A Darkness to Be Felt

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward the sky so that darkness spreads over Egypt—darkness that can be felt.” So Moses stretched out his hand toward the sky, and total darkness covered all Egypt for three days. No one could see anyone else or move about for three days. Yet all the Israelites had light in the places where they lived.  – Exodus 10:21-23

Few things affect us as human beings more than being in utter darkness. In darkness we are unable to find our way, to see others, or to understand the world around us. We use it as a metaphor for not knowing what is happening, for being left out and ignored. Low points in our lives are referred to as “dark times.”

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Darkness isolates. It hides. It produces questions, not answers, and it makes obstacles out of things that are easily avoided in the light. It brings with it sadness, hopelessness, and fear.

Yes, darkness can be felt.

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Thank Heaven for Little Girls

Comedian Jim Gaffigan describes being the father of four like this: “Imagine you’re drowning, and somebody hands you a baby.”

“Five kids? Well, that’s one way to live your life …”

I’m not sure what the proper description of having five kids is, but we’re about to find out in the Rempe house. At 9:19 AM EDT on March 21, we welcomed Anna Rae Rempe as the newest member of this motley crew. She was seven pounds, 12 ounces, and 20.5 inches of beautiful baby girl. (Any biases daddy might have do not override this objective fact.)

As I type, we are still in the hospital, with mom recovering (quickly, as usual) from her c-section, and Anna chilling under the lights in an attempt to reduce her bilirubin levels. Okay, “chilling” might not be the best term—Anna really doesn’t like being sequestered, and grumps until she is able to be held. We’d like nothing more than to oblige her, but if we want to eventually return home, it’s best that we keep her in the therapy. No knock on the facilities or fine staff here at Inova Fair Oaks, who have been been wonderful, but it will be nice to reunite with Anna’s brothers and sisters at the family estate.

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Seeking Simple Answers

“For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”

– H. L. Mencken

It happened again.

Once again, a heavily armed teenager has walked into a public school with loads of ammunition and a grudge. Again, mothers, fathers, and friends are lamenting the taking of so many young lives. Again, politicians and talking heads are pointing fingers and assessing blame. Again, the Internet and social media are awash with loud opinions and angry condemnations in both directions.

Again.

The events at Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida—and others in Kentucky, California, and numerous other locations across the country—are just the most recent in a long string of violent outbursts in public spaces. Parents are understandably on edge, wondering if their kids are safe when they leave the house in the morning, and if all is being done to protect them from a risk that most of them wouldn’t have even considered when they were in school. And virtually no one believes Stoneman Douglas is going to be the last such sad occurrence.

The initial response to such senseless loss of life is usually outrage, followed by a demand for a strong and meaningful action that will prevent future pain and suffering. Not only is such a response understandable, it is, I believe, the correct one. A failure to express anger and frustration at the murder of innocents bespeaks either a failure to completely grasp the situation or an utter lack of compassion. A moral people should be outraged by violent acts, and grasping for answers and solutions shows a desire that no one else go through what the current victims are experiencing.

That said, it needs to be acknowledged that solutions birthed during times of extreme pain or intense anger are rarely the best answers to tricky issues. They are often more fixed on assessing blame or punishing those who are perceived to be at fault than actually solving the problem. And in some instances, the cure can be worse than the disease.

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The Promise of Lent

(Stolen from my wonderful and talented sister-in-law, Karen Duke. Thanks, Karen!)

Today is Valentine’s Day. And Ash Wednesday. The seeming contradiction between a day centered around chocolate hearts and sentimental messages of romantic love and a day dedicated to reminding us that we are all going to die is not lost on those of us who aspire to be both loving spouses and faithful Christians. (Of course, the fact that the original St. Valentine  remembered by the holiday that bears his name was beaten and then decapitated for attempting to convert the emperor Claudius to Christianity in 269 AD probably brings the two remembrances closer than most people think.)

I really wish Hallmark had had the foresight to create a line of Ash Valentine’s Day cards. Maybe something like:

Roses are red,
People are dust.
Repent from your sins,
Lest your soul become rust.

Okay, so romantic poetry isn’t really my thing. The point is that for most people, the ideas of love and death seem mutually exclusive. When we are buying flowers and preparing for a romantic evening, we don’t want to be reminded of our ultimate mortality. We certainly don’t want be told to “give things up” on a day that has become synonymous with personal indulgence.

I would suggest, however, that the seeming disconnect between Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday is due to a fundamental understanding of both, and that seeing the connections between the two will ultimately end up making both days more meaningful.

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Transforming the Political Culture

In a previous blog post, I lamented the current state of the republic, and the complicity of many Christians in the debasing of the political culture. The tone of that piece might be described as pessimistic, expressing my frustration in where we currently are and how we got here.

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In general, however, I am a “silver lining” kind of person, finding possibility in the face of frustration, and glimmers of hope when hope is in ill-supply. In that vein, I would like to offer my thoughts as to how Christians can actually reclaim their role as salt and light in the culture. The following saws are intended to form a framework in which Christians of varying opinions and ideologies can actively and effectively use to engage the broader society. They are not a list of specific issues or causes on which Christians should rally. Rather, they should be seen as a sort of prerequisite—a self-searching of attitudes and beliefs that should color our conversations and debates, both in matters of policy and beyond.

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Bigger than Ideology

The American political system is broken. This has been the case for quite some time, but recent elections and events have served to lay bare the dysfunction which has become the norm in Washington. The balkanization of the nation into micro-tribes has been thorough, with utter enmity evident between political parties, within political parties, and between the administration and the media. If democratic politics is the art of compromise, then politics, as we have known it, is dead.

The combination of rank partisanship, angry and unrestrained rhetoric from the highest positions of power, and the seeming inability to acknowledge even a modicum of virtue or sincerity in those being opposed is a recipe for disaster. No representative government is designed to survive such rigid inflexibility.

All of this is distressing for someone who believes deeply in constitutional republicanism. But even more disturbing to me is how many Christians have bought into the current climate, adopting the tone and tenor of the most strident partisans. They violently attack the perceived opposition, often personally and on matters that once might have been viewed as outside the boundaries of political debate. Yet these same individuals will be the first to defend “their guy” from similar (or worse) charges simply because of affiliation.

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On “Toxic Masculinity”

A term that that has been popping up on news feeds and television screens more and more frequently of late is “toxic masculinity.” It has been identified as the root of everything that is wrong with modern America—from mass shootings to the rise of Donald Trump to the recent slate of sexual harassment charges. It has been uncovered as the dark underside of the Jedi Order in the Star Wars movie franchise, and is said by some to be inherent in carnivorism.

HAZMAT_Class_6_Toxic.svgThe basic premise behind the phrase is that masculinity, taken to its natural conclusion, inexorably leads to boorish behavior and the systematic subjugation of the disenfranchised in general and women in particular. It is implied (or occasionally overtly stated) that it is only by eschewing normal male behavior and intentionally becoming more feminine that men can move forward and bring an end to societal ills.

It is important to acknowledge up front that the issues being raised by those condemning “toxic masculinity” are real. The constant revelations of sexual manipulation of men from different arenas and across the ideological spectrum are deeply disturbing, and the ferreting out of such behaviors—especially when those acting abhorrently are in positions of power—is a major step in the right direction.

But masculinity is not the problem, and the solution to what ails the culture requires men acting more like the men they were created to be, and not less.

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