Monthly Archives: April 2015
The loons have arrived in Northern California. Oh I don’t mean those beautiful waterfowl or the snowbirds that migrate south this time of year. I mean those grey mourning doves that return to our neck of the woods every spring. Unfortunately the mourning dove is a morning bird. That is he perches outside my bedroom window and begins to sing his deep-throated song nearly an hour before the sun rises. At first his “cooOOoo-coo-coo” was a pleasant reminder of spring and new beginnings with the change of season (yes we have seasons in California: tourist season and peak tourist season). But after several mornings of mourning dove solos, I started stuffing tissue in my ears to drown out that bird’s incessant blather while wishing that California Fish and Game would move dove season up to April 1st. I hope that bird finds a mate soon; that’ll shut him up.
That dove reminds me that season’s change no matter what. I’m usually not a fan of spring, mostly because it feels like a bridge season; it is no longer winter but neither is it yet summer. Human beings have an unfortunate tendency to resist certain changes of season in our lives. Perhaps you saw the tragic news recently about the 73-year-old reserve sheriff who shot an unarmed suspect who resisted arrest. The reserve sheriff thought he had drawn his Taser when he had actually drawn his pistol. The suspect died. http://www.wsj.com/articles/police-video-shows-deadly-shooting-of-black-suspect-in-tulsa-1428913303 That reserve sheriff might be a great guy with a pure heart, but I struggle to understand why a 73-year-old is in an active policing role. Granted, some 73-year-olds run marathons. On the other hand, some 73-year-olds spend their days in wheelchairs ensconced in care homes. As we age into the golden years we continue to have a strong work ethic, but our work skills might not keep up.
My wife’s grandmother swore she was a good driver into her eighties … until she had an accident that totaled her car. Fortunately no one was injured. Needless to say we did not get her another car. When my mother-in-law began to demonstrate some scary diminished driving skills, my wife and her siblings stepped in to see that her mother no longer drove. As one might expect, my mother-in-law thought there was nothing wrong with her driving. As we age, acknowledging our diminishing mental and physical agility can challenge our pride and threaten our independence as well as our personal sense of value. We want to stay in the game of life as we have heretofore lived it. But what does God have to say about aging and changing roles. Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 tells us that we can expect a variety of seasons to change in our life. Ecclesiastes presents these seasonal changes as a non-negotiable fact. Numbers 8:23-26 describes a mandatory retirement age for the tribe of Levites who acted as caretakers for the Tent of Meeting in ancient Israel’s place of worship:
“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘This is a special command for the Levites: Every Levite man who is 25 years old or older must come and share in the work at the Meeting Tent. But when a man is 50 years old, he will retire from this hard work. Men who are at least 50 years old will be on duty to help their brothers, but they will not do the work themselves. That is what you must do for the Levites so that they can do their duty.’”
I am NOT suggesting we must all retire at 50. But I do believe that God prefers that we embrace new seasons rather than cling to old seasons. God gives us appropriate things to look forward to in new seasons. Notice that God did not take the 50-year-old Levites completely out of service. He just reassigned them to a less front-and-center role. If we have a problem with that, it may be due to our pride or our fear of becoming irrelevant. Don’t let pride or fear rob you of God’s gift of having something to look forward to. The trick, of course, is spotting the change of season in our life when it occurs … hopefully before we start screwing things up.
ISIS beheads more innocent people in the Middle East … and people have lost interest.
Marco Rubio announces his candidacy for president … and it hardly gets our attention.
Dzhohar Tsarnaev gets convicted for Boston Marathon bombing … only a few people notice.
But when pretty ESPN reporter Britt McHenry spews her toilet mouth at a female clerk working in an auto impound yard, all hell breaks loose as the video goes viral. Many people rushed to condemn McHenry while some attempted to defend her actions as possibly a one-time lapse in judgment and manners. She later issued a public apology. ESPN suspended her for a week. I hope she apologizes to the clerk without cameras rolling as that would demonstrate character.
I do not know McHenry but I would hate to be forever judged by a momentary lapse of control. On the other hand, if this display by McHenry is indicative of her true character, no amount of beauty treatments and on-air talent can make her a beautiful person. Only God can change what ails her.
We live in a new world where the prolific spread of public video cameras as well as the millions of smart phone cameras floating around has the consequence of capturing us at some of our worst moments in life. Cameras are like little elves watching our every move that they report to Santa when little boys and girls misbehave. You might think this new level of electronic scrutiny would put us on our best behavior, but you would be wrong. It didn’t stop a South Carolina police officer from shooting a fleeing unarmed suspect in the back last week; nearly all of it caught on camera.
At the risk of sounding like the old man who shouts at kids to stay off his lawn, I’ve watched manners and civility decline in America during my lifetime. It used to be unusual to encounter ill-mannered people, and when you did it was said of them that they were not raised right. The community ostracized them. Not so any more. Today the uncouth can rise to the highest levels of society. Apparently we have decided that manners are not as important as in the past. This will have tragic consequences for everyone. How so? Because good manners matter to God … a lot! Hosea 4:1 (NLT) says:
“Hear the word of the Lord, O people of Israel!
The Lord has brought charges against you, saying:
‘There is no faithfulness, no kindness,
no knowledge of God in your land.’”
God made this statement to the society of Israel just before he broke their nation and scattered its people around the world as a consequence of their self-obsessed lives. At that time most people in Israel did not care about anyone else but themselves. History has brought us to the same point in America. There are some deep and errant philosophies and ideologies that have led to this, but needless to say it has arrived.
What can be done about it? The answer is old fashioned but right on: manners and civility has to be taught in homes, churches, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Little League, soccer teams, and schools. If we have not embraced manners and civility by adulthood, it’s never too late to learn. As a society we must stop rewarding poor behavior … no matter how much money uncouth people bring into our businesses, institutions, and organizations. If some people insist on living like animals, then they can do so on the outskirts of society.
Treating people with civility is a herculean task when we don’t feel good or when we feel that someone has screwed us. But that is what Jesus told us to do when he said “turn the other cheek.” The teaching that we turn the other cheek is not an imperative that we never fight back; it simply means we fight back with grace and manners, sometimes by letting the issue go or by actually helping our adversary. Such an approach demonstrates the beauty of the kingdom of heaven because it is in sharp contrast to the way the world does things. I hope McHenry learns it and lives it. I hope we all learn it and live it. We all drop the ball of good manners occasionally, but that’s ok so long as it breaks our heart and inspires us to perfect our manners going forward.
Perhaps you’ve followed the hullabaloo in the news lately about Christian business owners at odds with LGBT activists, the media, the law, and public opinion over their refusal to provide goods and services at same-sex weddings on the basis of religious belief that marriage is designed by God for a man and woman. The state of Indiana also go into hot water for passing a law that would provide some legal cover for people of faith, such as Christian business owners, who feel it would violate their religious beliefs to provide goods and services at gay weddings. Several states have similar laws. Even the federal government has a law that provides protections based on religious belief and practice, though it was originally intended to cover Native Americans who wanted to use Peyote (a hallucinogenic plant) in their religious ceremonies.
LGBT activists have a propensity to label traditional Christians as bigots and haters. They paint Christianity with a broad irrational brush and have recruited many in society to jump on their bandwagon. When Christians tell the gay community and the world that we love them but we do not love their sin, well, that just goes in one ear and out the other.
Should Christians fight back in the legal, political, economic, and cultural arena? Well, allow me to play devil’s advocate here. Christian business owners (such as those who own bakeries, floral shops, and wedding photography studios) might want to consider the stories of Jesus at the Canaan wedding and Lot in Sodom and Gomorrah. How does a straight wedding in Canaan two thousand years ago apply to gay weddings today? Well, Jesus supplied wine at the Canaan wedding … a lot of wine. Maybe you only go to dry weddings, but I’ve been to some wet weddings where some of the guests were not just pleasantly buzzed on a glass of good wine. Nope! I’ve seen guests get hammered, tanked, and falling-down-drunk at weddings. According to the Bible, getting drunk is a sin. Should Jesus have refused to turn the water into wine because some of the guests were sinning by drinking to the point of inebriation? Granted, we do not know for certain that any of the guests at the Canaan wedding were drunk, but it’s a pretty good guess there were some.
Lot was a fairly righteous man who moved his livestock business to the region around Sodom and Gomorrah. You may recall that God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah because everyone in those cities, except Lot and his family, were engaging in evil deeds all the time. The citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah had become so immersed in debauchery that they could not be redeemed. One of their sins was their enthusiasm for same-sex sexuality. I am guessing but it seems highly probable that Lot bought and sold goods and services with his neighbors despite their debaucheries. Since the entire population of Sodom and Gomorrah was guilty of such sins, how could Lot live among them and refuse to do business with them based on his religious beliefs?
Okay, I am no longer playing devil’s advocate. But the question remains: should Christians refuse to provide goods and services at gay weddings? If Christian business owners were to refuse to do business with all sinners outside the church, there would be no Christian businesses. Yes, situations arise where we need to take a stand based on moral conviction; I get it. We are to be salt in this world, a force that slows the process of decay. Still, I wonder if we are being overly selective about sins that inspire us to apply our principles. Perhaps God puts more emphasis on individual responsibility than we imagine. In other words, when people choose to sin, they own the sin; the person who supplied their tasteful wedding cake does not own the sin.
Apostle Paul has some thoughts on this topic as found in 1 Corinthians 5: 9-13 (NLT):
“When I wrote to you before, I told you not to associate with people who indulge in sexual sin. But I wasn’t talking about unbelievers who indulge in sexual sin, or are greedy, or cheat people, or worship idols. You would have to leave this world to avoid people like that. I meant that you are not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or is abusive, or is a drunkard, or cheats people. Don’t even eat with such people.
It isn’t my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning. God will judge those on the outside; …”
You see, we can’t expect unbelievers in the gay community to comprehend the spiritual implications of sexual sins. That would be like trying to convince Colonel Sanders that killing chickens is an abomination before the Lord. The bottom line is this: taking a stand on sins in the church is a higher priority, according to God’s word, than taking a stand on sins outside the church. This does not mean we should not push back against sin in our secular society. I wholeheartedly support the right of Christian business owners to push back against sin based on their religious conscience. But sin in the church is our first concern. Before a Christian bakery owner refuses to provide a cake at a gay wedding he might want to think about confronting the unmarried worship leader in his church who sleeps with someone in the congregation. I’m just saying.
The center of society in Deer Park, Washington, can be found at the massive Double Eagle Pawn shop where comes and goes a steady stream of hunting, fishing, and camping enthusiasts. Recently, I happened to be in Deer Park to visit family. I like Deer Park. It’s a quiet little town where most of the inhabitants behave like me (think introverts); they’re not exactly warm and friendly, though they usually mind their own business (a character trait that qualifies them for sainthood in my book).
Anyhow, the main tourist attraction (my grandson) was taking a nap, which prompted me to go downtown to check out the Double Eagle. The Double Eagle has an inventory of guns that would turn third-world armies green with envy. I’m not exactly a gun connoisseur, but I do know my way around a Remington 700; having hunted with one for decades. Imagine my delight to see several 700s in stock. I selected one in a caliber I’d been searching for and brought it to the man behind the counter. (You heard that right, the guns are on display for anyone to handle just like lingerie in a department store … not that I handle much lingerie.) I asked him if I could buy the gun and take it home, even though I live out of state. He said absolutely not. I could only buy it through a gun dealer in the state where I live. The gun would have to be delivered directly to the gun dealer in my home state.
Before I go any further with this story, I should let you know that revealing one’s identity as a California resident visiting certain parts of Washington State is like wearing a Giants hat to a game at Dodger Stadium–there are risks. A great many Washingtonians harbor animosity towards California and Californians. One reason we are resented is because many California expats have moved to Washington State and driven up the cost of housing. Apparently we Californians tend to pay more for homes than Washington residents. This drives up housing prices and makes it unaffordable for many locals. There are other reasons as well, but we won’t list them right now.
Getting back to my conversation with the gun barista at the Double Eagle. I told the clerk I know a gun dealer in California who might be willing to work with me to buy the gun. An elderly gentleman overheard our conversation and joined in. Here is how the conversation went:
“Ha, do they still let people buy guns in California?” said the elderly man, eyeing me suspiciously.
“Yes, but they have restrictions on some guns,” I said.
“I have a friend who tried living in California,” said the elderly man. “He wanted to buy a gun there once but it was too much of a hassle.”
“That doesn’t surprise me,” I said.
“You know what my friend says about California now?” said the elderly man with anger smoldering in his eyes. “He says California can go f#@! itself!”
I was taken aback and felt that he was sending me a clear message—you Californians ain’t welcome here. At that the elderly man stomped off before I could assure him that I had no intention of buying an overpriced house in Deer Park. I wanted to assuage any fears he might harbor that I would move to Deer Park and open a yoga studio that would gentrify his rustic little town. I especially wanted to assure him that I was not an elitist who would transform his neck of the woods into a haven for hipsters. If only I could have convinced him that I have little in common with those loons in LA and San Francisco (other than a love for cutting-edge ethnic food). But he was forever gone from my life.
In all fairness to that elderly gentlemen who expressed himself so eloquently, he does have a point. We’re a bit arrogant in California. We have fantastic weather, a massive economy, a gorgeous coast, fantastic mountains, sublime deserts, and chic cities. California is also the creative center of the universe. We attract people from all over the world. We seem to love change, as long as it is our kind of change. We love to build communities that look like photos in Sunset Magazine. When our citizens move to cities in other states, they have a tendency to want to make their new community just like the community they left in California. I’m beginning to understand that this approach might not be the best for locals and expats.
The same phenomena happens in many churches. For example, some churches do not ordain women. They take this stand in good faith based on interpretation of certain parts of the Bible. Yet it is not uncommon for people to join such churches and later on pressure them to change their bylaws to allow the ordination of women. Such conflicts can get out of control and cause tremendous discontent as well as harm the example of Christ’s church in the community.
Need a less contentious example? Most churches do not handle poisonous snakes during worship. As much as I might enjoy such a spectacle, it would be wrong of me to pressure my church leaders to incorporate the handling of poisonous vipers as a test of faith during our Sunday liturgy.
Perhaps mature Christians have an obligation to explore the beliefs and heritage of a prospective church BEFORE they join so that later on they do not feel compelled to take it upon themselves to cause a big brouhaha in a quest for change. Granted, some churches and denominations need to change the way they operate. But I suspect that many people who take it upon themselves to affect change in a church have not been led by God to do so. They do it because some issues get under their skin or because they are passionate about a new way of doing things.
On the other hand, established church members who want to obey God by welcoming newcomers have an obligation to recognize that the influx of new people usually means change will eventually follow. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those guys who loathe all change. I do not think all change is bad. But neither do I believe all change is good … especially if the peddlers of change have not shown respect for things that long-timers on the scene hold dear. I’m just saying!