Tuesday, June 26, 2007

An Open Letter To Debbie Stabenow

Dear Senator Stabenow,

I note with gratitude that you voted against cloture in the recent immigration bill. Thank you. I have been a voter since I voted for Gerry Ford back in 1976 and have only on two occasions split my ticket to vote for a Democrat in the years since: the first was a conservative Democrat running against a RINO in Maryland (who subsequently switched parties), and the second was a state-level Representative who happened to be pro-life when his opponent was pro-choice.

I held my nose and voted against you when you took Spencer Abraham's seat in the Senate. Frankly, I thought Mr. Abraham's tone-deafness about immigration policy is the signal reason why you were able to unseat him. Now, I'm pleased that I was wrong and you were elected, because I'm sure Mr. Abraham would have been as much a corporate tool as Mr. Bush and the rest pushing the immigration bill.

Whereas I remain a Conservative, I cannot in good conscience call myself a Republican. Because of your vote on the immigration bill I intend to vote for you the next time you stand for election.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Truth In Advertising

Many years ago I was in Baptist History class by one of my least favorite professors at Cedarville. Despite a well-earned reputation as Dr. Sominex, he said something that has stuck with me for thirty years. His words were to the effect that there is no Baptist “pope” to admit someone to or excommunicate someone from the faith. Rather that the term Baptist implies a set of beliefs and if you don’t believe those things you can’t honestly call yourself a Baptist and if you do believe them you can. He likened it to “truth in advertising.”

I recently heard of someone who criticized a Baptist church in the following story. He was asked if he’s a Baptist or not. He replied by asking, "What does it mean to be a Baptist?" I imagine that the answer was a faithful rehearsal of the Baptist distinctives: Believer’s baptism by immersion, Autonomy of the local church, Priesthood of the believer, Two ordinances of baptism and communion, Individual soul-liberty of the believer, Separation of church and state, and Two offices of pastor and deacon. In response to this, the critic said that he hadn’t heard any mention of love. And this is a valid criticism.

However, I believe that this was an unfair criticism. He was not asked if he was a Christian, but if he was a Baptist. You can be a Baptist without being a Christian, as (a century ago) the members of Fountain Street Baptist Church might testify. Moreover, Baptists, particularly Fundamentalists like me, have a reputation for being censorious. If you consider Christ’s summary of God’s law in the double-love command, this censorious attitude argues most articulately for the non-belief, the non-Christianity, of such Baptists.

The categories of “Christian” and “Baptist” are independent. But if you are a Christian, identifying yourself as a Baptist gives a picture of HOW you are a Christian. If I tell you I’m a Baptist, you’ll know my yard won’t have a half-buried bathtub holding a statue of the Blessed Virgin.

Trouble is that you may also draw some other inferences that are not accurate. I think this is why institutions like the Grand Rapids Baptist Bible College first “got rid of the Bible” and then became Cornerstone University. Instead of standing up and saying, “This is what Baptist means,” and living a positive example thereof, they ran from the word Baptist. I still think they erred.

A lot of Christians did likewise and a lot of Reformed, Presbyterian, Church of God, and other churches became “Community Worship Centers.” Each denomination can point to negatives in its reputation. Certainly an irenic spirit is a Good Thing within Christianity and the blurring of denominational partisan identities takes a step in that direction.

I can see why you might not want truth in advertising. If you’re trying to sell your religion to me, and you make some vague spiritual representation, I’ll be naturally inclined to probe what exactly you believe. The premise is that this will get the proselytizing off to a better start than if you identify denominational pigeon-holes up front. I don’t buy it.

First, you can be partisan without being a jerk about it. If you tell me you’re Catholic or Reformed and I tell you I’m a Baptist up front, we’ve got our theological cards on the table and I’ve got a conceptual framework with which I can lovingly relate to you. I’ll know where the sore points are and can handle them tactfully. I’ll know the things I cannot take for granted. The denominational categories are the result of millennia of careful thought about the theological issues in play and ought not be discarded because of some bozo’s bad example.

And then there are the intentional misrepresentations of the enemy. You know, the Father of Lies. Do we act as if the devil’s slanders are true by running? Think of the word “puritanical.” We commonly identify this adjective with a priggish, humorless sort that bears no resemblance to the Puritanism of Milton or Bunyan. I'm sorry, but the most humorless person I know is emphatically not a Puritan.

So, with this in mind let me remind everyone: I am a Christian. What sort of Christian am I? I am a Baptist. What sort of Baptist am I? I’m a Calvinist. What sort of Calvinist am I? I am a Puritan. What do I mean by this? You can find book definitions for all these things that'll give you a good starting point. After that you’ll have to watch me. If you think my life works and want to know its theoretical framework, those labels will tell you where to look.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

I don't even like opera

This is funny. I ran across, I don't know how, a YouTube video clip of this British TV show. It's a British spin-off of American Idol. I've never watched American Idol. I respond politely when others say nice things about it and I have made snarky remarks about Sanjia (though I've never seen him). I figure anything on "reality" TV is going to be contrived and stupid. So, I clicked on the movie and started watching, wondering what was up. Is this some kind of joke? some ironic bit of trash where some bozo makes a fool of himself in front of a TV audience?

The video showed this rather dumpy looking fellow (and I figure that TV makes anyone who's not stunningly attractive look dumpy) in a cheap suit, bad hair, and unfortunate teeth that is too common in Britain. The judges looked bored and skeptical and asked him what he wants to do. He said he'd like to do opera. The judges did not visibly roll their eyes, but I got that vibe.

Then the fellow started singing. But first, I forgot to mention how much I absolutely despise opera. So, the guy starts singing and I'm waiting for a gag.

There's no gag. This guy is incredibly good. The first clue I got was watching the judges, particularly the female judge Amanda Holden. She's struggling to contain her emotions. I did recognize the Puccini tune and I realize this dumpy looking guy is singing this as well as I've ever heard it sung. The judges were utterly impressed. Somehow, and I don't know how, I was moved to tears by the fellow's singing. I don't understand that. I replayed the video a half-dozen times and a stack of soggy kleenexes piled up a dozen deep.

Then I want looking for more info about this guy. I found a half-dozen posts with the video embedded, usually with the introduction, "I don't even like opera, but..." Then it struck me, an utterly incredible degree of talent trumps distaste for reality-tv or opera. The fellow's name is Paul Potts, and I hope we'll be hearing more of him.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Men Without Chests

I just read a snippet of a story on one of the milblogs. Seems that some 65 year old former cop and a retired Marine had to get physical with a guy on an airplane and his brother. That a situation that you hear about and hope to God you've got what it takes to do the right thing if you're ever there. The contemporary term is "onions" or "balls," but I prefer C.S. Lewis' term in his essay, "Men Without Chests." There's something about the empty suit that says more about a man than mere gelding.

We read from various places people complaining of how boys are raised to be sissies and that men are no longer manly. Lewis sussed it. When man is the measure of all things, nothing is big enough to be worth risking your life over. This hollows a man out and he's pretty much worthless. I have nothing but scorn for the protester who engages in civil disobedience and then complains that he felt threatened by the authorities. Socrates was man enough to drink the hemlock. He was a man with a chest.

What's most discouraging about this story was when the cop said, "I had looked around the plane for help, and all the younger guys had averted their eyes." Maybe all the young guys with chests must be in Iraq & Afghanistan.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

"Homegrown" Terrorist Plots

I just read a news story about a plot by four individuals named, Russell Defreitas, a U.S. citizen native to Guyana, Abdul Kadir of Guyana, Kareem Ibrahim of Trinidad, and a fourth man, Abdel Nur. Mr. Nur is reported to be a former member of the Parliament of Guyana.

Strangely, WNBC in New York said, "The arrests mark the latest in a series of alleged homegrown terrorism plots targeting high-profile American landmarks."

Does this mean that that WNBC considers Guyana and/or Trinidad to be "home."