Category: Rants (Page 1 of 6)

I get a little riled up occasionally, and then I think about why I am angry. I will continue thinking long after I should have let it go. One great way of getting beyond the issue is to write about it.

The Poetry of Praise: We need better worship songs!

We need to do better.  Too much of what we sing in corporate worship is mediocre or worse.  I’m talking lyrically.  We need to choose better songs, and someone needs to write better songs.   Better lyrics are poetry–they will evoke, not just the emotions of worshipers, but their imaginations as well.  This video is the first in a series called The Poetry of Praise.

 

Remember the Titan is a Bad Movie

A lot of people, a lot of Christians, love Remember the Titans, but doing so shows a lack of discernment–it’s bad. We establish boundaries around the movies our family will watch, but we enthusiastically let this one in. Perhaps the “G” rating isn’t an adequate measure of a movie’s merit.

 

 

YOLO vs. Carpe Diem

What’s the difference between carpe diem, YOLO, and the Christian view of “seizing the day”? We consider C. S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters–the demons want our focus to be on the future.

 

Willful Destruction of Poetry!

I was teaching away and as often happens, I needed to quickly pull up something on the computer to make a point, or give an example of something for the edification of my students.  I needed to project Robert Frost’s “Nature’s First Green is Gold.”  I just typed the first few words into to search bar and hit enter.

I immediately notices the images that the search brought up.

I couldn’t believe what I saw!

Compare that travesty to this:

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
                                                                     Robert Frost

When he wrote it, Robert Frost composed a poem.  He didn’t write a paragraph.  And if he were to write a paragraph, you can be sure he wouldn’t have justified, both right and left.

You don’t get poetry?

Well, this re-presenting of Frost’s original, is analogous to any of the following: (you choose)

  • Putting the front of a Volkswagon Bug on a Rolls-Royce
  • Mixing a can on Sprite with a glass  of Espetacle del Montsant 2017 because it’s not sweet enough
  • Ordering Lobster with a side of Kraft Dinner
  • Listening to your Aunt Edna doing Kareoke–Bonnie Tyler’s “Turn Around” (with your High School PE teacher doing the second voice)
  • Adding a cheesy chorus to Amazing Grace–with a mixed metaphor to boot

Suffice it to say that everything in a poem contributes to its meaning.   In this violent restructuring of the poem, the rhyme is lost.  The correspondence of the alliteration in lines 2 and lines 7 is lost, as is the correlation between “Nature” and “Nothing”–the first words of the first and last lines.  Not to mention the first words of each line (“Nature’s . . . Her . . . Her . . . But . . . So . . . Then . . . So . . . So . . . Nothing”).

And what’s the deal with the background picture?  Grand mountainous cliffs that have grass on them!?  That might be a poem, but it ain’t this poem!  Sure it’s green.  Big deal.  It’s the green of the second leaf in line 5.  This poem is about the “first green,” a green so fleeting it needed a profound poem to hint at its beauty and significance and value and fragility.  You can’t capture that by slapping a green mountain on the background.  If a picture was possible, Frost wouldn’t have needed to write the poem!

As Bugs Bunny would say: “What a maroon.”

And you shouldn’t do this to Bible verses either!

Freedom is God: Wear a Mask

A friend of mine sent me a video in which Dennis Pranger of Prager U, addresses the graduating class of 2020 on what the Covid-19 pandemic has taught them about life.

The address is called Graduation 2020: The COVID Class

Early on in the address, he characterizes our unique times, not with reference to the contagious and potentially deadly disease that has swept across the globe, but as a time when “healthy people, and people living in free societies, have been confined to their homes.”

This take on our current situation is central to Pranger’s message which is taken up in his third point.  His first two points are spot on and part of my motivation to write this post is to pass on these astute observations and wise words.

Pranger U is a conservative American organization that creates videos on various political, economic, and philosophical topics.   There are a lot of Christians who like what Pranger has to say but being conservative and being Christian are not the same thing.  This is born out in Pranger’s third lesson to the COVID Class.

Lesson 1: Life is Hard, Unfair, and Unpredictable.

Your life is very easy.   In the developed West, all our lives are easy compared to those in other parts of the world.  We have easy access to food.  Clothing and shelter are not much of a problem for the vast majority of  North Americans.  We are healthy and have a lot of leisure time and a plethora of entertainment options.  We can easily get the idea that this is normal.  It’s not.

Covid-19 and its effects begin to help us to sense how hard life is, “and that understanding equips you to deal much better with life’s challenges, which are inevitable.”

Pranger’s right.  To walk into life from high school expecting the world to be easy, fair, and predictable will lead to disappointment and bitterness.  This is a valuable lesson.

Lesson 2: Always be Grateful

Pranger says that “gratitude is probably the most important trait you can have because it is the source of both happiness and goodness.”

I don’t necessarily agree that gratitude is the source of goodness, but I agree with his premise and that grateful people are happier than resentful people.   We have so much to be grateful for but, ironically, we tend to be ungrateful in our culture. This may be because we are continuously barraged with advertising and social media that teaches us we don’t have enough or are not good enough.

If Covid-19 has helped you to appreciate what you have both materially and relationally, then allow that lesson to colour and shape your life.  This is an incredibly valuable lesson.

Lesson 3: Freedom is Fragile–Very Fragile

Lesson 3 is the main point of Pranger’s video.  And, from a biblical perspective, I think he’s way off here.  Pranger tells graduates:

The ease with which most Americans acquiesced to the removal of many of their most basic rights . . . should take your breath away.  At the very least it should make you realize how easily any government can take away people’s most elementary freedoms.

Pranger is critical of the extent to which some jurisdictions restricted contact in their reaction to the virus.  In some states where there was very little infection people were told to stay home anyway.  I am not going to argue with Pranger on these particulars–he may be right.  Some governments may have overreacted–we won’t really know what the correct degree of response should have been until all this is over.  (Since this video was released, numbers suggest that the response of many American states did not go far enough.)

Judging from the graphics in the video, America’s most basic rights are freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom to wear a hardhat.  These are the rights that he claims we have been so breathtakingly surrendered to governments.

In reality, the only fundamental right that we surrendered, temporarily, was freedom of assembly.  This has some immediate effect on freedom of religion and the economic (hardhat) freedoms of many citizens.

But wasn’t it a good idea to suspend the freedom to assemble in large groups?  Are Americans supposed to hold onto these rights under any and all circumstances?  Is not a highly contagious, potentially fatal virus, not the exact circumstance in which this right ought to be quickly surrendered?  I can’t even come up with an analogy to drive this point home.  No analogy is clearer than the circumstances we find ourselves in.

[click_to_tweet tweet=”Isn’t it a good idea to suspend the #freedom to assemble?  Are we to demand this right under all circumstances?  Is not a highly contagious, fatal virus, the exact circumstance in which to surrender this right? Isn’t this biblical?” quote=”Isn’t it a good idea to suspend our freedom to assemble?  Are we to demand these rights under all circumstances?  Is not a highly contagious, fatal virus, the exact circumstance in which to surrender this right? Isn’t this biblical? “]

Would Pranger have us ignore the quarantine and gather anyway?  Take guns into government buildings and demand our rights to assemble?  To defiantly not wear a mask as the new symbol of personal freedom?

The Statue of Responsibility

France gave the United States of America the Statue of Liberty, says Pranger, “because America, more than any other country, symbolized Liberty.”

The problem is, the American emphasis on Liberty has become unbalanced.  Someone forgot to give America the necessary and complementary statue–The Statue of Responsibility.

The Statue of Responsibility was the vision of psychiatrist, philosopher, and Holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl.

Frankl is right when he says:

“Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth. Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon whose positive aspect is responsibleness. In fact, freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness.

Man’s Search for Meaning

Viktor Frankl is saying that without responsibility, freedom will degenerate into mere license–doing whatever you want.

In a practical sense, we practice freedom in balance with responsibility all the time.  We have the freedom to drive, but this is balanced with the responsibility to adhere to traffic laws.  We have freedom of speech, but we balance this with the responsibility to not yell “fire” in a crowded theatre.

But now, during the COVID-19 pandemic, some people adamantly resist the curbing of dangerous behavior for the public good.  And the more we see this resistance, the higher climb the numbers of cases and deaths from COVID-19.

What is going on here?

The Idolatry of Freedom

Tim Keller describes idolatry as making a good thing into an ultimate thing.  Freedom is a good thing.  But when it takes the place of God as the ultimate thing, it becomes a cruel deity that demands sacrifice–human sacrifice.

[click_to_tweet tweet=”Both #liberalsandconservatives have a problem with #idolatry. They both worship #Freedom and are willing to make human sacrifices to this cruel deity.  The only difference is the particular victims they place on Freedom’s firey altars. ” quote=”Both liberals and conservatives have a problem with idolatry.  They both worship Freedom and are willing to make human sacrifices to this cruel deity.  The only difference is the particular victims they respectively place on Freedom’s firey altars.”]

Both the Old and New Testaments are consistent in saying that God is God, and he created all good things.  The Bible tells us not to worship these good things.  He also created human beings in his image, making human beings are more valuable than any good thing–more valuable than money, beauty, fame, power, America, the flag, or freedom.

The Bible teaches that we obey governments unless their laws come into conflict with God’s law.  Quarantines and social distancing are not contrary to God’s law, they are merely contrary to the law of our false god.

In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, face masks, quarantines, and social distancing save lives–this becomes more and more clear every passing day.  To refuse to wear facemasks, and defy quarantines and social distancing mandates, is to choose freedom and the economy over human life.  It’s to choose a good thing (freedom) over the image (humanity) of the ultimate thing (God).

If we don’t worship God, we will worship something else.  In America, we worship Freedom and the Economy.  In America, it is your right to do so, but it is not biblical.

[click_to_tweet tweet=”If we don’t worship God, we will worship something else.  In America, we worship #Freedom and the Economy.  In America, it is your right to do so, but it is not biblical. #conservative #Christian #Covid” quote=”If we don’t worship God, we will worship something else.  In America, we worship Freedom and the Economy.  In America, it is your right to do so, but it is not biblical.”]

Ironically, the numbers seem to indicate that those jurisdictions that most faithfully complied with quarantines and social distancing regulations, will be the jurisdictions that most quickly restore freedoms of assembly and recover economically.

But this is not why I reject Denis Pranger’s third lesson.  I reject it because it is unbiblical.

I’d like to replace it with my own.

My Lesson #3: It’s Not Just About You

The global pandemic and the quarantine reminded you that it’s not all about you.  Lots of people will tell you that there is nothing more important than your individual freedom.  This is a tenet of our society.  It’s the only thing that liberals and conservatives agree on, albeit in different directions.

You hear it from the college kids on the Florida beaches and the conservative radio hosts and bloggers:  “If I’m willing to risk catching Covid-19, I can do what I want.  It’s my life.”

A friend of mine has a university-aged daughter who works at Starbucks and lives in their home.  He also has several sets of older parents who he is taking care of, since they are vulnerable and, consequently, are taking the quarantine seriously.  The daughter’s co-workers ignore social distancing protocols.  They like to party with friends.   Because they are not worried about catching the virus, they believe they can ignore the protocols.  They are free to choose risky behaviour if willing to take the consequences.

They are not vulnerable.  They correctly assess the risk to be minimal.  Why should they give up their freedom?

The answer is, they have a responsibility to others.  They have to protect themselves from the virus so that they don’t pass it onto my friend’s daughter, so she doesn’t pass it onto her parents, and her grandparents.

Freedom is a good thing.  But it’s not the ultimate thing.  Your life is interconnected with those of many others.  You can’t always do whatever you want because you are responsible for other lives.

My objection to Pranger’s third lesson is rooted in my faith.  Christians are to love God and love our neighbour.  In our current context, we love our neighbour by limiting movement, social distancing, wearing a mask in public.  It is not possible to love both Jesus and Freedom as ultimate things.  One must give way.  One results in human flourishing, the other results in human sacrifice.

 

Lysol Wipes and Moral Retardation

Hoarding Lysol

What got me about the Vancouver pair who were buying all the Lysol wipes from Costco and selling them for inflated prices on Amazon, was not just that they were doing it.  It was the attitude–they were proud of it.

They had no idea that they were doing was morally reprehensible.  I have previously written about this issue regarding cutting in line at the border.  It’s the same garbage, different pile.  It has to do with moral development; some people get stalled out, morally speaking.

Moral Retardation

I did some research to figure out what was going on with cutting in border line ups.  According to a guy named Lawrence Kohlberg, there are six levels of morality.  If everything goes well, as you grow up, you will move up the ladder, hopefully, to the highest level, but for one reason or another, people can get stuck.

  1. The first level is called “Obedience and Punishment” where people will simply obey the rules because you could be punished if you don’t.
  2. The second stage is called “Individualism.”  At this stage, people make moral judgments based on self-interest.
  3. The next level of morality is based on “Interpersonal Relationships.” Here one is concerned with living up to social expectations and roles.
  4. Some face moral choices based on a perceived duty to “maintain social order.”  This fourth level begins to consider society as a whole in moral decisions but sees the rules and laws as coming from an authority.
  5. The fifth level is “Social Contract and Individual Rights.”  At this stage moral questions are less black and white because there is an understanding of differing moral values and opinions.  And rules and laws ought to be negotiated with others in society.
  6. The last level approaches moral judgments with ” Universal Principles” in mind.  These abstract principles are arrived at through moral reasoning.  Then they are internalized and followed even if they come into conflict with society’s rules and laws.

When our Vancouver pair was grabbing up all the Lysol, there was no rule against it, so they have achieved level one. Yay!

What about level two?  Their plan was clearly based on self-interest, 100% as far as I can tell, so I think we can congratulate our couple for clearly having advanced to stage two.

Everyone wishes, out of self-interest, that they had thousands of $20 items that people would be willing to pay $80 for.  I do that all the time, but these conditions are rare.   These occasions will pop up occasionally when there is a big change.  Like a global pandemic for instance.  We all see the opportunity, some people grab at it, others resist it.  At level three, our subjects would be considering what other people are thinking.  This appears to have no effect on their behaviour because there were a lot of people who were looking askance at their truck full of product.  But perhaps they have achieved this level; I don’t know if they would charge their parents $80 for the wipes.  But clearly they’d do it to their neighbours, so I am going to say they have not achieved level 3.

They certainlly haven’t gotten to level four, because there is a blatant disrespect for the “authority” of society.  If everyone behaved as they did, the effects of the pandemic would be far worse than they would be otherwise.  Because their behaviour can only work if there are a few who do it, it is, in principle, a behaviour that is immoral at the fourth level.

The last two levels actually allow for some flexibility in one’s approach to rules and laws, but neither would accept their behaviour under our current circumstances.

My diagnosis is that people who attempt to buy up all the necessary supplies from Costco in a pandemic (and those who sell candy at exorbitant rates on the elementary school playground) are stuck in the second stage of moral development.

And that’s probably fine if you are six years old.

Liberal or Conservative: How does the Devil vote?

Photo by Pedro Lastra on Unsplash

Does God want us to be liberal or conservative?

How do the demons vote?

We get a pretty clear answer to the second question in C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters.   The book takes the form of a series of letters that have been written by a senior demon, Screwtape, to his nephew and junior tempter, Wormwood, on the best means by which to bring a soul to dwell for all eternity with “Our Father below,” as they refer to him.

In the seventh letter, Screwtape explores the question of whether to make Wormwood’s patient an “extreme patriot or an extreme pacifist.”  This was the question on everyone’s mind when the Letters were published in 1942.

Screwtape is quite clear that the devils are not interested in whether Christians support or oppose World War II.   Neither side is inherently Christian, it seems.  As a matter of fact, Screwtape seems to see more possibilities to lead him astray through pacifism.

Today, the specific circumstances are different, but Christians are still struggling to answering the same general question.  The contemporary question has us wondering between liberal or conservative, Trudeau or Scheer, Democrat or Republican, Trump or someone else?

If Lewis is correct, the minions of hell can use our conservatism just as easily as our liberalism to gain possession of a soul for all eternity.

[click_to_tweet tweet=”If Lewis is correct, the minions of hell can use our conservatism just as easily as our liberalism to gain possession of a soul for all eternity.” quote=”If Lewis is correct, the minions of hell can use our conservatism just as easily as our liberalism to gain possession of a soul for all eternity.”]

Screwtape explains the process:

Step 1:

Whichever he adopts, your main task will be the same. Let him begin by treating the Patriotism or the Pacifism as a part of his religion.

It is clear that the position the Christian takes is of no consequence; the goal of the forces of hell is to erroneously connect our position on the political spectrum with our faith.  From much that I read from Christian writers on the internet, it is apparent that the devils are having a very easy time of it.  We are very willing to take the first step.

Step 2:

Then let him, under the influence of partisan spirit, come to regard it as the most important part.

Again, it doesn’t appear as if we are having the demons work very hard.  I’ve heard many stories of people who can no longer associate with, let alone fellowship with, brothers and sisters in Christ who occupy a different position on the political spectrum as they.  The “camp” to which we belong is so obvious and it is not coloured by any qualification involving all the other dimensions of the Christian faith.

Step 3:

Then quietly and gradually nurse him on to the stage at which the religion becomes merely part of the “cause”, in which Christianity is valued chiefly because of the excellent arguments it can produce in favour of the British war-effort or of Pacifism.

C. S. Lewis never read a single blog post or online article, and yet it is as if he’s read the same religio-political diatribes and tirades that I can only escape in the shower.

But there is hope.  Screwtape reveals the means by which we might reverse our steps toward the eternal flames.

The attitude which you want to guard against is that in which temporal affairs are treated primarily as material for obedience.

This is Lewis’ real point.  Whether left or right, we ought to treat our political positions as primarily material for obedience to our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Our position on the environment, taxes, deficits, size of government, guns, immigration, abortion, LGBTQ, education, is secondary to obedience.  In the fifth letter, Lewis makes this point, through Screwtape:

The Enemy [God] disapproves many . . . causes. But that is where He is so unfair. He often makes prizes of humans who have given their lives for causes He thinks bad on the monstrously sophistical ground that the humans thought them good and were following the best they knew.

It is more important for us to be obedient than it is for us to be right.  And yet, because we have allowed the faith to be slave to the cause, we find it easy to hate our political opposites.

Back to the seventh letter:

Once you have made the World an end, and faith a means, you have almost won your man, and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursuing. Provided that meetings, pamphlets, policies, movements, causes, and crusades, matter more to him than prayers and sacraments and charity, he is ours-and the more “religious” (on those terms) the more securely ours. I could show you a pretty cageful down here,

And here we have it.  This is a dire warning for those who have made faith a means to an end.

God’s Good Gifts and Crap Pasta

FotoshopTofs / Pixabay

We ate dinner in an Italian restaurant in the United States of America.  I ordered a manicotti with meat sauce.  What I got was a plate of efficiency and profit.  And it tasted like crap.

[click_to_tweet tweet=”I ordered a manicotti with meat sauce.  What I got was a plate of efficiency and profit.  And it tasted like crap. #Food #Foody #FoodWorship” quote=”I ordered a manicotti with meat sauce.  What I got was a plate of efficiency and profit.  And it tasted like crap.”]

As we were ordering, I asked the server if the pasta was freshly made.  He had a physical reaction to the question–incredulity?  “No,” he said.  “It’s delivered.”  He named the supplier.  None of the ingredients were made at the restaurant.  The back kitchen was merely the cite of assembly and reheating.  The essential stuff was made in some factory somewhere and delivered frozen or refrigerated through the back door.  I can see the one-gallon plastic buckets filled with sauce, the frozen bags of manicotti and ravioli, the one-gallon bottles of salad dressing, and the machine-made frozen pizza crusts.

I  ordered a baked manicotti and my wife the spaghetti.

Before I took a bite, I ladled a couple of tablespoons of red-amber grease off the top of the melted slab of rubbery mozzarella.   Beneath it, I found two small manicotti.  The pasta was limp and the ricotta cheese had that processed-frozen flavour.  The sauce was plentiful but tasted like it came from a plastic bag.  And, it was exactly the same sauce as that on my wife’s spaghetti.

By his grace, the Creator has given us the ingredients and the mandate and the will to innovate.  The Italians have discovered all kinds of sauces for pasta.  These include:

    • Acciughe, 
    • Aglio e lio,
    • Alfredo, 
    • Amatricana, 
    • Bolognese,
    • Burro,
    • Cacciatore, 
    • Frutti di mare, 
    • Funghi e iselli,
    • Marinara, 
    • Noci, 
    • Pesto, 
    • Pomidoro, 
    • Romana, 
    • Tartufata, 
    • Umbria, 
    • Vongole.  

With all these sauces, how can a restaurant use the same one on two different dishes?  The whole point of different dishes in an Italian restaurant is the variation in the sauce; the pasta is a secondary consideration.

Variety is one thing, but using fresh quality ingredients improves the dining experience exponentially.  In that Italian restaurant, there was no attempt to offer a quality product.  The industrial kitchen that produced the sauce used the cheapest ingredients it could buy in bulk.  The cheese, too, was produced from inferior products on an industrial scale.  Efficiency and profit were the end goal; a good tasting meal wasn’t even a consideration.  The United States has long valued efficiency and profit, and these are not evil in themselves, but they do not belong as the primary motivation in a restaurant, perhaps in a cafeteria.  That’s it! This meal would have been barely adequate in a cafeteria.

The ingredients were cheap.  There was no chef, only assemblers, and they come cheap.  The meal was worth $7.99, but I paid over $20 CDN for my cafeteria manicotti.

Where I live in Canada, I can get freshly made pasta and quality sauces for just over $20.

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