Category Archives: Culture – Values

10 Reasons to allow a Mosque near Ground Zero

I have a feeling I am going to be in the minority on this one…

My parents are Russian immigrants.  They left Russia for greener pastures fleeing Stalin and to a lesser degree looking for religious freedom.  My mom was a Russian Baptist, my dad a Molokan.  The Molokans especially were in the minority and not a favorite of the Pravaslavnye (Orthodox Church) although small enough to fly under the radar.  Nonetheless, it was a minor factor in their emigration from the then Soviet Union.

Now the Molokans are an exclusive albeit non-violent sect of Christianity.  The history of the movement is not well documented, but it appears as a reactionary response against Orthodoxy started by a charismatic figure who had a dramatic and prophetic role in the lives of the people around him.  He wrote a book, started a movement, an it still exists today.  There are 5 churches in the Los Angeles area; others in San Francisco, the Fresno area, Oregon and I am sure other enclaves in the US. I called the Molokans exclusive.  Theologically (although this too is hard to nail down, no formal doctrinal statement, no uniform authoritative body to define the fine distinctions of theology, connections that are based to a great deal on the ethnic/social ties of community as opposed to systematics or ecclesiological structure.  In light of this the following characterizations may not be universally declared but they certainly are around) Molokans feel a certain chosen status, a sort of inheritance of the chosen people status that belonged to the nation of Israel.  As a result they follow some of the civil law of the Old Testament:  dietary laws, a version of the feast /holiday calendar.  They  would not encourage intermarriage, in fact it is much stronger than that.  There is a name for outsiders:  “not ours.”  To marry outside puts you outside.

I raise all of this because it is relevant to groups I don’t agree with having religious freedom, and the importance of that liberty with no respect to a particular religion, even my own.

It is absurd to object to the proposed Mosque near Ground Zero. Here is why.

First, the truth is that the mosque is not on Ground Zero, it is two blocks north of Ground Zero.  In response to the claims that the allowance of the mosque there would violate sacred ground is based on proximity to Ground Zero, this is two blocks away – this is not the sight of the deaths and it is a stretch to consider the building to be on sacred ground.  This objection is pure emotionalism.

Second and related to the first, the placing of a mosque so close to the sight of so many deaths is insensitive to those who lost loved ones on 9/11.  This emotional argument makes the mistake of encouraging the false notion that all Muslims and all mosques are culpable for the events of 9/11.  This is not true on any level.  Nurturing and fostering this falsehood does not heal the wounds of loss.

Third, a corollary to 2:  Muslims lost their lives on 9/11.  They worked in the twin towers and they are as much the victims of the terrorism as any other humans in the building.

Fourth, at the time of 9/11 and even now the criticism of non-extremist Muslims, Muslims who do not agree with Islamic fundamentalism the terrorism associated with Islamic fundamentalism have been criticized for not speaking against the terrorism.  Now, a mosque that is not interested in terrorism, with a leader described by Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic as that kind of Muslim “Bin Laden fears most: a Muslim who believes that it is possible to remain true to the values of Islam and, at the same time, to be a loyal citizen of a Western, non-Muslim country”, is being proposed.   We can’t have it both ways.  We can’t criticize Muslims who bury their heads in the sand and remain mute and then criticize those Muslims brave enough to make the kind of statement we have begged them to make in the first place.

Fifth, we live in the USA.  This country was founded in part on the right of religious liberty.  Our forefathers left a nation where the government favored its own religious expression and attempted to make all others conform with their brand of religion.  What is being suggested is simply unconstitutional.

Sixth, the only people happy about this situation are  (a) ignorant and fearful people who are making serious errors in judgment and logic, and (b) those opposed to ALL religious groups having access to buildings like this for their meetings and having any privileged standing in our tax codes as non-profit and religious institutions.  If we restrict Muslims from building mosques we have no grounds to apply for the building of churches.

Seventh, the location of the mosque in this instance is really a red herring.  Groups are protesting mosques in other areas (including Temecula for my local readers) on similar grounds without the emotional connection to Ground Zero.  This points out that it really isn’t an objection to the location, it is an objection to Islam.

Eighth, standing up for the rights of Americans is a good thing.  Taking away the rights of American citizens is not an appropriate response to the plague of terrorism.  Saying the truth in this instance does not equate to an apologetic of Islam.

Ninth, generally religious institutions have a positive effect upon society.  Granted, some religions are superior to others and I think one is true in a way that all others are not, yet most religious institutions attempt to instill values in the hearts, minds and behaviour of their followers.  Many are manipulative, controlling and otherwise despicable, but in general they are a positive force in culture.  Islam has examples of both.  So does Christianity.

Tenth, the potential for evil resides in the heart of man.  Individuals can be dangerous.  Individuals who get power and influence over a group and couple that power with evil intentions are more dangerous.  When individuals do double duty, that is they serve in positions of power in more than one sphere they can be incredibly dangerous.  Islam’s major challenge in my opinion is that they have not solved the relationship between church and state equation.  As long as those issues are intertwined to the degree that they are indistinguishable, we will be facing an entity that has great potential for evil.

There is a confusion of this legitimate overarching concern with the illegitimate opposition to this mosque. In general, as Christians we are opposed to the religious war aspect of Islam (our limited understanding of the idea of jihad).  A caution is not to bear arms as “Christians” against “Muslims”, rather to support a response to terrorists, and believe that in attacking terrorists we understand that there are those living in proximity to the terrorists who desire relief from the terrorism as well. Essentially we must take care to diminish the religious war overtones inherent in this worldwide issue.

When some of those who lived in proximity to terrorists leave and find their way to the land of freedom, let’s not put them without cause in the same box as the terrorists.

Read this NY Times article entitled The Danger of Demonizing Adherents of Islam

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I Love Mexicans

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man,from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love,may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth,and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.
Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.

This marvelous prayer is from Ephesians 3:13-21.

I never understood how enlightened Christians could entertain racism, latently or blatantly.  In Southern California, racism is often directed towards Mexicans.  I love Mexicans.  I abhor racism.  It is completely un-Christian. Here is what the passage from Ephesians tells us:

Every family in heaven and earth derives its name from the Father

Is there a preferred nation to God?  The answer to that question is no.  This may anger dispensationalists, but there is no longer an elect nation.  This may anger patriots, but God loves Mexico as much as He loves the USA.  Much of the emphasis on the word “all” in the New Testament is not an emphasis on individual “all”, but corporate “all”; all with reference to all the nations as opposed to one elect nation.

And they sang a new song, saying, Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.

By Your Blood you ransomed people from every….

TRIBE, LANGUAGE, PEOPLE AND NATION

What a great portrait of the fullness of the church.  The picture in heaven includes Mexicans.  Some of them are illegals.  Jesus died for the nations, our heart must love the nations because Jesus had a focus and purpose in his death and life and kingdom which CENTERED on the nations.

I love Mexicans, maybe more than Canadians.  They are our neighbors, we view them as the modern American equivalent of the Samaritans.  Many of you need to repent.

Here is a great interview with President Vicente Fox at Westmont College.

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Ben Franklin Resolutions – The Virtue Chart

This is a repost from 1/1/2008

Ben Franklin regularly followed a plan to develop his character. Based on Philippians 4, Ben used the chart below as a tool to improve himself.

Check out the site Flamebright for a brief explanation and DIY Planner for templates you can print out.

His “Plan” was made up of 13 virtues, each with short descriptions:

1. Temperance: Eat not to dullness and drink not to elevation.

2. Silence: Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself. Avoid trifling conversation.

3. Order: Let all your things have their places. Let each part of your business have its time.

4. Resolution: Resolve to perform what you ought. Perform without fail what you resolve.

5. Frugality: Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself: i.e. Waste nothing.

6. Industry: Lose no time. Be always employed in something useful. Cut off all unnecessary actions.

7. Sincerity: Use no hurtful deceit. Think innocently and justly; and, if you speak, speak accordingly.

8. Justice: Wrong none, by doing injuries or omitting the benefits that are your duty.

9. Moderation: Avoid extremes. Forebear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.

10. Cleanliness: Tolerate no uncleanness in body, clothes or habitation.

11. Chastity: Rarely use venery but for health or offspring; Never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.

12. Tranquility: Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.

13. Humility: Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

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Christians Are Mixed Up

According to recent polls cited by the USA Today, Christians are a mixed up lot.  Read the article, More U.S. Christians mix in ‘Eastern,’ New Age beliefs.

Some of their observations:

•26% of those who attend religious services say they do so at more than one place occasionally, and an additional 9% roam regularly from their home church for services.

•28% of people who attend church at least weekly say they visit multiple churches outside their own tradition.

•59% of less frequent church attendees say they attend worship at multiple places.

Pew says two in three adults believe in or cite an experience with at least one supernatural phenomenon, including:

•26% find “spiritual energy” in physical things.

•25% believe in astrology.

•24% say people will be reborn in this world again and again.

•23% say yoga is a “spiritual practice.”

It is an interesting phenomenon that I encounter often as a pastor.  This article was no surprise to me, in fact, I was surprised that the numbers weren’t higher.  Here are some of my observations:

Anti-intellectualism

Thinking is not in vogue in the church.  Reading is not a common practice, and if it is, it does not include books that challenge the intellect and build a strong intellectual or doctrinal foundation.  It is the rare Christian who reads philosophy, has mastered logic or engages in apologetics.  Many Christians do not evaluate their belief system against the Scriptures nor do they engage in Systematics.  Can I add that many pastors are in the same category.  As a result, the beliefs of believers are muddled. They are regularly exposed to shoddy and contradictory preaching, rarely systematic, rarely doctrinal.  The result is Christians remain mixed up, and even worse feel that it is acceptable.

Scientific Climate and corresponding High touch climate

We live in a scientifically influenced society where people are desperate for corresponding scientific “proof” for their faith.   So we have institutions dedicated to Creation research/Intelligent Design.  We ignore science when it challenges our belief system, we appeal to it when it “supports” it.  We seek its solace as it brings “certainty” to our faith.  Yet on the other hand we ignore it when it comes to evaluating weirdness, like speaking to the dead.

In our scientific age, we crave a corresponding non-scientific, esoteric experience that is beyond explanation.  We base our conclusions on major and eternal issues on emotion and visceral reactions.  It is an odd combination:  Christians seek scientific affirmation of faith, then seek irrational affirmation of faith in their practice and in their “non-scientific” areas of doctrine.

Post-modernism

Post-modernism is a view that elevates the subjective and diminishes the objective (very simplistic definition of a very complex idea).  Post-modernism has infected the thinking of the average person in our culture.  It reveals itself in statements like, “It is true for you but not for me”.  The philosophical underpinnings of Post-modernism feed the propensity toward the mixed up ideas displayed by Christians.  It really isn’t necessary for people to have organized and consistent ideas, rather it is important for the subject to feel good about their ideas.

The subjective approach looks for doctrine and church to bring emotional satisfaction, not intellectual consistency.  This may not be true of the sophisticated post-modern who may go to great lengths to think and justify their philosophical position, but it is the effect upon the average church goer.

So even though communicating with the dead is outside the boundaries of Christian doctrine and science, the average Christian dispenses with those boundaries because they find comfort and solace in what speaking to their dead relatives brings.

Consumer mentality brought to spirituality

People treat church like they do shopping or picking a restaurant.  Denominational loyalty is diminishing and church’s marketing toward felt needs has produced a shopping environment when it comes to church.   I recall seeing an advertisement in the newspaper from a church offering a television as a prize give away item in an attempt to lure visitors.  Worship services are like concerts and sermons like motivational messages, geared toward the relevant and the cultural context. Graphics, titles and content all garnered from the media (TV and movies).

Hence people feel free to jump from congregation to congregation, hearing the same regurgitated sermons that are aimed at their felt needs.  Story, media and illustrations fill the sermons, content takes a back seat, doctrine is rarely spoken of at length.  They have very rarely had any long term systematic teaching.

Anti-authority

The most telling quote in the USA Today article is “In short, we believe our own experiences are authentic, and no “authority” can say otherwise.”

“Our own experiences rule the roost.”  This philosophy applied to the church is antithetical to the function of the church in the life of the believer.  Maybe the most challenged idea in our postmodern culture is the idea of authority.  The appeal of many of the evangelical/non-denominational movement is the diminishing of a clear cut authority.  The more traditional expressions of church, Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Mainline  Protestant (Lutheran, Anglican, Presbyterian) found their people on a mass exodus to the free movement.  Now that the shine has worn off, many are moving back to some of those churches, but desiring the experience without the authority.

The equation of anyone’s opinion with the position of the church or the position of the pastor/elders is not a biblical one.  In fact the reversal is now the case, the individual is evaluating church and doctrine and elevating themselves above the church.  This is now seen as the norm.

Interesting.

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Obama on Kanye

Careful with every errant word…

Or you can listen to the whole interchange here (audio only)

Here’s the transcript:

Q: Were your girls as hacked off as mine were that Kanye gave Taylor Swift the Joe Wilson treatment?

Obama: I thought that was really inappropriate. You know it was like she’s getting an award — why are you butting in? I, I hear you — I agree with you.

Q: So does that count as the first question?

Obama: The young lady seems like a perfectly nice person. She’s getting her award. What’s he doing up there? He’s a jackass. (Laughter) No, now — this — all this stuff — I’m assuming all this stuff. Where’s the pool? Come on guys. Cut the president some slack. I got a lot of other stuff on my plate. Yeah. Cause I remember last time it was the fly thing. Now that was the highlight of (trails off)

Q: No that worked out well for you. You were a ninja.

Obama: Except PETA… (laughter)

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David Robinson NBA Hall of Fame

David Robinson is all class, from the wonderful words he says to his wife to the way he affirmed his sons.  The speech is a typical acceptance style speech, thanking everyone for all the effort contributed, but his ending is tremendous.  Now many sports figures have given thanks to God, but David Robinson says it here better than anyone I have ever heard.  30 seconds well framed and spoken, giving God thanks and blessing a crowd that has it all and has heard it all.  Excellent.  Video is 7:45 and the tribute to God starts at about 6:41.  Worth watching.

If you happened to see the Hall of Fame show on ESPN then you will also recall that the day was really focused on Michael Jordan.  His acceptance speech is the exact opposite of Robinson’s;  he couldn”t get off of himself.  The “greatest” player of all time spends his time trying to justify why he deserves that title.  I thought it was sad.  In contrast to how Robinson presented himself it was pathetic.

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Paying girls NOT to get Pregnant

How about this for incentive:  Pay your daughter to not get pregnant.

There is actually a program called College Bound Sisters at the University of North Carolina Greensboro.  The goals of the program are to help girls graduate high school, enroll in college while avoiding pregnancy and they incentivize the girls with a $7 a week payment into an account they can access once enrolled in college.  The program is aimed at teenage girls aged 12-16 who has never been pregnant but who has a sister who had a baby before age 18.  They must want to go to college and must attend a weekly meeting.

This is an interesting twist on my previous blog post:  Stop Praising Your Kids for Their Achievments.

I admire the nobility of the program, helping at risk teens avoid pregnancy is a fantastic goal.  The facts are that teen pregnancy is a leading correlative factor in lifetime poverty.  A lack of education being an additional correlative factor.  Getting girls to avoid pregnancy and get an education not only helps them but it helps our soceity as a whole.  So bravo to the women in the nursing department at UNC Greensboro for this excellent and noble effort.

But…you knew there was going to be a but, let’s be smart about the particulars.  Incentivizing behavior that should be considered normative, healthy and base line does not ultimately solve the problem.  Picture the nightmare scenario if this program goes national, and teens around the country begin to demand their payment for not getting pregnant.  Or the reverse scenario from the smart bribery tendency child:  “Give me money or you may get a grandchild…some things just happen you know.”

I have a hard time being critical of this program because it is well intentioned, I wish more people would serve others in this manner, but I am really uneasy about the implications of paying people for good behavior.

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Should we tell the kids?

To tell or not to tell, this is a common problem many parents with shady personal  histories face.  Should we tell the kids about our past drug usage?  How about a relational indiscretion?  What part of our past must we reveal to our children?

This is not as difficult as it may seem at first glance.  Here are the parenting principles to guide you through this question.

It is none of their business…

First, the behavior you demand from your children has no reference to how you behaved as a child/teen.  Many people have told me something similar to this:  “Our kids have a right to know, I don’t want them to find out from someone else.”  My response is:  “it is none of their business.”  Parenting is not about defending my past, it is about establishing a healthy context for growth in the present, with good results for the future.  My children don’t have an inherent right to know every detail about my past.

Parenting is about breaking bad habits and patterns that reside in the family dna and establishing the healthy values  that characterize our family now.  What I did in high school is irrelevant to the values I want to instill in my family now that I have grown up.  My behavior cannot be used as a license for my children’s desire to act out.  If you allow residual guilt over indiscretions in life to rule your present parenting posture, you will equivocate in your communication to your kids.

My father smoked and drank before I was born.  He came to faith in Christ when I was young and he changed many patterns of behavior.  I did not need to know the information, it was not my “right” and it had no impact on whether it was ok for me to smoke or drink.   I found out these details about my father as an adult, and it didn’t traumatize me, nor should it have traumatized me.

You are in charge…

The underlying problem that lurks here is the notion that the children are in charge, or that they have a right to make these egregious and stupid choices for themselves.  Now when it comes to “being in charge” the best approach is to exhibit a healthy and positive lifestyle that is attractive to emulate.  I don’t mean enforcing values that you do not hold yourself.

It is good for parents to be in control.

First, of their own life and values.  Living a positive and strong lifestyle becomes the key to parenting, and passing on values to your children.  So be in control of your life, that is the fruit of the Spirit the Bible describes as self-control.  If your past contained indiscretion, join the human race.  Whose hasn’t?  Don’t allow your children to use the stupid manipulation that claims a right to your prior misbehaviors as license for their own.  Instead turn it around on them.  Say something like:  “we obviously recognize that such and such behavior is unattractive/stupid/destructive and we don’t all have to suffer through it.

So many parenting challenges come from the reversal of authority.  It is really the same problem described in Genesis 3, the authority structure gets rearranged.  When we usurp God’s rightful authority, things get all messed up.  When the authority structure in parenting gets rearranged, things get all messed up.  Being in control in parenting means leading to godliness:  first by example then by instruction.  It is imparted with confidence, and there is no concession to manipulation.

This bears repeating.  It amazes me that people allow their children to think that they have a right to “experience” vices for themselves.  I have never taken drugs nor have I ever been drunk.  I haven’t missed anything, and I didn’t need to “experience” drug abuse or drunkenness to see it’s downside.  It does not have to be a part of my children’s experience.  In the same way my children don’t need to experience violence to know it is bad, they don’t need to experience other vices, even if I did.  We wouldn’t say:  “my kid needs to be beat up a few times so he can learn that violence hurts.”

So should you tell your kids about your past?  Maybe, maybe not.  Use your head and don’t let your past control your confidence in parenting.

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