This is a difficult post to write for a number of reasons, yet, as the title suggests, it would be wrong for me not to. Several weeks ago, I read a series of news articles about a New Jersey family, Army Major and Mrs. Jackson, a Christian family with three biological and two adopted children. For years, they have fostered medically at risk children, a herculean and noble effort that led to them adopting at least two.
However, in April 2010, (nearly two years ago) they ran afoul of New Jersey’s Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS), when they took the youngest, an adopted, medically challenged infant, to the hospital for a fever. The hospital staff initially thought aspects of the baby’s condition were suspicious and contacted DYFS, who immediately removed all five children from the home. Ultimately, in a fairly short time, the medical concerns were determined to come from her existing conditions and likely pre-adoption injuries.
It is no secret that many, if not most of the movers and shakers in the Academy would just as soon Christianity disappeared into the night, and the more quietly the better. Many of them attribute the growing ills of society to the poisonous influence of Christianity and other religions. Just ask Richard Dawkins and his fellow monks of the “New Atheism.”
I have just one question: the prominence of Christianity in the fabric of society has been sharply decreasing for much of the last fifty or sixty years, so why are our problems increasing? It seems like we should be darn near a utopia now.
From time to time here, I harp on the strategic nature of our role as university educators. Here’s another reason—our students do significant things, therefore, we are in a position to help them do good significant things or counterproductive significant things.
First, why do college students do significant things? They are young and don’t yet “know what they can’t do,” they have the energy to try, and they feel empowered by their newfound independence and awakening (occasionally) of their minds by the challenges we and the college environment present them.
Nearly all of us have had thoughts along these lines: “If I go overboard in this area as a sacrifice, I will more than make up for it in this other desired area.” For example, “if I eat only rice cakes for a week, I’ll lose ten pounds forever and never gain them again.” “If I pull this all-nighter, I’ll keep my 4.0.” “If I max out my credit cards this month, I’ll get what I want and be able to pay it off in a couple of months.” The possible ‘deals’ we make with ourselves are as endless as our imaginations or our situations.
How’s that working for you?
An acquaintance was diagnosed with cancer earlier this year. In spite of aggressive treatments, she was steadily declining, but still able to get around and live life somewhat. Saturday was her son’s birthday and they had a party for him, but she was kind of out of it. Her husband gave her morphine for the first time ever that night. In the morning she was worse, so they took her to the hospital. After examining her, the doctors gave her 2-24 hours. She died that afternoon, Christmas day.
Another family that many of my friends know had a 17 year old son with a congenital heart problem and several close calls and near death experiences, which he shared on YouTube one week before Christmas. He also died Christmas day.
Christmas night, I watched the news with my folks to see three homes destroyed by fire, several robberies of some of the few businesses open on Christmas, and various shootings. And on it went.
And on it goes. Day after day.
The older I get, the less magic Christmas seems to me. It becomes more and more an ordinary day with perhaps slightly more pomp or gatherings or hassle. There are a number of reasons for this personally in my life, mostly dealing with rotating family schedules that mean we “do” Christmas on some other day whenever we can get together, and so at times, Christmas really is just another day where nothing special happens.
Perhaps it is partially a function of expectation level. For example, when I was in 4th or 5th grade or so, I really caught on to the whole Santa thing and made lists of all the toys I wanted. I got none of them, and when this repeated itself year after year, it didn’t take too many years to get to the point where Santa was a fun novelty, but nothing special, certainly nothing real. I lowered my expectations and moved forward and stopped investing emotional energy into the elf, and learned to enjoy Santa for what he was, nothing more or less.
Melchior stretched and stiffly turned in his camel’s qatab, or saddle, and groused lightly to Gaspar, “I’m too old for this long on camelback. Every trip it takes me longer to get my ground legs back. The emir once thought I was drunk when I went to his audience room upon my return from a long trip, until his nose caught whiff of the beast, not the flask, about me.”
His old friend chuckled over the favorite memory, then gasped, “Look! We’re here!”
They were just cresting a ridge. (the desert had suddenly turned to rocky hills the day before, shortly before they crossed the Jordan River and into Israel. Balthazzar, the youngest, and originally from the sands of Arabia, hadn’t been thrilled with the change to hard rocky ground.) Suddenly, they caught a glint of the noonday sun reflecting off of gilt buildings hugging a hill a few stadia and several more ridges ahead.
Melchior snorted, “I’d say we’re nearly there. It looks like it will take most of the rest of the day before we actually are there.” But he did sit in the qatab straighter and lean forward a bit in eagerness. The camels, sensing the anticipation sped up a gait.
A lot has been made about how the Son of God was born in a crude feeding trough in a cave being used as a stable, and all that entails. But that level of divine humiliation is just one in a series of truly counterintuitive and exceedingly inconvenient points of the story.
Let’s start with the annunciation. Gabriel doesn’t appear to Mary in the town square in front of the entire village. No, he apparently appears to her alone, in private, with no witnesses. So, this very young woman, likely a young teenage girl comes to her family to lay the most improbable story on them, in a culture where women have no legal voice, no credibility.
It occurs to me as a state employee that to interact with the State, you have to follow procedures, deal with policy, and wait for red tape, all the while looking for ways to bypass it in order to accomplish your job that the very same State is paying you to do. The State doesn’t handle exceptions well, and views me as a resource to further its mission.
As a Christian, I have a relationship with Christ. I can go directly to Him, my job is to follow where He leads and He will be responsible for the outcome. He knows, not just my name, but He also knows me, and desires to bring me into His image for my benefit. He loves me and created me unique in the first place and celebrates it.
Which of these is it again that we want in charge of our society?
David J. Theroux, of The Independent Institute asked me to read and offer comment on his essay, “Secular Theocracy, Part 1.” In it, he raises some excellent points from a historical perspective and based on thoughts by C. S. Lewis and William Cavanaugh, and I encourage you to read it. My thoughts here expand on those of Theroux’s.
Theroux begins by explaining how religion is being marginalized and expunged from every area of public discourse because it is accused of being factious and leads to violence. He writes, “A secularized public square policed by government is viewed as providing a neutral, rational, free, and safe domain that keeps the “irrational” forces of religion from creating conflict and darkness. And we are told that real progress requires expanding this domain by pushing religion ever backward into remote corners of society where it has little or no influence. In short, modern America has become a secular theocracy with a civic religion of national politics (nationalism) occupying the public realm in which government has replaced God.”
This idea that secularism is ‘worldview neutral’ is so deeply ingrained into most secularists that they are fish that don’t know they are wet. In the very expressing of such a view, they promote secularism as being inherently better than any spiritually based worldview. In fact, they explicitly see themselves as more sophisticated, having matured past the need for such ‘primitive’ beliefs. Thus, they demonstrate the lack of neutrality, and are no better than the ‘narrow-minded exclusivism’ of theistic worldviews which they deride.
The following video has nothing spiritual about it other than the joy of watching people use their God-given talents in music, creativity and humor. Enjoy this ‘holiday’ medley.
Lagniappe: I am also excited about the first trailer release for Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit”, but very sad to have to wait a year to see Part 1 and two years to see Part 2:
“Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas?”
I’m squarely in the “Merry Christmas” camp. And it isn’t merely because of my minor rebellious politically incorrect tendencies. It is a matter of the nature of blessings.
To wish someone well in any regard is to bless them. It may not seem like that big of a deal, but that is because words today have largely been divorced from real meaning and impact. When someone sneezes, we say “bless you” or some variant without even thinking about it. But for most of human history, blessing someone was no mere polite thoughtless phrase, it was a significant event with strong spiritual effect.
It was viewed such by the recipient, as well as the giver.
As we’ve looked at recently, Advent is a time of preparation. We prepare for all sorts of events. For me, a time of preparation is at an end. Part of our chemistry building is completing a renovation, and I am privileged to move my teaching labs to some of the new space.
We move today, so the last week has been a lot of packing, moving small things, and getting ready for an army of movers to transport everything up two floors. Essentially, everything is ready, and all that remains is to direct the troops…
Each week of Advent has a number of symbolisms, and the following table is now filled completely.
Journey on a Donkey
John the Baptist
In the first week, we looked at suffering/penitence and its relationship to expectation and hope. The second week looked at how the solid promises of God through Christ gave peace even in the midst of trials and suffering. Historically, for reasons given last week, the third week of Advent turned a corner into increasing joy and eager anticipation as the Day of Christ drew nearer, and we looked at the traditions of gift giving. The fourth week is the rising to the crescendo of Christmas Eve and Christmas itself. This year, Advent is a full five weeks long—the longest possible, as Christmas itself is on a Sunday.
There is so much to talk about here that it is hard to pick a topic.
What inspires you? What does it take to get your attention, to lift your eyes above your daily cares, so they may see grandeur, dignity, hope, the sublime and the holy?
Now is a great time of year to explore your sources of inspiration. We are told to count our blessings. This is very good, yet I’m beginning to realize that is merely a starting point. Counting our blessings simply reminds us to be aware of what we do have, engendering gratitude. It’s like climbing a mountain, and taking a break to realize how far we’ve come.
Counting our inspirations lifts us still higher, encouraging us to push further up the mountain, to keep climbing, for we are not yet as He intends for us to be.
What characteristics, positive and negative, come to mind when you think of ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’? How does the culture view/define them? How have those changed over time? What is a Biblical description of those terms, and how do they compare to your pictures and those of the culture?
While it seems to me that both masculinity and femininity have been radically redefined in the last 50 years, I’m tempted strongly to evaluate the changes to the concept of manhood as the most negative and damaging. It is as if equality for women was improved at least partly at the expense of men. Rather than lifting both up, women were lifted up and men brought lower.
To put it bluntly, women have become, not just better women, but more masculine, and men have been made more feminine and less masculine, to their detriment.
Here at UT, today was the last day of final exams for the term. All that is left for some is to finish grading and submit final grades. That is one of the nice things about teaching is that when a semester is over, it usually really is over. There are rarely lots of loose ends to deal with, except for the occasional incomplete.
So, once it is done, most of us have 2-6 weeks to decompress and prepare for the next round. What do you do with the time? Catch up on research? Clean your office? Deal with other administrative tasks you’ve put off, “until you had time?” Start revamping your courses based on the lessons learned this term? Run for the hills for a while? Introduce yourself to familial relations who’ve shared your home but not your time for the last three months? Hibernate? Some mélange of the above?
Saturday, the New York Times published an op-ed in the Sunday Review section entitled, “Americans: Undecided about God?” by Eric Weiner, author of Man Seeks God: My Flirtations with the Divine. He identifies himself as a brand new (to me), but apparently fast growing spiritual demographic, the “Nones.”
He says that nearly 12% of the US are Nones (as opposed to nuns), and a quarter of young people (no age range given). What are the Nones? They are people who do not identify with any specific or organized religion, yet believe in “God.” They consider themselves spiritual, yet are ‘undecided’ and will explore a wide variety of ‘isms’ and probably cherry pick from each.
Weiner cites a Notre Dame/Harvard study that indicates this trend towards amorphous spiritualism is due to the increasing religious polarization of politics and how it drives folks away from both politics and organized religion. I think that is far too simplistic.
During the 1980’s, there were a number of court battles over whether Christian student groups could have a presence on campus like other voluntary special interest groups like the chess club or Key Club, with the ultimate decision being in favor of ‘equal access.’ Similar arguments were used for churches to rent school cafeterias on Sunday mornings or other non-school times, just like any other civic group.
It turns out that the latter policy is falling out of judicial favor. “In a June 2 decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled 2-1 that the New York City Department of Education can bar churches from renting school facilities for worship services. The decision overturned a 2002 lower court ruling that allowed the congregation, in addition to nearly 60 other churches, to conduct worship services in school buildings.”
It is so easy to get overwhelmed with all of the problems in the world. Our politics, conflicts abroad, drugs, school violence and lockdowns, poverty, starvation, the sex and slave trades, religious conflicts (armed, verbal, legislative, etc.), and the list keeps going.
Jesus didn’t heal every sick person in Israel, much less the world, nor did He right every injustice around Him, but He confidently said that He had done everything He came to do.
For us, we aren’t God, so we can’t hope to solve every problem. However, I think the solution is to see what issues impassion you and prayerfully pursue those, and not feel guilty for not pursuing others. It is easy to be guilted by others’ passion, but resist. Many if not most of these problems are desperately real, and so be grateful and encourage others in pursuing their passions, and share yours with them. Just don’t be insulted or think less of them if they don’t jump on board with you. It goes both ways.
We will each have peace and encouragement, and more will be done as we mutually encourage each other while remaining focused on the tasks we’ve been given.