Christianity: Doctrine and Ethics

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I am a 1967 graduate of The Citadel (Distinguished Military Student, member of the Economic Honor Society, Dean's List), a 1975 graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (M.Div., magna cum laude, member of the Phi Alpha Chi academic honor society); I attended the Free University of Amsterdam and completed my History of Dogma there and then received a full scholarship from the Dutch government to transfer to the sister school in Kampen, Holland. In 1979 I graduated from the Theological Seminary of the Reformed Churches of Holland (Drs. with honors in Ethics). My New Testament minor was completed with Herman Ridderbos. I am also a 2001 Ph.D. graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary (Systematic Theology) in Philly with a dissertation on the "unio mystica" in the theology of Dr. Herman Bavinck (1854-1921). I am a former tank commander, and instructor in the US Army Armor School at Ft. Knox, KY. I have been happily married to my childhood sweetheart and best friend, Sally, for 43 years. We have 6 children, one of whom is with the Lord, and 14 wonderful grandchildren.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

John Calvin’s Doctrine of the Church (I)

Mrs. Tickle’s Tickle
The Friday, February 24th edition of The Wall Street Journal (Taste section, W13) carried an article by Dave Shiflett entitled “Getting Hip to Religion.” Mr. Shiflett recently authored a very interesting book called Exodus: Why Americans Are Fleeing Liberal Churches for Conservative Christianity.” In the Introduction to his book, Shiflett draws our attention to a little known truth: the so-called “progressive” churches are actually losing ground.
He points out that the “pastors” (sorry, I just could not get past including the quotation marks!) of the progressive churches might preach sermons that are “brilliant, and to their minds highly relevant, as they take up the most contentious subjects of the day: war and peace, homosexuality, economic justice, the importance of recycling. Yet they have made a profound miscalculation. Most people don’t go to church to learn the minister’s opinions on whatever happens to be in the headlines. They can get similar opinions sitting on their sofas watching television, quite possibly presented by someone much better-looking.”[1]
He continues, “Central to conservative church success…is commitment to creed.”[2] Moreover, it appears “that a primary reason progressive churches continue to lose members is that they increasingly resemble social service agencies.”[3] I would add to that: resembling bars, night clubs, and Universal Unitarian churches. So where does Mrs. Tickle enter into the equation? Shiflett’s WSJ article mentions author Phyllis Tickle, who has given us the “profound thought of the day”: “Every 500 years the church has a giant rummage sale.” The context of this piece of brilliance is Mrs. Tickle’s (fickle) conviction that “Christianity is in the midst of a new Reformation that will radically remake the faith.”
Don’t you just love it when you know intuitively that you’re standing in the presence of such a prophetic voice? An alternative to Fickle Tickle’s prognosis is this: If evangelicalism doesn’t wake up—right now!—its current downward spiral will so radically remake the faith that it will no longer be called Christian faith. Mr. Tickle must be very proud. Mrs. Tickle informs us that “back in the day” church “was the place where you went to engage God.” No longer. The emerging church is dedicated to getting rid of that notion. “All space is sacred, including bars, coffee houses and parks where the new faithful gather.” So if you’re frequenting a house of ill repute, according to the emerging church, you’re in sacred space. The same could be said for visiting a porn shop, snorting coke, or shooting up heroin. It’s all good. As you might guess, there is no seminary system in place to otherwise educate the “new Reformation” adherents but that is a badge of honor for leaders of the ECM like Brian McLaren, who likes to flaunt the fact that he never attended seminary and he is not a theologian. His writing bears him out about the seminary part; he is, however, a theologian. In his case, he’s a theologian, just a bad one.
What does this emerging church that Mrs. Tickle is describing look like? The 247 Connection Church in Hickory, NC bills itself as “connected, creative, fun, relevant and relational.” It suggests that you bring your laptop to “worship” (again, I just could not resist the quotation marks!) and send instant messages to the “speaker” as he (or I suppose she) addresses the tribe. Mrs. Tickle explains that one of the distinct advantages of the emergent (emerging) churches is that there is no “apparent pulpit envy.” What? Pulpit envy? That’s about as clear as coveting someone’s humility.
But Mrs. Tickle has an answer to the pulpit envy question. You see, the “new Reformation” is not so much into “doing church” through sermonizing as it is through song, dance and visual aids—the “cultural patois of the day.”[4] How quaint. Two pastors who serve “churches” in Minneapolis and Chicago claim that young people with artistic talent, especially those with gifts of dance, spoken word, or art with the spray can are vital to the worship experience.
Mrs. Tickle is exuberant. Rather than looking at the emerging church as Religion Lite she contends that it is just the opposite. I quote: “This is religion like it hasn’t been lived in 300 years.” She’s right. Tickle also claims that these young people “are going back to a religion that costs them something. (What we’re not sure, but we do know that acrylic spray paint isn’t cheap—RG.) In many ways they are going back to first century Christianity.” Are they though?
Mrs. Tickle, Brian McLaren, and a number of the Emergent Church lesser lights do not tire of attempting to convince us that Mrs. Tickle is not shooting us a crooked arrow, but some, who have an IQ in the double digits are not convinced. But rather than poking fun at Mrs. Tickle, Anne Lamott, and the Emergent Church Movement in general, I want to move on to something substantially more in keeping with proper worship of God. Mrs. Tickle believes that “Church was the place you went to engage God,” while orthodox Christianity affirms that church is the place where you go merely to worship God according to his ways.
The Church has never been nor was it ever meant to be a loose aggregate of “artistic” people running around instant messaging the “speaker” or spray painting the premises, but rather a gathering of God’s people intent on worshipping the Lord God Almighty in spirit and truth. Instead of meeting in a “sacred” bar and drinking sanctified beer as part of worship and spray painting the bathroom, biblical worship is supposed to be covenantal.
We are not to come together to do what is good in our own eyes, but rather our worship is to according to the plan and outline given to us by the Lord in Holy Scripture. Therefore, I’m turning to the real giants in the history of the Church. As a Protestant, my short list includes men like Calvin, Bullinger, Bucer, Edwards, Hodge, Bavinck, Kuyper, Warfield and many others. I have singled out Calvin for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that he stands at the head of the “old Reformation” along with men like Luther.
Honestly, I am weary of listening to the arrogant drivel that emanates from the “talks” and writings of the leaders of the emerging church. Rather than constantly pointing out where they are wrong on Scripture, women, homosexuality, Open Theism, a reckless ecumenism, and a number of other areas, I’ve decided to go to work in a more positive and hopefully more edifying manner. So let’s now turn our attention to John Calvin (1509-1564).

The Church and the Holy Spirit
As I visit a number of “blog” sites, it’s evident that there is a great deal of confusion about precisely what the Church of Jesus Christ is and how God’s covenant people are to conduct themselves in weekly corporate worship as well as in their daily lives as Christians. I’m going to begin this issue by taking a look at the first edition of Calvin’s Institutes that appeared in 1536.
As we start out it might be helpful to take a look at how Calvin organized the first edition. This is essential, because the later and final editions followed the same format. The structure of the 1536 edition is as follows: A letter of dedication to Francis I, King of France; a section on the Law (Ten Commandments); an explanation of the Apostles’ Creed; discourse on the Lord’s Prayer; the Sacraments of Christ’s Church; an identification of the Five False Sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church; and a final section on Christian Freedom, Ecclesiastical power, & Political administration.
For our purposes, we want to focus on Calvin’s exposition of the Apostles’ Creed, especially what he said about the heads of doctrine treating the Church of our Lord. What is the holy catholic church? According to Calvin, it is “the whole number of the elect, whether angels or men (Eph. 1:9-10; Col. 1:16); of men, whether dead or living; of the living, in whatever lands they live, or wherever among the nations they have been scattered—to be one church and society, and one people of God.”[5]
Reiterating this point Calvin states, “Now this society is catholic, that is, universal, because there could not be two or three churches.”[6] At this juncture we need to pause and take due note that for Calvin there is but one Church. We are in the habit of speaking of the various denominations and a plurality of churches. Calvin chose to concentrate on the truth that since the beginning of time God has had but one Church. How is that Church to be identified? Calvin answers that question by directing our attention to the important, indispensable role that the members of the Church play.
Who are the members of this one church? I’m convinced that his words will sound strange to our ears: “But all God’s elect are so united and conjoined in Christ (cf. Eph. 1:22-23) that, as they are dependent on one Head, they also grow together into one body, being joined and knit together (cf. Eph. 4:16) as are the limbs of one body (Rom. 12:5; 1 Cor. 10:17; 12:12, 27). These are made truly one who live together in one faith, hope, and love, and in the same Spirit of God, called to the inheritance of eternal life.”[7]
The notions of God’s electing grace and the covenant of grace are inextricably tied together. I’m not identifying the two, but surely worship must be covenantal. Granted that there are tares among the wheat, this does not diminish the concept that biblical worship and ethics are covenantal. In other words, “The covenant is between God and his whole people, but its moral implications affect every individual. In fact, your distinction between personal and social ethics is not always appropriate or helpful in biblical ethics for personal ethics are ‘community shaped’…”[8] This is a far cry from a “everybody-bring-your-spray-paint-can” or dance or send an instant message or something else mentality. There are individuals present in Calvin’s understanding of the Church but not individualism.
According to Calvin, this church is also holy “because as many as have been chosen by God’s eternal providence to be adopted as members of the church—all these are made holy by the Lord (John 17:17-19; Eph. 5:25-32).”[9] To his mind, the Church was quite different from the world and its ways. Election, adoption into the family of God, and sanctification are found in a true church of Jesus Christ. In Paul’s understanding of the Church we’re given a description of “the children of God in such a way that they can be recognized by us…”[10]
This definition should give the modern Church reason to reflect upon its life and lifestyle. It never ceases to amaze me that out of one side of its mouth modern evangelicalism bemoans the rampant secularization and immorality of and in our nation and the world, all the while dressing, acting like, speaking like, and generally mimicking secular society out of the other side of its mouth. You really cannot have it both ways. Statistic after statistic reminds us that the lifestyles of modern Christians are about on par with their secular, non-believing counterparts.
What Calvin is advocating is a distinctively Christian lifestyle that comports with the revealed will of the Lord found deposited in the Word of God. For the longest time the modern Church has trifled with the truth contained in Scripture and flirted with the ways of the world. We are now reaping the whirlwind. We have at least two generations—at least two—that are blatantly ignorant of the contents of Scripture. This is due in part from a lack of pursuit of holiness on the individual Christian’s part as well as from the “pastors” fearing the smiles and/or frowns of the congregation.
Since the Church is the people of God’s elect their salvation rests on a sure and solid bed. How is this “bed” to be described? Calvin gives us four “pillars” of our faith as members of Christ’s church:
First, it stands with God’s election, therefore it cannot fail (Rom. 11:29).[11] It is at this point that we can clearly observe Calvin’s reliance on the true sovereignty of God for our entire salvation. The salvation of those who are truly members of the Church is anchored in God’s electing grace.
Second, those whom the Lord has chosen, have been turned over to the care and keeping of Christ (John 6:39ff.).[12] In a very pastoral fashion Calvin moves from the truth of the doctrine of election to both our union with our Savior as well as the Person and Work of the Holy Spirit. Put briefly, economically: the Father creates, the Son redeems, and the Holy Spirit sanctifies. When God’s elect receive Christ by the instrument of faith they are turned over to his care and keeping. But the risen and ascended Christ is, according to his humanity, now at the right hand of the Father in heaven. How are we to be cared for and kept by one who is so far away? Calvin answers this in terms of the Holy Spirit who is the link (Latin: vinculum) between the believer and his or her Savior. Both in Word and in sacrament it is the work of the Spirit to take everything from the risen and ascended Lord and to impart that to our hungry and thirsty souls unto eternal life. Election works itself out in faith, which involves being turned over to Christ for his care and keeping, as well as being entrusted into the Spirit’s care and keeping for sanctification. These concepts will reappear repeatedly in the 1559 edition of the Institutes.
Third, there was no time from the creation of the world when the Lord did not have his church upon the earth, also there will be no time, even to the end of the age, when he will not have it, because he so promises (Joel 3:20; Ps. 89:27, 35-37; 132:12-18).[13] God’s Church has always existed according to the pattern he has prescribed. The existence of the Church in perpetuity depends upon the sure, certain promises of God fulfilled in Christ. As bad as Adam’s sin was, the Lord sanctifies some unto honor out of the corrupted, vitiated, and polluted mass.[14]
Fourth, “if we are so to believe the church that, relying upon the faithfulness of divine goodness, we hold for certain that we are a part of it, and with the rest of God’s elect, with whom we have been called and already in part justified, let us have faith we shall be perfectly justified and glorified.”[15] The specific, particular promise Calvin has in mind here is this: God will recognize as his sons those who have received his only-begotten Son [Jn. 1:12].[16]
He elaborates on what he means by this when he says, “When, therefore, we have found in Christ alone the good will of God the Father toward us, life, salvation, in short, the very kingdom of heaven itself, he alone ought to be more than enough for us. For this we must ponder: that utterly nothing will be lacking to us which can conduce to our salvation and good, if he is ours; that he and all things of his become ours, if we lean in sure faith upon him, if we rest in him, if we repose in him salvation, life, in sum, all our possession, if we rest assured that he is never going to forsake us. For with ready hands he gives himself to us only that we may receive him in faith.”[17]
What Calvin is talking about in the 1536 edition remains an integral part of all of the other editions of the Institutes. Discussing the nature of the union of the believer with Christ in 3.11.10 Calvin states, “…I confess that we are deprived of this utterly incomparable good until Christ is made ours. Therefore, that joining together of Head and members, that indwelling of Christ in our hearts—in short, that mystical union—are accorded by us the highest degree of importance, so that Christ, having been made ours, makes us sharers with him in the gift with which he has been endowed. We do not, therefore, contemplate him outside ourselves from afar in order that his righteousness may be imputed to us but because we put on Christ and are engrafted into his body—in short, because he deigns to make us one with him.”[18]
Any discussion concerning the nature of Christ’s Church must, by necessity, involve a discussion of the mystical union of the believer with Christ. This is a far cry from the Mysticism that was rampant during the Middle Ages and is making a come back at the front end of the 21st century.[19] Rather, the mystical union of the believer with Christ entails the entirety of our salvation. The late John Murray once wrote, “Nothing is more central and basic than union and communion with Christ.”[20] Thus, the new life (2 Cor. 5:17) does not entail copying the world and its ways or even “engaging the culture” in a way that is not clearly prescribed by Scripture. The new life has both its inception and continuation in Christ.[21] This was Calvin’s idea as well. He did not expect that everyone—head-for-head—in any given local congregation was saved, but he did expect that each of those congregations should act like Christians and live according to God’s requirements in the Church for which Jesus Christ shed his precious blood. In our next issue we shall continue to see the roles of faith and the Holy Spirit in Christ’s Church.
[1] Dave Shiflett, Exodus, (NY: Sentinel, 2005), p. xii.
[2] Ibid., xvii.
[3] Ibid., xvi.
[4] For most of my friends who are not acquainted with the word, patois (păt’ wä) means, “A dialect; hence, illiterate or provincial speech, jargon, cant.” For most of my friends I should point out that “cant” does not mean cannot.
[5] John Calvin, Institution of the Christian Religion, (Ford Lewis Battles [trans.]), (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1975), p. 78.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid., 78-79.
[8] Christopher J.H. Wright, Walking in the Ways of the Lord, The Ethical Authority of the Old Testament, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1995), p. 25.
[9] Calvin, Inst. (1536), 79.
[10] Ibid., 80.
[11] Ibid.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Ibid.
[14] Ibid.
[15] Ibid.
[16] Ibid., 81.
[17] Ibid.
[18] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, (John McNeill [ed.] & Ford Lewis Battles [trans.]), Vol. I, (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 19674), pp. 736-737.
[19] For two very informative and enlightening descriptions of Mysticism see Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Vol. I, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965), pp. 61-103, especially pp. 76ff. where Hodge delineates the pantheistic tendency of Mysticism that is being found in more and more “emerging” or “emergent” churches and John L. Girardeau, Discussions of Theological Questions, (Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications, 1986), pp. 125-156.
[20] John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1955), p. 161.
[21] Ibid., 163.

Monday, February 27, 2006

The “Rehoboam Syndrome” (I)

A Recurring Problem in the Church & in Life

As a father of six children you’d think I should know a little something about raising kids. I think I have gained a lot of insight from the Word of God and also have a lot of “trial-and-error” experience. Common sense has its place in raising children too—at least it ought to. Unfortunately, listening to many of the radio talk shows today makes it clear that some parents either don’t have any common sense or choose not to use it. It’s one thing to make blunders as a parent. I know because mine are “legion.” It’s yet another thing to be so concerned about your own entertainment, to be so self-centered and so self-absorbed that you refuse to take the time to instill the requisite values and virtues into your children. That paragon of “values clarification,” Ms. Gloria Steinem reminds us that, “It’s never too late for a happy childhood.”[1] Sadly, many parents tend to follow Ms. Steinem’s advice and remain children—seeking that ever-elusive happy childhood, whatever that might be—and never grow up. What can those that are still acting like children themselves offer their own children?
We ought—certainly by this time—to be very hesitant to take the advice of someone like Ms. Steinem. She and her handful of cohorts have all but ruined a generation of women with their feminist ideology. They brought their propaganda to the cultural table and both men and women devoured it. Carolyn Graglia reminds us that “As detailed in The Sisterhood, the most influential leaders of the women’s movement that was revived in the 1960s were the late Betty Friedan, Kate Millett, Germaine Greer, and Gloria Steinem. Including the international movement, Simone de Beauvior was a fifth. Of these five women, only Betty Friedan had both married and borne children.”[2] Graglia issues this qualification to us regarding the few that so profoundly affect our culture. “While Betty Friedan had tasted a life devoted to marriage and motherhood and pronounced it foul, the remaining four women were unacquainted with the experience.”[3] In other words, “Contemporary feminism is the creation of women who rejected the traditional family and traditional femininity, who were career-oriented, and who either rejected motherhood altogether, or believed it should play a very subordinate role in a woman’s life.”[4] Here we can observe how just a few people can distort reality.
Both modern men and women have—to their discredit—turned to the “experts” for the answers to life’s dilemmas. As the late Dr. Francis Schaeffer so aptly put it, all you need to give man is personal peace and (relative) affluence and he’s happy. Few words describe American culture prior to September 11, 2001 as aptly as Schaeffer’s. Heather MacDonald has outlined how experts hinder rather than help us.[5]
Feminist Barbara Ehrenreich has given us a trenchant analysis of the impact on society of men who refuse to be men; of men who have rejected their role as supporter of a wife and family and who have withdrawn from the “marriage market” in favor of a quasi-hedonistic Playboy role.[6]Playboy trumpeted the message that to be free a man had to be single. The sexual revolution that Hefner & Co. zealously promoted with feminism’s able assistance, guaranteed that plenty of sex was available with a much lower price tag attached than marriage. At least that was the idea. While Playboy depicted men as fools for working to support wives and children, it never disparaged sex or work as such.”[7] The net result was not liberation but a bondage for removed from the freedom promised.
Confusing economic necessity and economic advantage modern Americans have embraced shallow materialism and consumerism (toys) and a mindless egalitarianism at the expense of morals and the traditional family. Personal peace and affluence reigns supreme. Add to these ills the influence of the media and you have a recipe for disaster. Graglia cites just one example of how a seemingly innocuous “sit-com” can wreak havoc on a culture. “M*A*S*H effectively promoted pacifism, disparaged authority, glamorized the sexually predatory male, and depicted casual sexual intercourse as common and acceptable.”[8] One of the results of the impact of shows like M*A*S*H is that “Parents have failed, in part, because they themselves have embraced the popular media’s cultural views.”[9] How does this play out? Graglia believes that many parents “have ratified the ubiquitous message of sexual revolutionaries by themselves adopting sexually promiscuous lifestyles, reinforcing these teachings to their children. Others have been shamed, as it were, into tacitly accepting what they believe to be wrong but have lacked the fortitude to condemn, lest their children think them unsophisticated and old-fashioned. In a reversal of the normal hierarchy, many parents now crave their children’s approval. . .”[10]
And precisely therein lies a huge part of the problem. When you have parents adopting the popular media’s cultural views and lacking adult parental fortitude—guts—and craving the approval of their children you’re in big trouble. The caveat is that to act otherwise will cause your children to think of you as unsophisticated and old-fashioned. So what’s new? It really doesn’t matter how many degrees you have, your children are still going to think of you as unsophisticated. They’re almost always going to think of you as old-fashioned. The point is: who cares? Am I such a “wuss” that I get all upset if my teenager thinks I’m unsophisticated and old-fashioned? Come on! Give me a break! Isn’t my skin any thicker than that? Aren’t I more mature than that?
Now I realize that we are a “youth-driven” society. All of the advertisement is geared to the young people. They’re the ones with the money. Dad and mom just earn the money and provide the home. The kids get an allowance—often a lavish one—and they go to the movies, buy the CDs and DVDs, and generally spend the cash. The parents don’t have time to do those things because they’re too busy trying to make ends meet and figure out ways to train their children to be responsible citizens. And so our culture understandably dotes on the teenagers and young adults.
Recently I was listening to talk radio and the host was amazed at all the people who were saying that we should listen to what the college students had to say about the terrorist attack on the US on September 11, 2001. Why in the world would we even care to want to know what the teenagers and college students thought about it? I was not the least bit interested in their ideas, although I am very interested in people their age. In most cases, you could measure the cogent and coherent thoughts of high school and college students with a calendar. Their young skulls are filled with mush. To make matters worse, many of them have been under the tutelage of LRL (Liberal Religious Left) tenure-tracked professors. If I ever am concerned to know what a young adult in America thinks about the terrorist attack I’ll watch Bart Simpson.
So to come back to Ms. Steinem’s maxim, how do we decide—precisely—what constitutes a “happy” childhood? What is the universal standard that will tell us, beyond a shadow of a reasonable doubt, what “happy” is? Is it wealth? Is it prestige? How about status? Could it be “fun” in all its various forms and guises? What is it? I know many people that would say they had a “happy” childhood and never had any of the things I just mentioned. I know wealthy kids who had a miserable childhood, or so they thought. I know people who were poor growing up, but had the comfort and love of a two-parent home and did just fine. I suppose that you don’t have to be one of Rosie O’Donald’s kids to have a “happy” childhood.
The Bible has a different slant on life than the one Ms. Steinem and the modern pop culture presents. We are called to be infants in one respect: with regard to evil. In 1 Corinthians 14:20 Paul reminds us of this. “Brothers, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults.” In chapter 13 he had spoken to the Corinthians about the need to move on to maturity and to put childlike ways behind them. In 1 Corinthians 13:11 he said, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.”
Our culture might be rushing headlong into what Graglia and others have described to us. In one sense—sadly—that’s to be expected. Modern culture with its inordinate emphasis on relativism has few options. They have denied reality or redefined it or distorted it or all of the above, but their options are few. What concerns me most, however, is when the Church of Jesus Christ looks, speaks, and acts in an almost identical fashion. This booklet is directed at the Church and I’m asking ever member of it to reflect on where we are now and where the Word of God says we must be.Life in the covenant community entails becoming adults and putting childish ways behind us. It means taking the responsibility of being a mature adult male or female with all that that entails. It means acknowledging the Creator/creature distinction as well as the adult/child distinction and living life in that reality. In a word, it means that adults are to grow up and that children are to accept their rightful place in God’s hierarchy for them. To live according to the truth of the Bible means peace and order. To live according to the ways of the world means to further the chaos and confusion that characterize and typify our society today.
[1] Quoted in Reader’s Digest, September 2001, pg. 61, from her book, Revolution from Within. You just have to know that this is a very subjective book from the title.
[2] F. Carolyn Graglia, Domestic Tranquility. A Brief against Feminism, (Dallas: Spence Publishing Co., 1998), p. 13.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid., 17.
[5] Heather MacDonald, The Burden of Bad Ideas. How Modern Intellectuals Misshape our Society, (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2000.)
[6] Barbara Ehrenreich, The Hearts of Men: American Dreams and the Flight from Commitment, (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1983), pp. 11-12.
[7] Graglia, DT, 65.
[8] Ibid., 83.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Ibid.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The Christian and Capital Punishment--Again

The California Crazies & the Michael Morales Case
I’ve lived in California for eleven years now; long enough to know that not everyone in the Golden State is crazy. Many, most, but not everyone. But it seems like every time you begin to think that California might be almost normal, some liberal social-engineer, do-gooder or state representative reminds you that very often California is still stuck on stupid.
The latest example involves the Michael Morales case. He is at San Quentin prison and was scheduled twice recently to be executed by lethal injection. This morning’s Orange County Register (2.22.06) mentioned that Mr. Morales’ execution has been postponed indefinitely, because San Quentin could not comply with a court order to limit Mr. Morales’ pain that would be induced by the pain of the ingredients used in the lethal injection. To almost anyone with a brain, this is sheer nonsense. Our society has reached the point where we’re more concerned about the quality of the Islamic meals fed to the detainees at Gitmo—perhaps we should give them gourmet food—and the perceived pain of convicted murderers during execution.
In other words, some social-engineer is ostensibly so concerned about you and me when we go to have blood work done in the laboratory that he’s going to start requiring—by a government law, no doubt—that we’re all under general anesthesia for the procedure. I’m kidding, of course, but do you get my point? Most injections sting a bit, but it seems like California doesn’t mind if the rest of us suffer—horribly—from normal blood work as long as brutal convicted murderers don’t experience any pain prior to their death.
So to help us think through this highly complex conundrum, The Orange County Register provided an in depth Q/A on page 3 of the News page today (2.23.06). They interviewed Dr. Peter Breen, chair of the anesthesiology department at UC—Irvine. For effect, the Register included a photo of the August 15, 1936 hanging of Rainey Bethea’s public execution for rape and murder. Under the photo we’re informed that in the 20th century, states sought increasingly painless methods of execution, giving the impression that what took place in the past was, at best, barbaric. What is more than just a little “odd” about this Q/A is that I simply cannot remember a time when the presence of an anesthesiologist was deemed necessary at an execution.
Dr. Breen was asked if lethal injection is the least painful method of execution. Again, some are going out of their way to insure that the convicted murderer experiences little or no pain. Breen goes on to say, “But lethal injection is certainly less painful for anyone watching compared to electrocution, a gas chamber or a firing squad. Those methods of execution can involve disturbing sights, sounds, and smells.” But the good doctor misses the point in a couple of key ways.
First, why are we all of a sudden so over-the-top concerned about a painless execution? We can desire for it to be humane, but totally painless? Convicted murderers have committed heinous crimes and are being punished for what they did. It is incomprehensible that society would want punishment without any pain. What kind of punishment is that, especially for murder?
Second, Dr. Breen doesn’t seem to realize that the agenda driving all of this controversy is the total elimination of the death penalty. We’re got some representatives in San Francisco who want to disband our armed forces or, if we keep them, unilaterally disarm. Brilliant! If there’s another terrorist attack we can nibble their bum or join with them and make a diversity quilt.
I am also not convinced that the Register and Dr. Breen got it right about the previous methods of execution. Breen contends that drawing and quartering, public dissecting, burning alive and disemboweling were all practiced in the United States up until an 1878 Supreme Court decision. My own research has not turned up anything of the sort either in Europe or the United States, barring, of course, the Spanish Inquisition and the Braveheart types of executions in antiquity. I’m not asserting that what Breen described has never occurred in America, only that hanging and the firing squad seems to have been the “norm.”
Much of the debate rages about the 8th Amendment regarding cruel and unusual punishment. In 1972, Supreme Court Justice William Brennan defined four guidelines for the 8th Amendment and capital punishment: 1) Degrading to human dignity, 2) Inflicted in a wholly arbitrary fashion, 3) A punishment clearly and totally rejected throughout society, and 4) Patently unnecessary. In the case of the modern methods employed for execution, you’d be hard pressed to declare capital punishment cruel and unusual punishment unless you have imbibed the politically correct or Roman Catholic Kool-Aid. Clearly, as the Q/A points out, “The whole idea behind instituting lethal injection was to do this (execution—RG) in the most humane way possible.” Within the realm of possibilities, you’d be hard pressed to come up with a means of execution more humane than this! Of course, remember the agenda: No capital punishment.
Quite often we enter into a theoretical debate about the death penalty without getting into any of the particulars of each individual case. With that in mind, allow me to take a couple of moments and give a brief summary of the Morales case.

Morales and Winchell—1981
In 1981—that’s how long these things take. Absurd!—Mr. Morales was 21-years-old. His victim was Terri Winchell, who was 17. Mr. Morales took Miss Winchell to a deserted area near Lodi and tried to strangle her with his belt. I’m willing to bet that his attempts were quite painful to Miss Winchell. Being unsuccessful with strangulation by belt, Mr. Morales resorted to using a hammer. According to the reports, Miss Winchell received no less than twenty-three blows to her head with this blunt instrument. Again, it’s not a stretch to acknowledge that this must have been very painful. Then Mr. Morales raped Miss Winchell’s lifeless body and, for good measure, stabbed her four more times.
State representative Paul Koretz (D) from West Hollywood is pushing the now almost ancient AB1121 (1982) under the noses of our illustrious state representatives again in an attempt to curry favor with the “no death penalty crowd.” (If you would like to call Mr. Koretz’s office and complain, he can be reached [well, not him. He’s far too important. You’ll get one of his talking-points, bureaucratic, flunkies] at 310.285.5490.) This bill wants to impose a moratorium on the death penalty here in California while a commission studies the efficacy of lethal injection. You would be required to laugh out loud for a long, long time if this wasn’t serious. The efficacy of the death penalty by lethal injection?
Can you imagine in the early years of our nation that a commission was called into being to investigate the efficacy of hanging or of the firing squad? How about a commission to study the efficacy of the electric chair? This is yet another waste of our tax dollars: a bureaucratic commission to enjoy two or three martini lunches discussing—at the liberal, left-wing level, the efficacy of the obvious. Sounds like an outstanding use of our tax dollar again. What person, with only a modicum of common sense, would need such a commission? You’d think that a little visual verification would suffice. “Look, Bubba’s dead! I reckon the lethal injection was efficacious!” “Look, Bubba’s got a big ol’ hole in his heart from them bullets. I reckon they wuz efficacious bullets!” “Look at ol’ Bubba just swingin’ back and forth with that rope around his neck. You think hangin’ is efficacious?”
What a bunch of liberal pinheads! We have someone on death row since 1981 and when it comes time finally to do the right thing and execute him or her, some people feel the need to take to the streets in protest. From a Christian, biblical perspective this is a slam dunk. Ever since immediately after the Fall of man into sin, God has made provision for putting murderers to death (Gen. 4:13-16; 9:6; Ex. 20: 13 [Deut. 5:7]; Lev. 24:17). Murder was an assault on the image of God in man and, indirectly, upon God himself.
But this is not the case in California! We give convicted felons, murderers beds, meals, cable TV, state of the art exercise rooms, and in the event of Tookie Williams give them the opportunity to become candidates fro the Nobel Peace Prize—all at taxpayer expense. There’s a very interesting text in Romans 13:1-4 where the Apostle Paul describes the various tasks of the civil magistrate. The fourth verse informs us that the civil magistrate is “God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.”
Without getting too technical, a couple of essential points based on the words that I italicized in the text need to be made here.
First, with regard to the word, “sword,” (v. 4) it should be kept in mind that in the New Testament the sword is frequently associated with death. In short, the sword is the instrument of execution (cf. Matt. 26:52; Luke 21:24; Acts 12:2; 16:27; Heb. 11:34, 37; Rev. 13:10).
Second, the text indicates that the government has an awareness of what constitutes right and wrong; good and evil. I contend that our society still has that awareness but that it has become buried under an avalanche of politically correct, liberal, out-of-touch-with-reality, feel-good claptrap. The result of all this muddleheaded relativism is that many want to do away with the death penalty. Still others argue that if you kill a policeman you should face capital punishment, but not if you kill a child on the street in a drive-by shooting. Yet others argue that the death penalty is dependent on the number of people that you, for example, murdered.
How in the world do you ever arrive at a number where you say, “Well, it’s bad to murder one hundred people. For that you deserve life in prison. If you murder one hundred and twenty, you deserve life in prison without the possibility of parole. And if you murder more than one hundred and twenty, you deserve the death penalty?” Huh? In its fuzzy thinking, our society flounders about trying desperately to find that determinant number where the death penalty should be applied. All that is really necessary is to listen to the clear words from God, since he is the author of society.
And God has clearly spoken that in the case of convicted murderers the death penalty can and should be administered—without consideration of pain. That is not the primary consideration. When God ordained the lex talionis in the Old Testament it involved stoning, which is not noted for its painlessness with or without an anesthesiologist present. In the New Testament, execution was by means of a sword or crucifixion. The primary consideration is not the amount of pain inflicted upon the person being executed, but that the evil is purged from our midst.
It’s ridiculous how many rapists and murderers serve a portion of their time, are put on parole only to go out and rape and murder again. Anyone who can read can read the recidivism statistics. Nevertheless, social engineers and many California state representatives seem incapable or unwilling to look at the facts. Their heads are buried in Utopia, which literally—in the Greek—means “nowhere.” Precisely.

How Painless is Painless Enough?
Are you familiar with what’s included in a lethal injection? Here’s what the cocktail is like: 5 grams of sodium thiopental in 20-25cc of diluent (renders patient unconscious); 50cc of pancuronium bromide (muscle relaxant that stops the breathing); and 50cc of potassium chloride (stops the heart from beating). Anyone who has ever had an operation has been given the first ingredient. It’s commonly used by anesthesiologist. Not much pain involved there.
Morales and his lawyer(s)—I wonder if they’re connected to the ACLU?—are arguing that the sodium thiopental might not be sufficient to render the whole process painless. I wonder if this ever crossed Mr. Morales’ mind while he was bludgeoning Miss Winchell to death with that hammer?
Now here’s the kicker: the anesthesiologists refused to be present at the execution because if something went wrong and they had to step in and terminate the life that would be in violation of the Hippocratic Oath that physicians take! We can only pray that more doctors who regularly perform abortions would take the same stance.But in the final analysis, why in the world are we even discussing having anesthesiologists at an execution? Since when did that become a consideration? The various state prison officials seem to have done pretty well in the past without the able assistance of anesthesiologists. Why do we have to have them now? Perhaps we should simply change the name and instead of talking about “lethal injections” (that sounds so morose, doesn’t it?) maybe we should take the approach of a number of abortionists and simply call the execution of a convicted murderer a “therapeutic procedure.”

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Anne Lamott: Funnier Than Phyllis Diller But Not As Pretty (V)

The Blessings of “Untitled”
I’m skipping ahead to chapter 13 of Lamott’s book because the 12th chapter was drab, sub-par, and downright boring. Chapter 13 isn’t a lot better, but it does offer both comic relief as well as concern for what the ECM is actually willing to tolerate as “kosher” in the Christian community.
It appears that 50-something Lamott fairly recently attended a wedding with a bunch of women in their 20s and 30s. She noticed that gravity was taking its toll on her. Young people don’t think about these things very much. They still have the laws of physics on their side. I was over at my health club (L.A. Fitness) not too long ago and just such a young babe was discussing her intention to get a tattoo with her personal trainer, Studly Steroid. His response was an enthusiastic, “Go for it!” Since I was in very close proximity I turned to the young woman and offered this: “Just remember that if you get a tattoo of Rhode Island, by the time you get to be my age it will become Texas.” That stopped them both. Pause and think, reflect. Actions have consequences.
Anyway, Lamott concluded that aging is not all that bad and that it beats the alternative of some of her friends who died of AIDS and breast cancer. She explains, “I became more successful in my forties, but that pales in comparison with the other gifts of my current decade—how kind to myself I have become, what a wonderful, tender wife I am to myself, what a loving companion.”[1] Tell me, Narcissus, is there someone else?
Her philosophy of life is to wish to swim more unashamedly, make more mistakes, space out more, and to rest.[2] I’m not certain about all of her desires, but if this latest book is about “spacing out” she hit a homerun. You can become jaded as you get older—unless you’re a guy and then you simply morph into a curmudgeon—and apparently Ms. Lamott has been in her share of “toxic relationships.” She comments, “But I’d rather not ever be in a couple, or ever get l**d again than be in a toxic relationship.”[3] Maybe your church could invite her to come and speak to the young women about how to be a Titus 2 woman, just ask her to tone down the language a little.
Alas, Ms. Lamott caved on the relationship thing and informs us that she only spent a few years celibate. Good advice for the Christian community: stay celibate as long as you can. But then the Fickle Finger of Fate—or whatever—intervened and Ms. Lamott met a kind, artistic, handsome man, who was the poster boy for Fornicators Anonymous. In a jocular vein Ms. Lamott tells us that they both hold their lower backs when they climb out of bed. Understandably, fornication is a relative term for the postmodern. The only part of the anatomy that seems to “get it” is the lower back. Lamott and the kind, artistic, handsome man merely laugh and hand each other an Advil.[4]At the end of this short jaunt, you’re relieved that there was no title for this chapter. Whereas Ms. Lamott celebrates her immorality with the kind, artistic, handsome fornicator I’m reminded of some sagacious words from my grandfather. When I was twelve, he said to me, “Boy, there’s no fool like an old fool.”
[1] Anne Lamott, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith, (NY: Riverhead Books, 2005), p. 173.
[2] Ibid., 174.
[3] Ibid., 175.
[4][4] Ibid.

Anne Lamott: Funnier Than Phyllis Diller But Not As Pretty (IV)

Dead Civilians and Young Soldiers
The eleventh chapter of Lamott’s book was written about a week after the war in Iraq began. She tells us that her days now feel like “midnight on the Serengeti, dangers everywhere…”[1] Well, not quite. Many Americans, myself included, slept a lot better knowing that the greatest military in the world was once again in a foreign land protecting our precious freedoms from fanatical Islamists who flew airplanes loaded with jet fuel into buildings in New York City occupied by unarmed non-combatants. Seldom in the history of the world has there been a bigger act of cowardice.
To Lamott’s mind, after the war started everything felt crazy. Wrong. Have we all forgotten how crazy everything felt on 9/11? I distinctly remember being outside with my wife by our pool. Both of us thought we heard the sound of an airplane in the proximity. We looked at each other for a moment. All planes had been grounded. We were used to hearing planes in the distance, but now the thought of a commercial airliner still being airborne brought a chilling reaction. Have we forgotten? I believe we have.
Ms. Lamott goes on to explain that the day after the war started a number of kindergarteners and first-graders were outside playing at her son’s school when a dozen or so military aircraft flew over. Their teacher, Miss Piggy—Peggy—told the children that they were safe because the planes were headed to the Middle East. That had to be comforting in light of the fact that our military is so bent on killing civilians that if they cannot kill enemy civilians they might just try to nuke our kids. Please! When was the last time you knew a kindergartener or first-grader that was worried about getting blown away by our military? If they possess such a fear it’s because some lame-brain adult has inculcated that fear in them. There is absolutely no reason why any child in America should fear our military. What poppycock!
As usual, there is a particular precocious child mingled in with the rest of the mediocre dolts and this child “began to worry that there might be children in the Middle East, too, but that maybe these pilots didn’t know that.”[2] Somebody missed the pre-flight briefing conducted by Gen. Homer “Bull” Right: “Now, men, our intel isn’t entirely accurate, but the possibility exists that there just might be children in the Middle East. Any questions? No. Okay, that’s all. Good luck.”
Now let me ask you this: If you were a teacher and your students were asking you questions about war at the tender age of five or six, what would commonsense dictate for you to do? Granted, commonsense seems to have evacuated the United States around the end of the nineteenth century, but just pretend that there was a vestige of it still around. Was there any opportunity for Miss Peggy to calm the children by telling them that our pilots do everything possible to avoid hitting any civilian targets—especially children? Miss Peggy, however, has taken advanced courses in liberal religious left-wing political correctness so she did the mad scramble and found a “giant sheet of paper, and the kids drew a huge peace dove on it, flying over children.”[3]
The children were apparently fretting about our pilots going to a country where they “might accidentally bomb children.”[4] Why would they worry about that except that they had attended the pre-flight briefing? What Miss Peggy could have pointed out was that in Iraq and Afghanistan the “bad guys” would have never accidentally bombed children. They would have done it intentionally every time and not cared in the least that they had done it. So much for the theory of moral equivalency.
I’m going to need some help with Ms. Lamott’s comment/question: “What are you supposed to do, when what is happening can’t be, and the old rules no longer apply?” If I were in the South I could wrinkle my nose and say, “Say what?” I’m just not quite at Ms. Lamott’s literary level. If something—whatever it is—is happening, then we’re rather forced, coerced to conclude that it can be—since it is de facto happening. Just which “old rules” are we referring to here? In some oblique manner, Ms. Lamott explains what she means by relating her tale about her mom’s Alzheimer’s disease. That’s a tough, tough disease.
In that ethical situation Ms. Lamott seemed rudderless and clueless about what decisions to make. Granted none of those types of decisions are either pleasant or easy, but irrespective of that, decisions—right decisions—still must be made. Anyway, a nurse from the Alzheimer’s Association came along side to help her during this horrid time. Ms. Lamott and her siblings said the following to the nurse: “We don’t know what we’re doing. We don’t know if we should put her in a home, and if so, when. We don’t even know what’s true anymore.”[5]
I get the part about struggling with the timing of precisely when to put mom in a home or whether to keep her at home with hospice care. Those are decisions that must be made in the crucible of life. But it’s a huge stretch from having to make such a decision to being completely at a loss as to what is true and what is false! Mom’s the one with Alzheimer’s not Ms. Lamott—maybe. Ms. Lamott claims to be a Christian. How could it be that a Christian woman, in possession of the Word of God, cannot know what is true?
The nurse must have just been released from the looney bin because her reply was also as stupid as Ms. Lamott’s (et al.) question.[6] Gently—how else could she reply since she had been given a horse tranquilizer before they released her—she responded, “How could you know?”[7] Right. Well, that’s that then. The Lamotts don’t know what’s true anymore and the gentle nurse helpfully explains that there’s no way they could have known. Anyone from the Emergent Church Movement paying attention here? This is your theology.
The nurse didn’t help, however, but a friend of Ms. Lamott’s called to explain “that since the war has begun, she finds herself inside a black hole half the time.”[8] What kind of thinking do you do when fifty percent of your time is spent in a black hole? Well, the fifty percent thing kind of rings constantly in your head. The friend asked, “What if we gave fifty percent of our discretionary budget to the world’s poor and then counted on the moral power of that action to protect us?”[9] Ms. Lamott was enthralled by her friend’s innocence.
Once again, I’d call the friend’s idea stupid—remember: it’s biblical. Allow me to explain. Over the last forty years, the U.S. alone has poured $500 billion into aid for Africa. Giving money to such a country is a waste of time. Don’t get me wrong. I have a plan to give financial aid to needy Africans. Here’s how it would work. The U.S. designates a certain amount for say, Rwanda. The U.N. then goes in with their pretty powder blue berets and distributes the food while the U.S. military stands guard and shoots to kill any and every thug and warlord that attempts to take the food from the poor and needy. Apart from that, throwing money at Africa is simply a silly kiss off to someone’s bleeding heart liberal conscience.
Haven’t we learned yet in this country that throwing money at a problem never solves it? Lyndon Johnson threw (read: wasted) trillions of U.S. taxpayer’s dollars on welfare and what did it get us? What positively did that money accomplish? You would think that spending that much money on a problem would resolve the issue, but it had the exact opposite effect. Liberals just don’t get it.
After some senseless banter back and forth about “meds,” depression, and being furious, Ms. Lamott treats us to the resurrection vision of one of her Sunday schools kids. For Easter, the child drew “a picture of the Easter Bunny outside the tomb: everlasting life, and a basket full of chocolates. Now you’re talking.”[10] ECM people are you listening? Does it matter?
Not only is Ms. Lamott a liberal theologically, but, just in case you haven’t guessed it by now, she’s also far left politically as well. Oakland’s “progressive representative” Barbara Lee, speaks for Ms. Lamott.[11] I’ll bet she does. Ms. Lamott intends to send her a check asking her to pass it on to someone who is nurturing a child in the inner city, “because this nation’s black and Hispanic kids will be the hardest hit by wartime deficit spending.”[12] This is pure emotionalism. When in doubt, throw more money at the problem.
The notion that blacks and Hispanics will be the hardest hit begs the question: Why? If the parents are there taking care of their children, why would they be any harder hit than say a poor white family? A poor Asian family? A poor family from India? Does Ms. Lamott mean that useless government programs might be cut? Does she mean that the U.S. taxpayer might—just might—not have to squander ever-increasing taxes ripped from his or her paycheck?
Finally, we meander with Ms. Lamott to the concept of prayer. She tells us that she’s “going to pray for our president to believe that all people deserve to be fed, and to try to make that a reality.”[13] Is that the same as saying being fed by someone else is my right? Does she mean that if an able bodied person—male or female—refuses to work, destroys themselves on illegal drugs, or enters this country illegally that the American taxpayer has an obligation to hand over their hard-earned money to feed them? I don’t think so.
Pray that is not well-intentioned is self-serving. In saying that she intends to prayer for President Bush, Lamott is using a ruse to jump to a vicious statement. She says that she understands that “Bush is family” and that she’s supposed to love him, but she thinks of him as “a Klansman” or “Osama bin Laden.”[14] Right. There’s no difference between George Bush and Osama bin Laden; between Bush and the KKK. You know, I’m really glad that Lamott said that and I’m equally glad that she said it in the way she said it. I submit to you that this is precisely what is wrong with liberal politics and liberal theology. What Lamott wrote is unconscionable.
It’s one thing to disagree with Mr. Bush. You’re allowed to do that. It’s a free country. But to put him in the same category as the KKK, the Taliban, or Osama bin Laden is off the charts. Of course, Ms. Lamott’s brand of theology allows her to do anything she wants. That’s why she can shack up and still call herself a Christian. Her theology contains on-liners from Woody Allen, that paragon of virtue who said “that someday the lion shall lie down with the lamb, but the lamb is not going to get any sleep.”[15]
I don’t suppose that it ever crossed Ms. Lamott’s mind that such a ridiculous statement strikes at the heart of God’s plan of salvation. No matter. All we’re concerned with are cutesy little statements by Woody Allen. But there’s more to this great theology. Ms. Lamott transports us to the children’s sermon in Pastor Veronica’s liberal Presbyterian church. During that sermon, the pastor-person “asked the kids to close their eyes for a moment—to give themselves a time-out—and they asked them what they had heard. They heard birds, and radios, dogs barking, cars, and one boy said, ‘I hear water at the edge of things.’”[16] Obviously, he was the precocious, smart child prodigy in the service.
The last time I heard “water on the edge of things” our handicapped daughter had forgotten to turn off the water and the tub overflowed. No wonder more and more people are coming to their senses and realizing how trite, senseless, and moralistic most children’s sermons are. But even the worst of the moralistic children’s sermons can compare with the unmitigated B.S. of Ms. Lamott’s theology.
In closing—what a relief!—she gives us this grandiose theological insight. She informs us that she’s going “to notice the light of the earth, the sun and the moon and the stars” as well as “the lights of our candles as we march” and then hits us with this piece of profundity: “If the present is really all we have, then the present last forever. And that, today, will be the benediction.”[17] There are almost as many errors as there are words in those two sentences, but for Ms. Lamott, this is it; this is as good as it gets. Moreover the “present,” which is an element of time is promoted to eternity. So if we follow Ms. Lamott’s thinking—which is a formidable task—the eternal present on earth will be the benediction.That means—among a host of other things—that this life, here and now, is as good as it gets. But you know, biblically she might be on to something. As I read Scripture it becomes clear to me that for the non-believer this actually is as good as it gets. For the believer, however, this is as bad as it gets.
[1] Anne Lamott, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith, (NY: Riverhead Books, 2005), p. 137.
[2] Ibid., 138.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid., 139. Italics mine.
[6] Lest you think I’m being crass and cruel by using the word “stupid,” I’d point out that the ESV uses this as a valid translation twelve times.
[7] Lamott, Plan B, 139.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid., 139-140.
[10] Ibid., 140.
[11] Ibid., 142.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Ibid.
[14] Ibid., 144.
[15] Ibid.
[16] Ibid., 144-145.
[17] Ibid., 145.

Anne Lamott: Funnier Than Phyllis Diller But Not As Pretty (III)

Menopausal Death Crone
Lest you think I’m being mean, this is a name that Ms. Lamott has given herself in chapter 7 of her latest book, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith. If you’re like me, then you’ll come to realize just how important a name like this is for true spirituality. Right. In chapter 7, “Adolescence,” of Ms. Lamott’s book, we find ourselves bogged down in another quagmire—kind of like the U.S. troops in Vietnam or Iraq. Towards which crisis in Ms. Lamott’s life are we lurching this time? She willingly informs us. Her son, Sam, just turned thirteen.
Granted that the teenage years can be somewhat traumatic, hormonal (now there’s a good new word for the Emergent Church Movement: hormonal), it is not the end of life as we know it—close, but not quite. Teenagers actually can be a lot of fun in the midst of all the work. They are enjoyable but also certainly a challenge. Ms. Lamott chose to name Sam’s hormonal “significant other” Phil. Phil is Sam’s “dark side,” which means that Sam is the oxymoronic normal teenager. So Phil and the Death Crone occupy one residence—along with Ms. Lamott’s live-in stud. Actually, he’s an artist, which seems to make sin less of a sin. Being an artist seems, somehow, to excuse immorality. No doubt he is part of the white wine, brie, and culturally hip tribe.
Anyway, Ms. Lamott wants Sam to be happy and “to find an authentic spirituality.”[1] That’s an admirable goal, but given Ms. Lamott’s consummate confusion about Christianity and her constant red-alert crises over nothing, you can only wonder how Sam even manages to find the front door, let alone authentic spirituality. Since Ms. Lamott is not defining what she precisely means by the phrase “authentic spirituality,” both for us and for Sam the search could take a while. One of the problems of the ECM is that they bandy words like “authentic spirituality” without giving us a precise definition of what they mean. Did the Apostle Paul, for example, manifest an authentic spirituality? Did Peter? John? What is the standard by which we come to know that we are manifesting authentic spirituality?
To help her over the tough spots of raising a teenager, Ms. Lamott taped some pithy advice to her wall on 3x5 cards that, in her words, gave her some light to see by. I might have suggested Psalm 36:9, “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light,” but then again, I’m not a postmodern and I’m actually married. Her “wall advice” goes like this: “Breathe, Pray, Be kind, Stop grabbing.”[2] More than her passionate dislike for President Bush, Ms. Lamott is really into this breathing thing. It’s an obsession with her. So far she seems to be doing okay. She’s still vertical. But, the wall advice didn’t really help, but screaming in the car did.[3] Okay.
Now I want you to pay close attention to what follows, because Ms. Lamott is going to give us some insight into her ECM methodology as well as her view of Scripture—just in case you didn’t already know. Neither the wall bullets nor screaming in the car helped, but walking did. She tells us that she began going on a walk on Mount Tamalpais and spending time praying. The origin of this exercise was that she heard (didn’t read) that Jesus did it too.[4] Her Roman Catholic priest friend, Father Tom, clarified the entire matter for Ms. Lamott, however. His explanation to her gives new meaning to the saying, “the blind leading the blind.” What did the well-educated purveyor of indulgences have to say? Just listen. “He said that we are not sure whether Jesus actually did this; people had to explain Jesus’ absence by saying he was going up to the mountain to pray, but for all we know, he went off and had a few beers. Then he may have gone bowling, slinging the ball bitterly down the alley until he felt better.”[5]
For all of you who are so in love with the ECM, I want you to read this blasphemy over and over. If we are not certain about Jesus’ prayer life then we’re not certain about much of anything. We do know, of course, that he was a good bowler. This is the kind of utter nonsense that we find in the representatives of the ECM. Granted not all of them are this far over the top, but it’s pretty cookie-cutter with its denial of real biblical sovereignty and its denial of the plenary inspiration of the Word of God.
So Lamott asked the illustrious Father Confessor what Jesus would have done with Sam. Are you ready for his reply? “In biblical times, they used to stone a few thirteen-year-olds with some regularity, which helped keep the others quiet at home. The mothers were usually in the first row of stone throwers, and had to be restrained.”[6] Isn’t this brilliant? At least Lamott has some flimsy excuse because she’s in a goof-ball “tribe” called the United Presbyterian Church (USA). Father Tom ostensibly attended some form of seminary. He desperately needs to get a refund.
Would it be asking too much to analyze this gross misinterpretation and misrepresentation of Scripture? The text to which Mr. Hermeneutic is referring is found in Deuteronomy 21:18-21. We are not told there precisely how old the son had to be before he was a candidate for stoning, but we do get some inkling of the accusation brought by the father in verse 20: “This son is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.” It’s conceivable that Sam is rather frequently drunk at the age of thirteen, but we’re not told by Ms. Lamott. This Old Testament procedure was also not in place for a kid struggling to grow up. This is a matter of repeated stubbornness and rebellion, not that he didn’t clean up his dirty socks from the floor.
Finally, the moms are not even mentioned. It seems that the Old Testament punishment was not to be meted out by a Menopausal Death Crone. The 21st verse is highly instructive not only with regard to who is to carry out the death penalty, but also why. “Then all the men of the city shall stone him to death with stones. So you shall purge the evil from your midst, and all Israel shall hear, and fear” (Emphases mine). Nice try Tom, but you were just a little off, kind of like when Bob Uecker announces in the movie Major League, “That pitch was just a little outside.”
My point is how grotesquely Scripture is misinterpreted by some in the ECM. They don’t know Scripture and want to convince us that we can’t know much of anything spiritually either, even though the Bible records Jesus and others saying that we can. If I have to choose between McLaren, Miller, and Lamott and the Bible, that’s like having to choose between chicken salad and chicken situation. My real quandary, however, is trying to decide who is more irrelevant: Lamott or Father Tom. It’s a genuine toss-up.
Apparently, Father Tom’s precise interpretation lacked any real practical force because almost immediately afterwards the Death Crone and “Phil” had another blowup. This time they were in the car so Lamott pulled over at a secluded place (“A few feet away was a rock that looked like an altar, a huge mottled stone head, like a happy Buddhist god with leprosy.”[7] Isn’t this helpful?) and “tried to breathe beatifically.”[8]
I only wish I could have been there. As gullible as she was to Tom’s nonsense, I could have offered to sell her an anointed prayer cloth that somehow had a picture of the Blessed Virgin on it. I could explain that at one time it was just a generic, garden variety handkerchief, but that a person full of the Holy Spirit blew his nose on it and the picture mysteriously appeared. I would have thrown the in the lessons on “beatific breathing” for free. Since no one seems to know precisely what “beatific breathing” is, I could have followed Father Tom and Ms. Lamott and made it up as I went along.
In this sacred place Lamott thought of Father Tom and wanted to ask him, “What on earth did Mary do when Jesus was thirteen?”[9] The answer is obvious. She paid for bowling lessons. But no, here’s Lamott’s conclusion: “She occasionally started gathering rocks.”[10] Again, a little theology: Mary was gathering rocks to give to the men of the city to stone the sinless Son of God. That way they would purge the evil from their midst.
Lamott is convinced—according to the Luke 2:41-52 account, which she never mentions by chapter and verses—that as Jesus was “blowing the elders away” when he was twelve, he was also treating Joseph and Mary shabbily.[11] According to her, he was making his parents crazy and he also “ditched” them. You might have missed that the first few times you read that text. Just a quick note Ms. Lamott: not every household is as dysfunctional as yours.
She continues and says that when Jesus’ parents finally found him he started mouthing off to them.[12] You probably missed that part too. Then he dresses Joseph down in this manner: “Like, Joseph, you’re not my real father—you’re not the boss of me. I don’t even have to listen to you.”[13] Isn’t this helpful scriptural interpretation? And the folks at ECM wonder why others have questions about their movement. We should be surprised that, according to Lamott’s eisegesis, Jesus didn’t call Joseph Dude, like, you know, like Jesus was a 21st century postmodernist. You might have missed Lamott’s venture into fantasy land when you read those verses—somewhere between the lines that record his reply as this: “Why were you looking for me? Did you know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (2:49). And then in my funky Bible like, you know, it says this: “And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man” (vv. 51-52). Far out, dude. But to Ms. Lamott’s mind, “Mary’s got a rock in her hand.”[14] Forget the bowling lessons.
So once we have demythologized all of this in a Bultmannian fashion, what have we learned? We need a Youth Pastor to inform us. Lamott’s friend, Mark, works with church youth groups. You just know intuitively that this is really, really going to be good. Mark reminded Ms. Lamott “that Sam doesn’t need to correct his feelings. He needs me to listen, to be clear and fair and parental. But most of all he needs me to be alive in a way that makes him feel he will be able to bear adulthood…”[15]
According to the 5th commandment, Sam does need to correct his feelings. Part of sanctification is having our feelings sanctified as well. I agree with Ms. Lamott that by the time a child has reached the age of thirteen parents need to shift gears slightly and spend time listening. But that is not the end of the story. My God-ordained duty as a parent is to teach my child the things of God; to teach them to take every thought captive to Christ (cf. 2 Cor. 5:10). Yes, I need to be both fair and parental. But “being parental” is not something that hangs in the air. There is a distinct biblical pattern of what being a Christian parent entails. Ms. Lamott might consider beginning by kicking the live-in artist friend out of the house and give her son the example that fornication is unbiblical and displeasing to the Lord.Next week Ms. Lamott takes us on another exciting excursion into the ECM world of postmodern claptrap with a visit to David Roche, the monologist and pastor of the Church of 80% Sincerity. I promise; I am not making this up. Just wait and see. Isn’t this a scream? Tom Cruise might even show up. We could go for a few beers and some bowling. Maybe Father Tom would join us.
[1] Anne Lamott, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith, (NY: Riverhead Books, 2005), p. 94.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid., 95.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid., 98.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Ibid.
[12] Ibid., 99.
[13] Ibid.
[14] Ibid.
[15] Ibid., 102.

Anne Lamott: Funnier Than Phyllis Diller But Not As Pretty (II)

Having Normal Friends
I took our German Shepherd, Hosanna, on a walk today and saw a bumper sticker that read: Normal people scare me. I felt badly because most of my friends are kind of normal—except for Jim, Bill, and Johnnie Walker. No, he’s a real guy. His father had a weird sense of humor and named him after the scotch. In retrospect, it was a highly appropriate name for him. He and I want to start a youth wrestling program at our church. Oh, yes, and there’s also Rob. Jim, Bill, and I picked him up at the off ramp of the 55 Freeway and Katella about a year ago. He had a sign that read: Will work for beer. God bless. He seemed so authentic that we couldn’t resist. I think the “God bless” got us. Anyway, Rob started coming to our church and we made him the Treasurer. Now he lives in Villa Park and drives a Porsche Boxster. We’re investigating.
For the rest, however, my friends would be classified as “normal”—pretty much. But when you’re sixty most of your friends are too tired to be “cutting edge.” I tell you all this because Anne Lamott doesn’t seem to have any normal friends or relationships, which is probably the reason the liberal left media loves her. The second chapter of her new book is entitled “red cords.”
Here’s how that chapter begins: “I wear something on my wrist that one would not expect a Presbyterian woman to wear: a thin red cotton cord that was blessed by the Dalia Lama, and given to me by my Buddhist friend Jack Kornfield.”[1] She’s right. As a “Presbo” myself (my other weird friend, Darrell coined that term), I’ve never actually seen a Presbyterian woman wear a red cotton cord on her wrist that was blessed by anyone, let alone the Dalia Lama.
Jack is a friend that the media left like for you to have. He’s a Buddhist, who is very Jewish, and who also “seems vaguely East Indian, smooth and brown, and gives off a light, spicy, ancient smell.”[2] It sounds like Jack is a Buddhist Jew who works at a local AM/PM store, eats too much curry (which gives him that spicy, ancient smell [read: he reeks]), and is on a sugar high from drinking too many Slurpees, but that’s not the case. My normal friend from India, Edwin, sells designer suits to Bush. As much as Ms. Lamott hates our President, she probably wouldn’t like Edwin either. Edwin is a nice guy—normal.
But back to Jack the Buddhist, Indian, Jew. About him Ms. Lamott writes, “He teaches his students, and has taught me, to slow down, breathe, and take care of everyone, which is of course the same message Jesus taught…”[3] He also moonlights teaching Tibetan throat chanting. That’s not true. I just made it up—about the Tibetan throat chanting that is. Listen, taking care of everyone is strenuous, because once you’ve taken care of everyone, you rarely have a place to put them. You see, Jack the Buddhist, Indian, Jew is a lot like Jesus. One of the cornerstones of Jesus’ teaching was breathing. His people wouldn’t last long without breathing. Somewhere, when you read between the lines of the Greek text, Jesus says, “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand! Oh, yes. Also, don’t forget to breathe!”
Most of us think of breathing as a requisite tool for living. Ms. Lamott, however, admits: “Breathing has never been my strong suit. I’ve never been very good at breathing.”[4] Obviously, she’s done okay so far because she’s still alive. When she was younger—she’s really old now and just can’t seem to get over the fact that she’s fifty—she would hold her breath until she passed out. She was two when she did that.[5] We don’t need to worry, because once her little tantrum was over, the natural reflex of breathing just kind of kicked in automatically and what she wasn’t very good at came kind of naturally.
Her father used to pull the same stunt when he lived in Tokyo with his parents who were Presbo missionaries.[6] He was traumatized by his parents or maybe “he was just a little angry.”[7] I can imagine. It’s hard to find Jewish friends who teach breathing in Tokyo—or have access to curry powder. If you’re following closely, you’ll realize that not only was Ms. Lamott’s father a little angry, so is she.[8] But anger has to have an object, at least when most of your friends are normal. For Ms. Lamott, too, her anger has a recipient. In fact, it’s the same recipient from chapter 1: George W. Bush. She explains, “I feel that we began witnessing the end of the world in Super SloMo once George W. Bush became president, and some days it takes everything I can muster not to lose my hope, my faith, and myself.”[9] I would suggest the Bible and prayer to help in such situations, but somehow that just wouldn’t cut it I fear—feel; think; whatever.
But there is more—a lot more. “One out of six women in my area is now being diagnosed with breast cancer.”[10] That might be true. I know that it’s also true that one out of six men in my area is being diagnosed with prostate cancer, but I’m still breathing. In fact, I’ve known four “normal” people in the last year in my congregation who have had it. They were—at last check—still breathing and not grousing. But breast cancer is nothing compared to the big possum that’s been coming into Ms. Lamott’s driveway “lately, worried and waddly.”[11]
This just in: opossums tend to walk with a waddly gait! Ms. Lamott is deeply concerned because she’s heard “that the stress hormones possums produce are off the charts.”[12] I lie awake at night worrying about that myself, but that is not the least of Ms. Lamott’s worries. She ponders the possum’s fate and gait and concludes, “I suppose that if I had two penises and still fainted a lot, I’d be stressed to the max, too.”[13] All of a sudden I think I’m reading The Blue Collar Comedy Tour. I’m sitting by the pool reading this drivel and my wife is concerned because I’m falling out of the chair laughing. Most of us in Southern California have been exposed to a lot, but I must confess that a woman worrying about having two penises is—well, unique.
It’s a good thing that she has her anointed, blessed red cords around her wrist. Even so, if I were Ms. Lamott, I’d be performing a visual inspection of my “lady parts” each morning before coffee. At the first sign of a slight protrusion I’d been at the doctor. Fortunately, Jack the Buddhist, Indian Jew “knotted a number of blessings” in Ms. Lamott’s cord when it tied it to her wrist.[14] That will keep the evil spirits at bay.
Ms. Lamott’s pastor, Veronica, let her preach the sermon at her church recently and she used her “red string as an audiovisual aid.”[15] Very helpful. Her first point was to walk around “letting everyone see it.”[16] Ohhhhhh. Ahhhhhh. Then she launched into a meaningful exposition of Rahab in Joshua 2. The spies visit this woman who is a big time prostitute. They don’t stay at the Jericho Travelodge for a couple of reasons. First, it didn’t exist (that’s my reason) and second, because “half the men in the town” will be at Rahab’s.[17] Apparently, unlike Ms. Lamott and the waddly possum, Ms. Rahab didn’t mind having more than two penises.
After the spies contracted STDs from Rahab, something happens to the prostitute. “Rahab feels something in her heart that tells her to align herself with the people of God.”[18] This is truly miraculous because other parts of her anatomy are so busy it’s a miracle that her heart could tell her anything at all. But, like Ms. Lamott, Ms. Rahab “was desperate, and so she listened to her heart.”[19] Yep. That’s the message of Rahab and the spies all right. In her desperation, God shows up, not merely to help Rahab breathe better but also because “‘God’ could be considered an acronym: gifts of desperation.”[20]
Here comes the punch line of the sermon: “The main gift is a willingness to give up the conviction that you are right, and that God thinks so, too, and hates the people who are driving you crazy.”[21] Put in more understandable words for the man and woman in the pew with normal friends: “Something spoke to Rahab through her heart, or through what Mel Brooks, in ‘The 2000 Year Old Man,’ refers to as the broccoli: ‘Listen to your broccoli, and your broccoli will tell you how to eat it.’”[22]
A good biblical case can be made for the fact that when the spies visited Jericho, that the city was having a broccoli bumper crop year. What Rahab mistook for the “gift of desperation,” otherwise known as God, was actually the voice of her broccoli telling her how to eat it. Either the Lord God Almighty or her broccoli “gave her the radical conviction that she should be cared for.”[23] It’s a toss up. Rahab choose for broccoli and her name ended up in the genealogy of Jesus (Matt. 1:5). The silly old author of the letter to the Hebrews was so confused that he attributes her broccoli experience to faith (Heb. 11:31). Obviously, the author had never heard of postmodern, beyond, through meta-broccoli narrative.
I’m probably being too hard on Ms. Lamott though, because she admits that she tries “to listen to God’s voice” inside her but her “sense of discernment tends to be ever so slightly muddled.”[24] Really? You don’t say? I hadn’t noticed. She might try listening to the voice of God in Scripture in order to un-muddle her slightly muddled sense of discernment. I’m twenty-one pages into the book and I’m convinced Ms. Lamott could not pour urine out of boot with page after page of detailed instructions.
When God wants to get Ms. Lamott’s attention, however, “She (God—RG) clears Her throat a number of times, trying to get me to look up or inward—and then if I don’t pay attention, She rolls Her eyes, makes a low growling sounds, and starts kicking me under the table with Her foot.”[25] Wow! Are we certain that it’s God? Satan is also a feminine noun in Hebrew. When you have normal friends you don’t get to hear God clear his throat or see him roll his eyes, hear him growl, or feel him kicking you under the table with his infinite foot—which, by the way, is one big, honking foot!
Anyway, when Ms. Lamott finished her sermon “everyone clapped like mad” and she felt “like Miss Spiritual America, with a red cord and an invisible tiara.”[26] We’re left in the dark as to precisely why they clapped like mad. It could have been either that the end of the sermon had benevolently arrived—blessed red cord and all—and the “Amen” was a deliverance rather than a blessing. Only the broccoli knows.

Coming Down Hard
Ms. Lamott’s reign as Ms. Spiritual America was short-lived though. Arriving at home from church, she and her son, Sam, had a huge fight over homework. It seems that he had a science project due the next day and had left his binder in his locker. Like any Miss Spiritual America, Ms. Lamott “spluttered and fumed in the kitchen, and stormed down the hall”[27] to her room—like a Cossack or her mother. Not that her mother was a Cossack. Anyway, she “slammed the door and started hitting it” with her fist.[28] Sam, no doubt, was impressed with his mom’s maturity. After hitting the door several times she “lay facedown on the bed.”[29] This is not a good idea for someone who is not good at breathing.
Even though it was drizzling, Ms. Lamott pulled on a raincoat and with her faithful pooch, Lily (named after the Eli Lily pharmaceutical firm that provides Ms. Lamott’s psycho-tropic drugs), retreated to a hillside near her house that can best be described as a “quiet and holy space.”[30] While there, her attention was drawn to the ubiquitous red cord bracelet around her wrist. When Jack the Buddhist, Indian, Jew tied it on he declared, “You have gotten an A-plus, Annie, for your work during this life.”[31] That’s a good thing, because Sam was going to get something substantially less for his science project. Jack is a wise Buddhist, Indian, Jewish breathing teacher because “All wise people say the same thing: that you are deserving of love, and that it’s all here now, everything you need.”[32] You’d kind of think that wise people would be a little more creative and not have to repeat the same old hackneyed phrases, but apparently wisdom has its limits.
Jack’s words are reinforced by the memoir of a Hindu writer, It’s Here Now (Are You?). Her thought, not mine. Since one of Ms. Lamott’s priest friends says the same thing she supposes Jack’s words to be true. In the midst of this introspection the quiet and holy space was interrupted by three dogs that arrived out of nowhere, followed, finally, by their owner: a normal female. The poor normal woman tried to make small conversation with Ms. Lamott and even was kind to Lily (a.k.a. Prozac). This kindness and normalcy did not amuse Ms. Lamott who describes her intruder in this fashion: “The woman sounded like someone from the shouting Loud family, on the old Saturday Night Live.”[33] Who knows? Maybe she was.
As the orphan from the Loud family moved on down the hill Ms. Lamott closed her eyes, breathed in calm, and grass; and then…”[34] I interrupt this interesting piece of information because Ms. Lamott has chosen to use unseemly language again. What she experienced next at her quiet and holy space was “the smell of dog sh**.”[35] When I was in high school, trying just to get through the day so I could play sports, I had to take English. There were times when it was hard, if not next to impossible, to come up with subjects for my essays that were avant garde enough. I would rack my brain for a suitable topic for my “What I Did on My Summer Vacation” paper, but it never crossed by mind to write about dog feces.
Ms. Lamott, however, regales us for quite some time about how she cleaned her shoes and then took a stick to get the residue out of the pattern on the bottom. Miss Spiritual America at it again. Of course, some in the Emergent Church Movement would argue: But it’s reality! Yes, it is. My rejoinder is: So is diarrhea, but I find it neither entertaining nor especially uplifting.
For Ms. Lamott, however, her entire childhood passed before her eyes[36] and she mused, “It’s a miracle that more of us didn’t shoot up our neighborhoods.”[37] The short answer is that it’s hard to shoot up anything without guns. Anyway, Ms. Lamott, who writes for goes into detail on her attempts to dislodge dog reality from her shoes. With a sigh of resignation that can be heard leaping off the page she writes, “It took forever.”[38] Thanks for sharing. But life can be a real b…really hard. When she says, “Everything gets to be too much, and I can’t breathe,”[39] I can agree with most of that—except that thus far I’ve been able to breathe in a reasonable manner.
But Ms. Lamott has obviously gone through a lot—and I mean that seriously. It sounds like she’s had a tough life with a lot of ups and downs. I don’t want to detract from Ms. Lamott’s woes—for they are legion and that seems to be fashionable in the Emergent Church Movement. Authenticity as a person increases exponentially if you’re a fruitcake, basket case, drug addict, and have had multiple abortions—but I do want to introduce you to another woman. This is a woman who received a child from God about twenty-eight years ago who was mentally handicapped. When that child was around twelve, she began throwing temper tantrums that would last for five hours—unceasing. The child would have to be physically restrained from hurting herself or others. Finally, after a $10,000.00 week in a hospital a team of psychiatrists and geneticists discovered that the child had asymmetrical brain waves and prescribed medications that eventually—finally—controlled the erratic behavior. That woman still cares for this child—now an adult—on a daily basis. She bathes her in the morning, dresses her, and lovingly cares for her needs.
This same woman had a four-month-old son born with severe heart problems. She was told when her son was born that he would not live longer than a year. He lived only four months. In that period of time, the woman cared for her handicapped daughter but also found time to visit and feed her dying infant son who had to be fed through a tube in his nose. Her time was divided, but she still had time to care for her other healthy children, her husband, read her Bible, pray, and to be a blessing to those around her. The day her son died, she kept a vigil by his little bed. Her heart was broken, but she trusted in the God of Scripture. She wept in her weakness but was strengthened by God’s Word of truth. She clung tenaciously to God’s promises.
How do I know all this? I know it because that woman is my wife. To many today she would not be considered “cutting edge” or “authentic,” but I want to share with you some words she wrote last week. After having gone through some very difficult times in her life she penned these words in an article she called “Torn Agendas.”
Here are some of her words: “The prophet Jeremiah wrote: ‘“For I know the plans I have for you”, says the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans for a hope and a future.”’ That is the bottom line for the Christian. God’s plans are always ‘good’ plans. He will prosper us and bring us hope in them. In difficult and painful times, in times that do not make sense to us, we may be sure that God is keeping both His goodness and His promises. What He says, He does. He has the amazing ability to take the evil that touches our lives and turn it to our spiritual benefit.
When evil assails us in life, He not only grants us strength to endure it but also provides a fitting escape. He does not fail us when the going gets tough. Yet, He also knows exactly what we can endure. Though He pushes us at times, He will not crush us. He is the perfect “surgeon” whose cuts are perfectly measured. And when something is more terrible than His child can bear, He will guard him and protect him in the shadow of His wings. With His everlasting arms around us, we find a strength that far exceeds what is human. We find a supernatural, unending, unlimited power that issues forth from the very heart of God.
The pages of our agendas may change, plans may not turn out as we expected, and life may not be what we thought it would be, but God will always be God. He is the One who puts the pieces of our lives together to accomplish His purposes in us and through us. And in the rearranging process, we taste and see that the Lord is good!” I thank God that he has given me a woman like her.

Post Script
PS: My non-scientific concluding postscript to this particular article is that I wrote it on Memorial Day 2005. It was a relaxing day, spent painting the atrium floor, walking Hosanna, hitting a powerful upper body throw on my youngest son, Hans, who is a lot stronger than I, and watching a program on the Military Channel dedicated to those who gave their lives for others. Those stories were told by friends, relatives, or parents. The entire hour was very moving—at least to me.
Today was one of those rare days for me: a day when I cried—a lot, silently. My tears were shed for Americans who gave their lives for our freedoms. They were tears of thankfulness shed for those who died for my four-month-old son who died, for my handicapped daughter, for my wife, for my children, for my fellow-Americans, for me, and for Ms. Lamott. I, for one, am thankful for their sacrifice. They performed selfless acts and put their futures, dreams, and aspirations on the line and on hold for people they did not know, but for a cause that they were very familiar with and loved deeply: the cause of freedom. Every time I recall their sacrifice I’m reminded that pacifism is an ultimate form of cowardice and self-absorption and also that there truly are things worthy fighting and dying for. My prayer to the Lord God Almighty is that as long as I have breath in this body, I will never, never forget what those men and women did for me; did for us.
[1] Anne Lamott, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith, (NY: Riverhead Books, 2005), p. 5.
[2] Ibid., 16.
[3] Ibid., 15-16.
[4] Ibid., 16.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Ibid., 17.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Ibid.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Ibid.
[14] Ibid., 18.
[15] Ibid.
[16] Ibid.
[17] Ibid.
[18] Ibid., 20.
[20] Ibid.
[21] Ibid.
[22] Ibid., 20-21.
[23] Ibid., 21.
[24] Ibid., 21.
[25] Ibid.
[26] Ibid., 22.
[27] Ibid., 23.
[28] Ibid.
[29] Ibid.
[30] Ibid., 24.
[31] Ibid., 25.
[32] Ibid.
[33] Ibid., 26.
[34] Ibid.
[35] Ibid. Again, the clean family asterisks.
[36] Ibid.
[37] Ibid.
[38] Ibid., 28.
[39] Ibid.