Friday, June 30, 2006 

Friday Funnies -- President Bush and Elvis

I am posting this in tribute of President Bush's visit to Graceland today with the Japanese Prime Minister, Junichiro Koizumi, who is a huge fan of the King. He is the first sitting President to visit the home of the late Elvis Presley and will be greeted and led on a tour by Priscilla Presley and Lisa Marie Presley. The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal is reporting that "Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi received an invitation from the Tupelo Convention and Visitors Bureau to tour Elvis' hometown after his June 30 trip to Memphis with President George Bush." The Bureau is still awaiting a response, though I wouldn't hold my breath. I doubt very seriously that Air Force One could land at the Tupelo Airport, and the three-hour drive might be a bit much.

Graceland is of course in my home town of Memphis, TN, where I will be this weekend for the Fourth of July holiday. The clip is a funny Audi commercial featuring an Elvis impersonator. Enjoy.

And in related news, President Bush's trip to Missouri on Wednesday included a visit with "Andrew Benecke, an 18-year-old whose academic achievements earned him the honor of being named a Presidential Scholar this year." Benecke was unable to attend the ceremony at the White House due to treatments he is receiving for bone cancer. As a token of thanks, the Benecke's gave President Bush a copy of John Piper's devotional book, Life As A Vapor. I hope that he will read it and possibly come to love my favorite author as much as I do (HT: Justin Taylor)

Thursday, June 29, 2006 

The Problematic Anne Lamott

Recently, I have become aware of the incredible popularity of Anne Lamott among Evangelical Christians. I heard conflicting reports from different sides regarding either her piety or her need for repentance. And while I do not write this in order to pass judgment on whether or not the woman is truly a follower of Jesus Christ, I do find many of her positions and actions to be quite problematic for one who claims to be a disciple of Christ. But before some of my readers get irritated with me for bringing this up, let me say that what I find most disturbing is not so much her actions and views, but her unwavering belief that she is absolutely in the right in certain areas, though unable to defend her actions from a truly Christian worldview.

Take for instance, an interview with Christianity Today published in the January 2003 edition of the magazine, in which Lamott admits to being pro-abortion and to dating a non-believer, about whom she says, "he loves God. It's just that he doesn't quite commit. He's been sober as long as I have, and we both have a higher power. I call mine Jesus." In the article, the author tells of sending Lamott a later email to ask her the question, "Do you think that people from other faiths who don't believe in Jesus are God's children and will go to heaven?" Her response: "Yes". And she goes on to add, "I think Jesus is divine love manifest on earth, as it comes through the community of Christians." The author says she describes Jesus as the "beautiful Jewish uncle" who says, "Well, I can show you the way." She continues, "Only Jesus has come to me, and I experience God's love in an immediate and personal way through his companionship." And finishes by adding that non-believers in unevangelized countries "feel Divine Love come to them through more local teachings, through other expressions of that love." In summary, she's a classic universalist.

Going back to the point about her being pro-abortion -- she is adamantly so. An article by Albert Mohler entitled, "Anne Lamott and Her Evangelical Audience", expresses her fervor even more clearly as he addresses an op-ed column in the Los Angeles Times in which she recounted a recent panel discussion of which she was a part. She expresses unwavering, unilateral support for abortion on demand, stating, "fetuses are not babies yet; that there was actually a real difference between pro-abortion people, like me, and Klaus Barbie."

What brought me to write this post is the most recent article by Albert Mohler on Anne Lamott, entitled, "Anne Lamott Kills a Man -- And Writes About It." Mohler discusses Lamott's essay in her July 26, 2006 op-ed column in the Los Angeles Times, "At Death's Window," in which she "traces her involvement in the assisted suicide of a close friend." I encourage you to read the article, but I think Mohler sums it up well when he says,
With the ease of an author beginning to write on a clean sheet of paper, Lamott effectively jettisons Christian concern for the preservation of life and dismisses centuries of Christian conviction on the questions of life and death. She describes herself as a Christian, but there is nothing even remotely Christian, in any distinctive sense, to be found in her essay on a matter as serious as ending a man's life.
Anne Lamott's popularity is due much to her willingness to describe herself as wretched, dirty, and in need of God. But what I, and others, find most disturbing about her is that in the areas where she most needs to seek God's counsel, she sides instead with a "culture of death" and the ease of a universalist understanding of salvation, both of which are views that fall very far from the worldview the Bible teaches. Anne Lamott is no doubt a gifted writer, but her positions and actions are areas her Evangelical readers should find problematic and thus, in which they need to be concerned.

Dr. Russell Moore, Dean of the School of Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Executive Director of the Henry Institute has highlighted Mohler's article on his blog, Moore to the Point, and asked a very poignant question, "...why is Anne Lamott not in prison after confessing murder?" After all, unless the event occurred in North Carolina, Utah, Wyoming, or Utah, it is illegal for someone to assist in a suicide in this country. And if I am correct, Oregon only permits physician-assisted suicides, but no others. It is likely though, that the event took place in Calfornia, where she resides. If this is true, then Lamott is guilty of a crime and could face prosecution for her open admission of guilt in the LA Times.

Saturday, June 24, 2006 

Friday Humor

Since everyone else seems to have some type of "artsy" blog on Fridays, I thought I would offer something different to the Christian blogosphere. Thus, Friday Humor. This particular video is long, but hysterical.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006 

Are Americans United For Separation of Church and State Hypocrites?

This week the only thing more deafening that the outcry of the nation's political Right was the silence of groups like Americans United For Separation of Church in State. What caused such an earth-shaking noise in America you might ask? It was the latest attempt by Anti-Free Exercisers to squelch free speech in the public schools by a valedictorian who, though she earned the right to speak, had it taken away from her because she said "God" too much.

Now, before I enter a discussion on the "wall of separation" between Church and State and the Free-Exercise clause of the Constitution, let me offer a disclaimer. I do not support the use of government funds for religious observation, nor do I feel that teachers, administrators, or students in the public schools should force others to exercise any religion against their will. Now, having said that, I do support the right of students, particularly those who are given a forum to speak by virtue of achievement or due process (i.e., through the result of student elections), to say what they wish provided that their comments are relevant to the event at hand and are not vulgar, profane, or spoken with the intention to provoke anger or hate toward an individual or group.

And I especially support the right of a valedictorian to say what she wishes when it most certainly falls within the parameters set by the school board in her particular school district. Such was the case of Brittany McComb, graduating senior class valedictorian of Foothill High School in Henderson, Nevada. On Thursday, June 15th, McComb's microphone was cut off part-way through her valedictorian address by administrators due to its content. This action was met with jeers by the 400+ graduates and hundreds more in attendance. School officials said the "speech amounted to proselytizing and that her commentary could have been perceived as school-sponsored."

What is interesting in this story, however, is that the Clark County School Board essentially disagreed through a 2003 amendment to its district policies. It clearly states:
Where students or other private graduation speakers are selected on the basis of genuinely neutral, evenhanded criteria and retain primary control over the content of their expression, however, that expression is not attributable to the school and, therefore, may not be restricted because of its religious (or anti-religious) content.
And then goes on to add:
To avoid any mistaken perception that a school endorses student or other private speech that is not in fact attributable to the school, school officials may make appropriate neutral disclaimers to clarify that such speech is not school sponsored.
A simple statement of clarification was all that needed to be added in order to bring McComb's speech up to par in accordance with district policy and decisions by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled that graduation speeches could not contain "sectarian, proselytizing religious speech." The most provocative portion of McComb's address still does not compare to the words the 9th Court ruled as being "proselytizing" speech. According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, her speech included only one occurrence of "Christ" and "a reference to God's love being so great that he gave his only son to suffer an excruciated death in order to cover everyone's shortcomings and forge a path to heaven." Yet at no time does it seem she extended a call to her fellow students to act upon such information, which was certainly the case in Lassonde v. Pleasanton Unified School District (2003) or in Cole v. Oroville Union High School District (2000). In both of those cases, the Plaintiffs clearly stated their intention to call attendees to turn to Christ. Such does not seem to be true of McComb's speech.

So, if this clearly was not an attempt to proselytize, it wasn't a violation of the precedent set by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and it was in accordance with school district policies, why aren't groups like Americans United For Separation of Church and State up-in-arms about such a decision by the school board? After all, on the AU website, the organization clearly states that it is an advocate for free speech and free exercise. In fact, under the heading of "Free Exercise of Religion" in the Issues section of their website, there is a statement that reads, "The government should be permitted to infringe on religious liberty only in extremely rare instances where a clear and compelling government interest is demonstrated." Clearly, this is not one of those rare instances. So why the silence on this issue? Why didn't we hear anything from the Religious Left? Bruce Prescott?

Let me offer my take on why these people don't respond to attacks on free speech and free exercise. It's simple -- they don't care. They care more about the one or two who are inconvenienced in such a speech than the countless number of people who daily are told to "Shut Up" or are shouted down when they express their views in a public forum. If free speech is truly to be "free" then those who claim to advocate for it must be unbiased and exceedingly such. For years now, leftist Baptists have claimed that conservative Baptist groups have turned away from their roots in advocating religious freedom. But when such actions by school districts go unnoticed by these same groups, one has to wonder if they are not merely hypocrites focusing not on freedom, but on political agendas.

Thursday, June 15, 2006 

Tipping at the SBC

A few months back, during the holiday season and after hearing a program on The Dave Ramsey Show about tipping etiquette, I wrote a short piece called, "At Christmas, Remember to Tip." I outlined 10 rules for tipping the Pizza Guy (or Girl). One of them was:
If you have any Christian symbols prevalent in your home (or on your car), you should definitely tip well. Non-Christian PGs notice those things and will make reference to it later.
This week I was keeping up with the Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting in Greensboro, NC via the internet, but mainly through the many bloggers who were providing up-to-the-minute details or commentary on the events taking place in and around the Convention. One of the blogs that was most helpful to me was Thoughts and Adventures, a website run by Scott Lamb of the Wisdom of the Pages blog and Don Hinkle, editor of The Pathway, the biweekly news publication of the Missouri Baptist Convention. The two men basically provided on-the-spot commentary regarding the events taking place at the convention, as well as writing some related articles on John Piper, Expository Preaching, and tipping. The latter of those caught my eye and raised my blood pressure. Here is what Scott Lamb said:
We ate at a restaurant for lunch today after the rush was over. The waitress was either about to cry or about to punch a wall. She asked if we were with "that convention". We said yes and asked her if she had experienced a good day with "us". She said that in fact she had not. She had worked about 3 shifts in the last 30 hours, and she said that her tips were measley.
He goes on to explain:
What is worse is that she said that everybody was leaving her these little papers with Bible verses on them. You guys have any idea what she is talking about? She even had low-tippers leave her one of those phony dollar-bill tracts. She asked us if we knew what it felt like to pick up what you thought was a great tip, only to find out that it was not real, and that the patron had actually been a cheapskate after she served them well?
This is enough to push my blood pressure back into the hypertension range. And not because I can, in a Clintonian sense, "Feel her pain" in regards to this waitress, who was continually being stiffed while working her fingers to the bone that day, but because it is simply a terrible witness to the grace and love of Jesus Christ. By leaving tracts and not tips, that person is saying to their waiter or waitress "you are not a person, but rather just a notch on my belt of evangelistic pride." And that is unacceptable. These people serve, something which pastors and ministers in the SBC should be doing more of. Regarding attitudetute we should exemplify, Scott Lamb says this:
Brothers, let's not leave the Greensboro churches to pick up the pieces from our bad testimony this week. Here is the attitude we should have - servanthood. Rather than thinking that the hotel employees, waitresses, cashiers, etc. are there to serve us, instead take the true Christian perspective that you have traveled to G'boro to serve them.
Good words, Scott. And he closes by offering an exhortation, a gentle rebuke, and a vision:

Genuinely smile - a lot. Tip big (and don't pull out that mess about being a "good steward" of your church's conference money - that didn't keep you from ordering a $6 cup of super-duper double mocha coffee this morning).

Filled with the Spirit of God, let's show the love of Christ to Greensboro, so that when they think back on us being here they consider it one of the highlights of their summer.

Plan early for next year to be ready with a generous hand and loving smile for all those who serve you. And remember your calling to serve them.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006 

Taking Shots At the SBC While It Meets

I haven't blogged very much lately and while the SBC meets it's not likely that I will be doing much more than just reading other blogs and commenting about what is happening in Greensboro, NC. This afternoon I got on the internet and immediately did a Google Blog Search on "Southern Baptist Convention" in order to try to find out the latest news from Greensboro. Unfortunately, however, what I found was a slew of blogs criticizing the SBC and taking pot shots at it from many different angles. Here is just a sampling:

Pam Spaulding, speaking about the "Fred Phelps Traveling Road Show", writes, "Fred's loading up the bus with his band of hate-mongering family members of his 'church' and plans to picket the only slightly less wingnutty Southern Baptist Convention meeting, or as he calls it, the 'Idolatrous Southern Baptist Convention.'" But I do have to give her props for displaying the official Westboro Baptist Church press release on her website. It's worth a look.

Evil Bender chimed in on this as well in an article entitled, "When bigots attack bigots." He concluded that, "not even the SBs can be disgusting enough to please everyone."

Jbaritone2, a resident of Greensboro, writes, "Speaking of crazy christians the southern baptist convention is in Greensboro as we speek. Every woman hide your jobs and bake something, people of color and different races stay home, and if you happen to be a homosexual for the love of god avoid the convention area! You just might never be seen again!"

Several blogs referenced Dr. Chuck Kelley's statement regarding the opening up of New Orleans to evangelism post-Katrina. In his short address he said that though New Orleans was known for being a "seat of Satan," "Satan got floated out of the flood." Angie obviously took offense to this (as did others) and commented, "Oh please! Can these people just give it a rest already! They talk as if the hurricane was a good thing. [expletive deleted]! People died. People are still trying to get their life back in order. And you are worried about your pathetic little religion."

Anglico at BlueNC offers a few opinions on the SBC as well, opening with, "I love it when the Southern Baptists come to town. Especially when they're in a swivet over who should lead their denomination into its misogynist, delusional future." But the most mind-boggling statement he makes by far is, "I attribute much of the current epidemic in STDs among teens and young adults to the evangelical push for eliminating comprehensive sex education in favor of 'abstinence until marriage' training in public schools. And of course their view of women as nothing but wombs may play into the picture." But, he does note that he is "prayin' for 'em all, especially the men who lead the SBC. Praying that they'll come Greensboro and lose their hateful ways. Come on god [sic], give us a miracle."

And here are a couple of gems from the Baptist blogging world that attack the SBC and Al Mohler:

Bruce Prescott, my favorite former Southern Baptist, points us to Ethics Daily, which he says "has posted additional information about the political turmoil surrounding the Southern Baptist Convention's International Mission Board." Adding so sweetly, "The perpetrators remain the same, the victims change and the Convention's messengers are still bystanders enabling the perpetrators." What a nice guy.

Charles, the anonymous blogger from the Calvinist Flyswatter, helped to pass along information about Dr. Mohler's eye surgery, but decided to ruin his otherwise sincere call to prayer by adding, "Perhaps God will use this time to not only heal him but also awaken him to the many problems at Southern Seminary." Note that the link in his statement was inserted by him and leads to a recent post he wrote entitled, "Is Al Mohler Responsible for the SBC's Drop in Baptisms?" I'll save you the suspense and let you know that he concludes that because Dr. Mohler is a Calvinist, then the answer is a resounding "YES". Can you feel the love?

Now, the reason why I point these things out is to remind us all how the world and even fellow Christians look at us. More is at stake Greensboro than who is elected President of the Convention or whether or not the SBC narrows its parameters for cooperation. People are watching how Southern Baptists interact, what they talk about, and how they address issues. And while I am not naive enough to believe that Southern Baptists could speak in such a way as to not offend anyone (see my previous post "Offending That Which Is Offensive"), I do exhort messenger and speakers this week to heed the words of Derek Webb in his song, "Nobody Loves Me" when describing the Church he says, "And she don't need an apology / For bein' who she is / And she don't need your help makin' enemies." The SBC Annual Meeting is an opportunity to glorify God by meeting together. I pray that it's not an opportunity to "help" the Church make more enemies.

But before I close this post, I did find one critical article from a Baptist that I enjoyed and thought was worth reading and so I offer it here:

David Rainer of Opelika, AL in his article, "Pro-Choicer, Protesters, & Praised Evangelist" laments about three events taking place in Greensboro this week: the unveiling of the Billy Graham statue, the address by Condoleeza Rice, and the protests of Fred Phelps. After quoting John Piper on the importance of teaching doctrine, Rainer writes, "The reason Billy Graham is inclusivistic, Condy Rice is pro-murder, and Phelps is in need of checking into the phunny farm, is because they don't understand doctrine." It's an article worth reading.

Friday, June 02, 2006 

The Elizabeth Vargas Situation: A Lesson in Feminist Reasoning

Right now feminists across America are up in arms. Why, you might ask? I'm wondering myself. Apparently it all began on May 23rd with an announcement by Elizabeth Vargas on ABC's "World News Tonight" that she would be stepping down from her role as anchor of the evening news program on May 29th. She has served in the position of anchor for about five months now, a role that ABC designed for her to share with Bob Woodruff before "injuries suffered when [his] convoy was hit by an improvised explosive device in Iraq" kept him from continuing his co-anchoring duties after only three weeks together. Vargas was replaced by her "Good Morning America" co-host Charles Gibson this past Monday.

Vargas, at the time of her announcement, cited her reason for leaving was to "focus on anchoring '20/20' and the arrival of [her] new child" (Vargas's second child is due this summer). However, buzz quickly began to spread around the Internet and throughout feminist circles that Vargas had been "dumped" by ABC in favor of the elder Gibson. The heads of NOW, The National Council of Women's Organizations, and the Feminist Majority Foundation issued a letter to David Westin, President of ABC News, and Anne Sweeney, President of ABC Network, vocalizing their outrage.

In the letter, they label Vargas's leaving as "a clear demotion" and claim that it "signals a dispiriting return to the days of discrimination against women that" they believed no longer existed. Furthermore, the letter claims that "the demotion is not only a violation of the spirit of the Family and Medical Leave Act, it is what Carol Rivers, a Boston University professor of journalism, described as 'a message to all women taking maternity leave that you missed your shot.'" The letter goes on to lament the recent impending cancellation of the ABC drama "Commander-in-Chief", "in which Geena Davis portrayed America's first woman president." Finally they call for the network to "put Elizabeth Vargas or Diane Sawyer in their rightful place on 'World News Tonight'" and interject that "[Vargas's] talent and ability will enable [the network] to come up with a schedule and work arrangements that will allow [her] to continue as both a dedicated mother and a dedicated journalist."

Now, let's talk about the facts of this situation. Vargas claims that she stepped down for reasons involving her family and pregnancy. Leanne Kleinmann of the Commercial-Appeal (Memphis, TN) states that, "Her doctor has commanded that she cut back her work hours, or risk being placed on bed rest," something no pregnant woman desires, especially one as driven as Vargas has been. Kleinman goes on to suggest that Vargas "can't give the kind of effort to her work that she could before she had children (and she already has a son). And she has a job that, as it's configured now, doesn't have any built-in flexibility." Add to that a report from Slate columnist Dahlia Lithwick that Vargas said she'd "have a hard time thrusting [her] baby at [her] husband or baby nurse and [say], 'I'll see you guys in two weeks, I'm going to a war zone.'"

Now, add to this situation the fact that "Vargas alone has faced falling ratings since" the injury to Woodruff sidelined the co-anchor only three weeks into the new team format on ABC. Baltimore Sun television critic David Zurawik points out that "the success of 69-year-old Bob Schieffer at CBS has changed the way the industry views older newscasters" and concludes, "Most of the viewers lost by World News Tonight appear to have gone over to the CBS Evening News with Bob Schieffer." Zurawik quotes Lee Thornton, "professor of broadcast journalism at the University of Maryland and former CBS White House correspondent" who says, "No one knows if Schieffer's audience will stay with Katie Couric come September, but if you are offering an alternative in the same mold - an experienced, hard news anchor - in hopes of attracting those viewers, who better than Gibson?"

But despite these clear reasons for Vargas's timely departure, many are not satisfied and are crying foul to anyone who will listen. And it's not hard to speculate on the reasons why. First, feminists like those issuing the above letter are already lamenting studies that show women are trending toward a more traditional role in the home and seem to be happier there. Linda Hirshman, in a article published in November of last year on AlterNet.Org, berated woman for choosing to stay home rather than compete in the work world, claiming, "these choices are bad for women individually." Vargas decision is a clear heresy to the feminist doctrine. Possibly anticipating an adverse reaction, Vargas told the Associated Press:
Every woman has the right to make that decision for herself and her family without anybody judging it. My decision might not be the right decision for everyone else. My decision does not mean I'm stepping off the stage forever. It's just what's right for me now. I would hesitate to draw any large conclusions about working women or working mothers.

But despite repeated statements like these by Vargas and ABC, some of those outraged claim that the reasons she and the network give are meant to be a smokescreen for ABC's public relations department. One blogger notes that "If Vargas wants to continue working for ABC she will of course have to say that she is 'voluntarily stepping down' to give birth and care for her newborn." Susan Scanlan, co-signer of the letter to ABC and the chair of the NCWO, in an interview with Media Life Magazine's Diego Vasquez, claims that "the most galling aspect of Ms. Vargas's removal as co-anchor of 'World News Tonight' was how she was compelled to put a positive face on it." Kim Gandy, President of NOW, echoes Scanlan in her bi-weekly column on the NOW website, adding, "The explanation from network brass . . . didn't pass the sniff test."

What I find more amazing about this story is the unwillingness of these feminists to believe the facts and accept Vargas's own words. It seems that no matter what amount of evidence is heaped in their direction, they refuse to see the situation any other way. David Bauder of the Associated Press reports that Vargas "said she felt no pressure to step down," stating, “Maybe I'm obtuse, but I didn't.” Why are these women so unwilling or unable to bear these facts? Has feminism progressed to a level that any rejection of its core principles is simply unacceptable, so much so that these people are willing to believe a lie rather than accept the truth from one of their own role models? This seems to clearly demonstrate the type of reasoning behind Feminism. Instead of embracing the beautiful picture of femininity painted in Proverbs 31:10-31, these people buy into a system that will never be as fulfilling as the complementarian role established for women by God in creation. Feminists do a disservice to women by feeding them the lie of egalitarianism. Now is the time for a new suffrage movement, one that will help women to be restored to the roles they were designed to fill for the glory of God and the joy of their hearts.

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About me

Paul was not interested merely in the ethical principles of religion or of ethics. On the contrary, he was interested in the redeeming work of Christ and its effect upon us. His primary interest was in Christian doctrine, and Christian doctrine not merely in its presuppositions but at its centre. -- J. Greshem Machen.

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