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.

Silver Lining 650px

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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Waiting on the Mystery

Modern man is not wired to wait. In an on-demand, same-day delivery, download now world, the idea of patiently waiting for something seems at best an antiquated idea, if not a completely foreign concept. We expect, nay, we demand that our needs and wants be gratified immediately, and we are quick to protest should there be any delay in fulfillment.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the month (months?) leading up to Christmas. From the moment the first leaves fall from the trees, we launch ourselves into the “Christmas season” with sheer abandon. Our decorations go up, the carols ring forth, and seasonal shopping begins in earnest. There are Christmas parties and rumors of Christmas parties that keep us running from sunup to sundown, so that by the time Christmas finally does arrive, all we can do is collapse in exhaustion that it is finally all over.

Amid this madness, Advent bids us to wait. Wait on God to fulfill his promises. Wait to listen for His voice. To be still, and to know that He is God.

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The Sounds of Silence

One of the (few) good things about being unemployed is that you are afforded a certain flexibility in your schedule that wasn’t available when you were working a 9 to 5 job. In the last several months, I have taken the opportunity to do things like get back into shape, catch up on some reading that has been stacking up on my nightstand, and to spend some more time with the kids during the daylight hours. It has also afforded me the chance to do a little refocusing on what is important, and to do some self-evaluation that I have too often tried to avoid.

My devotional nook.

For the last couple of weeks, I have initiated the habit of spending an hour or so at a local park for some daily devotional time. The routine usually entails me setting up camp at a picnic table overlooking a creek, reading from a daily devotional and Scripture, and spending some time seeking God’s guidance through prayer.

But a good deal of the time spent is me simply looking out on my surroundings, appreciating God’s creation. And the more time I spend looking out at what’s around me, the more I find that God is revealing Himself to me—sometimes in unexpected ways.

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Of Blood, Soil, and a Kingdom Worth Defending

By now, pretty much every political pundit, social commentator, or dude with a computer and a Facebook account has commented on the violence that surrounded last weekend’s rally/riot in Charlottesville, Virginia.* I’m not sure there is anything that I can add to the conversation that hasn’t been stated more ably or eloquently elsewhere, but I still feel that I ought to say something—if for no other reason than to get myself on the record, and to sort through some of the things about the events (and the aftermath) that have been cluttering my mind.

The violence and identity politics on display in Charlottesville should be deeply disturbing to all who observed it, regardless of creed, politics, and ethnicity. For a county “dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal,” what happened in central Virginia must remind us all that those values need to be actively preserved and defended, especially when challenged by those who claim superiority simply because of their race or heritage.

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