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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
"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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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%?
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.
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.
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.