Saturday, November 12

Comparing America's politics to Alice's Wonderland

My friend, Carol, sent me this article, and I thought it was really good, so I'm reposting it, along with my comments to her.
American Wonderland, by Morton Keller
From global warming to the Tea Party, our political landscape is patently absurd.
Although Morton Keller seems to come more from the right, probably a Libertarian standpoint, he has lots of good observations and criticisms. Furthermore, I think the comparisons with Alice in Wonderland are interesting and effective. Here are some of my thoughts:
In sum, we have convinced ourselves that in theory we are engaged citizens, while in fact most of us are the self-family-sports-media-obsessed folk that polling tells us we are. But not all of us, all the time. A substantial number of Americans claim some identity with regard to public life. A fifth of us are ready to say we are liberals; close to twice as many identify themselves as conservatives.
There is as well a political class that has career self-interests, or a cultural (or psychological) inclination to be steadily engaged in public affairs. Many are drawn by self-interest and by the sheer excitement of the political game. Others enjoy the ample outlet for commitment to causes that politics, as compared to much of the rest of contemporary society, provides.
while both of these paragraphs are a good start, they (understandably) don't take sin into account. so, in reality, the problems are even stronger than the proclivities that are implied here.

+ Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
+ Power attracts the corruptible (this version from Frank Herbert of Dune fame). I almost always think of this version when I think of our politicians.

i know political demonization is older than the Republic, but i still hate it. the Founding Fathers themselves treated one another unconscionably.

but wasn't there a time, say most of the 20th century, when, even if i didn't vote for him, he was still my president?

again: i think our biggest problem is not political polarization but self-absorption and lack of civic involvement.

further, part of my concern with political polarization and its rhetoric (and this is has probably also always been true) is that too few Americans think about it critically and don't know the difference between 'entertainment' and fact. if Rush or Rachel says it, and it sound ok and fits into their worldview, they accept it uncritically.

and this dynamic, along with the others mentioned here, is probably worse with our 24-hour newscycle, talk radio and tv, and that cesspool of ignorant self-expression, the Internet ;-)
A proper concern for excessive government coexists with excesses such as former Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo’s observation that “People who could not spell the word vote or say it in English put a committed Socialist ideologue in the White House.”
this kind of thing exactly typifies the problem i have with at least some of the Tea Party. and isn't it racist? i repeat my criticism from 3 years ago: if someone can exaggerate and say Obama is a committed socialist, couldn't we also say Bush was a committed fascist? my point: both have about the same grounding in reality.

Wednesday, November 9

Tim Keller addressing 9/11

I have come across two Keller items recently that I wish I had known about two months ago for the tenth anniversary of the 9/11/2001 attacks.

The first is an mp3 of most of Redeemer's first worship service after the attacks, as Manhattanites were trying to cope and process. This mp3 includes most of the service, including scripture readings, prayers and music in addition to Tim's sermon, 'Truth, Tears, Anger and Grace'.

The second item is the full text of a brief talk Tim gave at a five-year memorial service. In the form found over at Reformissionary, it includes a brief introduction by Tim's son, Michael. I reproduce both pieces in full below.
Michael Keller has provided a transcribed version of Tim Keller's "Sermon of Remembrance and Peace for 9-11 Victim's Families", given on September 10th, 2006.  It's a "must read," and I've included the full text below as well.  The White House transcribed it and sent it to the Keller's because Bush (who was present) asked Karl Rove for a written copy. 
Michael's intro to the sermon... 
Below is a sermon that particularly resonates with me on multiple levels. First, it is a sermon delivered by dad to 9/11 victims’ families and national dignitaries (Bush, H. Clinton, Bloomberg, Pataki, Giuliani, etc) about suffering and what they can do with their very personal suffering that still exists. It impacted me because I saw concisely in the sermon the power the resurrection has to those suffering. Secondly, it was a sermon given at an interfaith memorial (8 min long) and therefore as a student currently studying presentation to multiple audiences, I was impacted at both the kindness he had towards the “resources” of other faiths, but also the honesty and clarify that he still spoke from his own convictions. This is the way, to affirm others, and still not lose the distinct Gospel voice that we deem as so powerful in today’s society. Lastly, it impacted me because while many others would have used the pulpit in front of so many political figures to espouse either their own political views, or some well meaning, yet hopelessly ill-timed, alter call type message- dad focused on those suffering and in pain and tried to speak to them in their loss of their loved ones with the message that there is a God, the God, who knows exactly what it feels like and can therefore relate to them in their pain. Way to go dad.
Below is the transcribed version of the sermon done by individuals at the White House who also apparently liked it. 
Here's the full sermon text...
    Ground Zero/St Paul’s Chapel Tim Keller
    Sep 10, 2006
    As a minister, of course, I’ve spent countless hours with people who are struggling and wrestling with the biggest question - the WHY question in the face of relentless tragedies and injustices. And like all ministers or any spiritual guides of any sort, I scramble to try to say something to respond and I always come away feeling inadequate and that’s not going to be any different today. But we can’t shrink from the task of responding to that question. Because the very best way to honor the memories of the ones we’ve lost and love is to live confident, productive lives. And the only way to do that is to actually be able to face that question. We have to have the strength to face a world filled with constant devastation and loss. So where do we get that strength? How do we deal with that question? I would like to propose that, though we won’t get all of what we need, we may get some of what we need 3 ways: by recognizing the problem for what it is, and then by grasping both an empowering hint from the past and an empowering hope from the future.
    First, we have to recognize that the problem of tragedy, injustice and suffering is a problem for everyone no matter what their beliefs are. Now, if you believe in God and for the first time experience or see horrendous evil, you rightly believe that that is a problem for your belief in God, and you’re right – and you say, “How could a good and powerful God allow something like this to happen?”
    But it’s a mistake (though a very understandable mistake) to think that if you abandon your belief in God it somehow is going to make the problem easier to handle. Dr Martin Luther King, Jr., in his Letter from Birmingham Jail says that if there was no higher divine Law, there would be no way to tell if a particular human law was unjust or not. So think. If there is no God or higher divine Law and the material universe is all there is, then violence is perfectly natural—the strong eating the weak! And yet somehow, we still feel this isn’t the way things ought to be. Why not? Now I’m not going to get philosophical at a time like this. I’m just trying to make the point that the problem of injustice and suffering is a problem for belief in God but it is also a problem for disbelief in God---for any set of beliefs. So abandoning belief in God does not really help in the face of it. OK, then what will?
    Second, I believe we need to grasp an empowering hint from the past. Now at this point, I’d like to freely acknowledge that every faith - and we are an interfaith gathering today – every faith has great resources for dealing with suffering and injustice in the world. But as a Christian minister I know my own faith’s resources the best, so let me simply share with you what I’ve got. When people ask the big question, “Why would God allow this or that to happen?” There are almost always two answers. The one answer is: Don’t question God! He has reasons beyond your finite little mind. And therefore, just accept everything. Don’t question. The other answer is: I don’t know what God’s up to – I have no idea at all about why these things are happening. There’s no way to make any sense of it at all. Now I’d like to respectfully suggest the first of these answers is too hard and the second is too weak. The second is too weak because, though of course we don’t have the full answer, we do have an idea, an incredibly powerful idea.
    One of the great themes of the Hebrew Scriptures is that God identifies with the suffering. There are all these great texts that say things like this: If you oppress the poor, you oppress to me. I am a husband to the widow. I am father to the fatherless. I think the texts are saying God binds up his heart so closely with suffering people that he interprets any move against them as a move against him. This is powerful stuff! But Christianity says he goes even beyond that. Christians believe that in Jesus, God’s son, divinity became vulnerable to and involved in - suffering and death! He didn’t come as a general or emperor. He came as a carpenter. He was born in a manger, no room in the inn.
    But it is on the Cross that we see the ultimate wonder. On the cross we sufferers finally see, to our shock that God now knows too what it is to lose a loved one in an unjust attack. And so you see what this means? John Stott puts it this way. John Stott wrote: “I could never myself believe in God if it were not for the Cross. In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it?” Do you see what this means? Yes, we don’t know the reason God allows evil and suffering to continue, but we know what the reason isn’t, what it can’t be. It can’t be that he doesn’t love us! It can’t be that he doesn’t care. God so loved us and hates suffering that he was willing to come down and get involved in it. And therefore the Cross is an incredibly empowering hint. Ok, it’s only a hint, but if you grasp it, it can transform you. It can give you strength.
    And lastly, we have to grasp an empowering hope for the future. In both the Hebrew Scriptures and even more explicitly in the Christian Scriptures we have the promise of resurrection. In Daniel 12:2-3 we read: Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake….[They]… will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and…like the stars for ever and ever. And in John 11 we hear Jesus say: I am the resurrection and the life! Now this is what the claim is: That God is not preparing for us merely some ethereal, abstract spiritual existence that is just a kind of compensation for the life we lost. Resurrection means the restoration to us of the life we lost. New heavens and new earth means this body, this world! Our bodies, our homes, our loved ones—restored, returned, perfected and beautified! Given back to us!
    In the year after 9-11 I was diagnosed with cancer, and I was treated successfully. But during that whole time I read about the future resurrection and that was my real medicine. In the last book of The Lord of the Rings, Sam Gamgee wakes up, thinking everything is lost and discovering instead that all his friends were around him, he cries out: "Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead! Is everything sad going to come untrue?"
    The answer is YES. And the answer of the Bible is YES. If the resurrection is true, then the answer is yes. Everything sad is going TO COME UNTRUE.
    Oh, I know many of you are saying, “I wish I could believe that.” And guess what? This idea is so potent that you can go forward with that. To even want the resurrection, to love the idea of the resurrection, long for the promise of the resurrection even though you are unsure of it, is strengthening. I John 3:2-3. Beloved, now we are children of God and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope purify themselves as he is pure.” Even to have a hope in this is purifying.
    Listen to how Dostoevsky puts it in Brothers Karamazov: “I believe like a child that suffering will be healed and made up for, that all the humiliating absurdity of human contradictions will vanish like a pitiful mirage, like the despicable fabrication of the impotent and infinitely small Euclidean mind of man, that in the world’s finale, at the moment of eternal harmony, something so precious will come to pass that it will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of all resentments, of the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, of all the blood that they’ve shed; and it will make it not only possible to forgive but to justify what has happened.”
    That is strong and that last sentence is particularly strong…but if the resurrection is true, it’s absolutely right. Amen.

Keller: The Meaning of Marriage

Tim and Kathy Keller's new book, The Meaning of Marriage is out. I look forward to reading it

Nice, long interview (about an hour) with Tim and Kathy for the release last week of their new book. Some great principial and practical stuff in here.

Also, Redeemer has one free sermon to listen to all the time on their main sermon page in addition to the 150 free sermons they always have. The current freebie is a lecture Tim and Kathy gave on marriage on April 1, 2005 (no joke! ;-). This one is even a little more practical and well-worth listening to.

Tuesday, November 1

Happy Reformation Day

494 years ago on Monday, Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church of Wittenberg.

The Ninety-Five Theses

The first thesis is:
1. When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said "Repent", He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.
Or, to phrase as I've heard Tim Keller do, 'All of life is repentance.'

Repentance, as Luther taught, is not a not a 'once and for all' kind of thing. Repentance is necessary daily, sometimes constantly, like every five minutes.

Repentance should be considered in a semantic domain with concepts like confession, humility and submission.

For your listening enjoyment, there are 3 different versions of 'A Mighty Fortress' performed by us, The Wartburg Choir, in 1990, the first three tracks of this album: A Mighty Fortress is Our God (and a bonus 4th track with Psalm 46 as the text).

Here is a straightforward translation of the 95 Theses, with no ads.

40. A truly contrite sinner seeks out, and loves to pay, the penalties of his sins; whereas the very multitude of indulgences dulls men's consciences, and tends to make them hate the penalties.