Lennon’s memorial marker in Strawberry Fields, Central Park NY
I watched the most riveting story on CNN of a woman who held the hand of two Las Vegas shooting victims as they died. She wanted to honor the moment of their death with a caring, loving presence, staying with one body for hours until his girlfriend could come and be with him. Meanwhile she was constantly in contact with his girlfriend and his mother, telling them every detail of his passing, listening to their tearful remembrances and stories of his life. She wanted to make his death more meaningful.
At the end of her story the camera slowly faded away with a soft piano musical pad underneath. The first few bars sounded exactly like John Lennon’s signature song, “Imagine.” And I sat transfixed by the idea of that song being played over that story. After a couple of bars the music modulated into other chords, another tune. But I was deeply struck by the lingering idea of the juxtaposition of Lennon’s lyric with the carnage in Vegas: “Imagine there’s no heaven…above us only sky….”
I didn’t realize it, but there is actually a growing tradition to sing or play “Imagine” in the wake of tragedy. The morning after the ISIS-inspired shootings at the Bataclan in Paris a pianist hauled a grand piano in front of the concert venue and played “Imagine” as a plea to end this religious inspired slaughter. The video went viral. How do Lennon’s lyrics and life speak to our motives for devaluing others?
There comes a point where a certain American citizen cannot honor or celebrate what this nation has done. To do so would violate a conscience that simply cannot value what this nation values. Should that citizen be compelled to show honor or celebrate on pain of losing a job? Or paying fines?
Suppose we are not talking about NFL football players taking a knee, but citizens who could not in good conscience honor or celebrate a gay wedding. They could not use their artistic expression to create flower arrangements or make cakes or calligraphy invitations. Should they be fined so much that they lose their business? That has happened to several Christians, and many believers have united in support behind them. Our tradition tends to honor freedom of conscience.
Do we really want to obligate these athletes to act contrary to conscience?
As seen in Europe this summer
After his Tuesday speech at the UN, President Trump was again hit hard and often for being a nationalist. Why are so many so critical? Is it the same as love of country? As believing that America, among the nations of the world, is exceptional? Even superior? Is that so bad?
What is patriotism?
Webster’s defines “patriot” as “a person who vigorously supports their country and is prepared to defend it against enemies or detractors.” We sing that America is beautiful for “patriot dreams” which evokes the ideals of our founders woven into our Declaration of Independence and Constitution. They dreamed of a nation where all of us who have been created with equal value and worth in God’s image will receive equal justice under the law. Where we are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights: “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Where our elected representatives will govern with the consent of “we the people.”
Like an opening fanfare we experienced a total eclipse of the sun. As a native Houstonian living in Columbia, South Carolina, now we are writing checks and sending Facebook touches to Harvey-flooded friends back home and lashing down our deck furniture in anticipation of Irma. What are the odds that two of the worst hurricanes in American history would hit back to back? And then there’s Jose coming right behind…
Friends who were headed to Montana this weekend will have to navigate the smoke from fires that have burned over 1,000,000 acres this summer. The schools in Olympia, Washington, where my cousins live, have cancelled sporting events this week because of the smoke from nearby fires. Yesterday the largest solar flare in a decade disrupted communications. And five minutes ago, as I’m posting this, CNN interrupted their coverage of Irma to report on an 8.1 earthquake off the west of Mexico.
Meanwhile, over in North Korea, seismologists suspected an earthquake last weekend which turned out to be a guy barely out of his 20’s exploding a hydrogen bomb.
As pastor friend Jay Sanders writes, “If you read the Bible, you know what all of this means.
“It means that theological con-men will be coming out from under every rock to tell us that Jesus will be coming back on September 23, 2017.”
Ours is truly a privileged planet. That’s what I was thinking Monday as the moon slid over the sun here in Columbia, South Carolina. Could it just be a co-incidence that…
…the moon perfectly, PERFECTLY blocks the sun’s fiery ball?
…the moon and sun are both perfect circles? (Some moons are shaped more like a potato)
…the moon is 400 times smaller than the sun, but that is perfectly offset by the fact it is 400x’s closer to Earth?
“For thus says the LORD, who created the heavens (he is God!), who formed the earth and made it (he established it; he did not create it empty, he formed it to be inhabited!): “I am the LORD, and there is no other,” (Isaiah 45:18).
I was thinking, He formed it so that we would have a front row seat to see his glory on display like this.
Guillermo Gonzalez, an astrophysicist we interviewed for our radio program and co-author of the book Privileged Planet, said he studied all 65 moons in our solar system.
Confederate monument in front of the South Carolina capitol (taken by Lael Arrington)
Last week, as two factions violently clashed over whether to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee in the city of Charlottesville, VA, the movie Selma was playing on TV. I flipped the channel between live coverage of young white men attacking those who wanted to bring the statue down and actual newsreel footage inserted in the movie of young white men waving the Confederate battle flag to mock and harass the Selma marchers.
You couldn’t miss the contrast in the two scenes. In the movie, David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King was invoking the love of Christ and his non-violent example as he led many young blacks to march and stand quietly with their hands clasped behind them. By contrast, the faces of the young white men waving their stars and bars were screwed up in hate. In Charlottesville you could see the anger exploding on both sides.
What a difference strong, Christ-following leadership made.
Here in South Carolina we have seen that difference defuse the battle over Confederate symbols more than once. Two Christian governors have stood up to tradition and strong emotions at great political risk. Their words speak compellingly to this moment.
Yesterday evening we went to see Chris Nolan’s new film, Dunkirk, where the British and French armies were forced to pull back to the beaches in the face of Hitler’s army. The movie powerfully shows the terror of 338,ooo men pinned down on the beach waiting and trying to evacuate to England across the channel. Overhead the Luftwaffe bombed the hospital ships and destroyers loaded with men and strafed those still on the beach or in the water.
But the movie leaves out much of the larger story. Right when they had the Allies in their tank sites, the German army halted their advance for three days. They believed the Allies were doomed and they took the liberty to consolidate their position. A British officer cabled home a curious message that signified nothing to the Germans, but dire distress to the British populace who were familiar with the King James Version of the Bible: “But if not…”
The message quoted Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego as they faced the furnace of the Babylonian king (Daniel 3:17-18: “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, let it be known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.”
The troops faced a fiery ordeal. They needed a miracle.
Do you think this is “racist” and “white nationalist”? Do you think it’s Biblical to be this proud of Western history and values? Speaking in Warsaw last week, Trump vilified Soviet Russia and celebrated the sacrifices of the Polish people’s fight for freedom. He also celebrated the culture and achievements of Western Civilization, especially the way we value freedom, God and family. For all that he has been widely criticized. I’ve edited this very important speech for quicker reading and encourage you to read it for yourself…What do you think?
“…This is a nation more than one thousand years old. Your borders were erased for more than a century and only restored just one century ago.
In 1920, in the Miracle of Vistula, Poland stopped the Soviet army bent on European conquest. Then, 19 years later in 1939, you were invaded yet again, this time by Nazi Germany from the west and the Soviet Union from the east.
Under a double occupation the Polish people endured evils beyond description: the Katyn forest massacre, the occupations, the Holocaust, the Warsaw Ghetto and the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the destruction of this beautiful capital city, and the deaths of nearly one in five Polish people. A vibrant Jewish population — the largest in Europe — was reduced to almost nothing after the Nazis systematically murdered millions of Poland’s Jewish citizens, along with countless others, during that brutal occupation.
In the summer of 1944, the Nazi and Soviet armies were preparing for a terrible and bloody battle right here in Warsaw….
On this July 4th celebration, I invite you to join me in savoring these images of America’s Freedoms. Struggling to get his head around how to illustrate President Roosevelt’s call to commemorate such big ideas, Rockwell finally decided to depict them as he and his neighbors actually experienced them in his home town. Here’s the backstory:
“In his 1941 State of the Union address, President Franklin D. Roosevelt attempted to unite the American people to a common cause. Though Pearl Harbor was still a year away, the war was already raging in Europe and Asia. England was on the verge of collapse. Pres. Roosevelt, faced with an isolationist-leaning America and the looming prospect of a second world war, set forth a vision that would inspire citizens to brave the sacrifices and perils he foresaw in the war against fascism. His vision consisted of four universal human rights:
freedom of speech, freedom to worship, freedom from fear, and freedom from want. He saw these values as America’s heritage, now threatened and needing to be defended.
In The Year of Living Biblically A.J. Jacobs, general editor of Esquire magazine, writes, “Julie [his wife] always told me that things happen for a reason. To which I would reply, Sure, things happen for a reason. Certain chemical reactions take place in people’s brains, and they cause those people to move their mouths and arms. That’s the reason. But, I thought, there’s no greater purpose.”
We all long to know where our lives in particular and history in general are going. Does everything happen by chance? Or is God directing the course of human events with purpose? Are our lives part of a larger story (a meta-narrative) that’s going somewhere?
In last week’s post I reported on our trip to the Ark Encounter in northern Kentucky, a Biblically scaled ark with many thoughtful exhibits. Invoking artistic license, the creators have assigned names and back stories to everyone on the ark. In one exhibit Japheth’s wife (whom they’ve named Rayneh) is troubled by the massive loss of life outside their boat. She ponders these questions as she goes about her daily chores.
On our way up I-75 into northern Kentucky I found myself thinking about a Facebook friend, a Christian and a movie critic who works in Hollywood. Heading into a newly released faith-based film, she’ll post a little movie-critic prayer, “Dear Lord, please help it not be cheesy.” We were on the first leg of my Mom’s bucket list trip, headed to the Ark Encounter, a theme park with a Biblically scaled ark.
I’m happy to report this ark is not cheesy. From the outside it’s too big to be cheesy. It looks…epic.
And a little too gleaming?
God told Noah to build the original out of wood and cover it with pitch inside and out. I doubt it looked as impressive as the 300-cubit, three-keeled, silver-timbered ship perched in the Kentucky hills.
If every reporter who has savaged (or even snorted at) Vice-President Mike Pence for not dining or working late alone with women other than his wife would simply google “where do affairs happen the most,” they might change their tune.
They would find that anywhere from 38–53 million men in the U.S. have cheated on their wives, touching one in every three couples. And that 65-85% of adulterous affairs begin at work.
They would also find that few consciously decide to start an affair.
Plato’s News Cave (courtesy Imgur)
Recently The New York Times launched a new subscription campaign featuring hooks like, “We’re passionate about the truth. Are you?” and “Truth is what we do better” and “Read news that values the truth.”
I know what some of you are thinking: “Ba-ha-ha-ha.”
It is indeed rich that a publication that has long questioned the existence of truth now lays claim to it in their advertising. Long ago the mainstream media relinquished its claim to reporting truth. Instead, at their best, they report “truth” from several different perspectives, weighting the progressive/oppressed perspective the most heavily.
The result has been the loss of truth. Now we see the media caught in its own trap. As Donald Trump exaggerates and equivocates, they desperately try to refute him. But if you don’t believe in a solid ground of truth, how do you have a place to stand from which you can throw rocks at untruth? Isn’t it just another perspective with ”alternate facts”?
How do we hold on to Truth in a hostile culture? CS Lewis shows us in his fourth Chronicle of Narnia: The Silver Chair…
Narnia’s crown prince has been missing for ten years. His aged and failing father, King Caspian, while desperate to find him, has banned his knights and citizens from seeking him because too many search parties have disappeared, just like prince Rilian.
Recently I was asked to sign a Lutheran Ministry’s petition protesting President Trump’s executive order on refugees. Frankly I felt very conflicted, unsure of how to respond.
Rarely has a national conversation about social justice been so loaded with appeals to the Bible and a Christian worldview. And yet rarely have Christian leaders been so divided in their response. Even Christian ministries to refugees and foreigners. Franklin Graham, head of Samaritan’s Purse, is defending the order and our need for national security, World Vision and World Relief are protesting it.
So I’ve been digging into the issue, both biblically and with Christian thought leaders, and here are answers I’ve found to my own questions that might be helpful to you:
Happy New Year!
Part of the fun of ringing in 2017 is that I can look back at my stats and discover what you were most interested in last year. Here are your favorite blog posts from 2016:
#10 When You’re Feeling Stressed about This Election How to describe the presidential election of 2016? Bizarre? Shock and awe? The caucuses and primaries began on February 1st and by March 1st (Super Tuesday, when this blog was published), unless you were an early fan of Donald Trump, you were starting to feel the stress.
When we walked in the door from watching the new Rogue One Star Wars movie last night we heard the sad news: Distraught over her daughter, Carrie Fisher’s death yesterday, Debbie Reynolds had just died of a stroke.
(Slight spoiler alert) We had just watched a digitally young Carrie Fisher/Princess Leia in the final scene of Rogue One. One of the rebels hands her electronic intelligence delivered at the cost of many lives. When he asked what she’s been given, she lights up a smile and answers, “Hope.” But in a tragic irony, yesterday sixty-year old Fisher died of cardiac arrest in the wake of years of the kind of drug abuse that damages your heart. Now, her elderly mama appears to have died from a broken heart.
In a 1990 interview with Larry King Carrie Fisher/Princess Leia said, ““One of the side effects of Percodan (a narcotic painkiller) is euphoria, and I thought that was a side effect that I could easily live with. Doesn’t matter that the rest of them that follow that are palpitations, heart attack and death. I couldn’t get over euphoria.”
Until this election, I didn’t fully appreciate your fears about climate change. About damaging our beautiful world beyond repair.
Now I’ve talked to enough friends and family to feel your frustration. Your deep concern. Even fear? And I am sorry.
For years I’ve heard many of you losing confidence in any larger story that explains how the world works and how we find hope for the future. I thought that meant that you had given up on any larger story. But I’m realizing you do have a larger story, at least many of you do.
I’m hearing so many voices united in real fear that our Earth is on its way to overheating and the end of civilization as we know it. It seems like you do believe in a larger story of saving the Earth, or at least our species. Working to reverse what you believe to be man-made climate change. Or finding a way to insure the survival of our species on Mars or another planet.
In this season of political hype and spin we hear accusations flying: “That is a lie.” ‘”That’s a — that’s — go to the — please, fact checkers, get to work.” Truth is taking a beating. And fact checkers are called on to establish the truth at a time when voters have less and less confidence that truth even exists.
What does it mean to claim to have the truth and how can we know if we have it? Can we trust the fact-checkers to hold the candidates to the truth?
If there is one thing we learned from the first presidential debate of 2012, it was that, in these postmodern times, even the “smartest guys in the room” agonize over how much to focus their message on empathy or reasoning. Likeability or a robust contention for facts and evidence. Should they approach their audience more as thinkers or feelers?
In his first debate with Mitt Romney, President Obama opted to forego answering Gov. Romney’s questions about his record. Postmodern conventional wisdom tells us that if we want to win today’s audience to our point of view we do it with empathy and likeability more than evidence and facts. If you argue the facts, if you forcefully appeal to reason, you can seem angry and unlikable. So appeal to emotions more than reason.
Just be nice.
The New York Times reported that in mock debates in 2012 with Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, “Mr. Kerry drew Mr. Obama into a series of intense exchanges, and Mr. Axelrod (his chief campaign strategist) determined that they were damaging to the president.” Obama pulled his punches and didn’t get into an exchange over the defense of his record.
So much for conventional wisdom. The disappointment and frustration of his supporters resounded from the debate hall to the Twitterverse. Reading the early reviews on his iPad on his way back to his hotel, Obama called Axelrod, “I guess the consensus is that we didn’t have a very good night.” “That is the consensus,” Axelrod replied.