On safety and success.

There are two fundamental dispositions: security and expansion. You can either be aimed toward not making mistakes or toward not missing opportunities. This is true in regards to money. This is true in regards to relationships. It’s even true of food, music, art and most everything in life, including ideas.

When it comes to truth and expression, some people rarely say anything new because they want to avoid making errors. Others are willing to explore untested ideas or formulations because they want to discover new insights. However, the avoid-error types like to pretend they have a corner on safety because they make fewer mistakes. But it’s just as unsafe to miss truth as it is to commit error.

In this way, baseball serves as a wonderful metaphor. See, an overly eager batter can strike out by swinging at bad pitches. But it’s also true that an overly cautious batter can strike out by looking at good ones. And suffice it to say that never swinging means never getting a hit at all. So the key is to swing wisely, since, as in life, there is no way to “bat safely.”

On immature arousal.

When I met my wife, I was aroused by her luscious hair, shapely legs, and amazing eyes. When I dated her, I was aroused by her sense of humor, brilliant mind, and solid character. But the truth is that many women have all of these things, perhaps even better versions of them. And if my interest in my wife depended on that stuff, it would be a fragile thing indeed. So after 13 years of marriage, they aren’t really why my wife arouses me anymore.

My wife arouses me now because she gave life to my sons, because she made my family debt free, because she held me as I cried when my mother died, because she threw me a surprise party for my 40th birthday, because she watched Tron Legacy with me, because she made me visit my grandmother regularly, and ten thousand other, similar things.

In short, many women can offer me what attracted me to my wife in the beginning, but there isn’t any woman who can offer me everything my wife has meant to me since then. And only a fool would find such insignificant things as legs and laughter more arousing than that.

Headline: Famous person arrested for horrible thing.

The editorial you’ve never read:

“A well-known and influential person was recently arrested for doing something atrocious. At this point, the charges have yet to be confirmed by a jury verdict and so we have decided to wait before publicly tarnishing this person’s name. Some of our competitors have opted to publish the details even while attempting to shield themselves legally by using the phrase ‘alleged crimes.

“However, since we understand how the human mind actually works, we know this will do nothing to impede anyone from associating such acts with this person permanently. We also know that if it turns out to not be true, subsequent repudiations (imagining they are even published more than once) will only make the connection stronger not weaker. The person who becomes known as ‘that guy who didn’t do the evil thing’ is still indelibly connected to what was not done.

“Since this stain can never be fully expunged, we think it best to never spill the ink on him in the first place, thus honoring the legal principle of innocence until guilt is proven. We know you can get the information from others, but we sincerely hope you will support us in resisting the temptation to murder this person’s character without a trial.”


Editors of “The Daily Virtue”

Random observations

Three totally random thoughts:

For fourteen hundred years after the Resurrection, there was no such thing as a printing press. This means that, statistically speaking, almost no Christian ever saw, let alone read a Bible during that period. And yet, the Gospel spread anyhow.

Christianity has been present and thriving in China at least three different times, with an almost total eradication in the interims: From the early 7th to the 9th Century, from the early 13th to the middle 14th Century, and from the middle 16th Century to today, with a failed effort to wipe it out in the middle 20th Century.

If Henry VIII hadn’t wanted an illegitimate divorce from Catherine of Aragon, England might never have become Protestant and may have retained the strict investment liability rules of Catholicism. Only when these rules were loosened could individual investors avoid personal liability for corporate losses, and the Joint Stock Company was formed, without which it’s hard to tell when, if ever, America would have been settled, or whether we would have “corporations.”

Imago Dei

Why do Christians believe that people being made in the Image of God requires us to treat them so carefully?

First, God made humans to be the unique carriers of the Divine creative stamp or identity. We must therefore handle them very carefully because they point to and reflect Him. They are His IMAGE.

Second, God has expressed His infinite love and care for these works of art He has made. We must therefore treat them lovingly as the prized possessions of Someone who has temporarily entrusted them to us. They are HIS image.

But both of these perspectives focus on the other person and thus overlook something vital. God has also created ME in His image, and He has cherished me enough to save me and conform me to the Image of His Son. In so doing, I acquire a special obligation to look like as much like Him as possible. And the way I look most like God is by treating well precisely those who don’t deserve to be treated well. Honoring this Image of God in me is at least as important as is honoring it in them.

On violence and redemption.

The dominant American fictional narrative of action movies it the idea that we can make the world a beautiful place by killing bad guys. This, as some have rightly termed it, is the myth of redemptive violence. To put the point rather bluntly, Jesus came to die for us, not to kill for us. That means that killing bad guys is never the ideal for the obvious reason that it is always better to redeem (restore, rebuild, refashion, reclaim, recover) something than to destroy it. Precisely because killing prevents the Christian ideal of redemption (from which God would get the maximum glory), it must never be celebrated. But can Christians ever use or endorse it at all? It’s a serious question with a long history, but it also has a simple answer.



As rarely as possible.

Which means more rarely than you are inclined to think.

The key here is to realize that the Gospel reshapes us sometimes by prohibition and other times by telling us we must do something in a very different way. Our money and our sexuality are two big examples, cases where the Gospel prohibits some things and alters everything that remains. Similarly, violence is the sort of thing that, if we Christians do or endorse it at all, we must do so far less often, for better reasons, and in a different way than the secular world around us or our own natural impulses would.

To make things clearer, it’s useful to see that there are at least four kinds of violence. The first kind of violence is capricious, justifying itself by merely appealing to its ability. This is the violence of the strong, and all decent people recognize it as fundamentally evil.

The second sort of violence is vengeance, the sort which invites us to satisfy our bloodlust for revenge under the notion that justice will be done. This is the sort which action movies appeal to and which Christians are told repeatedly in the Bible not to pursue, leaving the prerogative to God.

The third sort of violence is the absolutely necessary. We know this kind of violence exists since in the Bible God kills, instructs people to kill on His behalf, and also endows government with the power to kill under certain circumstances. Therefore, we have to make room in our thinking for some sort of violence which is Divine, even if it is not redemptive.

And the fourth kind of violence is that which seems necessary only because we haven’t been creative enough in finding an alternative or diligent enough in pursuing it. This is actually violence of the first or second sort masquerading as the third sort, hence caprice or vengeance masquerading as necessity.

Yes, some rare violence is necessary. But precisely because violence always fails to redeem, Christians must be extremely cautious about endorsing or using it. This is why every Christian citizen, lawman, soldier, or politician must be constantly and self-critically vigilant lest we go beyond that bare minimum necessity.

What is envy?

Okay, pop quiz to see how well you understand children.

Imagine you have three young boys and somehow you come into possession of four objects of considered value (muffins, golf balls, paper clips, whatever). How should you dole them out?

Thinking like a foolish adult, you might say, “Give one to each of them and then give the extra to someone randomly.”

In theory this sounds great. But here is how this will play out in reality. Three otherwise fairly happy children will suddenly all become miserable. The two who got “only” one item will be resentful and furious to not have gotten two. And the one who got two will now be plagued with all the security concerns of the wealthy and the torment of his jealous brothers.

Even when doled out equally, squabbling often ensues. But when doled out unequally, full-scale civil war is guaranteed. This is because, according to the principles of toddler math, some is not better than none. Some is always worse than none because it is less than more.

So here’s what you do. You give each child his own golf ball (preferably all the same color) and you then throw out the extra one. See, sin always requires a sacrifice.

Was killing bin Laden Biblical?

In the aftermath of the raid on Osama bin Laden’s Pakistani compound, many people have been asking whether killing him is morally justifiable from a Christian perspective. Even though the answer here seems obvious, actually articulating it is still a useful exercise and may clarify some confusions.

First, it is true that only God has the authority to take a life. This is why killing is by default a prohibited action. But as with many kinds of authority, this one may be delegated to others by God. And in the Bible, we see this authority very clearly delegated to government. In the Old Testament, this is shown by the various capital crimes itemized under Israel’s penal code. In the New Testament, this is shown by the statement in Romans 13:4 that government bears the sword against evildoers as a “minister of God.”

If I hire a babysitter to feed my children in my absence or a stock broker to buy some investment on my behalf, they have the authority to do so because I gave it to them. Not because they had it originally, but because I gave it to them temporarily.

So in the case of bin Laden, a duly constituted government (ours) killed a man who had boasted of evil against our citizens and threatened more of it in the future. Killing him wasn’t just a Biblically acceptable act, it was a Biblically endorsed one. This was government doing precisely what God established it to do.

As to the question of him being unarmed in the moment of his death, the first thing to remember is that it was already justifiable to kill him, regardless. Second, ascertaining the certainty of him being unarmed under those circumstances would have been very challenging in the heat of the moment. This means that plausible issues of self-defense add onto the already justifiable killing to eliminate any real question about moral propriety. Had it been certain he was unarmed and not a threat (perhaps because he was asleep), there may have been more to be discussed. But the difference then would have been his value as a captive rather than as a corpse. Killing him in his sleep would still have been an improvement over the option of bombing the entire compound and the entailed risks to non-combatants, a choice which itself would have almost certainly been permissible to begin with.

Appearances matter, too.

My three boys love to ride bikes, scooters, big wheels, and anything else that has a chance of going fast or causing injury. Unfortunately for them, we live on a residential street that many non-residents consider a throughway. So, whenever they want to ride their mean machines, I have to stand outside and chaperone them against the auto threat.

Whenever a car comes, I quickly shepherd them back onto the sidewalk to wait until it passes. But their preferred way of waiting is to sit on the bike, poised to tear off back into the street. So I always tell them to turn their bikes or big wheels sideways, pointing away from the street. “But dad, we’re on the sidewalk, just like you said.”

“Yes, but when someone is driving down our street, he doesn’t just want to know where you are. He also wants to know where you’re going to go next. And if it looks like you might rush into the street, that makes him nervous. Even though you know you aren’t going to, he doesn’t know that. So pointing your wheels sideways is how you tell him that’s not going to happen so he can stop worrying. That’s called being considerate.”

Ode to a mother's body.

Originally aired 03.10.09

Sags and droops, so clearly unfirm,
Stretches and folds earned at full term.
What once was taut has now released,
A wrinkle here, and there some crease.

A bit more plump each passing year,
To better soothe her children’s tears.
The showroom floor no more her place,
A hall of fame instead to grace.

A child’s stuffed toy so worn and bare,
The marks of love are shown by wear.
Perhaps she ponders taking action,
Improving looks for satisfaction.

But such mistakes to her I’d say,
Though they may seem so wise today,
Eventually will prove quite wrong,
A yielding to some foolish song,
Which sings to her of looks gone by,
But only tears will make her cry.

If truth be told, she is a gem,
Her life in flesh poured out for them,
True beauty in no body other,
Than that which be called a mother.

Know the question to understand the answer.

Just after the Constitutional Convention, the legend says a woman approached Benjamin Franklin to ask him what sort of government had been created. His answer, now oft-quoted was, “A Republic, madame,…if you can keep it.” Modern conservative and libertarian activists like to tell this story as a way to remind people that we do not live in a democracy, a misconception they believe explains why our country is ruining itself just as Franklin warned. This predilection sometimes manifests as a scoffing derision for anyone who would blunder into describing the United States as a democracy rather than a republic.

The key differences for them are that we elect representatives rather than voting directly on policies and that the power of the federal government is limited heavily by the Constitution (including things like original state sovereignty and enumerated powers). Thus, when they look at our current government, they are aghast at all the practical ways in which it resembles precisely the democracy Ben Franklin and friends refused to create.

Even though I agree with such criticisms of democratic rather than republican government, this is not good history. See, the big question in the Constitutional Convention wasn’t whether we would have a republic or a democracy. It was whether we would have a republic or a monarchy (which many Americans wanted). That was the real question he answered.

Moreover, when he said “if you can keep it,” it isn’t likely he had in mind the dangers of democracy. Instead, he would have been thinking of the recent experiments with non-monarchy both in America and in England which had failed so fabulously: the brief republic in England between the execution of Charles I in 1649 and the restoration of his son Charles II in 1660 and the reversions to monarchial control of the imploded political experiments of Carolina in 1719 and Georgia in 1755.

So, although it makes for nice rally propaganda to say he meant to stand vigilantly against people who believe in democracy, the better interpretation is he knew how difficult it had been for any government other than a monarchy to survive. Thus, instead of using this quote to blast modern liberals or Democrats, it should really be used properly to dismiss American monarchists, if you can ever happen to find one.

Comfort the afflicted...

I love motherhood. In fact, I love motherhood so much that if there’s any one thing in the whole wide world that I most regret being unable ever to do, it’s to have the experience of personally giving life to another human being. When God gave gifts, He absolutely gave the best one to women. But it’s precisely because motherhood is so precious that Mother’s Day can be so painful for many people.

A good friend of mine who wants nothing more dearly than to be a mom recently announced her first pregnancy to me, only to tell me a week later that she had suffered a miscarriage. I can’t even imagine the hell this Sunday might be for her.

My own mother died of breast cancer 10 years ago, and if anything pained her in that process, it was losing the chance to know and be a grandmother to my children. Every year for Mother’s Day, I feel the emptiness of her not being here, grief made all the worse by her birthday sometimes actually coinciding with it.

Last night, a woman called my show to say she dreamed of a dozen children growing up but has had none with her two marriages and divorces. Then she paid me the ultimate compliment when she said this is why she hates Mother’s Day and stays home every year. I realized that perhaps for the very first time in her life, she felt safe enough in a Christian community to express this honest pain and receive consolation for it rather than condemnation. How long has she suffered silently, knowing that other Christians don’t want to hear such things?

Women who have no children.

Women who have lost children.

Women whose husbands refuse to let them have children or men whose wives do the same.

Women who are so frustrated with their families that they may even wish they weren’t mothers at all.

Children who have lost mothers.

And children whose mothers were not wonderful.

On this day of great celebration and honor, there is a terrible danger and a wonderful opportunity to remember these suffering souls and to remind them how much we and Jesus love them, a love that might just redeem an otherwise awful day.

Dreadful art.

The rule of law is a simple principle which says that all people in a society are equally subject to the same laws. But this idea, so simple in the abstract, requires a number of additional features to function in reality. One of those is that the law be clear enough and simple enough that any individual can reliably know at any given moment whether he is or is not in violation of it.

But when the law becomes too complex, even those trying to be law-abiding citizens find themselves uncertain. Their presumption that anything they do is allowed unless it violates some clear prohibition switches to the fear that anything they do might be found unacceptable by a persnickety cop or judge. Some enforcers will of course use wise judgment, but others will find a way to make jail people because they want to do so. But for the rule of law to function, it needs precisely to not depend on the whim of individual personality.

Eventually, the people learn to avoid doing anything new or innovative because they are afraid of being prosecuted for inadvertently violating some aspect of the law they didn’t even know about. They become inclined to self-censor out of fear rather than to experiment out of hope. Thus, a too-complex system of laws undermines the creativity the rule of law is supposed to ensure and the prosperity which comes from that creativity.

I wonder whether anyone has ever advocated a “rule of theology.”

A seed is not a tree

Any four-year-old could tell you just by looking at them that a seed is not a tree. And yet, any botanist will respond that everything that tree is was once contained in a seed to such a degree that the tree is far more like the seed than their initial appearance would imply. Still, his commitment to the ideology of genetics may be inclining him to overlook certain other factors that shape a tree.

Although it’s true that the blueprint is in the seed, it’s not at all clear that the blueprint fully controls the end result. Oh, sure, this shape of leaf and that sort of bark or branch pattern. But the end result produced by that seed will vary based on a variety of external factors. How rich is the soil? How much water is in the region? What sort of temperature variation occurs here? Certainly, such natural factors affect the outcome.

Also, there could be pestilence. There could be a forest fire. And it is certainly possible that there could be humans who carve in the tree, prune its branches, or cut it down entirely. In other words, although it’s partially right to say the tree was made by the seed, it’s equally right to say the tree was made by its environment. Both are necessary. The tree, you might say, needs them both.

Not for sale.

Just because I think there’s a problem with my wife, that doesn’t necessarily mean there actually is a problem with my wife.

Just because there really is a problem with my wife, that doesn’t necessarily mean that I am the one who should try to fix it.

Just because I am the one who should help fix a problem with my wife, that doesn’t necessarily mean I am actually right in what I think is the best solution for the problem.

Just because I know the right way to fix a problem with my wife, that doesn’t necessarily mean that she will accept the assistance.

Just because she accepts my help, that doesn’t necessarily mean it will work to solve the problem.

I love her regardless.

I must.

Because if I ever start loving her for who she can become rather than for who she already is, I will have declared to her that she is not yet good enough for me and thereby made it impossible for her to actually become what she should as a gift instead of as a purchase.