Monthly Archives: June 2012

The Media’s Appetite for the Scoop: Obamacare both Overturned and Upheld?

The L.A Times documented the blunders of both the “Conservative” and “Liberal” media’s coverage of the Obamacare ruling yesterday. I was able to watch the news outlets cover the event live, as I flipped back and forth between CNN and Fox news channels. Initially both news outlets reported that the law had been overturned only later to “readjust” their stories to reflect the actual ruling. The coverage by both outlets reflected this desire to beat the competition to the air at the cost of information reliability.

“What you have here is a deliberative institution covered by an increasingly non-deliberative news media culture,” said Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Pew Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.”

I would suggest the media take a page from the Supreme Court and be more deliberative about their coverage. The media’s appetite for the scoop in this case greatly undermined their journalistic integrity. In doing so, they prolong the viewership because it takes a certain amount of time for the story to finally get straightened out. I would suggest that had they read the ruling then commented on it, the same amount of time would have expired (as the amount for them to straighten out the story) and their integrity would have remained in tact. What was the cost of yesterday’s blunder? Probably nothing, because most people will rely on a news service over reading the ruling themselves or finding a reliable source apart from a news services that calls themselves “Fair and Balanced” or “The Most Trusted News Source.”


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Will Americans ever respond to victims of China’s human rights policies?

Today marks the one year anniversary of Ai Weiwei’s release from imprisonment. The charge: free speech, he used social medial to raise awareness of China’s failed policies and human rights abuses. While this is something we all but take for granted in the West and particularly in the US, the Chinese people are afforded no such luxury. In fact there are many other “luxuries” they are not afforded. One is deciding how many children should be in their family. This week the Chinese government was in the news for a forced abortion of a 7 month old fetus. Yet another gross human rights violation. While we scream about Obamacare this week, China continues its abuse of the most basic human rights: Control of one’s family and the freedom of opinion in the public square. What will outrage Americans enough to take action against the Chinese government? I am not talking about military action, I am talking about grassroots action that is much more affective than any military campaign. Will Americans ever be so outraged by human rights violations that they state it through their purchasing power? It is a nice sentiment, but I suspect not. Gone are the days of a shared social ethic that considered the conditions under which things are made and what the profits from these items fund. There is a sense of empowerment given to the Chinese government by US dollars spent on products made in their country. U.S. Consumers are seldom convinced to pay higher prices for products originating from human rights sensitive countries in lieu of products made by human rights violators. This is because like our own current and past human rights issues, we have convinced ourselves of our own arguments. These arguments are varied but similar such as “What can my personal spending habits do to influence a huge government such as China?” or “We are giving them a better life by giving them more money” or “I have to take care of my family first, I can’t afford to make those choices.” First, our individual choices do affect how governments and businesses operate that is why they advertise to consumers. Pressure of U.S. companies that import such goods will make a difference, it has in the past and it will continue to make a difference in the future. Second, are we giving a better life or just more income with shortened lives because of the treacherous working conditions? Third, could we afford it if it were someone we were personally acquainted?


Filed under Ethics, Philosophy, Spirituality, Uncategorized

Abbot Suger and the Doors of St. Denis: Should Churches be Aesthetically Pleasing?

Through construction of his new church at St. Denis in 1122, Abbot Suger is commonly thought as the catalyst for Gothic church architecture. Deeply criticized for the extravagance of the church, he ignored the critics and completed the project. He sought to employ architectural methods that mirrored the glory of God and sense of awe in religious experience. When completed he had these words inscribed on the church doors,

‘Whoever thou art, if thou meekest to extol the glory of these doors,
Marvel not at the gold and the expense but at the craftsmanship of the work.
Bright is the noble work; but, being nobly bright, the work
Should brighten the minds, so that they may travel, through the true lights,
To the True Light where Christ is the true door.
In what manner it be inherent in this world the golden door defines:
The dull mind rises to truth through that which is material
And, in seeing this light, is resurrected from its former submersion.’

And on the lintel:

‘Receive, O stern judge, the prayers of Thy Suger;
Grant that I be mercifully numbered among Thy own sheep.’[1]

I really admire the church architecture of the past and think we are missing something when we construct churches that mirror society instead of God. Many churches today look like over sized houses or undersized big-box retail stores. Very little thought is placed on purposeful aesthetics. Purposeful aesthetics in a divine context aspires to tell something about God through architecture, art, design, and layout. Few churches take this into account when constructing a new facility or revamping the old one. Most spend their money on volume space over ornate interest. Granted, concern for utility must be addressed; it would be pointless to have a architecturally beautiful church that proclaims purposeful aesthetics that is unusable. However, most do not even entertain how their church architecture could proclaim divine beauty or tell the glory of God. So to rescue myself from the hypothetical, let me suggest a few ways that any church could begin this progression. First, incorporate art into your church. I am not talking about those cheesy (sorry if you like them) pictures of Jesus that portray him as a 1960’s hippee. I am talking about images that would be found in an art gallery or museum– images that portray the divine and divine acts. Most churches have very little art in them, why not incorporate an art gallery the highlights Christian artists? Second, think theologically when arranging your building. Recently while in Louisville, I visited two labyrinths, one at the Louisville Seminary and the other at Church of the Epiphany. Walking through these allowed me to experience many things, but the most apparent thing was how it mirrored our journey through life. Sometimes I was really close to the center or the end, but still had a long way to go if I followed the path. This created a bit of anxiety and longing to complete the journey through the labyrinth. I am not suggesting everyone build a labyrinth (although they would make a great addition!). There are other ways to create the same idea. One might be constructing the entry to your church that give all who enter a journey through the entry a feeling of anticipation that ultimately results in them entering the worship area where they encounter images of the cross or other images that tell them Christ is with them. Another might be in arranging the worship area so that the focal point is centralized (most churches have many more than one). The ways to make a church aesthetically pleasing with a purpose is endless, but yet few consider it even a profitable discussion. In this age of visual consumption, purposeful aesthetics must be part of the conversation.

[1] Thiessen, Gesa Elsbeth. Theological Aesthetics: A Reader. Grand Rapids, Mich: William B. Eerdmans Pub, 2005, 115.

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Filed under Aesthetics, Current Church Trends, Gospel and Film, Spirituality

Bringing up Children in the Digital Age

The NY Times featured an interesting article in their Technology section today entitled, “Big Brother, No It’s Parents” The article suggests,

“If, a few years ago, the emphasis was on blocking children from going to inappropriate sites on the family computer, today’s technologies promise to embed Mom and Dad — and occasionally Grandma — inside every device that children are using, and gather intelligence on them wherever they go.”

I must admit, our family is an electronic geek family. Most of our electronics are Apple from iPhones and iPads to MacBook Pro laptops. I have been a mac-user since I was first introduced to them in the U.S. Air Force in 1986. We even have Apple relics, previous iPhone now used as iPod touch and old laptops now used by the children. The NY Times article highlights the struggle I feel in attempting to, on the one hand, keep communications open and, on the other hand, protect my children from themselves and others. Presently, both my sons have iPads (got’em free, long story, not hot and not sharing) and have access to a laptop for games, internet, and homework. I have found the iPads are not as parent friendly as computers. iPads don’t allow for separate admin accounts, but they do have parental privileges. Because of the limited options and because the boys have access to a computer, I have chosen to turn off all internet connection, ability to change apps, and access anything not pre-approved by me. On the computer, I have set up a user account that allows me to monitor and choose which programs and web sites they can access. It also allows me to monitor usage. They have an allotted amount of time each day on the computer, when the time is up the device logs them out. The set-up was easy and separates them from things they don’t need to see. This may not be a long term solution, but it works for now. Some might argue that this is over-protection, but I don’t think so. I believe they are still exposed to many things in their school, neighborhood, and society as a whole that are vacuous of any virtuous quality, I don’t have to be a part of that. Those items in the larger society, provide enough basis for conversation to last through their high school graduation. In fact, we have great dialogue about those things as we encounter them through daily life. Some might also argue that I am delusional in thinking passwords can be kept secure from my children. I agree and that is why they are changed regularly. The point of the article and this blog entry is vigilance. That is what it takes to bring up children in the digital age. You have to be in tune with you kids, listen to changes in their communication, their attitude. You have to constantly check and re-check your security measures to guard them. Most importantly, I believe I must talk to them about what they are experiencing in the culture itself. I have found these conversations frustrating and valuable at the same time. They are frustrating because many times it seems like they are not listening, but they are. They are valuable because it allows me to speak truth into their life– to help them quantify, measure, evaluate, and compare what they hear and experience to what we value as Christ-followers. I think this helps me follow pattern set in Deuteronomy 6:4-8 which states,

“Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.5 And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. 6 And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. 7 Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. 8 Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders.”

I really believe letting them experience the world in these limited ways allows me to point out the virtues and the pitfalls around them. In doing so, it provides a voice into their world. However, I can’t do it alone. The church must be a voice in their world also. The church’s role is to speak truth into my family’s life, which affirms teaching received in the home. No computer parental protection device can do this part. That is why bringing children up in a digital age isn’t really different from successful parenting of other eras– it takes vigilance, dialogue, ongoing communication of truth, and the church.

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Classifying the LDS Church: Christian Cult or Abrahamic Religion?

In this presidential election year, much discussion has been about the LDS church and its relation to orthodox Christianity. Here are a couple related articles that suggest the LDS church become a religion of its own, separating from the orthodox Christian tradition. Richard Land, a proponent of such an idea suggests four Abrahamic religions,

“Judaism being the first, Christianity being the second, Islam being the third and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints being the fourth….Joseph Smith would play the same character in Mormonism that Muhammad plays in Islam.” ~The Christian Post

It appears that members of the LDS church are not entirely opposed to the idea. David Mason wrote a N.Y. Times article entitled, “I’m a Mormon not a Christian.” In his Op-ed, he compared LDS church with Christianity’s struggle for identity from Judaism. He asserts,

“Christianity, you’ll recall, had to fight the same battle. Many early Christians grew up reading the Torah, living the law, observing the Sabbath and thinking of themselves as Jews. They were aghast to find that traditional Judaism regarded them as something else entirely.”

If the Christianity is about Jesus, who he is and what he did, then maybe LDS should be a separate religion. Certainly the LDS church does not subscribe to the notion that the person and work of Christ hails preeminent importance to genuine faith. For the LDS church, other things retain priority over Christ and his work. Does the LDS church have enough importance to be considered a separate religion? There have always been cults of major religions. Judaism has Kabbalah, Islam has Bahai, Christianity has… well, lets just say they have more than their allotted crazies (e.g. David Koresh?). When should these become a separate world religion? Do these types of things come out of pronouncements or are they more organic? To help understand this one should identify the differences between a cult and a religion. Brad Hirschfield suggests five characteristics of a cult. He asserts,

“First, cults tend to centralize power in the hands of a single individual or small group that is considered beyond questions. Second, they treat all questions about the group and its beliefs as intolerable challenges to the group’s authority and authenticity. Third, they demean all those who do not share their beliefs and sow fear and mistrust amongst their believers about all such people. Fourth, they typically cut off all or most opportunities for members to interact freely with those outside the group. And finally, they take revenge upon those who choose to leave the group, in ways which include, cutting them off from all relationships with those who remain inside, confiscation of material goods and even physical harm.”

So perhaps we should assess the LDS faith based on these types of qualifiers. We should also seek to distinguish the political LDS veneer from the layman reality under which most LDS members reside. This is not a shot at the LDS church as I would suggest the same thing about most public figures that claim Christianity as their religion. In the case of the LDS church, it might be helpful to travel to Utah or Montana with Hirschfield’s characteristics in hand to get a boots on the ground assessment. In these places we might find closer resemblance to Hirschfield’s suggestions than the Political LDS machine or Mitt Romney would like.

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Four inadequate answers for the problem of evil

In his book, Why We Need Confession, Russell Shaw identifies four answers for the problem of evil. First, some posit evil in therapeutic explanations that evils are a disorder of the human psyche and therefore can be treated. In short, cure the “illness” and evil will disappear. Second, some suggest that evil is related to consumer activity. Here the answer is supplying those without enough so as to create a cushion against the harsh world. The wealth is distributed according to need (Marxism). Third, some accused the unjust political, social, and economic systems for evil. Their answer is revolution, since those in power are the beneficiaries of evil perpetrated on humankind. Last, some propose that education is the key to subverting evil. In this model, evil exists because ignorance exists; therefore education of the public in science and technology will defeat evil.

“While each of these views speaks a certain truth and must be taken into account, none takes adequate account of human freedom and its contribution both to evil and its eradication. The root of much of the misery in the world is an abuse of freedom: in other words, moral evil, or sin.”[1]

In a similar fashion, it is futile to assign blame to the nebulous category of “Social Injustice” or evil. Social injustice usually refers to suffering caused by unjust social structures and systems that trample on human rights and ignore human needs.

Here Shaw cites Pope John Paul II, where he attached personal responsibility to social sins. A longer quote of John Paul II is helpful as he writes, “At the heart of every situation of sin are always to be found sinful people. So true is this that even when such a situation can be changed in its structural and institutional aspects by the force of law or-as unfortunately more often happens by the law of force, the change in fact proves to be incomplete, of short duration and ultimately vain and ineffective-not to say counterproductive if the people directly or indirectly responsible for that situation are not converted.”[2]

John Paul II rightly attributes these actions to a loss of the sense of sin and the seriousness of it. He writes, “The loss of the sense of sin is thus a form or consequence of the denial of God: not only in the form of atheism but also in the form of secularism. If sin is the breaking, off of one’s filial relationship to God in order to situate one’s life outside of obedience to him, then to sin is not merely to deny God. To sin is also to live as if he did not exist, to eliminate him from one’s daily life.”[3]

Scripture asserts sin is always personal and reaches beyond the offender to impact others. Beginning with the garden scene in Genesis 3, the choices made by humankind were made outside of obedience to God that resulted in moral evil in creation. The following narratives after Genesis 3 recount the implications of personal sin.

[1] Shaw, Russell B. Why We Need Confession. Princeton, N.J.: Scepter Publishers, 2000, 21.

[2] Pope John Paul II. “Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliation and Penance of John Paul II.” (accessed June 25, 2012).

[3] Ibid.

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Augustine’s Meditation on God: Beauty, Happiness, Wisdom, and Light

I thought Augustine’s meditation on God from Soliloquies was an appropriate meditation for me this Sunday:

O God, who from nothing hast created this world which every eye sees to be most beautiful. …O God, the Father of Truth, the Father of Wisdom, Father of True and Supreme Life, Father of Happiness, Father of the Good and the Beautiful, Father of Intelligible Light, Father of our watching and our enlightenment, Father of the covenant by which we are admonished to return to Thee. I call upon Thee, O God the Truth, in whom and by whom and through whom all those things are true. O God, Wisdom, in whom and by whom and through whom all those are wise who are wise. O God, True and Supreme Life, in whom and by whom and through whom all those things live which truly and perfectly live. O God, Happiness, in whom and by whom and through whom all those things are happy which are happy. O God, the Good and the and beautiful which are good and beautiful. O God, Intelligible Light, in whom and by whom and through whom all those things which have intelligible light have their intelligible light.[1]

[1] Source: The Fathers of the Church, Saint Augustine, The Divine Providence and the Problem of Evil, trans. Robert P. Russell, OSA, and Soliloquies, trans. Thomas F. Gilligan, OSA, New York, CIMA Publishing Co. Inc., 1948, para. 2 and 3, pp. 344-5.

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Filed under Aesthetics, Spirituality, Theology