Monday, August 16, 2010

Digging into History

Sunday was my first opportunity to participate in an archaeological excavation. It's one thing to study and read about the material remains left behind by cultures of the past, but in order to be a good archaeologist one has to get out of the library at some point. The net effect was a magical connection with the process that is earned only by digging, sweating and laboring. There is a certain "electricity" that comes with a tactile engagement with the material one studies. Scraping the dirt or holding a piece of glass extracted from the ground builds a sense of "touching history." We're physical beings, and we like to physically interact with the things that fascinate us. For this reason, I could not wait to go to the Bernardo Plantation site, grab a trowel, kneel down and dig into history.

The dig was conducted for both days of last weekend, but I was only able to be present for one of them. Nevertheless, in that one hot August Sunday I most certainly "caught the bug" - as though I hadn't already. No significant finds were extracted from the pit I was working in, and thus invited an apology from the site manager. "I'm sorry your first time out did not produce anything spectacular," was her sympathetic offering. Was she not aware how elated I was to merely be present at the dig site?! What a privilege I found it to actually kneel down and dig our pit to the necessary depth regardless of the finds? I understand the scientific process enough to know that it was helpful to the excavation that our unit was able to identify where things were not. Knowing that no artifacts and structures were evident in our grid helps the site supervisor to better triangulate where things are. Like playing a game of "Battleship," a 'miss' helps the player know better where the ships are, increasing the chances of a 'hit' later on. No 'pegs,' or digging is wasted.

But the site supervisor, well meaning though she might have been, had no idea the number of dreams (since childhood!) that were being fulfilled in the midst of the heat exhaustion, sore muscles and dust. More digging is expected at this site later in the fall. I plan to be there again as much as I can be. Do they all need to know how fulfilled I am to be there? Probably not. I'll just keep it to myself that digging into history in the manner 'feels' like touching destiny in some way (I know that sounds corny, and I don't care).

Friday, August 13, 2010

The House Seems Quiet

I've joke, every year when my kids head off to the grandparents' house for a month, that I begin to miss them about the end of the third week. Well, we're just about there and it's starting to set in. I'm beginning to notice how quiet the house is at night, in the morning and on the weekend. Don't get me wrong... I love my children very much and want them around me as often as possible. I am, however, also enamored with my wife.

Because we had been married such a short time when our children began to arrive, we have not experienced a great deal of that existence that many couple have; that being, freedom to enjoy one another unimpeded by parenting responsibilities. Admittedly, some couple elect to live out this state for too long, later rearing children at an age wherein they're too tired to keep up with them. Other couples live this arrangement far longer than they want to, desiring to have children sooner than they are able. In our case, we may have "attempted" to have our children later, but were unwilling to exercise the only method of birth control proven to have a 100% success rate (i.e. abstinence). Thus it can be argued that we possibly weren't that committed to waiting.

Nevertheless, when we discovered my wife was pregnant with our first child we knew two things: (1) that we were thrilled beyond measure, and (2) we were no longer alone. Thus, ever since we've kept on the lookout for opportunities to be alone for those little breaks here and there. The kids' summer vacation provides just such a break.

Having said that, I am indeed starting to miss the sounds of the boys sparring, my daughter's wit, the endless laughter and the joyful commotion. I enjoy being a father, and that aspect of me goes unexpressed when they're away. My wife and I have one more week to enjoy our time alone in the house, but by next weekend I'll have my nose pressed up against the glass as the kids get off the plane.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Cost of Convictions

Let's face it. Christians in the United States are NOT suffering for their faith in comparison to the plight of the faithful in other countries abroad. Voice of the Martyrs catalogs various regions of the world in which believers truly suffer for maintaining exclusive loyalty to Jesus Christ. So it would be unseemly to engage in the laughable exercise of equating the challenges to a believer's confession in America today to the slaughtering of Christians in the Roman Colosseum. Nevertheless, even the believer of the present day, that appreciates any sense of continuity with devout followers of old, has their mind quite made up about the next potential test coming around the corner. They say to themselves, "This test of my loyalty to the Lord is far more benign than others have endured before. How much less understandable would be my compromise now than any they were tempted with back then?"

Nevertheless, although the cost for some convictions today nowhere near meet the "apples and apples" comparison to persecuted Christians elsewhere in the globe or in history, maintaining firm resolve on some issues may very well cost something at some point in the present society. I'm speaking of those social or vocational contacts that expect a level of relativism unachievable for the committed believer in Jesus Christ. It is a lamentable reality that simply being polite, agreeable, gracious and humble often is not enough for those nearby that will not abide a differing opinion. Regardless of how much the Christian has attempted to "live at peace with everyone" (Rom 12:18), their mere stopping at "tolerance" cannot be tolerated. Either they will shed their convictions and fully endorse the deviants around them, or the cost of their convictions will become evident.

What is it about the present headlines in California that raises the ire of so many, particularly the volume of objecting rants from religious circles? Some may ask, "What's the big deal? How does this affect you? Why can't you just let others be?"

The saddened Christian hangs their head in solemn grief over these questions and mutters under their breath, "But I didn't seek you out to offend. You backed me into a corner." There may be all manner of ways the devout attempt to show grace and be a good neighbor, but what one cannot ask them to do is deny their faith. "But I'm not asking them to deny their faith," the advocate of gay marriage will counter, "just to accept my right to live with full societal endorsement as they do in heterosexual marriage." And therein lies the problem; to officially declare, by means of a marriage license, the moral equivalence between heterosexual marriage and homosexual unions is to make the same societal declaration that no god exists that has prescribed these moral norms in the first place. In essence, it is to make law a 'functional atheism' that denies the right of any god (of any type) to dictate morality to which I must conform. It's right because I feel it - goes the logic. While this philosophy has been tolerated by the law up until now, this issue requires the endorsement of the law. Tolerance is simply not enough.

Thus the Christian, who formerly was content to simply be neighborly and agreeable, is left with an impasse. They want to avoid offending those with whom they have developed friendly or professional relationships, but they cannot "retreat" any further. With backs painfully pressed against the wall they declare, "I'm so sorry, but I simply cannot deny the God who has made things as they are. And to deny that God has made the morality upon which society is built is to deny the God who made the morality - for no such 'god' (that will invent new moralities to suit you) exists." So fundamental is this to basic theism that for government to endorse the moral equivalence of homosexuality with a marriage license is for that same government to officially deny God's existence and right to dictate moral norms. To those that find the religious community's objections so puzzling, you'll forgive us if we're not all prepared to declare our collective atheism just yet.

What's more? Endorsement of moral equivalence between GLBT and straight couples is to do away with redemption. For what need of we for redemption if there is no standard from which we have deviated? Furthermore, redemption is rendered meaningless by voiding any Divine power to declare norms which I might be guilty of violating. He cannot declare me redeemed who has no power to first declare me lost. Thus the issue of 'licensing' moral equivalence in marriage is to attempt undercutting the foundations of faith and society that have been in place for millennia. The Christian has stepped politely back for many an issue, but they are now alarmingly brushing against the precipice and know they cannot step back any further.

Therefore, the follower of the God that exists (and there is no other) knows that they must offer the "push back" of vocal objection, also knowing that this slight contrary gesture may cost them something valuable. It will not cost them health, property or their very lives, as occurs in other places and times. It may, however, cost them that opportunity for vocational promotion or the advance of a growing friendship. Some pain, though small in the grand context of history, will nevertheless be felt. There is, indeed, a cost for convictions at some time and in some places. Certainly the "martyrdom complex" has produced many a jerky contrarian, but at some point even the most peace-making Christian will have to say, "I'm sorry. I can't go there. It would deny too much of what I know to be true." For this they know a cost is in store, but they meditate on faithful believers of old and think, "By comparison, this isn't costing me all that much."

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

To Build or Not to Build a Mosque

The prospect of having a mosque built so closely to "ground zero," the site of the World Trade Center collapse, has many up in arms regarding the apparent Muslim 'gall' of this move. Seemingly a blatant initiative to declare victory over taking that ground, the mosque's nearest spire will no doubt symbolize an Islamic version of the raising of the flag on Mount Suribachi after the Battle of Iwo Jima. No greater equivalent of "In your face!" could be accomplished, comparable in offense to the United States building a mega-church within the former palace complex of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad. No plausible explanation can be advanced that will convince mourners of 9/11 victims to accept this new development without insult. Far from 'building bridges,' the new mosque development is building a symbol of victory and conquest.

Nevertheless, no credible objection can be advanced that will prohibit the building of the mosque either. That a significant measure of the population is aghast at the decision to allow it cannot add up to legal justification for stopping it. The religious freedom enjoyed in the United States cannot be selectively applied (though many will claim that it currently is anyway). Imagine, however, a city counsel publicly denying the building of a synagogue or church simply because enough outrage in the community could be conjured by those not sharing the faith represented by it. Vocal 'contrarians' can be found to oppose any worthy cause as well as unworthy ones. The offended rabble are abundant and ever at the ready when needed. Thus the Constitution rightly restricts the amount of real power the many can exercise against the few. To those that suggest this is a misapplication of the First Amendment, can they not imagine a brood of noisy Congregationalists 'derailing' attempts to build a new Anglican church in the late 18th century?

According to the Constitution, that the building of a new mosque in the shadow of 'ground zero' can be seen as no less than an Islamic war victory cannot be of any legal consequence. Instead, the protections afforded the Muslim under the Constitution are the same for us all - Christian, Jew, etc. How quickly people forget that the proverbial 'pendulum' swings both ways. While I may hope that Christians would have better 'taste' than to build a cathedral on the rubble of the former Bathist headquarters in Iraq, that Baghdad's city planners allowed it would certainly be evidence that they are entering the 21st century with the West.

It is the nature of American civil religion that we have various factions of fervent belief all seeking to convert one another, yet leaving that mission out of the legal process. Church historians may critique this paradigm as having launched the erosion of Christianity in the West, but acknowledge some of its benefits too. In the meantime, an 'a-religious' legal system is the 'bed' we have made, now we have to kneel and pray next to it, before we lie in it.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Marking the Date

Seventeen years ago today, I uttered vows of loyalty to my wife that no other earthly entity has ever received, or will ever receive from me. Ever since then the will to demonstrate loyal love to this woman has attached itself to the most basic of human dignities. Such that, in the event I abandon those vows, I will have also set aside among the most primal aspects of what it means to be a man. We rightly hold suspect the word of one that has strayed from the covenant so elementally wrought upon their soul. On the contrary, during at least one conference former college football coach Bill McCartney has quipped, "If you want to know a man's worth, look at his wife's face. Everything he has investing in or withheld from her will be reflected in her countenance" (he speaks credibly from experience).

My experience has been that the beauty of the relationship is heavily reliant on the female influence. That which is enjoyable, pleasing and fulfilling of the human desires for peace, comfort and belonging will emanate from the powers she wields in the home. However, the strength of the relationship seems heavily reliant on him. Not to suggest that women are somehow flaky in comparison, but the fortitude of a marriage interweaves with the manly force of will that makes a good husband stare in the mirror and wonder if a "good man" is looking back at him. It is no mystery that a "good man" quantifies his manliness, in no small part, by the quality of his relationships.

For this reason, many wives lack an understanding of how much they have been entrusted with their husband's ego. Their is simply no displeasure so painful as any she may express in him. In like manner, he is never so affirmed as when she expressed pride in him. Thus a "good man" strives ever onward toward becoming the man she deserves, and she declares his achievements to him. His strength is also made manifest in her glory as well. Has he been a source of energy to her, or merely an outlet for energy she expends? A "good man" revels in the achievements of his wife, and finds in her happiness motivations for native masculinity.

They are opposites...

...and the manner that these compliment one another hearkens back to a primordial 'Garden' in which all was right with the world. Creation functioned in blissful order, enjoying unhindered access to the Creator. No relationship is perfect, but good ones echo a time in which there once was one; a time in which the differences were not causes for contention, but instead causes for communion.

For seventeen years now I have been bound to a "good woman" (I leave it to her to define it), and in marking the date I reflect on the benefits of that bond. They are far too numerous to delineate here, but they are tangible nonetheless. Suffice it to say that in my most cynical moments, when humanity seems in dire straits and a process of de-evolution appears to grip society, my wife gives me hope that such specimens were still being made at this time in history. Would that all potential suitors find a "good woman" as I have, but they won't find as good a woman as I did on this date, in the year of our Lord, 1993.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Why NOT to Freak Out

Current news headlines related to the accelerating erosion of American society can leave many that have maintained a healthy tension between orthodox Christianity and national patriotism with a sense of apocalyptic angst. Whether it is the political "tribalism" that acknowledges race as a governing value, the pagan "messianism" that looks to godless public servants for "salvation" or the cultural atheism that seeks to cast off all vestiges of Divine norms, the cause for alarm appears to grow. Some see in these developments evidence that the world is close to its end, yet this supposes that the plight of America is the plight of the world as well. Anthropologists refer to this as "ethnocentrism:" the belief that (quite literally) the world revolves around one's own culture. Most preaching concerning the "end times" is guilty of this. My own culture is going to hell so that must mean that Armageddon is scheduled for next Tuesday at 2:43 pm Pacific Standard Time, so goes the logic. The temptation is great to run screaming for the hills when the lawless enemies of God prevail in numerous levels of civil authority.

But what is it, really, that one fears that is inducing the panicked stampede for the bunker?

Is it that some are seeking to change the definition of marriage? Don't despair. They cannot. That some may declare (loudly even) that the moon has turned to cheese and the Earth has flattened out (again!) does not make it so. Is the fear that the uninformed deviant will be in a teaching position? Teach your children correctly. Is the fear that the deviant will imperil themselves with their folly? The foolish will always be among us. This does not threaten the wise.

Marriage is, at its core, three things:

1. Religiously - it is a sacred union between one man and one woman brought together by God to functionally perpetuate humankind and to theologically reflect his characteristic loyal love (clergy are historically sought to officiate this).

2. Anthropologically - it is a communal, familial and cultural acknowledgment of the union brought about under purpose #1.

3. Civilly - it is a legal recognition of the union enacted first under purpose #1 or (for the religiously diverse society) under purpose #2.

These 'purposes' for marriage are unchangeable. They have always been true since the creation of humankind. Occurring in order of priority and weight, each 'purpose' in the list is subservient to those above it. Thus if one declares themselves married in a manner that does not conform to these in their succession, they have not changed reality simply by voicing their folly. They simply are not married. They have, in fact, changed nothing. It is no more accurate for a homosexual couple (regardless of the legal document they secure) to say they are married than for a heterosexual couple to say so that have never sought ecclesiastic or legal endorsement either. Panic and despair is not warranted, just empathetic grief for those that will destroy themselves thinking that making a thing legal also makes it so. How is it that a country that has murdered millions of infants since 1973, declaring a wide swath of society less human because of their stage in utero, is SUDDENLY falling apart because of one evil judge? How can one justify so promptly freaking out when such cultural decline clearly does not happen over night? Faithful Christians have reason to keep their cool.

But this is tied to something larger... Christians are to maintain a tension between contributing to a healthy present society and remembering that the Church has weathered the rise and fall of many societies before. As Christ's Body, and tasked with spreading the Gospel until all the world kneels in submission to Christ, the Church continues uninterrupted through the ascension and destruction of many of history's most promising cultures. On the one hand, it's possible that (by God's grace) the Church in America might experience a resurgence of orthodox faithfulness and effective influence in leading souls to submit to Christ, thus saving America from galloping fatally over the precipice. On the other hand, it's also possible that (with historical precedent) the Church of America is eventually represented by a faithful remnant that weathered the 'storm' of it's own cultural collapse, while God's grace seemingly facilitated the triumph of the Church elsewhere. In either case, the Church prevails and the "gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (cf. Matt 16:18).

Why should the faithful not 'freak out' over the happenings in American culture now? Because regardless of how lamentable this society's collapse may be, it cannot hinder the forward march of the Church. Shall the glacier despair that weeds have sprouted up in front of it? No. Christians must keep their wits about them, or risk forfeiting opportunities to preserve what and who they can for as long as they have to do it.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Wisdom plays "Hard to Get"

The wisdom literature of the Bible pictures "Wisdom" as being like a virtuous, yet attractive woman that any red-blooded male should pursue with reckless abandon. She simultaneously both calls out in the street so as to be found and remains hard to find among a thousand. All at once she's the picture of every desire and yet stands in stark contrast to the "easy" slut. She speaks truth that convicts the conscience, yet clearly differs from the contentious nag. She's feminine, but not sultry; romantic, but not trashy; dignified, but not snobby; knowledgable, but not a "know-it-all;" sophisticated, but not "stuck up;" relatable, but not simple; devout, but not judgmental.

Wisdom is the ideal "woman" to pursue above all others.

Yet she is a mysterious and demanding maiden/matriarch. When asked for a date, she may turn down the first, second or even third attempts, yet seems eager to reward the determined "suitor." Casual "come-ons" will be turned down flat, but even the slightest interest shown in sincerity finds an enthusiastic dinner date. Wisdom is tough to figure out. She doesn't conform to most formulas men try to construct. The buttons we push that seemingly work for "wooing" her today may be met with a cold shoulder tomorrow. She's a tough nut to crack.

For this reason, many in our society often abandon the pursuit. Wisdom may stand on the street corner and rightly declare herself the only woman worth your time, but most still choose to wander away dejected because they couldn't figure her out. Saddened that they give up so easily, she entreats, "I'm not difficult... just more complex than the 'Barbie Dolls' you've been dating up to now." Nevertheless, for many, courting a woman of this quality, this renown, this beautiful, this articulate, this industrious, this virtuous and this devout is just too hard for them. They settle for something less, convincing themselves over time that they're happy with what they got.

All around me I see evidence that Wisdom has been bypassed. In political circles, the insights of the country's Founders is ignored in favor of present popular feelings. In relational circles, timeless principles of marriage are ignored in favor of fleeting individual desires. In religious circles, sound principles regarding life's diverse nuances are eclipsed by a simplistic list of arbitrary rules. Those who cannot tell the difference between the negative of 'situational ethics' and the positive of 'firm ethics applied according to the situation' reveal that "Wisdom" was just too intimidating to ask to the prom.

In our own home, people ask what 'method' we have employed in rearing our children. At this point in their life, our children's behavior is pleasing enough that this question arises frequently (Yes, we know this could change anytime; but up to now, they're pretty descent people). It's an awkward question to answer though, because we have never employed a 'system.' Classes for "Love and Logic," "Basic Youth Conflicts" or "Growing Kid's God's Way" never had any appeal to us. Instead, upon learning our first child was fast approaching, we prayed for wisdom; that 'she' would help us observe our children closely, interpret their needs and apply ourselves accordingly; that 'she' would grant us insight regarding those moments with our kids that the other 'systems' will never address or even think to teach about; that 'she' would remain in our home and perform her work shaping my wife and I as she supervised our kids' development. We courted "Wisdom" instead of dating lesser "tarts" of rules, lists and behavioral 'laws' not explicitly given by Divine revelation.

For Wisdom never conflicts with God's law given in Holy Scripture since she is sent from God to give life and rescue from folly. Wisdom knows God's Word on a matter, yet assists in the moment when the application of that Word is not otherwise obvious. Wisdom stands beside the one of innocent ears, bristling at the profanity emitting from the conversation companion and whispers in the ear, "Listen to what they're saying - not just how they're saying it." Wisdom leans in and assures, "There's much to enjoy that is not sin. Consider enjoying more the people you know than the rules you invent." Wisdom is attractive and beautiful, sending tingles down the spine as she utters softly in the ear the secrets of sound judgment. Her words hone one's skills and make the hands bear good fruit. Her influence brings prosperity instead of destruction, dignity instead of debasement, honor instead of shame, life instead of death.

Though it may seem like Wisdom plays "hard to get," she is nonetheless the only 'woman' fully worthy of a man's passion (she is, by far, the finest 'matchmaker' for young people as well as a wife's best friend). Wisdom is clothed in God's glory, perfumed by God's grace, groomed by God's perfection, speaking insights from God's Word. She is none other than the Spirit of God remaining the close companion every young person should be looking as their "first love."