Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Debts and crisis

Following up on the largest single day point loss in Dow Jones history (ironically mostly recouped today) it's important to keep things in perspective. When it comes to religion and politics, all we seem to hear is how one party wants to turn the United States in to a theocracy. Of course, the argument is narrowly focused only on a couple issues. No one wants to apply it to a bigger picture.

But say we apply a theocracy across the board. Would we be in this financial mess? Proverbs is full of wisdom related to money and finances. One proverb in particular predicted this. "Rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender." (Pr 22:7) But let's glorify in God and turn to the Psalms. "The wicked borrow and do not repay, but the righteous give generously." (Ps 37:12) Does that sound familiar? Would we be in this mess if our government or our banking industry was actually righteous? Instead we borrow and borrow and borrow, but we do not repay. But in our theocracy, "good will come to him who is generous and lends freely, who conducts his affairs with justice." (Ps 112:5) The key here of course is generosity and justice. Two things that lack in our materialistic world but God possesses in abundance.

You could argue that Psalms and Proverbs are just fluff without authority. But a majority of Jesus' parables relate to money. And Deuteronomy is full of specific instructions on how to run "the financial sector". Deuteronomy 15 gives instructions for the "year of cancelling debts." Imagine that, every seven years all of our debts being cancelled. Not a big deal for my 5-year car loan. But my 30 year mortgage or those student loans that never go away no matter how many years pass? Of course banks would be wise to not give loans for longer than six years. Do you think the markets would be as volatile if loans were handled this way?

Deuteronomy 15:6 gives further insight into our current mess. "For the LORD your God will bless you as he has promised, and you will lend to many nations but will borrow from none. You will rule over many nations but none will rule over you." The parallel passage (p.p. in the margin of your Bible) takes us to Dt 28 where the same statement is followed with "The LORD will make you the head, not the tail. If you pay attention to the commands of the LORD your God that I give you this day and carefully follow them, you will always be at the top, never at the bottom." (Dt 28:13) But God's blessings always come with a warning. "However, if you do not obey the LORD your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come upon you and overtake you" (Dt 28:15) And the corresponding curse reverses the roles above. "The alien who lives among you will rise above you higher and higher, but you will sink lower and lower. He will lend to you, but you will not lend to him. He will be the head, but you will be the tail." (Dt 28:43-44)

One of the biggest fears in this economic crisis, besides Wall Street collapsing, is foreign nations buying up most of our debt. Will we one day be ruled over by China? It is a possibility and we honestly have it coming since America is far from paying attention to the commands of the LORD our God. But this is a covenant between God and the Nation of Israel, it doesn't apply to us today under the New Covenant, right? Well, that may be true, but God's nature doesn't change and his wisdom makes foolish the wise. I think it would do us well to heed these instructions. We may not be in positions of authority and have no real say how loans are given or repaid. But we can use scriptural wisdom to keep our own financial house in order. We can be righteous in our spending (borrowing, really, since we spend so much with our credit cards). We can give generously, conduct our affairs with justice and in doing so bring glory to God.

Friday, September 19, 2008

When you're a celebrity

it's adios reality (with apologies to Brad Paisley)

First off, Lindsay Lohan weighed in earlier this week on John McCain's vice presidential choice saying, "Is it a sin to be gay? Should it be a sin to be straight? Or to use birth control? Or to have sex before marriage? Or even to have a child out of wedlock?..Is our country so divided that the Republicans' best hope is a narrow-minded, media-obsessed homophobe?"

I appreciate her theological musings on morality and the nature of sin. One of my biggest beefs with the "gay agenda" is labeling anyone who believes homosexuality is a sin as a "homophobe." Now I define homophobia as bigotry related to one's sexual orientation like anti-semitism is bigotry based on religion and racism is bigotry related to race. But what does one's personal, spiritual, religious beliefs have to do with bigotry? Can one lead to the other? Absolutely. Can religious beliefs be used to justify bigotry? Sure, look no further than the KKK, or the white-supremacist notion than blacks are descended from Cain. But the Bible doesn't say that. The Bible does say that homosexuality is a sin. Does that mean that I should treat someone differently based on their sin? Of course not (with the exception of "With such a man do not even eat" (1 Cor 5:11) or "Do not be yoked with unbelievers" (1 Cor 6:14) which are different in context).

On the other side of the debate is the elevation of homosexuality above any other sin, despite "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom 3:23) and "you used to walk in these ways" (Col 3:7). The Christian response to homosexuality should be to treat it as any and all other sin, just like I would expect to be treated with my own sin. And that is hoping that someone would be so filled with the love of Jesus to reach out to me to free me from my sin. Unfortunately, most American churches don't deal with sin, but that's a different debate.

As for the rest of her theology, yes bearing a child out of wedlock is a sin as is pre-marital sex, while birth control is (and has been for generations) debated. Again, the "gay agenda" tries to shift the debate to invalidate moral codes that have existed for millennia by trying to tell me that what I believe is wrong. Both sides need to respect Socrates' conclusion in Plato's Protagoras that "all things are true to he who believes them." The argument goes that you can't believe in something you know is false. If I believe homosexuality is a sin, that doesn't automatically make me a homophobe. At the same time, I need to respect the belief that homosexuality is a trait one is born with, even if I don't agree.

Which brings us to the gay-marriage debate. The other celebrity news I want to link is Brad Pitt donating $100,000 to defeat a measure in California aimed at defining marriage as between a man and a woman. "Because no one has the right to deny another their life, even though they disagree with it, because everyone has the right to live the life they so desire if it doesn't harm another and because discrimination has no place in America, my vote will be for equality and against Proposition 8." His rationale defines "slippery slope". Everyone has a right to live the life they desire as long as it doesn't harm another? Well first, the Supreme Court disagrees as evidenced by the fiasco in Texas earlier this year despite the state courts finally deciding that no harm was being done others (fitting Pitt's criteria). At the same time, if I wanted to marry my dog, I'm not harming another so should that be allowed?

Now that last one would be considered silly. But in my opinion, so is the marriage debate. I'm all for civil unions. And if a minister or public official wants to perform a "wedding" for a civil union, I think that's ok too. But to me, calling the name "marriage" a right, and not the rights the name carries (which are provided by civil unions, although only where available), is an argument over semantics. I think the proposition, and other attempts to pass a Constitutional Amendment, should be reworded to define marriage as not between a "man and a woman" (which by nature is discriminatory) but as between a "husband and wife". This stays consistent with traditional nomenclature and shoots down the semantic debate. If a gay couple wants to be "married" then one of them needs to be the wife, and the other the husband. Why is it I don't hear gay men fighting for the right to be called "wife" or "mom" if they have children? What is the difference between that and calling their civil union a "marriage"?

Thanks to Brad Pitt and Lindsay Lohan I can now better define sin and morality and choose which laws I want to follow. Who needs to debate McCain/Palin vs Obama/Biden? I say, Pitt/Lohan '08!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Harriet Miers Part Deux?

It's been a couple of weeks since Sarah Palin was picked as John McCain's running mate and I still don't know what to make of it. I keep having this feeling that this is Harriet Miers all over again. If you don't remember her, she was the White House Council with no bench experience that was nominated for the Supreme Court. The far-right wing and conservative christians (intentional little c) were ecstatic. So was the media, as she gave them plenty to write and blabber on about- her lack of credentials and her far-right stances on the usual christian wedge issues of abortion and gay marriage. After getting crucified by the media and inflaming Democrats against her, the nomination was withdrawn. But not before the religious right made President Bush their hero by nominating someone with no chance of getting approved.

And here we are, with a Vice Presidential candidate with little experience and far-right stances on the expected wedge issues. And now Sen. McCain is the hero of the religious right, the part of the Republican base everyone says he needs but can't get. Even James Dobson is now backing that ticket, after earlier pledging to stay home. It doesn't help that the move was telegraphed by Richard Land, or that her church is sponsoring a "pray away the gay" conference, or that she's been quoted as saying in her church that the war in Iraq is "God's mission" (quote at the end of this article)

Other than the above, what does she bring to the ticket? Can she stand toe-to-toe with Sen Joe Biden when debating foreign policy on national television? Can Sen McCain campaign against Sen Obama's lack of experience with a straight face? And how can she stand against criticism that she should be playing a more active role in raising her children, especially her infant with Downs Syndrome? Or can her unmarried pregnant teen daughter withstand the media onslaught coming her way?

I can't help but think the McCain campaign is pulling a fast one to invigorate the base, grab the headlines, and get the bump in the polls. I really wouldn't be surprised to see her family life be used as an easy excuse to pull her name at the last minute so that McCain can do what he really wants, nominate a moderate. Which I would have been ok with had he done it to begin with. But I can't help but think, as a Christian, that I'm being taken advantage of.

Romans 13 encourages us that all authorities in this world are established by God, but I have a feeling he's rolling his eyes right now.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

It's the end of the world as we know it...

And I feel fine.

I'm behind my posting, but I had to get something up because today is the end of the world. What, you didn't hear? No I didn't get this information from someone locked away in a commune in Idaho or from a guy on a street corner holding a sign and asking for change. In fact, I don't have any religious reason for saying this at all, rather purely scientific. You see, today scientists turned on the Large Hadron Collider, a super-collider in Europe that is intended to create subatomic particles and replicate the big bang.

So what does that have to do with the end of the world? Well some are so afraid of the science behind it that they believe small black holes will be created that could eventually swallow the Earth. They're so afraid in fact, that they've tried to sue to keep it from operating. Not exactly how my Bible describes the end of the world. On the other hand, if they can create a singularity, and wormhole theories hold true, then maybe after the Earth is swallowed up our promised "new Earth" will emerge on the other side. Of course, that would require Jesus to have already come back and depending on which-millennialist doctrine you subscribe, another 1000 years or so to pass. So maybe today's not the day. But I'll be keeping oil in my lamp.

Monday, September 01, 2008

God's Labor Day

Today we celebrate Labor Day, the unofficial end of summer, but the official celebration of America's work force. Originally, Labor Day was celebrated to honor workers' unions through speeches and parades. Today, the typical Labor Day celebration consists of sleeping in, barbecues, and ironically work. In fact, as soon as I finish posting this, I'm going to tackle a couple of outdoor projects I've been putting off.

Despite how widely celebrated this holiday is (even I have it off, and that says something) God's labor day is more widely, or at least frequently observed. I'm talking of course, about the Sabbath. Even though different Christian churches have various doctrines surrounding the Sabbath (Seventh Day Adventists for example) and debate whether we're still compelled to observe the Sabbath Laws under the New Covenant, there's still a perfectly good reason God instituted this day.

"Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God... For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (Ex 20:8-11)

I'm not going to debate creation in six literal days here, but rather stress that even God took a break and there's no reason we shouldn't too. For this reason, we have in America the traditional 40 hour work-week (but who really works only 40 hours?) with "weekends" off. Even the term weekend is to intentionally set aside Saturday and Sunday on the calendar to respect the Judeo-Christian roots of this country.

I heard during a sermon, that even though we may not be commanded to observe the Sabbath under the New Covenant, if we don't take the Sabbath off, the Sabbath will take us. Each one of the Ten Commandments, besides honoring God, protects us. Like most laws, the intent isn't just that of justice, but also to protect the general welfare of the populace. The Sabbath is no different. Think about your last big project at work, or finals week in college, or hell week in high school football, or the last week of planning and organizing before your wedding. Anytime you've dedicated yourself to something so thoroughly, there's usually a "let-down" once you're done. Why? You didn't take a break as the Lord commanded. Just recently I returning from helping my mom move. What happened a few days after I got back? I got sick.

Unfortunately, we don't observe the Sabbath the way God intends. We fool ourselves into thinking we're honoring God by filling the day with church-related activities- morning worship, afternoon meetings, evening Bible study, you know the drill. I asked one of my co-workers if he had any big plans and he replied, "well the first two days are already shot." His wife was hosting a bridal shower at their house on Saturday and Sunday was church. So on the usual Monday he, myself, and many other co-workers are more tired than we were on Friday. Why? Because we never really rested as God intended.

So here I am today, with a long list of "honey do's". Why such the long list? Because I didn't do a dog-gone thing yesterday. And I feel great.