Want to be inspired?

Too many people today are frustrated by the injustice and evil in our world, and all too often are resigned to defeat, because the opposition seems to big, too powerful, too pervasive to fight.  Attempts to resist seem futile at best, and more often than not, appear to only offer personal pain and persecution.  So we do nothing, except maybe complain.  All the while, we are aching on the inside, because somebody ought to do something!  Maybe that ache is more because our own lives seem pointless in the face of the real things that matter–the bigger battle of good vs. evil, justice vs. brutality–yet we can’t seem to muster the courage to follow our passion into our purpose.

I was blessed in my years living in Alaska to have a friend, and a mentor, who was also a storyteller.  He often shared with me the stories he was working on, while we met each week to share coffee and life together, helping one another (ok, mostly him helping me) navigate our own stories.  Over the past year, Rick shared with me the most amazing story that he was living, while preparing to write his latest book.  Late night satellite phone conversations to interview guerrilla leaders hiding in the jungles on the other side of the world, researching exotic languages and the history of a country where people lived the most austere lives, fighting against nature and an oppressive government to liberate a nation–the things that young (and old) boys’ fantasies are made of!  Rick was preparing to tell the story of a man who did what he was made to do, and in the process has provided relief to over 1 million people engaged in a brutal struggle against evil in a place most of us can’t even find on a map.

I just finished the product.  In “Rangers in the Gap: Act with Courage. Never Surrender”, Rick tells the story of Dave Eubanks, a child of missionaries who becomes a successful US Army Special Forces officer, but finds his real purpose in life as the founder of the Free Burma Rangers.  Dave, and his teams are leading what might possibly the most radical, unconventional guerrilla campaign in history.  Against impossible odds, what began as one man has become 260 teams, defending the displaced ethnic people groups being ravaged in Myanmar (Burma), while simultaneously fighting a war against evil itself, using the only weapon that will defeat it.

I’d encourage you to download the Kindle book linked above to get the full story.  If you can’t, at least check out the Free Burma Rangers web page.   The story is inspiring.  Hopefully it’s inspiring enough to challenge each one of us to step into the role we were each given, to make a real difference in the world around us.


Un-knot your undies, at least on my behalf

The internet and my Facebook page are exploding with posts, memes, and articles apoplectic over the “cuts in military retirement and disability pay” in the appropriations bill on its way to the President for signature.

As a disabled veteran whose military pension is his primary source of income, I am fully qualified to tell all of the pundits to “just chill.”

First, NO ONE’S BENEFITS ARE BEING CUT.  That’s right, no one will be earning a single dollar less than what they are entitled to.  Not people already retired, not those who are on active duty and might someday retire (which, by the way, is only a small portion of those who actually serve in the military.

What the bill does is set a limit on the COST OF LIVING ADJUSTMENT effective in JANUARY 2016 (that’s two years from now).  Cost of living adjustments were never part of the entitlement, folks, just like they’re not guaranteed for the vast majority of defined-benefit pension plans, public or private, in the US (Great Britain, by law, guarantees inflation adjustments to pensions–but that’s socialism, so we don’t want to do that).  In most years, the DoD budget includes increases to pension benefits to adjust for inflation, and I’m glad they do, but retirees have never been “guaranteed” a COLA, and right now, it’s important for our nation to cut deficit spending.

What Congress just approved, was a bill that set the 2016 COLA  to 1% less than the inflation rate, and then only for retirees between the ages of 40 and 62 (like me).  The thought here is that many, but certainly not all, of these retirees go on to start second careers, so they are not solely surviving on their retirement checks.  I’m 48, so this change will affect me for 12 years, beginning two years from now (assuming Congress takes no further action in the next 14 years, which is not a valid assumption, as sooner or later, the political and economic winds will change, and Congress will adjust the appropriation to address this, if history is any indicator).  Let’s make this a little more concrete:  For simple calculation purposes, let’s say I receive a pension equal to $40k/year, and that inflation averages 3% per year.  ASSUMING (which isn’t valid, but we’ll do it, to make the point) that Congress were planning an annual COLA equal to inflation, my pension would increase 3% per year, but this bill changes that increase to only 2% per year.  Beginning in 2016, and through 2027 (when I will turn 62–man, I’m getting old), my real income would decrease slightly, although my nominal pension will continue go up.  How much?  In that 12 year period, I’ll receive a TOTAL of $10, 729 than if my COLA had matched inflation.  However, since there is no guarantee of inflation-proofing with military retirement, or most other defined-benefit pensions, for that matter, I’m NOT losing money, I’m just not receiving as much inflation protection as I would like.  The bill also provides for a one-time catchup when I turn 62, so that from that age on, when I’m less likely to be working, and more likely to truly need that pension to provide for myself, it will then maintain real spending power for the rest of my life.  I haven’t really taken the time to do the math, and I haven’t found the actual bill to read the details of the catchup provision, but I’m comfortable that my analysis is close enough for purposes of discussion, as well as for my long-term financial planning.

Most of our country has been up in arms about the runaway federal budget deficits.  We don’t typically want to pay more taxes, and most insist that the government should live within its means, which means cutting spending.  This budget deal cuts spending.  The problem seems to be that we are all for cutting government spending, unless it’s on something WE think is important!  Here’s the rub:  for every government dollar being spent, SOMEBODY thinks that expenditure is important.  In 2010, a bipartisan commission took a hard look at fiscal reform to address deficit spending and develop proposals to put the federal budget on track for long-term prosperity and economic health.  They did good work, and on page 45 of their final report they recommended the very actions established in this bill for reforming federal workforce retirement programs.

We’ve been demanding reform.  Now we’re getting it.  The pain is widespread; veterans should not be exempt.  I’ll leave you with some thoughts from the Preamble of the report cited above.  This is the collective work of some very smart people from across our political spectrum who devoted themselves to difficult, careful study of the problem, and what it’s going to take to solve it:

 The problem is real.  The solution will be painful.  There is no easy way out.  Everything must be on the table.  And Washington must lead….  we share a common belief that America’s long-term fiscal gap is unsustainable and, if left unchecked, will see our children and grandchildren living in a poorer, weaker nation…. None of us likes every element of our plan, and each of us had to tolerate provisions we previously or presently oppose in order to reach a principled compromise.  We were willing to put our differences aside to forge a plan because our nation will certainly be lost without one…. In the weeks and months to come, countless advocacy groups and special interests will try mightily through expensive, dramatic, and heart-wrenching media assaults to exempt themselves from shared sacrifice and common purpose.  The national interest, not special interests, must prevail. We urge leaders and citizens with principled concerns about any of our recommendations to follow what we call the Becerra Rule:  Don’t shoot down an idea without offering a better idea in its place.

Many of you probably have already forgotten about this commission or its report.  It didn’t catch on.  Seems everybody had some favorite program that was targeted in their recommendations, just as the authors predicted.  So we just abandoned it, and kept right on spending.  It’s too bad.  This was probably one of the best efforts put forward by our national leadership in quite some time.

It seems to me that what we really have is a terminal case of selfishness.  We demand sacrifice from all others, so that we can preserve what we have.  In the end, no one is really willing to sacrifice themselves, so we continue full speed ahead on the course we’re on.   I’m not playing that game.  If by reducing the amount of annual increase I will see in my pension, we can start reining in the spending that has resulted in a national debt which former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen cited as the most significant threat to our national security (see cited report, page 20), then I’m willing to make a bit of sacrifice for the benefit of our nation.  Please don’t be offended on my behalf.

Health Care Reform Bibliography

I promise to publish part 2 of the substance of this multi-part thread soon, but I wanted to get this out there, as a general link to some good sources for more information on health care and the Affordable Care Act.  I’m sure there are many more sources, but these are some I’ve found to be quite helpful.  I’m including a short description to help you understand the source, so that you can consider  the source’s bias as you’re reading.  I encourage everyone to always read skeptically, and always to consider the source, so you can determine their bias and weigh their message accordingly.

So, in no particular order (man, it’s great to be out of Grad School!  No rules!):

The Affordable Care Act of 2010.  The whole thing (actually, this is a compilation of the ACE and the Patient Protection Act.)..  All 900+ pages (don’t let it intimidate you, there’s lots of white space) in searchable PDF format.  I have not read it all; I am somewhat skeptical of pundits who claim they have.  I’ve had many years of practice at reading government regulations and laws, so I’m somewhat immune to the boredom they bring, and I couldn’t do it, and quite honestly didn’t find it fruitful to try.  For those who are not in the business of health care who claim to have read the whole thing, I would love to test their comprehension of what they read.  I found it much more productive to drill down into topics I was wanting more info on, either through the table of contents, or through PDF search functionality.  Some search hints:

  • If you look for “Death Panels” you’ll come up empty.  What Sarah Palin refers to by that catchy moniker is titled the “Independent Payment Advisory Board.”  Search the PDF by that term instead.
  • Brown Shirts:  Not there.  There is a section on page 543 (Sec 203) titled “Commissioned Corps and Ready Reserve Corps” that modifies existing law authorizing the existing US Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, which has been around in current form since shortly after the Civil War.  (If you think this is Obama’s secret army, akin to Hitler’s Brown Shirts, I wouldn’t worry too much.  Their “commanding officer” is the US Surgeon General; and the few interactions I’ve had with these folks have clearly demonstrated that Bill Murray’s platoon in Stripes had more military discipline.  These guys may be good doctors, nurses, and health care professionals, but I’m more intimidated by Girl Scouts selling cookies at my door than I am by the threat of any of these folks.).  More recently, people are linking Obama’s Brown Shirts to FEMA, but that’s outside the scope of the ACA or this post.

The Kaiser Family Foundation: This is a great site with a ton of information, and their data is good enough that their pricing indexes are used in some places as an industry standard (this is from my personal experience in labor contract negotiations, where we needed a health insurance price index to include in contracts.  I can’t comment as to how widely spread this usage is).  They bill themselves as trying to be a trusted source of information in a space where most sources have a vested interest.  They’re set up to try to minimize outside influence.  I’m not going to claim they’re unbiased, but they seem to do a very good job of providing the facts, and presenting the data so one can analyze it for oneself.  They certainly are thorough in their coverage and analysis; you could get lost for days on this site, and learn more than you ever wanted to know.  They also keep it very fresh, with current insight and analysis.  This page details their CEO’s perspective on KFF’s approach to the ACA–if you want to dig a little deeper.

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services website.  This link actually takes  you to their National Health Expenditure Data page, but this is a good site to get federal government “official” data on health care information.  Yes, they’re the federal government.  I’m not asking you to blindly trust the government, but I don’t recommend blindly dismissing them either.  They’re a good source of data.  If you’re convinced that their data is corrupt and deliberately skewed to deceive, I’m not sure what to tell you, other than you should be as skeptical of every other source.

Health and Human Services Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality Another federal government website, but a source for data on health care in the US.  Some pretty detailed data here, and it’s not the easiest site to navigate, but if you want to find a particular nugget, it’s probably here somewhere.

Health Affairs (online journal):  Quote from their “About” page:

Health Affairs is the leading journal of health policy thought and research. The peer-reviewed journal was founded in 1981 under the aegis of Project HOPE, a nonprofit international health education organization. Health Affairs explores health policy issues of current concern in  domestic and international spheres. Its mission is to serve as a high-level, nonpartisan forum to promote analysis and discussion on improving health and health care, and to address such issues as cost, quality, and access.

Good info from a peer-reviewed journal; problem is that only the content from more than three years ago is free.   Unfortunately, most of the pertinent info on health care reform and the ACA has been published in the past 3 years, and I didn’t want to pony up $144 to read it.  However, you can get the key talking points of those more recent articles from the abstracts.

“The Clock is Ticking. More Americans Losing Health Coverage”  Families USA: Washington DC, July 2009.    I pulled some statistics from this report, that gives data on the status of private health insurance access prior to adoption of the ACA.  This site is definitely supportive of the ACA.

I’ll probably embed more specific article links within the text of the posts, but this ought to get you started in your research.  I’m not claiming all of these are perfect, and that you should trust them blindly, but instead that they are good starting points to inform yourself, rather than just believing sound bites, emails, and blog posts (even mine!).

Seek first to understand…

With fear and trembling…

I’ve been preparing to write this post for months, and putting it off for the last several weeks.  Truthfully, I don’t want to write it, because I’m actually expecting a lot more backlash and disapproval than I expected (but surprisingly, didn’t get) from my most-read post:  “The Post That May Just Offend Everybody.”  But I’ve been alluding to writing about this for some time, and have done a lot of research in preparation, in hopes that I can present a clear, detailed perspective that just might clarify one of the biggest issues facing our nation right now.  That, and I think this is one of those ones that God told me to write (OK, truthfully I know God leads me to write all of these, but this one seems to be one he won’t let up on).  So, with that ominous introduction, I will attempt to share my understanding and position on the Affordable Care Act (ACA). (1)

Bear with me on this one, I beg.  I know it’s all over the news, but I’m hoping I can provide some reasonable perspective.  I won’t claim to be totally objective, or unbiased, because I’m not.  I’m getting kind of passionate about the topic of health care reform.  What I hope to do, though, is to be clear what my biases are (as I understand them), as well as trying to address other perspectives as objectively as possible.  I’ll lay out my biases and motivations shortly, but my objective in tackling this controversial subject is to try to advance a reasonable dialog that might just provide an impetus to achieving real, productive improvement to our nation’s health care system.

I’m going to have to break this up over several posts, because it’s a complex subject, and trying to cover it in People magazine-style, let alone TV news sound bites, or Tweet-format, is not only impossible, but also a recipe for inaccuracy (see, for example, “you can keep your plan”).  Part of my reluctance to start has been simply that I wasn’t looking forward to all the disagreement, but I would hope that we can have a more reasoned discussion here, among friends, than is taking place in the media, or the halls of Congress.  The rest of delaying has been in trying to figure out how to organize this thing.  I’m probably going to tax WordPress.com’s publishing capabilities (I’m certainly going to exceed my abilities to use the site to organize a complex document), but I want to ensure that I provide good jumping off points for further research, or to at least demonstrate the due diligence I’ve performed in my research.  To that end, I’ll be posting a “bibliography” of sorts.  I’ll try to link to specific sources for statistics or quotes I reference.  I’m also going to provide my definition the problem as I understand it.  I will describe several possible approaches to solving the problem, and how those approaches are incorporated within the ACA.  Either embedded in that discussion, or separately (depending how all this comes together for organization purposes and readability) I’ll identify what I see as the strengths and the shortcomings of ACA.  Finally, I hope to talk about what I believe is the best path forward.  Somewhere in all that, I’m going to try to tackle a lot of the misperceptions that are out there today.

I mentioned earlier that I’m biased, and indeed passionate about the topic of  health care reform.  I guess the passion comes from the fact that I used to be pretty strongly biased against anything that smacked of government assistance.  I wrote papers in my undergrad days decrying the need to provide health care, unemployment, welfare, or any other type of handout.  I’m guessing my old Econ professor has probably departed this earth by now, but if he hasn’t, and were to read this today, he’d probably be dead from shock before he finished.  At one point, while acknowledging that the welfare system had become a multi-generational issue, I went so far as to advocate for systematically and forcefully removing all children from these dysfunctional welfare homes in order to break the generational cycle (one of the reasons I don’t get too excited about what any public figure over the age of 40 wrote, studied, or read while in college!).  As the saying goes, though, there’s nothing worse than a reformed smoker, or in this case, reformed ultra-conservative.  I believe that in the richest country in the world, that spends more per capita on health care than any other nation in the world, that people should not be impoverished because of catastrophic health issues, nor should they be forced to go forego necessary treatment because they can’t afford it.

So what happened to bring about this radical change in my thinking?  Several things.  First, somewhere along the way, I figured out that I had been the beneficiary of blind luck (ok, I don’t believe in luck, but providence gave me something that I never once sought or planned for).  I have had (virtually) free health care for all of my adult life, courtesy of the US government.  Even when I retired from the military, my annual expenditures for health care for my entire family, including annual premiums, co-pays, etc, was less than the monthly premium most people paid for private sector health insurance, not even considering deductibles, co-pays, and other out-of-pocket expenditures.  I wasn’t some genius who planned out how to achieve this level of health care security; I just joined the Army to jump out of airplanes.  Free health care came with the package–not that it meant anything to me when I signed the contract.

But my free government health care alone wasn’t enough to reform me; for many years my mantra was that I earned it through my service.  What really started me doubting my convictions that anybody could pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, was when I started discovering friends who had worked way harder than I had, and were much stronger than me, whose bootstraps had broken.  I have a friend who owned a construction company, who literally built million dollar homes.  His work was amazing, and his business skills were quite good, but he lived in a rented duplex, and couldn’t afford health insurance for his family.  He wrenched his shoulder one day helping me get my snowmachine unstuck, and still has problems many years later, because he never went to the doctor to get the damage repaired.  He couldn’t afford it.  He eventually had to shutter his business, and go to work at a large company that offered benefits, just to take care of his family’s health needs.  I have another friend who is an amazing mechanic, and worked for many years on military vehicles as a civilian contractor.  Bouts with cancer and other medical issues, even with employer-provided medical insurance, bankrupted him, and continues to wreak havoc with his finances.  I just recently discovered that since he was medically retired, he no longer has the insurance he needs to pay for his liver transplant, and has been removed from the list.  Neither one of these guys were welfare bums; heck, they work harder than I do!  They are both smart, talented, and hardworking; they just ended up on a different life path than me; not through destructive choices, but because they decided to open their own business, in one case, or contracted some nasty disease in the other.

The final straw was when I started studying Christianity–that belief system that I have devoted my life to trying to live by.  The Bible says that man is created in the image of God; that all human life has intrinsic value.  Jesus didn’t give us the option to pick and choose who we would love or show Christian charity to; in fact in response to a religious legalist, who was looking for justification that he was loving his neighbor, and thereby obeying God and earning eternal life, Jesus told a health care parable.  Around the same time I was confronted with my own hypocrisy, the health care reform debate was going on in earnest, and I’d started blogging.  I wanted to engage in the discussion, but I wanted to do so from an informed position, so I started researching the issue, and writing about it.  (If you click on the “Health Care” category in the right column, you’ll get a list of posts I wrote starting back in 2009 on this topic, before ACA became law).  The more research I did, the more I discovered that our health care system in our country isn’t getting the job done, and lives are lost, and ruined, because of it.

Jesus said that I’m supposed to care for “the least of these,” and through his life and teaching demonstrated that I don’t get to pick and choose who is worthy of my love and my care.  I don’t get to decide who doesn’t deserve adequate health care because they don’t meet my expectations of supporting themselves, or because they had too many babies, or whatever other reason I find for them to be unworthy.  The Bible is VERY clear that judging others is outside my scope.  I’m just supposed to love them.  That doesn’t mean think fuzzy puppy thoughts about them, that means meet their needs.  Jesus was in the healing business.  Unfortunately, too many folks in the US think us Pentecostals are crackpots, so although the same healing power that Jesus used is available to his followers today (see John 14:11-14, despite the desperately twisted hermeneutics John MacArthur and his friends try to employ to deny it), until such time as more Christians of this country are all filled with the Holy Spirit, we’re going to have to go to plan B or plan C.

More on those in the next installment.


1.  The Affordable Care Act is the name for the 2010 legislation commonly (and derisively) referred to as “ObamaCare”.  I’m going to refrain from using that term, and instead stick to “ACA,” to try to take some of the venom out of the discussion. 

Let’s do something constructive!

Beneath the tsunami of “Obamacare Failure” coverage, a significant event occurred November 1st, and most people aren’t even aware of it.  For reasons that are too complicated to detail here, the temporary increase in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (“SNAP”, aka “food stamps) implemented in 2009 as part of the federal government’s economic stimulus program, expired.  For those who, like me, haven’t followed the details of SNAP, here’s the basics:

  • As part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, SNAP was temporarily increased, with the design that the increase would phase out as inflation pushed the cost of a FDA-determined minimum food basket to the increased level.
  • The SNAP increase served a two-fold purpose:  pump cash into our struggling economy, and help those who found themselves in a financial bind due to the economic downturn.
  • In 2009, experts expected food basket inflation to cause the benefit to expire in 2014.  Subsequent government decisions accelerated that expiration to Oct 31, 2013.
  • Inflation hasn’t met expectations, resulting in a real cut in benefits:  $36/month for a family of four.

That may not sound like a lot, but when you consider that based on the FDA’s food basket calculations which value a meal for one person at $1.70-$2.00, that equates to approximately 5 meals that family of four won’t be getting through SNAP.  If you want to read all the details, there’s a pretty good rundown on this page.    Macro impact is that for FY 2014, about $5 billion dollars will be cut from SNAP, impacting 47.6 million people, or 15% of the US population.  (For those who are happy to see the $5 billion cut to SNAP, don’t get too excited, the money’s already been reallocated to aid states with teacher salaries and Medicaid federal matching dollars).

I’m not writing to advocate for an increase in SNAP.  The cut is a done deal (although there are new, much more dramatic cuts being discussed as part of current budget negotiations, which bear watching and future consideration.  If they are approved, the following proposal will be even more relevant, and on a much grander scale).  No, I’m calling on the readers of this blog to demonstrate their compassion and love for their fellow man, and to prove that we can offset cuts in government programs by stepping up to provide private support.  Google “SNAP cut food bank” and you’ll get hundreds of articles from across the US where local news sources have interviewed food bank managers who are trying to prepare for the increased demand resulting from the SNAP cuts.  The bottom line is that local food banks are already tapped out, so they don’t currently have the resources to make up the gap caused by the latest cuts.

So let’s help them out.  Find your local food bank.  Many churches sponsor one, and many areas now have consortiums that work together to provide more food, more efficiently.  You can donate money, time, or both.  Here’s the cool part:  That $1.70-$2.00 for one meal that the FDA calculates?  My local food bank can provide SEVEN meals for $1.00 through efficiencies generated by buying in bulk, wholesale pricing, etc.  You can make up that $36 cut for a family of four with just a three dollar per month donation!  [I did the math multiple times:  $36 equates to roughly 20 meals (18 meals at $2, 21 meals at $1.70).  $3 at the food bank buys 21 meals.]

Too often I hear people railing about government assistance programs needing to be cut.  Well, this one was, and people are going to miss meals because of it.  We can fix that.  Will you?  I’d invite everyone to give some, but I’d really encourage you to give sacrificially–$3/ month would be nice, but how about $20?  Or $50?  Or giving up one day off a month to go help in the facility?

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ ” –Jesus, quoted in Matthew 25:31-46

Radical Change

It’s been seven months since I last posted in this blog.  A lot has changed in my life in seven months:

  • I’ve moved from one end of the continent to the other (Alaska to Florida)
  • My daughter got married in June
  • My son has moved and bought his first home
  • I went from being extremely busy in a well-paying job to relatively unbusy in a non-job.

Technically I’m not “unemployed,” since the formal definition of that term requires one to be looking for a job.  I’m not.  After a lot of discussion, prayer, and doubts, my wife and I decided that I needed to “take some time off.”  If it were a more formal arrangement, one might call this a “sabbatical,” but I don’t have an end date, and I’m not going back to my old job (as far as I know, anyway).  We’ve relocated to an idyllic place where I can spend my time decompressing, studying, thinking, and learning how to relax (which is the toughest task I think I’ve ever had).

One of my goals for this time has been to spend a lot of time thinking and studying, and then writing on a fairly regular basis.  We’ve been in our new home now for a little more than a month, and we’re settled enough that I’ve embarked on the studying, and was starting to feel guilty for not having written yet.  My biggest challenge hasn’t been motivation or finding a topic, but rather to distill all the thoughts into something singular to post about.

“So what are you going to write about today, Brain?”
“The same thing I do every time, Pinky:  How to fix the world.”  (1990s cartoon reference in honor of my kids)

While topics such as the Affordable Care Act, the federal government shutdown, NSA spying on pretty much everybody, and others are interesting potential fodder for future posts, I want to start with what I see as a meta-theme and my approach to it.

I’ve struggled mightily to try to accurately define this meta-theme that I see prevalent throughout our society, and I’m still not sure I’ve done it accurately.  For lack of a more accurate term, I’m going to initially refer to it as a “spirit of offendedness.”  It seems to me that we have a strong tendency to be offended, and in fact, that we often seem to seek reasons to be offended.  Whether it’s in traffic, or an encounter with a neighbor and loose dogs, or collectively in our political tribes, or in just about any group encounter, we are offended by the actions of others.  It seems to be our default position.  Note, I’m using first person plural throughout this description, as I’m seeing it in myself, and not just trying to pin it on everyone else.

I think there’s a relationship here between the “spirit of offendedness” and the divisiveness plaguing our nation, but I’m not sure exactly what that relationship is.  But the combination of our proclivity to be offended, and the divisiveness in virtually all aspects of our country seem to be at the root of much of the troubles we’re facing today, at the macro and the micro level.

I’m not going to try to defend my argument today; that’s not the point of my post.  Instead, with this new start to my (hopefully) regular blogging, I’m committing publicly to try to defuse this meta-theme in my own actions, thoughts, and writing.  Further, by putting it here, I’m giving you permission to call me on it when I come up short.  Finally, I’m inviting you to join me.  See, the more I consider it, the more I realizing that I’m trying to draw on one of the most significant moments of my life, when wisdom it me so hard in the nose that it still stings 30 years later.

Early in my Army career, I had the extreme fortune to be assigned as the platoon leader’s RTO (although at the time I saw nothing fortunate about it at all).  We had jumped into an exercise at sundown, then moved all night before setting up in our patrol base.  Normally that would mean time to get some sleep, but my PL wanted me to help him build a sand table to prepare to brief the operations order.  I was tired, grumpy, and generally being a punk private, and went into a profanity laced tirade about how hosed up everything was.  As I was about to hit my rhythm, LT Miller bellowed, “Walker, Shut the f*(& up!  You’re real good at telling me everything that is wrong, but you never say a single word about how to fix it.  Until you have a viable solution, I don’t want to hear another word out of you!”  My immediate response was to close my mouth, although I’m sure my brain went into a nonverbal tirade about the obnoxious know-it-all-lieutenant.  But after the red drained out of my face, I realized he was right.  If all you’re doing is telling everyone you see what is wrong with what’s going on, but you’re not doing anything constructive to make it better, you’re just bitching.  That seems to be our new national pastime.  I’ve probably failed at following LT Miller’s advice more than I’ve succeeded, but I’ve tried to make it a maxim to live by.

So here’s the deal:  I am going to try not to take up offense, or to be divisive.  Instead, I’m going to work here, and in all aspects of my life, to try to unite people, to find common ground.  I’m going to work, when I see something that bugs me, that I don’t like, or that might actually inconvenience me, to try to understand the reasoning behind the other position before I assume that the other is trying to ruin my life.  I’m not going to begin with the assumption (or the perceived “fact”) that the person or group that is offending me is a selfish, or worse yet devious idiot who is determined to ruin me, my country, or my drive to the store.  Maybe they know something I don’t?  Maybe they have different (which does not mean wrong) priorities?  Maybe they just made an honest mistake (rather than a devious lie designed to deceive)?

I’m not saying I’m not going to debate, or disagree–just that I’m not going to disagree from a point of offense or divisiveness, but from a point of trying to achieve understanding, and seeking common ground.

For me, that’s pretty radical.  Want to join me?

Where Does Religion Belong?

Many of the leading issues in our country today have a significant moral or ethical element to them that invariably introduces a religious perspective into the conversation:  Gay marriage, abortion, and the death penalty all are heavily influenced by religious perspective in their public debate.  Even issues that are not so directly linked to basic freedoms can have religious elements to their debate–welfare, health care, and fiscal policy issues have all seen either overt religious reasoning applied to them, or more subtle attempts to sway the argument by appealing to moral and ethical factors formed by religious beliefs.

Several responses to “The Post That May Just Offend Everybody | My Thoughts on the Gay Marriage Issue” included a common theme that the respondent was perfectly willing to tolerate another person’s religious beliefs, so long as that person kept their beliefs private, and did not bring them into the public square.  I submit to you that this is an impossible, and I will go so far to even claim intolerant request.

I am too far removed from my undergrad days to recall the precise linear relationship of values, morals, ethics, beliefs, etc, but I do know that all of those have some root in each individual’s religious beliefs (even if those beliefs are to discount or even deny religion).  To ask a person to participate in the public square without applying their religious beliefs to their involvement seems to me to be akin to asking an accountant to do his job without applying arithmetic.  He can’t fathom doing it, and in reality all of the higher level governing elements of accounting are all foundational to the basic precept that 1+1=2, every time  (I’m sure this analogy has a hole in it somewhere in the fundamental differences between arithmetic and religion, but suffer me the comparison for the sake of discussion).

Where does this idea that people should leave their religious beliefs at home when participating in society (or at least in public debate of societal or governmental issues) come from?  I’ve done a little reading, and there’s no simple answer, but I submit that most in the US today will point back to the First Amendment religion clause and the “wall of separation between church and state” concept first described by Thomas Jefferson.  I think the important distinction that may be getting lost over time is that the intent of our founding fathers, and even Jefferson in his letter first describing the “wall of separation” was to avoid the government establishment of, or preferential treatment to, any particular religion.

Os Guinness has written a phenomenal book that addresses this topic and the context which raised it, called The Case for Civility, And Why Our Future Depends on It.  I won’t attempt to cover all the key points in this book that pertain to this topic, as I’d almost be recreating the book.  Guinness gives name to two concepts that are relevant to this conversation:  the “Sacred Public Square” and the “Naked Public Square.”  The “Sacred Public Square” refers to the idea that government should establish a particular religion as preferred–that very concept that our founding fathers sought to, and succeeded in prohibiting.*  The “Naked Public Square” refers to the idea that public interaction should exclude any consideration of religious thinking or beliefs.

I do not advocate in any way for the concept of the “Sacred Public Square.”  Without spending a lot of time here, I cannot submit to a government that forces me to ascribe to a faith system different from my own, so by that precept, I could only accept living in a Christian theocracy.  The problem with that is that so long as we remain a democratic nation (which I am strongly in favor, of, and dedicated much of my adult life to ensuring), I run the risk of some other religious system assuming control and running the government according to their religious principles.  Therefore, it is best for me (and I submit, for people of all faiths) to oppose the government establishment of any religion.

I also  can’t advocate for the “Naked Public Square.”  In the US today, this desire for a “Naked Public Square” has manifested itself primarily in the desire to exclude Christian beliefs, as, let’s face it, that is the primary religious belief system in play in our nation today, although the attempt to exclude Muslim beliefs is rising, primarily in more conservative circles.  No one talks too much about systematically excluding Hindu or naturalist thought, because given their relative representation in the US, they aren’t a real threat to attempt to influence our lives today.   In its most extreme, calls for the “Naked Public Square” include voices such as Sam Harris, who in his book The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason states “We can no more tolerate a diversity of religious beliefs than a diversity of beliefs about epidemiology and basic hygiene.”  I don’t believe for a minute that most Americans ascribe to the extremes advocated by Harris, but extreme voices like his dominate his side of the argument, much as extreme voices from the right tend to dominate the argument of the opposite side.

Part of the reason that the extreme voice dominates the religious side of the argument in America today is that many Christians have believed the “Naked Square’s” basic assertion that we should keep our religious beliefs in our churches and homes, but we shouldn’t take them out in public.  For much of the twentieth century Christians dutifully (or timidly) avoided displaying our religious beliefs in the public square, in what I believe was a well-intentioned attempt to allow for pluralism and diversity.  However, in the process we removed a reasonable Christian voice from the stage of public life.  I am borrowing Guinness’s distinction here to try to demonstrate that there is a difference between the “public square” where we collectively go about the business of establishing the rules of how society lives together, and “public life,” where individuals go about their lives interacting with others under those rules.  In other words, I interpret the distinction this way:  The public square is the structures where we as a society interact (government, the marketplace, etc); public life is how the individual interacts in the public square.   Guinness states that “There is a broad overlap, with no exact boundaries, between the public square and public life.”  Nonetheless, there is an important distinction that has been lost, and in an effort to avoid a “Sacred Public Square,” Christians (often at the encouragement of non-Christians) have withdrawn our voice not only from the public square, but from public life.

An unfortunate byproduct of the absence of a broad, moderate Christian voice in public life was that we allowed beliefs contrary to Christian beliefs to roam the public square unchallenged.  The absence of checks and balances permitted the growth and normalization of beliefs that contrasted with Christianity, and while moderate Christians became increasingly uncomfortable, the more extreme voices spoke up, and started trying to “reclaim” the public square.  The problem is, in my eyes, that the voices that are dominating the counterpoint are often too strident, and more importantly, they are approaching the problem not by participating in the public square in a way in which their beliefs influence the square, but instead they are trying to control the public square by legislating Christian beliefs.

I don’t think I must leave my Christian beliefs at home when I come to the public square in order to influence the governing of our society, and the functioning of our economy, any more than I believe I can tell a Muslim to leave his beliefs at home.  Where either of us go wrong is when we attempt to control the public square and enforce our religious beliefs.**

To avoid the risk of trying to re-write Guinness’s book in my own words, I’m going to let him close this post, in his words, in what I assert is an excellent answer for all of us to the question “Where does Religion Belong?”:

“…we should be clear that it is playing with fire to begin to argue in the public square about whether different faiths are true–because of the very seriousness of truth.  Nothing is more precious and potent than truth, but nothing is more dangerous than to debate such argument in the public square…. I am not arguing that faith should be ‘privileged,’ as if it requires kid-gloves discussion for fear of causing offense…. Truth and tough-minded debates about truth are the oxygen of a free society…. The politics of ‘no offense’ is a recipe for cowardice and appeasement.  Atheists [and those of other faiths] have every right to speak out, to argue for, and to attack whatever they choose.  The question for them is whether their arguments are good arguments….

“That said, in wise societies where the link between freedom and civility is respected, the public square is not the wisest place to examine the truth claims of different faiths.  Certainly it can and should be done in the private sphere with no holds barred, and certainly, too, in public life, if done with greater care.  But the public square is the place where the roots of faith are generally best left unspoken, and what is discussed are the results of faith–their implications for public policy and the common life of all citizens. 

“In short, my opening answer… is to call for civility first–to establish a civil public square, within which we may all learn to respect our deepest differences and discuss them robustly but civilly and peacefully–and then in the appropriate setting, human being to human being, to explore the reasons for why we believe and all that it means [with respect to public policy and the common life of all citizens that he refers to previously].”  –(Bold and underlined emphases are mine, italics are the original author’s; bracketed comments are mine)

My religious beliefs are my source of truth–they’re part of who I am.  Your source of truth, whatever it might be, is essential to who you are.  You can’t leave it out of living your life, even if you wanted to.  To say that you do is intellectually dishonest.   Bring your truth; let the implications of our varying understandings of truth influence our discussion as human beings over “public policy and the common life of all citizens.”  Beyond that, in the boundaries of civil society, let’s debate our differing sources of truth (not in the public square, but here and in other places of public life) to test our beliefs of truth, and to understand the beliefs of others.  Understanding those beliefs, whether or not we choose to ascribe accuracy to them, is crucial to our effectiveness in maintaining civil society.


*I acknowledge that our founding fathers were essentially writing to preclude establishment of a particular Christian denomination, and that they themselves were predominantly Christians, or at least aligned with Christian theology, rather than Islam, Hinduism, or some other naturalist theology.  That said, I do not want to debate whether or not the US was established as a “Christian nation.”  Most considerate people should be able to acknowledge that the religious practices of our nation’s original citizens were predominantly Christian, and that the national government was built on a foundation of “Christian” ethics (not that they are exclusively Christian, but their origins are from the Christian faith–because that’s where our founders derived their ethics). 

To my Christian brethren who want to insist on a foundation as a Christian nation that we must somehow return to, complete with government-sanctioned public prayer and religious observances, I strongly encourage you to  consider the fact that we are a very pluralistic society, and that it’s not unreasonable to think that although those prayers and observances might be focused on the Christian God today, they may one day soon be oriented toward a god that Christians would NOT want to pray to or publicly recognize.  More on that thought in my post “Hawaii Senate ends daily prayer in chamber.”

**This distinction is vital, and yet I’m not sure if I made it clearly.  My values will always effect my interaction in the public square, and in public life, by definition of the word values.  If I believe something is wrong I have every right to advocate vociferously against it, within the bounds of the rules of the public square, just as my Muslim brother does.  But my argument should not prevail solely because it is Christian, and it shouldn’t impose Christian practices upon others.  It’s when influence becomes control that we have crossed the line into the “Sacred Public Square.”


Shocked. Stunned. Dumbstruck.

Tuesday night I sat down and posted some very deep thoughts on my sleepy little blog page, with the expectation that I was going to spark a little thought and conversation amongst the handful of people who read my stuff, primarily my Facebook friends.  Prior to that post, I had 590 views over several YEARS, and most of those coming from a Twitter bump I received while attending a Compassion Conference a few years ago.

In the first 24 hours since that post, my site had 2800 views!  That blew me away.  Today I’ve had almost 5000.   From over 15 different countries, on every continent except Antarctica.

For one of the few times in my life, I don’t know what to say.  Hence the title:  gobsmacked.  This awesome word can’t be fully appreciated unless you hear it first from a Scotsman.  I had never heard it in my life, but when a co-worker used it in a conversation 6 years ago, I immediately knew what it meant–stunned beyond the ability to speak, or even think.  I think it’s one of the greatest words in the English language, and it is definitely the most appropriate to describe my response to the way my last post took off.

One more word describes my reaction to this amazing response to my posts:  Humbled.

I am incredibly thankful to all of you for taking the time to read and consider what I had to say, and for so many of you–friends, friends of friends, and complete strangers–who thought my words were worthy of sharing.  Pretty much all of the traffic came from Facebook shares.  That’s cool, because I’m a big believer in relationships; however, I’m bummed because I missed out on much of the conversation.

I have, however, received quite a bit of feedback, the vast majority supportive, from people on both sides of the discussion!  That is really cool!  I have to say that I didn’t expect that; I figured those who supported gay marriage would take offense to me asserting that homosexual activity is sin, along with those who don’t believe in YHWH taking additional exception to my Christian perspectives.  I also expected many of my Christian friends to take exception to my assertion that we quit judging homosexuals, and focus on loving everyone.  To my surprise, and delight, even those who strongly disagree with things I have said did so with respect (for the most part).

All of this newfound attention to my writing has been tremendously humbling, and I’m greatly appreciative that each of you thought my message was worth sharing.  The attention has also introduced new challenges:

1) I have had to balance keeping the comments moderated with some degree of timeliness, while doing my day job.  My smartphone got a workout today!  But it was important to me to keep the conversation going.

2) I had to deal with my first really derogatory commenter today–I learned new features of the comment moderation tool… WordPress is pretty intuitive and useful, for any of you who are looking to start your own little worldwide conversations!

3) I now am faced with the challenge of determining the topic for future posts.  I don’t want this to become a “gay marriage debate” blog, or a “Christian doctrine or polity” blog, or a “Greg” blog…  If you took the time to look back on any of my posts, I hope you saw that I try to discuss things that seem relevant to me (at the Holy Spirit’s leading), but I don’t want to preach at those who don’t follow Jesus, because you can find that lots of places.  I want it to be a place to engage each other, to exchange ideas, to consider the perspective of others, not so one can shout down one’s opponents, but instead to seek to understand, even if we respectfully disagree.

Right now, I don’t have a new topic, so I’ll leave you with this:

Thanks.  And God bless you all.  Feel free to check back whenever; my 15 minutes of fame has lasted for almost 48 hours now, but if you want to hang out, talk, ask challenging questions in a respectful manner, then I’ll be here.  If you never make it back, thanks for listening.  You made my day!


The Post That May Just Offend Everybody

or, My Thoughts on the Gay Marriage Issue

If you think you know me, and know where this is going, let me challenge you–you’re probably wrong.  Whether you think you’re going to agree with me, or think you can just stop reading, because you know you’re going to disagree with me, I ask that you read on, as I’m betting you’re going to be surprised.  I’m a little surprised myself.

To all that I offend:  my intent is not to hurt, or alienate, or disparage.  I’m not asking you to agree with me, or debate me, or dismiss me.  I just ask that you consider this; I wouldn’t have taken the time to write it, or 10 times that amount of time to consider it, if I didn’t think it were important–not because it’s my thoughts, but because it’s the results of what I believe God has been cultivating in my head over the past several years, and because he’s been pretty relentless in getting me to writing this down tonight, when I have a hundred excuses why I can’t.  Yes, this post is going to have a decidedly Christian slant (although some might strongly disagree).  Please don’t let that turn you off–just hear me out.

Now for the disclaimers:  I’m probably one of the most conservative, fundamental people I know.  Paul rattles off his qualification to be the ultimate Jew in Philippians 3:5-6.  Well, here’s my parallel list of qualification to be a poster-child for Fox-News watching, Tea-Party-supporting, NRA-member, super-conservative status:  Born in the Midwest, raised by two Christian parents who are still married to each other, for the first time; retired Army officer; big-oil employee; firearm owner (all of which are banned in CA); John Wayne posters and pictures THROUGHOUT my garage; and most recently, a certified Pentecostal pastor!  I can out-conservative the best our country has to offer, and have been able to clearly articulate the superiority of my conservative values my entire life.  But like Paul in the subsequent verses, I now consider all of that not just a loss, but sewage (that’s a nice way of translating what the NIV calls “garbage”).  Not because I’m better than that; because I’m most definitely not.  No, it’s because God’s been dragging me through a knothole in the process of trying to remake me in the image of his Son, and along the way, I’ve been confronted with the cognitive dissonance of my traditional beliefs vs. what the Bible says.

Based on my qualifications, one would expect me to be firmly on the far right, crying out against gay marriage.  I’m not.  In fact, I think the church in America really needs to re-examine itself here.  I’ve seen a lot of traffic on the internet for a long time now, and particularly in the past few days, with professing Christians crying out to God, their neighbors, and anyone who will listen on the internet to oppose this “attack on marriage.”  I’ve even read one church who posted a call for fervent prayer that God would not allow the Supreme Court to “destroy marriage.”  I’ve even seen some pretty hateful stuff said toward those who disagree with their position that marriage should be legally restricted to one man and one woman.  I think all of that is a mistake, and a failing of God’s people.

More on that in a minute.  Now that I’ve alienated all of my conservative Christian readers, let me make clear my position that I firmly believe that homosexual activity is a sin and an abomination to God.  I’m not going to make a vigorous defense of my position here; It is abundantly clear in the Bible.  In fact, those who try to refute the Biblical assertion that homosexual activity is a sin only do so through  interpretive gymnastics that would break Gumby’s back.  To be clear:  this post is in no way condoning a homosexual lifestyle.

Homosexual activity is a sin (now I’ve most assuredly alienated those who support gay marriage), but there are many other sins out there; unfortunately conservatives have chosen to make this one their litmus test and their Waterloo.  Adultery is a sin; so is prostitution, alcohol abuse, lying, cheating on your taxes, and judging others.  All of these are affronts to God, but somehow we’ve made homosexuality the Asherah pole of our society, and committed all of our Christian resources to defeating gay marriage, or dying on the hill in the fight.  So, what would Jesus do?  Well, the Gospels are silent as to Jesus’ position on homosexual activity, but that is because 1st Century Judaism had no questions–it was a sin and an affront to God.  It is almost a sure thing that the issue never came up.  But, we can look at how Jesus dealt with other examples of sin to extrapolate a good idea how he would have approached the issue of homosexuality:

  • Adultery:  Jesus interceded on behalf of the adulterous woman, telling the judgmental crowd to have the sinless among them cast the first stone.  He then tells her that he doesn’t condemn her either, but “Go now and leave your life of sin.”  (John 8:1-11)
  • Prostitution:  Luke 7:36-50 tells of Jesus not only associating with a prostitute (not to be confused with having sexual relations with her), but he forgives her sins.
  • Alcohol abuse:  In John 2, Jesus’ first recorded miracle of turning water into wine.  This was a Jewish wedding feast–a multi-day party, where the host was praised for not bringing out the Mogen David once the guests were too drunk to know the difference.  The norm was that the host banked on the guests getting tanked up early, and took advantage of it by serving the cheap stuff once they were drunk, to save money.  Jesus didn’t condemn them, he gave them world-class wine!
  • Lying:  My personal favorite is how Jesus treated one of his closest friends, who not only lied three times, but in doing so, denied any connection with Jesus.  Jesus didn’t exclude him, he sought him out, forgave him, and restored the relationship. (John 18:25-27; 21:15-19)
  • Cheating on your taxes:  Tax collectors of his day were the ultimate tax cheats, but Jesus befriended one and brought him into his inner circle (Matthew), and famously ate dinner with another (Zaccheus).
  • Judging others:  Ok, this one goes a little differently.  Jesus was famously intolerant of those who judged others, particularly those who saw themselves as somehow superior, or favored by God, because of their observance of religious laws.  Instead, he spoke highly of those who sacrificially loved their fellow man, even when they had all rights to judge them negatively based on how their fellow man had treated them. (Luke 10:30-37)  An in-depth study of the Gospels will reveal that the only group that Jesus judges, speaks harshly to, or condemns, is the religious leaders who judge (and condemn) others.

These examples demonstrate Jesus’ approach to those who commit sins:  He loves them.  That doesn’t mean that he condones their sinful acts!  But he definitely does not chastise them, condemn them (with the noted exception of judgmental religious leaders), and tell them to get away from him, clean up their act, and then he will talk to them.  And we don’t do that in church with almost any other sin:  Can you imagine how much more abysmal church attendance would be if we said “don’t come through those doors until  you’ve given up your (personal sin issues)”?  Sinners were drawn to Jesus, despite their sin, because of his unconditional love–and in the process of encountering him, they rejected their sin and worshipped God!

The Church hasn’t taken this approach.  We’re trying to outlaw sin!  That’s not going to work, as it’s outside of temporal government’s jurisdiction.  Although we are desperately trying to give government jurisdiction in spiritual matters.  “Greg, you’re nuts!  We’re doing the exact opposite! We’re trying to get government OUT of spiritual matters” you say?  Well, to keep this post smaller than a book, let me give one example that’s directly on point:  Marriage.  Many conservative voices are stating that a Supreme Court ruling in support of gay marriage will “destroy traditional marriage.”  Really?  How can that be?  See, somewhere along the line we lost sight of the fact that GOD defines Christian marriage, not the government.  Marriage licenses in America are nothing more than an acknowledgement of a civil union of two people.  If GOD defines Christian marriage, then guess what?  SCOTUS, POTUS, and all the other USes can’t redefine it.  The problem is, the Church has lost sight of the fact that IT is the agency on earth that acknowledges the unity of one man and one woman in HOLY matrimony.  Those who claim a favorable ruling for gay marriage will destroy “traditional marriage” have just given that power to the State–the State doesn’t have it unless the Church abdicates it.

Here’s the real issue:  whether our litmus test is gay marriage, prayer in schools, or even abortion (a topic for another time–let’s just summarize with “I abhor it; I can’t even imagine how God feels about it”), we’ve failed miserably by trying to legislate Christian values–and it’s kicked our butt.  Instead of trying to make followers of God by creating laws that legislate morality and virtuous behavior (sound a little bit like the religious leaders of Jesus’ day?), let’s take the radical, revolutionary approach modeled by Jesus:  Unconditionally love ALL mankind!  Matthew 5:14-16 tells Christians that we are the “light of the world.”  Jesus uses the analogies of a city on a hill, or a lamp in a dark room.  These are warm, inviting lights.  Too many Christians have interpreted this to be searing lasers that we focus on the cockroaches hiding in the corners.  Jesus says “let your light shine before (not on) men, that they may see your good deeds (not religious works) and praise your father in heaven.”  When Americans look at the church today, they don’t see good deeds and praise God, they see judgmentalism and hatred, and reject what we have to offer.  The Barna Group conducted a landmark study of American perceptions toward Christianity.  A believable, but distressing finding:  “Today, the most common perception is that present-day Christianity is ‘anti-homosexual.’ Overall, 91% of young non-Christians and 80% of young churchgoers say this phrase describes Christianity.”

Now you know where I stand–so what?  First, let me say that this is a difficult place for me to be; I don’t stand here self-righteously judging all you who don’t measure up to my lofty piousness.  To be frank, it’s difficult for me to not have a visceral negative reaction when I see displays of same-sex attraction…  That means it gives me the willies.  That’s my 40+ years of conservative conditioning kicking in, and it’s hard for my spirit to overcome that.  But Jesus doesn’t want me to make everyone into conservatives, he wants me to show the world His love, so they seek His Father.  So I’ve got to deal with it.  Part of the way I deal with the heavy stuff, particularly the things I struggle with myself, is to write them here.  Writing helps me think it through, and more importantly, I now have to live it, or allow others to call me on my hypocrisy.  Further, I’m hoping that my Christian brothers and sisters can see that we’ve done more harm than good by making gay marriage our Waterloo.  It’s not.  We’re majoring in minors.  Satan doesn’t have to try to defeat the Church, he’s just sitting back and laughing while we alternate between killing off ourselves, and alienating the world from us to the point that we no longer have influence.  I know Satan loses in the end; but we’re certainly not contributing to Jesus’ cause right now; furthermore, we’re failing miserably in obeying his command to “go and make disciples”–we’re making enemies.

For my friends who don’t follow Jesus:  I’m sorry for the hateful, judgmental way I have treated you, and treated homosexuals in particular.  God doesn’t hate homosexuals any more than he hates bigoted judgmental asses like me.  He hates the sins we commit–all of them, not just those selected by the Moral Majority for special emphasis.  So when I judge someone else for their sin, he’s hating that action of mine.  It’s not my business to judge, or even point out your sin.  God judged the sins of the WORLD (including mine) 2000 years ago on a cross in Jerusalem.  They’re all forgiven–EVERY one of them–but you have to go to Him to receive that forgiveness.  Even when we don’t recognize something as sinful, God can help us see how he sees things, in his timing–the world today argues that homosexual acts are acceptable; it’s not my place to judge the actions of others; He’ll deal with that person one-on-one.  If I’ve judged you, or made you feel unaccepted by me, or by God, then I’ve sinned, and I ask your forgiveness.  And I’ll apologize for my Christian brothers and sisters too.  We’ve gotten a bad reputation (and for the most part we’ve earned it), as portraying ourselves as somehow better than those who don’t follow Jesus–it’s seen as self-righteousness.  Speaking for my brothers and sisters, we’re all screwed up, and left to our own devices, we’re no better than the rest of the world.  We’re trying to be better,  and God is helping us to grow every day, but some of us have a LOT of growing to do (me being a prime example).  But sometimes we still try to control things, and we end up making a mess and hurting others by trying to be God, or at least help him out.

In the next few days, the Supreme Court is going to rule on two landmark cases which may redefine what secular government defines as marriage.  No matter which way they rule, the Kingdom of God is still at hand, God is still on the throne, and NOTHING that he defines can be harmed in the least bit by any earthly government.  So what the heck are us Christians all tweaked about?  Let’s get about the business of shining our light, and pouring out God’s GRACE through us onto mankind, rather than dispensing our judgment.

A man, overwhelmed by the inexhaustible grace of God manifested in his own life, cannot help but to reject his sin, and sprint into the unconditional love God offers him (while we he was still a sinner).  I know.  It happened to me.

Contemplating Doubt

Last Sunday I was privileged to get to teach.  I love teaching, and have been given a gift to be able to teach well… or so I’ve been told.  My biggest challenge right now is that I don’t have a regular teaching venue, so when I am given the opportunity to teach, it’s generally one session.  But when I start preparing, I often end up with a 7 part series.  I love to study (stuff I’m interested in) and my brain can find itself off on incredible journeys in the midst of those studies, yielding lots to say about lots of stuff.  There’s probably more than a little wisdom in only giving me limited engagements.  This blog serves as an outlet for some of that pent-up teaching desire.  The good news is that you’re not stuck here, and you won’t be obvious if you get up and leave…  In fact, the stat tracker on this site doesn’t have any way of knowing if you read the whole thing, or if you’ve already surfed back out.  You already count as one of my dozen or so readers!

Last week’s topic was “Doubt.”  I’m not sure how I arrived at this topic; I started thinking about what I was going to teach, and one interesting thought led to another, which led to another, and pretty soon I had taken an interesting journey through many amazing places, winding up on this amazing topic, with no idea how I got there, and not completely sure how I was going to get back.  If you’ve ever been on a snowmachining adventure I’ve led, you can completely understand.

Two things made “doubt” a compelling topic:

1)  I’ve been reading a really interesting book called You Lost Me.  The book recounts results from a landmark study by the Barna Group, which looked at 16-29 year olds (the “Mosaic” generation) through the lens of faith.  Subtitled “Why Young Christians are Leaving Church… and Rethinking Faith,” the book provides tremendous insight into an intriguing and underappreciated generation.  (As an aside, if anyone is interested in reading it, I bought it through my Kindle app, and I can “loan” it to “anyone I choose” according to the Amazon website–if you’re interested in reading it let me know, and together we can discover how loaning e-books works.)  It turns out doubt hasn’t been handled well in church, and is a major factor in the tremendous decline of Christian faith in Mosaics.

2)  My wife sent me this well-written editorial shortly after the Sandy Hook shootings:  “Why, God?”  In it, the author reprints a letter written by a Catholic priest in response to the title question.  The priest’s bold, insightful answer:  “I don’t know.”  BRAVO!

Over the years, Christianity has often held up doubt as the opposite of faith.  I can see how this occurred, but it’s not accurate.  In fact, doubt, or the potential for doubt, is a necessary ingredient for faith.  Faith, or pisteuo in Greek, is also often translated in the Bible as “believe,” which is unfortunate, because “believe” doesn’t capture the full meaning of pisteuo.  We use the word “believe” to mean “mental assent”–I agree that something is correct or true–I believe it.  I can even believe someone by giving my mental assent to what they’re saying.  But pisteuo has a much deeper meaning than mere “mental assent.”  For someone to have faith, they must not only give mental assent, but they must act on that belief as if it were true, and must have some element of risk associated with that belief.  I can believe (mental assent) I can fly by flapping my arms, I can even act on it by standing on the ground flapping furiously, but I don’t have faith in that belief until I jump off the roof and try to fly.  Silly analogy, but hopefully it helps clarify the distinction.

Doubt, in the Greek, is apisteuo, or “not-faith”.  This is an inadequate translation though, because it is certainly not the opposite of faith.  I characterize doubt as a condition where the three elements of mental assent, trust, and risk are not fully developed.  For instance, you might doubt the assertion, meaning you are not ready to assent to its veracity.  Or, you might think something is true, but you’re not so confident in your belief that  you’re willing to act on it, or to take a risk based on that belief.  This is doubt.  It’s not wrong, it’s not weak, it’s just not fully bought in. Doubt is a difficulty reconciling seemingly contradictory concepts.

Doubt isn’t a defect.  It’s normal.  In fact, it’s a necessary ingredient.  One of the most profound statements I have heard in years comes from my senior pastor, who said “you can’t have faith without doubt.”  Doubt is not the problem in our world today.  The problem with doubt is we often mishandle it….