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Monthly Archives: September 2009



Read and comment on my blog.

In a recent exchange with Facebook friends, it came to light that some people only read headlines. One interlocutor opined:

I’ve said for years, people read headlines, but nothing below that. The problem in this country is that people are too lazy to be informed. I disagree with turning off the TV. You just have to watch more than one channel for your news. Newspapers are a great source of info also.

Funny how it’s other people who only read the headlines. I wrote:

Who are these people who only read headlines? I hear about them everywhere from people who read the WHOLE article, but I never meet anyone who admits to reading only headlines.

I got this response:

No one would ADMIT to reading only headlines!!!!

In the interests of transparency, therefore, I admit I often only read headlines. Below is a list of recent headlines along with my reasons for reading no further.

Obama Makes Gains at U.N. on Iran and Proliferation
The headline says it all.

Taliban Widen Afghan Attacks From Base in Pakistan
Not technically news.

Oil Industry Sets a Brisk Pace of New Discoveries
Great. More oil.

President of Iran Defends His Legitimacy
Why am I not surprised?

Vietnam Finds Itself Vulnerable if Sea Rises
Future news that might not happen.

Guidelines in England for Assisted Suicide
It’s still illegal, but sometimes no one cares.

Immigrants Cling to Fragile Lifeline at Safety-Net Hospital
I almost read this. An Atlanta hospital is closing its kidney dialysis unit, but for some it’s the only place they can go.

For Pittsburgh, G-20 Meeting Is a Mixed Blessing
Pittsburgh wants to improve it’s image. Big deal.

Senator Tries to Allay Fears on Health Overhaul
Another politician weighing in on a hot issue.

Obama to Use Current Law to Support Detentions
Why mess with Bush’s legacy when it works?

White House Pares Its Financial Reform Plan
Backing down from industry pressure… again.

There are more, but this should suffice. The headline doesn’t say it all, but often it says enough. After reading the paper for a while, you start to realize that most of what gets written is not just unimportant, but completely useless. In fifty years no one except certain peculiarly wired historians will ever look at those articles. Most articles are full of useless and uninteresting facts. No one remembers them except the fact Nazis who troll news blogs looking for victims. (You know who you are.)

I like facts. Facts are our friends. They keep us from believing nonsense. Often, however, the relevant facts can be stated in a sentence or two. Take, for example, the recent debacle where Senator Joe Wilson interrupted President Obama’s speech to Congress, calling him a liar. Here are the facts:

  1. Senator Joe Wilson shouted “You lie!” during the President’s speech.
  2. Such behavior during a Presidential address to Congress is highly unusual.
  3. Some people were miffed. The President seemed unconcerned.

Volumes have been written about these facts. They have been analyzed and reported and re-reported and re-analyzed until hardly anyone cares any more. With all that has been written, however, I doubt that even one person changed their opinion about Obama or the health care proposals currently before the Congress. All those words have served only to reinforce opinions already held. What, then, is the point of reading any or all those words? To be better informed? To be swayed first one way and then another? To hear your own thoughts echoed by your favorite pundit (only in much better prose)? No! Once you have the facts, conveyed by the headline and possibly the first one or two sentences, you move on.

Very occasionally, however, some seemingly innocuous fact will wiggle its way into your mind and introduce a niggling doubt. Maybe, perhaps, not everything you believe with such firm conviction is right. Maybe, perhaps, you’ve been wrong about a detail here or there. It’s nothing really important or life-altering, of course, but really, there could be another way of seeing this particular issue. In fact, there might be some merit to arguments you had dismissed out of hand because they were so obviously wrong. You might have to adjust your thinking. You might have to broaden your perspective. You might learn something. You might grow up.

It takes humility—not much, but some—to let a mere fact whack you in the head until you finally realize you were wrong. God grant us all that much humility!


America’s Biggest Problem


Read and comment on my blog.

Health care reform is an urgent issue. Millions of Americans are uninsured or underinsured. While there are differences about what role government ought to play in health care, there is nearly universal agreement about the need for reform. Yet health care reform is not our biggest problem.

The financial crisis that resulted from the collapse of the housing bubble has led to a worldwide recession. In the United States, unemployment has risen into double digits, and many people have stopped receiving unemployment benefits because they have been so long without a job. Home foreclosures continue at an alarming rate, and occupations once considered secure, still face further cuts. Yet the economic crisis is not our biggest problem.

Since the fall of the twin towers of the World Trade Center, we have fought to contain and eventually eliminate terrorism. Our efforts have certainly curtailed terrorist activities, yet we still face massive military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. In exchange for security we have given up personal freedoms we once held dear. Yet neither terrorism nor the loss of our freedoms is our biggest problem.

Our biggest problem is the oldest in history. It has been with us since the founding of our nation and will continue until history itself comes to an end. America’s biggest problem is sin.

Some people when they hear “sin” think immediately of sexual immorality. This sort of sin has been so long derided by our media that hardly anyone thinks of it as sin any more. As destructive as sexual immorality is to our health and to our future, it is not what I mean by “sin.”

Other people think of the long and varied list of things good Christians are not supposed to do: drinking, dancing, smoking, gambling, and using recreational drugs. Those who assiduously avoid such things certainly appear to have some form of godliness or holiness, but it’s a form our media have mocked until the very concept of godliness seems quaint, like the plain-style furnishings you can buy from Amish retailers. Neither is this what I mean by “sin”

I think of sin the way Heidegger thought of being thrown: it pervades our human condition. By the time we become aware of it, we are already guilty. If we look at the archetypal sin, the first one committed in the Garden (Genesis 3), there is nothing inherently immoral about it. Adam and Eve did not break any law that we would recognize as universal today. They didn’t steal of kill or lie or destroy. All they did was eat what God had forbidden, and they did so under provocation from a tempter who filled their heads with visions of God-like grandeur. What was so damnable about that?

In fact, the sin I mean is what we Americans regard as our greatest virtue. It is our independence from God. Throughout our history, we have been torn between our near idolization of independence and our acknowledgment of God (even the feeble, antiseptic acknowledgment permitted by our modern understanding of religious freedom under the Constitution). Our independence of God is our biggest problem.

Our prophets, instead of calling for national repentance, are too busy casting stones at their political enemies. Since we are evidently reaping the harvest of our greed, why are there so few Christian leaders calling for repentance and urging the church to serve those most injured by it? Why so few warnings about future judgment? Do we really think we can indefinitely postpone the payment for our sins? That the bill for the billions we are borrowing now to stave off depression will not come due at a most inopportune time?

Let us repent. The problems we have are of our own making. We have tried to do good on our own without God’s wisdom and guidance. Now we are trying to correct our mistakes without admitting our guilt or asking for help. Let us repent as a nation. Let those of us who believe in God turn to him on behalf of those who do not. Let us stop castigating our political opponents and acknowledge that we ourselves have been guilty of independence from God. Let us plead for his mercy and grace. Let us serve the poor and share with those in need. Let us practice true religion (James 1:27). A humble, penitent, obedient church might once again display the power of God to a watching world.


Myth vs. Fact


Read and comment on my blog.

I’d like to recover myth.

Some regard the first few chapters of the Bible as history. Others regard it as myth. Those in the history camp fear that those in the myth camp are denigrating the truth of the Bible. They think the only way for those chapters to be true is for them to be historically accurate. Those who claim that the stories are myth mean to claim something far greater than historical accuracy. They claim that these origin stories tell us enduring truths about the nature of man and the nature of God, the nature of sin and the nature of innocence.

One of the tragedies of our modern era is that we no longer believe in myths. Instead we believe in scientific verities, cold and soulless facts. Myth has two features that facts lack: Myth encapsulates truth in story, and it addresses our hearts not just our heads. We need myth to help us understand the mysteries of the world we live in.

I love science. Anyone who has followed my blog knows that I am a fan of science and of scientific thinking. But science cannot capture everything. Even if it were able to do so, it’s voluminous collections of facts would still fail to move me the way a good story does. Science gives us control or—more properly—the illusion of control. We can make engines do our bidding. We can make computers do massive calculations on our behalf. We can dig great holes, launch great ships, capture the light of galaxies too far away for our minds to grasp the immensity of the distance. We can travel to other planets and shrink our senses down to the perception of individual atoms and molecules. Science gives us the ability to do all these things.

Wonderful as science is, though, it cannot give us control over ourselves—or if it does, we find the cure worse than the disease. We still have widespread conflict over paltry differences like skin color. We still have envy, greed, lust, pride, sloth, wrath, and gluttony. We can no more change our fallen nature than we can change our DNA or the color of our blood. We need truth that goes beyond the facts that science can teach us.

We need the delicate power and transformative whisperings of myth, of story. Look at how much of the Bible is couched in narrative. Feel the way it insinuates its way into your thinking and understanding, so that you become not just a consumer of a fiction but a partaker of truth, an imbiber of intoxicating revelation. This happens even without any appeal to the Spirit, whose mysterious instrumentality is to take the words of this myth and sow them like seeds into your heart, water and nurture them until they grow into a changed life.

We need myth because it is truer than history and more comprehensive than scientific fact. Myth helps recreate us. It instructs us in the ways of a universe otherwise impossibly strange, unaccountable to us, and indifferent to our sufferings. Myth is true, and the truer a story is, the more mythical it becomes, until it becomes a part of the great Story that God has been telling from ages past, a Story of Love and Death, of Pride and Sacrifice, of Grace and Judgment. True myth always illuminates the Story of God.