HBO’s Chernobyl: Socialism’s Epic Fail is Summer’s Best Viewing

And holds profound lessons for 2020

During these dog days of summer, HBO is offering one week free access—just enough to watch the blockbuster 5-part series (if you didn’t see it in May) on the 1986 nuclear plant disaster that spread radiation all across Europe. Extremely well-written, terrific acting and an uncanny replication of 1986 Soviet Union, according to my husband who has taught theology there many times. And, It. Is. Riveting.

The series begins with Valery Legasov, First Deputy Director of the Kurchatov Institute of Atomic Energy, recording tapes he will secretly pass on to his fellow scientists. As the lead scientist on the committee to investigate the disaster, he vents his frustration with the core values of Soviet socialism:

“What is the cost of lies? It’s not that we’ll mistake them for the truth. The real danger is that if we hear enough lies, we no longer recognize the truth at all. What happens then? All we can do is abandon the truth and content ourselves instead with stories.”

But at Chernobyl, all the State stories hit the wall of reality.

Legasov knew the truth as soon as he read the first report: graphite was on the ground outside the reactor. The reactor had not simply released steam, like Three Mile Island. Neither did the core melt down from a disruption in the cooling system. Chernobyl’s core had exploded.

Sephora’s Transgender Ad: “We belong to something beautiful”

If we could sit down for coffee I'd ask some questions...

Walking down the mall last week I saw this large poster in the Sephora makeup retailer window. It was the end of June, gay pride month, and of all the messages I’d seen celebrating LGBT I found it the most riveting–a made-up face with the gender neutral pronouns down the side and the ad campaign slogan across the bottom: “We belong to something beautiful.”

I continued on to my car, but the poster haunted me. I live in Columbia, South Carolina, not exactly a hotbed of LGBT activism. But here was this poster in our neighborhood mall going beyond asking for acceptance for transgendered people. It went beyond celebration of diversity. It made a strong moral statement: Transgender is beautiful.

When it is July hot and 150% humidity, I walk for exercise in the mall. So a few days later I was back, approaching the store and considering whether to talk with the manager. I reached the store and searched the windows. No poster. I entered and who should greet me but…the manager. She welcomed me with a friendly smile.

“Can I help you?” she asked.
“Hello,” I said. “Yes, last time I passed by you had a poster in your front window that said, ‘We belong to something beautiful.’ I noticed that today it’s gone…”

“Yes,” the manager responded, “we passed the end of the month and we always change them after a month.”
“I’ve wanted to tell you that I’ve really been thinking about your poster and its message.”

Three Reasons Why I Honor Our Slave-Holding Founders and Celebrate July 4th

The leader of one grass-roots group, Take-em-Down NOLA, has said, “We recognize the original sin was the genocide of the Native Americans and the enslavement of the Africans. People bring up the fact that [slave masters] were Founding Fathers. That’s people’s opinions, but for us what disqualifies you is the slave-owning.”

Many have embraced this perspective: slavery and mistreatment based on race is the “original” and apparently unforgivable sin of America. They cannot join in the celebration of the founding of a racist state. As followers of Jesus, how should we respond? Especially on July 4th?

“I am not my body!”  Compassion, peace and hope when we feel alienated from our bodies

May God deepen our compassion for those who live in this tension and bring us wholeness and peace

Whether because of aging, illness, gender dysphoria, injury, anorexia, or even weight gain, many of us feel that who we are on the outside is not who we really are on the inside. When I first encountered the transgender community rallying cry, “I am not my body,” I was shocked. “I am not my body” had been my heart cry for years.

I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at age 29.

I could empathize with the trans who felt like the male on the inside didn’t really align with her biologically female body. Or the gay guy feeling like his inner longings for connection did not align with his body’s ability to connect. I too felt like: This body betrays me. It’s not who I really am in my heart of hearts.

With the onset of RA I began to fight terrible pain and loss of mobility. The joint pain that had settled into my feet moved steadily up my body—knees, hips, hands, elbows, shoulders. Ten weeks after it began I remember lying in bed the night my jaw joint started to ache. My inner snark thought, Well, at least it can’t spread any further. No joints in my brain.

Landing at Normandy with a “lawn chair and a book to read”

Today is June 6, and TV and newspapers are filled with commemorations of the 75th anniversary of the D-day invasion of Normandy in World War II. In order to land 130,000 troops on a shoreline without harbors (where they wouldn’t be expected), an entire nation had to drop their daily concerns and become players in winning the historic battle.

In the segregated South, a small landing craft factory employing eighty people hired tens of thousands of whites and blacks, men and women, all working shoulder to shoulder, making the same wage. Troops trained, jumping out of boat-sized cardboard boxes and high-stepping through imaginary surf with their rifles up until exhaustion. On the morning of the invasion, more than 2,500 Americans were shot, blown up, or drowned.

Back home in New York’s Grand Central Station, when the invasion was announced, a woman sitting on a bench sank to her knees in prayer, and then another and another, until almost the entire crowd kneeled to pray for God’s mercy on their sons and countrymen. In wartime Grand Central Station became a house of prayer.

A Psalm of Lament and Praise for 2019

2019—a new beginning. My heart is filled with hope and also lament—the makings of a David-styled patchwork psalm from my own heart to God.

God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day, Psalm 7:11.

As I look into this new year, read the news and take the stories and research to heart, I too feel indignant. And deeply sad. Lord how can it be that…

…56 million a year are dying from abortion, almost four times as many as from heart disease and stroke (the next leading cause of death). These little ones are human beings, yet, for no scientific reason, they are denied personhood by American law that promises to protect life.

…Entire groups of school friends are cheered as heroes with soaring social standing for surgically altering their bodies to match the “gender” they want to be. The doctors who will cut off breasts and penises and dispense powerful hormone therapy drugs are seen as “compassionate.”

…If a gay student wants to change his sexual feelings to like girls, THIS is unspeakable and taboo. And any therapist who would help altering sexual desire simply by talk therapy is “dangerous.” Guilty of a “barbaric” and “cruel” practice.

Advanced Christmas Story Trivia: how well do you really know the story?

And a Christmas Trivia game to enjoy over the holidays

Angels, shepherds, wise men, Jesus lying in a manger–we know the story so well. But it’s been sweetened up, romanticized, censored, stripped of its violence and desperation through the years. It’s good to go back to the original sources and renew our appreciation of the extreme drama of the story.

Here are 9 questions to challenge you and your family to worship a God who would orchestrate such an amazing story to reconcile us to himself. (You might enjoy using one each night as a conversation starter at dinner. You can even include these questions in a larger game of Advanced Christmas Trivia to share at Christmas gatherings with additional categories like music and history using this free download.)

1. What four women are mentioned in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus?
2. In what way does the Christmas story include murder?

What values most determine how you will vote? Please consider this one today…

I queried my politically engaged friends about what top two or three values would most determine their vote and received a wide range of thoughtful answers. For example, one friend said, “sanctity of life, respect for the rule of law/constitution, and the danger of social engineering with dark money.” Several mentioned “respect for others, especially those you are working with.”

Many mentioned “immigration.” Some mentioned “democracy vs. authoritarianism,” “populism vs elitism,” and “jobs not mobs.” Others want to vote for “Christians.” Others greatly value the candidates’ stands on “education,” especially at the state and local level.

By far, the biggest vote getter was…

Nancy Pearcey’s “Love Thy Body:” The deepest truths about sexuality, gender, human dignity, science and human flourishing

Question: What do these ten truth claims at the heart of today’s culture have in common?

1. The body is only a clump of matter. A wet machine that we can use as an instrument for our own purposes.
2. The design of our bodies is completely by chance. Tells us nothing about our purpose.
3. I am not my body. The real me is my mind, will and feelings.
4. The value of our bodies depends on if they can function at a certain level.
5. A baby is a human life from conception, but not a person until it can function at a certain level.
6. Life is no longer worth living or caring for unless our bodies can function at a certain level.
7. We can have sex with our bodies, detached from love and trust, and still enjoy the ideal of human flourishing, including rich and lasting intimacy.
8. My thoughts and feelings of sexual attraction are more important than the biology of my body.
9. My thoughts and feelings about my gender are more important than the biology of my body.
10. The highest purpose of marriage is to protect the “personhood” of the adults, not the well-being of the children.

Answer: They are all based on assumptions about the human body that devalue the body and fragment human nature.

Nancy Pearcey’s new book, Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions about Life and Sexuality, addresses each of these secular assumptions and shows how a Christian worldview of the body and sexuality is more reasonably aligned with science and evidence than a secular worldview. How it assigns the body more dignity and value. And how it resonates more deeply with our longings for integrity, meaning and joy in these intimately personal areas of life.


Nancy will be speaking on Love Thy Body in Columbia

Sunday, Sept 23rd, 2018    6:30-8:30 pm

Cornerstone Presbyterian Church

Details here

Grieving with Willow Creek Church, Bill Hybels, and the Women Whose Stories Should Concern Us All

“Love one another…weep with those who weep.” image c/o Story Blocks

 

Few Christian leaders have impacted me as deeply as Bill Hybels. As a pastor’s wife, Bill’s vision for the power and nobility of the local church changed my understanding of what my life was about: “The Church is the hope of the world.” “There’s nothing like the local church when the local church is working right.” His contagious passion energized me to be more creative and invest more deeply in the church Jesus loves.

So along with tens of thousands of others I groaned at the news that several women have accused him of sexual sin. And not just any women. Extraordinarily gifted women leaders that I watched him encourage and elevate in his own church ministry: Nancy Beach. Nancy Ortberg. Vonda Dyer.

What follows is a summary with links of this sad business and a bit of my own struggle to come to grips with these accusations.

While the accusations were brought to the Willow Creek Church elder board four years ago, after two investigations that found no evidence they broke publicly in the Chicago Tribune newspaper on March 23rd:

Eight Things You Should Know about Gangs in Your Community

Courtesy Story Block

Last week my preparation to speak on behalf of a ministry to victims of human trafficking landed me in a gang training seminar.

Officer Z, head of gang investigations in Lexington County in South Carolina, shot straight with us about the situation here, and maybe where you live as well.

Lexington is a nice middle-class suburb of Columbia, 80% white, 15% black, 6% hispanic 5% foreign born. The median home value is $144K. 89% have a high school diploma. 39% have a BA or higher. Officer Z gave us a reality check about the presence and threat of gangs “right here in River City.”

Things I was surprised to learn about gangs:

Samson-Making Israel Great Again

The Blinding of Samson-Rembrandt

Reading through the Old Testament book of Judges lately and I’m struck by how God raised up Samson to make Israel great again. The Angel of the Lord visited his barren parents and promised them a son who would “begin to deliver Israel from the hand of the Philistines.” As auspicious a beginning as John the Baptist.

God’s Spirit “rushed” upon Samson and enabled him to kill Philistines who had been oppressing Israel for forty years. When he called out to God for strength, even for water, God provided. He empowered Samson to slaughter 1,000 Philistines with the jawbone of an ass, then cracked open a rock to replenish him with water.  Samson judged Israel 20 years and is included in the Hebrews 11 “Hall of Faith.”

And yet, Judges 13-16 portrays him as a strongman who was a narcissistic liar, a womanizer, an arrogant and boastful loudmouth, cunning and shrewd, thin-skinned and bent on mayhem and revenge.

A Brief Summary of the Colorado Baker Case in the Supremes’ Own Words

This case is so important for freedoms of religion and speech still to be determined, including your own freedoms, that it’s worth reading this short summary of what the Justices actually said in their own history-making words. 

The Colorado baker who fought for his freedoms of religion and speech

Last week a happy Colorado baker, Jack Phillips, celebrated his religious liberty at the Supreme Court. Maybe you read headlines like, “Court rules in favor of baker who refused to make wedding cake for gay couple.” As you read these excerpts of their opinions below you will grasp so much more of the issues, context, and future challenges to our freedoms than just reading headlines and short quotes. (My words appear in italics.) Here’s a powerful example from Justice Clarence Thomas’s opinion:

“Phillips told the couple, ‘I’ll make your birthday cakes, shower cakes, sell you cookies and brownies, I just don’t make cakes for same sex weddings.’  It is hard to see how this statement stigmatizes gays and lesbians more than blocking them from marching in a city parade, dismissing them from the Boy Scouts, or subjecting them to signs that say “God Hates Fags”—all of which this Court has deemed protected by the First Amendment.

“Moreover, it is also hard to see how Phillips’ statement is worse than the racist, demeaning, and even threatening speech toward blacks that this Court has tolerated in previous decisions. Concerns about “dignity” and “stigma” did not carry the day when this Court affirmed the right of white supremacists to burn a 25-foot cross; conduct a rally on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday; or circulate a film featuring hooded Klan members who were brandishing weapons and threatening to ‘Bury the niggers….’…The First Amendment gives individuals the right to disagree about the correctness of Obergefell and the morality of same-sex marriage.”

Two Hidden Truths that Deepened the Joy and Meaning of the Royal Wedding

On May 19th Great Britain’s Prince Harry married American Meghan Markle. As soon as it ended, the TV commentators swooned : “The whole room was filled with happiness.” “It’s enough to make me believe in love again.” It was a joyful occasion. The prince was dashing. The bride radiant in her tiara. But there was also a beautiful subtext woven into the ancient ceremony that may have contributed to inspiring people to want to get married…stay married…even believe in love again.

In today’s cynical hook-up culture, it lifts our spirits to see a bride and groom promise to love and cherish one another till death. While almost three billion people around the world delighted in the beauty of Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan’s marriage ceremony, I wonder how many of the guests and viewers really grasped the deep truths woven into the familiar words.

My Written-in-Real-Time Blog of Billy Graham’s Funeral

A speaker by speaker, song by song, verse by verse summary, with brief commentary, of Billy Graham’s funeral in Charlotte, NC on March 1, 2018.

To me, it felt a little bit like the days after 9-11. The enchantment of this world was momentarily broken, and the curtain pulled back on the ultimate reality of what is good, true and beautiful. Thank you, Billy Graham, for pointing the way home in life and death.

Setting—Tent for 2,300 people positioned for the view to perfectly frame the Billy Graham library/museum, an enlarged dairy barn-styled building with a silo beside it. And to the left, the relocated dairy farm-style home in which he grew up. Barely pinkening redbud trees line a split rail fence.

It could be the cameras, but it looks like everyone is in navy. (the new black?) President Trump. Melania. The Pences. Ben Carson, N. Carolina governor. Nikki Haley. Sen. Ted Cruz. Cardinal Timothy Dolan. Max Lucado. Beth Moore. Jewish yarmulkes. Orthodox Patriarch in black headgear. A missionary to bedouin tribes  and other missionaries, unknown to us, but some of the “great ones” in God’s kingdom.

Linda McCrary-Fisher sings “Until Then” to open the funeral and David Bruce, Graham’s executive assistant, welcomes guests.

Donald Wilton-Pastor of First Baptist Spartanburg gives Scripture reading and invocation. He reads from Ephesians 2, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Graham joined his church in 2008 and Wilton has visited him weekly in recent times. He travelled w/ the family to Washington and will conduct the graveside service.

Hymn-“All Hail The Power of Jesus Name.” Billy’s family singing lustily without programs. Pres Trump and Pences using programs. And I’m singing along too.

#metoo: Sorting through our closeted feelings, the backlash, and the tension between justice and mercy

Yes, #metoo. Thankfully not the seriously damaging kind. Even so, I remember how in years past I felt all the feelings that have been swirling around since the reveal of Harvey Weinstein’s sexual predations launched the movement in October…Surprise. Disgust. Did that really happen? Did he really say that? Put his hand there? Why didn’t I say something?

On the Mexico City Metro I did. I turned and glared and called the groper out (quite loudly!): “Que poca educacion tienes!” How little education you have!

But in my 20’s when it came to my boss’s boss, an elected official, sad to say, I simply tolerated the continuous flirtations and jousted back. He was three times my age and a very powerful man in Texas. I played the game and I’m sorry I did. Also sorry I didn’t graciously tell one of my best friend’s husband that his p—- joke wasn’t worthy of him. 

World-weary? “All Things New” torches our hope

The ultimate fix for culture wars and chaos, pain and loss

You probably saw hundreds of thousands take to the streets in protest for Right to Life and women’s empowerment last weekend. On Capitol Hill the Democrats in their trench shouted, ‘Protect Immigrants!” while Republicans in theirs shouted, “Protect citizens! Protect the military!”

And we watch. War-weary, just wanting these people to do their jobs and run the government. The shutdown shut down, but the “cultural war for the soul of America” as Pat Buchanan first described it, continues—this daily battle over “who we are and what we stand for as Americans.”

Did you hear any of the speeches from the Senate floor? It was as if Democrat Schumer and Republican McConnell each described the shutdown from totally different planets. As my gut tensed I wondered, “How will this war ever end?” It used to be that the war was fought during election season and now it’s fought every day.

Suddenly, unbidden, words and images flooded in…

Luther was anti-semitic. Washington and Jefferson owned slaves. Three reasons we should still honor them.

Jack with Jefferson at Monticello

Last week, the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation, I honored Martin Luther in this post and two messages. One person responded, “How can we celebrate a man who was an anti-Semite?” Not just a little anti-Semitic. Which of the following sentences do you think are Luther’s and which do you think are Hitler’s?

“…eject them forever from this country…mercy will reform them but little. Therefore, away with them!”

“…set fire to their synagogues or schools,” and let “all their prayer books and Talmudic writings be taken from them…Let their rabbis be forbidden to teach on pain of loss of life and limb.”

Let “their houses also be razed and destroyed…[and let] safe-­conduct on the highways be abolished completely for the Jews…let them stay at home.”

Let “usury be prohibited to them, and all cash and treasure of silver and gold be taken from them and put aside for safekeeping…they have no other means of earning a livelihood than usury, and by it they have stolen and robbed from us all they possess.”

“…we let them get rich on our sweat and blood, while we remain poor and they suck the marrow from our bones.”

The rest of Luther’s story, Gods Providence and our great legacy of gifts

It so happened that Luther, an intellectual genius, was also a great Biblical scholar and a writer with tremendous command of the German language. His audience found his powerful Biblical insights and courage to call out the Church almost irresistible.

@ Ransom Center for the Humanities, Univ of Texas at Austin, one of five in the US

In God’s providence Luther posted his 95 Theses not long after the invention of the printing press. In 1450 Gutenberg had published the first printed Bible (in Latin, of course)

Sixty-seven years later, on Oct 31, 1517, Luther hand wrote his 95 theses IN LATIN-a summons to fellow professors at Wittenberg University to a theological debate. His students had them translated into German and printed.

Back in the early days of the printing press, there were no copyrights and no authors’ permissions required. Printers printed whatever they thought would sell. And without his knowledge, sales of Luther’s 95 Theses took off. Within two weeks all the surrounding towns were discussing it.