Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Reader Question: Dinosaurs in Heaven?

My question (which you’ve answered before) is whether there are dinosaurs in heaven. But you’re view on animals in general going to heaven (both pets and things people are scared of like snakes) would make an interesting post. -Nikki

--------------------------------- You're not wrong, Nikki! Thanks for writing in. There have been some people with some very, very strong opinions on the subject of whether or not there will be animals in heaven. You may even be familiar with an internet meme where a Catholic Church and a Cumberland Presbyterian church get into a church sign debate over whether or not animals get into heaven. (Sadly, I must be the bearer of bad news and report that the meme in question is, in fact, fake. The pictures are photoshopped. The debate itself, however, has actually happened.) One of the things that a lot of people are surprised to learn is that we have very little information on what heaven will be like, or even what general form it would take. Some have this vague idea of people with wings sitting on clouds but that view is born entirely from pop culture, with very little Biblical backing save for the vague concepts of Elijah, and later Christ, being "taken into the clouds." So whenever someone tries to tell you definitively that the Bible says heaven will be one way or another, (like the fake Presbyterians from the meme) you can feel safe laughing them off. There is no authoritative view on the matter, which then moves us in this answer into the realm of guesswork, but educated. You see, part of the problem is that it is never entirely clear that heaven, insofar as we are talking about the eschatological destination of the saved, is a "place" separate from earth. The perception of the afterlife as some kind of disembodied spirit realm separate from bodily existence, for example, would have been entirely foreign to the Jews of Jesus' time, though such an idea fit really well with gnostic principles that Christianity started picking up after the writings of Paul. Another very real possibility is that heaven is, in fact, Earth, but Earth made perfect, purified and restored, not to primitive Eden but with human advancements incorporated while easing out our hard edges. That restored world, I believe, would certainly include animals, even extinct ones like Dinosaurs, all in the state of perfection that allows wonder while precluding fear. All this to say that yes, I believe there will be dinosaurs in heaven. And it will be awesome.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Reader Question- Concerning Profanity

You talk shit about Trump swearing, but I know for a fact that you swear, too, so stop acting like such a high and mighty libtard. -Anonymous
Well, THAT didn't take long. I made a Facebook post about Trump calling other countries "shitholes"... oh, about fifteen minutes ago as of the writing of this particular sentence, and then this question appears in the Blog Inbox, the first time it's been used in a while now. It's actually fast enough that I somewhat expect that maybe I'm being trolled by a friend, and if that's true, well done, you got me.

But if this is on the straight and level, or at least as much as a reader question using the word "libtard" unironically can be, then it shows a fairly common misconception I've noticed before and worth taking a question on now, so thanks, anon.

So here it is, the big secret: Liberals like me don't really care all that much about profanity.

I do swear. Not too terribly much, but I am a huge believer in the power of words, and I have found that a well placed f-bomb can get the point across far better than a hundred other words, and just think of all that time saved! So allow me to set your heart at ease... our problem is not that Trump is a potty mouth. Our problem is that he denigrates people.

You see, the whole impetus behind the concept of "political correctness" is not that some words are good and others are bad... it is that some words treat people as less than human, and we'd really wish you wouldn't do that. That is why, for instance, it actually ISN'T a big deal when some people of African descent call each other the N word, but is a big fucking problem when YOU do it. Because when they use the word, it's as between friends, or with some other layer of understanding.

When you do it, Mr Anti-Political Correctness, it's racism, a word designed to cause pain and used for that purpose.

That's how language works, how it has always worked. Context always, always, ALWAYS matters.

This is kind of similar to when people acted like Clinton supporters were being hypocrites for being mad about "grab them by the pussy" but being fine with Clinton supporting Beyonce, even though she was, and brace yourself here, a woman who is occasionally sexy in public.

It's not that sex should never be spoken of. It's that there are many, many lightyears between a proud embrace of sexiness and a brag of sexual assault.

Now, to get ahead of the Biblical rant, yes, the Bible does encourage us to see that what comes out of our mouths is glorifying to God, and I have no doubt my grandmother would be several kinds of horrified by the post already. But I've believed for awhile now that we make a mistake when we combine the concept of profanity with the Biblical concept of swearing.

For one, "swearing" as it exists in the Bible was primarily a way to invoke the name of God in order to force God to back you up. "as God is my witness," and that sort of phrase are examples, even if rarely meant that way anymore. This falls squarely under "Do not put the LORD your God to the test" commandments... God is not your dancing monkey, and people who attempt to force the hand of the almighty do not do particularly well in the scriptures.

So, as a rule, I do not call for God to back me up by providing a sign, or striking someone dead, or attempt to bargain to force God's hand. That is swearing, that is taking the LORD's name in vain. But if what comes out of my mouth is meant to mirror the cleanliness of my soul, then I believe that referring to the homes of many of God's people as "shitholes" is worthy of some serious anger and derision. Similarly, I wish people were more angry about "grab them by the pussy" or "They're Rapists," or "Bomb the Shit out of them."

If folks passed statements like that by without second thought, but are bothered about the fact that I wrote "fuck" in this blog, then the exact natures of God's exhortations concerning our language are going to need a LOT more work.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Reader Question: Charity Protocol

Do you feel charity should be denied if the person asking for the charity is taking advantage or, like Faustina, do you think charity should be given completely (as much as you can) without concerning yourself with the truth of their situation or intentions (as any sin would be on them not you)? -Bob

Kicking off a new year of Questions! Thanks for this one, Bob! It wasn't the first one I got, but it was the one that really caught my attention right off the bat, especially in a time surrounding the holiday season, where charity is simultaneously everywhere and stretched to its breaking point. The Biblical perspective on charity is not complicated. If they are hungry, feed them. If they are cold, warm them. If they are sick, comfort them. To do so is as if you did it for Christ himself, to ignore them is like ignoring Christ. So it is always GOOD to be charitable... that isn't up for debate. As it happens, it is also rather practical; give aid because once you needed aid, and one day you or one of yours will need it again. Sort of a social safety net built right into Biblical law.
Where things get complicated is in the actual carrying out of the command to be charitable. There is a lot of need in the world, and unlike in the society that Biblical law was crafted to build, the government and religion are not basically one and the same. We've long learned why that's a bad idea (see basically any Biblical King, even the supposedly good ones) but it does create a situation where attempts to provide for those in need are fractured, and so no one group is capable of addressing ALL need. My church has limited funds, and yet this year we have found ourselves more swamped with requests for aid than ever before. Our designated "Agape Fund," a discretionary fund that allows me to give aid to those who ask for it, is supposed to last the year, and had never, before 2017, been fully used. This past year it got tapped out in MAY, and had to be renewed to handle emergency need. 

The philosophy of the Agape Fund is one of no questions asked. I get a name and an address, but I don't verify stories or take a peek at the car that brought them. (Some of my Elders do... which has led to some conversations.) Aid given freely and without question... once every six months. It comes from a place that I landed in about fifteen years ago... when it comes to small time needs, some food, some gas, etc, I'll help anyone once. I don't know their lives or circumstances, and in general assume that small requests are, by their very nature, extraordinary. Fifty dollars isn't a solution to any systemic problem, but it can help in a tight spot, which is the sort of help I and my church can give.

So when do we give aid, and to who, since we clearly can't help everyone who needs it?

I do feel that, with small time aid, it is a waste of time to spend time vetting the person who came for aid. Do your best and trust them to use that aid appropriately, end of the story.

When the aid gets bigger, or the need more repeated, then responsibility on vetting grows if only to make sure that this is the best use of limited resources. You also need to consider which need your goal is... do you keep one house warm for a winter, or supply emergency food or gas for twenty?

These are not questions with easy or obvious answers. Coordinating with other charitable sources in the area to try to cover as many different needs and areas as possible would be helpful, though not always possible. As for those taking advantage, one of the things I have noticed as someone who as worked with charities is that "they are taking advantage" is A) not nearly as prevalent as some think and B) a lot harder to determine than some would guess. The nice car they drive doesn't mean they didn't have grocery money. In an age of predatory credit, a person's possessions aren't always an indication of their actual means.

At the end of the day, I do not think it is ever WRONG to give charitably. But wisdom in that giving can see to it the aid actually goes where it is needed, and it is far better to make a choice on what  kind of giving you intend to do, if only to assure that those in need are able to reliably find you when you can help them, and to assure that you are able to offer the help you are able to give.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

What We Do With Evil

"Evil" is a loaded word.

In his address to the nation following the shootings in Las Vegas, Donald Trump referred to the act as an "act of pure evil." I suppose I can get on board with that. The sentiment has been echoed in other quarters and over and over again I get the impression that when acts like the Las Vegas shooting are called evil, what is meant is that they were incomprehensible, unstoppable acts, the sort of thing that is the unfortunate and inevitable, the kind of thing you just hope and pray will never affect you, or the ones you love, directly.

Obviously, such a chaotic, random, overwhelming thing would be ludicrous to try to legislate against, right? How do you legislate against evil? So folks offer their thoughts and prayers, toss up a quick; "there, but by the grace of God, go I..." and walk on, saddened, but unchanged. How much more so must that be the case when what we face is "PURE evil?"

Which is curious, because that has not, in my experience, been the reaction to other things I have heard similar camps call "evil."

It must have been news to the LGBTQ community that evil couldn't be legislated against, as they have centuries of being called evil and centuries of resulting legislation to look at. Likewise, when we name terrorists evil, we raise our walls and write our laws against them, even if it means leaving refugees, the victims of the very evil we fear, out in the cold in the process.

When "evil" is queer, we act. When "evil" is muslim, we act. When "evil" is of color, we act. When "evil" concerns a woman's body, we act. When "evil" is a matter of speech or expression, we act.

But when "evil," even "pure evil," is a white man with guns... nothing. Over and over and over again.

I am very much aware that I have very different definitions of evil than many of the people I am referring to, here. I do not believe, for instance, that homosexuality is evil, nor do I believe that Muslims are. But here we are, finally in agreement. The shooting in Las Vegas is pure evil. We've crossed the aisle, we're on the same side... only to find that this is the kind of evil that no one wants to confront, the only one that legislating against would be "plainly ludicrous."

I'm sure you can understand why that would be frustrating.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

When Faith Fails

Two weeks ago, I spent a few days in a Pediatric ICU while my daughter struggled to breathe.

The whole incident started when her mother and I picked her up from Daycare. She'd just gotten up from a nap and her breathing was visibly labored. She'd had a cold for a while but we'd never worried about it... her doctor had listened to her lungs and said that everything was fine. Suddenly, it wasn't.

This led to a cascade of events that had me holding her in an emergency room so that the doctors could snake a tube down her nose to suction mucous out of her lungs, an action that visibly hurt and panicked her as she coughed and choked. Then the Doctor came in and said she would need to be transferred to a children's facility, and not the one nearby, because she need an ICU unit.

My world stopped. Suddenly we'd gone from a scary breathing situation to an intensive care situation while my little girl cried and clawed at me to help her and... I just couldn't.

I said a prayer, in that moment, that I have revisited with the Lord several times since, the type of prayer I have never prayed before. It went on for awhile, but the basic thrust of it went as follows:

"Lord, this one isn't negotiable. If you make me watch my daughter die gasping, you and I are done."

I learned, later, that Katrina was never really in that much danger. Her O2 levels never fell dangerously, and the ICU was needed more for its monitoring capabilities in case things got to that point. Regular breathing treatments (fought by her every step of the way) and a high powered oxygen flow saw to it that she was safe until the asthmatic reaction her body had to whatever virus she carried had relaxed and she was able to comfortably breathe on her own. She had an amazing team of child care specialists watching over, including doctors, nurses, Respiratory technicians, even child life specialists who helped make her feel at home in the strange environs of the PICU.

But you could have fooled me at the time. Her whole tiny body seemed to clench to get breaths in, and I guess all I really heard from the Doctor was "ICU." The people taking care of her seemed to be torturing her. When they came to load her up for the trip, her mother and I worried she wouldn't make it. I was terrified that I was saying goodbye.

Now, I want to be clear that I do not attribute her survival or even her recovery to my prayer. I don't think that she was divinely scheduled to die and then I prayed in anger and God was all; "Oooh, wait, Dan seems serious, we'd better rethink this plan..." I don't think the world works that way, and I certainly don't think that the parents whose children DID lose their lives around the world that day experienced that heartbreaking loss because they failed to threaten God appropriately, whatever that would mean.

I am talking to you about this because people have regularly asked me to talk about a time when my faith failed, and two weeks ago, it did. I was scared, I was angry, and so I looked at a being I believe to be all knowing and all powerful and then THREATENED that being. I made an ultimatum, I put my God to the test. You're not supposed to do that, and I did.

That prayer did have it's upsides, of course. Normally when I get that angry or scared my strategy is to leave the situation until I calm down, and while I did go into the hallways when I felt I was on the verge of irrational action, channeling all that anger at God when I did kept it from going at, say, my wife, or the nurses, or even poor Katrina.  But in the time since that prayer I have found my relationship with God to be a bit more awkward, like after a huge fight with a friend or loved one when things seem to be normal again but what was said in anger seems to hang hovering over everything else.

I know that God loves and forgives me, just as I know that God loves and watches over my daughter. We'll be fine, and maybe when I've had time to really process everything that happened and was said, I will find my strength to be stronger for it.

But for those who want to know if my faith ever falters; yes. Sometimes it does.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Reader Question: Loving the Alt-Right

You always talk about love. Aren't you supposed to love the Alt-Right, too? -Anonymous

I've had a few messages from "Anonymouses" (Anonymi?) lately, and this was the nicest (and best spelled) of the bunch, so we're going to answer this one, partially in hopes that this will stay a family friendly show.

Yes, it is true, I harp on and on about the importance of loving one another. It's a key part of my theology it applies to everyone. I will admit I am not the best at actually following through, but yes, I am supposed to love members of the alt-Right as much as any other subset of humanity.

But what exactly that means isn't quite so clear cut as people seem to think.

The Alt-Right has a fascinating (and horrifying) mindset in which they feel that they are free from the consequences of their actions. They march with torches in Charlottesville and are "surprised" that people don't take kindly to it, or that businesses do not want to have employees who are viewed, nationally, as racists. They harp on endlessly about the First Amendment and rarely in cases where the First Amendment applies, but nearly always to make the point; "What I am saying should not have negative consequences for me."

They are led in this currently by the American President, a man who clearly thinks that he can do whatever he wants with no negative consequences, and actively tantrums when that proves not to be the case. He did it during the election, he's doing it now, we've grown so used to it that it hardly even gets any mention anymore. It's like an old dog who can't stop peeing on the floor, eventually you just sigh, pat him on the head and clean up the mess. Cute for an old pet, worrying for a sitting President.

It even seems like that desire for freedom from consequences pushes the "anxieties" that get so much press in the forming of these groups. Trouble finding a job, or not getting enough respect in the job you have? Nah, it's probably nothing to do with you, it's the Jews keeping you down, or the blacks, or the immigrants, or the liberals, the faults of the world landing squarely on everyone else.

(Hey, Dan, wasn't this going to be about LOVING them?) Yeah, yeah, I'm getting there.

Love is a powerful force. It is, I suspect, the strongest force in the world. But Love, done correctly, isn't about giving people what they want, but what they need. The tantruming toddler wants cake for lunch, but mommy gives him vegetables. The drug addict just wants another fix, but loved ones send them to counseling and treatment.

There was a powerful article out there about the family of an alt-right marcher who begged him to give up his hateful ways, and warned him that until he did, he was no longer welcome with them. That's hard, hard love. I don't know if I could do it with my daughter. But they saw that their son needed to recognize that his actions had consequences, and that marching with groups like "Unite the Right" was indeed a harmful action, rather than the "peaceful gathering" they claimed they wanted.

We don't love the Alt-Right by caving to their demands, or by ignoring them until they go away. They are on a truly awful path, one customed designed to take angry young people and militarize so they can be used to victimize others. We love them by calling them on their horribleness, removing their leaders, de-radicalizing them and helping them to reintegrate with a society built on diversity and hope, rather than anxiety and fear.

They want their cake. But if we love them, we need to give them vegetables.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

White Supremacism is ALWAYS violent.

Let's be completely clear. There is no such thing as a peaceful White Supremacist rally. The moment the Swastika and the Confederate flags are displayed the event becomes inherently violent, because those flags represent extreme violence towards others; both of them representing genocide and slavery.

(And before you take issue with me putting them together like that, you might first take issue with the fact that they both keep showing up at these rallies. You can say two people aren't friends, but when they always attend the same parties...)

You cannot have a "peaceful, reasonable" discussion when one side thinks that genocide and slavery are acceptable outcomes. There is no compromise with hatred.

And by failing to condemn the actions of the alt-right, by clinging to a concept of "well, both sides..." Donald Trump's failure, yet again, to be a voice against terror when that terror is carried out by white people against his political enemies is the only indication anyone should need of his unsuitability for office.