News and Blues and Candles Against the Darkness

For several days now, I have just felt depressed when I open my news page: recently, there have been a number of very troubling murders, including some allegedly perpetrated by children.  A pastor’s pregnant wife was murdered in her home, there have been sexual assaults, including teens assaulting toddlers, and now a coordinated terrorist attack killing more than 120 across the city of Paris.

But it isn’t just the violence: it’s the clash of ideologies that wearies me to the very bone.  One group sues to have a nativity scene banned from display on public property because religion offends them, while another bunch of religious crazies gets bent out of shape because Starbucks goes with a red holiday cup.

We have politicians and would-be presidents that gleefully toss around threats of deportation of millions of undocumented immigrants including children who would be uprooted from the only home they have known and sent back to a greater uncertainty, well except for the near certainty of poverty and misery.

We allow ourselves to be blinded by the counterproductive values of those who are driven by greed.  We turn our faces from the uncomfortable reality of suffering and seek our security if not our happiness in a warm gun.  And when violence erupts in a school or church, the immediate call is not for controlling access to guns but rather arming more people to deter (read “preemptively kill”) would-be mass killers.  And we can do all that while quoting scriptures and patting the cover of a dog-eared King James Bible.

We worry so much about rights and not bruising the delicate sensibilities of this special interest group or that special interest group that we forget about responsibilities, and I’m talking about the ones that predate the Constitution and the assembled code of laws accreted since the founding of this country. 

The most fundamental directive of humankind is to love one another.  That love could be manifested in many ways, but none more genuine and foundational than seeing to the needs of the poor, weak, sick and vulnerable. 

I know there is evil in the world.  I’ve been alive since the dark days of the 1960’s.  I remember the body counts from Vietnam on the evening news.  I remember the saber-rattling that preceded the fall of the Soviet Empire.  I remember the first and second Gulf Wars.  And I have watched the rise of radical religious zealots who are bent on establishing an oppressive, blood-soaked global theocracy.

The news disturbs me daily, and far more than it ever lifts me up.  I need good news. I need to know that there is still goodness in this world.  I need to know that there are those who have not given up the fight against darkness, against inhumanity, against suffering.  I need something to rekindle my faith in the goodness of humanity.

Whatever happens in the world, the evil without must not be an excuse for the growth of a malignant evil within.  We must never dim the divine light loaned to humanity in deference to the darkness of hate, greed, selfishness and the shadowy passions that degrade our innate nobility.  We were made for better than what we see in the news.  Like a tiny candle flickering against the night, every small act of kindness strikes a blow against evil.  Never be afraid to join the light and make a difference.  The alternative is darkness. Those are the only two choices.

I choose light.

The Curious Case of Christians and Coffee Cups

The annual festival of offenses has begun.

Every year, someone decides that society has waged a war on Christmas.  It is true that people have moved to a more generic greeting in many cases, from Merry Christmas to Happy Holidays.

None of that really bothers me.  What does bother me is that people are giving Jesus a black eye by violating the very principles he taught.  If someone offends you, turn the other cheek.  He would have agreed with the wise man who spoke of gentle answers that turn away wrath.  He would have agreed with his apostle who said as far as it depends on you, be at peace with all people.

When people are spoiling for a fight about something as ridiculous as Starbucks’ choice of holiday paper cups, we have a problem.  One meme I saw said something about people wanting to put Christ back in Christmas, but that they should first pay attention to putting Christ back in Christians.  I usually despise memes.  But that one has a kernel of truth.

A larger issue than disposable drink-ware is a study that came out that, whether accurate or not, has painted children from religious families as less empathetic, less altruistic and more likely to suggest harsher punishments for rule-breaking.  How did we get to a point where cups are more important than teaching our children the most elementary principles of a life of faith?

Why are those who are nominally Christians the ones who are most likely to fight for lower taxes even though it means cutting programs that help the poor?  Why are Christians at the center of the fight for gun rights ostensibly to defend their own lives and the lives of their families and who lead the charge against abortion, but support reducing or eliminating programs that feed children who would otherwise have nothing to eat and put them at risk of dying?

Have we become so legalistic, so fearful of an angry God that we fail to comprehend the true fundamental principle of grace, that as we have received from him, we should share with others?  Have we let the fear of punishment distort the joy in service to the Prince of Peace we can have by serving others?

The Jesus I know had compassion on crowds of hungry people.  He comforted those who were hurting.  He wept with those who mourned.  He even prayed for the forgiveness of the men who nailed him to an undeserved cross.

“But Jesus made a scourge of cords and drove money changers from the Temple.”  He did indeed do that.  But those people had made the courtyard of the holiest house of worship into a profit-seeking market, likely taking advantage of people in the process.

Sometimes, I wonder if Christ ever really was in some people who call themselves Christians.  If we are Christians only because we fear hell, we have missed the point entirely.  To be a follower of Jesus is more than filling a pew and feeding the collection plate and being opposed to practically everything.  It is reflecting his light and his love to a hurting world.  If all people see from us is scorn and outrage and selfish actions, it is no wonder that religion is fading in America.

Until we see Jesus as he truly was—as I believe that he still truly is—we will make little headway in expanding the borders of the Kingdom.  Jesus showed us the way.  He changed hearts one at a time with honesty and kindness and love.  The Prince of Peace stooped down to wash his disciples’ feet.  He reached out with open arms in humble service, not clinched fists lifted in outrage.  Mobilizing a mob—even one on social media—with the fervor of a religious militancy is as far from honoring Jesus as one can go.

So if Starbucks offends you, drink your coffee somewhere else.  Or better yet, have a glass of water and give the price of a latte to someone who has no food.  I’m pretty sure Jesus would be OK with that.

O, To Grace, How Great a Debtor

In 1758, Robert Robinson, a one-time barber’s apprentice turned preacher, wrote the words to a hymn that set me on the brink of tears almost every time I sing it.  His immortal hymn, “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” is steeped in personal reflection, from the torment of battling sin to the exultation at the thought of grace; from the sacrifice for atonement, to the need for constant guidance.  There are only a few, perhaps no more than two other hymns that affect me in such a way, because these songs sing my life, my struggles, my hopes and my soul’s deepest desires.

The hymnal I use has only three highly edited verses to this wonderful meditation.  I was surprised to find that Robinson’s original had five verses that focused as much on his own foibles as on the immense goodness of a forgiving God, the counterweight to the burden each must bear.      

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,

Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;

Streams of mercy, never ceasing,

Call for songs of loudest praise.

Teach me some melodious sonnet,

Sung by flaming tongues above.

Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it,

Mount of Thy redeeming love.

Sorrowing I shall be in spirit,

Till released from flesh and sin,

Yet from what I do inherit,

Here Thy praises I’ll begin;

Here I raise my Ebenezer;

Here by Thy great help I’ve come;

And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,

Safely to arrive at home.

Jesus sought me when a stranger,

Wandering from the fold of God;

He, to rescue me from danger,

Interposed His precious blood;

How His kindness yet pursues me

Mortal tongue can never tell,

Clothed in flesh, till death shall loose me

I cannot proclaim it well.

O to grace how great a debtor

Daily I’m constrained to be!

Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,

Bind my wandering heart to Thee.

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,

Prone to leave the God I love;

Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,

Seal it for Thy courts above.

O that day when freed from sinning,

I shall see Thy lovely face;

Clothed then in blood washed linen

How I’ll sing Thy sovereign grace;

Come, my Lord, no longer tarry,

Take my ransomed soul away;

Send thine angels now to carry

Me to realms of endless day.

What have we missed by allowing such great thoughts to be edited, maybe for nothing more than to fit the space in a hymn book?  In the third stanza of the hymn book used for the past two or three generations by many of the congregations of my tribe, the words have always rung hollow to me, and now I know why:  where the version in Sacred Selections reads, “Never let me wander from thee, Never leave the God I Iove,” Robinson actually wrote of his own weakness.  He wrote, “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love; Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, Seal it for Thy courts above.”  Rather than place the responsibility on God for maintaining the relationship, Robinson recognized he was imperfect, prone to wander.  By freely giving his heart, he would be bound to his God. 

Second, Robinson wrote of his inability to adequately express his wonder and gratitude for the grace he had accepted: “How His kindness yet pursues me, Mortal tongue can never tell. Clothed in flesh, till death shall loose me, I cannot proclaim it well.”  He realized after a brief career of what was once called “dissipation” that God had not given up on him, that his kindness pursued him.  The overwhelming realization of that kindness, that wonderful grace, was more than he could truly explain, at least while trapped within the fleshly bonds of mortality.

Finally, perhaps outside of John Newton’s “Amazing Grace,” Robinson penned the greatest hymn focused on God’s great gift.  From the opening lines, he implores God to give him the ability to sing of his grace.  He says he is daily constrained to be in the debt of grace, and then in the closing stanza, he looks forward to being freed from the constant threat of sinning, to shed his weak flesh and be in God’s presence.  There, he says, “How I’ll sing Thy sovereign grace.”  The grace that he praised from the first verse, to which he was indebted each and every day, would be the subject of his eternal gratitude and praise.

It is that understanding and elemental appreciation of grace that is so lacking in so many today.  For too many among those with whom I have been associated, grace has become little more than a greeting and benediction in Paul’s letters or smugly considered a byword used by those in other denominations to evade the five steps in the plan of salvation.  And yet, it is so important of a concept that Paul spent a large portion of his letter to the Ephesians explaining just how important grace is to salvation, and that a salvation by works would only lead to boasting.      

Eph 2:1  And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2  in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—3  among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

4  But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5  even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—6  and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7  so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8  For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9  not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

By grace you have been saved.  For by grace you have been saved through faith.  It is the gift of God.  A gift is no gift if it must be earned or bought.  But a gift does require an expression of gratitude, which we can provide in pledging our lives to God’s good purpose: good works.  To helping others.  To righting wrongs. To seeking justice.  To becoming true stewards of a very good creation in need of restoration to its intended state of beauty and equity and perfection.

His children by petition and adoption are allied to that purpose.  We cannot bring back Eden.  But we can model Heaven until all is made new.  That should be worth a few songs of loudest praise.

Message on a T-Shirt

Last Friday, I woke up and decided I was going to dress for comfort—not that I ever dress formally for work anymore. I’m usually a khaki and polo kind of prof. But last Friday, I reached for the jeans and a t-shirt. Not just any tee: if I were to make this a real casual Friday, the shirt needed to say something.

So I reached for the one that advertises the campaign associated with Special Olympics, the one that says “Spread the word to end the word.” The word is “retarded.” Wearing the shirt gave me the opportunity to step up on my trusty soap box and make a few points about being better people. As a biologist, I get little opportunity to officially step outside the neutral observer/pure objectivity box and talk about things that mean a lot to me.

This movement has been around for a few years now, and I really appreciate the message. The idea is to suggest to people that we should eliminate the casual use of the term “retarded” and its cognate forms such as “retard,” with the accent on the first syllable.

I am not the PC police by any means. But the message of showing respect to all people has been slow to encompass those with intellectual disabilities or developmental delays. It is almost as if they remain among the last segments of society that it is acceptable (in some circles) to make fun of.

I know I have written about this issue before on numerous occasions, usually bemoaning the plight of people already burdened with dealing with difficulties that the average person on the street knows nothing about. But today, I am encouraged by the acceptance of that message of tolerance and appreciation among the young people in these classes. So many students in the three classes I shared this message with today nodded in agreement. Some looked a little ashamed when I used the word as many people do without thinking about it, whether as a self-deprecating comment or to chide a friend for some misstep or mistake.

I sincerely believe that most people who use this word casually mean absolutely no harm by it. They do not intend harm toward a person with an intellectual disability. But they fail to think about how that sounds to someone with such a condition.

I admit that there were times in the past when I used the word in unthinking ignorance. I had heard it from others, it seemed to express an idea of deficiency, and I would just blurt it out.

But times change, and people change. Especially when life changes your situation so radically that you never saw it coming.

When you are faced with the reality of being responsible for a child with a disability—in our case an autism spectrum disorder—everything that you had the audacity to hope and plan for is suddenly deflated. Relationships in the family and outside of it are strained. You feel like a victim and you ask that never-ending question, “Why me?”

As I have acknowledged before, I now realize that that question is the wrong one to focus on. I am stressed, as is my wife (and our daughter) in dealing with our son. But self-pity for having a life marked by dealing with unpredictable behaviors and never-ending therapy appointment is pointless and counter-productive. Finding strength and determination to help him overcome what sometimes seems like insurmountable issues is a Herculean task, but one that must never be abandoned if he is to have a decent chance at a future.

Still, there are times when I am angry with God for the hand he has dealt us. I feel isolated and alone and drowning at times, especially when I sense that people think I am shirking my work or church responsibilities for lack of participation or attendance. After a number of incidents at church, I learned that unless or until we have some of these unpredictable behaviors in check, I cannot afford to expose him to too much stimulation. I cannot leave a boy who is big for his age alone with his mother so I can put up a good front and wave the company flag. Thoughts like, “If God wants me to be there every time the doors are open, then why doesn’t he make my son improve at least enough to allow it? Why doesn’t he help him to control his impulses and behaviors so he can at least not be a distraction or worse, a hazard, to everyone else?”

As much as people want to be understanding, they can’t know the stress that is so much a part of my life that I don’t even know what it means to relax anymore. Being constantly wound tight like a coiled spring under pressure, straining to break free—that doesn’t quite do it justice.

But maybe someday. Maybe he will respond better to the medications that are supposed to keep him on a more even keel. Maybe he will benefit from the full spectrum light we shine on him when he wakes up. Maybe he will stop being so contrary in the evenings. Maybe he will reach a point where we can let him outside to play without fear of elopement. Maybe someday, we can take him to a store and actually check out with what we went for, rather than being distracted by watching to make sure he doesn’t run away or lie down in the middle of an aisle in a meltdown. Maybe someday.

Until then, there is the progress being made by the public in their understanding and acceptance. That’s one burden, one stressor that is loosening its grip, even if ever so slightly. But every modicum of relief is welcome. And while we will never know the same normalcy that others take for granted, the brief moments of relief may become more frequent, coalescing into their own modified reflection of the mean experience I would so love to enjoy.

For now, it is what it is, and it is enough.

But in some ways, I suppose we have more than many may have: for all his difficulties, for all his stubborn unwillingness to cooperate at times in even simple tasks like taking a shower or brushing his teeth, there are times when out of the blue, he blurts out, “I love you, daddy.” And he means it. It was on his mind, and while his lack of impulse control may be maddening with respect to any number of daily events, this one is welcome.

“I love you, too, buddy.” And I mean it, too.


I am an electronics addict. Well, “addict” may be too strong of a term.  Maybe “avid enthusiast” would be better, less of a negative connotation.  Anyway, I love to tinker with electronic devices, learn about new products with enhanced capabilities, play with productivity packages…. In short, I am a middle-aged geek.  At one point, the term “geek” was considered to be somewhat derogatory.  However, with the dawn of the realization that tech is cool, being a geek became cool as well.

At least, that’s what I tell myself.

Electronics can be expensive, and if I paid full price on some items, I would feel a little—well, a lot—guilty.  It turns out that few of these things are actually essential.  Most are luxuries that 99+% of the world can and does do without.  But I tell myself that many of these things will make me more productive.  I’ll get more done by keeping track of things on the go.

At least, that’s what I tell myself.

In order to curb my expenditures on my purchases, I often buy refurbished products when they are available.  Some people would have none of this, thinking that a factory refreshed item is really poor quality, or is damaged, or is not up to original equipment standards.  I’m sure that can be the case sometimes.  But with good companies, the factory refurbished products are returned to perfect working order.  In some cases, they get a new shell, repaired internal parts, and are restored to brand new condition, matching the specifications of the items rolling off the assembly line.

In a sense, when we are born, we are in perfect working order, spiritually speaking.  We have no flaws.  But as time goes on, we may start to demonstrate behavior that is different from the original specifications.  It may be that some of our parts have become corrupted, and we are in need of repairs.  What if after some experience of living, we become broken in some way.  What if we begin functioning differently from how we should.  We are no longer operating at peak efficiency, and we are no longer functioning as intended.

But we can be refurbished.  Like the wayward son in Jesus’ story, we may leave the family and seek fulfillment elsewhere.  Like that erring son, we may think that there is a good life to be lived in the wilds of looser society.  In the end, we may find that where we were originally is better than where we may have wandered off to.  Like with that loving father who patiently waited for his son’s return, we can be welcomed back into relationship with our Heavenly Father.  We can be restored to our original specifications.

I like refurbished products.  And I’m certainly glad God is okay with them, too.  He said so in the closing thoughts of the Revelation, when he declared, “Behold, I am making all things new.”  A heaven and earth that are new again, populated by remade people, free from incidental flaws and accidental imperfections.  What was broken will be made whole. What was empty will be filled to overflowing.

Being refurbished is not a bad thing.  I’m glad it was always part of the plan.

Reflections on Beginning My 20th Year as an Educator

It is less than a week to the start of another academic year, my 19th at UT-Martin, but my 20th as a full time college teacher.  That’s a lot of years.  And a lot of students.

When this time of year rolls around, I get nostalgic for my college days, thinking about the great professors I had the pleasure of learning from, the friends I met from so many different places, some of whom I still hear from.

And I also think about my responsibility as an educator.  My job is to try and convey the importance of a body of information to my students.  But it’s not just facts I want them to learn: I want them to learn how to learn, and to internalize the joy of learning something new, seeing connections, and synthesizing their own ideas.  I suppose every professor wants that for their students.

A few years ago, I was asked by my department chair if I would be interested in serving with a new group called the Students of Concern Team.  I had no clue what it was, but being the team player, I agreed.  The group meets to discuss and consider how best to serve students who may be having such problems that they are potentially threats to themselves or others.  We are not the ones to intervene, but we try and make sure the students get the professional help they need to succeed, and in some cases, to survive.

Through this group, I have become more aware of people’s problems, especially mental and emotional problems.  I have become more empathetic in so many ways.  My work with this group has led me to understand better the subject of suicide, too often whispered about, but too avoidable not to openly discuss.

This has been the most rewarding and the most heartbreaking assignment.  But I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Also, a few years ago, I was privileged to be able to develop a course dealing with Environmental Health, the sub-discipline of Public Health that considers the role of environmental factors in maintaining human health.  Again, I have learned so much about the fundamentals of health issues, about the roles of population, pollution and poverty in influencing human health.  I have learned about how important sanitation and clean water is to changing the economy of a community, and how some simple things that we take for granted like adequate wells and separate septic systems can improve the status of women by improving health, reducing the work of carrying water, and allowing for education.  My Intro to Environmental Health has become a popular course among students, with a couple of them electing to pursue Public Health careers, perhaps with a little influence from that experience.

Helping people and helping people learn to help people has become my passion.  So many times, I think that if I had known about these areas when I started college, my life would have been very different.  And yet, I believe that everything happens for a reason.  No, I do not think this a just the result of some puppet play.  But everything I have learned and done throughout my life, the people I have met, the students I have taught, the wonderful woman I met here and married, all of these things have shaped me into a better man.

There was also a time when I wanted to make my mark by changing the world in some big way.  But now, I don’t think that is necessary.  I can affect little things, plant ideas with my students and let them cultivate them to grow into larger things.  I may not change the world in a big way, but if I can help one person in some small way, I will have changed it for the better.

As a person of faith, I am reminded of Paul’s instruction to the Galatians:  “6.9 And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. 10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”  I believe that doing good for the right reasons is not a wearying thing.  It refreshes.  It may be trying at times, as it is when working with some people, or any people.  But to know you have done what is right and good is gratifying.

However, the desire to help and serve becomes a need that is never truly satisfied.  There will always be more that need help.  There will be other causes to champion.  There will be other forms of oppression to defeat.  There will be other barriers of ignorance that must be torn down.  The work is never done.

But as that person of faith, I am confident that I am doing what I need to do, what I was born to do, to help restore the very good creation to its fundamental goodness.  One lesson at a time.  One life at a time.

May all who teach succeed and find fulfillment in your efforts to make the world a better place.  May all who serve find joy in that service.  And may we never grow weary in doing good.


Toward Clarifying the Blurry Lines Between Faith and Politics

Geography is a fascinating subject.  But one thing you will find is that no matter how much you might like it to be so, not every place is higher ground.  Yes, that is a thinly veiled attempt to cast a metaphor on the political landscape.  But I have been thinking that somewhere in the back of my head for a while now.  The left thinks its concept of liberty and justice is the high ground, while the right thinks its conservatism has captured it. 

But it is very likely that both have lost the advantage of that high ground.  While the right defends the position of the sanctity of unborn life, it neglects the necessities of those that have been born.  The drive from the right to lower taxes and cut services to the poor and needy shows a lack of interest in those in need and a misplaced emphasis on the real value of money.  While the left has pushed for governmentally approved rights for marriage equality for same-sex couples, it has re-written scriptures held sacred by people of faith, re-defining one of the most universal, ancient and revered of social contracts and conventions.

When I see comments like the one I saw only today, that one cannot be pro-choice and a Christian is inflammatory to the point of stifling constructive debate and civil dialog.  By the same token, when I see flagrant disregard for the tenets of faith, even to the point of derision from the left, it speaks to a lack of respect for any other than those in perfectly locked step, mind-controlled unity.  Liberal dogmatism is as damaging as conservative dogmatism.

Before someone reaches the incorrect conclusion that I am in favor of any or every application of abortion, let me be clear:  I distinctly oppose the use of abortion as elective birth control.  I consider it to be a medical procedure of last resort for a defined slate of specific medical conditions.  The recent revelations of the sale of tissues from aborted fetuses, sanitized by officially sanctioned euphemism though it may be, demonstrate the callousness of some so-called health-care providers in this grim business.  Women’s health, even women’s reproductive health goes far beyond the abortion clinic.

At the same time, I cannot support the blanket prohibition of all applications of such a procedure.  To deny such to a woman under some (admittedly rare) medical circumstances may virtually assure her death.  There are no similar medical procedures the legal prohibition or withholding of which would result in near certain death for a man.  Thus, men and women would not be equal, and a woman may suffer for an accident of conception, both her own as a woman and that at the center of the immediate issue. 

Under that rare circumstance, the issue becomes not a matter of convenience but a matter of triage: it is a situation where there are different lives to consider, where doctors and nurses are charged with making a judgment as to which is more likely to survive, granting different care to those that may live yet respecting those that likely will not.

As inflammatory as it may seem, I will use the same language to extend the argument.  I will assert that you cannot call yourself a Christian and support every political policy that would reduce and remove programs that help the poor, the elderly, the disabled, whether young or old.  Most of these measures are ultimately driven by people of wealth who are not satisfied with the wealth they possess but always want more.  They convince people that their views are “conservative” and promote “family values,” but they only conserve their own wealth and sustain their own families.  You cannot promote family values and take food from a hungry child or medicine from the elderly or housing from the disabled. 

The argument will come that such things are biblically assigned to individual acts of charity.  If individual acts of charity could take care of the massive and growing population of the poor and elderly, then surely this would have happened years ago when the dollar bought more and there were fewer in the ranks of the poor and needy.  It never occurred nor will it now, despite the vows and intentions of religious people.  The call from the moneyed class is not, “God has given me resources, let me help!”  It is almost to the point of Marie Antoinette’s vacuous declaration of, “Let them eat cake!”  Their concern is not for the temporal, physical welfare of fellow human beings.  It is for the accumulation of more wealth and power.

I will also make another inflammatory assertion: You cannot call yourself a Christian and support every initiative to remove environmental protection measures and allow for the corruption and polluting of God’s very good creation.  Nearly every one of these initiatives is driven by a corporate entity that has financial interests in the issue.  Make no mistake: environmental stewardship is not cheap.  But the cost of environmental exploitation to the point of ecological collapse is far greater.  You cannot line the pockets of the rich and spoil your environment and expect God to take no notice of what you have done whether directly or by complicity.

I will make yet another inflammatory assertion:  You cannot call yourself a Christian and unquestioningly support any and every military action the government takes.  Again, I accept that there are times when military action is necessary: when there is a clear and present danger to helpless people, action must be taken to protect them.  But when a military endeavor is a thinly veiled adventure to fill the coffers of the corporate members of the military-industrial complex—a phrase popularized by Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower—it is neither expedient nor acceptable to risk human life.  When corporate fortunes are made from war profiteering and when those fortunes feed into the wealth of members of the government at the highest levels, and when those conflicts drag on to extend and expand those profits, it is not the righteous application of force as the instrument of divine judgment.  It is merely the oppression of people by those with wealth and power.  When the military force expended is excessive and innocent civilian lives are sacrificed to make a political statement by flexing military muscle, we have overstepped the limit of decency and humanity.

Returning to the earlier discussion regarding pro-life issues, if you say you are pro-life, you must go beyond the delivery room, because life is far more than birth.  If you are pro-life, are you ready individually or corporately as a nation to support that child until she is able to contribute to society?  If you would cut funding to feed her or the thousands born into poverty like her, you are not really pro-life.  Are you willing to provide a good education for a child so that he will be able to get a decent job at a living wage and so add to society rather than only take from it?  If you support cutting funds to schools, keeping teachers over-worked, under-paid and under-appreciated, you are not really pro-life.  Are you willing to make sure that every person has decent shelter, adequate healthcare, enough police and fire fighters to protect them from harm?  If you support the rampant initiatives to cut expenditures to public services, you are not really pro-life.  If you are pro-life, are you willing to take measure to make sure that the environment is clean and safe from toxic wastes and physical hazards for a child so she can grow up without fear of harm, but with appreciation for the world around her?  If you value corporate profits and cheap products more than environmental health and safety, you are not really pro-life.

To be pro-life is to be pro-humanity.  It is to celebrate the unique personhood of every individual at every life stage, for every person is made in the image of God.  It is to respect the dignity of the intellectually disabled and to value the aged and to give comfort to the infirm.  It is to build up the fallen and to have compassion and mercy on those without strength or voice.  To be pro-life, you must be pro-ALL-of-life. 

No political party (and indeed no party platform) has been approved by God.  All such constructs are of human origin, and must be viewed not as divine but for what they are.  Never be blinded by the flash and glitter of one single issue to the exclusion of all others.  A cunning predator lures its prey with a false promise of safety and reward.  Oppressors are the same, whether from the right or the left.  We must see beyond the politics to the reality of real lives.  We must value life above money and people above corporate profits. 

In the end, God will not reward us for how large our bank accounts were in this fallen and imperfect world, but how we invested what was entrusted to us, not only our money but our abilities and time and gifts and talents to the greater good.  In that day, the greatest will not be the ones who have spent their time building fortunes or empires, but the selfless ones who have given of themselves to help others.  That’s not my idea.  Jesus described it very well in Matthew 25.  That’s where you will find the ultimate expression of what it means to be pro-life.      


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.