31 December 2005

How Arnold Schwarzenegger Screwed Up My Life

“...are you gonna drop the bomb or not?” - Forever Young, Alphaville

I don’t know – I must have been like 14 years old or something. Damon’s parents were at a party and had rented the newest laser disc to keep us boys occupied. A giant naked man looks analytically at the three punkers and speaks in an accent I don’t recognize, “Your clothes. Give them to me. Now.” A terrible, unfeeling thing that looks human, but isn’t human, reaches back from the distant, radiation filled future to destroy a child – no, to prevent a child from ever being born.

One of the truly defining characteristics of my generation, Gen-X, is our inability to make decisions, our unwillingness to commit. We shun organizational structure and programs and we insist that we keep our options open until there is literally no option left but the one we take. Growing up with an unprecedented number of choices to make from which of 129 different coffee drinks to purchase today, to which ‘career’ we’ll pursue...until something better comes along...we see almost every choice not in terms of what a thing is, but instead in terms of what a given choice excludes.

I languished after high school because I was totally unable to pick a major. I lingered at junior college for two years because the idea of actually deciding ‘what I wanted to do with my life’ was terrifying! What if I got it wrong? What if I THOUGHT I wanted to be a writer but only because I’d never taken a fencing class – there could be a whole world out there that I shut out just by declaring a major.

And marriage – forget it! Sure, the idea of finding and marrying my soul mate – my lobster – was a great and heart warming idea...but what if I got it wrong. I couldn’t bear the thought of marrying the ‘wrong’ person only to find myself enduring a loveless marriage and ending up just another datum in the well publicised 50% divorce rate. Probably the only decision that scared me more than marriage was the thought of bearing children.

So instead I just waited. I stalled for several years in my mother’s nest. I avoided finishing school, resting instead on being “a career student.” I had a series of “serious” girlfriends. I wasn’t willing to appear fickle or promiscuous, so these relationships were always at least a year long, but while I think all of these women were in earnest about their willingness to marry, or at least consider marriage, I think I always knew that I was incapable of making that choice (in short I was an asshole). I remember once there was a pregnancy scare and the deepest cry of my heart at that moment was relief. Two of my greatest sources of anxiety, who to marry and when to have kids, had been made for me! It wasn’t like a new pressure suddenly appeared on my shoulders but rather that two huge ones had been removed. When if turned out to be a mistake, the period was just late, I was disappointed – and not because I had glimpsed my child’s eye and now saw that gaze fading away, but because I was back to that old uncomfortable ‘maybe.’ Wanting to BE married, but unwilling to GET married.

Hoping that something outside of myself would make my choices clear, sitting still, becalmed in the fog of my life was better than risking running aground on the rocks that might be ahead, and standing still was far, far better than actively approaching the apocalyptic future I knew to be inevitable.

I’m told that my parents used to have nuclear war drills in school, where the sirens would wail and all the Buster Brown wearing kids would duck under their desks. By the time I was in school, knowing that the missiles were coming meant walking out to the Rim and waiting for Norton Air Force base, a mile below us, to go up in a mushroom cloud. Hide under my desk? Attempt to survive? Fuck that noise! I wanted to be fuel for the first fireball and not fighting with mutants for the last dented can of creamed corn. Let me put it more succinctly.

There was no future worth having.

As I grew up, nuclear holocaust was a foregone conclusion. It wasn’t if, but when. And it really had nothing to do with what anybody did – it wasn’t anybody’s fault – it was just going to happen. Sooner or later somebody with a key and a death-wish would launch one little missile, it didn’t matter whether it was Soviet or American, and that would be that. Mutually Assured Destruction was the term – and it said all there was to say – my destruction was assured. Even if somehow the nukes didn’t get us, the pollution would. If it wasn’t the pollution, it was the ice age. If not the ice age, it was the fragging androids. Movies like Blade Runner and The Day After painted a sickeningly dark – but deeply believable picture of what I had to look forward to. And The Terminator, probably more than anything else, was the catalyst for my nightmares.

The movie is set not in the skull strewn future that the robot comes from, but in the sunny, bustling world of modern LA. When Reese explains who he is he says he’s from “one of many possible futures.” It’s not that Judgment Day is inevitable, but it is so powerful, so charged with emotion and blood and stainless steel, that it reaches back into the 80’s, my every day, and literally creates itself. Sarah’s raw, instinctual drive to do nothing more complicated than save her own life, is what actually dooms her and the world. One simple woman, doing only what she thinks is right, kills everybody.

The suggestion is that things might have been different. If she had only given in – not fought so hard – her death, her submission, would have prevented that particular future for ever coming to be. All options were bad options, but some were worse.

All futures were miserable futures. That was my childhood and adolescence. No wonder I grew up unwilling to make any sort of decision. Any choice heavier than what to have form breakfast meant having an eye on the future and I wretched at what I saw there. So instead I chose to do nothing – hoping against hope that some escape would open up. When the Berlin Wall came down I was more perplexed than excited. I can’t say that it seemed too good to be true, because it didn’t really seem ‘good’ to me at the time. Better than a poke in the eye – sure – but I really couldn’t understand what it meant.

It took no less than a decade for that event to bloom in my heart as hope. It was that long before dystopian visions of the future like The Matrix felt like warnings instead of prescriptions. It took those years to unlearn my anxiety, to look out ahead of myself and plan.

I look today at this war on terror and even the nuclear threat represented by Iran or North Korea, even China, and find myself wondering at the hand wringing. From my perspective, even the worst possible scenario – say a half-dozen nukes in major cities and 50 million people vaporized – is so much less, by a factor of 100, then what I grew up assuming to be inescapable. As grim as the possibilities are today I’m filled not with a sense of what WILL be, but rather what CAN be.

It’s sort of ironic that as my faith in Christ has grown, and with it my faith that the “real” apocalypse is coming in time, that my hope for the future – my future – grows ever brighter. And not for some morbid sense that I’ll be on the right side of that coming equation but because I’ve come to understand love – love that “hopeth all things” – even hope that there is joy and life and contentment in my future, and that of my children.

That hope allows me to choose, allows me to commit, allows me to move.

It was on Easter Sunday, the celebration of life’s victory over death, in the year 2000 that I proposed to my wife. The hysteria and subsequent non-event of the Millennium was the last nail in that coffin of wicked anticipation. Rebekah was the first woman that I felt like I had pursued as opposed to being pursued. I had just graduated from George Fox University – with a major in history, and with honors. I had recently begun my first ‘career’ as a web developer and less than a year later I would purchase my very first house.

I feel now that Hamlet was right. “To be, or not to be...that is the question.” Wandering in the world without purpose, without vision, without action we become like the vampires we seem so enamored with; neither alive nor dead, just there – sucking the life from everything we encounter. Not immortal, but a-mortal. And yet for most of us, life happens anyway. We fall in love despite ourselves. We bear children often on accident, jobs become careers by virtue of how long we stall there.

This change of heart has lead to some unexpected consequences in my life. Not only am I willing to seek things; love, success, my Lord, but it’s also made me willing to risk those same things – to take a loan against my home to start a business for instance. It’s not that I’m sure of my success, but rather I’m sure my ability to get up again if I fail. This is NOT my last chance, and even it it were so the hell what?

So if I’ve learned one thing – forget what lays behind. Strive toward what lays ahead. Press on.

30 December 2005

The Nature of Insurance

For some folks, this post will be a big “well, duh!” sort of thing but based on a conversation I had a while back, it seems that there are lots of other, plainly intelligent people who really need to hear this.

Imagine a woman who is thinking about leaving her job to pursue other things. But she’s someone who takes a prescription medication and is concerned about loosing the health benefits her work provides – she doesn’t think she can afford the pills on her own. For the record the pills would be about $100/mo and they are not “life-saving” but rather “comfort-enhancing.”

“It’s not fair!” she says, “Somebody ought to pick up the cost of those pills. I need them!”

After brainstorming on how she might come up with an additional $100/mo I realize that she really isn’t talking about insurance at all. What she’s looking for is a subsidy. What she really wants is for somebody, either the government or her employer, to pay for her medication regardless of the need, regardless of the cost, and regardless of whether she is paying her fair share of the cost either with cash or labor.

This is a particularly important distinction to make as our nation repeatedly argues over health insurance and how much of it should be picked up by the government. Regardless of the details of that debate, it seems to me that we need to be careful about the terms we’re using, and what I generally hear from the left isn’t really about insurance – it’s about a subsidy.

Insurance is supposed to work in this way:
  • Statistically (for example) 1 in every 10 adults will break a bone this year.
  • Fixing a broken bone will cost $100
  • Since nobody wants to pay $100, instead, 10 of us get together with an insurance company and each pitch in $11 a year.
  • Then when one of us breaks a bone – and statistically somebody will - the insurance company pays the $100 doctor bill and keeps the $10 left over.
  • Folks for whom $100 isn’t really a big deal might choose to keep their $11
  • Folks who figure they are significantly less likely than 1 in 10 to break bone might keep their money figuring they’ll just save $11 a year toward that broken bone and can pay for it themselves in just over 9 years.

So the point is to spread the financial risk out across a bunch of people so nobody gets hit with a huge bill when they are the unlucky one. Instead, they pay a small bill regularly toward the possibility (inevitability?) that something bad will happen to them.

Here’s where insurance starts to break down:
  • In an effort to attract more customers, insurance companies agree to cover more and more eventualities. The broken bone policy becomes a general “health care” policy.
  • Doctors, who know that virtually none of their patients actually pay the doctor bill themselves, have no motivation to moderate prices.
  • Patients, who never pay more than their $11 a year don’t know or care what any given procedure costs so they don’t shop. Similarly, they use their insurance policy to get things it was never intended to. Got a stuffy nose? Instead of the $8 Dayquil at Rite-Aid, they go get a prescription for Clarinex - $50.

In short, insurance only works when there are no more than the same numbers of dollars going into the pot as are being withdrawn. It only takes two people in the example above to break the system in any given year. Two broken bones means the insurance company lost money. They took in $110 and paid out $200.

It’s also important to look at on a purely individual basis. If I pay my $11 on my first year, then break my arm and back out of the deal – I’m screwing everyone in the plan. I paid in $11 and got out $100  - only to take my business elsewhere. You see this kind of thing all the time with folks who are uninsured but then find out they are pregnant. Suddenly The Baby family buys into a $100/mo policy against their $5000 baby in eight months and cancel the policy three months after the baby is born. It’s legal, but it’s exactly the kind of thing that drives insurance rates way, way up. This family has paid about $1000 for a $5000 procedure – you know who paid for the other $4000? You, me, and eventually that same family when they get their acts together. Because when Mr. Baby gets a good job, his company will pick up his insurance premium which is artificially high due to scads of folks like Mr. Baby, and his employer will directly deduct the cost of his health premium from the wage they offer him. In other words – Mr. and Mrs. Baby actually screw themselves – ironic isn’t it?

But that’s the subsidy mentality. At some level, conscious or unconscious, Mr. and Mrs. Baby believe that the money to pay for their baby is “out there” just waiting to be collected. They are willing to eat at this potluck, but not to contribute their fair share. But there is no money “out there” - tax money simply comes from your pocket and mine – we all eventually pay the piper.

So back to this woman who was leaving her job. Over time, she had stopped even noticing the deduction on her pay stub that covered her health benefits. She no longer was even aware that about $220 was taken every month – more than twice the cost of her medicine. Also, it was only when she started thinking about quitting that she asked what her pills cost, before it was a non-issue. And she had never even considered the generic brand pills that were $25/mo – because for her, the money was just ‘out there’ and she had come to think that she was entitled to it. Depending on who gets their way on this issue, she may be in time. But we have to call things what they are – this woman wanted somebody else to pay for her medicine, which is a subsidy. She had forgotten what insurance even was if in fact she ever knew.

29 December 2005

Blog on Gog and Magog

Note: This post will likely bore you to tears if you aren’t at least moderately interested in Christian end-times issues. Caveat emptor.

See: http://www.harpazo.net/magog.html

A just read this week’s K-House newsletter (www.khouse.org) and they have a section on the infamous Gog/Magog invasion, AKA The Ezekiel 38 battle. The link above is a pretty good overview of the generally accepted interpretation of this passage. But for those unfamiliar (or uninterested) in the eschatological community here’s the Cliff’s Notes:
Ezekiel 38, 39 describes a battle where the ‘nation’ of Magog, led by Gog, invades Jerusalem/Israel. It is particularly striking because it would appear that God intervenes directly and defeats the invading army with an earthquake and fire from the sky – pretty dramatic stuff. If you’re familiar with the Left Behind book or movie, the Russian invasion that precedes the rapture by several years is this same prophetic battle.

In every discussion of this passage that I can find, the assumption is that this event happens prior to the second coming. - I don’t think so.

The more extensive discussions of this topic (including the one on Harpazo) mention that Gog and Magog starting a fight is also mentioned in Revelation 20:7-9, but they conclude that this Gog fellow (beside living for at least 1000 years) is a real sucker for punishment – one divine kick in the teeth isn’t enough for him. They conclude that these are two separate events that just include he same major player and story line. - I submit that they are in fact a single event and that the Ezekiel 38 battle takes place at the end of the Millennium.

"Thus saith the Lord GOD; It shall also come to pass, that at the same time shall things come into thy mind, and thou shalt think an evil thought: And thou shalt say, I will go up to the land of unwalled villages; I will go to them that are at rest, that dwell safely, all of them dwelling without walls, and having neither bars nor gates, To take a spoil, and to take a prey..." Ezekiel 38:10-12

First of all, this does not describe Israel today or in the foreseeable future. Israel is NOT secure, they don’t FEEL secure and they are in the middle of building a giant wall around themselves. In fact, events in the last couple of years only make this description of Israel more inaccurate. Keep in mind that a central aspect of the Antichrist’s rise is that he brings peace (“...by peace that he will destroy many"  Dan 8:23-25) but if Israel is already secure...what’s the selling point?

Second, God’s weapon of choice in both passages is fire from heaven.
“...and fire came down from heaven and devoured them.” Rev 20:9b
“...and I shall rain on him...hailstones, fire, and brimstone. ” Ez 38:22b
It’s by no means impossible for God to use the same tactic twice, but it does generally contrary to His pattern. And with other similarities, Aukum’s Razor would seem to suggest the simplest explanation is that we’re simply seeing one event from two perspectives as opposed to some kind of divine de ja vu.

The truth is, I can’t find anything that explains why this event is presumed to happen prior to second coming. It’s like it’s this given in the prophecy community that nobody feels the need to restate. The only vague explanation I’ve stumbled across is that Ezekiel 38 directly follows Ezekiel 37, the valley of dry bones. So I guess the presumption is that the two events are closely related chronologically (the dry bones are generally thought to be a vision of Israel’s rebirth and the end of the Diaspora that started at the end of WWII. But Ez 38:1 is “And the word of the Lord came to me saying...” which indicates a new vision, not a continuation of the last one. There is no suggestion that the two visions are near one another in human time.

What about the nukes?
Ez 39:9-16 describes the way in which Israel will clean up after this big ruckus and most modern commentators see a nuclear clean-up operation. All the junk is buried downwind, there is fuel for the entire nation for seven years and civilians are to flag any bone they find in the valley so professionals can come clean it up. The suggestion is that a nuke armed enemy (presumably Russia) makes sense here and therefore we must be really close to this event.

I have to say “no deal” on this one. While the image of a CBR operation is a compelling parallel, that may just be our projection based on what we know today. 75 years ago (a blink in prophetic time) this passage was no doubt an enigma. What could it possibly be describing? But that didn’t make the prophecy any more or less true. In another 50 years, we may have developed some other weapon that more closely matches this description, will we be ‘closer?’ What’s more, there is really no reason to think that the men of the Millennium won’t be equally well armed. There is no scripture that says Christ’s thousand year reign will be characterized by technological simplicity. Gog may very well have nukes then and the best practices of CBR may not have changed much in that time. An alternate is the chance that some some modern nuclear weapon in existence today simply survives that long. I’m no expert, but the idea that some ultra hardened bunker could survive 1000 years, only to be found with an instruction manual right next to it doesn’t seem very hard to believe.

Anyway, I guess that’s what I wanted to say – my take on a favorite prophecy topic.

If anybody can find me some info on why the Ez 38-39 battle is determined to happen prior to the second coming, please pass it on.

28 December 2005

Honor Isn't Corny

You know what I loved about The Lord of The Rings? I’m talking about the movies in particular.

It was the first movie in a long while that treated ‘manly’ virtues like honor, courage, duty, and loyalty in a serious manner. There was no shying away from Sam’s rock-solid devotion to Frodo. No blushing at Aragorn’s duty to the world of men and his struggle with the implications of that role. When Gandalf faces off with the Balrog and says “I am a servant of the Secret Fire” (read: Holy Spirit) he’s saying “I am vested with certain authority – not by my own power, but by someone higher than both of us, and I am exercising that authority now.” Evil is real, personified, and non-sexy – the choice for good people of Middle Earth is simple: fight the evil, and fight to win; or submit yourself to slavery, death, or worse. There is no middle ground.

It seems that there has been a generation of movies that treated all such virtues, all such choices as quaint at best, or corrupt at worst – but most often they just treated virtue as silly.

This is so important to what’s happening right now in the church, particularly with men. I had a new experience today – an unknown (random?) person stumbled across this blog and commented on two of the posts. One of the things he said was ‘A relevant Church is a dangerous church....” (Thanks Chris!) If men (and women) come to despise the virtues Christianity cherishes then we wither, and the world will wither with us for lack of our salt.

So much of my awakening in these last years has been about rediscovering a vivid, real root to these things I’ve been raised to mock. But it’s no sleigh ride. Recognizing the Truth of an ideal like steadfastness inevitably leads me to recognize my own fickleness. The warm but uncompromising light of courage casts the shadow of my cowardice. But as painful as this knowledge can be, it reveals itself to be a landscape worth living in, worth wrestling with, one in which I can feel like there is something for me to do – something to fight for! But for so long I’ve found myself in this realm where I have no clear direction on who I should be or what I should strive for. If my (arguably) deepest longing is to be respected, then a culture that makes my impulse toward honor seem corny is deeply disorienting. In a world where the choice is between honor and dishonor, at least a man can make a choice. But one in which my every lurch toward integrity is casually laughed at, dismissed, and scorned – what then?

There’s no question that this group of virtues is an ideal – not the stuff of everyday life and not a simple matter of reading a book or turning off the TV. But that too is so refreshing to me! So invigorating! You mean there is a way of living, a way of worshiping, a way of serving that actually ASKS something of me? Actually challenges me? Sign me up man!

Courage is hard! If it wasn’t, there wouldn’t be much point to it and it would be no virtue at all. A man might do a brave thing in a given moment, but to display courage as a character trait is something else entirely – and finally something worth doing – something worth being.

These ideals, these virtues, stand like pillars in the landscape of our lives. They act as landmarks to guide us from season to season. Mocking them, as so much of the last 30-40 years has done, doesn’t move them, it only drops a fog over the field that obscures our vision and cause us to get lost, wandering in circles. In time, we forget even what the pillars looked like, or if perhaps our ancestors just imagined them in their primitive minds. But sooner or later, in all the stumbling, somebody will bump into one of these monuments almost an accident. “What’s this? Hey everybody, come se what I found!” Climbing that pillar starts to get your head above the fog and you discern other pillars...

What’s happening in the church right now, and also in America in general, is that people are finding these virtues and the light they provide. People are climbing up above the haze and that in itself starts to clear the fog. Spending time with the rock-solid reality of Compassion reveals Nice to be nothing but an imitation made of marshmallow. Grace rises up and reveals Tolerance to be chicken wire and paper maché.

OK – I’ve gone all misty now, but my point can be seen in this: Men in particular have been lost for the last many years because the landmarks that are supposed to be the guideposts of our lives have been hidden from us. Our half of the Christian contribution to life has been diluted because we’ve been scattered and wandering. But that’s changing. Like it or not, movies are the cultural literacy of today, and seeing movies like Lord of The Rings take these guideposts not as relics of an outmoded way of thinking, but rather as relevant to today’s challenges is no small matter. Bid a bitter and overdue goodbye to the anti-hero and welcome again the hero. Celebrate most his flaws, because in them lay the seeds of his humanity and often his redemption.

21 December 2005

What if...

A few degrees off from my usual posts...

The way a massive body ‘creates’ gravity has often been compared to a bowling ball set on a taught membrane like a trampoline.

Imagine one of those 3 foot wide exercise trampolines with a marble near one edge – this marble is Earth. The marble doesn’t have enough weight to distort the trampoline at all, so it doesn’t move – it just sits there on the flat surface. Now add a bowling ball to the center of the trampoline. This is the Sun. The bowling ball sinks into the trampoline which causes the entire surface to curve around it, in order to support its weight. As a result, the little marble, our Earth, will now find itself on a slope and roll toward the bowling ball/Sun.

Everybody still with me?

So assuming this metaphor is reasonably true to life – what if we could find a way to alternately tighten or relax the springs that keep the trampoline taught? In other words, what if there was a way to increase or decrease the ‘surface tension’ in local space thereby either increasing or decreasing the gravity in that area.

If I find myself falling toward the Sun because it’s distorted the trampoline we share, tightening a few springs would make the Sun ‘rise’, decreasing the slope, decreasing my rate of falling...decreasing gravity.

And if space and time are really one thing I’m sure time is involved here somewhere, but I haven’t really thought about that at all.

Anyway – just thinking out loud...

17 December 2005

The Coming eRenaissance

I’m unqualified to tell anybody if this is accurate or not, but it was once explained to me that the Renaissance, you know – that fascinating period of intellectual and technological innovation from roughly 1450 to 1850, was made possible largely by the fact that the economic situation had created a class of people who were free to basically follow their interests and see where they lead. The creation of the middle class and the first hints of the industrial revolution had made several people marginally wealthy so they didn’t have to spend all day, every day making a living. Instead they could think about the scientific mysteries of the day like ‘What is energy?’ or paint portraits of women holding weasels.

Stand by for Renaissance 2.0.

I’ve been reading Wired magazine for the last couple of years (That is a great magazine by the way, if sometimes a little snarky). Over and over the stories revolve around some dot-com millionaire who has decide not to take his or her windfall and move to the Bahamas, but rather take that money and do something they really enjoy or believe in. Some are altruistic in their endeavors, others just quirky and driven to follow an impulse, but the story gets told time after time.

Right now we’re at this place where US technological progress hinges on the production of new technologies and techniques. The solution to any one of an innumerable list of small problems is worth a million dollars. Similarly, as countries like India and China (multiple billions of people!) race toward modern technology there is a gigantic market to facilitate that race. In short, there are lots and lots of opportunities for folks who only need to be moderately clever, or simply lucky, to find themselves suddenly transcending the rat race.

In Wired, just based on the medium, I’m really only reading about those folks who turn their first tech-million into some other tech project – going to the moon, melting bulldozers, turning lead into gold, that kind of thing. But in other publications I see the same kinds of stories, just not so obvious. Folks who start making toys, or writing that book they always dreamed about, or jump starting some kind of ministry.

What’s more, these kinds of projects thrive in a collaborative environment, where the Oregonian who has figured out Tab A can actually find the Scot who built Slot B. The now world of instant communication where distance really only effects shipping costs, plus computer systems that can search enormous amounts of data in moments – this is gonna be huge!

Here are a few of my futurist predictions:
  • Books and paper will NOT go away any time soon. In fact they will thrive. Folks will have more time to read AND to write books. Sure shorter, disjointed writings will move more and more to the web – the new realm for the pamphleteer. But longer works still want and deserve a degree of permanence. But don’t get caught thinking of “books” as paper and leather. Think of a method to store ideas and plot lines. Case in point: the paperless office never happened. Instead, we print more things now then we ever have.
  • The flat world that Friedman talks about will be so natural to adapt to on the street level that barely anybody will notice. Only the snooty pants people who live in 32nd floor apartments will wonder at the newness of it all. The farmer in Bend wont think twice about popping up his laptop in his Chevy and asking a question of his irrigation engineer in Thailand. In fact, the biggest hindrance to this trend will be governmental and corporate opposition. As they seek to maintain control and get their nickel, they’ll screw things up. Case in point: Wi-Max in Philly.
  • The sciences will be re-democratized. Right now, there is such a barrier to being a scientist – education, funding, peer review, et.al. To the great chagrin of the existing establishment, more and more science will simply go around this structure and produce real results without the Ivory Tower’s blessing. That will be a mixed blessing – innovation? Sure. Quality? Think again. We will once again come to ponder the specter of some mad scientist creating a dark star in his garage that winds up swallowing Cheboygan. Case in point: fake stem cell research out of Korea.
  • Cultural spheres will fare the same as the sciences. With huge explosions of music, art, poetry, etc. The bright side is that lots of cool new stuff will be created and lots of people will be able to make a modest living with only a modest audience. The dark side – there will be a raft of absolute crap that needs to be sifted through. That said, this is where feedback tools make the sifting much easier and much harder to be hijacked by economic interests. Case in point: MySpace and other social networks that let widely dispersed networks of people gather to create a market for almost any product or service.
  • Universal education will either change into something we don’t recognize or go away entirely. This will dovetail with the home schooling trend and the availability of computerized learning tools. Homeschoolers didn’t set out to create a social trend, but it’s happening anyway. When I can teach my child up to the high school graduate baseline in a matter of eight years instead of twelve, that’s an edge that is more important than the religious impulse that got homeschooling started. Secular homeschooling is just starting to take off because people perceive it produces better results. What’s more, in a world where fresh thinking is the hottest commodity, kids excel in doing the out-of-box thing and will see that learning geography is a luxury, while understanding HTTP is valuable. It will become a valid (but always risky) career path to look for a problem that needs solving but isn’t getting the attention it needs, and devoting oneself to one to four years of hard work with a fat paycheck at the end. I can learn where Oslo is later. Picture kids dropping out of school to join startups instead of to play basketball. What’s more, there are SO many issues that have a potential million on the back end that being a career inventor is again a real job possibility. So that’s pretty cool. Case in point: huge growth in technical trade schools without concurrent growth in 4-year technical degree fields. Folks just want to learn what they need so they can get to it. I’m one of those folks. I already had my certificate in a technical field when I went to GFU to study history. History is a passion, not a job skill, and I absolutely freaking LOVED college because of it. I couldn’t care less about my grades because my future was not on the hook. I was just following something I dug.    

Isn’t the truism “Do something you love.” always confounded by “What’s for dinner?” The market economy we call the rat race tightens when we’re in that phase of the cycle where the last generation’s innovation is being consolidated and exploited. The Rat Race become the Renaissance when innovation can get out from under the market for a spell and think crazy thoughts. People with passion, and heart, and chutzpa can run around willy-nilly without caring if this thing will make them a dollar...because they already have that portion of their lives settled. It’s just that Mazlow hierarchy pyramid working its magic.

So if you have some burn in your belly. A story that you really WANT to write, a need that only you can address, a splinter in your mind that WILL NOT go away – don’t put your head down and trudge through life wishing things were different. Look around for one of these problems that the world is just waiting to solve and solve it – then sell it. You don’t need to make a million, you only need to make five year’s salary so your next five years are filled with life and passion and the freedom to do what you love. There is the stuff of happiness. There is the life of deep fulfillment.

12 December 2005

What's Good for the Goose...

While it was never my intention, I see that more than one post in this blog has been critical of women in one way or another. The thing is that what could loosely be called "gender issues" has been on my mind a lot lately; I'm not entirely sure why...but regardless of the why I want to set the record straight.
As I think about these issues, my most serious criticisms are directed at men, despite how previous entries might seem. In truth, many of my reflections on women are framed as I look at the manifold ways in which we men have failed our wives, our sisters, our daughters. What's more, in the last year or so I've had more than one opportunity to work with 'men's groups' as I see a movement inside the church where men are waking up to how badly we've botched things - usually through inaction. No small part of this rests on an evolving picture of what a genuine Christian male should be, what he should look like and how he should act. I've been trying to write this post now for about two weeks but find that I have so much to say that it gets unreadable. So instead, I'll focus this post on one thing - responsibility.

Gender roles are real.

Deeply real in fact. God-given even. As I say that I'm well aware of the hackles that kind of statement can raise. All the images of chest-beating, sloppy-joe eating "Men's Men" and the litany of evils that kind of man has foisted on the world through an abuse of power. But the fact that power can be misused is no excuse for neglecting to use it all. I'm talking about an honest look at what God says about men (and women) as well as what experience shows me. And I'm soundly convinced that it's no trivial detail that I am a male and not a female. That distinction is meaningful on many, many levels. Being a man, more particularly a husband (even more so for a father) includes a set of non-negotiable duties and responsibilities that we have mostly abandoned for the sake of avoiding conflict - all to the great harm of ourselves and our female counterparts.

We have let them down when they needed us most.

In the garden, Eve was sold a lie as Adam stood silent (Eve took the fruit, and gave some to Adam who was with her...). "Do this and you can be like God." was the pitch, which sounds pretty good. More recently, women were sold a far less interesting lie, "Do this and you can be like men." and for the most part we stood by again.

Guys - specifically Christian guys - it's become pretty "in" these days to say that a man is the head of his household (as if this were some fascinating new discovery), but what does that mean to you? Do you realize that according to God you are the head of your household whether you like it or not. You are leading your family whether you intend to or not, whether your wife is making all the decisions or not, whether you're any good at it or not. The role is granted not by merit, not by vote and not by committee. But solely by the fact that you are assigned those duties upon uttering “I do.”

Think about Strider (big LOTR metaphor ahead - reader beware) - here is a  man afraid of his legacy. Fearful that the same weakness that lead to Isuldur's fall was in his own veins. So he chooses a self-imposed exile where he may do a little good, but not risk doing great harm. The thing is - he is Aragorn, the heir to the throne of Gondor - and there is nothing he can do about it. Walking away from his role only leaves Gondor without any king and creates a power vacuum to be filled by far less noble pretenders. The stewards of Gondor were not power hungry usurpers, they only stepped in when there was no one to occupy to throne and the bills had to be paid.

Gentlemen, when you hear "A husband is the head of his household" does that strike you as a burden? An opportunity? A club to beat your wife with? Maybe it rolls off you back like so many other Biblical statements that are plainly anachronisms. As a husband, this is your job description - and you cannot quit.

I truly believe that one day I will stand before our Lord and I'll be held accountable for how I lead, or failed to lead, my family. I won't be able to say, "But Lord, Rebekah was better at doing the bills." "But Lord, I wasn't cut out to be a leader." "But Lord, those kids are so willful."

There is saying that there is no such thing as a bad student – only a bad teacher. It’s a statement about leadership and the burden of authority. We men have so deeply screwed up the job we were given that we barley even recognize the position exists any more. We’ve so completely abandoned our own authority that we routinely disparage all authority. We’ve so utterly forsaken power that we can barely even say the word without feeling a twinge of guilt. And with these have gone loyalty, honor, duty and pride. We’ve become the worst kinds of teachers – those that don’t even bother to show up – and we’re bitching about the students.

09 December 2005

Narnia Rocks

Just a quick post – I and several friends stayed up to see the midnight show of Narnia last night.
While I didn’t walk away from it with the sense of ‘Oh my God!” that I had from Lord of The Rings – this movie was really, really cool.
Aslan was voiced by Qi Gon Jin, I mean Herr Schindler, uh...I mean Ras Al Goul. Anyway – he does a great job.
One issue –didn’t Tumnus wear a waistcoat?

28 November 2005

Friendly Fire

"...They revile angelic majesties they do not comprehend...and wind up
with their butts in a sling." (Free translation)

Spiritual warfare is a pretty hot topic In Christian circles right now.
To be honest, I don't know if this is something new (again) in the
church, or if it's been around for a long time, but I've had multiple
opportunities to speak on the topic and I'm not even a pastor. Folks
are interested and the folks who find themselves involved are generally
excited about it and ready to speak...at length...myself included.

I think that in the long run, it's a good trend. I think the most basic
definition of spiritual warfare is simply believing that there is an
enemy, the Devil, and acting accordingly. I think the scope of SW can
cover a wide range of topics from intercessory prayer and fasting to
worship and faithful counsel. The trend is good because it gets people
thinking about the spiritual ramifications and causes of the physical
world and their own lives. In my experience, people who take SW
seriously as a subject for study and practice start taking major steps
in their faith.

Also in my experience, a great many Christians approach the topic far
too lightly, far too innocently and often with bad motives.

Bad motives like:
• A desire for power - "I wanted a sunny day for for grandson's
birthday, so I rebuked that storm!"
• A culturally unassailable excuse for being an asshole - "I'm sorry I
yelled at you, but I've really been under attack recently!"
• An exotic story to impress your friends - "The devil is really
hounding me. It must be that he's against my new quilting ministry!"
• A spiritual bludgeon to get what you want - "I don't like what you
just said. I sense that you have a demon."

The thing is, none of these statements are necessarily off-limits.
Jesus rebuked a storm and we're told that the church will do greater
things; being under spiritual attack will certainly put a person on
edge; my experience is that significant moves toward God tend to meet
opposition; and spiritual discernment is a cornerstone of spiritual
warfare. But motives are everything - it's your heart that matters. And
if a person starts into SW with bad motives they're likely to hurt
somebody else or get hurt themselves.

Spiritual innocence, AKA naivety, looks like this:
• Flash In The Pan - "I cast out this demon of cancer in Jesus' name!
So, now that's over. Where's the potluck?"
• Rambo - "I call you Lucifer by name and bind you! You too Beelzebub!
And Mephistopheles while I'm at it"
• The Flower Child - "Please be gone demon. Don't make me rebuke
you...again...I mean it!"

Angels, and by extension demons (hello!), are incredibly powerful
creatures. Two were sent to destroy the entire Assyrian army. Four will
kill 1/3 of all humanity - that's 2 BILLION people if that were to
happen tomorrow. They shatter mountains, hold back winds, dry up rivers
and the Bible says that there are at least a million of them - one
third of whom want you bleeding in the ditch or dead. Now it's also
true that the spiritual warrior is well armed and equal to the fight,
but we can't afford to underestimate our opponents. We can't afford to
be cocky. We can't afford to be naive.

Similarly, we must understand a few important things about our
adversaries -they are patient, they are tenacious, and they hold no
quarter. In most cases you really shouldn't enter into a spiritual
fight unless you're ready to go the distance. Any significant
stronghold takes time to defeat - sometimes days, but more often weeks,
months and years. Which really should only surprise you if you
accidently thought the phrase was 'spiritual dunk tank' where one well
aimed softball drops the enemy into the water and we go find some
cotton candy. Wars last years, decades, sometimes ages. There are
attacks, counterattacks, flanks and pushes. There is a time to rush the
field, a time to gather intelligence, and a time to strategically
retreat. Don't do anything - ANYTHING - without checking with
headquarters. Wars are also deeply confusing - the 'Fog of War' refers
to the difficulty of comprehending the big picture when the battle is
joined - which brings me to my biggest concern - those Christians who
enter the fight to lightly, too quickly, too foolishly, and wind up
shooting at the wrong team.

'Friendly Fire' refers to the bitter but all too common instances where
combat units accidently engaging friendly units because they are
misidentified as the enemy.

It's foundational to spiritual warfare that our words and prayers have
power, that the spiritual world is more "real" than the physical world,
and that earthly conditions reflect spiritual conditions. Were told
that our words are swords, tongues of fire, able to split sinew from
bone - more succinctly, that we are armed with potent weapons that
deliver mortal wounds. But SOOOOOO many Christians will catch the SW
bug, start binding and loosing everything this side of the Pecos river,
swinging that two edged sword blindly in a crowded room, and deeply
wounding their brothers and sisters.

We have to remember that we're in an environment where 'spirits' come
in more than one shape. You have a spirit, your neighbor has a spirit,
your pastor has a spirit. Why should we think that these eternal being
are any less vulnerable than a demon to being spiritually wounded? Why
should we think that our spiritual weapons are any less indiscriminate
than an MP5?

Special forces units will train heavily in close quarter combat -
moving a team through a tight environment, say a building, without
shooting the wrong people. It requires strict discipline about where
people move, what firing arcs are covered, and how the team
communicates to prevent accidents. "Check your targets!" is a common

If Paul, one of the most spiritually discerning people we know of, says
that we see through a glass darkly - we need to listen. Our ability to
understand the spiritual landscape around us is severely limited. We
have to be careful that we don't accidently wound one another.

Let me give you an example - 'The Needy Girl' is crying again and asks
you to pray with her again. Do NOT whip out the 'cast out the spirit of
depression' prayer. Is it possible that her chronic depression is
spiritual in nature? Absolutely. But you better be certain that you're
hearing that word from HQ and not just responding in frustration
because you're tired of praying with her. Because if that's the case
you're almost certain to do far more harm than good. And if her
depression is NOT spiritual in nature, and she's back at your side two
weeks later, you're likely to pretend like that whole demon prayer
never happened - which is the worst kind of non-accountability BS that
makes everybody look bad.

Look, my real point is this - the subject of spiritual warfare is a
good one and important for a healthy church. But we MUST take it with
the gravity and seriousness that it deserves. It's a matter of long
practice, deep humility, and profound respect. WE must NEVER, EVER
promote a "Spiritual Warfare For Dummies" mentality that sees SW as the
kind of thing you pick up on a weekend retreat (I'm guilty here). That
said, I also don't want to scare anybody away from the topic or the
practice of spiritual warfare, just treat your weapons with the respect
they deserve. Especially when you're waving that thing around inside
the church.

Check your targets!

25 November 2005

Holidays And My Family

At the moment, it's Thanksgiving day and I'm kicking my feet up in the cozy Africa-theme family room of my in-law's house. My wife and he mother are poring over a dizzying variety of yarns and fabrics discussing quilts, handbags and scarves while Wayne, my second father (third?), listens to NPR thoughtfully. In another hour or two we'll
drive to Ann and Dave's place, picking up Grandma Pat along the way and have Thanksgiving with Julie, Kenny, Ross, Jennifer, Annika, Frank, Codie, and Morgan. If we were in California this year, as opposed to Washington, we'd be looking forward to meeting Gus, Ade, Madeline, Mindy, Gene, Johnny, Pete, Dawn, Dante, Shelby, George, Michael, Scott, Nicholas...etc. etc. (That's the Italian side of my family, and I've frankly fallen behind in memorizing all the wives and kids).

At either venue, either over potato sausage or pirrogie (Gene and Ade are Polish...dear Lord I love their pirrogie!), somebody would say, "What are you thankful for this year?", and most folks, with genuine sincerity, would list 'family' as something they are truly thankful for. Without question, I've been deeply blessed when it comes to family. Not only is my first family large and loving, and generous with their affection, but my wife's family has done so very much to accept
me into their midst, and they did so immediately, even before Rebekah and I were married.


Jesus says, "Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?" - Who is my family?

A few years ago, Rebekah and I stayed home for Thanksgiving. Our only guests were our friends the Foxes and their two boys. It was perhaps the best holiday of my life. For my entire life, holidays meant long drives to relatives houses, often two if we had to spend the morning with mom's family, and the afternoon with dad's family. Holidays meant pressure, business, discomfort and too much to do in too little time. But this one Thanksgiving at home was wholly different. I didn't leave the house once except to take the trash out. The Foxes drove all of 1/2 mile and then back again several hours later. The six of us realized that we were all cooking as if it were still the 30 person table we were used to and our table groaned with food. We all sat down, said grace, and ate like locusts before we all looked up and thought - what are we doing? Everybody laughed and took a deep breath...we spent the rest of the languid day sipping chocolate, nibbling on olives and napping near the fire. It was the best holiday in my life, the first that truly felt like a 'holiday' as in a break from normal life, and I want very much to repeat it.

Over the last several years, the Foxes truly have been our family. It's with them that we've shared our faith, our trials and triumphs, and the day-to-day of our lives. For every hour I've sen my own sister, I've seen Matt 100. I know more about Beth's real state of mind, her spiritual health, and the things that she wrestles with, than I know about my own mother. We've shared our lives and our money, and our time, not to mention our reciprocating saws and spring-form pans and whichever car is working. And it's not just the Foxes, it's also Lisa, and the McLoughlans and others. Quite unexpectedly my life has developed a very tight circle of friends that feels a lot like the book of Acts.

"Whoever does the will of my Father is my bother, and my sister, and my mother."

Christ's statement here about family has always seemed coy to me - a kind of hyperbole to illustrate a point. But I never took the next step seriously. "What point am I making then?" he might ask. "Well...you know...how Christians should be...um...kinda like a family...sorta..."

Listen, God is very clear that family (in the natural sense) is very important to him. We're commanded to honor our fathers and mothers and to do so grants us a blessing. I don't think Jesus is suggesting that Mary and James et. al. are somehow NOT his family while his disciples are, but rather that the language about being adopted into God's family is far more real than I suspected. Calling another Christian 'brother' is not just a euphemism, it's a true expression of the eternal relationship between two believers. Perhaps this relationship is more important than our earthly ties - after all, if a marriage dissolves with death, it may be that our earthly families are equally temporal. In contrast, our salvation is eternal - our integration into God's family is for ever.

When the Foxes moved north from California, I knew Matt by his first name, but really he was "Beth's husband." I knew Beth from my home town. We went to school together, had the same friends, and even dated for a spell. So when they came to Newberg, Beth was my friend and Matt was an acquaintance. Right away, they moved in with us and stayed for about a month. They had moved on faith with no job, no place to live, no idea of what to do next, but they moved and we put them up while they found their feet. I wonder if we would have formed the relationships we have now without that first experience but it set a precedent of intimacy that was unique in my life. Our lives were suddenly intertwined by circumstance instead of by choice. We were sharing a home not because we really wanted to, but because we had to. Rebekah and I were newlyweds at that time. We had purchased this home only a few months earlier because God had clearly orchestrated the purchase and we had three extra bedrooms. I suspect it wasn't the first choice for the Foxes either. One of the big reasons they moved north in the first place is because they wanted their own space - getting thrown into a 'communal' environment was doubtful to be their first choice,

Since then - not quite five years now - Matt and I have become very close. In many ways Matt has become the closest friend I've had in my life. And let my be very candid - it has not been all high fives and pork rinds. Matt and I have fought - hard. Matt and I have punched and kicked each other (literally (see Ninjutsu)), we've yelled and screamed
(OK - mostly, that's me. Matt's pretty quiet) and we've thrown up our hands in frustration, anger, and disappointment. He's offended me and I've offended him, many, many times.

But there probably isn't anybody on Earth I care about more than Matt.

He truly is the brother I never had.

He's forgiven me many, many times. He's corrected me when nobody else could or would. His counsel has been faithful. His peace has been a rock. His family has graced my life with more love and laughter, and joy than I knew was possible. As a man, friends like Matt are few and far between. The Foxes are to me the kind of family that I've never really understood before. Where the eternal reality of our God ordained relationship is thousands of times more meaningful than what somebody said last Christmas. Where we share a table with folks we spoke to yesterday, not six months ago at a Christening that everybody left before coffee was served. These are people that I will know FOR EVER -
but who I also know intimately RIGHT NOW.

This Thanksgiving, I find myself deeply thankful for Matt, for Beth, for Will and for Ben.Which I find to be the same thing as saying "I'm thankful for my family."

19 November 2005

Bringing a Knife to a Gunfight

This post will pretty brief since the point I want to make is pretty simple, but it informs a significant portion of what I think and is worth putting in black and white.

The very public, stated goal of the United Nations is to stop and/or prevent armed conflict.

The preamble of the United Nations charter reads “We the peoples of the United Nations determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war...” In fairness, the preamble also says, somewhat ambiguously “...And for these ends...to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security, and to ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest,”

My point is that it seems a dubious proposition to look to the United Nations for approval of almost any use of force, almost regardless of the circumstances. It’s like asking a bank for permission to kite a check – it’s just not in their nature to see the world through that lens.

Despite how this might sound, I’m not dinging the UN here, only trying to recognize its essence. For better or for worse, there doesn’t seem to be much sense is asking the UN if I can go kick somebody in the shins. By doing so, I have a lot to loose (politically and strategically) and very little to gain. Even when the body resolves that a situation way warrant the use of force, like it did in Iraq a few years back, there is no intestinal fortitude to follow through. They have displayed more willingness to see wring their hands over shed blood, i.e. Sudan, Bosnia, or Rwanda, then to dirty their hands by getting involved.

18 November 2005

How Does God Like His Eggs?

I imagine myself at breakfast with God, sitting across from one
another at Pig N' Pancake, sipping coffee and marveling at the White
Sox - when the waitress walks over.

"What can I get you?" she asks...something in her accent sounds

Always the decisive one, Our Lord pipes up, "Number three please."

"How would like your eggs?"

"Poached hard, and rye toast please."

"Great. And for you sweetie?"

What do I do? The creator of everything in the universe, including
eggs, just ordered two of them poached. The guy who knows everything
about everything, including this chef's strengths and weaknesses,
decided against the "award winning sourdough pancakes." What does that
really <italic>mean</italic>? Is it unwise to get breakfast four -
pigs in a blanket? Is it foolish to get my eggs over medium? Is it a
sin for me to order a cinnamon roll?

What I'm really asking is whether or not God has opinions. Is it safe
for me to order whatever breakfast I want, even Spam, baked beans,
sausage and Spam, or does any divergence from His perfect will
constitute foolishness at best, or wickedness at worst? Are there such
things as morally neutral choices? Where we truly enjoy liberty in
every sense of the word - not simply the liberty to obey or conform,
to toe the line or to rebel, but real liberty to make a choice between
two or more equally sinless options.

I can imagine myself in that moment, looking nervously between the
waitress and my savior. "I'll have pigs in..." but then He patiently
starts to shake his head...smiling of course...but definitely advising
against that course. "Um...how 'bout a Belgian..." another subtle
shake of the head and the waitress starts to look at me with pity. "I
think...I'll have..." He looks at me expectantly with a sort of "you
can do it!" grin of encouragement. "...um...blintzes?"

But I can also imagine my Lord looking at me with no sense of
evaluation at all. No disappointment, no approval, no surprise -
simply waiting for me to order so we can go back to baseball talk. He
couldn't care less what I ate or how the eggs are prepared - the
choice is entirely mine.

I know the sovereignty crowd will bite their knuckles, but I've come
to believe that God gives us a great deal of freedom to live our lives
the way we see fit. Yes - there are boundaries. Yes - He usually has
input and advice to offer. Yes - He has a bigger plan laid out for me
- good deeds that He has prepared in advance for me to do. But what
does it mean to say 'all things are permissible, but not all things
are profitable" if we cleave so closely to the God's Perfect Will line
that in any given circumstance there is actually only ONE thing that
is both permissible and presumably profitable?

Part of this thought rises up out of my distaste for the doctrine of
total depravity. But I can certainly see how these two thoughts (T.D.
and soverignity) support one another. If no good thing can ever come
out of me, then certainly I can't be trusted to make even the simplest
decision. Everything that comes out of me is tainted. But part of the
promise of the new covenant is that God will provide me with a new
heart - a good heart; one made of flesh to replace the heart of stone.
If it's true that Christ is IN ME - that my heart has become the
tabernacle of the Spirit of God - how can that heart be wholly
corrupt? If you drop me, I fall to Him. If you break me, I bring my
pieces to Him. If you wound me, I cry out to Him. If that is my
baseline response, the deepest impulse of my soul - how can the
deepest part of me be desperately wicked?

So often, I find that clarity comes when I allow God to close the
distance between us. When I allow Him to display His humanity to me -
as weird as that can get sometimes, but more recently this has
happened when I've allowed Him to show me my own glory - the part of
me that was truly made in His image, the part of me that was fearfully
and wonderfully made, those parts of me that God made strong, a little
lower than the angels, and adopted into His kingdom, destined to judge
those same angels and take up a scepter and a crown...someday. The
glory that is mine not because I've earned but for no other reason
than that it pleased him to invest some of himself in me.

In that case - my own will can be good; to the degree to which my own
will is LIKE his, but not his. I'm not splitting hairs here. Allowing
for the possibility that my own will can be redeemed allows for the
possibility that God might leave certain decisions entirely up to me.
"Lord, what should I study in college? Should I marry this girl?
Should I let my kids read Harry Potter?"

If every decision we make has moral weight, then we need answers like
"Biology. No. Yes, but not until they're 15." and to do otherwise puts
us on the sin road. But if the authentic Christian experience contains
more subtlety and complexity than that, more nuance - than the ways in
which we learn to grapple with complex questions of good and evil, or
just good and better, become more important, and far more eternal,
than any given decision, including life changing decisions like
marriage, career and kids. Even those decisions with potentially
eternal consequences - being a jury member in a capital case for
example, are wholly different because our own hearts and minds and
motivations enter the mix. Learning to abide in his glow without being
subsumed by it, we're no longer rebellious puppets simply asked to
accept the hand in our backs but something far more interesting, far
more powerful, far, far more dangerous. We are little princes and
princesses practicing for our future roles.

"You are my friends...no longer do I call you servants...but I have
called you friends for all that I have heard from the father, I have
made known to you." John 15: 14:15

14 November 2005

Sympathy for Maureen Dowd

Please see:

The article cited above is pretty long but well worth reading. In it,
among other things, Ms. Dowd complains about the difficulty modern,
liberated women have finding husbands. There are about a hundred
different points in that article that I want to talk about but I reckon
I'll start with one...

Last week I attended the wedding of a good friend. This was a fellow
who had managed to keep his virtue for 32 years, and he managed to find
a bride who had done the same thing...but for a few fewer years. During
the service the pastor read a fairly common wedding passage, Eph
5:22-23, "Wives, be subject to your husbands...husbands love your
wives...etc, etc. But right there in verse 32 Paul says "...and the two
shall become one flesh. This is a great mystery."

Paul's a pretty bright guy and uses the term "mystery" precious few
times, and yet here it is being used to describe something that we've
come to take for granted. I'm not just talking about sex, the entirety
of marriage is encompassed here, but certainly sex is a big part of it.

The day before my friend's wedding, Rebekah and I celebrated our fifth
anniversary. Every year I make it a point to really look at what the
last year has brought to my marriage. How it's changed, how I've
changed, and what I might learn. Year after year I'm struck by how
integrated she has become in my life, how I not only love her more, but
my overall capacity to love grows. That as I love Rebekah I learn to
love God and vice versa. And each year I marvel at our ability to be
ever more intimate even when it seems that no more intimacy is

One flesh indeed.

It seems to me that at some point in the relatively recent past, women
believed that their virtue - sex - was a treasure. A thing to be kept,
and valued and protected. But then, perhaps it was part of the sexual
revolution, women were convinced that sex was a source of power. The
truism that men would do and say just about anything to get sex was
taken to mean that women could, and should, use sex as a way to get
what they wanted. It wasn't a treasure, it was a tool, and in fact the
very idea that it was special was just men trying to manipulate women
and control them...again.

Marriage is perhaps the single most civilizing invention ever. When a
society enforces a standard whereby sex occurs inside a marriage, and
only inside a marriage, where children are raised inside a marriage and
only inside a marriage, there is an incredibly powerful force that
supports healthy relationships, healthy kids, and peaceful society.

Part of the message from the sexual revolution was that there were no
healthy marriages - that it was all a scam. There was this "everybody
knows..." way of saying that practically every American family was
riven with sexual dysfunction, wife beating, child molestation and
repressed homosexuality. The image of Ozzie and Harriet stuffing
graveyards full of skeletons into their tract-home closets became a
cliche it was repeated so often in so many books and movies and TV
Specials. And the answer to all this hypocrisy was to cut sex free from
its fetters. To "respect" your sexuality by expressing every facet of
it with anybody you desire and in any circumstance that presented
itself. If you can't be with the one you love - love the one you're

Since then, sex has gone from a source of power to nothing more than
something to do. Casual sex, friends with privileges, fuck-buddies.
etc. etc. Sex is so prevalent on TV because the folks who make TV think
it's puritanical to assign any gravity at all to the act. Sure it can
still be used as a tool. Sure it can still be a source of great joy and
intimacy - but these are only there insofar as the consenting
participants put them there.

But they're dead wrong. There was a time when sex and marriage were
practically synonyms. It was that you got married to have sex in the
proper context, sex WAS marriage. A marriage ceremony wasn't anything
that ceremony was consummated. Sex had intrinsic power - the two were
made one flesh...this is a great mystery...a mystery we've ignored to
our detriment.

I think a great deal of the very real problem Ms. Dowd explores comes
down to the fact that modern, liberated women no longer see sex as a
treasure. (Now before anybody freaks out, I'm not saying that it's all
women's fault, but right now it's women's role that I'm exploring.) If
men know they can only get sex inside a marriage, they will marry - and
that marriage will usually change them for the better almost despite
themselves. But if sex is widely available without taking on that
responsibility, and with attractive, desirable women - then marriage
becomes less and less important. It's a buyer's market and now women,
who long to be wanted, find themselves competing with one another for
who can be the biggest hooch. It's like that dreadful show Elimidate.
And this trend is another thing Ms. Down complains about - not because
it's degrading to the poor ladies who feel it's the only way to get
married, but because she sees it as a step back from the "advances" her
generation made.

In the past, Ms. Dowd has suggested that men wont marry her because
she's too smart, too talkative, and/or too successful. She says, in so
many words, that men feel threatened by her. But if a man knows that he
can sleep with Ms. Dowd with no strings (and I'm not suggesting that's
the case, but it is with many in her cohort), then raise kids with some
woman far less troublesome...what's the reason to deal with Maureeen?
So many of the things that the sexual revolution sold to women as
benefits are actually destructive to what these same women truly

Maureen - I'm sorry for the situation you and your generation find
yourself in. Unfortunately, I don't think there is anything you can do
about it yourself. Even if any given 'liberated' women were to change
her attitude toward marriage and sex, it wouldn't matter. So you wont
give it up without a ring, but your sweatpants wearing neighbor will,
so a fellow will just go over there. Our culture will need to change on
a more fundamental level and come to value sex as magical again -
special - mystical at some level...a mystery. Like it or not, women are
the gatekeepers of that treasure. Men can learn to respect that
mystery, and play by the rules, but will always be like foxes guarding
the hen house if it's left up to us.

17 October 2005

Looking for birth pangs

My mother in law looked at me this morning and asked, "With all the earthquakes and other natural disasters lately, do you think we're in the 'End Times'?"

In the spirit of full-disclosure allow me to say that I have a Pre-Mil, Pre-Trib view of eschatology. That said, I also strongly assert that really smart, sincere Christians have been disagreeing on this topic for two-thousand years. The subject is (meaningful buzzword inbound...) a Mystery. We are given hints and clues, but I think it's hubris to claim
doctrine on eschatological matters. But again, I think it dangerous to be a Panmillenialist ("It will all pan out in the end!" ~chuckle~snort~chuckle~snort) and willfully remain ignorant of the issues. Christ says (at least) two unequivocal, important things on the matter.

One: that no man knows the day or the hour of his return - not even the angels in heaven, but only the Father (which seems to also exclude Christ Himself, but I wouldn't bet on that.) So any kind of date setting seems reckless on its face. While it would appear that His first coming and the events of Palm Sunday were predictable based on well known prophecy - perhaps even to the very day - the church age is different. The church itself (Christ in us) is a mystery and it would seem that Christ's return has been imminent since the day after Pentecost.

Two: He says that when you see these things, all the 'signs', come to pass you will know that the time is near. He compares it to seeing the new buds on an olive tree. When you see this you can be certain that Spring is right around the corner. The conclusion - and I'm certainly not the first person to conclude this - is that while we may not know the exact timing of the 'end times' we should be able to discern its approach. And I'm also reminded that Jesus holds the religious leaders of Israel accountable for NOT recognizing the timing of His first coming. It's like, "If you had only been paying attention, none of this ugliness would have had to happen."

But enough of that - I just wanted to state where I'm coming from.

The question about whether or not seemingly more frequent natural disasters was indicative of the end times or not is a complicated one. For one thing, are we really seeing a numerical increase in disasters or are we really only seeing an increase in our awareness of these events. Probably as little as 25 years ago, a big earthquake in Iran or Pakistan wouldn't really have made it to the American news - and certainly not in the detail we get today. Katrina is another, but different example of how news coverage colors
everything. Now that the actual bodies have been counted, and the hysteria dispelled, Katrina was clearly NOT the apocalyptic event it seemed to be in those early hours when we get unending reports of mayhem and anarchy and cannibalism, but in the years to come, folks will likely be left more with that panic filled impression than with the actual facts. So in short, I'd like to see statistical evidence that these events really were more common instead of just relying on an admitedly powerful impression.

But - that said - I do see other prophetically significant developments that do seem to be the slow budding of the olive tree. Most of these are political in nature though, and not environmental, and political timelines are almost impossible to predict. I think if I were alive when Israel became a  nation I would have been on my roof with a suitcase, but here we are 60 years later...and no Jesus.

So in answer to my mother in law - if I was really put on the spot I probably would offer a cautious, "Probably." to her question. Cautious because while I perceive prophetically significant progress, I don't know how far we are from the result of that progress. I also don't think that there is an alarm clock in heaven and when it strikes midnight the show is over. For my own reasons I believe the date of the end isn't actually a set-time in the way Palm Sunday was, but rather something that is inevitable and imminent. Could be today...could be many years from now...

And while it may sound like I'm just being squishy, my answer is actually based on what I see as logical, theological reasoning and not just a desire to avoid answering the question. :)

07 October 2005

Bill Moyers is a Whining Little Baby

Here’s an interesting article: http://www.southbendtribune.com/stories/2005/10/06/faith.20051006-sbt-MICH-D4-Theologians_debate_m.sto

In part is reads, “ "The country is not yet a theocracy but the Republican Party is," Moyers charged. "Democracy is in peril." He compared conservative Christian activists with Muslim terrorists who can cite "many verses in the Quran" as grounds "for waging war for God's sake." America's "homegrown ayatollahs," he stated, are deceitful bullies whose "viral intolerance" undergirds "an unprecedented sectarian crusade for state power" and "political holy war financed by wealthy economic interests." ”

I’m tempted to poke Moyers in the eye for his endemic failure to see the clear moral distinction between even the most vitriolic smack-talking and a single act of intentional murder. I’m also tempted to berate Moyers for his totally irresponsible moider of da Queen’s English (Nyuck’ Nyuck’ Nyuck’)~ his extreme hyperbole in the use of ‘theocracy’  or ‘ayatollahs’ displays either a total ignorance of those words real meaning or recklessness with the images they concoct.

But what I’m really interested in is this bit, “an unprecedented sectarian crusade for state power.”

It wasn’t very long ago that both politics and the press had a kind of monopoly on the information they worked with. It was axiomatic that knowledge was power – and they traded in that power. It was a world where somebody in Moyers shoes could say virtually anything they wanted and there was very little anybody could do about it. They were unchallenged, uncompetitive and above accountability.

But the internet, among other technologies, has caused a sea change on the nature of information and how it gets both shared and vetted. The shift is both subtle and profound – a whisper heard ‘round the world.

Case in point: the unprecedented move that Moyers bemoans is nothing more than the fact that his authority is being challenged by people he thinks beneath him. Christians found their long-dormant energy in the last several years, particularly since 911, and they are simple participating in the public sphere where they had been largely absent for the previous 40 years. It’s worth remembering the famous FDR quote. When asked what his philosophy was (a socialist, a fascist, etc) he responded “...I’m a Christian and I’m a Democrat.” At that time – in an age our grandparents still remember – a sincere Christian in public office was no novelty. But sometime later, I reckon near the late 50’s, Christians lost their voice in public debate. Not because it was beaten out of them, or they were defeated in the realm of ideas, but more because they got tired of fighting and simply stopped. So we have a generation of politicians and pundits, Moyers et.al, who came to their own with nary a whimper from the church and the right ~ so from Moyers stands it really must seem like an aberration to hear Christians saying anything at all, much less competing for real cultural dominance.

Here’s another anecdote to illustrate this point. Oregon was in the middle of a debate of gay marriage this last year (Measure 36). There was an article in the Oregonian where they quoted one of the leaders on the No on 36 (pro-gay-marriage) side saying that he was used to dealing with Christians like that moron in Oklahoma with the “God Hate’s Fags” signs. In his mind ALL Christians (and by extension all Republicans (he said it, not me)) were vile, hateful, mean sons-of-bitches. But he said that this debate had brought him into contact with an incredibly broad, intelligent, sincere, and articulate Christians that he never knew existed. What was refreshing was that he recognized that something different was happening...he was now dealing with a group of people who were not cavemen, were not hillbillies, and were NOT ayatollahs seeking a theocracy. (Measure 36 passed by the way).

Which brings me to my point. Moyers is whining like a little baby because he’s unaccustomed to having the peasants reply to (God forbid question!) his ivory tower wisdom. Dan Rather was simply the first noble to be guillotined in this revolution...and Moyers probably sees his fate approaching. I think the politicians are experiencing the exact same kind of paradigm shift but since their mutational generations are much shorter than the press, they’re responding more quickly. It should be noted that this is not a left vs. right thing though. It just so happens that at this moment the left is more distant from middle America than the right is – but that could change in 60 days. In short, this whole open-source/blogosphere/flash-mob phase has made snake oil MUCH MUCH harder to sell, whatever flavor it might be.

In closing, the church is finding its voice again...and using it. We’re simply throwing our two cents into the marketplace of ideas, and people are buying. That irritates Bill Moyers and he’s responding like Marie Antoinette. Vocal, participatory Christians are not at all new in this country and by no means “unprecedented.”
I don’t want to stray too far from my main point in this post, but I do think that this is the direct result of what’s been happening inside the church for the last several years. Specifically a growing focus on Christian community (as opposed to isolationism) lead by the Spirit, and a rediscovery (hello!) of authentic Christian masculinity...but I digress.

Letter to The Editor July 14, 2005

This was submitted to (and appeared in) my local paper a few months ago. Since it has some bearing on current debates...I figured I’d stick it up here.

Shame on Marv Kaplan for so blatantly mischaracterizing my previous letter to the editor.
Mr. Kaplan says that I discourage people from talking to him. In a rhetoric class, this is the technique of restating your opponent’s argument in the strongest possible terms. Mr. Kaplan’s purpose is to make me seem extreme and unreasonable. What I actually wrote suggests that we on the right not allow Mr. Kaplan and others to define the terms of the debate.

Mr. Kaplan’s June 22nd letter to the editor is another case in point. In it, Mr. Kaplan rails against bigotry, hatred, and divisiveness; arguments that may seem familiar to those who watched the Measure 36 debate. That’s because they are the same arguments - it’s the same issue. SB 1073 (and HR 1000) is simply gay marriage by another name. For the record, Measure 36 passed, in liberal Oregon, by a strong majority that did not follow party lines, but instead cut across all demographics. These new bills before the legislature are cynical attempts to circumvent the clear wishes of Oregonian voters.

Instead of saying that Oregon voters were wrong and it’s the legislature’s job to intervene, protecting homosexuals from the ignorant and misinformed, Mr. Kaplan prefers to make us feel guilty for our beliefs. Instead of acknowledging and honestly supporting the discarding of Measure 36, he prefers to call us bigots and haters. Mr. Kaplan even goes so far as to liken those of us who voted for Measure 36 to Nazis. (Marv - haven’t you learned that comparing fellow Americans to Nazis is NEVER a good strategy?)

Instead of Mr. Kaplan’s vision of the discussion, here are the terms I am willing to debate: Is it appropriate for the legislature to openly work around Measure 36 when its language is so unambiguous and the majority vote was so strong? Should our local representatives, all of whom oppose these bills, be chastised as “unbalanced” when their views clearly reflect the majority opinion of the people they represent?

For the sake of fairness, allow me to point out a similar matter in which my side lost. I do not support physician-assisted suicide, but the initiative passed fair and square, following due process. Despite my deep disagreement with this law, I think it is totally inappropriate for the Justice Department to interfere and I’ve written to the President to say as much.

Mr. Kaplan, let us agree on this - like it or not Measure 36 is the law of the land. There are more honest, more legal, and more honorable ways to go about changing that law – win the support of the majority of voters. Don’t allow your admirable passion to sully your trust in democracy.

Politics, Pop-Culture...and now poetry


The stars here are different.
As is the sun and the dirt and the air.
The only U.S. came with us
in Levis and Skippy and Bayer.

Scorpio looms in sky-spanning splendor,
Orion has stalled in mid-rise.
Wrapped snugly in Holo-Filled Gortex® .
we hear hyenas circling the fires.

The wildebeests wander from me to the haze,
a staggering swell of zebra and gnu.
Karanja asks if I’ve met him
and points to my AirJordan shoes.

A friend read this poem and discovered a deeply personal, but wholly untended political message in this poem that went something like this...

(in which our heartless capitalist anti-hero victimizes the local color...I mean the local pre-industrial object of Western exploitation...with the choice of his footwear)

The stars here are different and morally superior,
As is the un-occluded sun, the mercury-free dirt and the pre-revolution air.
The only neo-imperialist artifact came with the neo-imperialists
in Levis made in sweat shops and Skippy
(named after the white slave owner who stole the idea from his oppressed slave Ndung-'nu).

Scorpio (which somehow seems to avoid political implications...which is suspicious in itself) looms in sky-spanning splendor,
Orion, the symbol of white oppression and Christian global terrorism has stalled in mid rise...like it should...damnit!
Wrapped in the loot and ecological rape of our decadent society
we hear hyenas circling the fire (which does cause particulate pollution, but is appropriate to these native people who are more in touch with their delicate ecosystem and better stewards of their carbon emissions).
We deserve to have them eat us. (The hyenas, not the natives)

The wildebeests (which should be listed as endangered since its virtual disappearance from Antarctica) graze in perfect natural harmony from me to the haze (formed in the accursed traffic circles that British imperialists built decades ago)
a staggering swell of zebra (also endangered) and gnu (a separate endangered listing)
Karanja (now ignorant of the native tongue his ancestors spoke 3 million years ago due to western indoctrination) asks if I've met him
and points to my AirJordan (that Uncle Tom! He should be ashamed of the way he prostitutes his entire race just to make a few bucks!) shoes

05 October 2005

The Stem Cell Debate

Here’s an interesting article: http://www.betterhumans.com/News/4677/Default.aspx

(But a company named Better Humans? I wonder if this isn’t something other than it appears to be. Seems kinda fishy...)
But – regardless of the reality of this particular article, it stands in a line of many hundreds of articles about the real-world, right-now, measurable results that have come from NON-embryonic stem cell research.

I’m struck by how the embryonic stem cell debate rages on in this country. How many real treatments have come from embryonic stem cells? As far as I can tell – zero. How many have come from some other kind of stem cell? (adult, cord blood, placental etc.) The last count I saw was over 200. The promise of stem cell research that present no ethical concerns has just barely been explored but the early signs are incredibly promising – indeed they present all the promise we hear surrounding embryonic stem cells – but they are totally devoid of ethical concerns. So why then, is there this vivid and energetic movement to force the destruction of embryos?

Allow me to get a little weird / spooky here...
Who has heard of Lilith? Depending on the story you hear, Lilith may have been Adam’s first wife, a demon, an angel, a goddess, in some cases the name refers to a type of spirit or demon akin to the incubus and succubus. In most stories, Lilith is associated with eating or killing babies. For example, (a) Lilith might seduce a man, and then eat the child she bears for him. The Adam’s wife Lilith is told to have devoured her child after being cast from Eden and vowing to more of the same as a kind of revenge. More recently, Lilith has come be a symbol of feminism, particularly that brand of feisty feminism that looks on abortion not as a right, but more as an act of sexual defiance.

Have we somehow invited Lilith to live amongst us?

Now I use the term ‘spirit’ loosely. I don’t really have an opinion if Lilith might be an individual spirit, a group/class of spirits, or more of an attitude (as in mean-spirited) - but it would help to explain some things. Why is there this animus that drives Planned Parenthood to actively oppose adoption? Why this push to destroy embryos when ethically pure alternatives are both more developed and more promising (and cheaper)? How can people of otherwise clear thought defend partial birth abortion? It’s as if there is some underlying impulse to destroy as many children as possible. Some unnamed pressure that says we must take every opportunity to kill an infant that we can. Any abortion that could happen, but doesn’t, is a problem.

In most exorcism rites – knowing the spirit’s name is required to cast it out (Christ’s ability to cast a demon out of a mute (where He couldn’t ask the demon its name) was a signal that he was Messiah) . Perhaps this spirit’s name is emblazoned on Tori Amos, Sarah McLaughlin and Indigo Girls tour T-Shirts.

If American Christians were to pray against this spirit by name – what would happen?

04 October 2005

Pornography and Divorce

I don’t know if this idea is new, or just new to me, but I’ve heard the following line of thinking several times in the recent past:

  1. Jesus says that looking at a woman with lust in your hearts is the same thing as adultery
  2. Jesus affirms that adultery is grounds for divorce.
  3. Since looking at porn would constitute “looking in lust”, pornography is grounds for divorce

(Let me start by saying that this is a conversation by, for, and about Christians. I don’t think it has much to do with the folks who don’t accept that moniker and the standards of behavior that go with it.)

This conclusion, that porn=divorce, is sloppy thinking and it has lead to more than one inappropriate divorce IHMO. Let’s just think this through.

Jesus' point was very clearly to indicate that legalism in the case of adultery (and murder) were misguided. He’s pointing to the fact that sin resides in our hearts, not in our outward actions. For instance, it is still a sin to have a girlfriend on the side even if you’re not sleeping with her. But Jesus is NOT making a legal equivalent between lust and adultery. And this is so clear – if he were making that connection what marriage could ever last? Who of us would not be guilty of capital murder?

I’m not suggesting that pornography isn’t a sin – I’m only saying that it doesn’t rise to the level that justifies a Christian divorce.

I think that I will revisit this subject in the future. This post is pretty brief and I think this is a subject worth exploring in more detail, and also worth better writing. :)

My Real Purpose...

Just for the record: My real purpose for this blog is simple. I want Hew Hewitt to mention me on his talk show. :)
Hew – please man, if you ever do mention me, the proper title is the one you used yesterday, I think conjunction with Albert Mohler, “A Leading Conservative Thinker”

...And I only get to listen to you in my car, so please let me know ahead of time so I can tape it...better yet, call me and I'll be on your show supporting the San Diego Chargers.

03 October 2005

On Harriet Miers and 'Judicial Temperament'

Today I've been listening to lots of talk on the recent nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court. On both the left and right I've heard a similar refrain (although their conclusions often differ): “We need to know what sort of things she thinks before we can evaluate her desirability as a Supreme Court Justice.”

On the surface, that sounds like a smart and reasonable thing to say, but something strikes me as 'off' about that line of thinking.

Do I support a judge because he or she is likely to agree with me?

Put another way - who is interpreting the Constitution here? Me or her?

The conversation seems to indicate that any given commentator has their own opinion of Constitutional interpretation and what they really want is to find a judge who will carry their interpretation into the court room, as opposed to thinking that what we really need is to find someone with demonstrated wisdom, courage, and intelligence...probably in that order...and let the Constitutional interpretation follow. The line of thinking is one where the commentator concludes, perhaps accurately - perhaps not, that they (the commentator) possesses the wisdom / courage / intelligence / experience / education to interpret the Constitution themselves...in fact, they've already done the hard work as they type out their weekly columns. So all we really need is somebody in a black robe who will listen to me.

It seems another case where our society lacks any shred of submission to proper authority, that we are all deeply vain in these matters, and there is no recognition of wisdom for wisdom's sake. It's a shame. :(

That said, I'm totally aware of a feeling, particularly among conservatives, that the last 50 years have shown a weakness in the judiciary's ability to restrain themselves to their job. That presumably wise / courageous / intelligent judges can come up with seemingly idiotic decisions. So I get it - nobody wants to appoint the devil they don't know, but somehow this just seems like the structure is out of whack.

Two more things while I'm on this topic:

  • I'm encouraged that Mrs. Miers is reportedly a strong and sincere Christian. I care about that more than her political leanings. If I have faith in God's ability to lead His people, then I need to have faith in God's ability to lead her...regardless of her contribution to Al Gore's campaign.

  • It seems that she is seen as a "weak" candidate. Rush thought she was a pick from a position of weakness. But perhaps another idea - maybe she's a whipping boy (is that the right metaphor?) Perhaps she's being set-up to take a lashing from the Democrats - in order to expend all their ammo and energy - so that the "real" candidate can come next, a kind of straw man who is designed to fail