Category Archives: Unsolicited Advice

Meeting Jesus in the Cornfields

It happened to me again the other day. I was visiting with a brother in Christ about life. He had this gleam in his eyes, and his words seemed to spill out, as if his tongue couldn’t keep up with his enthusiasm. As he talked about truth, he gestured with quick, sharp thrusts of his hand; as he poured out his desire for others to know Jesus, his stare got wet and misty.

The whole time, all I could think was “Wow… am I really a Christian?”

It’s been a long time since I felt that way on a consistent basis. Don’t get me wrong; I’m an emotional person, albiet one whose natural proclivities seem to lie on the darker parts of the spectrum of feelings. I am still moved by the truths of God and the beauty of His creation. But it’s not like what this guy seemed to be experiencing. He was on the proverbial mountaintop; I seem to spend much of my time living in the equivalent of Nebraska. Continue reading

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In Defense of Marriage

In college, there was a point where I decided to become a vegetarian for several months. No particular reason; I’ve never had ethical issues with eating meat (at least not free range meat, but that’s another post), nor was I particularly interested in the health arguments for cutting it out of your diet. In fact, I was rather fond of meat. Nonetheless, I decided to give it a try.

It wasn’t a bad experience. I ate a lot of lentils, falafel and the like. However, the thing I learned the most from this time was that I wasn’t just fond of meat – I really loved it. Even though it’s been years since I gave up the experience, I still savor a steak or chicken breast in a way I never had before. The goodness of meat had gone unnoticed until that time, but now I can’t help being thankful for a pot roast or pork chop. That might sound hyperbolic, and I suppose it is, but it’s also true.

Lately, I’ve been visiting with several single friends about marriage, and I think they’ve been fed a bit of a distorted view of it. Near as I can tell, a lot of people in the Christian circles I move among have reacted to an idolization of marriage they experienced by dramatically downplaying its goodness. In order to keep single people from thinking a spouse will solve all their problems, they continually talk about how hard it is, how much it exposes their sin, and the struggle and frustration that accompanies trying to love someone well. Now, I still believe we need to take the rose-colored glasses some people look through at their future husband and wife, throw them on the floor, and stomp them to pieces. However, we musn’t replace them with the opposite. I fear that sometimes we end up telling people to instead replace those glasses with sunglasses, blocking out the joys and beauties that marriage also provides. Continue reading

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Everything is Connected

I promise I’ll be writing some pieces on something other than politics and economics, but my interests and the cultural conversation cannot be sidestepped. So, here we go…

As the purveyors of folk wisdom tell us, everyone knows how to raise their neighbor’s kids. It’s easy. The irony, of course, is how miserably everyone does at raising their own. From the outside looking in, any problem seems simple. If we fiddle with A and get rid of B, everything should be set to rights. But on the inside, it’s much more complicated. A and B, it turns out, are part of some irreducibly complex, chaotic web of algebraic functions and symbols that would make Mandelbrot curl up into a fetal ball and cry. The truth about childrearing is that everything is connected. When you take your neighbors’ children out of the sterile context of your backyard and place them into the mess of life, with all the failures of communication, bad days at work, and emotional investments of real life… how the mighty inevitably fall.

This same issue consistently encroaches upon our social discussions. In small-town Nebraska, I grew up with what I lovingly call “diner policy.” If you walked into the local diner around mid-morning, you’d find a group of leather-skinned old farmers sitting around drinking cheap coffee. Between talk of football and crop prices, you would hear these men’s takes on how to solve the world’s problems. “If I were in Washington, I’ll tell you what I’d do…” And what followed would be a bombastic but common-sense solution to war, poverty, education, taxes, and the repair of human nature.

Of course, nobody pays much attention to diner policy. But give these farmers a degree and some grasp of literary composition (or, worse, a spot on cable news or talk radio) and what emerges is something much more nefarious: pundit policy. We get solutions which, while perhaps more insightfully realized or worded, are no less simplistic. One would think that, with such a collection of solutions available, the lion would lay down with the lamb and all would be well. When it isn’t, the blame is laid on politicians or members of another partisan group.

The truth, however, is that pundit policy fails for the same reason you (think you) know how to raise your neighbors’ kids: problems never exist in isolation, and neither do their solutions. Everything is connected.

Let me offer an example. I recently read an article pointing out that the amount of corn used to produce ethanol could feed hundreds of millions of people. Tragic, isn’t it? All those damnable SUVs guzzling up food that could instead feed the world’s hungry? Let’s stop production now!

But consider how we got to this place. Corn is currently a lucrative crop because the federal government subsidizes ethanol. The government took this course because of environmental and political concerns. Thus, the issue of ethanol subsidies are connected with issues including American relations with the Middle East, drilling for oil in nature reserves, the war in Iraq, agricultural and environmental lobbies, scientific study of alternative energy, and a transportation-based economy. When you consider that the decisions made in these other areas were made by politicians who represented an agenda including other issues, this explodes outward even further to accompany debates about taxation, abortion, foreign policy, religion… and I could go on. To be really honest about policy, we have to recognize that our current production of fuel corn is an unintended consequence of a million unrelated choices in every sphere of life. What’s more, any policy change we make to ethanol production will have just as many other effects in just as many other spheres. Everything is connected.

I say this not to recommend a certain course of action on ethanol. That’s beside the point. Instead, I say this because pundit policy never considers these unintended consequences. Their focus is always on one problem: starvation, say, or helping the American farmer. Their solutions usually do an admirable job of solving this problem.  And, unseen by the pundit, thousands of people would starve as a result.

I know this sounds intimidating, but it’s the simple truth. The price of oil effects Supreme Court nominations, and tariffs on sugar effect health care costs. While nobody can forsee all of these consequences (they’re called unintended for a reason), failing to think them through as much as possible is simply irresponsible.

With all that said, let me recommend three conclusions I think stem from this discussion:

  1. We must be humble and realistic about any proposal. We don’t have it all figured out; not even close. In particular, our insistence on thinking that we have all the answers while we haven’t even begun to wrestle with the magnitude of our interconnectedness is silly and repugnant. Chances are good our neighbors’ kids might be cussing because they learned it from ours.
  2. As a corollary, we must think through and introduce social changes slowly and tentatively. The world’s problems often whip us into a panic, but quick decisions out of fear are the most likely to uncontrollably snowball. Far better to fiddle with one knob than mash all the buttons at once.
  3. While I realize this conclusion will be more controversial than the first two, I also think this reality cries for as much localized decision-making as possible. Given the exponential number of variables, keeping decisions and their effects into as small an area as possible helps us see and correct for unintended consequences. In particular, this means that giving individuals all the facts and then allowing them to make up their own minds is more reliable than trying to figure out the answers for everyone at once.

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Not Just Over the Line – In Another Universe

The official blurb from Amazon:

“THE ONE BIBLE THAT SHOWS HOW ‘A LIGHT FROM ABOVE’ SHAPED OUR NATION. Never has a version of the Bible targeted the spiritual needs of those who love our country more than The American Patriot’s Bible. This extremely unique Bible shows how the history of the United States connects the people and events of the Bible to our lives in a modern world. The story of the United States is wonderfully woven into the teachings of the Bible and includes a beautiful full-color family record section, memorable images from our nation’s history and hundreds of enlightening articles which complement the New King James Version Bible text.”

This is just too much. I can’t take it anymore. This sort of patridolatry is inexcusable. If I try to comment on this nationalistic blasphemy, I’m going to have to delete this post, so I’ll just link to a review by Greg Boyd.

If you really want a taste of this baby, check out the promo video.

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Seven Thoughts on Blogging About Controversy

Lord knows there are plenty of issues in the modern church today ripe for criticism, satire and correction. Sometimes they’re not only ripe, they’re even fruitful. However, this is not usually the case. From my own meditations on how to approach criticism on the blogosphere, here’s my list of seven things to consider when blogging about issues. These were originally written by me, to me, so the “you” is meant to include me before it does anyone else. I know I haven’t always kept my own advice, but if I’m going to write in this medium at all, I want to wrestle with out how to do it in a Christ-honoring way. Here are some of my thoughts:

1. Pray for the problem/issue/ministry you have a concern with before doing anything else. If this isn’t your primary response, I can almost guarantee the criticism you’re about to level is just self-congratulation in disguise.

2. Quit trying to prove that everyone you disagree with is a false teacher. The only reason you work so hard to make them sound apostate is that otherwise you’d be accused of being divisive. This is because you are.

3. Make sure you realize that when you criticize the “modern American church”, everyone in the world except you considers you to be part of it. This is because you are.

4. If there is a specific ministry/individual you want to lambast by name, you probably shouldn’t. If you decide to anyway, you ought to e-mail them first in order to try to set up a time for an interview with someone from the organization, at which you can present your concerns to them. If they don’t have time to meet with you, it’s probably because they’re out ministering to people while you’re trying to set up an interview so that you can lambast them on your blog. If your priorities still seem in line with the gospel after all this, then you definitely shouldn’t post the criticism. Otherwise, go ahead.

5. Satire is fantastic, but only if you appreciate being satirized. If you consider beating people over the head with a stick to be an expression of love, you better say “thank you” when someone takes the cudgel to your own skull.

6. If you quote more Scripture on your blog trying to prove people wrong than you do praising God and encouraging people to love him, you might be abusing the Bible. This is kind of a big deal, and is probably grounds for someone to write a nasty blog post about you. Why don’t you beat them to it.

7. The church’s sin is your sin. Evangelicalism’s failings are your failings. “People who don’t understand the gospel” is another way of saying “you and everybody else.” Grace means that Jesus saves, loves and uses people who are doctrinally wrong, sin-sick and prone to wander. Like you. Especially you. Amen.

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