Fuller Caves

    “Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.” ~ The Apostle Paul (Romans 1:32, NIV).

Fuller Theological Seminary, where I earned my Master of Divinity degree in 1979, has officially sanctioned a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) student group on campus. They are the first evangelical seminary to sanction and support an LGBT group, but they won’t be the last.

Fuller was founded to prepare future church leaders for ministry. Today, it prepares them for moral compromise, in the name of “leadership.” Under the sanction of the seminary, this new LGBT student group hosts meals where students can discuss how homosexuality and Christianity intersect. They present film festivals highlighting homosexuality, including such films as Milk, Pariah, and Seventh Gay Adventist.

The new group’s co-presidents identify as “gay Christians,” an identity that Fuller embraces as a category for official group status. Co-president Chelsea McInturff said, “I identify as same-sex attracted.” Notice she did not say she “struggles” with it. Another co-president, Nick Palacios, promotes what he calls “faith, gender identity, and sexual orientation reconciliation.” Not transformation, but “reconciliation”– which amounts to conciliation with sin. He sounds fully unrepentant. While he sees no reason to change, he seems to be filled with aspirations to change the attitudes and perspectives of others, moving them away from repentance and closer to pride in something God’s word affirms is sin.

For faithful Christians, the main issue is not homosexuality or any alternative sexual inclination. Also, love for sinners stands as a mandate for all Christians. At issue here is repentance, without which there remains no authenticity in any claim to Christianity.

As a student from 1976 to 1979, I was stretched, empowered and inspired at Fuller Seminary. My devotion to God and His word grew in leaps and bounds. Today, I am profoundly grateful to a school that no longer exists. What exists today under the same name is a popular and prestigious seminary that embraces the prevailing culture and its values with increasing vigor. Fuller Seminary currently employs a professor of “Christian spirituality,” Tony Jones, who publicly supports homosexual marriage and fully ordained gay ministers. Lots of rhetoric about the gospel can still be heard at Fuller, but culture is king, not Jesus. Fuller has absorbed itself into the world’s mold while retaining its elaborate “Christian” costume as an institution.

At Fuller, I was taught the importance of understanding culture and how to speak to it. I am grateful. Today, the call to understand is being smothered by the plea to identify with culture. To sanction a student group based on open unrepentant identification with homosexuality is to defy the power of the gospel and spurn the Holy Spirit who is a sinner’s only hope for regeneration and transformation.

Authentic repentance is incompatible with an ongoing proud identification with one’s temptation and/or sin. After surrendering your life to Jesus and claiming full forgiveness, continuing to define yourself by your sin or your inclinations to sin defies the “new creation” principle in 2 Corinthians 5:17. It is the polar opposite of repenting because it retains the pride and eliminates the turning of the heart. Affirming such identification in students is the polar opposite of Christian leadership.

The New Testament word for repentance in Greek is “metanoia,” (change of mind or frame of reference), not “metamorphosis” (change of forms). You don’t just change the form or the behavior and leave the inside as it was. Your entire orientation turns around with repentance. ‘Metanoia’ does not separate our internal spiritual mindset from our external behavior or lifestyle. Rather, it integrates them as we turn all of our selves (inside and out) to God. This can be a difficult ongoing struggle and the struggle is NOT a sin. But those who identify with their sin as if it is fixed and take pride in it refuse to struggle. That refusal is the sin and it is fatal if retained.

Homosexuality (the mindset and the behavior) is a sin that can be forgiven through the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. An honest recognition of the sin is where forgiveness and change begins. True repentance won’t allow our sinful culture to define our terms of understanding, our self-definition or our behavior. It breaks my heart to see my old seminary intentionally cave in to sin.

SAM HOUSTON (1793 – 1863)
“The Raven”

At the Battle of Horseshoe Bend during the War of 1812, a young Sam Houston (all 6’3” of him) charged through withering fire into hand-to-hand combat, sustaining a near-mortal wound. He and others tried repeatedly to wrench a long arrow out of his thigh until a final attempt succeeded leaving him in a pool of his own blood. When General Jackson called for another assault, the severely injured and badly limping Houston roused himself with musket in hand to lead a second charge. He took two musket balls and hit the ground with a triple wound. Andrew Jackson was duly impressed.

When Houston was born in Virginia on March 2, 1793, George Washington was beginning his second term and the US population was 4 million–mostly farmers. After Sam’s father died in1806, his mother and nine children re-settled on the Tennessee frontier. As a boy, Sam rarely darkened the door of a school house but he ravenously read classics like The Iliad, Pilgrim’s Progress, Robinson Caruso and the Bible. He dreamed of heroic and exciting deeds and was soon prone to long absences from the family farm. One time, he disappeared into the forest and was found living with a Cherokee Indian tribe. The chief took a liking to Sam, adopted him and named him ‘Ka lanu’ (‘The Raven’). He learned to hunt, fish and speak their language fluently. After three years he came back to Maryville to work as a clerk and then, despite his lack of schooling, a school master to pay off debts. Then, at age 20, he joined the U.S. Army. Upon his departure, his mother told him, “While the door of my cabin is open to brave men, it is eternally shut to cowards.” The rest is history.

After his exploits in the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, Houston was promoted to a lieutenant and sent to New York for surgical care. His next post was to General Jackson’s staff at the Hermitage near Nashville. Houston survived his wounds to live a colorful, controversial and accomplished life as an Indian agent, trader, district attorney, major general, congressman, Governor of Tennessee, signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence, commander-in-chief of its rebel army, Governor of Texas (elected with four-fifths of the vote), two-time President of the Republic of Texas, and, after Texas was admitted into the Union in 1845, a U.S. senator for thirteen years. In 1859, he was elected Governor of Texas again, becoming the only person elected to serve as governor of two U.S. states by popular vote. Still, his greatest triumph was at the Battle of San Jacinto, April 21, 1836, when General Houston surprised the Mexican forces led by Santa Ana during a “siesta” to win a decisive victory in less than 18 minutes. Two horses were shot out from under the General and his ankle was shattered by a bullet, but Texas had her independence.

Spittin’ image of my maternal grandfather—Karl Houston Ertel!
In 1829, Houston’s first marriage dissolved for reason’s unexplained. We know their age gap was large and she was repulsed by his war injury. This led to his resignation as Governor of Tennessee in 1829 at the peak of his early career. His quick rise was met with a hard fall. Black moods and bouts with binge drinking recurred. He called himself “a ruined man.” He soon re-joined his adoptive Cherokee family. Eventually, after his mother died, he emerged from his funk and took a trip to Washington, D.C. as a delegate for the Cherokees. A street fight with a congressman led to a notorious trial in 1832 in which he was defended by none other than Francis Scott Key. It became a huge “media event.” In the end, Houston rose to his own defense with a rousing speech that evoked a standing ovation from the galleries. A split vote still found him guilty of assault. A mild reprimand and a $500 fine was issued, which President Jackson eventually pardoned. From that point on, Sam turned his face toward Texas.

Houston championed individual liberty with a passion. He once preached, “When tyrants ask you to yield one jot of your liberty, and you consent thereto, it is the first link forged in the chain that will eventually hold you in bondage.” He was a brash self-promoter with plenty of enemies. A short list of famous Americans who bitterly opposed him includes John C Calhoun, John Quincy Adams, Martin van Buren and Jefferson Davis. The support of Andrew Jackson was often enough to counter the opposition and keep him coming back. True to form, he rose up the ranks quickly in Texas too.

Houston, a dual citizen of the USA and the Cherokee nation, frequently fought for the rights of Indians, often standing alone. As early as 1836, although he owned slaves himself, he partially ended the slave trade in Texas. As early as 1848, his warnings of a looming civil war showed more prescience than any statesman in his day. When war came in 1861, Governor Houston opposed the secession of Texas from the Union and was removed from office for this unpopular stand.

On a happy note, Houston’s third marriage was the charm. In 1840, he married Margaret Lea of Alabama, a minister’s daughter. She persuaded Sam to stop drinking and join the Baptist church. They had eight children. When Sam died of pneumonia in 1863, his last words were “Margaret! Margaret! Texas! Texas!” She noted his death in the family Bible and described him as “Gen. Sam Houston, the beloved and affectionate Husband, father, devoted patriot, the fearless soldier—the meek and lowly Christian.” That last line may not ring fitting to his early enemies but Margaret got the last word.

Four years after Sam’s passing, Margaret volunteered during a yellow fever epidemic to nurse the sick and dying. The fever that took many of her friends also got her. She died while living out her evangelical faith.

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POSTSCRIPT: /strong>Since childhood I have been told that I am a descendant of Sam Houston. My maternal grandfather’s middle name was “Houston.” Claiming the Founding Father of Texas as my “great, great, great . . . Uncle Sam” always gets me some respect from my Texan friends.

PRIMARY SOURCE: Sam Houston: A Biography of the Father of Texas, by John Hoyt Williams (Simon & Schuster, 1993).

Why Young People Leave the Church

When I see an article about millennials, generation Xers or young people in general leaving the church, I prepare myself for another round of ‘bash-the-bride’ As a lifelong church-lover, I brace myself for harsh judgment. The criticisms I read, offered under the pretense of caring about the condition of Jesus’ church (his bride), are usually stereotypes that our secular culture stamps on the church.

I detest stereotyping certain races, as if the race is responsible for trends in presumed laziness, violence, shiftlessness, sex obsession, taste for watermelons or whatever. Such bigotry is inexcusable and offensive. But when it comes to the church, people inside and out seem to feel free to accuse her with rank stereotypes about presumed intolerance, lack of compassion, obsession with politics (usually politics the critic does not like), rigidity, obsession with sex, disregard for the poor, hostility to gays, lesbians bisexuals or transgendered persons, irrelevance, hatred for women, disdain for science, and impatience with anyone asking honest questions.

Why the double standard for stereotyping? I think the stereotypes listed above are as evil when applied to Christians as other mean-spirited stereotypes are when applied to races. I know and love the church far too well to let such selected stereotypes besmirch her unfairly.

Sadly, I have seen some of these flaws featured in a few Christians and churches, but I see them all far more outside the church than inside. Besides, the flaws listed above could be found in churches (and in society) decades ago when the church, by and large, was flourishing and young people were staying.

Blogger Rachel Held Evens is a harsh critic of evangelical Christians. She recently wrote an article titled, “Why millennials are leaving the church.” In it she wrote, “We’re not leaving the church because we don’t find the cool factor there; we’re leaving the church because we don’t find Jesus there.” This unwarranted judgment is as extreme as it is disrespectful. Millennials are not that blind nor are evangelicals that phony. Presuming that Jesus is not to be found among evangelical Christians is not friendly fire.

Another article I read recently blamed Sunday School for driving young people away. It selectively summed up the typical Sunday School message as a “lie” and claimed that using Bible heroes to encourage kids to be good is too big a “burden” and contrary to the gospel. I wonder, is the need for Christians to beat each other up and knock each other’s efforts down so acute that we have to stretch this far to do it?

Truth told, the reasons people of any age leave the church vary widely. No article can do full justice to this rising concern. In this article, I am simply trying to discourage knee-jerk church-bashing presumptions. As our culture becomes increasingly intolerant of biblical Christianity, a certain popular approval comes with criticizing the church. The truer we are to Jesus, the less we fit worldly paradigms and values. This drives some people (young or old) away who are highly influenced by a secular culture that traffics in cheap stereotypes to discredit Christians and the church. The good news is that some of these wanderers eventually come back. The secular culture loses its glitter and they finally see beyond the stereotypes.

Christian churches call for strong commitments, first to Jesus and also to each other, to the community and even to the world. Maybe some young believers (not to mention the old) just don’t like commitment. Of course this is not true of all because I know many young people who have chosen to remain in Jesus’ church, fully committed. They love her enough to stay.

Gratitude ‘El Zorrillo’ Style!

I felt the full power of human gratitude worshipping with the El Zorrillo Church of Christ in Baja, Mexico, on July 10, 2013. It was expressed in a language foreign to me, but I got it. Gratitude transcends language. Culture too!

I was one of twelve visitors from my home church who came to Mexico to build a new house for a needy family of five belonging to the the El Zorillo congregation. We were part of a larger group of 70 Christians from Canada to Florida (most from Vancouver), that built four houses in one week. Worshipping on Wednesday night, I lost count of the warm expressions of gratitude that various family members (men, women, young and old) voiced during the service. Yet, it remained clear that God was glorified even more than we were thanked!

We began with a 16’x20′ cement slab provided months ago by the hard work of locals. We left a wood-framed, fully insulated house for a family headed by a man who earns meager wages working in the fields. In four work days, we were able to offer what the father probably could not have provided in his lifetime. There is no running water in El Zorrillo, so we built an outhouse nearby.

Our church in Lewiston raised the funds ($8,000.00) to cover the costs for the house we built. Our work was richly complimented by Joe Bever, our foreman, Craig Brown and Steven Fancy at the buzz saw, Pete the electrical genius, and Clark Richardson, our interpreter extraordinaire.

We lived in a tent village at a campground on the beach just south of Ensenada with better provisions than the locals. We enjoyed plenty of food, showers (sometimes warm), flushing toilets and we slept on air (mattresses that is).

When the house was finished, we presented the family with a Bible, a table & chairs, some basic foods, a broom, dustpan and the keys to a house that locks. Powerful gratitude was written all over the faces of the family.

Eladio, Justed, Erika, Anna and Jose

Back in the USA, homes contain an average of two rooms for every person. We built three rooms for five. The average new American house is 2,300 square feet. We built a 320 square foot house. Yet, it seems rare to find the same gratitude on many American faces that we saw on Eladio, Justed, Erika, Anna and Jose’s faces. Okay, Jose was a few months old and all we saw on his face was cuteness.

The most grateful people are not always lined up with those who are most blessed. People with the same blessing scorecards can be quite far apart on the gratitude scale. Daniel Defoe (author of Robinson Crusoe) said, “All our discontents about what we want appear to me to spring from the want of thankfulness for what we have.”

The average Westerner lives better than 99.4 percent of all the human beings who have ever lived. Enjoying a level of luxury and blessing few humans can imagine, many Americans can’t seem to get free of our inflated resentments. It’s hard to feel grateful when our focus is increasingly aimed at perceived injustices, left and right. We get upset when our cable or internet connection goes down, or our benefits are no longer free, or a jury disappoints us, or when our abortion “right” gets limited. Some get very angry. Are we going blind to our blessings?

America is also working hard from top to bottom to decompose marriage and deconstruct homes, causing more and more children to grow up without a united mother and father. But we sure do have nice houses! In Mexico, our group followed a master plan for the house we built. God provides a master plan for Christian homes everywhere, but sadly, most Americans no longer trust that God.

I believe God answered our prayers for a safe, productive and enjoyable trip to Mexico and back. We learned anew that the best blessings of all are not received. Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35). Our group gave up one week of our luxurious lives following that principle and were blessed. Jesus gave his life following that principle and, again, we were blessed!

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Looking Good

Besides being greedy, Judas Iscariot was a fake!

One day, when Mary (Martha’s sister) poured a pound of expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet and wiped them with her hair, Judas resented it. To make himself look good, he expressed his objection by asking, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and given to poor people?” (John 12:5).

His question sounded noble on the surface but Judas was just masking nefarious motives. Actually, “he was a thief.” (John 12:6). He regularly pilfered the disciple’s money box. Feigning concern for the poor was just a disguise for thievery.

Don’t you just love how evil can hide behind noble statements or appearances? Judas knew how to look good while being bad. Or so he tried.

Later, the chief priests used Judas to get to Jesus. After Judas threw his 30 pieces of silver back at them, they refused to put the money into the temple treasury because it was not lawful “since it is the price of blood.” (Matthew 27:5-6). How noble? No, how phony! They wanted to look good as law-keepers, but they had no qualms about shedding Jesus’ innocent blood.

Maybe Judas should’ve gone into politics. Claiming compassion for the poor as a cover for greed and power remains in expert form to this day. Politicians promise to fight poverty but poverty seldom takes a hit. Meanwhile, moral poverty flourishes! Some politicians speak glowingly of respecting rights while using the machines of power (like the IRS) to rip our rights to shreds. Looking good while being bad keeps them in power.

All this works far better on Americans than it did on Jesus. He told Judas to let Mary alone. As for the poor, he said, “For you always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” (John 12:8).

No honest person could use those words as evidence for a lack of concern for the poor in Jesus. He simply had bigger concerns in mind, like his impending death, burial and resurrection, resulting in the eternal redemption of sinners like me. Jesus knew that all earthly riches are worthless to those who stay stuck in sin. Just as we need God’s word even more than bread, we also need forgiveness much more than cash.

One of the most unique and admirable qualities Jesus maintained as a man was his complete disinterest in looking good for the moment. In the wilderness, he sustained temptations to put bread over truth and abuse his miraculous powers to look good. Satan even tried to seduce him with to give up on God’s plan for great political power. But looking good was not Jesus mission.

Judas was a different story. He never seemed to ask himself the big questions, like what good is it to be good at looking good if I remain lost in resentment, greed, lies, selfishness and pretense? Small-minded, he sniped over expensive perfume when a far greater expense was about to be paid. Judas’ flaws were fatal for both Jesus (temporarily) and himself. Nevertheless, they did not thwart God’s larger plan for Jesus, and by extension, for us.

Ask big questions: What good it is to be powerful if you have to live on pretense? What good would winning the lottery be if we were about to die? Don’t forget; we are all about to die. That’s why Jesus stuck with God’s plan for him to go obediently to the cross on behalf of lost sinners like you and me.

Life in Lewiston!

Moving to Lewiston, Idaho, in December of 2011 seemed like going back thirty years in time. Although no years were taken off of my life, a rich measure of peace of mind came with this “time travel.” Here are fifteen nifty reasons I am glad to live in Lewiston, ID:

  1. We have a classic “Main Street” here. The local businesses there thrive—quite humbly, I might add. Main Street shuts down for occasions like the Veterans Day Parade when honor is given to whom it is due. The flag-wavers are loved and respected and the Christians get no flack for wearing their faith joyfully (and respectfully) on their sleeves in public. “Parading” one’s faith is not frowned upon.
  2. The waitresses here call me “sweetheart” which can make my tipping go over the top sometimes. In fact, hearing the word “sweetheart” actually makes me think someone is talking to me.
  3. We have more bluegrass bands here than rivers. Okay, we have two historic rivers to inspire countless country tunes; the Clearwater River of Lewis and Clark fame and the Snake River that forged Hell’s Canyon. They converge in Lewiston, the deepest inland seaport in the West!
  4. I cannot go anywhere without seeing someone I know. It’s a powerful incentive to behave.
  5. The traffic lights do not take longer to change here, but every time they do, I lose one half to a full second waiting for the guy ahead of me to find his accelerator. But my big city impatience is finally beginning to lose its grip on me.
  6. Most high schools have “royalty” to celebrate each year. We have “Round-up Royalty!” Of course, a nice young girl in our church youth group is on the cowgirl court, or whatever they call it, and she does us proud. She gets to ride the local parade circuit, which keeps her busy.
  7. Nearly every vehicle is pulling something—a trailer bed, a boat, a 4-wheeler, a camper, a horse or a motorcycle. There’s always someone who can help you move your stuff. But we are very modern here: The horses still ride behind the vehicles rather than pulling them.
  8. I see deer hanging out in my backyard occasionally—probably the same ones who lurk around our front lawn at church some mornings.
  9. We host the baseball World Series every year in Lewiston, NAIA that is. After all, “we are the world!”
  10. The airport is three minutes away, but then, everything is three minutes away. Well, almost. Sometimes you are three minutes and six seconds away, depending on what the vehicle ahead of you is pulling.
  11. In Minnesota, one of my elders bugged me for years to get a cell phone. Here, an elder wants me to get a gun.
  12. Everyone comes to a full stop at stop signs, which bugged the bejeebers out of me when I first moved here from L.A. I’m over that, but it still bugs me when everyone at the intersection waits to give the right-of-way to everyone else and a mutual admiration society breaks out.
  13. Beautiful women here don’t seem to know they are beautiful, which makes them even more beautiful!
  14. Of course, the town newspaper is liberal, but nobody else is. Wait, that’s not true. One of my waitresses is and I don’t know anyone who works harder than she does. She’s a sweetheart!
  15. I get out more often. For the first time ever, I mow more often than I vacuum. I can’t see how it could get more exciting than that!

Come visit!

Decent Exposure

Avoiding evil is not easy. Sorry to break this to you but being awesome at avoiding evil is not enough. We must expose and oppose it. Christians are not called to run from darkness but toward it—fearlessly, as children of light. Listen to the apostle Paul: “Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them.” (Ephesians 5:11)

There is a long legacy of bold believers in the Bible who took on the forces of evil, pulling no punches. Here are just a few:

  • Moses: the most humble man alive (Numbers 12:3), got mighty feisty with God’s people when they grumbled and slipped into idolatry (see Exodus 32).
  • Samuel: confronted King Saul for his disobedience, lies and pathetic excuses (see 1 Samuel 15). This broke Samuel’s heart and led to ongoing grief over Saul but Samuel still did his job as a prophet.
  • Nathan: bravely called King David on the carpet for his sins of adultery, deception and conspiracy to rub out the loyal husband of a woman he impregnated. David could have ignored Nathan or punished him for speaking truth to power. Instead, the king was cut to the heart and he repented.
  • Ezekiel: was appointed to be a “watchman” to warn the wicked.
  • Amos: understood the risk of being a public truth-teller. He wrote, “They hate him who reproves in the gate.” (Amos 5:10).
  • John the Baptist: blasted Herod the tetrarch for stealing his brother’s wife, and for “all the wicked things which Herod had done.” (Luke 3:19). For his boldness, John lost his head.
  • Jesus: understood the stakes involved for those who step up to expose evil. He explained, “For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.” (John 3:20). Evil hates exposure like Dracula hates sunlight. True to form, Jesus did not mince words rebuking the Pharisees for their hypocrisy. He did not pull punches when describing his generation, which he called “evil and adulterous…” (Matthew 12:39 and 16:4); “unbelieving…” (Mark 9:19); “wicked…” (Matthew 12:45 and Luke 11:29), “unbelieving and perverse…” (Matthew 17:17 and Luke 9:41); and “adulterous and sinful…” (Mark 8:38). On the day the church was born, the apostle Peter rebuked his generation as “perverse” (Acts 2:40). So, when Christians lament out loud the moral bankruptcy of our times, we are walking in the courageous footsteps of our kind Savior and his apostles. But in no way did Jesus hate his generation. Rather, he wept for them. His rebukes flowed from love. He probably knew the Old Testament ordinance that forbids hating a fellow countryman but allows reproving him (Leviticus 19:17)

Jesus’ fiercest rebuke went to those who cause “little ones” to stumble or sin. Such people deserve a fate worse than being tossed into the sea with a millstone around the neck (Luke 17:2). Instead of causing evil, we must rebuke it. Jesus said, “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.” (Luke 17:3). Showing a sinner his fault is, for Jesus, the first step toward reconciliation. But regardless of the result, clamming up or rolling over in the face of evil is neither Christ-like or Christian.

Check out the following lyrics in a new song by Sara Bareilles, titled “Brave:”

    Everybody’s … been stared down by the enemy,
    Fallen for the fear and done some disappearing,
    Bow down to the mighty;
    Don’t run! Stop holding your tongue.
    Maybe there’s a way out of the cage where you live.
    Maybe one of these days you can let the light in.
    Show me how big your brave is.
    Say what you wanna say, Let the words fall out
    Honestly, I wanna see you be brave.

Intimidation is a favorite instrument of evil. It fails, however, with Jesus’ followers. When stared down by the enemy, stand up and stare back. Don’t run from evil, expose it! Oppose it! Moral purity is hard to find these days but moral courage is rarer still. I believe God wants to see us be brave.

“Vive la Difference!”

Bold contrast can evoke great wonder. Sameness, on the other hand, can be boring.

Music is built around contrast. Holding one note hardly qualifies as music, let alone as beautiful. Music needs ups and downs, ins and outs and many orderly variations of timing and sound to be good. The Bible resonates with this. Speaking of music, Paul praised “distinction in the tones.” (1 Corinthians 14:7).

The awesome power of electricity is based in contrast. No polarity, no power. The splendor of nature is also seen in its contrasts. Yosemite Valley staggers the mind with its astounding vertical and horizontal contrasts.

Along with wonder and joy, human understanding itself grows more out of contrast than sameness. Communication would cease with the elimination of distinct contrasting shapes and sounds. No one would need hearing aids or glasses in a world where all sounds and sights were the same. A bit hyperbolic? Perhaps, but stay with me.

Not everyone sees this. I know an art professor who teaches that all artistic expression is equally valid. Thus, garbage hanging from a gallery ceiling is equally valid with the Statue of Liberty and Daniel Chester French’s Minuteman; an aborted fetus displayed in formaldehyde is on par with Handel’s Messiah and da Vinci’s Last Supper; and a picture of a crucifix dipped in urine is just as lovely as Henry O. Tanner’s Banjo Player and Vermeer’s Milkmaid. Andy Warhol’s definition of art as “anything you can get away with” wipes out all standards of truth and beauty. Yippee!

In 1971, John Lennon imagined a world with no countries or possessions. We would all live in the same big country owning all the same things with the same beloved leaders, rules and TV channels. Imagine having one story, one dialect, one flag, one anthem, one party, one uniform, one mindset, and “no religion too.” That might resolve a few frustrations but we might also need one drug to keep us all in line.

Imagine a year with no holidays, no one day more special than another. Envision a world where men and women all looked, thought and acted the same. Women would always show up at social events in the same outfit. Sesame Street could dispense with those childish skits that distinguish “up” from “down,” “on” from “off,” “hard” from “soft” and so on. We could get rid of discriminatory concepts like “wise” and “foolish” and “right” and “wrong.” How liberating!

One of the first things an infant learns is the difference between mommy and daddy. Just think if, instead of “mommy” or “daddy,” a child’s first coherent words were “parent one” or “parent two” (or three or four). We could pretend that gender is nothing but an oppressive social construction and use the same restrooms, locker rooms and redefine marriage and life itself to be genderless. The “Boy Scouts” and “Girl Scouts” could become the “Same Scouts.”

No! No! No! The wonders of life and love rise more out of contrast than sameness. Our Creator knew we needed the seasons, with all their glorious contrasts of color, climate and conditions. He knew we needed the distinctions of night and day, hot and cold, wet and dry, and yes, male and female. The sacredness of marriage is built on contrast. Sex loses its regenerative meaning when you replace sexual contrast with sameness. If you want to minimize the mystery, meaning, luster and ongoing thrill of sex, then replace the glorious contrast of gender with sameness. Turn the ol’ French maxim, “vive la difference” into “vive la sameness!”

No! Such thinkers should be sentenced to ten years of listening to Disney’s “It’s a Small World” over and over.

The ultimate contrast involves good and evil. Blending them into oblivion (as our current academic and popular cultures seek to do) kills moral clarity and replaces it with moral blindness. Living in a peaceful moral coma free of shame, we lose focus and slink toward a dense fog of boring sameness. No thank you!

Photo Credits:

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The Banjo Lesson

America: Imagine Your Limitations

In 1971, John Lennon imagined a world with no countries, possessions, hunger and “no religion too.” This, he presumed, would create “a brotherhood of man” wherein “the world will live as one.” Sweet!

Remember President Obama’s election victory speech in 2009? He boldly proclaimed:

    I am absolutely certain, that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs for the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal. This was the moment — this was the time — when we came together to remake this great nation.

In 2010, at the signing of a huge health coverage bill, Vice President Joe Biden introduced the President as the one making it possible “…that every American from this day forward will be treated with simple fairness and basic justice.”

This was like claiming that the Chicago Cubs had finally signed a contract ensuring that they would never again lose a game or make an out.

And the fans went wild!

GROWING GULIBILITY:

Do those who cheer such brazen bilge actually believe it? The advertising industry suggests they do. I once heard a radio commercial that promised, “If you can dream it, you can become it!” A recent television ad for the Sprint Corporation pitched the idea that life can be “unlimited.” In it, a young man says, “I have a need, no; I have the right to be unlimited.”

In today’s pleasure-pursuing luxury-loving culture, Americans do not like to think in terms of limitation. We want to have it all and we love (and enrich) those who tell us we can. The human potential industry keeps churning out unlimited utopian promises for people who will pay anything for them.

Listen to President Obama on the 36th anniversary of Roe v Wade (a 1973 Supreme Court decision that mandated the legality of abortion):

    On this anniversary, we must also recommit ourselves more broadly to ensuring that our daughters have the same rights and opportunities as our sons: the chance to attain a world-class education; to have fulfilling careers in any industry; to be treated fairly and paid equally for their work and to have no limits on their dreams. That is what I want for women everywhere. (January 22, 2009)

In other words, let’s not let human life itself stand in the way of our dreams.

LIVING WITH LIMITS:

What makes Americans so gullible? Why do we pretend that a politician can forge fairness and basic justice for all? How is the popular mind so easily seduced into longing to be rescued by heroic speech-makers, celebrities, self-styled spiritualists or anyone who will tickle our ears with flowery rhetoric? Once seduced, we hardly notice when the proverbial flowers don’t grow. We just want the feelings. We hope our lives will change without doing the changing. We reward campaigns that make us emote over dreams of “hope and change”

I’m all for treating every American with “simple fairness and basic justice.” But the notion that a politician can sign a bill that provides this is beyond absurd. In the real world, when politicians pander, government frameworks falter, dreams become nightmares, and yes, when the Chicago Cubs lose, I am not shocked. Accepting life’s limits and responsibilities is called growing up. If you don’t like stifling boundaries, don’t try out for the basketball team. If limits on your sex life bother you, don’t get married. And stay away from people I care about!

Living well with limits is not a surrender to cynicism or apathy. Instead of longing for politicians to make our dreams come true, wake up and go to work. America cannot endure on imagination alone. Be inspired by the epilogue of a 1936 western titled “The Plainsman:”

    It shall be as it was in the past… Not with dreams, but with strength and courage, shall a nation be molded to last.

My Dad
(Happy Father’s Day to Horace Spurgeon Solliday)

As a boy, rising early in the morning enabled me to spend private time with my dad. He was always on his way to work before my mom or brothers got up, so this was our time. He would make an egg and toast breakfast for me with yoke soft enough to dip my toast into it. Is there any other way to have eggs and toast? If he broke the yoke, he would take the disqualified egg.

I was an avid sports fan as a boy – a walking sports encyclopedia. If any kid had a dad less interested in sports than my dad, I didn’t know him. He preferred reading Scientific American or Sky and Telescope to playing catch. Still, he did play catch with me. And for my part, I learned how to tell the difference between DC-8s and Boeing 707s (passenger airplanes).

Despite his love for science, his “birds & bees” lecture to me was not very scientific. He simply inspired me to bring virginity to my future marriage. There was no double-standard on that score for girls or boys in his mind. Any moral standard he tried to pass to his sons were held even more firmly for himself.

Throughout my childhood, any notion that I was like my dad was lost on me. I loved him but being like him was not my dream. Decades later, I learned to take pride and joy in many similarities with him that I feared as a child. And it all happened against my conscious will.

In hindsight, I see how some similarities got passed to me. My dad read Bible stories to his sons on a regular basis. His enthusiasm for both the words and the pictures cultivated in me the two great passions of my life: faith and art! His love for church was contagious. I did not view him as a social animal but at church, his social skills blossomed. It was real. How could I not catch that love?

Dad and I have butted heads on some theological points over the years. Thirty years ago, we had a knock-down drag-out argument over the question of Christ-like headship in the family. I had the graduate degree in theology and he had the experience. I had risen above the archaic “patriarchal” notions that were going out of style and he still believed that stuff. Despite all my disrespectful presumptions and talking-points, he still loved me. It took me decades to figure out that he was right, not just about the “headship” principle but also about the “Christ-like” part of it.

After reflecting on the book of James, my dad once wrote;

    We are to live every moment of our lives ready to go to the Lord the next minute. Keep prayed up, studied up, loved up, worked up and every other up we need to live the Christian life that will keep us ready to go.

My dad is a product of old-time gospel preaching and in many ways for which I am now grateful, I am a product of him. His convictions remain slightly more old school than mine but the way he holds and applies his convictions commands tremendous respect from me.

Dad is honest with himself. For as long as I remember, whenever he failed in any small way, he could admit his flaw to his sons or others. Not all dads can do this. He never allowed himself much distance from God’s refining hand. Better than most men, he never seemed to realize it. In time, I did.