Friday, May 25, 2007

Name-it-and-claim-it!

The sun begins to set on the Yellow Sea as a black-sailed galleon slowly treads the port. Clad in the red of his country's rising sun, a solitary figure watches the ship with narrow eyes and furrowed brow. The slanting shadows of rooftops hide his presence among the jittering lines of the city's skyline. The soft murmur of the ocean slurping against the dark sand of the bay is eclipsed by the dull roar of a distant thunder.

The time came. Red Ninja noted the distance between a loading crane and the crows nest of the foreboding ship were close. He darted to the side of the roof he had been inhabiting, hurled his sickle/rope at the end of the crane and in one deft movement swooped onto the top of the main topgallant mast. Perched silently, he scanned the deck for his opponent.

Suddenly a cutlass glanced off the beam next to him. In an eye blink the ninja had drawn his katana and spun around to see a gnarled pirate with a gleam in his one good eye. He knew this was to be the confrontation that he had been longing for these past 11 years.

And so, the debate about name-it-and-claim-it theology was begun…

RED NINJA: So God never wants any Christian to be sick?

SCURVY PIRATE: Yes. He will heal you if you have enough faith.

RED NINJA: So every person who has a physical ill is lacking faith?

SCURVY PIRATE: Yes.

RED NINJA: Death is a physical ill, right?

SCURVY PIRATE: I suppose.

RED NINJA: Everyone dies, right?

SCURVY PIRATE: I don't think I like where you're going with this.

RED NINJA: So does that mean no one has faith?

SCURVY PIRATE: I guess not enough to never die. But God has decreed that it is appointed unto every man to die.

RED NINJA: So God wishes a certain physical ill for every human?

SCURVY PIRATE: … Well, we need to die to go to heaven.

RED NINJA: Did Enoch or Elijah have to die to go to heaven?

SCURVY PIRATE: No. They had so much faith they didn't have to die.

RED NINJA: Ok. Fair enough. So God wishes that everyone had that much faith?

SCURVY PIRATE: Yes, God wants us to have as much faith as possible.

RED NINJA: So He appointed everyone to die, but hopes that they won't?

SCURVY PIRATE: er… something like that.

RED NINJA: Oh really? How do you get faith?

SCURVY PIRATE: You believe. You just have to believe.

RED NINJA: Do you believe you are going to avoid death?

SCURVY PIRATE: I don’t have that much faith.

RED NINJA: But you have enough to keep yourself from getting cancer or bird flu?

SCURVY PIRATE: I hope so.

RED NINJA: Well don't you think you better get more faith so that you won't get cancer? You owe it to your family!

SCURVY PIRATE: I try to have as much faith as I can.

RED NINJA: Do you know where the Bible says you get faith from?

SCURVY PIRATE: Of course; you ask God and He gives you faith.

RED NINJA: So if you got cancer you could just ask God for enough faith to be healed?

SCURVY PIRATE: I believe He would.

RED NINJA: What if you were 110 years old and got cancer? Would God still keep you alive because of your faith?

SCURVY PIRATE: Uh…

RED NINJA: Do you think it's interesting that Paul always says that faith is given by God? Like Rom. 12:3 – "each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned." Rom. 12:6 –"Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith;" Eph 2:8 – "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." Does that sound like anyone has to meet a standard before God decides how much faith He will give them?

SCURVY PIRATE: No. You just have to believe.

RED NINJA: So it's a simple on/off switch? You believe and God gives you faith, you don't believe and He doesn't?

SCURVY PIRATE: You just have to believe.

RED NINJA: But how do you account for the difference of faith that is apparent in the body of Christ? I have a pastor who is dieing of cancer. According to your view he must not have enough faith to be cured. Are you saying this is because he doesn't believe?

SCURVY PIRATE: No… he just needs to have more faith.

RED NINJA: So does he get more by believing more?

SCURVY PIRATE: By asking for more.

RED NINJA: I'm pretty sure he has done that multiple times. So there is only one option left according to your view. He must not believe, thereby cutting off any faith that God would give him. So you think that my pastor does not believe in God?

SCURVY PIRATE: He might believe, but he needs more faith.

RED NINJA: So it's not an on/off equation. You can believe… but have little faith or lot's of faith, right?

SCURVY PIRATE: Yeah.

RED NINJA: So once you believe, how do you get more faith?

SCURVY PIRATE: You ask for it, and God gives it freely.

RED NINJA: Then you can ask God for enough faith to keep you from dieing until the second coming, and He'll freely give it to you?

SCURVY PIRATE: Only if you have the faith of Enoch and Elijah!

RED NINJA: Which we have just established is available to every believer by a simple request, right?

SCURVY PIRATE: It's not that simple. Faith takes time to grow and you must go through a lot of trials to get it.

RED NINJA: Could physical illness be one of those trials?

SCURVY PIRATE: … Uh… well, God doesn't want anyone to suffer. But… He may let them if He knows they will get faith from it.

RED NINJA: So it's possible that I have to get really, really sick for a long time to get the faith I need to keep from dieing? Sounds like a fair trade.

SCURVY PIRATE: God doesn't make deals like that!

RED NINJA: Oh right… sorry. So on what does He base His decision to give lots of faith to some believers, and only a little bit to others?

SCURVY PIRATE: Their willingness to trust Him and believe in Him.

RED NINJA: So some of us believers don't have as much belief as others?

SCURVY PIRATE: I suppose so.

RED NINJA: And how do we get belief?

SCURVY PIRATE: We choose to believe.

RED NINJA: We can choose to believe?

SCURVY PIRATE: Of course!

RED NINJA: So if I choose to believe in Santa Claus, you think I can actually, whole-heartedly believe he exists?

SCURVY PIRATE: I suppose you could fool yourself into believing that.

RED NINJA: So in your experience, you have found that belief is a volitional act of self will?

SCURVY PIRATE: Yes, you can choose to believe or not believe.

RED NINJA: So belief is an act? It's something you do?

SCURVY PIRATE: Sort of.

RED NINJA: So when Paul says, "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works…" he is sort of right?

SCURVY PIRATE: No. He's totally right. We don’t have to work to be saved.

RED NINJA: But we have to believe?

SCURVY PIRATE: Obviously.

RED NINJA: And we determined that you have to do something in order to believe. (Choose to.) So we do have to do something on our own to be saved, right?

SCURVY PIRATE: Well, maybe a tiny bit. But it's so small compared to what God does for us that it really isn't anything. He reaches 99% of the way to us, and we just have to barely move our hand to reach Him.

RED NINJA: But we still have to do a little something to achieve salvation, belief, and faith?

SCURVY PIRATE: God doesn't ask too much of us.

RED NINJA: So if my pastor dies of cancer it's because he didn't have the will power to make himself believe enough, so God didn't give him the faith required for healing?

SCURVY PIRATE: In a way… yeah.

RED NINJA: So he didn't earn healing?

SCURVY PIRATE: You don't earn healing. God grants it to those who believe.

RED NINJA: But didn't we just agree that we have to do something in order to believe? And if we don't do that something, then we don't get belief. And once we believe, if we don't do something to believe enough then we won't get the faith we ask for. Doesn't that make it all come down to something you do?!

SCURVY PIRATE: God does most of it.

RED NINJA: Does that change the fact that we still have to do something?

SCURVY PIRATE: I guess not.

RED NINJA: So those that suffer ill are really to blame for their problems because they didn't do the right thing?

SCURVY PIRATE: It's not much. You just have to believe.

RED NINJA: If it's that easy why does such a large percentage of Christians suffer from illness and death?

SCURVY PIRATE: Because they don't claim the promises in the Bible.

RED NINJA: Why do such a large percentage of Christians in the name-it-and-claim it churches suffer from illness and death? They have the vital information they need, and know that it is very easy, right? (I'm not even going to ask where it says in the Bible that God promises us we will never get sick.)

SCURVY PIRATE: Sometimes it's hard to believe that God will actually do what He promises.

RED NINJA: I thought you said belief was easy So if it's sometimes hard to do, doesn't that make those who have the strong belief and faith extra special?

SCURVY PIRATE: It means they have a lot of faith.

RED NINJA: Did they have to work hard to believe what they believe… to earn their faith?

SCURVY PIRATE: I already told you, you can't earn faith!

RED NINJA: But you said many people find it hard to believe enough to be healed. Once they achieve that belief through self will, how is that not earning faith?

SCURVY PIRATE: Because it's such a tiny thing compared to what God does to reach out to us.

RED NINJA: But it's not tiny by our human standards, since we see such huge diversity of faith levels out there, huh? By God's standards it's practically nothing. But since we only know of two humans who had enough faith to not die, that must mean there is a steep curve to climb if we want to compare with that kind of faith.

SCURVY PIRATE: Maybe. …God works in mysterious ways.

RED NINJA: Indeed He d...

Having been so intent on their conversation they hadn't noticed that it had started to rain. Their location on top of a mast, and upraised swords made them obvious targets for the 94 kiloamp lightning bolt that struck them, instantly searing their bodies.

The End.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Christianity and politics


Preface~

To my gentle readers go my semi-sincerest apologies. This entry may take the cake for most rambling, incoherent, and generally hard-to-follow writing I have ever produced. My usual style is very free-form, meandering from point to point, backtracking and generally sounding foolish. But in this entry I think I may have perfected this style. This was written over a 3 or 4 month period in short bursts. Someday I'll hire an editor and put together a book. In the mean time… I'm sorry but I just don't have time to actually organize and edit any of this.

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I am working under the assumption that a Christian should approach politics the same way they should approach the rest of life. That is, to follow Christ's command to love God and your neighbor. I think most Christian's would agree with that. The disagreements arise when we define how love can be expressed through a political process. Like most issues, I think there is a continuum of attitudes towards the subject. On one end there those like the Mennonites and most libertarians who believe that any involvement in government is incompatible with a loving or Christian attitude. So we should just let people do whatever they want. On the other end we have a might-makes-right approach whereby one believes that forcing a Christian moral code on the country is the best thing for everyone. The first group views the second as tyrannical, the second views the first as irresponsible or unbelieving.

I want to examine these two sides and see what seems right or wrong to me about their arguments. I'll start with the end I'll call Political Activists. Then examine what I'll call Political Pacifists.

Here is what I think is right about Christian Political Activists… They believe that living by God's law will make people happier, healthier, and better. (Whether those people understand the blessings come from following God's laws or not.) I believe that too. I think that since God is the one who created all this reality we live in, He has a better idea of how to operate in it in such a way as to prosper. We humans come up with all sorts of theories, (i.e. Communism, self-actualization, eugenics, etc.) and most of them fail because they don't incorporate enough of God's ways (and recognition of human limitations) into them. So with the idea that living according to God's ideals is the best for society, how do we go about encouraging those who don't believe in God's ideals to live by them? …. (For their own good.) As Christians, our best example of this is Christ. He encouraged by first, giving a perfect example, (being a loving friend to the downcast.) and second, by preaching it. That is all well and good for us modern Americans to look at as a template. But since there were no voting rights in the Roman Empire, we have no idea what Jesus would have said about enforcement of moral ideals through law. Or do we?

One of the big mysteries of the Bible is why God would establish a Jewish Theocracy, only to contradict most of the laws it created when Jesus came around. In the Old Testament, you have a civilization organized around a religion. All its laws, morals, songs, customs, etc. are derived from this shared religion. There is top-down control by the priest class as the presumed vessels of God's action. (This is pretty much the opposite of western, pluralistic democracy.) And every time the Israelites start getting pluralistic by co-mingling with other cultures they invariably fall into idolatry and suffer the wrath of God for their actions. This background is good to keep in mind when we examine Jesus' teachings on law, morals, government, and justice: a society whose primary organizing force is a set of laws and customs that isolate them from the outside world and enforce the strictest punishment for rule-breakers. Out of this milieu comes a guy who claims to be God. The same God who was supposed to have organized the society through the priesthood, kings, and prophets. The same God who gave them the rule, "An eye for and eye and a tooth for a tooth." The same God who told them to stone adulterers and witches. But this guy contradicts all that, actively subverting the very foundation of their society, reprimanding the priest class that was supposed to be leading them, and blatantly breaking most of their cultural taboos. (eating with gentiles, touching the unclean, and 'working' on the Sabbath, for example) To me, this indicates that He was operating under a higher law than that of the Jewish government/religion. In fact, He succinctly articulates what that superseding law is:

Mat 22:37 "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

So it doesn't seem to me that Jesus advocated the Jewish form of government/religion. It seems to me that He condemned it. Next, we can look at His statements concerning the Roman Empire that He was also exposed to and ultimately submitted to their execution. The most obvious one being here:

Mat 22:15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his talk. 16 And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, "Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone's opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?" 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, "Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin for the tax." And they brought him a denarius. 20 And Jesus said to them, "Whose likeness and inscription is this?" 21 They said, "Caesar's." Then he said to them, "Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." 22 When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away.

I don't read this as advocacy or implicit acceptance of the Roman form of government, since the context is showing how Jesus drew a distinction between spiritual matters and earthly ones such as government and taxes. But it is also telling that He did not take the opportunity to comment on Rome either.

Paul had a comment about government though.

Rom 13:1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6 For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

This seems like an odd attitude from a man who was severely beaten and imprisoned several times by said governing authorities. A guy who's savior had been executed by the Roman government. The description he gives of governmental authority seems to be an ideal, a bit different than the actual government he was subject to. And yet his advice is perennial, not making exceptions.

Peter gives us this advice:

1Pe 2:13 Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.

Again, here is a guy whose friend and Lord was falsely accused and executed by Rome. His perception of government is that it is sent by God to punish evil and praise good. Was Jesus punished for being evil? I wonder what Peter would think of Stalin or Hitler's governments? It seems sensible to me to conclude that the further a government gets from the prescriptive punish-evil-reward-good model, the less a Christian should support it. But I don't get that from the Bible.

Another interesting thing to me is that both Paul and Peter come from a theocratic background, but neither of them states that one of the functions of government is to institute or maintain religious law. Could they be the first proponents of the separation of church and state? I think it might depend on what they would say if Christianity was the state religion in their time.

It's interesting to me that John's Revelation makes no mention of fighting the powers that are doing all the evil described. It's quite clear that when all this hell is loosed there is nothing we puny humans can do to stop it.

But I'm getting far a field of what I wanted to talk about. We don't live in a theocracy or monarchy or communist country. We live in a capitalist, liberal democracy mixed with some socialism. (As far as I can tell.) Given the reality of the situation, how ought we Christians interact with our government? Personally, I am not an optimist at all when it comes to these matters. I assume the hegemony, greed, corruption, and plutocracy that has been the undoing of every civilization will do us in as well. But to make little analogy: just because I know I'm going to die some day doesn't mean I shouldn't care for myself, my health and well-being. The analogy breaks when I consider that my country includes other individuals. So decisions I make regarding my own health may not be what the other individuals would decide. Hence the struggles, polemics, power-plays, pandering, and everything else that disgusts me about politics.

These issues (corrupt politics) seem like they are not tied to any particular political system. You can easily spot them throughout history. There are things like poverty, hunger, disease, and loneliness that Christ showed us how to address. He spoke against corruption, but never showed us practical ways to fight it. (Unless we are ready to overturn some tables.) It seems to me, as a Christian, I ought to be doing whatever I can to combat evil. But I really don't know what the best way to do that in the political arena is. It seems that since we live in a democracy it would be a natural conclusion that we should vote for policies and policy makers that will fight evil. But then we are back to the problem of disagreement over how to fight evil. One party wants to throw tax dollars at a problem, the other wants to ignore it or hand it over to the private sector. It seems hard to determine if one of these actions is more or less "Christian".

Well I got completely sidetracked. I started out wanting to say what I find good and bad about both camps of Christians. The Activists and the Pacifists. I said I agree with the Activists that whether people know it or not, living according to God's ideas will make them happier and healthier. Now I want to look at the Pacifists view of that. From talking to many of them I get this argument. "People won't change no matter what laws are forced on them, and trying to make them act Christian is just going to harden their hearts towards God."

I'm a big believer in the idea that outward actions don't mean crap if your heart is not in the right place. At least to you personally. But tell that to the person who benefits from some high moral action done with a less-than-willing heart. What if your neighbor would gladly turn to prostitution if it were legal. It really wouldn't bother me that her heart desires something that the law determines to be wrong. If the law changed, and there were suddenly sleazy guys hanging around my neighborhood I wouldn't be too happy. So I think laws that curb unhealthy activity such as drug use and prostitution are a good thing for most people, even though many people may have a heart that rebels against those laws.

This Part Is Very Important !!!

In this case we, as a society, through the mechanism of government-enforced law, make moral demands on each other. We do this because we recognize that the rights of an individual must be restrained for the good of all. These laws contribute to the moral health of the overall community even though there are people whose desires are being repressed.

These laws may actually be immoral. Because in a democracy, the majority may decide that evil activities are fine and good activities are evil, and adjust their laws accordingly. It's not that hard to imagine a future where some religions are outlawed. (As is the case in many parts of the world now.) So I don't want to give the impression that just because a democratic society says so-and-so is right or wrong, that this is the case. No matter what laws exist, some group of people will be repressed in some way. Laws oppress. You can have oppression by democracy or oppression by some other governmental form. Even anarchy oppresses those who can't hold their own in a survival-of-the-fittest world. I'm saying this to demonstrate the problem with crying "Oppression!" when it comes to passing or keeping laws that some don't like. All our laws oppress someone. Democracy makes it so that the majority will oppress the minority. That's just the way it is. There are pros and cons to this. In a monarchy or dictatorship you have a very small minority oppressing the majority. Would you like that better? I wouldn't.

My point is that every society demands that you conform to their standards through law, taboo, custom, etc. So complaining that a particular law is "oppressive" seems ridiculous to me. It may be more oppressive than other laws, in which case the argument should focus on why a particular law goes too far away from personal liberty at the expense of societal security. The two are always at play and whenever one side gets too far out of hand a revolution takes place which usually ends up erecting a new government that swings too far in the opposite direction until it's reigned in by our human nature of greed and corruption. Then the cycle continues.

The question concerning the balance became a lot more heated and articulated after the enlightenment where a bunch of people started claiming that individual rights should be protected. Over the past three hundred years that claim has evolved to the point that we not only want our rights protected, but we want our happiness and comfort guaranteed. With those kinds of expectations it's little wonder than any perceived breach of autonomy is seen as dictatorship. In general, most of the Christians I know have embraced the post enlightenment ideology and only differ in degree from non-Christians concerning where the balance between individual rights and societal safety should be.

I think I agree with much of the post enlightenment thinking. Though I disagree that it is self-evident that all men are created equal. I think it is abundantly clear that all men are NOT created equal. There are retarded men, evil men, lazy men, brave men, smart men, etc. Paul says we "clay pots" have no right to demand that our maker make us differently. But I also see the Christ-like attitude of loving your neighbor as yourself –without exception- in our form of government, and our ideal of treating all people equally. But that ideal can only extend so far. Because we don't treat a retarded man or a criminal the same way we treat others. There are fundamental issues in life that require us to discriminate for the good of an individual or society. We don't expect a retarded or insane man to support himself. We don't tax them, fine them, and throw them in jail when they fail to do what they are clearly incapable of doing. And when it comes to convicted felons, we take away their right to freedom. We cease to afford them the liberty we claim all men have a right to. I think many people don't think this through when they make claims like, "You can't take away a person's rights!" Because common sense informs us that some actions or mental states require that we do just that in order to have a relatively safe and just society. The argument should not be whether or not we should every take away rights, but what mental or physical states require that we do so for the good of the individual and society at large.

Those of us who would rather stay out of politics and leave the heathen to live by heathen rules need to realize that certain behavior demands revocation of certain rights. To ignore that is not loving in any way. It's not loving to let your friend smoke crack in your living room while telling them it's their right and you will support them no matter what. It's not loving to encourage drug use. Why? Because we know it destroys lives. So voting that drugs remain illegal will "oppress" some, but we recognize that it is for their own good. The same can be said for theft, rape and murder.

Is it condescending to say we are oppressing someone for their own good? I suppose it depends on where your heart is at. Yet even the most ardent liberal will say it's good to oppress a person's desire to rape or kill. So I will bypass the condescending attitude argument.

Moving on, what is the criterion by which a person should vote for a particular law? (Or a politician who will vote for a particular law.) I have heard it said time and time and time and time again that religious people should not base laws on their religious beliefs. This strikes me as odd. In order to accomplish that feat, one would have to have their religious beliefs so compartmentalized from the rest of their thought-life that they could separate where any particular belief in generated. "Hmm… I wonder if my opinion on abortion comes from my religious side or my secular side?" People derive their beliefs from numerous places. And they are always a jumbled mess. It's like saying you can identify the ONE reason you like your favorite style of music. Of course there are many reasons you like your favorite music, and it's silly to pretend otherwise. Likewise, it's silly to think you can separate your "religious" beliefs from your secular ones. I believe abortion is wrong partly for philosophical reasons. (If a fetus is not human before it is born, what is the process it goes through when it is born that turns it into a human? And if it is human at some point before it is born, what is that point and how can it possibly be isolated?) I believe abortion is wrong for religious reasons. (God creates life, we don't have the right to end it for our convenience or peace of mind.) I believe abortion is wrong for ethical reasons. (Should we as a society have the right to define who is human and if they have the right to live? Is it right that we are ending up practicing accidental eugenics with the very disproportionate amount of minority abortions?) Many believe abortion is wrong for experiential reasons. (They have had an abortion or know someone who has and have seen the devastating effects played out in their life.) So how in the world can someone parse their beliefs down like this, isolate the religious component, and discard it? You can't because they are all hopelessly woven together. Beliefs - at least good ones – are like nets with many strands. Poor beliefs go like this: "I think Tibet should be free because I saw a bumper-sticker that said so." Or "I believe George Bush is God's light to the world because my pastor said so." Apparently, those who say religion should not enter into your political life, assume that all religious beliefs are like that one. They are wrong.

Also working in this false dichotomy is the assumption that religious belief is irrational, and secular/humanist/scientific belief is rational. Any Christian buying into this has just undercut their entire belief system. If you think you should not vote based on your religious conviction you are basically saying that only the non-religious have a right to speak on this matter because they have 'facts' on their side and we religious folk only have irrational faith. Or you are saying that our faith is good enough for us personally, but when it comes to truly important matters, like how a society should order itself, well… we just aren't qualified to weigh in on something of that magnitude due to our propensity to irrationality.

The Christian political pacifist will say that there are some morals that are specifically Christian, and therefore should not be voted into law in a land that is not Christian. The hottest case in point right now is the ban on same-sex marriage. Another formerly hot topic was the issue prayer in schools. I think these two issues, when viewed together raise an interesting point. I think they are fundamentally different. The first issue is a behavioral/moral issue. A law banning same sex marriage is seeking to restrain individual rights for the sake of maintaining the current definition a valued institution. (Again, I will point out that all laws restrain some people from doing stuff they would like to do.) The second issue –prayer in schools- is the imposition of a specific religious ritual on society at large. (I am speaking only of a school-wide mandated prayer, not individuals or groups praying.) I think many Christian political pacifists blur these two distinct kinds of issues into one. Christian prayer is specifically Christian and specifically religious. The definition of marriage is not Christian or religious. The institution has been around since society has been. It has a few different iterations based on culture and time, (mainly in the number of wives) but is not tied to any religion. Believing we should not change it to include homosexuals is not – I repeat, NOT – a religious belief, form or ritual. It is not imposing a religious form or ritual on anyone, unlike compulsory school prayer.

I am against any kind of institutionalized religious form. That is, I would not want my government to attempt to induce a citizen to accept any sort of religious belief. Where I differ with liberals on this issue is that I don't believe all religious ritual is intrinsically formulated to manipulate people to convert. The religion of a land is a big part of its culture, like it or not. If I lived in a Muslim or Buddhist country I would understand that the public displays of religion there won't match my own. I would understand that the schools would teach my kids from a Muslim or Buddhist perspective. I would understand that the laws and courts would operate under Muslim or Buddhist philosophies. But let me make another distinction here. Forcing a person to speak or act against their beliefs is simply wrong and I will always vote against that. I would be incensed if I heard of a public school telling a Muslim student they must repeat a Christian prayer. But simply having a prayer spoken in class? No big deal. That doesn’t harm anyone. That being said, I do think our public institutions should drop the pretense of honoring God. They haven't been doing it, why bother saying it? I could make a half-hearted argument that a general statement of desire to honor God could induce some action of that kind. But let's face it, we've been saying "One nation, under God…" for a long time now, and it certainly isn't getting any closer to being true.

So here is the distinction I'm trying to draw:

  1. There are laws that limit behavior and options based on a sense of morality. (Don't kill. Don't beat your dog. Don't dump hazardous waste from your factory into the river.) Where that morality is derived from does not matter. If it does matter, then you run into issues with repressing religious voters. And there is no way to determine that humanistic or science-based morality is better than religious-based morality. They are all opinions that people have come to through any number of ways. Just because you think their opinion is based on garbage doesn't mean it should not be valid in a democracy. After all, doesn't everyone think those who disagree with them are wrong for some reason or another? Why should religion be an outlawed reason for disagreement?

  1. There are laws that force citizens to participate in religious practices that go against what they believe. (I don't know enough about the world to tell you if any of these laws still exist except in Muslim countries.) I believe the Christian political pacifist rightly disagrees with these kinds of laws. But I think they unknowingly transpose their feeling of justice when it comes to these laws onto the first kind I mentioned. Christians should be the last people who would try to force their religion on people. Our Bible clearly states that it is God who draws (or drags) people to Him, not the state. Our religion is relational, not works-based. Our scriptures say that we can not gain anything by outward ceremony or action without inward propulsion from God's holy spirit. All of these things mean that forcing the Christian religion on people is futile and counter-productive.

With that in mind, let me go back to my first hot topic: gay marriage. Given that a Christian has the same vote as everyone else, how should they cast it? Should they decide to vote for it, or abstain because they don't want to push "Christian morals" onto society? I think there is a larger question here. Do we consider a Christian way of life as valid as a secular way of life? Does a Christian ethic help our society as much or more than a secular ethic? Will our country be better off with a Christian ethic (not ritual or forced belief) or a secular ethic? Both sides oppress some people sometimes. Both sides will make some people unhappy and others happy. Modern humanists are the ones who have cast this cultural conflict in the light of 'backwards religious fanatics' versus 'rational, compassionate progressives'. They have convinced us that religion is an illegitimate source for informing moral thought on a societal scale. As Christians we need to evaluate that claim. Are they right? Is our opinion on a topic that is formed by our deference to sacred text truly unworthy of the vote we are given? If we trust Paul, and believe him when he says homosexuality is harmful, are we not to chip in with our two cents when the question is asked through the political mechanism of the vote? In the case of gay marriage the answer I have heard from Christian political pacifists is that it is simply unloving (or un-Christ like) to tell a homosexual that they don't have the same rights as a heterosexual. Let's examine this.

All sorts of people have all sorts of conditions that preclude them from certain liberties that the rest of society enjoys. Here are some examples:

  1. Blind people can't drive.
  2. Children can't join the military.
  3. Teenagers can't drink.
  4. Men can't go in women's restrooms.
  5. Girls can't join the Boy Scouts.
  6. Sex offenders have to notify their neighbors.
  7. Paraplegics can't play in the NBA.
  8. Felons can't vote.
  9. Abusive alcoholics can not (well – should not) raise children.
  10. Fathers can't marry their daughters

… and on and on. This list has a mixture of people who had no choice about their station in life, (the blind, young, and handicap) and some who can be blamed for their state, (sex offenders and felons) and some that are debatable. (the alcoholic and the incestuous couple) I'm including a mix here to counter the argument that homosexuals don't have a choice about the way they feel, and thus it is unfair to deprive them of their desire to marry. (My argument is that it simply doesn't matter whether they have a choice or not.)

This list shows that it is perfectly acceptable -and even morally expected- that some people be excluded from doing certain things even though they did not choose to be the way they are. Blind people don't choose to be blind. But it would be morally wrong to allow them to drive just because they feel discriminated against. Abusive alcoholics harm children, so the state intervenes and takes away the kids. This is not because we as a society hate the blind or alcoholics. It is because we value the safety of those around them more than their "rights" to drive or raise kids. So my question for the Christian political pacifist is this: Would you vote to allow the blind to drive and the alcoholic the right to keep their kids no matter what? If no, why is the case of homosexual marriage different?

The answer I always get is that gay marriage doesn’t harm anyone. This is an odd statement coming from people who claim that they respect the words of Paul, Jesus and the gang. (who gave us all those other great scriptures) I can totally understand a humanist who is investigating the issue looking through the statistics and choosing the ones that support their view that the homosexual lifestyle is harmless. But how someone whose life has been changed by God through the words of a highly respected book can look at those lists and warnings and completely dismiss them in favor of highly spurious statistics provided by politically motivated advocates of homosexuality and completely ignoring the historical norm, I'll never know.

It leads me to believe that this is a heart issue more than a head issue. (Anyone who lives remotely close to a big city has to admit there you get a big cultural kudu from people for having gay friends. Don’t deny it. You know it's true.) Which I understand well. My heart hurts for those who suffer. I don't want to tell anyone what they can or can't do. It would break my heart to be a social worker who has to rip kids out of an alcoholic's home. But the same thing that motivates that social worker – the desire to put the innocent over the "rights" of the one who harms them – is the same thing that motivates me to vote no in the political arena when homosexual marriage is proposed. I don't relish the thought of depriving a gay couple of the joy that a legitimate marriage would bring. I simply believe that a gay couple can not have a legitimate marriage because the very act of joining homosexuals contradicts the precepts of marriage. In the same way a father and daughter, or man and horse, or any other combination, would simply destroy the spirit of what a marriage is designed to accomplish.

This leads to the next argument I've heard, which is that marriage can be changed to mean something more inclusive without destroying the spirit or function it provides. Well, I suppose that depends on what you value about marriage and what you don't. If the only things you think are valuable about marriage are a tax classification and making some people feel like they are committed to each other, then you are right. You can change it to include any combination of people, animals, and/or inanimate objects you want and it will stay the same. But the minute you bring children into the equation your theory is shot. Because most people intuitively know that the way a man and woman raise a child is different than the way a man and a man, or a man and a horse, or a man and an X-box would raise a child. Most people understand that there are more ideal, and less ideal environments for child-rearing. We all acknowledge that no child is raised perfectly, and we all accept that a certain amount of poor child-rearing will always occur. What I believe is wrong, is redefining marriage in such a way that will virtually grantee more poor child rearing.

Let me get the obligatory retorts out of the way here. No, not all gay couples will raise their children in a worse environment than any traditional marriage. Yes, many homosexual couples might provide better homes for kids than many of the horrible, dysfunctional families we see today. Yes, half of the traditional marriages end in a broken home environment for the kids and that is bad. Homosexual couples aren't monsters who want to destroy their kids. They simply are not a man and a woman, which has been shown time and time again, (and is intuitively known to most) to be the best way to raise children. To deny this is to deny a thousand obvious signs that nature, society, and God has given us. Though that sort of denial is a necessary part of joining the "progressive" movement of "tolerance" for everyone. (Except religious people.)

Men and women are different. They fulfill different functions in the process of raising children. When one is lacking, the process is dramatically weakened. So why would a society want to legitimize a weakened family unit that produces weaker citizens? How can a Christian call this compassionate or loving?

A friend of mine keeps telling me that the reason I wrongly think that gay marriage would be bad is because I can't possibly understand a homosexual's life. Or any other minority for that matter. He says that as the most privileged class: the White, Heterosexual, American, Christian, Male (which I'll abbreviate to W.H.A.C.M. because that sounds funny.) – we have no right to tell other classes what to do or how to act. He believes we are all unwittingly racist homophobes, and the first step to fixing that problem is to admit it. Well, I can't deny that there are subconscious issues that I may have. Obviously, if they are subconscious, I don't know about them. So I can't flatly deny the claim that my privilege has made me racist and homophobic. I don't see that in myself, my actions or attitudes; but hey, we humans aren't really the best at evaluating ourselves, are we? So with no way to conclusively prove that I'm not a racist homophobe, I will go ahead and cede that ground to him for the sake of this argument. I'll pretend like there is no way to counter these biases with will or intellect. Let's say that all W.H.A.C.M.s have this condition that makes them unable to identify or empathize with any other less privileged class. What are the ramifications of that? Does that mean it is unfair for us to vote or express our opinions because they are intrinsically unjust? It seems only fair, if you have a category of people who are known to be unjust, to exclude them from voting… kind of like felons. Unless we are willing to allow people - no matter how wrong they may be - to be counted equally.

But that is dealing with this idea on a governmental level. And I think my friend means it on more of a personal level. If we are racist homophobes, and recognize that fact, how should we act towards those we are biased against? Do we assume that they are right on all issues related to their less-then-privileged-ness? Or more pointedly, do I need to vote for gay marriage to be legalized because I don't know what it's like to be attracted to men and want to marry one? Am I blocking the changing of marriage because I am afraid of my power-base (as a W.H.A.C.M.) eroding? Am I working to keep the minorities marginalized so I can maintain my own majority status and maintain the hegemony? I think, if my personality were oriented like that I would it manifest in other areas as well. The question for all you self-loathing W.H.A.C.M.s is this: Do you have a spirit in you that desires to put yourself above others? If so, you may unwittingly be holding down minorities with your views and votes. But if you treat those around you with dignity and respect, I doubt it.

But that may not be doing justice to his arguments. Because I don't think he is saying that privileged people are mean by nature, simply unjust by nature. But we just don't realize that we are being unjust. Since life works out so well for us, we assume that the amount of help we needed to get where we are is the same amount of help everyone should receive to get where we are. I think this is a part of our human condition, and I can think of a specific example where it manifests in my life. I've been teaching sculpting classes, and the biggest challenge is figuring out what parts are going to be difficult for students. Because I was gifted with a natural ability, it's easy for me to gloss over parts that seem easy or straightforward, only to find my students completely lost. I don't do this (glossing over of parts I think should be simple) because I think I'm a better person than them, or assume if they don't know they must be lazy. I do it because I'm unaware of the specific struggles a person lacking my talent or experience will have. I think that is what my friend is referring to. People that have gifts, whether those are talent, intelligence, wealth, popularity, power, etc. tend to take those things for granted. And that lack of appreciation makes them prone to thinking that those who lack such things must have some pathetic deficiency. Or at least they fail to see how hard it is to achieve those things without having them given to you.

I think this is an observable, repeatable fact of human nature. The question remains: what are we to do about it? Well, I've been learning a lot in my classes about how non-sculptors approach their first sculpture. It seems like getting to know those who struggle more in life than you do is probably the best way to remove your assumptions about what it takes to make it in this life. Jesus spent the vast majority of His time with the disadvantaged and neglected. That seems like the best place to start.

Personally, I've spent quite a bit of time with the disadvantaged. (Having an autistic, retarded sister and two other minority siblings will do that to you.) I could spend more. But I wonder how spending a lot of time with homosexuals would convince me that we should legitimize their romantic relationships? Would I empathize with them to the point that I ignore the basic truth that kids need a mom and dad? Would I become so enamored with their ways that I would declare that Paul was wrong to include them on his list of things that lead to death? Ultimately, would my close friendship and understanding of the struggles that they have, lead me to vote for the redefinition of marriage? I can safely say no.

Ask me on some other issue that doesn't have a clear, scriptural answer, like racial quotas, or liberal homeless solutions and you might have a point. Maybe time spent with the disenfranchised would lend me perspective enough to see a side of the issue I haven't before. But I don't think understanding the struggles of homosexuals will make me think they should raise kids. Any more than understanding the struggles of an alcoholic would make me think they should raise kids. Not everyone is cut out for raising kids. Not everyone has the right to marry. (fathers/daughters, man/woman/woman/woman, etc.) While it would make many homosexuals happy to be able to marry, it would not actually help them, any more than allowing fathers to marry their daughters, or alcoholics to raid your liquor cabinet would help them. Legitimizing a harmful way of life is not love. When Jesus interacted with the sinners He showed them love, but also told them to stop sinning. Not because He was hateful or judgmental, but because He knew that the sin was making them -and those around them- miserable. He knew the lifestyles they were in lead to death. It's not hard to see that a homosexual lifestyle leads to all kinds of death in a person's life. (That is not to say they can't often be as happy as the next guy, or happier then I.) I would feel guilty if I contributed to anyone furthering their sin by communicating to them that their sin is just fine. By ignoring a deep issue that brings death. By acting as if the cliff they are dancing on is not there. That is exactly what same-sex marriage does. It implicitly says, "Your sinful relationship is just as good and right as a non-sinful relationship." I wouldn't tell that to a father and daughter who wanted to marry, or a man who wanted to marry his horse, no matter how much I loved them and empathized with them.

But now the Christian political pacifist will object that I'm back to talking about sin. And if I object to a law based on its promotion of sin, then I am clearly voting my religious beliefs. To which I reply: That's right. And my government has given me the right and duty to make the best decision that I can on all the proposed issues I'm given to vote on. I strongly believe that the best decisions I have made for myself were based in my spiritual beliefs. I've found that simply doing what my flesh desires leads nowhere good. Should I keep that discovery to myself? Why would I deprive my country of the peace and well-being that following God's laws bring? Because there are no irrefutable statistics to back up my Bible-based belief? Hate to break it to you… but irrefutable statistics don't exist. Everyone, yes, even the scientists, are biased. Science has defined its own station, declaring itself ruler of all, even though its moral and ethical declarations are almost always monstrous. Basing your vote on your perception of what is utilitarian, or what you perceive will make the most people happy, or what you think will produce the most justice is no more sound than basing it on religious tenets. Don't you see? Everyone is guessing here. The secularists are. The humanists are. The scientists are. The religious are. No one knows what is best because we are all human.

The secular humanists are doing their best to force us to order our society by their standards through law and cultural taboo. The Christian right is doing their best to force us to order our society by their standards through law and cultural taboo. The question we have to answer is not, "how can we have no oppression?" (which I've shown to be impossible since all laws intrinsically oppress our desires.) but "Which system of oppression will be better for everyone." Should we be enslaved by humanistic ideas or Christian ideas? Check out how some of the humanist-based governments in the last hundred years have worked out before you answer.

If you say we should reject both sets of oppression and just allow people to do as much as they please, then you are simply turning people over to the oppression of their flesh. Most Christians, if asked by a friend whether their friend should start doing drugs, have an affair, get an abortion, or marry a gay lover, would advise them not to do it. It seems that voting for laws against such things would be the natural extension of that. But it may not be. Because there is certainly a difference between advising certain behavior, and forcing it under threat of law. But then we have to look at why we have laws. Because without them we would constantly be hurting ourselves and others.

We have to try to protect the weak and innocent from those who would do them harm, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Most druggies aren't trying to hurt anyone. They just do. Ask the guy who got shot by the drug dealer who deals drugs because our innocent druggies buy them. Most prostitutes don't want to hurt anyone. But ask the wife who got a V.D. from her cheating husband if she hurt anyone. Our lives are a complex web, and no one's private actions are completely isolated from those around them. It is a myth that a person can live a secret life of debauchery without it affecting the rest of their life and the people they contact. It is a myth that homosexuality hurts no one. It is a myth that no Christian should fall for since our scriptures point it out to us plain as day. You can ignore it so you seem nicer to homosexuals. But you won't actually be nicer to them… or the kids they will be raising more of once they have legal "marriages".

As Christians, it's easy to get our loves mixed up. It's easy to mistake kindness for love, when, in fact, sometimes love has to be uncomfortable and confrontational in order to actually help. I spent years trying to appease my ex-wife as she slipped further and further into drugs. I was doing my best to show her love, but my lack of strength and resolve to set reasonable limits on what I would accept only made things worse. Those kinds of boundaries are what we as a society need to maintain. Boundaries that limit some peoples desires, because, let's face it, we all have some gross desires that need to be repressed for our society to function. It is well within our mandate as Christians to love homosexuals by denying them the freedom to pretend their romance is as valid as heterosexual romance. And yes, I realize how horrible and shocking that must sound to many people. But I don't see popularity as a proper gage for moral considerations.

On a personal level, we need to love, support, and show kindness to homosexuals. God made them, and isn't surprised by the way they turned out, and He loves them as much as he loves you and me. On a societal level, we need to make clear boundaries that reinforce what nature attests to, our scriptures declare, and we know deep down under the layers of cultural brainwashing, to be true. We don't have a problem doing just that with drug users, the incestuous, or prostitutes. You can make all the same faulty arguments about them not hurting anyone as you can for homosexual marriage. But we still know that there are good reasons for keeping those behaviors illegal.

We don't have a problem with most laws that limit our own freedoms. We are happy that drunk drivers get their licenses revoked. We are all happy that people who lie on the witness stand get prosecuted. We know there is a need to repress all the things we may wish to do, but know are wrong. I do not see why homosexuals should be excluded from this basic process and given a pass just because they are fashionable.

The next argument I hear is that if we are going to outlaw homosexual marriage based on morality, why not go all the way and outlaw homosexuality, or the far more destructive problem of divorce? I think that's a great question. How are same-sex marriages and divorce different? Both create bad homes for raising kids. Well, speaking from my own experience I can tell you that there are times where the safety of the children has to come before the sanctity of the marriage. There are abuse situations, addictions, and other issues that make it morally difficult to justify a law against divorce. That differs quite a bit from same-sex marriage, where no one is going to die without it. No children are being molested, wives beaten to death, or kids being exposed to dangerous drugs and people… just because a man can't marry a man. That is why I don't see a problem with keeping divorce legal and same-sex marriage illegal.

The more interesting question to me is the one about moral behavior in general. Where do we draw the line with law when it comes to moral action? There are plenty of immoral things that are not illegal. Adultery springs to mind. If law is as I've defined it: a society's statement about what is moral and what is immoral (or what is acceptable and unacceptable; then why is this almost-universally immoral behavior legal? How about people who play favorites with their kids? Those people are real asses. Or people who like to play mind games. People who manipulate. People who lie about what collage they went to. I guess we can't realistically outlaw every immoral behavior. So what is the criterion by which we outlaw some, and simply stigmatize or ignore others? Is it random? Is it based on the whims of the culture? Is it a simple matter of logistics? Do we not have laws against adultery or being a horrible parent because there is no way we could feasibly prosecute and punish the sheer amount of people doing such things? Maybe. But we can't feasibly prosecute all the illegal substance users either.

So my conclusion is that there are two questions I haven't figured out how to answer yet. First, how do we decide what immoral behavior we should vote for making illegal? (Simple pragmatism is morally inadequate and moral standards are pragmatically impossible.) And second, does voting on matters of contention in our society send the wrong message about Christianity? And if so, does it outweigh the benefit of living in a society that may have more moral laws, but less respect for the precepts of Christ because they have been used as a moral power-play rather than as an invitation of good news?

I want to examine this for a bit. It seems to me that the view of a non-Christian towards Christians who are trying to make their morality into law, (Though they are granted that right as citizens of a democracy.) is that our religion is about moral rules. (Our version of morality.) I am not denying that morality is a major factor in a redemptive process of salvation through Christ. But I am saying that if that becomes the filter through which our lives are examined we will be in big trouble. First of all, we can't live up to our moral standards. Second of all, it gives the impression that we define our religion with rules. Since Christianity is the inverted religion, we should NOT be sending that message! We should be actively trying as hard as we can to show that Grace is the defining characteristic of our religion, not rules like every other religion. So it seems like offering our rules to society, rather than our Grace, is sending the wrong message. As well intended as it may be, our moral code may be better to define our personal lives rather than our country's legal code. Believe me, I'd be more comfortable living in a society that followed the same standards that I hold myself to. I'd be more comfortable raising kids in a society that was more moral. But is my comfort worth the price of communicating that my religion is a morals-based, power-hungry machine? Or is there a middle ground?

One thing I think I understand is that no matter what a Christian does, it will probably be misunderstood by those who are not in our world. So basing our actions on what we think will make us look best to the outside is probably a futile effort. On the other hand, we are supposed to be examples of Christ. We are supposed to win disciples of all men. We are supposed to demonstrate the fruit that the Spirit of God grows in our lives. None of these things occur on the level of the state or in politics.

One could argue that creating certain laws can help shape a society so that it is more receptive to Christianity. So that when personal contact occurs between a Christian and a non-Christian, the non would be more likely to accept the premises of the Christian's invitation. I think culture does play a powerful role in influencing individuals opinions on things like religion and philosophy. But I don't see the culture being influenced by laws, but rather by the story tellers. The news media, film, writers, t.v., game makers, etc. I wonder what would happen if the Christian community diverted the millions of dollars they pour into their political movements into cultivating a robust artistic and media community. What if we changed our stance from: "We want to force you to follow our rules for your own good." To "We want to inspire you to change your attitudes and your life for your own good."?

I guess what I see here is what appears to me to be a tragic diversion of resources. We should be the story tellers and the music makers, not the law enforcers. We should thrive in any political environment, not spend our time and money attempting to get that extra 10% that we lack. We don't have slaves. We don't have a wild west of gun fights and prostitution. We don't live in a dictatorship that forces us to worship false gods or hide our beliefs. (Abortion is still a pretty damn horrible shame.) It seems to me that we have about 90% of what any Christian would want out of a government. We are at the point of diminishing returns here. I think we are spinning our wheels because no government is going to get much more Christian-friendly than the one we have now. The culture just won't tolerate any more. So why keep dumping our resources in this vehicle when it looks like this is as steep a slope as it can handle?

Let's look at the strides we could make with those same resources put into the media/art vehicle of cultural influence. I said we are at 90% in the political sphere. But in the media/art sphere I think we are at around 10%. The slope here is much less. The vehicle will go much farther, much faster with less resource. The difference is that we can't guarantee a return on investment in the way we seem to think we can if we change laws. But that's because we are so focused on outward behavior rather than the heart that is driving the behavior. The media and the arts are what change hearts. THAT is where Christians should be focusing their efforts. Imagine if we had 10 less lobbying organizations and 10 more Walden Medias.

So I guess my actual, final, absolutely resolute conclusion is as follows. Maybe we Christians should take our government-granted right to vote, (That I find to be a huge blessing from God.) vote what we think will make the best society, and then shut the hell up about what we want people to stop doing. At least in the public sphere. Just shut up. Just be seen and not heard. Give good, loving advice when asked; but when we aren't invited into a national conversation, resist the urge to shove our opinions in anyway. Yes, going with adoption is better than abortion. Yes, not having sex with the same gender is healthier. But you know what? No one is listening if they don't want to hear. That is why debates on these issues can never resolve. Our world views are fundamentally different. We can't argue a person into a new heart. If a person is open to change and wants to hear what we have to say, we have plenty of avenues available for them to ask. I don't think that shouting our moral imperatives from the mountaintops helps anyone. We don't have to hide our opinions, but we don't have to turn the volume up to 11 either. Doesn't that sound reasonable? I think so.


Thursday, May 03, 2007

A New Chapter

Last night I finished cleaning out our old apartment. We lived there for just over three and a half years. It's funny how when a family lives in a home long enough they sort of leave a history in the place. Like sediment, relics of the past settle into the cracks, crevices, and all those places you never clean. (Well, that I never clean.) When you move you have to dig down into all those dark places and unearth these artifacts like an archeologist. This little anthropology expedition reminded me of how far God has brought me over these past several years.

As I uncovered the wall behind my bed I saw the stars drawn in marker that I vainly attempted to wash off. And I remembered my little, nervous sons cuddling up with me to sleep because they were too scared of sleep in the living room. They were like little sweaty heaters pressed up against me all night thrashing around like angry alligators. When we moved here they were… let's see… I think around 4 and 7. The poor little guys had seen and heard some awful things and I couldn't bear to force them to sleep by themselves.

When I was cleaning out the cupboards above the stove I found the keys to the doorknobs I had installed on my bedroom door. When I first moved here I decided I needed a safe place to put my valuables when Stacie came over, so I put a knob with a lock in it on my bedroom door. We were still technically married and Stacie had sold several of my valuables without my knowledge. I was still hoping to ride out the roughness and keep our marriage together, but I really needed my laptop for work and didn't want my CD collection to disappear. As her visits grew fewer and farther between I didn't need to lock my door anymore and the keys sank away into oblivion along with any hope that the marriage would live again.

As I adventured even further down, back in the darkest recesses of the apartment, behind the dryer, I bravely battled the accumulated dust and lint captured in a dozen socks, a pile of Yu-Gee-Oh cards, and some old, broken action figures. There I swept up a couple of bits of steel wool. That was a jarring reminder. It took me back to our home in Michigan when I first found the stuff stashed away in a sock with a strange white rock and a burnt ballpoint pen casing. I did some research and found out the steel wool supports the crack rock in the tube while it's being smoked. Ever since then, every time I see steel wool I am taken back to that sickening realization I had that my wife was not just a party animal, but a crack addict.

I was cleaning the stove and thought about how we just bought a new stove for our new condo. That sort of thing was pretty much unthinkable in my previous marriage. We could never save. We were always in debt. Even when we filed for bankruptcy we ended up in debt. I remember always trying to find a way to work savings into our budget. But the last couple years in Michigan we would always have a negative balance in our checking account. Often upwards of $800. Stacie would float checks constantly, for everything. I remember one month we paid almost $500 in check bouncing fees alone. I would try to explain to her that we had to be frugal and carefully watch our money. Talking about it never helped.

Now my wonderful, responsible wife and I have just spent about $10,000 on this move and home purchase. That is amazing to me! Not because it's a lot of money, but because we HAD more than that much money saved up. I could never have even dreamed of scraping together $100 dollars back then. But now that God has given me a woman of integrity and forethought we can save. All that horrendous stress of not knowing how we were going to ward off the electric company until payday so we won't get out power turned off, or phone, or buy food… it's gone. That was such a huge psychological burden.

Later I spent about an hour washing wall-texture off the back porch screen, doors, wall, etc. Why did I have wall-texture all over? Because I was spraying it all over a life-sized paper Mache tree I was building as a backdrop for my wedding. I wanted a bit more visual noise on the surface so I sprayed it with that stuff you put on walls to give it texture. Unfortunately I ended up spattering it all over the porch as well. Fortunately, it washes up with water. But it still took a long time to scrub it off. I thought about how hard I worked to make sure this wedding would be perfect and that it was meant to be. Both very difficult to do with the short amount of time we assigned to the tasks. But it has all turned out better than I could have imagined.

So as I cleaned I contemplated. I thought about the state I was in when I moved in, and state I'm in now as I'm moving out. The gratitude and joy I felt as a result of this is really inexpressible. As I was locking up for the last time I said a prayer of thanks, and asked that God would bless the next tenants. I felt like I was turning the final page in this chapter of my life. It sure was an exciting one. But I must say: I'm really looking forward to closing this chapter and moving onto the rest of the book.

When we moved into our new condo last Saturday I gathered the family together and we prayed over our new home. I anointed all the doors. (The boys thought this was great and had to do it too. Lot's of oily fingerprints around now.) We prayed that each room would contain God's peace and love, and that we would grow closer as a family. Now we have a million boxes to unpack. I'm hoping I can find room for everything. I have SO much art stuff.

Speaking of art, I am so pathetically predictable. Remember the last entry where I said I was going to exercise restraint and NOT paint my brother's room? Well I lied. Not really. I actually, truly meant not to do it. But once I got the first layer of trees up on the kid's room, I had all the brushes out, and I couldn't apply the next layer until that one was dry. So I figured between coats I would just do John's room. Of course the work ended up being way more elaborate that I thought it would be and I spent way to much time on that detail of the house, leaving more important things till later in the week. I took the whole week off and still ended up pulling almost two all-nighters on Thursday and Friday before the move. And I still didn't get everything done! Most of the molding still needs to be sealed and painted. And a bunch of paint touch ups as well.

Speaking of paint, one of the things I did get done was painting our kitchen and some of the walls of my art 'room' blood red. I love it. It's my favorite part of the house. I had just got Virgin Black's (The best band in the universe) latest album (Requiem ~ Mezzo Forte) and was listening to it for the first time while I painted. It was a magical experience. Late at night, alone, surrounded by blood red, hearing the most passionate, profound, and powerful music I've heard to date. I let the music guide my brushstrokes speed, intensity and direction. So now I have a wall that will remind me of the beauty of the first experience I had with that music. It served as a canvass of interpretive expression. It really makes me want to dive back into my sculpture based on a Virgin Black song-set.

Speaking of Virgin Black, I told Samantha (The guitarist/songwriter) via email that I would give her a sculpture if they were able to come through town on their next tour. She said she might take me up on that. They just released info that they are going to be doing a pretty extensive tour of North America, and it seems likely Seattle will be one of their stops. That makes me very, very happy. I've never seen them live and can't wait to meet the band.