Friday, March 28, 2008

Tool for Apologists

I have made the point before that faith is not a religious concept: I think faith is a univeral characteristic of human beings.

Heb 11:1 Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, being convinced of what we do not see [NET Bible]
All human beings who are not suicidal or otherwise terminally pessimistic share that – but faith has an object. To talk about someone's faith (or calling someone a "person of faith") - a universal - without talking about the object of their faith - the specific - is to say nothing really except that they, like nearly every human being, has faith in something. It is only the "in what" that gives meaning.

The word "hope" above is not "I hope I get a pony for Christmas" - this is elpiß: "joyful and confident expectation". As Peter said about hope:
1 Peter 3:15 . . . always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope you possess.
That is apology - regardless of what the object of the hope, and faith, is.

However, there are good ways and bad ways to do that. I signed up yesterday at Stand to Reason for a series of email lessons from Greg Kourkl on "Tactics in Defending the Faith" that seems like it might be a good tool for "thinking clearly and engaging discussions effectively."

I have included the first email below the fold - but I am not going to publish the rest. I think if you want their lessons you should sign up at their site
Tactics in Defending the Faith Part 1: A More Excellent Way

Greg Koukl

Many friends of Stand to Reason use our materials because they agree that Christianity, when properly understood and properly articulated, can take its place in the marketplace of ideas. They want to be able to effectively communicate the message of the Gospel to those who don’t understand or agree. This series of e-mails will help you learn tactics that, when used skillfully and winsomely, will make you a more effective ambassador for Christ.

Let me offer you a word of encouragement. I’ve been defending the faith actively and “professionally” for over two decades with people who oppose evangelical Christian views and are professionals in their own right atheists, skeptics, Mormons, Jewish rabbis, and secularists.

When I started, I wasn’t sure how I would fare in public against the pros with thousands of people listening. But what I discovered was that the facts and sound reason are on our side. We don’t have to be frightened of the truth or the opposition if we do our homework. After all, even people who don’t like tests don’t mind them much when they know the answers.

The truth is this: The Gospel can be defended if it’s properly understood and properly articulated by a winsome ambassador. If we take our time and think through the issues, we can make a solid defense. If we have the truth, there will always be a flaw in the opposing argument. Keep looking for it. Sooner or later it will show up.

The right tactic will help you discover the flaw in your opponent’s argument and show it for the error it is.

Remember that some of the most intelligent people make the most foolish mistakes in thinking when it comes to spiritual things. The tactics you learn in this series of e-mails will help you identify those mistakes. You will see that people don’t give much thought to their objections. How do I know? I’ve listen to lots of objections.

Apologetics has a questionable reputation among non-aficionados. By definition, apologists “defend” the faith. They “defeat” false ideas. They “destroy” speculations raised up against the knowledge of God.

Those sound like fightin’ words to many people: Circle the wagons. Hoist the drawbridge. Fix bayonets. Load weapons. Ready, aim, fire. It’s not surprising, then, that believers and unbelievers alike associate apologetics with conflict. In their view, defenders don’t dialogue; they fight.

In addition to the image problem, apologists face another barrier. The truth is that effective apologetics in the 21st century requires more than having the right answers. It’s too easy for post-moderns to ignore our facts, deny our claims, or simply yawn and walk away from the line we’ve drawn in the sand.

I’d like to suggest a “more excellent way.” Jesus said that when you find yourself a sheep amidst wolves, be innocent but shrewd. This instruction calls for a tactical approach. Even though there is real warfare going on, our engagements should look more like diplomacy than combat.

In the emails you’ll receive over the next several weeks, I’ll share lessons I’ve learned from years of engaging critics of Christianity. These are practical tactics that can make a real difference in equipping you and building your confidence to engage non-Christians in conversations about the most important topic possible their relationship to God.

Next time: Why tactics?

For more extensive tactics training go to and look for Tactics in Defending the Faith Mentoring Series or STRi DVD interactive training in our online store or call Stand to Reason at 1-800-2-REASON.

There are at least two types of folks who may read this who may wish to "[think] clearly and [engage] discussions effectively"; and do that by engaging in dialogue - and not fighting:
  1. People with a religious faith they find under attack, and who wish to defend it
  2. People with a political faith they find under attack, and who wish to defend it
In either case, the skills taught may be useful. Obviously the second group may not be interested in the stated goal of the series
equipping you and building your confidence to engage non-Christians in conversations about the most important topic possible their relationship to God.
but there may be information that can be generalized. Heck, I do not know - I haven't read them yet

Read more!

27,000,000 in Bondage

I will be writing next week on modern slavery as part of The Listening Heart series. In the meantime, Aaron Krager has picked up the topic at Street Prophets with "1 in 250, enslaved around the world "

Please go read it.

Read more!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Here's a Meme Buster

One of the criticisms of theologically conservative Christianity from at least the left is that we are a rich group of folks hoarding our money and allowing the poor to starve - while keeping the government conservative so it doesn't take any of it away.

Oh, those rich mega-churches . . .

Well, I have never seen that in church - but I haven't been in every church. However, there is some evidence that my personal experience is accurate

Oh, those poor mega-churches . . .

"Faith an Asset, Not a Liability"

If getting rich is your goal, steer clear of a conservative Protestant church. That's the absurd conclusion of a study by Duke University professor Lisa Keister, who authored "Conservative Protestants and Wealth: How Religion Perpetuates Asset Poverty" in this month's American Journal of Sociology. Keister suggests that wealth is "among the most fundamental indicators of well-being" and, according to her, the church is sorely lacking it. When comparing net worth in the year 2000, conservative Protestants (CPs) averaged $26,000 compared to $66,200 for the wider population. "[The findings] are consistent with the argument that long-term exposure to CP values, particularly during the critical childhood years when people learn to save, adversely influences asset ownership..." Keister tries to validate the liberal stereotype of Protestants as poor, uneducated people who force their women to stay home barefoot and pregnant. She claims that biblical teachings are hostile to the accumulation of wealth and cites people who say that it "prevents one from knowing God." Unfortunately, Keister ignores the obvious explanations, which are that believers are more inclined to give sacrificially and place less priority on material things. In fact, as Arthur Brooks notes in his book Who Really Cares, one of the best things that could happen in the fight to reduce poverty would be for Americans to become more religiously conservative. Brooks writes, "Religious people are, inarguably, more charitable in every measurable way." In contrast to Keister's theory, most Protestants don't have an objection to riches but refuse to be defined by them. As our Dr. Pat Fagan has pointed out, men and women of faith place a higher priority on producing human capital than financial capital. Keister's report seems to feed into society's notion that that success is determined by what you accumulate, rather than what people accomplish or how they serve. In the end, wealth is no more an indication of success than it is of happiness. -- Tony Perkins
The religion blog at the Dallas Morning News also noted the report - and drew three interesting comments:
  • In her conclusion, Keister says:

    "CPs [Conservative Protestants] have low wealth regardless of family background and that low educational attainment, early fertility, large family size, and limited female labor force participation are partially responsible."

    Three out of the four factors deal with women. By making sure they keep women "in their place", they also make sure their families will continue to fall behind.

    It would be funny if the results weren't so tragic.

  • My wife is a physical therapist and I home school our two high school children. Our son graduates, with national accreditation, in May and his GPA is 3.83. He was pre-accepted to a top college as of last year. Our daughter graduates next year and thus far has a 3.78 GPA.

  • Let a statistic speak! I was a young and successful electrical contractor. After becoming a Christian, I closed my business in 1985 to attend school for seven years to become a CP pastor (graduated college summa cum laude). My present income is two-thirds (actual dollars, not adjusted by inflation) of what it was in 1985. Would love to provide a detailed report but will conclude with a challenge to the examiners -- I’m not as poor as you might think. Things aren’t always what they seem (read Matthew 6:19-21).
    [“Do not accumulate for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But accumulate for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.]

Well, at least I know why I am broke. So, what do you all think:

Is wealth one of the "most fundamental indicators of well-being"?

Read more!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Touring the Net

Here is my (sorta) weekly tour of the internet - and some things that struck me as interesting:

  • Christian Carnival CCXVII (217) is up (or soon will be) on the other side of the Cascade range from me in eastern Oregon at Diary of 1. The three that caught my attention this week:
    1. "Can an Atheist be a good Person". Starving Econ Student researched what atheists mean by "good" in that question, found a couple of examples
      I googled around and saw two atheist answers:
      1. A person who does more good deeds than bad deeds
      2. A person who has empathy and compassion towards others.
      and then he addressed those well.

    2. Translation does some funny things. "Do You Love Jesus?" - well there are some different words for "love" in scripture; and Chad examines the use of two of them in the same passage of scripture:
      John 21:15 Then when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these do?” He replied, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.” Jesus told him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 Jesus said a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He replied, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.” Jesus told him, “Shepherd my sheep.” 17 Jesus said a third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was distressed that Jesus asked him a third time, “Do you love me?” and said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.” Jesus replied, “Feed my sheep. -- NET
      Read the notes to the NET Bible text - those translators disagree - but I am not sure what I think. How about you?

    3. David at Boomer in the Pew talks about "Growing Up as a Disciple of Jesus Christ":
      Here was our opening question:

      Are you a sinner working on your salvation or are you a child of God (a disciple of Jesus) working on your sin? Talk amongst yourselves!
      and goes on to talk about the concepts of justification, sanctification, and glorification based on passages from Romans and 1 Corinthians

  • At Stand to Reason:
    • As an apologist, I get to deal with the "shellfish" and "mixed fabric" questions with regularity. Here is a great answer to "Why Is It Okay to Wear Mixed Fibers?":
      To believe the Old Testament Law literally is to believe that this was the covenant God made with the ancient nation of Israel--a set of instructions for running their nation. To believe the New Testament literally along with the Old is to believe that when we were joined to Christ, we died with Him and were raised with Him, causing us to be released from the Law.
    • Melinda points to a new book Why We're Not Emergent (by Two Guys Who Should Be) :
      They explain why objective, propositional Truth (not just lower-case t truth) can be taught and preached and still communicate with Gen-Xers. Both speak from their practical ministry experience.
    Last week I pointed to Scot McKnight's multi-part review of The Case for Civility by Os Guinness. This week had:
    • "Civility 4" which
      could be called a “civil screed” against the Religious Right. It is not too harsh; it never falls for the uncivil, but the chp univocally calls the RR to the bar for a civil warning.
    • and "Civility 5":
      If Os Guinness, in his attempt to call the nation to public civility, can call the Religious Right to task for its rhetoric, he can do the same to the Left . . . “We are closer,” Guinness states, “to the wild atheism of Madalyn Murray O’Hair, back to barnyard debating, with ungrounded assertions, irresponsible accusations, ad hominem arguments, and reasoning that repeatedly slumps into ranting”
  • Sarah at Intellectuelle in their "Apologetics 101" series talks about "Faith vs. Values?:
    It's unfortunate that he has come to think of the Bible this way--as merely a handbook for morality. Do unto others should not be approached independently of no one comes to the Father except through me. But is he all that different from many Christians who regard the moral propositions of Scripture above the saving power of the gospel. Perhaps we could helpfully understand the gospel call as one of many moral appeals, yet is the one that lacks political correctness.
    It is also the one theologically conservative Christians can ignore as they preach morality to non-Christians instead of bringing people to salvation in Christ.

  • Joe Carter's "Thirty-three Things (v.55)" series always has interesting stuff. Some highlights this week:
    • "Designed for Sex", by J. Budziszewski:
      I said that we’re not designed for hooking up, that we’re designed for our bodies and hearts to work together. We human beings really do have a design, and I mean that literally—not just a biological design, but an emotional, intellectual, and spiritual design. The human design is the meaning of the ancient expression “human nature.” . . .
    • An attack ad on Thomas Jefferson by the "Re-elect John Adams Committee":
    • D.A. Carson, as quoted by Mark Driscoll in The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World:
      Paul refuses to circumcise Titus, even when it was demanded by many in the Jerusalem crowd, not because it didn’t matter to them, but because it mattered so much that if he acquiesced, he would have been giving the impression that faith in Jesus is not enough for salvation: one has to become a Jew first, before one can become a Christian. That would jeopardize the exclusive sufficiency of Jesus.

      To create a contemporary analogy: If I’m called to preach the gospel among a lot of people who are cultural teetotalers, I’ll give up alcohol for the sake of the gospel. But if they start saying, “You cannot be a Christian and drink alcohol,” I’ll reply, “Pass the port” or “I’ll think I’ll have a glass of Beaujolais with my meal.” Paul is flexible and therefore prepared to circumcise Timothy when the exclusive sufficiency of Christ is not at stake and when a little cultural accommodation will advance the gospel; he is rigidly inflexible and therefore refuses to circumcise Titus when people are saying that Gentiles must be circumcised and become Jews to accept the Jewish Messiah.
  • Jan at The View From Her is one of my favorite bloggers. She is an Evangelical woman who simply writes about some neat things. This week, besides saying nice things about McLaren's Generous Orthodoxy - she adds something to the complementarian vs. egalitarian discussion of men and women's roles in the Body of Christ. She reviews Saving Women From the Church: How Jesus Mends a Divide where she picks the story of the Samaritan woman at the well out to discuss.

  • WorldMagBlog had some interesting stuff:
    • First, they have carved out a respectful community of differing opinions - and so their voting on the community's favorite movies is interesting. They have both top 5 category rankings and a top 25 overall. The top five overall:
      1. Lord of the Rings Trilogy
      2. The Princess Bride
      3. The Sound of Music
      4. Indiana Jones films
      5. The Incredibles
    • "Pronounced dead, man takes ‘miraculous’ turn":
      Just before Thanksgiving, the 21-year-old was pronounced brain-dead following an ATV accident. As family members gathered to say good-bye before his organs were harvested, Dunlap’s grandmother, Naomi, began praying for “a miracle”–and that’s just what she got.
    Jeremy Pierce at Parableman:
    • pointed to a piece written by Kevin Drum at Washington Monthly:
      for now I just want to make one comment: the current attempts to tar Hillary as a racist have gone way, way over the top. before the South Carolina primary, the Clinton campaign and its surrogates really did seem to be making a few too many racially charged comments for it to be just a coincidence (though even then some of the accusations were bogus), but after South Carolina it pretty much stopped. I can't say whether it stopped for reasons of politics or reasons of principle, but it stopped.

      But the accusations of racism haven't. They've just gotten more ridiculous.
    • and deepened the discussion about "Racism Charges and the Clinton Campaign" as well:
      I had to take interest in the first two comments [to Kevin's piece] mentioning Geraldine Ferraro, who didn't come up in the post. What interested me most about their appearance is the assumption that that's a genuine case of racism that they must be taking to undermine his whole argument. First of all, if it's genuine racism that doesn't undermine his argument. His point is that many of the accusations of racism are going way too far. One case that is racism doesn't undermine that claim.

      Second, I don't think it's fair to describe that as racist.

    Read more!

    Tuesday, March 25, 2008

    Modern Slavery I: Alienation and Isolation

    [Number seven in a series. Resumes discussion of slavery started in number one]

    A couple of times I have mentioned A.J. Conyers' contention in The Listening Heart that - in the return of slavery to Europe and its colonies that accompanied the rise of modernity's exploration, trade, and conquest - the chattel slave

    is the ultimate autonomous individual. Stripped of every human tie, he belongs to no community but to a stranger. It is no accident, then, that the rise of modern slavery coincided with the Enlightenment itself.
    Of course, every time this is mentioned folks freak a bit about the use of the word "autonomous" in the same breath with "slave". As one commenter said it does not mean "free" - it means "alienated or isolated" from family, community, culture, and support.

    Indeed, Conyers points out
    We have already seen how the modern, increasingly urbanized, technologically sophisticated, society had become organized in a way congenial to the uses of power and material acquisitiveness. The usefulness of human beings in this relationship was made more feasible when they were understood as equals in the modern sense - that is, as interchangeable units in a machine - and fundamentally alienated from natural associations, "belonging" only in the new, modern sense.

    This new relationship is only adequately articulated, as we shall see, by the master-slave language, though this language - thanks to the pre-modern influence of Christianity - is highly offensive, causing modern people to reject the system of slavery when it is visibly evident (as in the plantation systems of the early U.S.) and to submerge it in forms that are less visible . . .

    Two features of slavery - its transforming of a human being into an instrument for use, a resource for the masters of the larger society, and its destruction or at least neglect of natural relations within natural groups such as the family and clan and leaving in its place the alienated individual - are also features of modernity. Within the history of slavery we shall always find these two features prominent; it is no wonder that early modern leaders of the Enlightenment nearly always defended and promoted slavery. They were above all promoting the instrumentalizing of the individual and the individualizing (that is, the alienating from natural relations) of the human instruments of labor.
    The previous parts in this series have looked at the way modern society seeks to break all ties except to the company, the military, and the state.

    Conyers traces some pre-modern definitions of the slave:
    for most of history, and among most peoples in history, the slave is one who specifically did no longer belong to the family, or to his own people, but belonged to a stranger. It might be said without exaggeration that everyone was thought to "belong" to someone, or to some family or group. But when one belongs to strangers, the misfortune is described by the status of "slave."
    Some examples:
    • "Early Hebrews were restricted from making slaves of their own people; and if one of them had become so indebted that they sold themselves into slavery to foreigners, their next of kin was obliged to buy them back, to 'redeem' them."

    • "in early Saxon law 'the 'autonomous' stranger who had no family or clan to protect him was automatically regarded as a slave.'"

    • in most African nations, where the opposite of slavery is not '''freedom' qua autonomy but rather 'belonging.'''

    David Brion Davis (as quoted by Conyers):
    "the salient characteristic of slavery was its antithetical relation to the normal network of kinship ties of dependency, protection, obligation, and privilege, ties that easily served as a model of nonkinship forms of patronage, clientage, and voluntary servitude." [and] the "'modernity' of the slave lay in his continu¬ing marginality and vulnerability, in his incomplete and ambiguous bonding to a social group:' -- Slavery and Human Progress
    Conyers makes the final tie between the relations of large masses of people to modern society and slavery thus:
    when some populations are living sumptuously at the expense of others who are barely able to feed their young, is that not also slavery, one might ask? Or when large populations live as "alien residents" - which was a biblical term practically equivalent to "slaves" - then are there not some remaining signs of the institution? When so many people are heavily in debt, and some third world nations as well, can they truly be said to work for their own living? Or do they, just as in any ancient slave system, work for the primary benefit of others-even for others they do not know? This latter-day slave system has the convenience of remaining out of sight, and thus inoffensive to a sensitive bourgeois population.
    Earlier, Conyers has said that Marxism has made us sensitive to the expansion of the word "slave", but the alienation Marx saw as making us "wage slaves" was alienation and isolation from our own labor; whereas Conyers traces it as alienation and isolation from vocation: from ties to family, church, tribe, etc. that make us part of an organic community. His presentation is that that severing of ties to organic community and reattaching them to modern organizations like the state, the company, and the military leaves us in exactly the same isolated and alienated position - working for the benefit of another with whom we have no real ties.

    Read more!

    Sunday, March 23, 2008

    "He is Risen . . ."

    1 Corinthians 15:1-8: Now I want to make clear for you, brothers and sisters, the gospel that I preached to you, that you received and on which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message I preached to you – unless you believed in vain. For I passed on to you as of first importance what I also received – that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as though to one born at the wrong time, he appeared to me also. -- NET Bible
    That was the teaching of the 1st Century church well within 20 years of Christ's death.

    And its meaning was also clear to Paul, used to (as a Pharisee) arguing with the Sadducees (and apparently the Corinthians) over the resurrection of the dead:
    1 Corinthians 15:12-19: Now if Christ is being preached as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is futile and your faith is empty. Also, we are found to be false witnesses about God, because we have testified against God that he raised Christ from the dead, when in reality he did not raise him, if indeed the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is useless; you are still in your sins. Furthermore, those who have fallen asleep in Christ have also perished. For if only in this life we have hope in Christ, we should be pitied more than anyone. -- NET Bible
    That, of course, has been the view of the vast majority of the Body of Christ over the last 2000 years until now. The "Enlightenment" brought us those who just cannot believe in the supernatural, or God reaching into His Creation through miracles. Even most of those, like Walter Wink, still need, and want, to find meaning in the Resurrection, even if they want it to be lore, myth, or something spiritual; and even if they believe that while the witnesses above were experiencing "something", that "something" was not the Risen and Glorified (corporeal) Christ.

    Still, nearly all Christians outside the west, and most of them in the west, have staked their beliefs - like Paul above - on the Risen Christ; and Christ, of course, said we are blessed because we can believe this, even in this "Enlightened" age, without - like Thomas - having to put our fingers into the holes on His hands in order to believe.

    So, whether it be Mahanoy or myself, Wink or Wright: we all come together on Easter - Resurrection Sunday - for the holiest day in the Christian calendar. Not the day He was born, not the day He died - although most celebrated both of those - but on the day He rose. And, around the world, someone will say to the assembled crowd: He is Risen . . .

    And we will all answer: He is Risen indeed

    Happy Easter

    Read more!

    Thursday, March 20, 2008

    Appropriate Smallness: Part 2

    [Number nineteen in a series]

    I am continuing to look at Chapter 7 ("Appropriate Smallness: The Practice of Servanthood") of John Ortberg's The Life You've Always Wanted. The study questions are from the back of the book, and were written by Kevin G. Harney.

    The book is about spiritual disciplines. The most important thing I have gotten from the book about spiritual disciplines in general is that we should not do them just so we can check them off a list. They are not a barometer of spirituality or a way to earn favor with God. They are a way to enable the transformation God wants to make in your life.

    Appropriate Smallness

    If you want to be your own god, you have to settle for living in a tiny universe where there is room for only one person. Your world could grow infinitely bigger if you were only willing to become, in the words of a friend of mine, "appropriately small." -- John Ortberg

    IV. A Life of Servanthood: How do we enter a life of servanthood?
    1. The Ministry of the Mundane
      Jesus took a little child in his arms and said, in effect, "Here's your ministry. Give yourselves to those who can bring you no status or clout. Just help people. You need this little child. You need to help this little child, not just for her sake, but more for your sake. For if you don't, your whole life will be thrown away on an idiotic contest to see who is the greatest. But if you serve her - often and well and cheerfully and out of the limelight - then the day may come when you do it without thinking, 'What a wonderful thing I've done.' Then you will begin serving naturally, effortlessly, for the joy of it. Then you will begin to understand how life in the kingdom works." -- John Ortberg
    2. The Ministry of Being Interrupted
      Another form of service might be called the ministry of availability. In the Russian church certain people called poustinikki would devote themselves to a life of prayer. They would withdraw to the desert (poustinia) and live in solitude, but not in isolation. (The Russian word for solitude means "being with everybody.") By custom, "the latch was always off the door" as a sign of availability, according to Tilden Edwards. "The poustinik's priority at any time was his neighbor's need (which might stretch beyond prayer and counsel to physical labor, as at harvest time)."
    3. Embracing Our Weaknesses and Limitations
      "Why do you choose to be so busy?" he persisted, which made me uncomfortable because then I had to think about it. The only honest answer was that, more than anything else, I was running on grandiosity. I was afraid that if I declined opportunities, they would stop coming, and if opportunities stopped coming I would be less important, and if I were less important, that would be terrible . . . As a result of this encounter I developed a small "personal schedule group," with a covenant that we would not take on any added commitments in life without discussing them with each other and with our families first. The covenant also gave us full permission to talk not only about our schedules but also the motives behind our activities.

    4. Question 6: John talks about how we can be swept into busyness and get our motors running too fast. Respond to one of the following questions that apply to you:

      • If your RPMs are too slow, what needs to happen to help you pick up the pace?

      • If you feel your RPMs are at a good place, what can you do to be sure you maintain health and balance and not get revved up too fast?

      • If your RPMs are hitting the red line and danger zone, what can you do to slow down and find restored health and balance in your life?

      Question 7: If you could form a personal schedule team made up of people who care about you, know you, and would speak honestly to you, what kind of evaluation do you think they would make if they reviewed your schedule from the past month? What might they tell you to stop? What might they encourage you to begin?

    5. The Ministry of "Holding Your Tongue"
      Perhaps the least practiced form of servanthood today is what Bonhoeffer called "the ministry of holding one's tongue."
      Often we combat our evil thoughts most effectively if we absolutely refuse to allow them to be expressed in words . . . It must be a decisive rule of every Christian fellowship that each individual is prohibited from saying much that occurs to him.
      This behavior flies in the face of the conventional wisdom today, when saying "everything that occurs to you" is taken as an essential component of mental health. But sometimes this "ministry of the closed mouth" is a victory for the kingdom
    6. The Ministry of "Bearing"
      We are called to bear each other's burdens. Sometimes this may involve praying for another's need, or trying to comfort someone in pain. But at times it may feel as if an entire relationship is burden¬some. I may need to "bear with" people until I learn to love them. . . The ministry of bearing with one another is more than simply tolerating difficult people. It is also learning to hear God speak through them. It is learning to be "for" them. It is learning that the difficult person I have most to deal with is me. . . . "Bearing with them" does not require becoming best friends, but means learning to wish them well, releasing our right to hurt them back, coming to experience our common standing before the Cross.
    Group Prayer Direction: Read Mark 10:45 again. Pray for God to give each of your small-group members a growing desire to serve in humble secrecy. Pray for the heart of Jesus when it comes to your acts of service.

    Living the Life: What is an example of the ministry of the mundane that you can offer in one of the following areas this week?
    • In a friendship

    • In the work place

    • In your home

    • In your neighborhood

    • In your church
    Take a moment and identify one or two simple chores, tasks, or jobs that you know (and others may know) you really don't enjoy. What might you learn if you commit to one of these tasks on a regular basis for the coming months, seeking the Spirit's leading in your life as you enter into these simple tasks?

    Personal Reflection:What can you do to keep the latch off your door and make yourself more available to others in how you do the following:

    • Schedule your day

    • Project approachability and availability

    • Set up your home, office, and other places people connect with you
    Additional Small Group Questions:
    1. Not only can vanity strike in the secular parts of life, it can hit at the core of our spiritual life. What are some signs or indicators that spiritual pride is creeping in?

    2. Read Luke 18:9-14. What is Jesus teaching us about the condition of our heart in relation to our actions?

    3. Have a member of your small group read the possible responses to a sincere compliment (see Part 1). What does genuine and authentic humility look like? What does false humility look like and how can you tell the dif¬ference?

    4. Read the Bonhoeffer quote above. Tell about a time you should have held your tongue, but failed to. What were some of the repercussions? Tell about a time you did hold your tongue and had the wisdom and self-control to be silent. What did God accomplish through your silence?

    Read more!

    Wednesday, March 19, 2008

    Touring the Net

    What did I find interesting in my normal haunts this week?

  • "Christian Carnival CCXVI (216)" is up at Crossroads: Where Faith and Inquiry Meet.

  • Different views on Obama's "Race in America" speech:
    • Rick Moran at Rightwing Nut House with "Rethinking 'The Speech'":
      Take an issue that Obama did not specifically confront yesterday. In a 2003 sermon, Wright claimed, “The government lied about inventing the HIV virus as a means of genocide against people of color.”

      This accusation does not make Wright, as Obama would have it, an “occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy.” It makes Wright a dangerous man. He has casually accused America of one of the most monstrous crimes in history, perpetrated by a conspiracy of medical Mengeles. If Wright believes what he said, he should urge the overthrow of the U.S. government, which he views as guilty of unspeakable evil. If I believed Wright were correct, I would join him in that cause . . . The remarks in question were not “controversial” which implies that there is room for disagreement contained in Wright’s arguments. Only a loon believes the US government created the AIDS virus to kill Black people.
    • WorldMagBlog looks at the responses/reactions to Wright's statements in "Blacks’ dilemma with Wright and wrong":
      In a Rasmussen poll released Monday, 29 percent of blacks said Wright’s comments “made them more likely to support Obama.” . . . Slate posted a survey where respondents’ reactions were charted in real time as they watched snippets of Wright’s inflammatory sermons. When sorted into different groups, respondents all reacted negatively in varying degrees — except for blacks, whose responses hovered around at least 20 percent positive (sometimes as high as 60 percent), even after the reverend said, “God damn America.”
      and, again, the HIV comment is mentioned.
  • Scot McKnight examines conservative Evangelicalism and post-conservative Evangelicalism in a series titled "Reforming"

  • Letitia at Intellecuelle responds to this inquiry
    "Christians always say that it's important to follow the 10 Commandments! But you don't observe the Sabbath. Sabbath is from Friday night to Saturday night. You still think 'Do not murder' is nonnegotiable, don't you? Jesus never told anyone that they could change the day of Sabbath. He never did. Paul never did. Then why don't you follow the fourth commandment? Why don't you eat kosher?"
    with "Christianity is Incomprehensible"

  • Edward C. Green and Allison Herling Ruark
    Green is the director of the AIDS Prevention Research Project at the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies, where Ruark is a research fellow.
    write "AIDS and the Churches: Getting the Story Right" at First Things
    The list of countries that have seen both changes in sexual behaviors and declining HIV prevalence is growing and now includes Uganda, Kenya, Haiti, Zimbabwe, Thailand, and Cambodia, as well as urban areas of Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Zambia, and Malawi. Many countries that have not seen declines in HIV have seen increases in condom use, but in every country worldwide in which HIV has declined there have been increases in levels of faithfulness and usually abstinence as well.
    [HT: WorldMagBlog]

  • Rick Moran tries to come to grips with "Is Capitalism and the Conservative Rationale For it Dead". He admits his ignorance of economics, but follows are very good article in trying to come to grips with the government bailout of the financial markets.
    Rewarding stupidity or ignorance is not the way of capitalism. In a perfect capitalistic society, those who make their own bed should lie in it – even if it means a company goes belly up or people have their houses foreclosed on.

    But what kind of capitalistic society would allow a multi-gazillion dollar corporation who may have overextended itself because its risk assessors got it wrong, collapse and take the entire financial system with it?
  • A few people reported on this story in the Times Online: "Royal college warns abortions can lead to mental illness".
    The Royal College of Psychiatrists recommends updating abortion information leaflets to include details of the risks of depression. “Consent cannot be informed without the provision of adequate and appropriate information,” it says.
  • Joe Carter at Evangelical Outpost points out Cracked's "7 Insane Conspiracies That Actually Happened"
    People love a good conspiracy theory. The JFK assassination plot, aliens crash landing at Roswell, the 9/11 truth movement and charges of government surveillance are all an indelible part of our pop culture landscape and are by and large, total bullshit.

    So where does your average conspiracy buff go to learn about shadowy plots that aren't pure tinfoil hattery?

    Look no further

  • Iraq at Five Years: Rick Moran with "Iraq 5 Years Gone":
    There’s no other way to say it except Bush blew it. And his incomprehensible decision not to change strategy sooner while sticking with a secretary of defense whose lies about how well things were going in Iraq echoed the worst of what the government was telling the American people during the Viet Nam war was a monumental error in judgment.
  • Read more!

    Tuesday, March 18, 2008

    Text: Obama on Race in America

    Senator Barack Obama is probably not going to get my vote - although he may. If he does get my vote, the speech he just made on race in America is going to be one of the reasons. I am not saying it is perfect - but it is nearly perfect.

    How do we talk about the divisions by race in America - and yet transcend that division to look for unity and a vision for the United States? How do we understand that race has been used to oppress people, without making every white person an oppressor? Well, other than look to Christ as a transcendent focus to overcome our divisions - this speech is the best thing I have ever read from a political candidate.

    I give you Senator Barack Obama:

    "We the people, in order to form a more perfect union."

    Two hundred and twenty one years ago, in a hall that still stands across the street, a group of men gathered and, with these simple words, launched America's improbable experiment in democracy. Farmers and scholars; statesmen and patriots who had traveled across an ocean to escape tyranny and persecution finally made real their declaration of independence at a Philadelphia convention that lasted through the spring of 1787.

    The document they produced was eventually signed but ultimately unfinished. It was stained by this nation's original sin of slavery, a question that divided the colonies and brought the convention to a stalemate until the founders chose to allow the slave trade to continue for at least twenty more years, and to leave any final resolution to future generations.

    Of course, the answer to the slavery question was already embedded within our Constitution – a Constitution that had at is very core the ideal of equal citizenship under the law; a Constitution that promised its people liberty, and justice, and a union that could be and should be perfected over time.

    And yet words on a parchment would not be enough to deliver slaves from bondage, or provide men and women of every color and creed their full rights and obligations as citizens of the United States. What would be needed were Americans in successive generations who were willing to do their part – through protests and struggle, on the streets and in the courts, through a civil war and civil disobedience and always at great risk - to narrow that gap between the promise of our ideals and the reality of their time.

    This was one of the tasks we set forth at the beginning of this campaign – to continue the long march of those who came before us, a march for a more just, more equal, more free, more caring and more prosperous America. I chose to run for the presidency at this moment in history because I believe deeply that we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together – unless we perfect our union by understanding that we may have different stories, but we hold common hopes; that we may not look the same and we may not have come from the same place, but we all want to move in the same direction – towards a better future for of children and our grandchildren.

    This belief comes from my unyielding faith in the decency and generosity of the American people. But it also comes from my own American story.

    I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas. I was raised with the help of a white grandfather who survived a Depression to serve in Patton's Army during World War II and a white grandmother who worked on a bomber assembly line at Fort Leavenworth while he was overseas. I've gone to some of the best schools in America and lived in one of the world's poorest nations. I am married to a black American who carries within her the blood of slaves and slaveowners – an inheritance we pass on to our two precious daughters. I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins, of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents, and for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible.

    It's a story that hasn't made me the most conventional candidate. But it is a story that has seared into my genetic makeup the idea that this nation is more than the sum of its parts – that out of many, we are truly one.

    Throughout the first year of this campaign, against all predictions to the contrary, we saw how hungry the American people were for this message of unity. Despite the temptation to view my candidacy through a purely racial lens, we won commanding victories in states with some of the whitest populations in the country. In South Carolina, where the Confederate Flag still flies, we built a powerful coalition of African Americans and white Americans.

    This is not to say that race has not been an issue in the campaign. At various stages in the campaign, some commentators have deemed me either "too black" or "not black enough." We saw racial tensions bubble to the surface during the week before the South Carolina primary. The press has scoured every exit poll for the latest evidence of racial polarization, not just in terms of white and black, but black and brown as well.

    And yet, it has only been in the last couple of weeks that the discussion of race in this campaign has taken a particularly divisive turn.

    On one end of the spectrum, we've heard the implication that my candidacy is somehow an exercise in affirmative action; that it's based solely on the desire of wide-eyed liberals to purchase racial reconciliation on the cheap. On the other end, we've heard my former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, use incendiary language to express views that have the potential not only to widen the racial divide, but views that denigrate both the greatness and the goodness of our nation; that rightly offend white and black alike.

    I have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy. For some, nagging questions remain. Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely – just as I'm sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed.

    But the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren't simply controversial. They weren't simply a religious leader's effort to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country – a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America; a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.

    As such, Reverend Wright's comments were not only wrong but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity; racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems – two wars, a terrorist threat, a falling economy, a chronic health care crisis and potentially devastating climate change; problems that are neither black or white or Latino or Asian, but rather problems that confront us all.

    Given my background, my politics, and my professed values and ideals, there will no doubt be those for whom my statements of condemnation are not enough. Why associate myself with Reverend Wright in the first place, they may ask? Why not join another church? And I confess that if all that I knew of Reverend Wright were the snippets of those sermons that have run in an endless loop on the television and You Tube, or if Trinity United Church of Christ conformed to the caricatures being peddled by some commentators, there is no doubt that I would react in much the same way

    But the truth is, that isn't all that I know of the man. The man I met more than twenty years ago is a man who helped introduce me to my Christian faith, a man who spoke to me about our obligations to love one another; to care for the sick and lift up the poor. He is a man who served his country as a U.S. Marine; who has studied and lectured at some of the finest universities and seminaries in the country, and who for over thirty years led a church that serves the community by doing God's work here on Earth – by housing the homeless, ministering to the needy, providing day care services and scholarships and prison ministries, and reaching out to those suffering from HIV/AIDS.

    In my first book, Dreams From My Father, I described the experience of my first service at Trinity:

    "People began to shout, to rise from their seats and clap and cry out, a forceful wind carrying the reverend's voice up into the rafters….And in that single note – hope! – I heard something else; at the foot of that cross, inside the thousands of churches across the city, I imagined the stories of ordinary black people merging with the stories of David and Goliath, Moses and Pharaoh, the Christians in the lion's den, Ezekiel's field of dry bones. Those stories – of survival, and freedom, and hope – became our story, my story; the blood that had spilled was our blood, the tears our tears; until this black church, on this bright day, seemed once more a vessel carrying the story of a people into future generations and into a larger world. Our trials and triumphs became at once unique and universal, black and more than black; in chronicling our journey, the stories and songs gave us a means to reclaim memories that we didn't need to feel shame about…memories that all people might study and cherish – and with which we could start to rebuild."

    That has been my experience at Trinity. Like other predominantly black churches across the country, Trinity embodies the black community in its entirety – the doctor and the welfare mom, the model student and the former gang-banger. Like other black churches, Trinity's services are full of raucous laughter and sometimes bawdy humor. They are full of dancing, clapping, screaming and shouting that may seem jarring to the untrained ear. The church contains in full the kindness and cruelty, the fierce intelligence and the shocking ignorance, the struggles and successes, the love and yes, the bitterness and bias that make up the black experience in America.

    And this helps explain, perhaps, my relationship with Reverend Wright. As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children. Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect. He contains within him the contradictions – the good and the bad – of the community that he has served diligently for so many years.

    I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother – a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.

    These people are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this country that I love.

    Some will see this as an attempt to justify or excuse comments that are simply inexcusable. I can assure you it is not. I suppose the politically safe thing would be to move on from this episode and just hope that it fades into the woodwork. We can dismiss Reverend Wright as a crank or a demagogue, just as some have dismissed Geraldine Ferraro, in the aftermath of her recent statements, as harboring some deep-seated racial bias.

    But race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now. We would be making the same mistake that Reverend Wright made in his offending sermons about America – to simplify and stereotype and amplify the negative to the point that it distorts reality.

    The fact is that the comments that have been made and the issues that have surfaced over the last few weeks reflect the complexities of race in this country that we've never really worked through – a part of our union that we have yet to perfect. And if we walk away now, if we simply retreat into our respective corners, we will never be able to come together and solve challenges like health care, or education, or the need to find good jobs for every American.

    Understanding this reality requires a reminder of how we arrived at this point. As William Faulkner once wrote, "The past isn't dead and buried. In fact, it isn't even past." We do not need to recite here the history of racial injustice in this country. But we do need to remind ourselves that so many of the disparities that exist in the African-American community today can be directly traced to inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.

    Segregated schools were, and are, inferior schools; we still haven't fixed them, fifty years after Brown v. Board of Education, and the inferior education they provided, then and now, helps explain the pervasive achievement gap between today's black and white students.

    Legalized discrimination - where blacks were prevented, often through violence, from owning property, or loans were not granted to African-American business owners, or black homeowners could not access FHA mortgages, or blacks were excluded from unions, or the police force, or fire departments – meant that black families could not amass any meaningful wealth to bequeath to future generations. That history helps explain the wealth and income gap between black and white, and the concentrated pockets of poverty that persists in so many of today's urban and rural communities.

    A lack of economic opportunity among black men, and the shame and frustration that came from not being able to provide for one's family, contributed to the erosion of black families – a problem that welfare policies for many years may have worsened. And the lack of basic services in so many urban black neighborhoods – parks for kids to play in, police walking the beat, regular garbage pick-up and building code enforcement – all helped create a cycle of violence, blight and neglect that continue to haunt us.

    This is the reality in which Reverend Wright and other African-Americans of his generation grew up. They came of age in the late fifties and early sixties, a time when segregation was still the law of the land and opportunity was systematically constricted. What's remarkable is not how many failed in the face of discrimination, but rather how many men and women overcame the odds; how many were able to make a way out of no way for those like me who would come after them.

    But for all those who scratched and clawed their way to get a piece of the American Dream, there were many who didn't make it – those who were ultimately defeated, in one way or another, by discrimination. That legacy of defeat was passed on to future generations – those young men and increasingly young women who we see standing on street corners or languishing in our prisons, without hope or prospects for the future. Even for those blacks who did make it, questions of race, and racism, continue to define their worldview in fundamental ways. For the men and women of Reverend Wright's generation, the memories of humiliation and doubt and fear have not gone away; nor has the anger and the bitterness of those years. That anger may not get expressed in public, in front of white co-workers or white friends. But it does find voice in the barbershop or around the kitchen table. At times, that anger is exploited by politicians, to gin up votes along racial lines, or to make up for a politician's own failings.

    And occasionally it finds voice in the church on Sunday morning, in the pulpit and in the pews. The fact that so many people are surprised to hear that anger in some of Reverend Wright's sermons simply reminds us of the old truism that the most segregated hour in American life occurs on Sunday morning. That anger is not always productive; indeed, all too often it distracts attention from solving real problems; it keeps us from squarely facing our own complicity in our condition, and prevents the African-American community from forging the alliances it needs to bring about real change. But the anger is real; it is powerful; and to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots, only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races.

    In fact, a similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don't feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience – as far as they're concerned, no one's handed them anything, they've built it from scratch. They've worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they're told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time.

    Like the anger within the black community, these resentments aren't always expressed in polite company. But they have helped shape the political landscape for at least a generation. Anger over welfare and affirmative action helped forge the Reagan Coalition. Politicians routinely exploited fears of crime for their own electoral ends. Talk show hosts and conservative commentators built entire careers unmasking bogus claims of racism while dismissing legitimate discussions of racial injustice and inequality as mere political correctness or reverse racism.

    Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze – a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many. And yet, to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns – this too widens the racial divide, and blocks the path to understanding.

    This is where we are right now. It's a racial stalemate we've been stuck in for years. Contrary to the claims of some of my critics, black and white, I have never been so naïve as to believe that we can get beyond our racial divisions in a single election cycle, or with a single candidacy – particularly a candidacy as imperfect as my own.

    But I have asserted a firm conviction – a conviction rooted in my faith in God and my faith in the American people – that working together we can move beyond some of our old racial wounds, and that in fact we have no choice is we are to continue on the path of a more perfect union.

    For the African-American community, that path means embracing the burdens of our past without becoming victims of our past. It means continuing to insist on a full measure of justice in every aspect of American life. But it also means binding our particular grievances – for better health care, and better schools, and better jobs - to the larger aspirations of all Americans -- the white woman struggling to break the glass ceiling, the white man whose been laid off, the immigrant trying to feed his family. And it means taking full responsibility for own lives – by demanding more from our fathers, and spending more time with our children, and reading to them, and teaching them that while they may face challenges and discrimination in their own lives, they must never succumb to despair or cynicism; they must always believe that they can write their own destiny.

    Ironically, this quintessentially American – and yes, conservative – notion of self-help found frequent expression in Reverend Wright's sermons. But what my former pastor too often failed to understand is that embarking on a program of self-help also requires a belief that society can change.

    The profound mistake of Reverend Wright's sermons is not that he spoke about racism in our society. It's that he spoke as if our society was static; as if no progress has been made; as if this country – a country that has made it possible for one of his own members to run for the highest office in the land and build a coalition of white and black; Latino and Asian, rich and poor, young and old -- is still irrevocably bound to a tragic past. But what we know -- what we have seen – is that America can change. That is true genius of this nation. What we have already achieved gives us hope – the audacity to hope – for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.

    In the white community, the path to a more perfect union means acknowledging that what ails the African-American community does not just exist in the minds of black people; that the legacy of discrimination - and current incidents of discrimination, while less overt than in the past - are real and must be addressed. Not just with words, but with deeds – by investing in our schools and our communities; by enforcing our civil rights laws and ensuring fairness in our criminal justice system; by providing this generation with ladders of opportunity that were unavailable for previous generations. It requires all Americans to realize that your dreams do not have to come at the expense of my dreams; that investing in the health, welfare, and education of black and brown and white children will ultimately help all of America prosper.

    In the end, then, what is called for is nothing more, and nothing less, than what all the world's great religions demand – that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Let us be our brother's keeper, Scripture tells us. Let us be our sister's keeper. Let us find that common stake we all have in one another, and let our politics reflect that spirit as well.

    For we have a choice in this country. We can accept a politics that breeds division, and conflict, and cynicism. We can tackle race only as spectacle – as we did in the OJ trial – or in the wake of tragedy, as we did in the aftermath of Katrina - or as fodder for the nightly news. We can play Reverend Wright's sermons on every channel, every day and talk about them from now until the election, and make the only question in this campaign whether or not the American people think that I somehow believe or sympathize with his most offensive words. We can pounce on some gaffe by a Hillary supporter as evidence that she's playing the race card, or we can speculate on whether white men will all flock to John McCain in the general election regardless of his policies.

    We can do that.

    But if we do, I can tell you that in the next election, we'll be talking about some other distraction. And then another one. And then another one. And nothing will change.

    That is one option. Or, at this moment, in this election, we can come together and say, "Not this time." This time we want to talk about the crumbling schools that are stealing the future of black children and white children and Asian children and Hispanic children and Native American children. This time we want to reject the cynicism that tells us that these kids can't learn; that those kids who don't look like us are somebody else's problem. The children of America are not those kids, they are our kids, and we will not let them fall behind in a 21st century economy. Not this time.

    This time we want to talk about how the lines in the Emergency Room are filled with whites and blacks and Hispanics who do not have health care; who don't have the power on their own to overcome the special interests in Washington, but who can take them on if we do it together.

    This time we want to talk about the shuttered mills that once provided a decent life for men and women of every race, and the homes for sale that once belonged to Americans from every religion, every region, every walk of life. This time we want to talk about the fact that the real problem is not that someone who doesn't look like you might take your job; it's that the corporation you work for will ship it overseas for nothing more than a profit.

    This time we want to talk about the men and women of every color and creed who serve together, and fight together, and bleed together under the same proud flag. We want to talk about how to bring them home from a war that never should've been authorized and never should've been waged, and we want to talk about how we'll show our patriotism by caring for them, and their families, and giving them the benefits they have earned.

    I would not be running for President if I didn't believe with all my heart that this is what the vast majority of Americans want for this country. This union may never be perfect, but generation after generation has shown that it can always be perfected. And today, whenever I find myself feeling doubtful or cynical about this possibility, what gives me the most hope is the next generation – the young people whose attitudes and beliefs and openness to change have already made history in this election.

    There is one story in particularly that I'd like to leave you with today – a story I told when I had the great honor of speaking on Dr. King's birthday at his home church, Ebenezer Baptist, in Atlanta.

    There is a young, twenty-three year old white woman named Ashley Baia who organized for our campaign in Florence, South Carolina. She had been working to organize a mostly African-American community since the beginning of this campaign, and one day she was at a roundtable discussion where everyone went around telling their story and why they were there.

    And Ashley said that when she was nine years old, her mother got cancer. And because she had to miss days of work, she was let go and lost her health care. They had to file for bankruptcy, and that's when Ashley decided that she had to do something to help her mom.

    She knew that food was one of their most expensive costs, and so Ashley convinced her mother that what she really liked and really wanted to eat more than anything else was mustard and relish sandwiches. Because that was the cheapest way to eat.

    She did this for a year until her mom got better, and she told everyone at the roundtable that the reason she joined our campaign was so that she could help the millions of other children in the country who want and need to help their parents too.

    Now Ashley might have made a different choice. Perhaps somebody told her along the way that the source of her mother's problems were blacks who were on welfare and too lazy to work, or Hispanics who were coming into the country illegally. But she didn't. She sought out allies in her fight against injustice.

    Anyway, Ashley finishes her story and then goes around the room and asks everyone else why they're supporting the campaign. They all have different stories and reasons. Many bring up a specific issue. And finally they come to this elderly black man who's been sitting there quietly the entire time. And Ashley asks him why he's there. And he does not bring up a specific issue. He does not say health care or the economy. He does not say education or the war. He does not say that he was there because of Barack Obama. He simply says to everyone in the room, "I am here because of Ashley."

    "I'm here because of Ashley." By itself, that single moment of recognition between that young white girl and that old black man is not enough. It is not enough to give health care to the sick, or jobs to the jobless, or education to our children.

    But it is where we start. It is where our union grows stronger. And as so many generations have come to realize over the course of the two-hundred and twenty one years since a band of patriots signed that document in Philadelphia, that is where the perfection begins.

    Read more!

    Why This Friday is so Good

    [This is a re-working of a post from June of 2006 - and I may put it up before every Good Friday in the future.]

    The book is John Piper's Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die. The conversation around the atonement, and the various views of whether it happened (or not) and what it meant (or not), seems to digress into us trying to find the main reason - the proper theology - when all of the reasons matter. Or, worse yet, talking about who was at fault . . .

    The death of Jesus is of foremost importance for the world. And the central issue of Jesus’ death is not the cause, but the meaning—God’s meaning . . . John Piper has gathered from the New Testament fifty reasons behind the crucifixion of the Christ. Not fifty causes, but fifty purposes—in answer to the most important question facing us in the twenty-first century:
    Why did Jesus suffer and die?
    A book review/bible study

    These are the chapter titles, and the key verses.

    1. To absorb the wrath of God: Galatians 3:13; Romans 3:25; 1 John 4:10
    2. To please His heavenly Father: Isaiah 53:10; Ephesians 5:2
    3. To learn obedience and be perfected: Hebrews 5:8; Hebrews 2:10
    4. To achieve His own resurrection from the dead: Hebrews 13:20-21
    5. To show the wealth of God's love and grace for sinners: Romans 5:7-8; John 3:16; Ephesians 1:7
    6. To show His own love for us: Galatians 5:2; Ephesians 5:25; Galatians 2:20
    7. To cancel the legal demands of the law against us: Colossians 2:13-14
    8. To become a ransom for many: Mark 10:45
    9. For the forgiveness of our sins: Ephesians 1:7; Matthew 26:28
    10. To provide the basis for our justification: Romans 5:9; Romans 3:24; Romans 3:28
    11. To complete the obedience that becomes our righteousness: Philippians 2:8; Romans 5:19; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Philippians 3:9
    12. To take away our condemnation: Romans 8:34
    13. To abolish circumcision and all rituals as the basis of salvation: Galatians 5:11; Galatians 6:12
    14. To bring us to faith and keep us faithful: Mark 14:24; Jeremiah 32:40
    15. To make us holy, blameless and perfect: Hebrews 10:14; Colossians 1:22; 1 Corinthians 5:7
    16. To give us a clear conscience: Hebrews 9:14
    17. To obtain for us all things that are good for us: Romans 8:32
    18. To heal us from moral and physical sickness: Isaiah 53:5; Matthew 8:16-17
    19. To give eternal life to all who believe on Him: John 3:16
    20. To deliver us from the present evil age: Galatians 1:4
    21. To reconcile us to God: Romans 5:10
    22. To bring us to God: 1 Peter 3:18; Ephesians 2:13
    23. So that we might belong to Him: Romans 7:4; 1 Corinthians 6:19-20; Acts 20:28
    24. To give us confident access to the Holiest place: Hebrews 10:19
    25. To become for us the place where we meet God: John 2:19-21
    26. To bring the Old Testament priesthood to an end and become the eternal High Priest: Hebrews 7:23-27; Hebrews 9:24-26; Hebrews 10:11-12
    27. To become a sympathetic and helpful priest: Hebrews 4:15-16
    28. To free us from the futility of our ancestry: 1 Peter 1:18-19
    29. To free us from the slavery of sin: Revelation 1:5-6; Hebrews 13:12
    30. That we might die to sin and live to righteousness: 1 Peter 2:24
    31. That we would die to the law and bear fruit for God: Romans 7:4
    32. To enable us to live for Christ and not ourselves: Hebrews 7:23-27; Hebrews 9:24-26; 2 Corinthians 5:15
    33. To make His cross the ground of all our boasting: Galatians 6:14
    34. To enable us to live by faith in Him: Galatians 2:20
    35. To give marriage its deepest meaning: Ephesians 5:25
    36. To create a people passionate for good works: Titus 2:14
    37. To call us to follow His example of lowliness and costly love: 1 Peter 2:19-21; Hebrews 12:3-4; Philippians 2:5-8
    38. To create a band of crucified followers: Luke 9:23; Matthew 10:38
    39. To free us from bondage to the fear of death: Hebrews 2:14-15
    40. So that we would be with Him immediately after death: 1 Thessalonians 5:10; Philippians 1:21,23; 2 Corinthians 5:8
    41. To secure our resurrection from the dead: Romans 6:5; Romans 8:11; 2 Timothy 2:11
    42. To disarm the rulers and authorities: Colossians 2:14-15; 1 John 3:8
    43. To unleash the power of God in the gospel: 1 Corinthians 1:18; Romans 1:16
    44. To destroy the hostility between races: Ephesians 2:14-16
    45. To ransom people from every tribe and language and people and nation: Revelation 5:9
    46. To gather all his sheep from around the world: John 11:51-52
    47. To rescue us from final judgment: Hebrews 9:28
    48. To gain his joy and ours: Hebrews 12:2
    49. So that He would be crowned with glory and honor: Hebrews 2:9; Philippians 2:7-9; Revelation 5:12
    50. To show that the worst evil is meant by God for good: Acts 4:27-28

    Again, these are the chapter titles in the book, and the key verses for each chapter. The book has two pages for each chapter heading; and much more discussion and analysis. Pick up a copy and enjoy.

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