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Monthly Archives: March 2009

New Car

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An auto collision last Saturday destroyed my little Jetta. It did what it was supposed to do: saved me from serious injury in a very serious collision. I thank God for that little Volkswagen.

Last Saturday I was on my way home from doing some volunteer work at church. I was headed north on US 61 about half a mile south of the I494 interchange, doing the speed limit. I was already in the exit lane. I glanced at my rear view mirror and saw another car coming up really fast. Even as I watched, the car behind me slammed into me and pushed me into the next lane. I lost control and smashed into the concrete barrier in the median. I came to a stop after what could not have been more than a few seconds. My airbags had popped and I could see that my thumbs were bruised and bleeding. Otherwise I felt unharmed. A woman came over, her face full of concern and asked if I was all right.

“I think so,” I said.

I got somewhat shakily out of car and stood looking at the wreckage. The woman, who told me she was a nurse, urged me to sit down, but I stood leaning against a concrete barrier. When the police came, I told them what had happened. Shortly after that, the paramedics came and asked me to sit down in the back of the ambulance while they bandaged my thumbs and checked for other injuries. I told them I had a bump on my leg that was bleeding a little. When I rolled up my pants leg, there was a huge knot on my leg from hitting the underside of the dash. It didn’t seem painful, and I felt pretty good, so I called Belinda to arrange a ride for me. She sent Sarah, my son’s girlfriend, to pick me up.

When Sarah came, the paramedics didn’t know quite who she was, though I had called her my son’s girlfriend. One referred to her as my son’s fiancee, another as my daughter-in-law. One asked her if she was my wife. We both laughed about it later. She took me home. My leg began to get painful then.

Fast forward to this Saturday.

We needed a new car, and after talking it over, we decided a minivan was more practical than another small car like the Jetta. I did some research to see what we could find in our price range. After comparing several vehicles in areas such as crash safety, overall safety features, gas mileage, and general comfort, I settled on a short list of five cars. At the top of my list was a 2002 Ford Windstar, listed at $5444 at All Cars down in Burnsville.

Second on my list was a Kia Sedona at a nearby dealership. Belinda and I went there first. The place was a veritable zoo, and Belinda felt very uncomfortable because I was still in pain and hobbling around on crutches. It’s true I wasn’t feeling very good, and I could tell that our business would not mean a lot on such a busy day. Nevertheless, I was taken aback when Belinda refused to stay. We had already found out that the Kia I was interested in had already been sold, but I was prepared to look at other offerings. Belinda wasn’t.

We left. I didn’t want the day to be a total waste, though, so I called All Cars down in Burnsville to see if they still had the Windstar I was interested in. They did. We headed down to Burnsville. Belinda was still reluctant, partly out of concern for me and partly because she suspected that All Cars was the same dealership where we had had a bad experience a few years ago.

We found All Cars. They are a small, family-operated dealership, located in what was once a liquor store. Beau Drury, the salesman, was very personable and low-key. We liked him immediately. He showed us the car and let us take it for a spin. The car was in excellent shape but still a little above average in price. I told Beau I thought it was priced about $100 above market value. He did some figuring and told me he could come down $250 on the price. I was sold.

All Cars deals only in used cars, but they are very selective. They typically choose single-owner trade-ins from other dealers in the area. Unlike the large dealers, which often have an inventory of well-maintained but high mileage cars from the rental market, All Cars tries to find low mileage, well-maintained vehicles with a clear history to offer at reasonable prices. I have to say, we were impressed with the quality of the car we bought and with the kindness and affability of Beau Drury. I highly recommend All Cars to anyone in search of a good quality used car in the southern Twin Cities area.

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Uncompromised Faith

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I’ve been reading S. Michael Craven’s newsletters for a long time now. He takes on thorny and contentious issues in Christianity and writes about them with thoughtful clarity and compassion. His first book, Uncompromised Faith: Overcoming Our Culturalized Christianity, shows the same intelligence and passion I have come to expect from his other writings. Despite tackling hot-button issues that usually inspire strident rhetoric—for example, homosexuality and same-sex marriage—Craven almost always presents well-reasoned arguments without shrillness. Even when he sinks to ad hominem attacks, such as linking Carl Jung to Hitler and the Nazis, he forgoes lurid and inflammatory language. He writes about Jung’s pseudo-scientific spirituality:

The popularity of the Volkish movement, with its foundational concept of an Aryan elite, actually may have contributed to the preconditions necessary for the rise of Nazism in Germany. One scholar wrote, “By 1933 the German right was captured by Volkish ideas. It was a trend in German thought that became so strong that millions accepted it as the only solution to Germany’s problems.” Jung was regarded as an important proponent of Volkish thinking, a connection that many followers of Jung have worked hard to conceal, for obvious reasons.

It’s hard to find a Christian writer today who can write any kind of cultural critique without invoking the Nazis. They are to us what demons were to Jesus’ contemporaries. At least Craven sticks to references that have a plausible connection.

Craven identifies three isms—modernism, postmodernism, and consumerism—that in his view have most hindered the spread of the gospel and the effectiveness of the church in America. His book is unconcerned with the global impact of efforts in the American church to spread the gospel beyond the United States; he instead tackles the obvious decline in Christian influence in the public sphere in America. He does not mean political influence but cultural influence. The Christian right may have a stranglehold on the Republican party, but Christianity—right or left—certainly has little influence in Hollywood or Wall Street.

The book is long on critique but short on solutions. Craven identifies the cultural and ideological trends that have most harmed the effectiveness of the church, but he offers little as an effective strategy for combating those trends. Nevertheless, he provides a good start, and those who give serious thought to where the American church will be in 40 years should read this book. For the United States has been overtaken by a modern form of paganism, characterized by a diffuse belief in an impersonal God, confidence in progress, suspicion of history, and radical self-reliance.

Craven is not alone in his judgment that America is becoming increasingly pagan. Eccentric art critic Dave Hickey writes in a recent article,

Citizens of ancient Rome made sacrifices at the temple of the god most likely to find them a mate or cure erectile dysfunction. We Americans conflate the shops of Rome with its temples. We shop for dreams in galleries and boutiques–and every cent we pay for an object that exceeds its utility may be taken as a pagan sacrifice to the power of that specific object to lend us some assistance.

No wonder Craven calls consumerism idolatry. In America where do we turn in a time of crisis? What will save us from an economic tailspin? Shopping! When the politicos and pundits tells us our salvation will come when we break out the credit cards and cash and head to the nearest retail outlet, then we know we are no longer a nation that trusts in God, despite what it says on our currency. An earlier generation would have repented (or at least been urged to repent) of avarice. But now avarice, no longer a vice, is our greatest virtue—as long as it’s a democratic avarice and not elitist like those AIG bigwigs who reaped obscene windfalls after gutting their own company.

The promise of the subtitle is that readers would learn to overcome their culturalized Christianity. The book certainly helps with recognizing how our culture has not only influenced but actually subverted the message of the gospel, but it does little to help us overcome this subversion. For that we may have to wait for a prophet with more fire in his belly.

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Christians On Sudan

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The New York Times today published two editorials, both by notable Christian leaders and both concerned with the imminent arrest of Sudan’s president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir. The first, by Desmond Tutu, the former Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, criticizes African leaders for their unwillingness to denounce Bashir. Instead, they have petitioned the United Nations Security Council to have the proceedings of the International Criminal Court suspended. “[R]ather than stand by those who have suffered in Darfur, African leaders have so far rallied behind the man responsible for turning that corner of Africa into a graveyard.” Desmond Tutu clearly favors bringing Bashir to justice and sees peace as dependent on justice. “There is no peace precisely because there has been no justice,” he writes.

The second piece is by the president and chief executive of Samaritan’s Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Franklin Graham. Graham argues that peace must take precedence over justice. He tells of meeting with Bashir and winning concessions that have saved lives and resulted in improved conditions in southern Sudan and Darfur. Graham fears that if Bashir is brought to justice, then someone worse will take his place and the situation in Sudan and Darfur will deteriorate even more.

In this instance I have to agree with Desmond Tutu. It’s hard to imagine things getting really worse in southern Sudan and Darfur, and any head of state who comes after Bashir is bound to take into consideration the fate of his predecessor before pursuing policies that would be even more detestable to the watching world. Moreover, it appears that justice is what the victims themselves want. For more, see Nicholas D. Kristof’s blogs about Sudan and Darfur.

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