Monday, August 6, 2018

When will we have enough roads?

Every time I go to Oak Island, NC, there is another new road to get me there. We usually go there as a family at least once a year, and that has been our tradition for about 25 years. And every time we make that journey in recent years, I have to find my way again.

I remember going to Long Beach back in the 1970s, long before it became the municipality of Oak Island. Any journey to the beach takes too long, and traveling 200+ miles from Greensboro on the two-lane U.S. 421 was the price to pay to get there. Years later, my own family began the annual tradition of vacationing on that same island. We would allow about 5 hours to make the trip. This year we made it in 3 1/2 hours.

New roads have whittled down our travel time more than I could have imagined. Interstate 40 was extended beyond Greensboro all the way to Wilmington. Then Interstate 140 allowed us to by-pass the whole Port City, extending farther south every vacation. Only this year did I learn that I-40 was the slow way to make the trip. Now we have interstates 73 and 74 that dump out on the doorstep of Oak Island. And I-73 is only about 5 miles from my house. It feels like a secret passage way from home to vacation.

I like to save time as much as anybody. But when will we have enough roads? Are we going to keep on paving huge swaths of countryside? The urban loop around Greensboro is almost complete now. Theoretically the new roads reduce traffic. Does anybody really believe that theory? I have seen traffic worsen considerably in Greensboro as the new roads are completed.

The American mind says that faster is better. If we can get somewhere faster, we must make it happen. It's like a moral obligation. Cities only look at building more roads. No one ever suggests removing them. But there is a finite amount of real estate in this world. If we keep paving, eventually there will be too much pavement. I wonder if we will think of that before it's too late.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Today's Enlightenment: What Our Stupid Ancestors Missed

We know so much more than all previous generations. We can now look down on their backward thinking, especially concerning these things we now know:
  • When people disagree with you, they are intolerant.
  • Marriage is optional for sexual relations. It offers no real benefit to society or individuals.
  • Every sexual expression is fine, as long as it’s consensual.
  • There is nothing sacred about sex. It’s just recreation.
  • There is no reason to associate sex with parenthood. We can make sure of it.
  • Nature is wrong to confine people to either femaleness or maleness. Now we can fix that.
  • Nature is wrong to assign people to maleness of femaleness. Now we can switch it.
  • Almost everything can be digitized, even friendship. 
  • Algorithms should do much of our thinking.
  • In-person contact is overrated. Communication is much easier when digitized.
  • Life without entertainment is unbearable.
  • All risk must be eliminated from childhood play; nothing is more important than children's safety.
  • It is bad for children to be bored. Someone has to fix it.
  • Pain is always bad and must always be avoided, if at all possible.
  • There is a pill for that. Ask your doctor.
  • There’s an app for that, whatever it is.
  • Negative consequences for any action should be eliminated everywhere possible.
  • When something bad happens to you, somebody else should have stopped it.
  • We have rights because the government says we do.
  • Majority rule determines what is right and what is wrong.
  • We have a long list of absolute necessities, including: cars, TVs, cell phones, internet service, and air conditioning.
  • The only meaning to life is what we bring to it.
  • The world is an accident, but we can make the most of it.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Transforming Self-Talk

Parents, be careful what you say to your children, because your consistent words will become their self-talk. Our minds are always working, talking, thinking. This is our self-talk. What we say to ourselves may be the most important aspect of our mental health and our trajectory in life. The words of affirmation or criticism of our parents certainly shape our current thinking, but those words need not determine our lives.

So, have you ever listened to yourself? I mean all those thoughts coursing through your mind. Are you saying helpful things to yourself? Would you talk to a friend like that?

The most important message is the Good News of Jesus, the gospel. This the Good News: God made us, forgives us, and gives his life to us by way of the cross of Jesus. When we receive this News, it changes everything.

All the worries of life pale in comparison to the love of God for us.
He is in charge.
He is our Father.
He won't leave us as orphans.
He puts his Spirit in us to encourage us.
He transforms our pain into strength and hope.
He knows we mess up, and he loves us anyway.
His heart is tender to us.
He transforms us from the inside out, making us more like Christ.
He lets his love flow through us to a hurting world around us.

This is the gospel message, and we need to preach it to ourselves. This is the self-talk of truth. It is self-talk that shapes my soul for good. God uses our own thoughts to transform us. And he lets us choose how we will think.

God wants to transform my self-talk to reflect the gospel, so that my self-talk can transform me to be like Jesus.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Abortion and Personhood

The abortion debate is heating up again. Unfortunately the "debate" often consists of screaming and name-calling. Rarely does anyone approach the subject with a calm tone.

Abortion advocates speak of choice and reproductive rights. Abortion foes speak of murder and the "two victims" of an abortion procedure. Each side screams its point, joining others of like mind, until we have two choruses, deaf to any other point of view.

What is abortion? In the generic sense, to abort is to terminate. One might abort a mission or a job search. In this context, abortion is the termination of a human egg and sperm, united by fertilization. The termination of this unit must cause the natural progression of developing life to stop. The fertilized egg is alive in an interdependent sense. Abortion causes this life to cease.

It seems to me that the abortion debate hinges on the nature of this embryo or fetus. If we call this mass of cells a "person," then it has a whole range of value that sets it apart from, say, a tumor or a kidney. No one would argue that a vital organ is a person, in and of itself. So diseased kidneys are removed and defective hearts are replaced with transplants. The cells in these organs are alive, but they are not in any sense full persons. At most they are parts of persons.

The human embryo, however, has certainly the potential for personhood. No full grown kidney is an actual person. A full grown embryo is a human being. We agree in our society that once the fetus exits the womb, it is a person. Prior to that exit, personhood is debatable. If I understand abortion law correctly, a fetus may only be legally terminated in the womb. If that fetus, at any stage of development, exits the womb alive, then the fetus becomes a person. To kill that group of cells outside the womb is murder.

The mantra of abortion advocates is "choice." Women should be allowed to choose whether or not to carry a fetus to term and have a baby. We don't allow women to choose to kill their newborns. That is not a legal choice, because the baby is a person. If it is not a person, then to kill it is not murder.

The pro-choice argument, then, is that pregnant women may choose whether or not the life within them is a person. If it is not a person, then it has no rights, and it may be terminated without moral harm.

But allowing citizens to choose personhood or non-personhood for others is dangerous moral ground. This same reasoning was used by many to defend slavery. In fact, the Dred Scott decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1857 declared that the former(?) slave Mr. Scott could not be a citizen of the U.S., and therefore had no legal grounds on which to petition the court. He was denied a key element of personhood, and his case was dismissed.

Although the language of "pro-choice" was not used in antebellum America, there were those who personally opposed slavery, but honored the right of others to choose to own slaves. The slaves could be owned because they were not persons. Now these slaves could speak up for themselves, but as long as their personhood was in question, their arguments and objections were also in question.

Throughout history, genocides are fueled by denying the personhood of others.

And our society debates the personhood of the voiceless fetus. If it is not a person, then it may be discarded. If it is a person, then it is sacred and worthy of protection. If this choice of personhood is left to each individual pregnant woman, then we have placed upon her the weight of life and death. It would be just as wrong to have a designated committee vote on the personhood or non-personhood of any woman's pregnancy. This is not a choice for people to make. This is a life created by God or by Nature.

Only a society intoxicated with the belief that it controls everything could make this a choice. But it appears we live in such a society.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

A Slow, Terrifying Dawning

How can I repent of my great misunderstanding? I have hacked away at life, looking for triumphs, wishing for success, claiming wins. Bur somehow I have severely misunderstood this thing called life.

I thought it was about making a living, about survival and then success. It was about amassing enough income and wealth that I could provide and be comfortable; about having accomplishments of career that validated me. It was a game, and I was to prove that I could compete. I did not have to win, but I could not lose. I could work the system at least enough not to starve.

But life isn't about working the system. It's not even about being comfortable. Its about active, aggressive, loving abandonment to God. It's about selflessly loving those around me.

How could I have missed it so? How could I have been blind to the work of God's reconciliation all around me?

I have this growing belief that I have been so shaped in my thinking by this American culture that I can't even recognize how God wants me to live. My pattern of thinking is so distorted that I can barely fathom what Jesus says in scripture. How can I possibly understand what he says to me in prayer?

Like Descartes, I need to start at the foundation. What is this thing called life? What's it for? What's my role in it? How does God communicate it all to me? Am I even listening? How does the framework of my mind need to be restructured?

I know I need to repent. That is, I finally realize that every perspective and belief I hold is suspect, and I must be brought under the authority of Jesus. May he somehow break through my Westernized encoding and renew my mind. May he transform me.

May more scales fall from my eyes. How I long to see.

I want to repent, and I don't know how to start. I don't even know what's wrong with my assumptions. I am unaware of my preconceptions. I have been blind, but maybe now I am beginning to see. It's a slow, terrifying dawning.

I see my old self in the attitudes of others. Inwardly I cringe. I feel more and more isolated because I see the flaws, the hypocrisy. I see the arrogance, the pride, the shallowness. I see myself, my old self, I hope.

It's hard to repent when I barely understand my sin. But I know it's there. I know my perspective is much more Western than Christian. That's why it's so hard to see myself through the eyes of Jesus. I already know what he sees, but my knowing is mostly assuming, and now I fear it is mostly wrong.

I can't keep conforming to the pattern of this world--even church world--but I must be transformed by the renewing of my mind.

God has his work cut out for him. But then, he is God, and in the cross and the resurrection, he has already done the work.

Lord, help me repent.

Thursday, June 21, 2018


In this age of instant communication, we have become exceedingly poor communicators. Outrage and condemnation are the default modes for public discourse. Only rarely do we find a fair, reasonable voice on today's issues.

We have to work on listening. With that in mind, I want to consider the term, conservative. As my pastor during my graduate school days said, right is right. And I agreed. I ascribed to conservative theology and conservative politics.

But if conservative means holding on tenaciously to the status quo, then I have to think again. There are clearly problems with the way things are. Women have been mistreated. Justice has been denied to large categories of citizens. Too many indulge their greed and take advantage of the poor or uninformed.

The term "conservative" sounds to a lot of people like, "defender of the status quo." So a conservative is one who wants nothing to change. The system is just fine. If the poor and disadvantaged would just get with the program, they would find their own slice of prosperity. The real world treats everyone the same, so deal with it. Stop whining.

I don't want to defend the status quo. I'm beginning to see the problems with our culture and society. I see injustice. I see my own privilege. I see how the good-old-boy culture has tainted politics, sports, and entertainment. I see the dark underside of capitalism.

Meanwhile, I do believe in small government, personal responsibility, traditional morality, compassion, and freedom.

It's hard to hear voices of reason now, because everyone is yelling. No one is listening. There is plenty of reason not to trust anyone, because everyone seems to be promoting some corrupt agenda. Maybe shedding the labels is a good place to begin. I'm not a defender of the status quo.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Money Economy

Watching a documentary about Wendell Berry (Look and See: A Portrait of Wendell Berry, available on Netflix), I heard him use a phrase that struck me: "a money economy."

The term almost seems redundant. What other kind of economy is there? When we talk about "the economy," of course we are talking about money and wealth. The word economy comes from the Greek words oikos (house) and nomos (law). So economy means the rule of the house, or how we do things.

Berry's phrase helped me see that there can be many kinds of economies. Relationship economy, reputation economy, moral economy, friendship economy, intellectual economy, compassion economy...

So, which economies do I pay attention to? In which economies am I investing? Am I learning about the economies that really matter?

In our society, we know which economy really matters. Economists believe that every resource will be used in whatever way will produce the most profit. So, you won't find a vegetable garden along the street in Manhattan...or virtually any other city. That prime real estate can make more money with retail, office, or housing. The pressures of the market force the property to be used for more lucrative purposes. If not now, some day that property will be used to make money--as opposed to food.

(And why would anyone grow food if not to make money. I don't know. . . maybe to eat.)

And that's the way we think. We just assume that money is everything.

Show me the money.
Follow the money.
Go and make money.
Live long and prosper.
Win the lottery.

What would our world be like if we paid more attention to other economies? How would I be different if I cared about the economies that really matter?