I’d Love to Change the World

So, a Christian is someone who wants to change the world.  Since I’m trying to be clear, maybe I had better add the words “for the better.”  Many people have changed the world for the worse, but I  want to make the world a better place.  Maybe this is obvious, but I can think of three common objections; and I’d like to consider them before going on.

  1. There are a lot of people who want to change the world.
  2. I thought you Christians were only interested in another world.
  3. What does faith have to do with it?

There are a lot of people who want to change the world for the better.  There are a lot of people who care about war, poverty, disease, oppression, injustice, global warming, education.  There are a lot of people who have compassion and are doing something about it.

That’s great, the more the better.  I’m not trying to prove that Christians are better than other people or the only ones who care.  I’m just saying, if you are a Christian you should care.  I am saying among those who care, Christians are included.  In the civil rights movement, in health clinics around the world, in organizations like physicians without borders, engineers without borders, amnesty international, Christians work side by side with people of other faiths and people of no faith.

Christians want to go to heaven when they die, yes.  I recently wrote about my aunt’s passing, and I’m glad my family has the hope that she lives now in the presence of God.  When I think about Jesus’ teaching about the final great judgment one thing stands out.  We will have to give an account for how we have treated the poor in this world, here and now.  Belief that there is a better world coming motivates us to do what we can to improve conditions in this world.

What does faith have to do with it?  When we lived in Memphis I met a woman who had worked in the juvenile justice system for about thirty years.  Trying to make conversation I said,

It must be difficult work.

She agreed.  But then, wanting to say something positive I said,

But it must be gratifying when a young person comes back some day and says, “Thank you, you helped me turn my life around.”

She said,

That has never happened.

I’ve thought about that ever since.  Whatever it was that kept her going–I have to admire it.  For me, I need either to see results or at least to trust that it’s all in someone’s hands who is bigger than me.

Christians believe that changing the world is God’s work.  But he has called us to participate in his work.  A Christian is someone who wants to participate in what God is doing in the world.  Our motto is not pray instead of working but work and pray.

Faith of an Almost President

Mark Tooley reviews God and Hilary Clinton by Paul Kengo in Front Page Magazine.

Here is a brief excerpt from the review:

Freshly espousing that Social Gospel directly to the teen-age Hillary was the Rev. Don Jones, a new graduate from Drew Theological Seminary in New Jersey, whose first job was youth minister at First Methodist Church in Park Ridge.  The flashy young minister, darting about in his red convertible, introduced Hillary and the other youth to his weekly Thursday night “University of Life.”  Starting in 1961, he literally brought the 1960’s to Hillary and her church, in Kengor’s words, teaching about “existentialism, abstract art, beat poetry, and even the radical politics of the counter-culture.”  He showed them art house films, shared Bob Dylan music, hosted a debate with an atheist, and discussed teen age sexuality.

Dobson and Obama

Dobson from MSNBC

Dobson, Photo from MSNBC

It used to be common for ministers to neglect their wives (ministers used to be mostly men in most denominations) and children while they were out doing “the Lord’s work.” James Dobson taught a generation of evangelical men that attending to the need of their wives and children was the Lord’s work, their first responsibility.

Dobson was a professor of Pediatrics at the medical school at USC before he began his career as an author and lecturer, and eventually founder and head of Focus on the Family ministries. His first book Dare to Discipline came out in 1970. In it he advocated gentle but firm and consistent discipline in raising children. He taught a generation of evangelicals the importance of nurturing self esteem in children. He taught that the goal of raising children is to prepare them to be independent and to make responsible decisions.

When the song “Cats in the Cradle” came out, Dr. Dobson heartily endorsed it. That song and Dr. Dobon’s teachings taught us to take time to be involved in our children’s lives–or at least to feel guilty when we neglected to do so.

One of Dobson’s other popular books was What Wives Wish Their Husbands Knew About Women. In it he encouraged men to be responsible, considerate, thoughtful, and romantic. In addition to Dobson’s books, Focus on the Family ministries has produced video series, magazines, conferences, and a high quality talk-show format radio program.

Dr. Dobson bristles when he is referred to in the media as Rev. Dobson. Although he speaks in churches, he is not ordained and has no formal theological training. That–the lack of theological training–is one thing Dobson has in common with Oprah Winfrey, and also with a man he has recently criticized, senator Barack Obama.

Faith and theology are two different things. Faith means trusting in God, keeping one’s commitment, being confident in the ultimate triumph of God’s will, continually depending on the mercy of God in awareness of one’s shortcomings. Theology is the systematic articulation of the content and meaning of one’s faith. One may have a strong faith and a weak theology. I assume that Dr. Dobson and senator Obama each have a strong faith.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Back in the 1970s Dobson and the directors of Focus on the Family decided that teaching in the churches and on the airwaves was not enough. The family was under attack from powerful cultural forces, so Dobson decided to fight back and to enter the cultural wars. He became associated with other leaders in the religious right, Jerry Falwell and D. James Kennedy (both of whom have lately gone to their eternal rewards) along with others.

Dobson has been a staunch opponent of pornography, “radical feminism,” abortion, and “the radical homosexual agenda.” Dobson also sees the military as modeling positive family values and considers a strong national defense to be a pro-family issue. Likewise, he sees keeping taxes low, keeping business free of onerous regulations, and debunking the “myth” of global warming as pro-family issues. Dobson has always been surrounded by successful professionals: university and professional coaches, colonels, business executives, and physicians.

Barack Obama got his experience in grass roots organizing with a different clientèle. Naturally, his experience has led him to see different sides of the problems facing American families.

The alliance between Dobson and other conservative evangelicals helped elect George W. Bush president twice. To be precise, I might say their votes got him close enough to allow the election to be decided by the courts–but regardless, Bush’s policies and Dobson’s politics mirror each other perfectly.

Senator McCain has not been conservative enough for Dobson, so he announced he might sit this election out–at least as far as the presidential vote. Voting for a democrat was out of the question. Senator Obama has been appealing to people of faith and to moderate conservatives. The right wing doesn’t believe him, doesn’t trust him.

Obama says faith will have a role in his presidency, but that doesn’t mean the imposition of any particular religious interpretation on the nation. He illustrated by referring to laws in the book of Leviticus that no one follows today. He was not ridiculing Scripture but pointing to the difficulties in interpretation and the need for a historical awareness. On the historical matter, he was right. The commandments in the book of Leviticus were given to Israel as part of God’s covenant with them and as part of their law while living in the Land of Israel.

The commandments never were given to Gentiles or Christians as such. One can find expressions of universal principles in these laws, such as “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But one also finds laws against blending two kinds of fabric in a single garment, for example. An individual is free to follow his or her conscience in the choice of fabrics, even free to meditate on the spiritual meaning–for example, one’s heart should not contain a mixture of contradictory motives–but it would be divisive to try to make it the law of the land.

I don’t see Obama’s remarks as being a “fruitcake interpretation.” I see his comments as being in line with sound principles of biblical interpretation and the American heritage of freedom of conscience, speech, and religion.

C. S. Lewis, who was an expert on literature, once remarked that when Sigmund Freud ventured into literary criticism he was “quite ignorant.” Lewis said he should have stuck to what he knew best, curing neurotics. Maybe it’s time for Dr. Dobson to get back to doing what he knows best: teaching parents how to raise children with self esteem and teaching husbands and wives how to understand each other. Maybe it’s time for him to retire from politics.

Looking Back

Thursday afternoon I took back the bicycle I had borrowed from Bernard Brown. I got a little bit lost, spent a few minutes visiting with the village blacksmith, but finally found my way back to the right path. When I got to his house, it seemed like just a few days had gone passed since I picked the bicycle up.

The time has gone by fast, but I also have experienced a lot-more than I normally would in a month. I wrote my wife yesterday and said I have met wonderful people and wonderful places-what more could you want in a travel adventure? She wrote back and mentioned food and entertainment. I’ve enjoyed that too.

I came here to learn, to get acquainted, to see what God is doing here, and to help out if I can. I think I’ve done a little of each of these. I have certainly learned a lot and enjoyed myself in the process.

Bill Clark accompanied me on a bicycle ride to Spey Bay and back (with a little detour on the way back, but we won’t mention that). Then he followed up a couple days later with a trek up Ben Hill. Malcolm and Lorraine took me to the Queen Mother Library at the University of Aberdeen, where Raemond later picked me up and dropped off at the train station. Ronald met me at Keith and brought me on back to Buckie. Later Wullie and Jeannie to me back to Aberdeen. While at the university I gave them examinations in theology and they both passed.

They also showed me the castle at Huntley, and then later took me on another trip to Elgin and showed me the ruined cathedral, the monastery, and the chapels that were disguised as a barn to avoid being burnt. We added a little unplanned adventure to that days outing, but we won’t go into that either.

Dyllis took me to Fochabers and into the Grampians and along the River Spey, where I saw some beautiful scenery. She also showed me the plant where the cashmere products are made. I saw a beautiful robe I would have liked to get for my wife-but first I would have to sell a condo in Florida. (Since I don’t own one, my sweetie won’t be getting the robe.) Dyllis also took me to hear some fine fiddle music in Elgin today.

Ruth and Stuart showed me the coastal villages between here and Banff. They also introduced me to the joys of haggis-and they let me get acquainted with Cody. Bernard introduced me to the men’s Bible study that meets on Monday night, and I met some wonderful Christian brothers.

In my Sunday morning messages at church, this is what I said: God is at work and all we need to do is become aware of what God is doing, and then make ourselves available. There is a ministry or place of service for each one of us. We don’t all have the same gifts, but we all have gifts that we can use to share God’s love with someone else. The Christian life is a life of faith, hope, and love.

I am grateful to the people of Buckie for their hospitality, prayers, and friendship. If the Lord opens the doors, I hope I can come back again, and bring Sonja with me.

Monday morning I fly to Tuebingen.

Urban Legends

(Pictures from Snopes.com) Kennedy with hat

You gotta’ love urban legends. They make life so much more interesting. The problem is that most of them turn out to be false. Urban legends show how easily we accept as true anything we have heard–as long as it makes an interesting story and explains something.

Another habit many of us have is repeating a word or phrase without ever thinking about what it actually means. I have heard of the “hat trick” in hockey all my life, but I never gave much thought to what one was. I have to admit, though that I’m not much of a hockey fan.

Still, when my wife asked me, I said–“uh, mmm, —- uh, I don’t know.” So I looked it up.

(A hat trick is when a player scores three goals in one game–the fans throw their hats on the ice in tribute; a natural hat trick is when the same player scores three goals in a row in one game with no one else scoring an intervening goal.)

There are various legends about the etymology and origins of the name and the custom. Some of them sounded a bit fishy, so I turned to the famous debunking site Snopes.com.

I didn’t find hat trick–but I did find an interesting article about a “hat” urban legend. The legend–which I admit, up until a few minutes ago, I believed–is that President Kennedy destroyed the men’s hat industry when he became the first president to show up for his inauguration hatless.

Snopes disproved this legend very easily and convincingly: The article showed photographs and quoted newspaper articles from the time that described the event. The photograph above is one of the many that show the president wearing his top hat on inauguration day. The photograph below shows him giving the speech, with his hat removed (as was the custom) just before speaking; it is visible on the seat behind him.

The Greek historian Thucydides complained at “how averse people are to taking pains” to research history to find out what really happened in the past. So Thucydides became the first “modern, objective, scientific” historian–or so we are told. Actually very few take the effort to check the facts of Thucydides history.

Jostein Gaarder, in the book Sophies World mentions that for over two-thousand years everyone excepted it as a proven fact, on the authority of Aristotle, that women have fewer teeth than men. Gaarder suggested, “Aristotle could have easily learned the truth by asking Mrs. Aristotle to open her mouth and counting her teeth.” Any reader of Aristotle could have done the same thing.

Without bothering to check on what Christians actually believe, there are a lot of people out there who give the definition of faith as “believing something for which there is absolutely no evidence.” That’s not what faith is, and I don’t know many believers who believe that’s what it is.

Kennedy hatless