Thought of the Day 09.02.08

If you know me, you know that I love me some baseball. And one of my favorite parts of the game is the singing of the national anthem. But I’ve noticed something over the years. These days the performers often seem to think that the purpose is to see how distinctively they can sing it, both by changing tempo and by doing vocal maneuvers the audience can’t possibly follow. I don’t remember it being this way when I was a kid.

Instead, I remember being just barely able to hear the singer because everyone else was singing along so loudly. And I loved it. It wasn’t because the singers were less spectacular. It was because they knew the difference between an impressive solo and an encouraging lead vocal. They seemed to understand that their job was to lead us all in honoring the country, not to simply glorify themselves under the pretext of patriotism.

Oh, sure. When we all sing together, what we hear may be lower in technical merit. But I can’t help but be convinced that it is far greater in the merit that really matters.

Thought of the Day 08.29.08

I’m a big believer that it’s better to have the right sort of conversation even if you come to the wrong answers than it is to have the wrong sort of conversation though you arrive at the right ones. For example, the recent McCain/Obama event at Saddleback church bothered some people because they thought it emphasized faith too much. They’re absolutely correct.

The greatest threat to a liberal culture isn’t conservative ideas, but a religious conversation. See, even if such a discussion leads to the wrong conclusions, at least it properly connects the ideas of religion, morality, and politics. So even though I’m bothered when God and His Word are misunderstood, I’m far more bothered by them being ignored. If people start with God and get it wrong, well, at least they’re starting in the right place.

And what this culture needs more than anything else is to embrace the idea that starting with religion is a norm, not a conversational foul. We can fix everything else if only we can get to that place first.

Thought of the Day 08.28.08

Last week on my way to work I was driving past a grade school when suddenly a soccer ball came across the fence and bounced onto the street. I slowed down, hoping that other cars behind me had seen and would slow down as well. The ball came to rest in the gutter, and we all carefully drove by.

But a moment later, I turned around, drove past the ball on the other side, made another u-turn, and pulled over just behind the ball. By this time, a small crowd of kids had gathered at the fence, watching intently to see what fate would befall their beloved plaything. Some of them were gesturing for my help, as though they hadn’t yet comprehended my unusual maneuvers. So I got out, grabbed the ball, threw it over the fence, and gave a slightly admonishing, “Try to keep it in the yard from now on, okay?” Some of them said, “Thank you,” but mostly they were just off to play again.

And all I could think about this little escapade was, “How would I have responded if they had been my own children?” My answer determined my actions, which then became obligatory as a member of the village.

Thought of the Day 08.27.08

I’ve recently found myself writing editorials on the subject of homosexuality, and I’ve gotten two basic kinds of responses. One sort tells me how hateful I am or how stupid I am or how I would probably be happier living in Saudi Arabia. I always use these comments as a chance to respond as sweetly as I possibly can in order to frustrate their expectation that Christians are vile people.

The second sort tells me how much they appreciate my writing on this subject, which encourages me to keep saying what needs saying. But these emails also often praise me for being so brave, which makes me slightly uncomfortable.

Bravery is doing what is right when there is significant personal risk, but I don’t really take any risks in writing my columns. Now it’s true that some people react with anger and harsh words, but being attacked with words doesn’t seem like a danger to me. Rather, it’s the clear evidence that ordinary people who don’t know the truth are being challenged by it. As such, it’s more of a reward than a punishment, at least in my eyes.

Thought of the Day 08.26.08

In what can only be described as good parenting and culture propagation, I have successfully introduced my children to Star Wars. Because they love it Danielle recently bought a pair of sippy cups, one with Yoda and the other with Darth Vader. Well, at four years old, Spencer is well beyond sippy cups, but his love for the movie overcomes him whenever we give Ethan the Vader cup and he earnestly asks for the Yoda one.

So, the other morning, I inadvertently grabbed the Yoda cup for Ethan’s milk. I was about to get the Vader one so Spencer wouldn’t be upset, but then I decided to go ahead. I thought it would be a good opportunity to provoke Spencer and then instruct him about not being too attached to things. Rather than shielding him from his own character issues, I was hoping to bring them to the surface so he could work on them.

In the end, he never said anything, which indicated that he was better off than I suspected, at least in this instance. It’s good to take advantage of teachable moments, but it’s sometimes even more useful to manufacture them. We are teachers, after all.

Thought of the Day 08.25.08

Friday morning as I was getting ready for work, I had to make a decision I always have to make: take a lunch or eat out. Because I was broadcasting from a different location that day, part of me thought it would be a good idea to pack a lunch. That way, if things got hectic, I was set. In fact, sometimes, even for an ordinary show, I get so behind that I have to make do with whatever I have stashed in my office…usually a can of soup or Ramen noodles. But Friday I decided to play it loose.

And that’s when it dawned on me. Not only do I get to eat every day (a luxury many in the world don’t enjoy), and not only do I get to eat as much as I want of pretty much whatever I want when I eat, and not only do I get to do this three (or four) times a day, but I live in the midst of such prosperity that I can actually leave the house with nothing but a little piece of flat plastic and rest assured that in the half hour of driving from my office to another location later that day, I will pass so many restaurants that I can be happily fed with absolutely no planning whatsoever.

Thank you, God, for helping me remember just how much you’ve given us.

Thought of the Day 08.22.08

Truth-telling is a difficult thing. There are so many ways to tell the truth and go wrong that many of us wind up simply choosing to avoid telling the truth altogether. Consider the judges on American Idol and America’s Got Talent. Each show has a harsh truth-teller who seems to enjoy using the truth to wound people, a sweet, demure truth-avoider who seems to think being nice is more important than being honest, and a wild card who oscillates somewhere between these two errors.

While the blunt lashes from the tongues of Simon and Piers are clearly not a Christian ideal, neither are the sweet niceties from the mouths of Paula and Sharon. Though Randy and David are regularly less than perfect, at least they seem to be trying to find a way to be as honest as possible while also being as loving as possible.

As Christians, we must exemplify both of these because abandoning either is unacceptable. Fortunately for us, we have a Savior who both gave us His example and guides us with His Spirit in just such difficult endeavors.

Thought of the Day 08.21.08

One of the fascinating things about criticism is how easy it is. Generally speaking, critics are people who are only good enough at an endeavor to find the flaws with what others are actually good enough to create. Because of this, critics also often lack the compassion that comes from having your own creative work criticized.

And one of the things I always worry about is the danger of people like me (who write op-eds, do talk shows, or even make jokes for a living) being so intent on finding the flaws in everyone else’s proposed solutions instead of offering our own solutions to the problems themselves. It’s all too easy to ridicule people or their ideas. Every second-grader has this talent.

Think of it this way. Hunting for stupidity will always be easy and superficially rewarding, whereas hunting for solutions will always be difficult. I’m not much of a hunter, but it seems that if you go out looking for ducks, you’re unlikely to come home with deer.

Thought of the Day 08.20.08

Most of our lies aren’t actual deceptions but rather false impressions that we allow to exist, often because we haven’t even realized that we’re allowing them. For instance, here’s what honesty might sound like in a couple of common cases:

"Hi, this is Andrew, and I’m not answering the phone right now. You can leave your name and number, but I’m usually pretty slow to get back to people. You’re better off just trying again later or emailing me."

"Hey, Jeff, I just wanted to let you know I’m running late for our meeting because I decided to hit the snooze button twice this morning. Traffic is well within the bounds of normal."

"Well, Brenda, since I’m watching the Olympics this week, I probably won’t get your report done by Friday, but I can get it done by Tuesday if that’s okay with you."

See, lying is often just a matter of saying what everyone else says and not thinking about it…that and our desire to be perceived better than we deserve. But a little deliberate honesty might help everyone get along better.

Thought of the Day 08.19.08

As many of you know, I’m prone to being judgmental and having pet peeves. No, no. It’s true. For instance, when other people use my broadcast studio for their own shows on the weekend, they often move stuff around. So every Monday morning, I have to waste a whopping 10 or 20 seconds putting chairs and microphones back where they belong.

One thing I always let bother me was the computer screen, which I need in one place but which gets moved every weekend. Even though I totally understand why it needs to move, I feel like this is my office and guests should put things back where they belong. But they don’t. So last Friday I tried something. I moved it myself before leaving.

On Monday it was still in the wrong place like always, but now I had the joy of knowing that, since I was responsible, there was no one else to be peeved at. And I had also spared some stranger the irritation of having to move it himself. By submitting to and serving the needs of others, I actually managed to turn an irritant into a gift I could feel proud of.

Thought of the Day 08.18.08

Wanting to protect our children from themselves, we’ve installed a variety of safety devices in our home such as outlet plugs, electrical cord protectors, and knob locks. None of these bother me much since they are easy to install and easy to work around. Then there’s my nemeses: the drawer latches. Disturbingly hard to install and frustrating to use, but I manage. At least until the other day.

I needed to get into the “semi-dangerous utensils” drawer, but I couldn’t get the latch to release. I tried and tried and tried the maneuvers that always work, but they didn’t. So I just pulled hard, and it opened…along with a small white piece of telltale plastic shrapnel indicating the unthinkable, I had broken the device. What was my punishment?

For several days now my boys (who seemed to know immediately what had transpired) have enjoyed relocating the potato masher and the spatulas and the pie server all over the house, which is about a hundred times more annoying than the drawer latch ever was. Lesson? Actions done in temporary frustration rarely decrease overall frustration.

Thought of the Day 08.15.08

Imagine a hypothetical conversation between two very stupid feet during an ordinary stride.

Right foot: “Okay, now everybody focus on lifting up and stepping forward. Now go. Wait a moment. What’s left foot doing? Just when we’re most in need of lifting and extending, you’re doing nothing. What’s the matter with you?!”
Left foot: “What’s the matter with me? You’re the one who’s doing everything backwards. This is the time when we most need to be standing firm, not flailing about like some castle in the air, you heretic.”
Eyes: “Both of you are wrong. The real job is to focus and look for the right address.”
Feet: “Huh?”

Just because we are all members of one Body, that doesn’t mean we are all built for the same function. And even if we are, as with the feet, we might be given conflicting instructions that only make sense to a God who is trying to make His Body walk. Forgetting this leads us to mistake differences for sins.

Thought of the Day 08.14.08

One thing that women don’t always understand about men is their fundamental insecurity about who they are and their place in the universe. Men have a deep need to prove their value, which means that they derive a tremendous amount of their identity from what they do. Why else would we build skyscrapers, wage wars of conquest, and compete for little fake bronze figures atop three dollar trophies? This is also why unemployment is so devastating to most of us.

Men are constantly seeking to prove their manhood, and cultures traditionally facilitated this through rites of male passage and by delineating unique roles and responsibilities for men. In our not-really-so-wisdom, we’ve abandoned these practices and called it progress or equality.

But God knew better. The reason He made priesthood and eldership uniquely male domains was to prevent them from ever becoming womanly so that men would never think that seeking and serving God was anything other than a truly masculine thing to do…virtually a requirement of manhood.

Thought of the Day 08.13.08

People sometimes wonder why I’m so interested in political theory. So I’ll try to explain. Legislation comes from morality, which comes from religion. Then it leads to arrests, trials, judgments, appeals, and punishments. There’s revenue, budgeting, military protection, and development of infrastructure. And these are just the formal concerns.

There’s also cultural issues, such as education, news, entertainment, relationships, art, sport, and health. You even have to think about citizen loyalty, public image, and foreign policy. See, to me, caring about politics is just another name for caring about everything humans do. But what I now realize is that my interest in politics was really a way of preparing me to think about all the various things that go into my current job.

Oh, not the one where I talk on the radio. That’s simple. I mean the other one where I’m the unelected governor of a small but growing polity called my family. In the end, aren’t all parents political theorists?

Thought of the Day 08.12.08

Marriage is a performing art. And just like any art form, there are several ways to get it right, but numerous ways to get it wrong. For comparison, consider the art of filmmaking.

A movie needs many ingredients to succeed: a great concept, the right actors, and excellent directing all help. But even the little things matter greatly, like soundtrack, cinematography, and even sets and costumes. If any of it is missing or wrong, the end result is merely common rather than wonderful. And there’s nothing worse than a movie with huge potential that fails to properly execute a great starting idea.

So it is with marriage. There are so many things that must be done to make it beautiful. But the good news is that there are two simple ways to become better at both: observe as many examples as you can to learn what does and doesn’t work and aggressively consult people with a proven track record. Experience and useful criticism go a long way toward performing your masterpiece.

Thought of the Day 08.11.08

The other day, I suffered what every parent of young children has experienced many times: a shirt stain. Ethan had been walking along holding a railing and fell but forgot to let go the rail, so he pendulumed himself into the lower half of the bars. Not enough to get hurt, but just enough to make him cry and, when picked up for comfort, spray recently swilled milk onto my shoulder.

I was wearing a dress shirt, but it wasn’t white. So I didn’t give it any further thought after I’d done my best to dab it clean with a paper towel. That’s why I was a little caught off guard several hours later when I noticed the spots in a mirror.

For a moment I was annoyed, but that was quickly replaced by defiant pride. “If anyone wants to look at me, well I don’t care because this is a badge of honor, not a problem!” Then that passed and I realized that, if anyone did ask, I could nicely mention my children which would likely generate a knowing smile and perhaps a conversation. From annoyance to defiance to relationship. Most embarrassment has such a potential if only we’ll let all the various forms of pride clear out of the way.

Thought of the Day 08.08.08

I’ve only ever had one long-distance relationship. Not the namby-pamby sort people complain about when they’re a hundred miles away from their beloved. She was in Illinois, and I was in England. That’s real separation. And I hated it. I wanted to touch her, kiss her, hold her in my arms, and just be in her presence. But I couldn’t. All we could do is talk and write letters, which we did.

During this time, some of my “friends” would offer me their “help.” They introduced me to other women, they assured me that it’s not really cheating when you’re separated by an ocean, and they regularly mocked my foolishness for putting myself through such unnecessary inconvenience.

But I was pledged to someone, and she didn’t want me getting any of my needs met by anyone else. Though I hated that experience, it was great practice for Christianity. Here I stand, separated by a painful distance from my beloved Jesus, daily offered an endless parade of idolatrous alternatives to the joy of His Presence. I think He’s worth the wait.

Thought of the Day 08.07.08

Imagine that in a world with no dishwashers, I offered you one that I promised would only break your dishes about 10% of the time. Imagine that in a world with no lawn mowers, I offered you one that I said would only destroy your yard about 10% of the time. Imagine that in a world with no washing machines, I offered you one that I guaranteed would only ruin your clothes 10% of the time. Would you want any of these devices?

I know these are strange examples, but here’s the point. Labor saving devices are good, but their value presupposes them not having serious risks. And 10% is too high a chance of damaging anything that matters to us.

Well, parenting is an incredibly labor-intensive activity, which is why all parents feel the temptation to use labor-saving devices in the process. But here’s the question: Does anyone believe that the chance of television harming your children is only 10%?

Thought of the Day 08.06.08

My two boys are wonderful angels…until you put them together in the same room. The other day, they wanted to lay down in front of the floor fan in our bedroom, but they both wanted to sit directly in front of it. This led to pushing and yelling with occasional requests for me to play the part of U.N. peacekeeper. So I told Spencer he should go use the fan in their room. But no sooner had he left than Ethan tore after him to get to the other fan first.

Some non-actionable screaming came from the front of the house while I sat laughing at the abandoned fan next to me. A few moments passed and I heard the butterfly footsteps of two preschoolers rush into our room and again commence hostilities over who would get this one. Had I not intervened, this could have continued all day.

So the next time someone tells me that the problems of conflict and envy in our society would be solved by having more resources or a more equitable distribution of them, I think I’ll just invite him over to my house to learn a little something about basic human nature.

Thought of the Day 08.05.08

A skeptic is someone who is impossible to please, the sort of person who will find a way to be dissatisfied no matter what happens. If the politician does bad, well, he’s a scoundrel. But if he does good, well, he’s an even bigger scoundrel for whatever scheme he’s really got cooking.

The key to dealing with the skeptic is to ask what evidence would satisfy him. He’ll usually refuse to answer because then he would have to enter the discussion legitimately as someone vulnerable to being persuaded. But sometimes he’ll simply give you unreasonable criteria.

Either way, you’ve shown that the problem is with the skeptic and not with the evidence. Consider the problem of evil. Suffering proves there can’t be a good and powerful God. But imagine if all the world were heavenly. The skeptic would then complain that God clearly had lied in saying He gave us free will.

If the presence of evil disproves God and the absence of it disproves God, one might reasonably ask the skeptic why he bothers making arguments at all. He’s simply unwilling to believe. And at least if he said that I’d respect his honesty.

Thought of the Day 08.04.08

Speaking from experience, it’s easy to overthink yourself into stupidity. Consider the question of voting, not whom to vote for, but whether to vote at all. See, some Christian pacifists believe in the total separation of the Christian from politics because governments exist to use force and since voting is a form of proxy warfare. “Besides,” they’ll say, “there’s no political activity in the New Testament, and even Jesus shunned a political kingdom.”

But there’s a vast difference between an oppressed fringe religion under Roman oppression and a mainstream religion operating in a fully participative democracy. The logic is simple. If Christians abstain from politics, only the ungodly will have power.

So, since we have a duty to participate, we then have the second duty to vote for the best people because we share responsibility, by extension, for the good or the evil that they do. Participative government is indeed a burden, but it is also therefore a blessing…just like all forms of freedom.