Wheaton College Update

Philip Ryken, Wheaton College’s President, released a statement about the recent chapel demonstration related to Rosaria Champagne Butterfield’s speaking engagement. From the statement:

Wheaton College’s conviction on homosexual practice remains as articulated in our Community Covenant, which is affirmed each year by all students, faculty, and staff:

“Scripture condemns . . . sexual immorality, such as the use of pornography (Matt. 5:27-28), pre-marital sex, adultery, homosexual behavior and all other sexual relations outside the bounds of marriage between a man and woman (Rom. 1:21-27; 1 Cor. 6:9-10; Gen. 2:24; Eph. 5:31).”

Chapel guests and programs speak to various topics, including contentious issues of the day, always in alignment with the biblical standards outlined in the Community Covenant.

As our Covenant states, Wheaton College is a community of living, learning, and serving. We are a confessional Christian academic community with a focus on the spiritual and intellectual formation of our students. While we are not insulated from cultural conflicts over ideas, including our own students’ search to understand how the truth of Scripture shapes each Christian’s life, our educational model does not require us either to silence critical exploration of complex issues or to accede uncritically to cultural pressures.

Instead, the Christ-followers who lead this Christian liberal arts institution, and who value the minds and hearts of the students entrusted to our care, judiciously employ a variety of responses to student concerns and conduct. These responses may include personal conversation, civil public discussion, godly counsel, admonition, and discipline.

Within Wheaton’s historic commitment to biblical truth, as well as in our model of liberal arts education, our goal is to grow a community where questions can be raised, disagreements can be expressed, discernment can be modeled, and disciples can be nurtured.

As a do-over, this series of statements greatly improves upon those offered by the Chaplain in the previous article.  Had Wheaton started from this position, it seems doubtful anyone would have bothered to say anything at all. But it still reveals the defensive position American evangelicals are increasingly operating from on this issue (and others) in a culture that is slowly but steadily abandoning Christianity. Let me point back to the comment in the previous article that probably angered me just enough to write a blog post:

“My prayer is that hearing Dr. Butterfield’s story will encourage and embolden all of us to share our stories with each other — to warmly invite those stories and to warmly receive those stories,” Kellough said. “My hope is that in telling our personal stories, we will be pointing one another to the ‘story of stories’ found in Jesus’ love for us.”

The reason I got so hot at the original article was the implied notion that because everyone’s story is meaningful (I agree with this), everyone’s story is equally edifying to us, equally pleasing to God, and equally worthy of the Ooohs and Ahhhs of a Kumbaya Moment. This is absolutely not what Christianity teaches, and this further reveals the inability of many American Christians to understand both the nature of the conflict and their current position in it. The article itself reveals that even the groups talking about ‘more than a single story’ recognize this, otherwise they would have been just as enthusiastic about Butterfield’s story as their own. Their real position was revealed to be ‘A Certain Set of Pre-Approved Stories In Deference To Us’. Our stories all have meaning, but not the same meaning. All of us are of equal value, but there is no neutrality in the Cosmos. The demonstrators instinctively understood this the moment they encountered a story that challenged them. Wheaton still seems unwilling to challenge them on this central point.

Our prayer should be that the stories shared by each of us, as varied as they undoubtedly are, will become unified on the central point of repentance and transformation through the saving grace of Jesus Christ. The stories are wonderful, always unfolding in unpredictable ways, but the critical point of focus ought to be the path chosen at the fork in the road.  A culture moving away from Christianity will undoubtedly employ tactics to move the focus elsewhere (preferably upstream, where sins remain unchallenged). However, a Christian institution should be among the last to accept the premise that the focus should be moved at all.

The mistake made by Wheaton has nothing to do with listening to the demonstrators. This is what they should have done. The mistake was made the moment they agreed to play along with the game the demonstrators offered rather than simply pointing out the hypocrisy of the language of the demonstration itself, something they still haven’t had the courage to do. The response from Wheaton should have come, publicly, in the form of one simple question:

Why does Butterfield’s story, or 10 million like it, even bother you at all?

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Movie Review: Lincoln

I’m a bit slow to watching Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, but here are a few quick thoughts:

  • Normally I absolutely love anything Spielberg makes, but I was disappointed with this one. The pacing was just too slow, an error Spielberg almost never makes.
  • Daniel Day Lewis was fantastic. His performance saved the movie, making it watchable.
  • As with most Hollywood versions of history, it seemed to be more concerned with telling the story in a way that makes the audience feel good about things believed today, as opposed to simply telling the history as it was. For example, Lincoln’s views on slavery were much more complex than what the movie presented. Lincoln’s views about colonization were entirely absent (I think). It seems that a 150 minute movie could have spared one to mention this. I suppose having heroic characters in a film discuss this as a (potential) solution to a present political problem would have made the audience too uncomfortable, even though examples of this have been implemented even in recent memory.
  • A second historical problem is the Hollywood tendency to entirely omit very interesting facts (in deference to making the audience feel good about their own beliefs), while also presenting as fact some items that are open to debate. The above is an example of the former, while the closing scene of Thaddeus Stevens climbing in bed with his housekeeper is an example of the latter (note that this is also in deference to a modern audience.) Wouldn’t it have been more entertaining to play Stevens’ relationship with his housekeeper as one of rumor, as it was in real life?
  • My biggest complaint is that Spielberg treated the subject matter with kid gloves, unwilling to challenge a modern audience in any way, even though this would have been both more accurate and more entertaining. The answer to the question seems so obvious now, but it was very clearly not obvious then, given that about 700,000 people had to be slaughtered to provide it, and Lincoln himself continued pursuing colonization even after he signed the Emancipation Proclamation.
  •  Basically, the movie attempted to set the audience in 1865, with the benefit of hindsight and the modern mood still intact. A better movie would have attempted to set the audience in 1865, warts and all.
  • UPDATE: I forgot to mention how much I enjoyed the choice to show Lincoln’s assassination from Tad’s point of view (he was attending a different play that evening). I don’t recall seeing that before in a film, and it was, for me, a very moving scene.
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Love the Sin, Hate the Conversion

American Evangelicalism has nothing to offer to the Kingdom if personal testimonies given at Christian colleges now have to be followed by prostration before the zeitgeist:

Students sat on the front steps of Edman Chapel holding signs and singing on Friday morning, Jan. 31, in a demonstration of solidarity and a desire to be heard before chapel guest Rosaria Champagne Butterfield gave her testimony and address to the Wheaton College community.

The demonstration, named “More Than a Single Story” by its organizers junior Justin Massey and sophomore Jordan-Ashley Barney, featured students holding signs that said “We’re all loved by God,” “This is not a protest,” “Rosaria’s story is valid, mine is too,” and “I’m gay and a beloved child of God. This is my story,” among many others. The students remained on the steps until just before chapel began, at which point they prayed together and then entered into the chapel to hear the message. Plans for the demonstration were formed on Wednesday, when Barney and Massey learned about Butterfield’s coming to Wheaton and heard from friends about their concern for the possibly negative impact that Butterfield’s story could have on Wheaton students.

What is Butterfield’s story? Oh, just one of conversion and repentance. One has to wonder if Massey and Barney would have protested had the only story told on that day been one akin to Andrew Sullivan’s. Those caught up in the zeitgeist don’t seem to truly desire an abundance of varied stories; after all, they are compelled to protest when one comes upon them and increasingly attempt to reduce the likelihood of one sneaking out.

Remember that time when Jesus, after calling people to repentance, then spent the day apologetically listening to his detractors tell him that His isn’t the only way? Yeah, me neither…

By the way, here is the Mission Statement and Motto of Wheaton College:

Our Mission:

Wheaton College serves Jesus Christ and advances His Kingdom through excellence in liberal arts and graduate programs that educate the whole person to build the church and benefit society worldwide.

Our Motto:

This mission expresses our commitment to do all things – “For Christ and His Kingdom.”

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Life Lessons from My Dad

Well another trip around the sun has been completed and a new one has begun.  Here’s wishing you a happy birthday dad, and I have to say, I’ve been thinking of the lessons you’ve taught me over the years.  The lessons you attempted to teach me, but which I miserably failed to learn, are currently being re-taught to me by my children, wife and my parole officer and he thinks it’s safe to say I’ll be a productive member of society in five to ten years.  Memories are priceless and I’m learning that the older you get the easier it is to relive memories rather than expend valuable energy making new ones.  So reader join me in celebrating my father’s birthday, if not with cash and gift cards which he would no doubt prefer, then by absorbing these life lessons.


Number one- Get up early

Dad’s typical day included teaching high school, driving a school bus before and after classes , farming, leading FFA related activities and/or driving a bus for evening school activities, and oh yes, being a husband and a father.  So it was not unusual for a days work to begin before five in the morning and end past eleven or twelve at night.  I’ve heard my dad say, and I would join him in saying, that there has never been a day he wanted to get out of bed.  To aid in this monumental task dad employed the best technology available at the time, a large clock radio alarm with the face back lit with an orange glow; millions continue to use such a device, and admittedly, to be awakened gently by music is appealing. The device had buttons and knobs and the buttons, if I recall correctly, were in a row on the top, with a knob on the bottom front left which controlled the tuner for the radio receiver and a knob on the bottom front right which controlled the volume for the speaker.  I don’t recall any markings which indicated the range of the volume but the loudest setting should have been marked “detonate”.  For quite a number of years that radio alarm would activate around 4:30 a.m. at a decibel range that would make Seattle’s football stadium seem like a library in comparison.  I believe it was set to KWTO ,which during the decade of the seventies, the format was country music, farming news, fishing reports with Bill Ring, and Paul Harvey news.  However because of the voltage flowing through the three inch diameter speaker, the noise was more like a tractor at full throttle pulling a wagon full of ten gallon milk cans.  From blissful, seven year old, warm in my bed sleep, to screaming banshee from hell, scared wide awake, heart pounding terror.  Not just for ten seconds while you fumble for the off button, but a full fishing report from Bill Ring, a full rundown of the previous days pricing for any animal sold anywhere on earth, and, time for a song, I’m the happiest girl in the whole USA .  This was the original torture method of choice by branches of the clandestine services but they were forced to use waterboarding because it was deemed more humane.  Today, I wake up a few minutes before the alarm, those final few minutes before the alarm are just too stressful.


Number two- Introduce the children to the wonder of animals


Dad had Shetland ponies which roamed the farm.  I may have been been seven or eight years old and it was determined for reasons I can’t remember and probably wouldn’t have understood that the ponies needed to be “rounded up”.  Come to think of it, even now I realize I still don’t understand the reason for these “roundups”.  At any rate, forget whatever Hollywood movie fantasy of a roundup you have in your imagination.  The movies depict cowboys on horseback guiding the herd through open range land, crossing dangerous rivers, directing them into corrals with hardly more than a pointed finger.  The cattle moved smoothly, the scenes lasted mere minutes, the cowboys moved on to the saloon, it was perfect.  We however, employ a different strategy- exhaust and collapse.  A few laps around the 120 acres of rolling farmland on a warm humid day, aided by JoJo, a dog who could outrun a cheetah, usually did the trick. ”Sic em JoJo” was a great stress reliever for Dad.  Finally, the livestock nearing death would seek refuge in the shade of the barn.  Piece of cake.  On this day I don’t recall the temperature or the duration of the chase but I do remember the gate.

Good corrals are a work of art.  They are sturdy and durable, able to withstand the abuse meted out by 800 pound animals with bad attitudes and loose bowels.  Good corrals control the flow of traffic.  They allow the farmhand to take a large group of animals, separate them into smaller groups, and/or work on a single animal at a time, all with the minimum of risk of injury to both the farmhand and the animal.  Our corral however, was more of a suggestion than a law when it came to controlling the livestock.  In our corral, Shetland ponies became gazelle’s and cattle became more destructive than a Fukushima reactor.

Yes, the gate.  On this day, dad and my brother managed to contain a few of the Shetland she-devils in a small pen with the opening blocked by a gate constructed of  steel pipe around its four sides and a wire grid  composing the rest.  It was sturdy and heavy thus meeting our conditions laid out previously.  I’m not sure if it was intentional or just happenstance but I was on the outside of the gate while the ponies on the inside, frightened, began to rotate inside the pen, accelerating like subatomic particles in a supercollider.  The gate, and myself, which had been vertical now became horizontal, leveled by a half ton of horseflesh.  I being watched over by angels, was pushed into the soft ground of the corral, and the gate became the reason I was not known as “the hoof face boy” as the ponies used it like a bridge over troubled children .  All in all, a successful roundup.  My therapist and my parole officer discuss this event often and agree it made me a better person than I probably would have been.


Number three- Take coffee breaks


Until I was an adult I don’t recall dad ever taking a traditional vacation or using a sick day.  To my knowledge dad never missed a day of work due to illness in his thirty plus year teaching career.  In my job I receive personal days, for which I’m grateful, which serve a dual purpose as either a sick day or I can schedule one for a day away from work.  I can’t accumulate these days nor can I accumulate any of my vacation time so it must be used every year which I am very happy to do.  So technically, of the 52 weeks of the year I can be excused for 6 of those. Dad didn’t take days off.  Dad’s record in my opinion far surpasses what Cal Ripken Jr. and Lou Gehrig accomplished, in large part, because they were playing and dad was working.  Some may say, “well school teachers have the entire summer off for a vacation”.  True.  Dad’s time off was spent typically sunup to sundown storing forage for his above mentioned ponies plus other assorted livestock, and of course, myself, so vacations were not likely.  Now, the body, mind, and spirit need a minimum amount of refreshing.  Oft times the need for a summer time break was signaled by a machinery breakdown.  Dad owned equipment for hay making that, unlike our neighbors machinery, needed repairs on a daily, even hourly basis.  Even to this day, dad owns a mowing device that was designed I’m sure as the result of a bar bet.  Launching a supply ship and docking it with the international space station requires no more effort than hooking this machine to a tractor.  But tires go flat, sickles need sharpening, equipment needs fuel so off to Dadeville for solutions to life’s problems and these trips were highlighted by a stop at the local café then known simply as the “drive in”.  Do you remember the coffee ad campaign featuring Juan Valdez who represented the Columbian coffee growers?  Juan had a job picking coffee beans because of Dad’s coffee consumption at the drive in.      The real reason for the drive in visit I believe is because dad used these stops as his mini-vacations. He could take a break from the heat, relax for a few minutes, and there was always someone there he would engage in conversation. Dad has a gift for making the other person know they are being listened to and that they are important.  The apostle Paul put it this way, “esteem others better than yourself”.  Dad has spent a lifetime putting others first.   Thank you dad for being a patient father to me because I surely caused you more than a few grey hairs.  Happy birthday!

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Thanksgiving Day 2013

Dallas Cowboy football, a buffet of food cooked by my grandmother Minnie, granddad in his easy chair, spittoon at the ready, television playing the game, these were some of the wonderful memories of my childhood. I’m thankful for the good memories but sometimes the bad memories play important roles.

“My life didn’t turn out the way I’d expected,” was how Redford’s Roy Hobbs explained it.  How can you explain a San Franciscan, a convert to Christianity who was attending Bible college by day and scrubbing floors by night boldly sharing the gospel with a farm boy from Dadeville.  I didn’t have much use for him or his faith at the time.  Fast forward a few months.  I was working the night shift at a Git-N-Go on the north central side of Springfield, Missouri and a fellow of the lewd and baser sort asked me for some money.  It was the gun he held that I found to be quite persuasive.  Along about this time a relationship I was involved in was crumbling and I began to look for a new way of living.  This was Christmas time 1987 and the next few months were spent in reflection of what would have resulted had the gun been fired.

July 7,1988.  I didn’t know much about God but I had been asking the heavenlies for help and I dreamed Charlie Sarchett’s name.  That night he let me in the front door of what was then Smitty’s supermarket on north Glenstone and showed me from the Bible who could help me, Jesus the Christ.

To say all has been good since would be false.  I have built close relationships only to see them dissolve.  I have been part of churches destroyed by wolves in sheep’s clothing.  I have had my faith pushed to the point of  being extinguished.   Even so, please come back soon, Lord Jesus.

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Forgiveness Exemplified

A few words of Jesus Christ frighten me each time I come across them; a handful of verses cause me to sit up straight and take seriously this thing called Christianity; a few passages serve to regularly wake me from my slumber.  A chief example of this is, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

Well.  There appear to be no exceptions – I have checked, disappointed by my lack of findings.   Unfortunately for we sinful creatures, this is surely a fair deal.  If He is going to forgive me for my wickedness, shouldn’t this same mercy begin to be reflected in my response to others?  C.S. Lewis put it this way:

Every one says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive, as we had during the war.  And then, to mention the subject at all is to be greeted with howls of anger.  It is not that people think this too high and difficult a virtue: it is that they think it hateful and contemptible.  ‘That sort of talk makes them sick,’ they say.  And half of you already want to ask me, ‘I wonder how you’d feel about forgiving the Gestapo if you were a Pole or a Jew?’

So do I.  I wonder very much.  Just as when Christianity tells me that I must not deny my religion even to save myself from death by torture, I wonder very much what I should do when it comes to the point.  I am not trying to tell you in this book what I could do – I can do precious little – I am telling you what Christianity is.  I did not invent it.  And there, right in the middle of it, I find ‘Forgive us our sins as we forgive those that sin against us.’  There is no slightest suggestion that we are offered forgiveness on any other terms.  It is made perfectly clear that if do not forgive we shall not be forgiven.  There are no two ways about it.  What are we to do?

One thing that is helpful to me in trying (and too often failing) to be obedient to this command is looking to others who have had more success.  Just this week, two such examples were seared into my conscience.  The first involves forgiveness offered by a woman surviving a napalm bombing.  Here are some excerpts:

8 June 1972, a plane bombed the village of Trang Bang, near Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) in South Vietnam after the South Vietnamese pilot mistook a group of civilians leaving the temple for enemy troops.

The bombs contained napalm, a highly flammable fuel, which killed and badly burned the people on the ground.

The iconic black-and-white image taken of children fleeing the scene won the Pulitzer Prize and was chosen as the World Press Photo of the Year in 1972.

It communicated the horrors of the Vietnam War in a way words never could, helping to end one of the most divisive wars in American history and later becoming a symbol of the cruelty of all wars for children and civilian victims.

In the centre of the photo was a nine year old girl, who ran naked down the highway after stripping off her burning clothes.

Kim Phuc Phan Thi was with her family at the pagoda attending a religious celebration when the plane struck and lost several relatives in the attack. The children running with her were her own brothers and sisters.

Understandably, forgiveness was not the first thought that came to mind, but it was in her future:

Grateful for the care she had received she later decided to study medicine but struggled to come to terms with her deep physical and psychological scars.

‘My heart was exactly like a black coffee cup,’ she said. ‘I wished I died in that attack with my cousin. I wish I died at that time so I won’t suffer like that anymore … it was so hard for me to carry all that burden with that hatred, with that anger and bitterness.’

But it was as a second year medical student in Saigon that she discovered a New Testament in the university library, committed her life to following Jesus Christ, and realised that God had a plan for her life.

Forgiveness made me free from hatred. I still have many scars on my body and severe pain most days but my heart is cleansed. Napalm is very powerful, but faith, forgiveness, and love are much more powerful. We would not have war at all if everyone could learn how to live with true love, hope, and forgiveness. If that little girl in the picture can do it, ask yourself: Can you?’ (Kim Phuc, 2008)

It is often said that time heals all wounds.  I certainly agree that the passing of time provides perspective, but it seems to me it is the grace of God both shown to us and reflected by us that enables true healing.

The second account, summarized here but given a lengthier treatment here,  is the story of Henry Gerecke, a US Chaplain who served 15 Nazi war criminals in the months leading up to their trials and executions at Nuremberg.  It is easy to speak of the love and mercy of God.  It is harder to confront the fact that this means Heaven will be populated with a few Nazi war criminals.  Yet, this is clearly what the Gospel implies, and it is clearly what we as Christians are called to embrace.  These examples show me that the hard-as-nails policy around forgiveness is indeed not an impossible virtue, but a reasonable requirement given to us by a merciful God.

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It’s George Brett…One of the All-Time Greats

One of the earliest joys I recall in life were the hours spent perusing the Baseball Encyclopedia that somehow ended up in our home.  (I know my brother will also instantly recall this holy text to which I refer.)  It’s origin is unknown to me to this day.  Did our Dad buy it?  Did it belong to our Uncle Mark?  Or did it just appear, like manna from Heaven?  It was the 1976 edition: green, with a red diamond on the cover.  It was from this source that I memorized statistics I can recall to this day.  I have forgotten the phone number of every house or apartment I’ve lived in, but I can still tell you Lou Gehrig once had 184 RBIs and fell only 7 HRs short of 500.  If I recall correctly, only 11 players were in the 500 HR club at the date of its publicaton.  This undoubtedly colored my opinion – lasting to this day – that Harmon Hillibrew is wildly underrated.

Born in 1981, the first set of baseball cards I remember studying intimately was the 1987 Topps set, with its glorious wooden border. Some cards still stand out in my memory: Wade Boggs wearing his glove and a cheesy, posed grin; the beautiful follow-through of Barry Bonds; Dwight Gooden reacting to a foul odor; Donnie Baseball’s moustache.  For sentimental reasons, this will always be my favorite set of cards.  Did I begin studying the stats on these cards in 1987, at six years old?  That seems unlikely to me, but I honestly don’t know.  Perhaps I was memorizing stats by then, or perhaps that didn’t begin until a year or two later.  The important point is that the baseball cards, with the career stats on the back, began to supplement the stats in the encyclopedia, for newer players and for the older players still active.  Humorously, to this day a wide gap in my knowledge still exists for stats from the late ’70s to the early ’80s if the player retired before the mid-1980s.  For example, it was some time before I knew Joe Morgan spent two years in San Francisco in 1981 and 1982.  Those years weren’t in the encyclopedia, and he retired before I began collecting and studying the cards.

The pin in question.

A picture of the pin, found on the interwebs.

I began thinking about this the other day when my 6-yr-old son brought me an old pin he had dug out of some box.  It had a picture of George Brett on it, circa 1985.  He didn’t know who it was.  Now, for any baseball fan growing up in Missouri when I grew up, the top of the active baseball pyramid had three names: Ozzie Smith, George Brett, and Whitey Herzog.  And it occurred to me that he had never seen a picture of Brett before.  Then I realized that while Brett is a sports hero to me, he will only ever be a set of statistics to my son, part of baseball lore, one of the all-time greats.  Brett retired in 1993; my son was born in 2007.  The gap between Brett’s retirement and my son’s birth is basically equal to the gap between Mantle’s retirement and my birth.  As much as I loved Mantle as a kid, I could only love him as a historical figure.  There were no memories - only the stats and the mythology.  So it will be for my son and George Brett.  This is strange to me.

Of course, this raises another interesting point: I was part of the last generation of kids who likely lived with humorous gaps in the knowledge we acquired simply because the internet was not available.  Any similar gap in knowledge my kids develop will be, largely, self-imposed.

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He Loves the Smell of Coal Plants in the Morning

This evening my grandfather and grandmother came to the house to visit.  They were returning home from the annual meeting of the electric cooperative providing power to our area.  Being young enough to take electricity for granted, and finding it difficult to imagine a scenario where I would spend time attending such an event, I chalked this up to a retired couple filling up  their calendar.  But then he said something peculiar: his electric bill is the one bill he’ll never complain about.

In his estimation, electricity is the greatest form of technology to ever reach rural people.  At 85, he’s old enough to remember life without it.  He remembers as a child people from town visiting his mom and dad, seemingly stumbling around their house, lit only by a kerosene lamp, or two.  As a child, he thought these people were joking, or just odd;  he later realized they weren’t.

The first time the power company came to his house his father told them no.  They were managing okay without it, able to complete their work by the light of the day.  Besides, life already had its own comforts.  For example, if they wanted cold milk they only had to take the milk produced that morning, pour it into a jar, and set the jar in the cold spring that provided their water.  This cold milk for breakfast (the milking was done early, after all) was a wonderful delight.  However, the same spring that was responsible for this treat was also responsible for the exhausting labor of hauling their drinking water up the hill to the house.

It turns out his father, my great-grandfather, was a good negotiator.  The second time through the power company offered to install the meter for free, including hooking up a single light bulb in the house for a free 30-day trial.  Laughing, he said their house was never without light again.  He believes this wonderful moment occurred somewhere around the 8th grade.  This paved the way, eventually, for a refrigerator (and a well), rendering those trips to the spring unnecessary.

He finds it impossible to comprehend how anyone could view coal as anything short of a miracle - a wonderful blessing from God.  He suspects that people who believe otherwise have simply never lived for years without electricity; have never felt the exhaustion of the daily trips carrying heavy buckets of water from the spring to the house; have always retrieved their cold milk from a refrigerator.  I have a deep suspicion he is right.

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Be Careful Little Mouth What You Say

You know things are tending towards farce when Christians begin defending Richard Dawkins.  Life is funny that way.  And Christianity is quite large and magnanimous in that way, always full of surprises.  One thing Christians will now and again point out is that they do resemble, however imperfectly, the meekness and the turning of cheeks described in scripture.  They have a deep well of examples to demonstrate this, mostly showing where Christians are mocked in popular media in a way that would be unacceptable if directed towards other religions – unacceptable to both the mockers and the mocked.  Comedy Central is a classic example of a network that very clearly has two separate policies for Christianity and Islam.  Interestingly enough, Christianity’s most consistently shrill critic recently experienced just how this works.  Mark Steyn recently wrote about it here:

In 2010, the bestselling atheist Richard Dawkins, in the “On Faith” section of the Washington Post, called the pope “a leering old villain in a frock” perfectly suited to “the evil corrupt organization” and “child-raping institution” that is the Catholic Church. Nobody seemed to mind very much.

Three years later, in a throwaway Tweet, Professor Dawkins observed that “all the world’s Muslims have fewer Nobel Prizes than Trinity College, Cambridge. They did great things in the Middle Ages, though.” This time round, the old provocateur managed to get a rise out of folks. Almost every London paper ran at least one story on the “controversy.” The Independent‘s Owen Jones fumed, “How dare you dress your bigotry up as atheism. You are now beyond an embarrassment.” The best-selling author Caitlin Moran sneered, “It’s time someone turned Richard Dawkins off and then on again. Something’s gone weird.” The Daily Telegraph‘s Tom Chivers beseeched him, “Please be quiet, Richard Dawkins, I’m begging.”

None of the above is Muslim. Indeed, they are, to one degree or another, members of the same secular liberal media elite as Professor Dawkins. Yet all felt that, unlike Dawkins’s routine jeers at Christians, his Tweet had gone too far. It’s factually unarguable: Trinity graduates have amassed 32 Nobel prizes, the entire Muslim world a mere 10. If you remove Yasser Arafat, Mohamed ElBaradei, and the other winners of the Nobel Peace Prize, Islam can claim just four laureates against Trinity’s 31 (the college’s only peace-prize recipient was Austen Chamberlain, brother of Neville). Yet simply to make the observation was enough to have the Guardian compare him to the loonier imams and conclude that “we must consign Dawkins to this very same pile of the irrational and the dishonest.”


Even a decade ago, it would have been left to the usual fire-breathing imams to denounce remarks like Dawkins’s. In those days, Islam was still, like Christianity, insultable. Fleet Street cartoonists offered variations on the ladies’ changing-room line “Does my bum look big in this?” One burqa-clad woman to another: “Does my bomb look big in this?” Not anymore. “There are no jokes in Islam,” pronounced the Ayatollah Khomeini, and so, in a bawdy Hogarthian society endlessly hooting at everyone from the Queen down, Islam uniquely is no laughing matter. Ten years back, even the United Nations Human Development Program was happy to sound off like an incendiary Dawkins Tweet: Its famous 2002 report blandly noted that more books are translated by Spain in a single year than have been translated into Arabic in the last thousand years.

What Dawkins is getting at is more fundamental than bombs or burqas. Whatever its virtues, Islam is not a culture of inquiry, of innovation. You can coast for a while on the accumulated inheritance of a pre-Muslim past — as, indeed, much of the Dar al-Islam did in those Middle Ages Dawkins so admires — but it’s not unreasonable to posit that the more Muslim a society becomes the smaller a role Nobel prizes and translated books will play in its future. According to a new report from Britain’s Office of National Statistics, “Mohammed,” in its various spellings, is now the second most popular baby boy’s name in England and Wales, and Number One in the capital. It seems likely that an ever more Islamic London will, for a while, still have a West End theater scene for tourists, but it will have ever less need not just for Oscar Wilde and Noël Coward and eventually Shakespeare but for drama of any kind. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe Dawkins is wrong, maybe the U.N. Human Development chaps are wrong. But the ferocious objections even to raising the subject suggest we’re not.

A quarter-century on, Fay Weldon’s “thought police” are everywhere. Notice the general line on Dawkins: Please be quiet. Turn him off. You can’t say that. What was once the London Left’s principal objection to the ayatollah’s Rushdie fatwa is now its reflexive response to even the mildest poke at Islam. Their reasoning seems to be that, if you can just insulate this one corner of the multicultural scene from criticism, elsewhere rude, raucous life — with free speech and all the other ancient liberties — will go on.

When Dawkins writes or speaks about Christianity, it is quickly apparent he doesn’t seem to understand it very well; what he describes is rarely a rejection of what Christianity actually is.  Someone who believes the Faith is true will understand that any rejection is ultimately for the ‘wrong reasons’, and now and again such a rejection, for life, flows from something so silly as a basic misunderstanding.  (When we give our account, He will certainly be able to sort out all of this.)    People can and do reject Christianity for all sorts of reasons, sometimes with the intensity found in Dawkins, yet we should still generously extend friendship, grace, and mercy.  His misguided criticisms do deserve a response in the form of an argument, but generosity is the chief means a critic like Dawkins can be shown to be wrong.  It is why he should be free to speak as he does, and we are called to respond by turning the other cheek.  Interestingly enough, by silencing him as Islamists and the secularists who fear them wish to do, they are only prove he is right about them.

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The Buck Settles Somewhere In Your General Vicinity

The distinguishing characteristic of President Obama’s foreign policy is his ability to make his predecessor look prudent, skilled at coalition building and approaching the task of making war in general.  And therein lies the rub.

The decision for Syria isn’t being made in a vacuum; we have twelve years of experience to guide our decision.  If our experiences in the Middle East had been largely positive, it might be different.  If we weren’t flat broke, it might be different.  If the chemical weapons were crossing Syria’s borders, it might be different.  If instead of being obsessed with ‘rebels’ and installing ‘democracy’ we simply thought more clearly about what our interests are, it might be different.  If the one certain effect of our foreign policy in every Middle Eastern country we’ve tried to exert influence this century had not been the near total devastation of Christian minorities, it might be different.  Yet, here we are, and no one advocating war has been able to clearly define what our national interest here is, and there is no reason to believe we will be more successful in this fiasco than in our previous adventures of this century.

During the 2008 Presidential campaign Sarah Palin was ridiculed for being unable to eloquently summarize President Bush’s foreign policy.  At the time, however, the question at least implied Bush had one.  What is Obama’s foreign policy?  Can he even summarize it? It also seems apparent Obama would not have gone to Congress had Cameron not gone to Parliament or if Cameron had gone to Parliament and won.  When Cameron lost, it became a political nightmare for Obama to go forward without having someone, anyone, on board, even if that meant Congress (the sign-off of last resort, Article 1, Section 8, be damned.)  After all, the buck needs to hover somewhere in the general vicinity of someone else.  That is never a good sign for someone contemplating war.

Yet, the most infuriating thing is that if this were a Republican president (and there should be little doubt Romney would have been advocating war), there would only be token opposition in the GOP and Democrats would be unglued at the prospect of repeating Iraq.  Although multiple issues contribute to this opinion, this issue makes it obvious the game is rigged against the common man.  It’s a Beltway game, and we’re just in the stands eating our popcorn, waiting to be played the next Miley Cyrus video between innings.

Critics of Rand Paul will sometimes describe his foreign policy as dangerous.  But, is it really more dangerous than that of the sitting President or his predecessor, or more dangerous than the way the two parties treat bombing people to bits as little more than a game of political advantage?  I have my doubts.  I grant he could prove to be too dovish, but right now he is one of a small number of U.S. leaders speaking with clarity on foreign policy issues, at a time when it is desparately needed.  To use a common phrase, he is at least trending in the right direction.  He is also one of the few U.S. leaders willing to point out what will likely happen to Syria’s Christian population if we begin providing air support for Al Qaeda rebels in Syria (speaking in defense of Christians as a Christian, even when they are defenseless minorities, being rather uncouth in elite, Beltway company; Bosnian Muslims or Israeli Jews, for example, are the sorts to which the cool kids extend their sympathies.)

There is only one correct strategy to pursue: keep this conflict contained inside Syria’s borders.  That is it.  War is a means to an end.  It is the use of violence to achieve a political goal.  It certainly isn’t “a message.”  And there is no indication war is yet needed to achieve that political goal.  (I wonder whether anyone in this administration really understands theory behind war?  I doubt it was a common topic of discussion among the Choom Gang.)  Part of the confusion comes from drawing a red line at the use of WMDs (or possession of WMDs, as Bush did).  It reflects years of propagandizing by the cultural and political left.  What is it about WMDs that makes them more horrible than dropping cluster bombs, using land mines to blow off limbs, exploding people’s intestines out, or busting their ear drums using artillery shells?  We used WMDs one time to end a war.  We might have to use them again; this is, in part, why we keep them.  Churchill advocated gassing in World War II.  Less than one percent of the 100,000 people Assad has killed died as a result of WMDs.  Dead is dead.  The instrument of the death is a moot point when discussing whether to involve oneself in war.  Too few see it that way, and after 75 years we are seeing the effects of making WMDs into something more than they are.  Weapons don’t wage war – people do.  I wish we could get rid of all these horrible weapons today; they are the hallmark of the dark side of scientific advancement, reminding us that no matter what heights we achieve, we are capable of falling even further.  But so long as they exist we are best served by having a few of our own (preferably more than our neighbors, always in one size larger) and stripping them of their mystical powers, viewing them instead as we do other weapons: tools of death intended to devastate infrastructure (and people), rendering an enemy impotent while also breaking their will.  It would help bring clarity to how we approach foreign affairs.

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