean you have to be silent. Respond to comments with an email. Engage them as Jesus says. And remember that it isn’t a sin for two Christians to disagree about politics.

7. Be pure. (You shall not commit adultery.)
I’m not sure how this applies to politics except as a reminder that we need to be examples of purity. Before you post a comment for or against someone, ask yourself if you are going to sully yourself or discredit yourself as a Christian. And don’t forget the comparison between idolatry and adultery. Don’t get so excited about politics that every conversation and post and comment reveals which side you are “in bed with.”

8. Be honest. (You shall not steal.)
Be honest when you vote. Stolen elections won’t help anyone. For some people, this may be a call to volunteer to work the polls on Election Day! A friend of mine volunteers for every election. Of course, every state is different, but she recommends contacting your local democratic or republican headquarters. Tell the party chairman for your party that you want to volunteer on Election Day. (You will need to be trained before you can work the polls.) The phone book should list contact information for both parties under “Associations” or “Political Organizations.”

9. Defend the truth and the facts. (You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.)
And who is your neighbor? Barack Obama. John McCain. Joe Biden. Sarah Palin. But also the Democrat next door and the Republican across the street. Here’s my practical suggestion. Refrain from sending asinine email forwards. But let’s take it one step further. If you receive a slanderous email, check the Snopes page on McCain or the Snopes page on Obama. Then send a kind response to the person who forwarded the email (NOT the whole list) explaining the error as gently as possible.

[edit: See also Snopes page on Sarah Palin]

10. Be prepared to accept the results. (You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife.)
In November one party will win control of the executive branch. The other will lose. When the time comes, do not covet your neighbor’s political victory if your side loses. If your side wins, do not gloat.

With God’s grace, we can all get along for the next few months regardless of who we will support at the polls on November 4, 2008.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Article: Why Do Evangelicals Embrace the Republican Party's Demonization of Others?

Background: Jon Trott is an infrequent blogger and the former editor of Cornerstone Magazine, which was the best Christian cultural magazine in modern memory. Relevant Magazine aspires to be what Cornerstone was. Cornerstone, you may recall, was the outlet that exposed Mike Warnke as a tragic deception.

I always enjoyed Jon's writing; not always agreeing with it 100%. But as it should, it forces one to think, and to examine views and viewpoints in a different light. I reproduce this for you here for your reading pleasure. No explicit or implicit endorsement is intended. I hope it causes you to think as it has me.


Just Wondering: Why Do Evangelicals Embrace the Republican Party's Demonization of Others?

My life, unremarkable as it is, has since 1973 been dedicated to trying to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. I believe the gospels are historically accurate as well as revelatory gifts from God. I'm an old-school Jesus Freak -- even live in a "commune" started by Jesus People and called Jesus People USA. We're in many ways vanilla-flavored Evangelical Christians -- looking to the Old and New Testament Scriptures as our primary guide in all matters of faith and practice. (In 1989, we joined an egalitarian, woman-positive denomination, the Evangelical Covenant Church.) We also share the American experience and many American distinctives culturally, and realize how intertwined (for good and for evil) America's history and Evangelical history have become.

I have a novel idea for Evangelicals. Let's look at evil as conceptualized by the Republicans of 2000-2008. Evil is postulated as a "them" problem. Remember George W. Bush's comment that we were going to eradicate Evil in the world? This view puts evil out there, as a "them" problem. But biblically speaking Evil is an "us" problem. WE -- individually and corporately in our various communities of faith, social networking, and national identity -- are the place where Evil exists. Further, more often than not, Scripture specifically speaks to "us" and "I" rather than "them" and "he" or "she." The Bible is a relentlessly personal book addressed to us / me.

Here' s another novel idea, building on the above. Let's look at history as evidence. That is, history will reveal to us our own complicity in the Evil of our world. Consider, for instance, racism. Evangelicals show a remarkable and commendable eagerness to dismantle any remnants of racism. Yet, I gently suggest we often do so while far under-estimating the breadth and depth of racism's legacy in these United States. I am old enough to have personally watched a bigot dancing -- literally -- on his lawn, celebrating one warm April morning the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. "They shot him -- they shot that commie nigger Martin Luther King!"

And who created the historic context and social rationalization for slavery in the United States? Christians. No, there's no dodging it. Just as South Africa built a sophisticated God-frame around apartheid, their torturous system of color and class, America did so. And Christians rationalized with proof-texted Scripture (as they do now in regards to oppressing women in churches and in marriage). Christians bought slaves, whipped slaves, destroyed black families by selling parents from children and wives/husbands away from one another. Christians raped slaves, using the Old Testament stories in an a-historical manner to justify these "relationships." Our Constitution, for a convoluted set of reasons, defines a black slave as "three-fifths of a person." The largest Evangelical denomination of today, the Southern Baptists, came into existence as the result of a church split with northern Baptists over slavery.

Regarding history and Evil, human beings have a funny way of not seeing its most obvious lessons. For instance, as another Christian leftie co-worked said to me recently, "When we look at Nazis as inhuman monsters instead of human beings inspired by their own sense of right, we are on the verge of becoming Nazis." That is, he continued to explain, when we recognize Evil in others yet fail to understand the commonality of that Evil with all humans throughout history, we risk endlessly repeating history in a demonically naive manner. We "other" the other. This is true of all of us, this writer included. As much as I loathe George W. Bush's thinking, policies, and acts as President, believing he's the worst President this nation has ever suffered, I suspect he's quite a nice guy in person. That is, a lot like me.

That raises the possibility that I could, given the amount of power a President has, create and activate deeds of Evil as a Christian every bit as horrendous as those he's committed in Iraq. And maybe worse... who knows? Fortunately for all of us, I'll never hold such power.

But in light of the above, there's yet another issue we as Evangelicals have to confront. That issue is nationalism. The previously spoken, more often now unspoken, assumption regarding America is that it is God's chosen nation. There is no biblical basis for that idea. Only Israel -- not modern-day, but Old Testament Israel -- is called by Scripture "God's people." And, as any Jewish scholar will tell you, it appears that being God's people usually involves a lot of pain.

We Evangelicals assume a lot of things about our centrality in God's plan, our expectation of material blessings, our belief that militarism is not only a necessity but a positive good. And much more. But beneath all of that runs a river of arrogant pride. We often fall into the root error of believing in our own goodness, our "deserving" blessings both material and relational.

And here is where history and the present collide. The Republicans sell us two things successfully. Fear and Anger. What are we to be fearful of? The Evil in the Other, that evil that our President promised us we would defeat and destroy. What are we to be angry with? The resistance of the Other to our goodness and rightness.

Jesus was murdered by people who thought that way.

People like us.

And Jesus continues to be murdered. "As you have done to the least of one of these, you have done it to me." Those Iraqi mothers and children and fathers and sons who died via American bombs, missiles, and bullets died at the hands of America. And America is us.

Yes, I believe the gospels to be about Jesus in history and (as Kierkegaard warns) even more about the contemporaneity of Christ. Jesus is here now, calling us now, consistently reminding us of our absolute need of Him. He is Love, and His Way does not include pride but rather the crucifixion of pride. We are not a Christian nation and should not expect to be a Christian nation. We as Americans are a nation of individuals and groups of people with thousands of differing beliefs. As Christians we are citizens not primarily of this world but of a coming kingdom.

That kingdom is to be rooted in Jesus' command: "Love one another." This idea is not historical -- that is, it rarely appears as an actuality in history. It is a dark thought with which I end this rambling. But I think that true love can only be actualized by people who see their own Evil, and capacity for Evil, most or all of the time. This is not the way Republicans think these days. Evil is Other, Good is Us.

Fear sells in this setting because we are truly afraid, we have not yet laid our lives down in surrender to Christ the way we think we have. Anger excuses our fear, legitimates it. Anger is the illusion of being righteous, the emotional ace that overrides the suffering heart. To love is to suffer.

History's lesson is that especially in recent years since 9/11, the Republicans have taken this fear/anger paradigm to incredible lengths. Democrats in the past have done the same thing. But Democrats have not tried to sell Evangelicals a bastardized version of the Bible. Obama is a committed, regenerate Christian, yet more importantly than that his attempts to integrate faith and politics are impressive in their cautious humility.

I, as one Evangelical, cannot agree to uphold the Republican Party. The crimes of Iraq -- one million more times worthy of impeachment than a former president having his penis sucked by an intern and lying about it -- will never be punished on this earth. But I am damned if I will support a party, or a candidate, who uses the same language, the same cynical reliance upon god-fearing people, to garner power. Damned because how can I love my neighbor while caving in to the Christless hate and arrogance such language and actions reflect? For the past two elections, we Evangelicals have helped elect an administration rooted in the godless, ultra-elitist ideas of Leo Strauss.

Will we do it again? Will we?

History says we will. The gospels say history is important, but the present potentially even more so.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Great Metaphor

Another slice. If you don't already subscribe to these, I'm telling you, do so immediately.

The Great Metaphor
from A Slice of Infinity
by Jill Carattini

The places in Scripture that most often slow my mind to a reflective halt are usually intensely visual. The ancient cry of Isaiah 64:1, “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down,” is one such image that has long been for me like a museum filled with the most hopeful, most disturbing, and most inviting art. Fitting with Isaiah’s vision for a world that revolves around the throne and the kingship of God at the center, his cry was a fervent prayer for the severe presence of a God he knew could come nearer.

Like the God for which he longed, the prophet’s words are intense, stirring, and intentional. Isaiah’s use of words--indeed, the genre of prophetic literature as a whole--cries out with poetic vision. As Abraham Heschel comments, “Prophecy is the product of a poetic imagination. Prophecy is poetry, and in poetry everything is possible, e.g. for the trees to celebrate a birthday and for God to speak to man.”(1) And that is to say, God gives us something of his own character in the prophet’s powerful interplay of word, metaphor, and image. As messenger, the prophet yields the words of God, and the poetic nature of prophetic speech reveals a God who speaks in couplets, a God who uses simile and metaphor, rhythm and sound, alliteration, repetition, and rhetorical questions. Any reading of prophetic speech requires that one engage these poetic structures. A quick scan of Isaiah 64:1 reveals a depth of interacting words and key patterns, and a metaphor that moves us like the mountains Isaiah describes:

If only you would cleave the heavens!
(If only) you would come down,
From facing you, mountains would quake!

These few stanzas make use of repeated words and paired images to convey an intensity about human longing for the transcendence of God. The cry is not merely for God’s presence, but a presence that will tear open the heavens and cause mountains--even Mount Zion and the children of God--to tremble. Set in the opening line, the Hebrew word qarata is as illustrative in tone as it is meaning. The guttural sound and sharp stop in its pronunciation contribute to the severity of the word itself, which means to tear, to rend, to sever, or split an object into two or more parts. “Oh that you would rend the heavens...” “If only you would cleave the heavens and come down...”

Significantly, this Hebrew word is most often found in the Old Testament referring to the rending of garments out of grief or desperation. Ezra describes falling in prayer “with my garments and my mantle torn, and on my knees, I spread out my hands to the Lord my God” (Ezra 9:5). The same word is used of David after hearing that Absalom had killed all of his sons: “The king rose, tore his garments, and lay on the ground; and all his servants who were standing by tore their garments also” (2 Samuel 13:31). The images of grief and torn garments would likely have come to the minds of those who first heard the cry of Isaiah to God: If only you would tear the heavens in two and see what is happening in your holy cities… If only you would sever this distance that sits between us like a heavy garment…

But this act of rending is also used in the Old Testament figuratively, usually in terms of removing someone from power or formally tearing away their authority, as when Samuel told Saul that the kingdom had been rendered from him and given to his neighbors (See 1 Samuel 15:28). Yet here in the context of Isaiah’s prayer, the word seems to take on both figurative and literal qualities. Oh that you would rend the heavens like a garment and come down here, tear away our perception of authority and show us your own! The cry is clearly making use of metaphor and yet it is a desperate plea for God’s presence in power, tangibly and substantially--“so that the nations might tremble at your presence!” (Isaiah 64:2b).

Even so, whether uttered metaphorically or literally, the cry for God to tear open the heavens and come down is a cry no mind conceived, nor ear perceived how thoroughly God would answer. For those who read this passage in light of Christ, fully taking in its poignant image the heavens tearing like a garment, the tearing of the temple curtain comes unavoidably to mind. “Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. And at that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split” (Matthew 27:50-51). The incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ was God’s radical answer to an ancient longing. The Word himself is God’s response to the great metaphor of a God who rends the heavens like a garment, a God who is so present that He comes down, causing the earth to quake at his own face.

Jill Carattini is senior associate writer at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

(1) Abraham Heschel, The Prophets (New York: Harper, 2001), 469.

As Is

I'm getting caught up on 2 weeks of Slice of Infinity. So faithful reader, you may see more posts today.

"As Is"
A Slice of Infinity
by Jill Carattini
In my mother's antique shop were a variety of treasures for a curious child. My personal favorite was the Victrola that sat stately in the corner, a large internal phonograph that begged to be heard. The sounds it made were bold and cavernous, like an opera in a wooden box. This one was an early model, I heard adults say, and it was in great condition. So it seemed peculiar to me that our frequent requests to put it into action were, from time to time, resisted. To me it was a perfect treasure, a magnificent and flawless toy. To the owner of the store, it was a treasure that was capable of breaking before it sold. "As is" was not a phrase she wanted to add to the price tag.

A label that was seen occasionally within the shop, "as is" conveyed an item with damage or brokenness of some sort. "As is" marked the clock that had stopped ticking, or the rocking horse that had a crack in one of its legs. Because I knew my mother as one who could fix almost anything, the label also conveyed to me a certain sense of defeat. Whatever the item, it was a lost cause--a treasure bearing some distinguishable, irreparable flaw.

I suspect from time to time many of us feel something like the object marked "as is" or the treasure with only a matter of time before something goes awry. With a sense of defeat, we view our lives through the lens of what is broken or has been broken, what is irreparable or what might break. Looking ahead, we see the baggage behind us, which seems to declare emphatically our status "as is."

Yet writing centuries before our own, King David wrote of God:

You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart,
O God, you will not despise (Psalm 51:16-17).


Such words run counter to cultures anywhere and everywhere. Brokenness is usually not something we are comfortable admitting, let alone presenting it as something that is pleasing to anyone. Whether in ourselves or in others, we are at times almost averse to fragility. Even as Christians who hold knowingly to the cruciform image of Christ, we seem distinctly uncomfortable with broken and grieving people, defeated and weakened lives. Yet it is by the Cross we live. "Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows... But he was pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities" (Isaiah 53:4-5). Isn't it strange that we who are saved by one who was broken should struggle in the presence of brokenness at all?

Like the psalmist, the apostle points to the great potential within fragility. "But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body (2 Corinthians 4:7-10).

Whether we come to God shattered by our own sin, like David, or broken from living in an imperfect world, we are never so near Him as when we come with nothing in our hands to offer. God's desire is that we would come as we are--weary or heavy laden, defeated or broken by life. Before the Cross, there is no lost cause or irreparable flaw. For in life, as in an antique shop, there would be no recognition of brokenness if there were not such a thing as wholeness.

Jill Carattini is senior associate writer at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Relevant TV is back!!

Relevant Magazine used to have this online music video channel with a fantastic selection of music transcending all genres. For some reason, they took it down; but now I am very happy to proclaim that it is back! www.relevant.tv Enjoy.

Incidentally, I suspect it's a video channel because there's no rule (as far as I know) forcing online video players to pay royalties, as there is for online radio. That rule is killing my other favorite source of music online Pandora.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Diverse Mallus

In this edition of Diverse Mallus, may I present Giju John, a electric engineer by night, and a world class Hindi Salsa performer by day. Or is it the other way around?

From Sepia Mutiny

Fascinated by the salsa dancers at night clubs in downtown San Jose, he started taking classes several nights a week. He was so good that his instructors, members of SalsaMania, a Bay Area dance group, invited him to join their professional team and compete in the US, Europe, and Mexico. This was back in 2001.

Today, John has a successful solo Hindi/salsa career. By way of the San Jose Mercury News:
John loved making microchips tick, but he loved his dancing, too. He remembered the Indian dance steps he learned as a boy. He noodled around, adding them to salsa steps and coming up with his own Hindi/salsa genre. He’s left Salsamania for a solo career. Yes, a Hindi/salsa solo career. Why not? John was in Silicon Valley - a place with a prominent Latino population and tens of thousands of Indians and Indo-Americans. He produced a CD, “Rang Rangeeli Yeh Duniya,” … It is a CD of Hindi language songs set to the pulse of salsa, cha-cha and rap. He shot a music video. He launched a start-up, Beyond Dreamz, to produce his music. And he continued to focus on the reliability of the next generation of Intel chips.

In February, John spent five weeks traveling through India offering Hindi/salsa dance workshops and promoting the genre and himself. But he didn’t take vacation.

“During the day I’d go around and do my salsa workshops,” he says, “at night I’d log onto my network.” He says his bosses are very understanding.

Man, I'm boring.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Muppets are back!

Courtesy the wife of a highschool friend:









And we can't forget the critics.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Disturb us...

A poem attributed to Sir Francis Drake, the British naval commander. I want to be able to pray this 100% honestly from my heart. Right now, I cannot.

Disturb us, Lord, when we are too well pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we dreamed too little,
Because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when
With the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wilder seas
Where storm will show Your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.

We ask You to push back
The horizons of our hopes;
And to push us in the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love.
This we ask in the name of our Captain, who is Jesus Christ.

Amen

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Prodigal Son

The Bible study group that my wife and I are with studied Grace tonight, using the parable of the prodigal son.

Reminded me of these two songs:

1. Keith Green -- The prodigal Son suite. I loved this song! In fact, I think I'll devote a whole post to the music of Keith Green. Anyway, whoever made this movie did a very good job, editting is done very well. However, I wish they didn't cut teh song off 2 minutes early...whatever...it's the best I'm gonna get, since I just spent the last couple hours looking for this song on the intertubes. I'll have to rip my cd to get the whole thing. But here it is. enjoy:



2. When God Ran originally by Benny Hester. Here is Shaded Red's version of the song, which I like better:

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Dark Knight & Movie Scores

For those of you (my usual readership of 1 has skyrocketed to 2 now that I have cross posted these to facebook, so I can now refer to "you" in the plural!) who have been living under a rock for the past few months, the 2nd installment of Christopher Nolan's interpretation of Batman hits the screens tomorrow. I have my IMAX tickets in hand, and will be there on Friday to see the movie. Unfortunately I rarely get to the cinema anymore, probably more a function of my sheer laziness than the quality (or lack thereof) of hollywood media.

Anyway the buzz regarding this movie is sky high, and my expectations are nothing short of "best movie of the summer". What's even better is that the movie score for this movie is supposed to be incredible.

Backing up a minute, let me explain that I love movie scores. I should probably devote another post to this, but in short, here are my top 5:

1. The Mission (Ennio Morricone)
2. Last of the Mohicans (Trevor Jones & Randy Edelman)
3. Braveheart (James Horner)
4. Transformers (Steve Jablonsky)
5. Truman Show (Philip Glass)
Honorable mentions: Glory (Horner), 1492 (Vangelis), Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (??), Dragon--The Bruce Lee Story (??)...and the list goes on.

Even though my top few don't include Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard, they are two of the best in the business. Zimmer's includes such masterpieces as Gladiator and Pirates of the Carribbean, while Howard is famous for all of Shyamalan's movie scores. Other than John Williams (Star Wars, Jaws, etc), these two are the big boys in the movie score industry.

Apparently they collaborated for Batman Begins, but me being the retard I am, didn't know. So I now have to go check out two new scores.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Where on earth is Matt

By now, I'm sure everyone and their dog has seen this guy and his videos. He's been around for a while now, and I've seen him a lot in the last few years. He's apparently just released a whole slew of new videos of his travels (aside: how great would it be to finance your world travels by dancing a little jig every where you go?).

The reason I'm posting this one is that the music on this one is fantastic. Sepia Mutiny tells me that it's sung in Bengali, and is an Indian poem. The singer is a high school senior from Minneapolis, who has been catapulted to fame because of this. It's the #6 downloaded song on Amazon, surpassing other very notable songs.

Enjoy.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Mark Heard

Got to talking to someone today about Mark Heard today. Thought I'd devote a post to Mark Heard's poetry and music.

Mark Heard passed away too early in 1992, in his early 40s. Already at that point, he had released a ton of music. The thing about his poetry, though, was that even though it was released to the Christian market, it wasn't explicitly christian (small "c"). The lyrics aren't rah-rah cheerleading like carman, but far more thought provoking. The music is surprisingly good for a thoughtful poet (unlike Bruce Cockburn, whose poetry is fantastic, but music spotty at best, or maybe it's his voice?)

Anyway, here's one song, Lonely Moon, which was covered by Kevin Max for the Strong Hand of Love Tribute. This isn't the Kevin Max version, but the original, by Mark Heard:



Lonely Moon

Was a child and a newcomer to the ways of the world
Eyes ablaze with the light of high noon
Just to love and to be loved was all he wanted
By the light of the lonely moon

They taught him to capture and tame wild pathos
Sold him distractions and made every day seem the same
Caught the Holy Ghost lurking in his cellar and threw Him out
Leaving just a lonely name

Soon they took everything that he lived for
So he asked them to please take his life too
They denied him existence but they let him live
In a lonely room

He would suckle at the bosom of Mother Earth
But his experience poisons that thought
He falls prey somehow
To the silence of the deep-space dark
Of this lonely blue rock

Now his path is lit only by the light of falling stars
The embers fall to scorch and cut his face
He wants to believe in his unbelief
In a lonely place

But they buried his conscience
Near to the grave of God
Sealed his soul up in a tomb of tears
And they scattered his ashes East of Eden someplace
On a lonely breeze

Was a child and a newcomer to the ways of the world
Eyes ablaze with the light of high noon
Just to love and to be loved was all he needed
By the light of the lonely moon
By the light of the lonely moon

Written by Mark Heard © 1991 Ideola Music/ASCAP

Retarded news items of the day

Item #1

Man sues Tenn. church over spiritual fall

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A man says he was so consumed by the spirit of God that he fell and hit his head while worshipping.

Now he wants Lakewind Church to pay $2.5 million for medical bills, lost income, and pain and suffering.

Matt Lincoln says he is suing after the church's insurance company denied his claim for medical bills.

The 57-year-old has had two surgeries since the June 2007 injury but still feels pain in his back and legs.

He says he was asking God to have "a real experience" while praying.

Lincoln says he has fallen from the force of the spirit before but has always been caught by someone.

Lawyers for the church say other congregants saw him on the floor laughing after his fall. They say he failed to look out for his own safety.


Item #2

'Men At Work' signs to disappear in Atlanta
Decision follows complaints by magazine editor
By ERIC STIRGUS
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 07/09/08

In the battle of the sexes, women's magazine editor Cynthia Good said this was a skirmish she had to fight.

Across Atlanta they stood, orange signs with black letters that read "Men At Work" or "Men Working Ahead."

Sometimes, the signs stood next to women working alongside the men.

Good demanded Atlanta officials remove the signs and last week, Atlanta Public Works Commissioner Joe Basista agreed.

Score one for gender equality, Good said Wednesday.

"They get it," Good said about the city in a telephone interview.

Public Works officials are replacing 50 "Men Working" with signs that say "Workers Ahead." It will cost $22 to cover over some of the old signs and $144 to buy new signs, said Public Works spokeswoman Valerie Bell-Smith said.

Good, founding editor of Atlanta-based PINK Magazine, a publication that focuses on professional women, said she's not stopping with Atlanta.

"We're calling on the rest of the nation to follow suit and make a statement that we will not accept these subtle forms of discrimination," said Good, 48.

Good pressed the issue after Atlanta police came to her office last month on a complaint that she spray painted "wo" onto a "Men At Work" sign.

Did she do it? Good replied by complaining about the signs.

Good fired off letters complaining about the signs to Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin and Gov. Sonny Perdue.

State transportation officials said they will ask contractors to remove signs specifying just men are working at a construction site.

Atlanta union leader Gina Pagnotta said some women employees of Atlanta Public Works complained about these signs years ago.

"It is a little bit bias to say 'Men Working,' " said Pagnotta, president of the Professional Association of City Employees. "Women are working, too."

Item #3

Dallas County officials spar over 'black hole' comment

A special meeting about Dallas County traffic tickets turned tense and bizarre this afternoon.

County commissioners were discussing problems with the central collections office that is used to process traffic ticket payments and handle other paperwork normally done by the JP Courts.

Commissioner Kenneth Mayfield, who is white, said it seemed that central collections "has become a black hole" because paperwork reportedly has become lost in the office.

Commissioner John Wiley Price, who is black, interrupted him with a loud "Excuse me!" He then corrected his colleague, saying the office has become a "white hole."

That prompted Judge Thomas Jones, who is black, to demand an apology from Mayfield for his racially insensitive analogy.

Mayfield shot back that it was a figure of speech and a science term. A black hole, according to Webster's, is perhaps "the invisible remains of a collapsed star, with an intense gravitational field from which neither light nor matter can escape."

Other county officials quickly interceded to break it up and get the meeting back on track. TV news cameras were rolling, after all.

Right Wing, Wrong Bird

An excerpt from a book by Joel Hunter. Very long article. If you want, just scroll down to see what I've highlighted. Don't ever say that I don't help you out (my one reader!). Original links here and here. By the way, I'm not posting out of agreement, but to provoke thought and discussion. I've highlighted what I thought was particularly interesting.

I have wondered if being a Christian in politics and being Christ-like in politics is the same. I think not. Christian is the name of a representative group. We are a group with vested interests in the world, interests that make it difficult for us to be objective. Christ was interested in the world—not the same as having interests that need to be protected in the world. Christ could look at the world and be interested primarily in the spiritual welfare of all individuals. Christians look at the world and see “us” and “them.”

There are probably many Christian approaches to politics. From the political involvement of most Christians, I would assume that their strategy is identical to non-Christian groups. We Christians tend to focus on an issue or candidate, evaluate that person with our value system, accumulate a power base in reaction, and do what we can for or against. That is how politics works, and that seems to be how Christian politics works. Perhaps there is a difference afterward in the way the country runs; perhaps not. But is there a difference afterward in the way people view Christ? Perhaps Christians gain more respect and power after a political battle; perhaps not. But is their reflection of God one that becomes Him, and is their witness one that pleases Him?

There would be great advantage in finding a Christ-like approach to politics. The advantage would not necessarily be for the Christians; but when all was said and done, it would glorify God. Just as the scriptural principle of righteousness makes it clear that we must be involved, we also need a scriptural process—a way to be involved. “Scriptural process” here means learning from and applying Scripture, and not just quoting verses. Certainly any Christian approach should be within the guidelines of Scripture. But a Christ-like approach will not emphasize guidelines nearly as much as relationships. Establishing “Christian values” was not the ultimate goal of Christ; having a relationship with people has always been His goal. Christian values are the framework that strengthens relationships. It is much easier to be right than it is to love, but a Christ-like approach to politics emphasizes benefits to people over benefits of power.

A Christian approach to politics may show those in opposition just how wrong their opposition is. The Christ-like approach to politics respectfully acknowledges the points at which they are right.

A Christian approach could tell everyone how to vote; the Christ-like approach directs the attention of the voters to underlying values.

A Christian approach could give us certainty; the Christ-like approach gives us a biblical perspective.

It seems reasonable, when investigating how to face politics in a Christ-like manner, to turn to the record of the main event in which Christ faced politics. In returning to that event, we can extract a picture of Christ’s approach, Pilate’s mistakes, and God’s success. With that picture in mind, we can discern a practical approach to address every political situation. I call this “The Pilate Process” to remind us how we often miss the point of political confrontations. Its basic objective is to give individuals a means to approach issues or candidates in ways that will not miss the point. The Pilate Process will help us determine what we believe, why we believe it, and why we believe it is of God. The practical result will be that many individuals will be able to become both competent and Christ-like in a political setting. The government will not only sense a large Christian grassroots concern; the general population will see a selfless political approach.

Why Identify with Pilate?
Some of us will have difficulty identifying with Pilate. But as we read Matthew 27:11-26, Mark 15:1-15, Luke 23:1-25 and John 18:28–19:22, we may identify with some of his tendencies.

First, even though Pilate was in the position of being politically responsible, he was not at all excited about addressing religio-political issues. He was not looking for trouble; his life seemed best when the status quo was maintained. He had plenty to do and was not searching for additional items to his agenda. When confronted with this religio-political issue—with this candidate for king of the Jews—Pilate knew it was his job to decide the case. But he decided to avoid deciding. He put it back upon the religious people who had raised the issue in the first place. They were the ones with the heartburn, he assumed, so let them take care of the matter: “Take Him yourselves, and judge Him” (John 18:31). But they tossed the matter back to him, claiming that they alone could not do what needed to be done. So Pilate did decide, but he didn’t take responsibility. He let custom tender his decision (see Matthew 27:15). He let the crowd reverse his judgment (see Luke 23:16,25). He let excuse replace action (see Matthew 27:24).

Perhaps Pilate is not so different from us in his avoidance of the religio-political issues. We who are citizen-rulers avoid those issues because they are so much trouble. We tend to leave it to our beloved political system or to a majority who neither recognizes nor cares about Christ. We may say, “I’ll leave it to the religious activists, since they are so interested,” only to have them say, “We need your help.” Our reasons for avoidance may be similar to Pilate’s.

Pilate had a tendency to fear what might happen to his relationships if he were involved in religious politics. He had family pressure not to get involved (see Matthew 27:19). There could be job repercussions if he were connected with such controversial matters (see John 19:12). Pilate was also getting all stirred up inside; his peace with himself was challenged (see John 19:7-8). It is no wonder that Pilate dreaded religio-political issues, or that we do. Some of those issues may demand a price far greater than we are willing to pay. When we are confronted from time to time with such situations, we will make our choice. We can learn much from Pilate’s mistakes and even more from Christ’s example.

Step 1: Get Away from Confrontational Demonstration—to Think
I define a demonstration as one or more people confronting us with a political issue. The confrontation has the effect of arousing our emotions and capturing our attention. For Pilate, both Jesus the controversial religious leader and the mob who brought Him were demonstrations.

The primary step in addressing religio-political situations is to calm down so that the atmosphere will permit reason. Pilate’s major mistakes began with his assumption that he could reason in that setting with those demonstrators. He discovered how perpetually inflammatory a situation can become when a major religious figure or issue is put in a political setting. Yet intentional demonstrations are more for show than for reason. Demonstrators desire to have a point understood, not debated.

Are political demonstrations bad? If demonstrations were deemed inherently evil, we would need to ban both the Republican and Democratic conventions. They are, basically, political demonstrations orchestrated to get points across to the American people.

The good of demonstrations becomes evident when we realize that most people, like Pilate, will not take action on any issue until confronted. Demonstrations are a way to move a particular issue up the value scale of the intended audience, and a way of provoking response. Would the Vietnam War have ended as quickly without all of the demonstrations that caused political pressure? Probably not. Would we have the advancements in civil rights today without the demonstrations of the 1960s? Probably not. From the sympathy evoked by pictures of police dogs tearing into peaceful marchers, to the fear evoked by the race riots, our attention was captured. The government was also confronted by those demonstrations, and legislation plus favorable court decisions resulted.

If the demonstration is a group of people instead of a candidate, there are several ways that we can prepare the demonstration stage for purposes of higher thought. The most effective way is separating the time of the demonstration from the time we make the decision about the issue. Pilate felt hard-pressed for an immediate decision. He feared for his safety, his reputation and his job. Emotional provocation centers the basis for decision making on us, not on the issue at hand. While that is understandable and valid, it is only part of the consideration. Time is needed to quell inner fears. We need to ask rational questions such as, “What is best for the common good?” or “What is the opposite side to the one being presented by the demonstration?” or “What do the emotions in me have to do with the issues at hand?”

Separation of confrontation and thinking implies not only time but also space. We can avoid Pilate’s mistake by postponing a decision and separating physically from the demonstration. Whether those trying to convince us are face to face with us or are entering our living room through the television, we must not be intimidated into a reactive position. We can walk away to think; we can turn off the television to talk with a variety of other people.

It seldom occurs to any of us that we do not have to take a given side in order to take a stand. We are in a position to collect various insights. We are not confined to an ultimatum. Far from adding confusion, taking time to note others’ opinions will put our political decisions in a new category. We may be able to add insight instead of only receiving it. And the stand we finally take will be truly ours instead of “theirs.” Broadening our basis for decision not only dilutes the pressure to decide, but it also makes more potent the capacity to decide with accuracy.

Step 2: Overlook a Narrow Religious Perspective
Truth is stranger than fiction; truth is also stronger than friction. It seems logical to assume that Christianity is strongest when it is most forceful. It also seems logical to assume that if the Christian tradition is under attack, we should fight back. It is almost inconceivable that, at a point when religion is most desperately needed, we would detach ourselves from religious terms. It would be so natural to respond to mockery with a counterattack.

Both Jesus and the religious crowd were threatened, but the two reacted differently. The Jews tried to protect their religion by complaining to the authorities. They organized as much political force as they could muster. They mobilized a campaign to save the country—a campaign based on accusation, negativism and fear. They won the debate and missed the point.

Jesus, on the other hand, offered no defense. He was not interested in justifying Himself. He was interested in truth: “For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice” (John 18:37). He used no religious talk. He used the highest universal goal—the truth—and was confident that those who were seeking the truth would understand Him. Such a strategy made Him vulnerable; such a strategy made Him invincible.

It is sobering today to find Christians choosing the political strategy of the crowd instead of that demonstrated by Jesus. It will cost us more than we realize. If we choose to defend our religion rather than seek the whole truth, we will lose three very important capacities: (1) We will lose our ability to see God outside of our own tradition; (2) we will lose our capacity to influence people in any positive sense toward God; and (3) we will lose the opportunity to grow in our own faith.

When voters choose to limit themselves to the singular strategy of defending a religious tradition, they minimize their capacity to positively influence other people toward God. When we are so narrowly focused upon our own concerns, we cannot expect others to truly hear us. When the religious crowd presented its concerns to Pilate, he did not investigate. Instead, he promptly declared, “I find no guilt in this man” (Luke 23:4). How could he decide so fast? Pilate reacted not to their statements but to their motivation. Pilate could see that their motivation was envy (see Matthew 27:18). He had no trouble perceiving that their political ends were focused upon their own benefit. He had no desire to help them or to join them in their goals.

Christians who defend a religious tradition are similarly dismissed. And why shouldn’t we be?
The world doesn’t give a hoot about our religion, and they will not give one until they perceive that we care more about all people than our own interests. If evangelicals in politics cause people to dismiss Christianity because of our defense of it, how tragic that is!

We are called to be witnesses (see Acts 1:8), to point beyond ourselves. Christ shows us two important prerequisites to witnessing. First, we need to get rid of the counterattack mentality. Counterattack not only kills our own search for truth, but it also kills everyone else’s as well. Jesus quietly and calmly told the truth when under fire. The truth was His strength. He did not need any other justification: “But Jesus made no further answer; so that Pilate was amazed” (Mark 15:5).

The second prerequisite that Jesus modeled was His use of nonreligious language. Religious terms can shut people out. Why then do we insist on speaking Christianese? We may hope that quoting Scripture chapter and verse to back up our points, or shouting “Amen!” to a speech, will communicate something of the Spirit to people. It does communicate a spirit—a spirit of exclusion, because the words we’ve chosen convey the meaning we intend only to those of our own group.

The search for truth in any issue or candidate puts religious and nonreligious people on common ground. As any Christian who is honest admits, the revealed truth of Scripture does not automatically transfer to the contemporary issues of our nation. Scripture does not replace the gathering of facts. It does not save us from the need to calculate the consequences of our vote. Scripture does not relieve us from the need to draw truth from those with a different perspective. All truth is God’s truth. The search for truth is hampered by special lingo that would make communication unwelcome or more difficult. Any statement that sounds religious rather than moral creates walls.

A true test of Christianity in politics is this: Are a great variety of people benefited by our political stance, even people who are not of our faith? We are following the footsteps of Christ when we work hard to assist others, even when their political stance is different from our own, and when we talk in terms that communicate to everyone.

Step 3: Observe Deep Principles Rather than Shallow Politics
The religious crowd missed the truth because they were too focused on religion. Pilate missed it because he was too focused on politics. Looking at issues and candidates only as religious conduits is wrong. Thinking through candidates’ strategies and issues will always help us in searching for truth.

Politics is the art of fixing conflict. It can be more than that, but it seldom is. Pilate typified the temptation to temporarily quell a disturbance rather than make a decision that would stand the test of time. Pilate thought of a quick solution, not a principle. He thought in terms of relief, not in terms of a cure.

The great benefit Christians should bring to the American political process is one of depth. Those who see the world in more than one dimension, who think in terms of ages longer than this life, are valuable voices. The basis of our decision to follow Christ was that we would live in light of the future. That basis is also best for politics but is quite rare. Politics, as Pilate knew, gets so complicated that attention shifts to the details of the moment rather than the long-term results. Politics is compromise. Politics is swapping favors. At times the process involves the very real ultimatum “You can secure your own political future, or you can do what you know to be right.” The threat in John 19:12 reflects this practical-versus-principle battle. The crowd threatened Pilate by saying, “If you release this man, you are no friend of Caesar’s.” Pilate heard that his political life was at stake.

We are being killed by our weakness for stopgap measures and temporary fixes. We have embraced convenience thinking rather than consequential thinking. We also do not seem to realize that every action we take is a precedent. The convenience-versus-consequences thinking sounds like a neat cliché from a flippant sermon, but it is actually a form of immaturity that has dire side effects.

When Pilate saw his decision in terms of his own convenience, in terms of his own political life, he did not consider that if the claims of Christ were true, the consequences of his actions meant his spiritual condemnation. Was Jesus really on trial that day? No, Pilate was. Every decision that relieves us of an individual responsibility has a price. Other people, including our children, will have to pay it. In a very real sense, we too are on trial.

Those who follow Christ can offer much-needed reminders that principles should guide practicality, not the other way around. On the major issues, we need to ask our representatives what principles are guiding their specific decisions. As in any job, the daily routines of those in office can make it simpler to justify whatever will work in the moment and relegate principles to the background. Christians who live their lives based on deeper-than-surface concerns are the part of “We, the people” who can remind their representatives of the principles and ask those important questions.

Step 4: Decide from Prayer and Scriptural Principles
There is a public-private conflict inherent in the structure of American politics. The political ideal calls individuals to make decisions for the good of the whole group. Political strategy tries to persuade individuals to make those decisions on the basis of loyalty to a particular subgroup’s interests. The first requires the person to act as an individual; the second influences him not to think as an individual.

Groupthink is as attractive to many individuals as it is to political strategists. Groupthink can eliminate the uncomfortable process of individual study of the Scriptures, prayer and contemplation of the issues. It can also eliminate the threat of ostracism.

But group-based voting has a strong, if deteriorating, history in our country. More specifically, religious group-based voting has a stronger precedent than most of us have been taught. In the beginning days of our country, it would have been no surprise to find people voting on the basis of their religious group given the intense sectarianism of the earliest communities. But also from the mid-nineteenth century to the present, religious group-based voting has been a factor.

The Pilate Process would question the value of group decision making. Both Pilate and the religious crowd made their decisions about Jesus on the basis of their group identity. They missed the truth because they were not open to accepting all the facts, and they had the wrong guides. “The chief priests and the elders persuaded the multitudes to ask for Barabbas, and to put Jesus to death” (Matthew 27:20). All who were involved were under tremendous pressure to conform to a predetermined political decision. Pilate, a representative of the Roman Empire, was not much more free from his own group identity. As an individual, though, he had a decision to make. He could have made it on the basis of his closeness to Jesus, but he was a member of the ruling party. History had dealt him a most important hand; but at the mere mention of Caesar, he folded.

Politics is essentially a group activity. But, as with religion, it must be primarily an individual decision tied to a heart for people and unwavering values from Scripture.

Whether God leads all praying Christians to vote the same is not the point. Living all of life like Jesus is the point. One truth stands self-evident: The unity we seek will certainly never come from politics or human agreement. If it is unity for which we hope, our only hope is in the Holy Spirit. God does not speak with a forked tongue. Eventually we will all hear the same thing from Him. But first we must train ourselves to think like Christ (see 1 Corinthians 2:16). Our ultimate commitment is to let Him be our guide in personal decisions about everything, including politics.

Step 5:Act!
If we know what the Bible says and we receive a direct leading in prayer, and we do not take action, then we are fools or traitors or cowards. We don’t need to be super-spiritual to be led by God. No scriptural record shows that Pilate ever prayed; yet he had a clear inkling about the innocence of Jesus. The Gospel of John records that no less than three times Pilate voiced the feeling that Jesus had “no guilt” (see John 18:38; 19:4,6). If skeptical Pilate could have an inkling, can’t Christians expect the inner leading of God? Because of the inner leading, “Pilate made efforts to release Him. . . . he then handed them over to them to be crucified” (John 19:12,16). On the other hand, when Jesus walked out of the garden from prayer, no person or circumstance could keep Him from His decision to follow His Father’s leading.

Action perfects our faith, our witness and our world. James 2:22 reads, “As a result of the works, faith was perfected.” The Greek word for “perfected” means “brought to its proper fulfillment” or “completed in its appropriate use.” God is interested in developing in us a faith perfected by works. He wants our faith to grow by what we do. His desire for us is not mere behavioral change (which is what politics desires); His desire is that our faith be increased by our actions. The health of our faith is determined by exercising it. Faith not dear enough to stimulate action is dead.

Action also perfects our witness. Not only is God waiting for us to participate politically, but so is the world. Do we mean what we believe? How will the world know if we do not act upon what we believe? Let’s not be intimidated by secular people who disparage Christian involvement in politics. It is not the Christian involvement but usually the manner and the tone of Christian involvement that bothers them. Nonbelievers watch to see whether the followers of Christ will ever make a significant difference outside the walls of their churches.

God loves people. He loves us enough that He does not exclude government as a tool by which He can inspire us to help each other. Through our government we have the chance to profoundly influence the lives of people all over the world. No, we cannot convert them through government. Yes, their eternal salvation is most important. That does not mean that every other provision that could be made through government is unimportant. It doesn’t mean that the stewardship of the earth is not a concern because conversion is. Our government has certain powers, minor next to God’s, but still rather potent. Our government can feed the hungry, relieve people from oppression, and even model strength with integrity to the world. But without action from the Christ-followers in our nation, that potential will be incomplete, unfulfilled or morally destructive.

God will call some people to unique service in government. He has done that historically with kings such as David, vice pharaohs such as Joseph, judges such as Samson and Deborah, queens such as Esther, and prophets such as Nathan. But how many Davids or Josephs or Nathans does God need? If He is not calling us to be the leading government official, what then will He call most of us to do?

Step 6:Cooperate with Others and Encourage Understanding
Cooperation and tolerance are not twins: Cooperation ennobles while tolerance is likely to corrupt. Cooperation is active; tolerance is passive. Cooperation is neither afraid of nor destroyed by conflict. Many of us have failed to distinguish between the two.

Tolerance is often based in indifference. Cooperation is a virtue of hard work; indifference is a sin of laziness. Both our nation and the Lord require of us maximum effort to effect our destiny. On the experiential level, individual participation is demanded, and passion is required. Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., wrote:

Americans can take pride in their nation, not as they claim a commission from God and a sacred destiny, but as they fulfill their deepest values in an enigmatic world. America remains an experiment. Only hard work at the experiment will achieve the destiny. The outcome is by no means certain.

Scripture calls for the same passion in our efforts. Christ chided the people of Laodicea when He said, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth” (Revelation 3:15-16).

Indifference disguised as tolerance is not acceptable. We cannot hang our acceptance of other people’s opinions over shrugged shoulders. Cooperation requires caring about and participating with the opposition. It involves healing by hearing without retreat. It involves healing by offering our side without apology, whatever the reaction. Cooperation is emotional work.

There is little hope, understanding or communication without cooperation. Unfortunately, and ironically, many individuals who are the most intense about their faith are the least cooperative. The intensity-cooperative link is a stumbling block to the unbelieving world that looks for purity of religion and love to be combined. Some Christians are much more prone to the negative than the positive. It is easier to state what we hate than what we love.

The difference between Christians and their Lord is not one of intent but of maturity. We have not yet “become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren” (Romans 8:29). When Christians mature to the point that our intensity and inclusiveness combine, we will be a healing presence in politics and everywhere else. There will be great breadth in our worldview while we fix our eyes upon Jesus (see Hebrews 12:2). There will be a freedom in our ability to understand and a discipline in our thinking. Cooperation will be more joy than challenge.

Talking to others is a way to refine our public service goals and learn how we can cooperate to achieve them. Conversation helps us understand how others perceive our ideals, and it helps us shape those ideals into service.