Friday, November 14, 2014

Around the Horn – 11/14/14

At first, former major league baseball player, 1948 Rookie of the Year, world champion as both a player (1954) and a manager (1974), and guest of honor at my 16th (or 17th) birthday party Alvin Dark died this week. I, along with a dozen or so other high school boys and one lone girl, talked baseball with Mr. Dark for several hours that night. He was a scout for the White Sox in those days, and back then I was a baseball nut. It was a very memorable evening. A friend who was there texted me about his death last night and remembered that party. Ironically, Dark was fired as manager of the Padres during spring training in 1978, in part, because he wanted to move Ozzie Smith to shortstop. Of course, Dark lost his job and the Wizard went on to become one of the greatest defensive shortstops of all time. Dark had a solid Christian testimony and that was a memorable night for me.

At second, an interesting article that reveals just how insensitive, and frankly, how evil some people can be. The idea that disabled people of whatever sort are things to be dispensed with is a tragic statement on the image of God in man. Human dignity that derives from the image of God in man belongs to every person, and we must insist that all people be treated with such dignity.

At third, is an article about running late. An old definition of being punctual is “showing high regard for other people and their time.” It is a thought worth having, and living by. It’s one thing to have the occasional disaster on the way out the door. It is another thing to be consistently behind schedule.

And the home run (literally), is the video of Bobby Thomson’s Shot Heard Round the World. It is the home run that won the pennant for the Giants in 1954.  In light of my earlier link to the death of Alvin Dark, Dark is the one who started the rally with a single and scored the first run of the inning ahead of Thomson’s home run.

Detroit folks might enjoy this short segment with long-time Tiger play-by-play man Ernie Harwell who was calling the game on TV that day. Of course, no one remembers him. Russ Hodges line, “The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!” is the one that people remembered. It was even the focus of a MASH episode.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Oh What Hope!!!! (????)

Election Day is over. The Republicans took control of the Senate and widened their majority in the House. And now, all my conservative friends are rejoicing. This is so great, right?

Yes, because never before have we seen such a thing as the Republicans controlling both houses of the legislature.

Well, except for the 2000s. And we all remember then, right? The Republicans did such a great job.

Abortion was outlawed in all fifty states and hundreds if not millions of conservative justices were nominated and appointed who overturned Roe v. Wade.

Federal pending was dramatically curtailed and the budget was balanced. Welfare was declared to be over, and all those people on welfare were either given high paying jobs or shown unequivocally to be lazy goof-offs who just want to have kids and collect money from working stiffs.

Foreign policy was unquestionably sound. There was never any question that the right people were being attacked and the right people being defended. And no one ever died. At least, no one on our side.

Education was returned to the local level so local school boards (who are known for their impeccable academic credentials and accomplishments) could decide the best way to educate their local students for success in a global economy.

You remember all that?

Yeah … me neither.

And my guess is that this resounding “shellacking” (as it has been called) will be largely the same. A bunch of loud fast talking Republicans will develop a serious case of lockjaw when it comes to making meaningful reform.

Although I do think it would be really funny if, when challenged by the president about passing their agenda, someone reminds him that he said if they wanted to change things to “go out there and win an election.” Well, they did.

But if I were you, I wouldn’t start any of these Republicans in your fantasy political league. They are not known for actually getting stuff done at game time.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

It’s Election Day

It’s Election Day and all over the country millions of people will be doing what they normally do, which is nothing. That’s right. Millions of people today will not vote.

And I am not particularly troubled by that.

Why?

Because I am one of those with the notion that people who vote should be people who know something and people who have something at stake. I am not in favor of ignorant voters who pull levers, push chads, or whatever simply because there is one there. I think voters should have to pass a basic knowledge test of issues.

Let’s face it, you would never leave your health care or your car repair to something as dysfunctional as our voting system. You really don’t want your health care to be determined by taking a vote a bunch of people who knowledge of your health and medicine comes from a series of thirty second ads and scattered yard signs with names on them, and who could be bothered enough to show up on a particular day to cast an unnuanced vote.

You don’t want your car problems diagnosed by someone whose knowledge of auto repair extends all the way to, but not past, the “So God Made a Farmer” commercial from the Super Bowl. It might be a little better if they are old enough to remember “Crazy ‘bout a Ford truck” sung by Alan Jackson.

Well, on second thought, that’s probably not a little bit better.

But that’s how we select a president. And a congress. We elect them by people whose knowledge extends no further than commercials and sound bytes, but who can happen to show up and vote. And these people (both the electors and the elected) are making decisions that will outlast your car, and cost you more money. And they affect everyone, not just you, like your doctor’s advice might.

And while I am here, let me talk about people who vote on things they have nothing at stake in. Around here (and perhaps other places), property tax increases on homes and businesses are voted on at the voting booth. And around here, a large percentage of voters are people who don’t own property.

And that, to me, is simply wrong. Why is someone who pays no property tax getting a say on how much others pay? Voting should be limited to people who have a stake in the outcome. If you don’t pay property tax, you shouldn’t get to vote on the property tax rate.

I know. I know. That’s a “poll tax.”

Well, I am not convinced that is a wrong thing in this day and age. A poll tax can help to keep people from voting who shouldn’t be voting.

Why do we want government being run by people who don’t know things?

This is why political polls are so misleading. There was an episode of the West Wing where political polls were being discussed, particularly (if I recall correctly) on the subject of foreign policy and some crisis. Someone brought up the poll, and the president remarked how foolish it was to imagine that the public could have any informed opinion about the state of affairs.

I think he was right.

Listen, most Americans have no idea about the complexities of the national and global economy. They have learned a few buzz words from their favorite radio host or columnist. And they know when the money runs out before the month does. But that’s about it.

But most Americans shouldn’t feel bad about that. Most presidents and most congressional representatives are right there with them.

You can’t run the government by polls simply because it is silly to take advice from ignorant and partial people. Which is the same reason you shouldn’t run government by a president and Congress. But, to quote Churchill (or someone), “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others out there.”

Not to mention, who is going to trust an election these days? I don’t. I have no confidence at all in the integrity of the voting process. The lack of voter ID is unconscionable. The reality is that there is little or nothing aside from my personal integrity that would keep me from voting as any of my neighbors, or as Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton. And that’s a problem.

The suggestion that voter fraud isn’t a problem is ludicrous on its fact. How big a problem it is we don’t know. I suspect it is big. But how big does it have to be before it matters? Until the government takes steps in ensure the integrity of the voting process, no one should have any confidence in it.

While much (though not enough) is being made of computer voting and voter ID, there is no nearly enough being said about absentee voting, and that, in my opinion, is where the greatest fraud is likely to be.

Which, to me, raises a constitutional question. If the election is to be held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, on what constitutional basis are votes cast on any other day? That seems to rule out early voting and absentee voting.

But alas, I am not going to change the world here. But today is election day so I can at least contribute something.

So what should we do? Well, go vote. Make the best choice you can. There are real issues at stake and the world is run by people who show up. So show up and vote.

And don’t leave your Christianity at the door. There are moral issues and political issues. The moral issues are the ones that matter most. Issues like abortion and gay marriage are far more important than tax policy, right to work, education, and the like. Never forget that we will give account for these votes.

Some of you might refuse to vote on the grounds that you won’t vote for the lesser of two evils. That, my friend, is bankrupt thinking. Until Jesus is on the ballot, we are always voting for the lesser of two evils. And Jesus will never be on the ballot because he will just take over.

So don’t vote, if you wish. But don’t blame on “the lesser of two evils.”

Friday, October 31, 2014

Around the Horn – 10/31/14

At first is a rather strange article about WWJD in which Jesus buys a round of drinks for people who are already drunk. This is the kind of article that make a mockery out of the life of Jesus and the commands of Scripture. It is, unfortunately, all too common to decide who Jesus is and what he would do, and then just say that, regardless of what the Scriptures say. Even worse is the tendency to take some truth about Jesus and mix it up with stuff that is made up. There’s a reason why someone who lies all the time is more trustworthy than a person who lies only some of the time. Only in the former will you always know the truth. The worst part is that I came across this article from a pastor who should know better.

At second is an article highlighting three pastors or teachers (MacArthur, Charles, and Mohler) giving their perspective of the hardest text to preach. For me, the hardest text to preach is usually the next one.

At third is an article about race that is profoundly unhelpful. It purports to talk about race in the revitalization of Detroit. It argues that grants and opportunities are disproportionately going to white people. The reason why this is unhelpful is because it doesn’t actually give a good foundation. For instance, it says that “only one out of ten featured suppliers” for Whole Foods was black. Troubling? Well, I don’t know. How many black suppliers applied? And what about the ones who weren’t featured? Maybe 100% of black suppliers were selected. In another case, he says that 62% of certain opportunities went to white people in a city that is largely black, but he doesn’t tell us what the percentage of applicants were. 62% maybe a good sign if 80% of applicants were white. What percentage of black applicants were selected? He doesn’t tell us. He admits that he did not give a complete picture. In other words, he cherry picks data from only certain opportunities, and doesn’t tell his readers what they need to know to make an informed decision. And he doesn’t under the guise of race inequality. Might it be that the revival in Detroit is disproportionately going to certain people? Sure. It might be. But this article gives us no real reason to believe that. Living in this area, I have a vested interest in the topic. If Detroit does better, we all do better. And it might be better to forget these kinds of misleading stats and focus on solutions.

Finally, Dave Bruskas is the new interim pastor at Mars Hill Church in Seattle where Mark Driscoll recently resigned. He writes of some values they will pursue in transition. It’s sounds great. The problem is that Bruskas was one of the three executive elders (with Driscoll and Sutton Turner) that created the monster that was Mars Hill. I am all for repentance and change. But color me skeptical on this one. Where was Bruskas for the last ten years? Why wasn’t he stepping up and showing leadership then? Be wary of those who create the problem who are now going to solve the problem. It’s good to learn from mistakes. Maybe one of the lessons to learn is to seek new leadership.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Houston and the Subpoena of Sermons

Word is going around that the city of Houston is issuing subpoenas for sermons to see if they criticize homosexuality.

Is it true? Who knows. It could be. It might not be. Like a lot of stuff on the internet, it might be overblown. Like a lot of the stuff on the internet, it may be entirely true.

But here’s the question: Why is Houston using court resources and tax payer resources issuing subpoenas for things that are publicly available?

If they want the content of these sermons, can’t they just show up at church? Or download them from the internet?

But it seems like Christians like a persecution complex and tend to go into crisis mode at the drop of a hat. So it’s a great time to note that the end of the world is almost here.

I think if I were a pastor in Houston, I would invite the people charged with this task to come to church and hear it first hand. I speak publicly several times a week, and to be frank, a lot of what I say is not in my notes, and a lot of what is in my notes never gets said. So getting my notes is no guarantee that you will get what was actually said. Not to mention that my notes often contain the opinions of people that I don’t actually agree with. In a nutshell, my notes are quite often useless for anyone other than me.

However, you are welcome to come, record (or just use our recording), take notes, just sit and listen, or whatever, so long as you do it peacefully and quietly. We will even give you some coffee.

Here’s another thought: If this is actually true, then the government of Houston must be run by a bunch of second-graders. Or the Detroit City Council. Seriously. This is like (insert whiny second grade voice here) “Johnny said something mean about me.”

You know what, kid. Get over it. Move on. Go swing on the swings, or slide down the slides.

Can the mayor of Houston really not endure a few pastors saying things about her lifestyle? She’s a politician. Surely this can’t be the worst thing ever said about her, can it? Why is she so insecure in her lifestyle?

When you embrace a lifestyle (whether homosexual, Christian, vegan, video-game lover, etc.), expect that people will think you are strange, weird, wrong, stupid, silly, etc. If you like your lifestyle, then go on with your life. If avoiding criticism is that important to you, then change your lifestyle. But don’t whine because someone disagrees with you. You are not smart enough and don’t know enough to demand complete agreement.

And why are pastors in Houston, or anywhere else, naming names of political officials when they are supposed to be preaching the Bible? What verse does that come from? Seriously, if we are supposed to preach the Bible, that should limit us to things God actually said. And there is more than enough of that.

Here’s what I think I would do: First, I would invite any interested person to come to our services. Come for six or eight months to every public meeting. Listen, engage your mind, engage with the people around you. Let’s have some conversations together over coffee or lunch. You might be surprised at what will happen.

Second, I would also complain that the city of Houston is using taxpayer resources to issue subpoenas for things that are publicly available. Don’t waste my money on this nonsense. If you want it, come and get it firsthand, every week.

Third, I would let the legal process play out. I don’t know if I would turn anything over. On what biblical grounds could I? I don’t know. I think this will be challenged in court and overthrown. So I think, in the end, it will be much ado about nothing.

But Christians, let’s embrace the fact that people don’t like Christianity. We shouldn’t have a conniption over it every time we see it.

Sure, let’s use the courts and resources available to fight it, but let’s not be scared of it. Let’s go on about our business, Let’s do what we have been called to do.