Wednesday, January 26, 2011

March for Life

(Quick editorial note: This blog was started on the back of a train ticket holder envelope thingy... so if this blog post becomes really really famous (which is won't, don't worry) we'll have another one of those stories where something life-changing was written on a piece of seemingly inconsequential paper.  Yes, I believe I just compared my blog to the Gettysburg Address (and yes, I know that story is an urban legend... not the Gettysburg Address, just the thing where it was written on the back of an envelope... or a napkin... or something).

(Quick editorial note #2: Pay no attention to "Quick editorial note #1).

Right or not, I consider myself to be one of the most open-minded people I know.  Since I have such an opinion of myself, I suppose one could argue that I'm actually closed-minded, and to you, I say, "START YOUR OWN BLOG AND COMPLAIN ABOUT IT.  Pansy."  Let's say for the sake of argument that I'm pretty open minded.  I say that, not to mean that I'll agree with anything that someone would say, and I doubt I'll ever change my mind about my deep-seeded beliefs just become of an argument that someone brings up, but I'll always listen to someone's viewpoint, consider it, and usually be able to understand why someone would hold that particular point of view.  I can make a fantastic devil's advocate when I want to.

However, there is one group of people that I never really gave a fair shake.  It's a little surprising, especially considering the fact that I agree with their position, but my perception (largely fueled by the media and some unfortunate incidents at Penn State) was skewed.  I'm talking about the Pro-Life Political Rally crowd.

About 2 weeks ago, I got an e-mail from Grace Prep, a Christian High School in State College, and one of the places where I student taught.  Grace Prep is an amazing place filled with amazing people... it's long overdue to be mentioned in this blog, and I'll brag about them all sooner or later.  The e-mail contained information that my former mentor teacher (certainly not the least of those amazing people) would be heading up a trip to Washington D.C. for the March for Life and would be bringing students with her.  I got so excited to see the kids and my mentor teacher, that I immediately started looking into transportation to Washington to see them.

The only thing that didn't really excite me were the words "March for Life."  I'm pro-life; always have been, always will be.  I'm one of those pesky pro-lifers that also sees the necessity of war and the death penalty, so call me what you will, but when it comes to a fertilized egg and sperm, I consider that to be life, and I think it should be protected. But, as I told many of my friends who asked what I'd be doing in Washington, I said "Well the kids are going to the March for Life... Don't get me wrong, I'm pro-life, but I'm very anti-pro-life-rally."  In my mind, I saw Washington FILLED with GIANT posters with pictures of mutilated fetuses, people screaming and yelling, never listening to the opposing viewpoints, and loud raucous simpletons coming up with not-so-clever slogans.

Now, before we progress any further, I feel I should offer a warning: Those of you who know me well... who have talked at length about any Biblical, political, social, or sports issue with me... please take this opportunity to find a comfortable, safe, balanced spot, and sit down.)

I was wrong. (Is everyone ok?  Did we make it?  No one's concussed from hitting the floor because of that admission, right?)

I guess I was partially right (see? We all knew I wouldn’t admit to being TOTALLY wrong)... all of the stuff I mentioned was there, but it wasn't the focus, not by a long shot.  The entire day was educational, and peaceful, and really cool (and cold… brrr).

It started off by me waiting for about an hour to see my students from Grace Prep, but once they finally got there, you might have confused me for Barack Obama for a minute... I was in Washington and dozens of people were chanting my name and happy to see me.  It was a fantastic (delayed) reunion.  I cannot stress enough how much I love those kids.  But, oddly enough, it wouldn't even be the coolest moment of the day.

Our first stop was to see several of the Congressmen from the delegation of Pennsylvania who were to address their constituents (and in my case, former constituent) about the importance of the issue at hand.  We were to meet in the Cannon House Office Building promptly at 1 PM, and at about 12:50 we were all in line waiting to get through the metal detector.  However, when we arrived, we found out that we had the wrong time.  The Congressional reception wasn't slated to start until 2.

Rather than go outside, join the March, and then get all the way back and go through security again, Nancy (my mentor teacher) decided to have everyone sit down to learn about the issue that the students were there to support.  What looked, at first, to be a mistake ended up being an incredible blessing.  Jenny Summers from A Woman's Concern, a State College run pregnancy resource clinic, and Nancy shared stories about women that they knew who had wrestled with this issue of abortion.  Statistics, Bible verses, anecdotal evidence all came to the surface.  I had heard much of it before, agreed with it, but still didn’t feel entirely comfortable “rallying” about it.  After the Congressmen shared their piece about their various efforts to help in the pro-life cause, we all got up and headed out to the March.

It was unlike anything I’d ever seen… rather than stopping in the middle of roads, with a stage and lots of music and speakers shouting vitriolic statements, it was just a bunch of people (a conservative estimate is around 400,000) walking up a street.  Some people shouted, some people carried signs, and some people just walked and talked, unified under a cause that they passionately believed in.

I felt bad about my previous misconceptions of the people of this event, so I knew I had to blog about it.  Most people know where they stand on this issue, but even I, someone who will discuss and debate anything, didn’t give these people a fair chance.  The stories that I heard yesterday were stirring… women who had had abortions and regretted them, a story from a girl whose family took a fetus to term, who by scientific standards “should have been aborted,” and stories about women who had an abortion that didn’t kill the baby, decided to take that baby to term and raise it as a beautiful, perfectly healthy boy that is still alive today.  These are stories that never get play in the media, stories that I had never heard before, all because a few people who make stupid decisions get all the air time.

Now, more than 24 hours after the March, ABC, CBS, and NBC have yet to report on the March for Life.  It was only mentioned once on CNN.  It’s not even a part of the media discussion… but it certainly should be.  Four-Hundred THOUSAND people from all over the country descended on the nation’s capital to take a stand and it doesn’t even get a mention on, but the fact that Jersey Shore will be filmed next season in Italy is front page news.  How messed up is that?  Have you ever heard of the “Million Man March?”  Bet you have.  Was it important?  Certainly.  Guess how many people are estimated to have gone to that?  Four-hundred thousand.  Once.  The March for Life has been an annual event every year since 1974, an ongoing, peaceful demonstration asking politicians to pay attention, and asking the nation to get involved with the conversation.  So I’ll ask you to do the same.

Abortion is a hot issue in America, and not something that should be done frivolously or in ignorance.  Find someone from both sides who is knowledgeable and can make cogent arguments.  When you hear the phrase “There are always two victims in an abortion… the baby and the mother,” don’t just shrug it off… ask a mother who has had an abortion what that’s like.  This issue isn’t going away, not according to the 400,000+ people that I saw in DC on Monday, and not according to the Congressmen who I heard from.  Think about the implications, the consequences of such a weighty decision.  But in all things, act in love, discuss in love.  And please, be open, like I wasn’t.

Psalm 139: 13,14
For you created my inmost being; 
   you knit me together in my mother’s womb. 
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; 
   your works are wonderful, 
   I know that full well. 

(Special Thanks to those who I asked about using the word “pansy” in this blog post.  I hope it didn’t offend anyone.  I went so far as to ask someone I consider “more paranoid than God” and she didn’t have a problem with it.  It was for comedic effect... sorry if it offends.)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Compromise is not always a good thing

Note: You get it three hours early this week... enjoy... probably won't happen frequently.

The Huffington Post published an article last week in which the author and one semi-famous Christian pastor came out in defense of homosexuality in the Bible. You can read it here, if you so desire, or you can keep their traffic down as well and just read my rantings and ravings as to why it's wrong.

Jay Bakker (son of Jim and Tammy Faye... if those names don't mean much to you, that's ok), has struggled with a problem for years. When he graduated from Wheaton College, many of his Christian friends came out of the closet. His response at that time was the right one: "Love them. Unconditionally, without caveats or exceptions." However, he has now decided that after thousands of years of scriptural inquiry, the translators of the Bible were wrong, and the Bible doesn't actually say that homosexuality is a sin... at least not in the New Testament.

"The simple fact is that Old Testament references in Leviticus do treat homosexuality as a sin ... a capital offense even," Bakker writes. "But before you say, 'I told you so,' consider this: Eating shellfish, cutting your sideburns and getting tattoos were equally prohibited by ancient religious law.

"The truth is that the Bible endorses all sorts of attitudes and behaviors that we find unacceptable (and illegal) today and decries others that we recognize as no big deal."
Leviticus prohibits interracial marriage, endorses slavery and forbids women to wear trousers. Deuteronomy calls for brides who are found not to be virgins to be stoned to death, and for adulterers to be summarily executed.

"The church has always been late," Bakker told me in an interview this week. "We were late on slavery. We were late on civil rights. And now we're late on this."

I met Jay Bakker at his church when I went to New York on Spring Break trip with my campus ministry from Penn State. I think to call him "seeker sensitive" would be fair. He strikes me as someone who tries to love God, but has decided that he would rather love people first. I get that, I do that a lot too. However, Bob Russell once pulled from the Bible that God's Word is perfect and true... sharper than any double-edged sword... and if we preach the truth, then people will respond. If they don't respond to the truth, it doesn't much matter because following a false doctrine isn't guaranteed to get you into heaven. However, teaching false doctrine is pretty much guaranteed to keep you out. That's where Bakker has made his fatal mistake.

I basically hate anything that HuffPo puts out there because it's usually wildly inaccurate, but based on the article, and his direct quotes, I think Bakker is the one at the most fault here. Using the logic that "Jesus didn't talk much about homosexuality" is stupid... He also didn't talk about bestiality; that's another issue where the Old Testament condemns the practice, and the New Testament doesn't... Hey! Where's the nearest goat and I'll sign Jay Bakker up!

I'd love to know which Scripture he's talking about that has been mistranslated, but of course the article writer didn't feel the need to put it in, and I don't plan on buying this book. Specifically, I'd love to see the explanation for Romans 1:25-27
25 They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself, who is worthy of eternal praise! Amen. 26 That is why God abandoned them to their shameful desires. Even the women turned against the natural way to have sex and instead indulged in sex with each other. 27 And the men, instead of having normal sexual relations with women, burned with lust for each other. Men did shameful things with other men, and as a result of this sin, they suffered within themselves the penalty they deserved.
BUT IT DOESN'T USE THE *WORD* HOMOSEXUAL, SO IT'S OK!!! Please. Now, let's get a few things straight. I do not hate gay people... in fact, I have friends who are gay. They like me and I like them. But when it comes down to it, I respect the Bible more than them, or any of my friends. As I said last week, I'm not perfect, I mess up, and I've sinned. I am as guilty as any gay person who walks on this earth. Both of us deserve to go to Hell. But when Jesus said "Go and sin no more," I think He meant all sin, and not just what we can rationalize as being "not sin" to our depraved minds. I like how Paul puts it in Romans 6:1,2
1 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?
A good, honest reading of the Bible, for those who trust God and trust his Word, shows that the Bible frames homosexuality as a sin. It's not a mistranslation, it's not an error. So for gay people who try to find excuses to remain in their sin, instead of repenting like the entirety of Christianity, nay, the world is called to, they're in trouble.

That being said, out of the two, homosexuals as a community and Bakker, I feel like the homosexuals are actually in a better place. I'd love to see Bakker respond to 2 Peter 2 (I'll just quote the first three verses)
1 But there were also false prophets in Israel, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will cleverly teach destructive heresies and even deny the Master who bought them. In this way, they will bring sudden destruction on themselves. 2 Many will follow their evil teaching and shameful immorality. And because of these teachers, the way of truth will be slandered. 3 In their greed they will make up clever lies to get hold of your money. But God condemned them long ago, and their destruction will not be delayed.
I do agree with Bakker that people need to be shown the love of Christ. However, the love of Christ isn't always as lovey-dovey as we'd like it. Far and away, the most common attribute used to describe God in the Bible is "holy." We are to "Be holy, because [God] is holy." Sin is not holy, and false teaching is even less so. And so, for people like Bakker, I fear it's not the love of Christ they'll be experiencing, but the anger.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Motivational Speaker

Ever sat through a motivational speaker who just didn't do it for you? That was me last week. The problem isn't so much that I wasn't motivated... it was that everyone else around me seemed to be buying into it, and I wasn't.

Disclaimer (for those of you who were there and may read my blog): I would like to make it clear, I fully respect and am not disparaging the people who liked the talk, nor am I disparaging the speaker himself, but I don't agree with much that he had to say.

Full disclosure here: I'm honestly one of the MOST cynical and judgmental audience members that you will ever come across. I hate being told what to do by someone who doesn't know me. I've always ascribed to the view that there is not one quick "fix-it" for all people, except to point them to God, and I admit- even THAT looks very different for all people. So when someone gets up in front of me and tells me, "You need to start thinking in this way," I immediately think "NO, YOU BIG STUPID HEAD!" (Hey, no one said I was mature in my thinking)

Besides the obvious disagreements that I would have with someone whose one-stop-quick-fix-it plan does not really center on "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself," I felt my frustration growing at every suggestion he made. Here were some highlights.

  • "As a society, we need to invest in our youth! The youth is our future!"-- Michelle Tanner, you wanna take this one for me?
  • Paraphrase: The solution to all our problems is getting kids to play outside. I sent my kids to an outdoors camp that focused on nature, leadership, maturity, and I never had to check my kids grades again. -- I'm still not sure how those things all run together.
  • "You've got your soil... that's nature, the basis for everything... then you've got water, and that provides the life into nature, it allows things to grow. Then there's sunshine... that's where you come in, you can control sunshine and figure out where it shines." -- Last I checked, I don't control the sun. I think the analogy was that we can choose to focus on kids who are acting mature, but I'm not sure... primarily because of the next point I'm going to touch on.
  • Many people who attended this meeting would probably bemoan that I missed the point entirely, or that I wasn't listening. They're probably right. That's mostly because my brain locked up when I heard this: "I've read all the great thinkers, and every single one of them says that when you stop thinking about yourself, you start being successful in life. That's what I'm here to tell you."

    Let's look at that again... All of the great thinkers say "Don't think about yourself," but listen to ME because I've read all of them and have figured it all out and can fit it into this 25 minute presentation!!!

  • And that wouldn't be too bad if he didn't immediately move into "The truth is inside you... only you can know what that truth is." -- So ignore those thinkers I was telling you about, and ignore me, because only YOU have the answers!
Now, I'm 23 years old. I can get a pretty big head about me sometimes, and a lot of times I think I have answers to all of life's questions. But I think the fact that I admit that I can, at times, have that pride should show that I have enough sense to know I don't have it all figured out. I know that not everyone believes the same things I do, but I don't make anyone listen to what I say without first finding a place in the Bible to back it up. If you don't believe in the Bible, you're not going to agree with my hard-line stances. But whenever anyone says to "look within yourself" you need to be VERY careful about listening to anything that person tells you.

Bottom line: If you get to look within yourself, that means I also get to look within myself. If what is within myself doesn't jive with what's within yourself then we're going to have a problem... in which case neither one of us has authority to prove anything because we're looking within ourselves.

That's why I rely on the Bible. I'm not going to let anyone read this and think that I'm perfect and follow everything that the Bible says 100% of the time (in addition to listening to anyone who says that you should look within yourself for answers to life, you should also be wary of people who claim they're perfect). I screw up just like anyone else-- but if you want to know where I stand on an issue, or why I have that stance, don't be surprised when I flip open the Bible to answer that question. The Bible has been around for a good 1900 years by now... 1600 of those it has been canonized and in its current order. In my opinion, that's a whole lot better than "Well, I just decided that this is what's right for me, and you can decide what's right for you... unless I happen to disagree with the conclusion you draw from inside yourself."

This is probably best illustrated by a conversation I witnessed at Penn State. But first, a little background. Gary Cattell, aka "The Willard Preacher," faithfully stands outside of the Willard Building beginning at Noon on every class day and preaches God's Word to the students at Penn State. I disagree with some of his viewpoints and some of his methods, however, what I do not disagree with is his genuine care for the students at Penn State. I'll also say this... don't expect compromises with Gary... it's his way or the highway. We've had our disagreements over the years (as recently as last week), but we still like each other and I respect him (fairly certain he respects me too).

One day Gary and some Penn State students were talking just outside of the Willard Building. The topic was something along the lines of "Why do you think you're right Mister Preacher Man?" Gary had one question for the students who asked that, "From where do you draw your moral authority?"

"Society!" one of the students answered.

"So you think society is always right... no matter the issue, you'll always agree with society?"

"Well no, sometimes society is wrong," the student replied.

"How do you know when society is wrong?"

"The majority of people will know when society is wrong and will rebel against society."

"Ohhh, so the majority is always right," said Gary.

"Well, no, not always."

Gary looked at the student, "So if society isn't always right... and the majority isn't always right... how do you know you're right?"

"Well you just know it... there's something inside of you that says, 'This is the right thing to do.'"

"Ah ok. So if you are your moral authority, then I guess I'm MY moral authority... and if I feel that it's right to rape four year olds, then I guess that's nothing that you or anyone else would have a problem with."

"Of course I'd have a problem with that!"

"Why?" asked Gary.

"Because that goes against society!"

"Oh, so you draw your moral authority from society? So society is always right?"

I'll spare you the rest of the conversation because I swear it repeated about three times without the kid realizing that he lost the logic battle.

There are good approaches that argue for morality outside of the Bible. Greg Epstein's Good Without God: What a Billion Non-religious People Do Believe is one of them. I've not read much by him, but I've heard that John Loftus also makes a compelling argument. That being said, I think most people would agree that some degree of consistency is necessary when dealing with issues such as these.

I'm of the opinion that if you believe in something strongly enough, you should be able to tell me exactly why you believe it, and you should be able to argue for it. Note that I said argue FOR your viewpoint... don't tell me why you DON'T believe in something else as proof for your own beliefs. And there's hope for people out there who don't know why they believe what they do... just don't argue.

So there's some advice to you. I'm not saying that your speech should be restricted, but that you should truly and honestly figure out WHAT you believe and WHY you believe it before you start to spout off motivational mantras. I love to debate, discuss, inquire, but I think back to a quote that my dad had on his facebook a while back and I think it's an appropriate way to wrap this up:

"Nothing is as frustrating as arguing with someone who knows what they're talking about"

and my addendum: "Also, it's very frustrating having to sit through a speech by someone who doesn't know what they're talking about, and you don't even get to argue!"

Special thanks to Elise O'Loughlin for making sure that I sound at least somewhat rational. All grammar errors are mine and mine alone.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

New York

Quick post today as I get back into the swing of things around Culpeper.

I went to New York City last Thursday so I could see some of the holiday windows and just be in the city (one of my top two favorite places in the world to visit). However, I went with one caveat in mind-- get there and get out before New Years Eve.

Now, Times Square is generally a very crowded place anyway, but no night moreso than New Year's Eve. Most people, save a million or so, had the good sense to stay out of Times Square that night... my friend Brad was not one of them.

Since I had been in the city the day before, I offered suggestions on how to get into the city, where to go once he got there, etc. etc. We communicated via text and phone for most of the day, so I got more of the "Times Square New Year's Eve" experience than I usually do, but it's about as much as I ever want.

What was genuinely interesting, however, was the excitement and anticipation that just exuded out of that experience for Brad. He arrived in Times Square around 12:24 (that's what time he sent a text saying he was there, anyway); he and his friends were among the first to gather for the 11 1/2 hour wait. As time ticked along, there were countdowns to celebrations for the New Year all around the world (beginning in Hong Kong) all the way until midnight in New York.

Cynicism Alert: I don't get excited about much, and replacing a 0 with a 1 in the year really doesn't thrill me.

I think to myself sometimes, what if the church had even 1/10 of the excitement that is contained in Times Square on December 31st for the algebraic expression x+1? We seem to have a lot more to celebrate... maybe we should.

But it appears that Brad and company had fun anyway: