Tuesday’s Truth – It’s Tradition!

Welcome to another week. Today’s topic is something that we’re all familiar with – traditions. We all have them, whether we like them or not. We learn them, adjust them, abandon and create them throughout life. If you’re at all like me,  you grew up with two sets of traditions for things like holidays, birthdays, and family gatherings. And then, if you married someone like my husband, you added in two more sets of traditions that were not only completely different from each other, but also completely different from the two you grew up with. They can be based on your ethnic background, religious beliefs, regional differences, and personal preferences. They can be mainstream or extreme, but either way, they are the main rules of “how we do things in this family”. And then, if you grew up in church, any church (or mosque, synagogue, or temple), you have a set of religious traditions that you carry around as well. Some of you have a very limited set, others (like myself) have a more “confused” bag of church traditions. For example, I was raised in a variety of evangelical churches, but I had family members who were Catholic, I attended a Baptist college, but then spent several years teaching at an Episcopal school. So I’ve had the full range of worship from pew kneelers to hand-raisers, environments from school gyms to stained glass, and sermon series based on popular movies as well as morning worship guided by the Book of Common Prayer. Eclectic doesn’t even begin to cover it.


Traditions are a crucial part of human culture and psychology. Our brains thrive on having a predictable framework for life. This is true at work, in the family, and in religion. Even those who reject what they see as “organized religion” still form their own traditions, rituals, and beliefs. Traditions help us connect with others, and help us bridge gaps in time and space. Traditions help the transmission of history and wisdom. Many traditions are enjoyable or comforting.


Traditions can have a negative side as well. They can be restrictive. They can be burdensome. They may be irrational, obsolete, or irrelevant. Traditions can keep people at a distance and create confusion. Some traditions may cause people to completely dismiss God or the church because they are too difficult to understand, too hard to follow, or too uncomfortable.


The thing about traditions is that they are only a means to an end, not an end in themselves. Too often, we become attached to a tradition, and force ourselves and others to “follow the rules” because it is tradition, rather than holding to a tradition because it is inherently valuable. An extreme example of this would be the extended segregation that was practiced in the southern United States even after the Civil Rights Act was passed, long after the myths about African Americans being sub-human or diseased or violent had been dispelled. White people didn’t want to associate with black people, but they couldn’t give a good reason why, they just knew that it wasn’t done: their grandparents and parents had avoided contact, and so should they. It was just the way things had always been, so it was they way they should be. That’s the biggest trap of traditions. Somehow we fall into a belief that tradition is more important than truth; that traditions should be followed because they are traditions, not because they serve a purpose or have sacred importance. We fear changing or discarding any traditional practice or position because we have so strongly linked “the way it has always be done” with “the way God wants us to do it”.


We seem particularly prone to this in religious and moral matters. We sometimes put more importance on the way our culture, church, or family has done things than on what God actually says (or doesn’t say) about many issues. (Please note, I am not saying that all moral positions are just traditions; I believe in moral absolutes, but only where God has made it clear that something is an absolute. Many of the things we hold tightly to are really interpretations and traditions, and we need to extend grace to each other, not judgment.) I witnessed an amusing example of this several years ago. My husband and I were still be living in the town where we attended college (a relatively conservative Baptist school). The college had very strict rules against any type of drinking, smoking, or other substance use, and most of the students had grown up in homes and churches that likewise took a very dim view of such things. However, at that moment, there happened to be a conference of Episcopal bishops and clergy meeting at the Episcopal school I taught in. Episcopalians have no tradition that frowns upon drinking or smoking in moderation. I had become used to this in my time working at the school, but many of the students attending my alma matter did not have the benefit of that experience. One evening during the bishops’ conference, we were enjoying dinner at a local pub and coffee shop, which was very popular with students (and which happened to be run by the rector of the local Episcopal church). The bishops and clergy had all decided to meet there as well. One of the men, with his purple shirt, clerical collar, and large cross, stepped outside for a smoke. At the table next to us, a young man, obviously from the Baptist college, was talking with his friend, and they could not reconcile in their minds how someone who was obviously a Christian minister could also be an unashamed smoker. Now, I’m not saying smoking is a good idea. We know that it is a serious health risk. However, it’s not expressly addressed in the scriptures, and so I can’t say that the smoking bishop was any less of a Christian, any less obedient to God, just because he smoked a cigarette and I did not. We must be cautious about letting our traditions  cloud our views of other sincere, God-fearing, people.


We fall into this trap in missions and evangelism too. We think that part of converting people to faith in Christ is making them like us. This was clearly the case in the early years of world missions, when missionaries from England and America would go to Africa and Asia and not only preach the Gospel, but also try to change the clothing, language, and the social and family structure of the people they had been sent to, as if making them Christians also meant making them English-speaking Westerners. At this point in history, we have gotten much better about being culturally sensitive, but the belief that changed hearts necessarily mean changed traditions still holds on. If we want to continue reaching people, both at home and abroad, we need to be more conscientious about to what extent we are asking people to obey God, and to what extent we are asking them to follow our own traditions. We need to not be afraid to confront and change tradition where it is no longer serving its intended purpose, and is instead serving to keep people farther from God.


I found a wonderful quote about this very thing in my leisure reading this week. I had just begun re-reading Charlotte Bronte’s classic, Jane Eyre, one of my very favorite books. I always have appreciated the philosophy and theology that Bronte weaves throughout her works, but I found this gem in her preface to the novel. She says, speaking of tradition,

“Conventionality is not morality. Self-righteousness is not religion. To attack the first is not to assail the last. To pluck the mask from the face of the Pharisee, is not to lift an impious hand to the Crown of Thorns. These things and deeds are diametrically opposed: they are as distinct as is vice from virtue. Men too often confound them: they should not be confounded: appearance should not be mistaken for truth; narrow human doctrines for the world-redeeming creed of Christ.”


We are not the only ones to struggle with this balance between tradition and truth. The Jewish community in Jesus’ day had a very strong culture of traditions. Some where merely cultural, while many of them were based on the laws and regulations that God had given to Moses and the Israelites. In the end, however, they did not serve to help people cultivate their relationship with God, but to keep people from having that close, loving relationship with Him. Jesus himself chastised the religious leaders of the day, saying “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.” (Luke 11:46) Jesus often disregarded Jewish custom, tradition, and regulation when it served his purpose of drawing people to himself. He healed on the Sabbath (Mark 3:1-3, Luke 13:9-11), and allowed his disciples to pick grain on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:1-3). When confronted by the religious leaders of the day, he rhetorically asked them whether it was better to do good or evil on the Sabbath (Luke6:9), basically turning the question of what observing the Sabbath meant back on their own heads. In Matthew 15, Jesus took part in a debate with the religious leaders about the value of traditions. He summed up his indictment of the religion of the day by saying, “Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition.” (Matthew 15:6b) To Jesus, the one person who perfectly fulfilled all of God’s law, the point was not the act of observing a ritual or of maintaining a tradition, but of living with one’s heart tuned to God.


Early church leaders also cautioned against those who professed to be Christians but insisted on new believers following the old Jewish customs in order to be saved or to be a part of the church.  This is what he had to say: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1) In Acts 15, Paul, James, Peter and other leaders of the early church determined that there was no point in making new believers (especially those from outside the Jewish culture) follow the traditions of Judaism, but to instruct them to obey the core of God’s law. Peter pointed out that the old traditions and rules had been too much even for centuries of faithful Jews. (Acts 15:10) In his letter to the Philippians, Paul warned the church not to be led astray by those who would seek to enforce Jewish customs in the name of salvation in Christ, because we are not saved by outward acts, but by inward belief. (Philippians 3:1-3) Disagreements about traditions often threatened to tear the early church apart, but the Apostles wisely intervened and taught their followers to put their focus on honoring God, rather than honoring man’s traditions.


Traditions can be useful and enjoyable, but they do not tell us much about how we really must live as children of God. Fortunately, the Bible is very clear on what really matters. The prophet Micah gave a clear description of a life lived rightly when he wrote, “No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8) Jesus summed up all of God’s laws in two simple (yet still not easy) requirements: “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:37-39) Outwith those few things, the rest is just window dressing. The design of your church, the order of service, the style of worship music, the fashion of your clothes, the way you celebrate holidays, the rituals you do or don’t observe – they may help you personally in your relationship with God, but they must not ever take the place of that relationship.


Be Blessed!


How do you feel about traditions, especially within Christianity? Are there any you find particularly valuable in your walk with God?


Can We? Part 3

Welcome back, friends. I’ve been out of commission for a few weeks with a minor surgery and then a stomach bug, and I’m very glad to be back on track. As we are in the last week before the election, I have just a few more thoughts I want to share with you. Today I’m going to ask my final questions about things we need to stop doing. Next time, I’m going to ask some positive questions about what we can do to make our country better, no matter what side of the political fence we stand on. As always, I realize that I run the risk of offending just about everyone with my questions, but I feel that if we hope to improve the condition of America in any way, we must ask ourselves these questions.

Can We Stop Legislating Morality?

Just so you know where I’m coming from, I’ll be upfront and say that I adhere to a pretty conservative Judeo-Christian moral code. I have strong beliefs about right and wrong, good and evil. It disappoints me when others don’t live by the same set of morals, because I feel that they are God’s laws, not just man-made rules. However, no matter how much I want people to obey those laws, I recognize, and I am convinced that God also recognizes, the right of man to choose not to follow a moral code.

Now, when it comes to society and government, it is necessary that there be laws which all members of society must obey. It’s the only way to protect the individual members and to ensure the functioning of the society as a whole. These laws generally encompass those things that directly harm others, such as murder, assault, theft, or fraud. The problem we run into is that whenever deeply religious people, be they Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, or anything else, become part of the government, they bring with them a desire to have everyone follow their moral code. Because they are in a position to affect legislation, they feel that it is their responsibility to make laws that will ensure people follow their code or face the consequences. That’s the downside to living in a country with many accepted religions.

The real problem with trying to legislate morality is that we have a non-religious government. While our founding fathers certainly acknowledged the importance of God in the formation and maintenance of our nation, they were careful to never specify a religion or denomination to guide us. And really, this makes sense. I, as a Christian, should not be required to follow laws that are unique to Islam or Hinduism. And a Buddhist should not be forced to follow rules that are unique to my religion. The things that are commonly held among all, those make sensible laws. The unique and peculiar regulations, though, should be reserved for each religious person to follow individually.

Sadly, I find that it seems to be predominantly Christian politicians and voters that want everyone to play by their rules. We want to regulate people’s sex lives, how they entertain themselves, and what substances they use. We feel like it is our responsibility to keep people from sinning. In fact, we feel that we can obtain God’s blessing on America (or turn away His wrath) by making laws against the things we think displease him. But history does not prove that to be true. Think of prohibition. Many well-meaning Christians sought prohibition, because drunkness and the things it led to were against God’s laws. And yet, when alcohol became an illegal substance, drinking actually increased. Years ago in America, adultery was against the law. And yes thousands, if not millions, of men and women continued to be unfaithful to their spouses. Laws don’t make people good, they only provide for punishment.

Think about this though, if you really want to change America: what would happen if instead of trying to legislate morality, we tried to change people’s beliefs and values through kindness, compassion, and generosity? If we believe that adultery and pornography are sinful and against God’s laws, why don’t we put more effort into building strong young men and healthy marriages rather than fighting against sex in the media?  If we believe that abortion is wrong, why don’t we devote more of our time, money and energy to caring for at-risk mothers rather than lobbying old white men to make new laws? If we believe that polluting the environment is wrong, why don’t we put more money and power behind research, processing, and education that will provide cleaner energy, better recycling and healthier people?

We put so much effort, money, and passion into changing laws, but we don’t put nearly as much into changing hearts and minds. Yet that is where America will truly be changed – in the heart of each individual citizen, not in the halls of Congress or the chambers of the Supreme Court. Granted, we could make a case for outlawing any of the things I used as examples. They all have the potential to cause great harm to individuals and to society. Don’t think that I am advocating lawlessness or anarchy. But we, especially those of us who call ourselves Christians (or profess any other deeply-held faith) ought to be more concerned with the influence we have over the hearts and lives of individuals than with the influence we may have in places of political power. We need good laws, but we need good people even more.

Can We Stop Seeing Immigrants as the Enemy?

Immigration – it’s the first step of the so-called American Dream. You can’t build a better life in America until you are actually there. It’s why the Statue of Liberty is known around the world as a beacon of hope. The culture we consider “American” today is a product of the mixing of immigrants from around the globe (and if we’re being very technical here, even Native Americans were once immigrants, so there would be no America without immigration). Without immigrants from England and France, we would not have become a nation. Without immigrants from Africa (both slave and free), Italy, Ireland, Poland, China, and Japan, our nation would not have grown. Without immigrants from Mexico, South America, India, Thailand, Morocco, and Vietnam, we would not have the richness of diversity which we enjoy today. Our food, art, and language would be homogeneous and boring. I can’t imagine an America without ethnic diversity.

Perhaps that is because I grew up in what is generally regarded as the most ethnically diverse county in America. I was surrounded by people from Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Korea, China, India, Iran, Bangladesh, Uganda, Ethiopia, Peru, Chile, Bolivia and beyond. My life was enriched by this diversity. I learned more about history from talking firsthand with those who had escaped the Communist regimes of Southeast Asia than I ever did from a textbook. I learned to respect people regardless of their current circumstances as I interacted with those who had been doctors, teachers, and scientists in their home countries but now worked in shops or did landscaping and housekeeping because the privilege of living in America was worth the sacrifice of their careers and respect. I learned to look out at the world and not in on myself, to accept the differences in people, and to not judge someone by their accent, fashion choices, or cultural quirks.

But I see an undercurrent in America, reaching back to our very beginnings and stretching through to the present, an idea that there is an “Us” and a “Them”, and that the “Them” is the enemy of everything we stand for. They don’t speak our language. They don’t go to our churches. They don’t follow our traditions. They won’t put money in the bank. They just want free healthcare and education. They are taking our jobs. They’re a drain on our resources. They are threatening our way of life. Throughout America’s history, there has always been a “Them”. The Irish and the Jews in the eastern states, the Chinese and Japanese in the west. The African immigrants, former slaves and their descendants in the south. Today it seems to mostly be immigrants from Mexico and other Latin American countries. There is always someone we don’t want in our neighborhoods, someone we don’t quite trust. It is almost as if we require a common cultural enemy in order for our identity to remain valid.

Now before I get all kinds of comments saying, “It’s not that I don’t like people from other countries, it’s just an economic thing,” I’d like to make two statements. One, for many of you, it is that you don’t like people from other countries. Or more specifically, they make you uncomfortable. Maybe you don’t think they’re bad people, but you would prefer if they stayed home. And yet, when you take a vacation to a foreign country, you think everyone should cater to you by speaking English and having  a McDonalds on the corner. Check your logical integrity, please. Two, I understand that there are significant economic ramifications for unlimited immigration. My point here has nothing to do with official immigration policy, but rather the attitude of the average American citizen towards the average immigrant (legal or illegal). Just as your ancestors and mine came to America seeking a better future and life for themselves and their families, the vast majority of those who are coming into our country today are simply looking for a better a chance. They’re not here to take over our culture or to leech off the government. They have made great sacrifices to be here, and they want the opportunity to be productive, contributing members of society.

Maybe this is a hot-button issue for me because I have so enjoyed ethnic diversity, and because I have traveled to so many different countries and experienced their cultures. In Mexico particularly, I have held babies who are destined to grow up in a shack made of cast off trash without water or electricity, I have given food and clothing to children who spend their days collecting anything of value from the city dumps, and I have sat and talked with the mothers who just hope that their children – by some miracle – won’t have to work as migrant harvesters the way they do. In none of these people did I see a sense of greed or the desire to take advantage of the “wealthy Americans”. Rather, I saw people with a tightly woven community, transcendent joy, and strong values. In my own opinion, we could do with a lot more of that here in the U.S.

Throughout the Bible, God commands His people to show kindness and generosity towards the foreigners in their midst. He never told them to worry about the economic implications of immigration. If Jesus spent so much time teaching about loving one another and caring for “the least of these”, shouldn’t we, if we claim to follow his teachings, show that love, compassion and care for all of our neighbors, regardless of their culture, language, or immigration status?

Can We Stop Putting Ourselves First?

Oh boy, this is the hardest one, and encompasses everything else. I am as guilty as anyone else of this. Much of our political culture in America is built on the concept of inalienable rights. Who doesn’t love having rights? The right to say whatever we want, worship whatever or whomever we want, arm ourselves however we want, work wherever we want, drive whatever we want, live wherever we want, marry whomever we want, have as many children as we want, etc. The problem is that we have become intoxicated by our rights. What started out as the simple rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness have been so carefully specified that we are at the point where rights have begun conflicting with one another and we have begun to think that our personal rights supersede the responsibilities we have towards others.

Take these for examples. Our right to the fruits of our labor means we fight against taxes that pay for government programs we feel are either unnecessary or poorly run, but many (certainly not all, thank goodness!) that rail against high taxes and public welfare programs also have poor records when it comes to charitable giving to organizations that would presumably replace those welfare programs. The right to free speech is inviolable until someone says something that we find offensive. Then they should be off the air, hit with a fine, and their books banned. We don’t want gun control (“We’re not violent, really!”) but then we plaster our bumpers with stickers like these lovelies:

“Keep honking, I’m reloading”, “Pro Life, Pro God, Pro Gun” (as if the three are connected somehow), “Gun Control Means Using Both Hands”, and “I Don’t Call 911 [with picture of handgun]”. We cannot make rational arguments for the right to have our guns if we support our arguments with asinine slogans and belligerent attitudes.

The bottom line is that we fiercely fight to protect the rights we hold dear, and fiercely fight against rights that we feel would contradict our personal rights or beliefs. Perhaps we would be better off going back to the original three, and not restricting any unless they violate established laws of the nation. We must realize that we are not the center of universe, that our rights are not more valid than those of anyone else. We should quit seeking to flaunt our rights, and rather live in such a way that we put the comfort and well-being of others above our own. Saint Paul was pretty clear that this is the Christian way of looking at things (Phillipians 2:3-4), and the teachings of many other religions agree. You will find that the less you worry about holding onto your own rights and privileges, the more freedom and joy you will find.

So Get Out There and Vote!

Friends, I am not here to tell you which political party to support, which candidate to vote for, or where you should stand on the issues. Those are decisions that each of us must carefully make for ourselves. And I do mean carefully. Find the facts, use your brain, and make a choice. You don’t have to vote the way your parents did, the way your spouse or your pastor or your boss does. That is the beauty of this free country. You get to have your say, and the people who disagree get to have theirs. Of all the rights to cling to, this is certainly one to hold tight on.

Now, if you’re like me, you may at times be discouraged by the political process and by the individual candidates. To be honest, I’m not thrilled with my options this year. There are times when it’s tempting to say, “I can’t really get behind either candidate, so I won’t vote,” or, “My candidate isn’t going to win, so why bother?” I know, I’ve been there. I’ve thought, maybe I just won’t vote this year, but then I realize that if I don’t vote, I am basically saying that I don’t deserve or want the privilege of having a say in my government. I might as well be saying, “Just let someone else decide, it’s too much for me.”  I can imagine the founding fathers, the civil war soldiers, the heroes of WWI and WWII, all rolling over in their graves and saying, “Then why the HECK did we put our necks on the line to make sure you had a choice?” I don’t want to dishonor them or make their sacrifice worthless, and so I’m going to continue doing my homework right up till election day, and I’m going to go in to that voting booth and make a choice, even if it’s not the best of all possible choices, even if I think my side will lose.

I will go in thankful to be exercising a freedom that so many others are denied, and I will come out knowing that no matter who wins, no matter which laws are passed, my God is watching and caring, and that He will not be surprised when the final results are in.

Can We? Part 2 – Telling the Truth

Thanks for coming back. I hope that there are a few of you still sticking around after last week  🙂

Today I want to ask a couple more questions that we as Christians (or any ethical and/or religious people, for that matter) need to consider as we go out into the world of politics, patriotism, and public policy.  The questions we’re going to ask ourselves today deal with the issues of honesty and integrity. I hope that even if you don’t completely agree with what I have to say here, you will find some valuable thought to take with you this week.

So here we go:

Can we stop lying to our children by sugarcoating American History?

I love studying history. I love the cause and effect of it all, the subtle connections, the never-ending story it provides. I even love that it has the good, the bad, and the ugly. I wouldn’t want to study history if it were all shiny and happy and victorious, because then it would ring false. We know that our daily lives are a messy mix of good and evil, truth and lies, good guys and villains. How could we expect anything different from history? I don’t just love studying history, I love teaching it, too. Over several years of teaching elementary school, I found that history was about the most fun subject to teach because it lent itself to so many different kinds of teaching and learning. The projects and enrichment activities seemed endless.

But I also found something very frustrating about teaching history, particularly American history, and even more particularly, teaching it from Christian textbooks. When I read about American history in those books, I couldn’t help feeling like we were only supposed to serve up one side of the story. All of these men and women were supposed to have been brave, freed0m-loving, hard-working, God-fearing heroes and heroines. But what of their failings, mistakes, or outright sins? They were not even given a footnote. Here’s what I found, in a nutshell:

  • We were supposed to talk about Christopher Columbus praying on his ships as he sailed to America, but not about the Spanish explorers to the New World killing and enslaving the natives.
  • We should teach about the Puritans coming to America so that they could create a world where people were free to worship God, but not about how they themselves persecuted anyone who did not follow their version of Christianity.
  • Our children should learn about the Founding Fathers seeking American Independence because they loved God and wanted all people to be free from the economic and political tyranny of Great Britain, but they don’t need to know that the American Colonies had a far higher standard of living than any part of Europe in the 18th Century, nor that most of the Founding Fathers were humanists and deists rather than Christians.
  • We should teach them about the great soldiers of the Union Army, who fought the Civil War to free the slaves because that’s what Abraham Lincoln knew God wanted them to do, but not about the real causes for the Civil War or about how very little was actually done to improve the lives of former slaves.
  •  Our children should learn of the courage, determination, and industriousness of the Pioneers who spread our nation westward, but we ought not to mention the countless Native Americans that were killed, oppressed, relocated, lied to, and cheated so that the white settlers from the eastern states could have land to farm and mine.
  • We should praise the heroic way in which America saved the world from dictators, communism and genocide by bailing France and England out during WWI and WWII, but gloss over the many pleas from England during the Great War (WWI) for America’s help that didn’t come until the last year of the war, or the fact that while our soldiers were fighting against the genocide and concentration camps of the Nazis, we were busy rounding up all the Japanese Americans and putting them in internment camps because we couldn’t trust them as a race.

That is just a small sampling of the low points in American history. We, as a nation, have been greedy, violent, racist (to everyone from Native Americans, to African Americans, to Italians, Irish and Jews), and dishonest. That is not to say that we haven’t done some great things over the last 400+ years. We have one of the best constitutions out there. We have unquestionably free and fair elections. There are many good reasons why we have been considered the land of opportunity and the promised land by millions of immigrants. Like I said last week, I am extremely thankful that I get to live in America. I may be saddened or disappointed by some of the things I find in our country’s history, and frankly in some of the things we are doing today, but that does not make me any less thankful.

I think there are two reasons we sugarcoat our history, especially when telling it to children. First, we think that if we were to tell the whole truth, people would start hating America, and we would lose all our precious little patriots. I don’t think this is true. I don’t think that if we tell our children the whole story of America that they will become chain-smoking, nationalized-healthcare-dependent, multilingual expatriates somewhere in Europe. I think they will just have a better understanding of the whole nature of man. If, as George Santayana said, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” then we ought to make sure our children know and remember our whole history so that they can avoid repeating the negative parts of it. But how can they remember something they do not know? Are we condemning our children to repeat the failures of the last several centuries?

The second reason many parents and teachers avoid telling the whole history of America to their children is that they feel that the children aren’t capable of understanding it, or that the truth is too unpleasant for children to hear. I do not think this is true. Children are much wiser than we give them credit for, and much more able to process this sort of information while they are young, because they have less rigid constructs of how the world must be. When you are 7 or 8, you are perfectly willing and able to stretch and change your understanding of the world because that is something that is happening on a regular basis as you grow and learn. What is more, children are better able to absorb the personal aspects of history than most of us adults. Teach a child about the Trail of Tears or the horrible segregation of blacks and whites in the South, and those children will be able to empathize and respond with compassion. Tell an adult (who presumably is unaware of these facts in history) about the same things and they will say, “How sad, how unjust. I’m glad we know better now,” and walk away unchanged.

Children are capable of understanding and hearing unpleasant things without being scarred for life. Perhaps not in gory detail, but certainly they can handle a larger measure of the truth than we think. This is even true of the most seemingly sensitive children. For example, I once had a student who was very intelligent, but also possessed a very vivid imagination. Imaginary frights and foes easily took over her mind, and thus she had a very low tolerance for scary or suspenseful stories. One would expect that she would not be able to handle the more unpleasant aspects of history. However, I found out quickly that she could absorb and understanding things that she knew were true, factual history. If you told her about a dragon coming to burn down the school, she would have nightmares about it. But if you told her that thousands of Cherokees died on the Trail of Tears, she would be able to logically process that into her understanding of American history. Let’s stop insulting our children by telling them half-truths and lies.

There is another reason that we out to change the way we dispense history to our children, and that is the issue of our own credibility.We have a culture, as parents and teachers, of consistently lying to our children. We lie to them about Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy. We lie to them about how we feel. We lie to them about others. We lie to others in front of them. We have woven this culture of dishonesty so deeply into the framework of our lives that a natural part of growing up is the process of pulling all the lies out so that we can reorganize our worldviews. Sadly, because we distrust so much of what our parents and teachers told us, we pull out even the truth that they did tell us and discard all of it together.

Do you never wonder why so many young adults turn away from the faith they were raised with? Think about it: if you tell me that Santa is real, and then he turns out to be a myth, ditto the Tooth Fairy and Easter Bunny, how is God, or Jesus Christ, any different? They are all just good stories to get me to behave as a child, but are no longer relevant now that I’m in charge of myself. And why should I believe it just because you told me about it? You also lied about how much you liked Aunt Agnes’ lamb stew and about how “beautiful” your sister’s wedding dress was, because those lies made your life easier. Maybe you lied to me about religion, faith, and salvation because those lies made your life easier. Yes, we may have to be selective about how much detail we share from the more violent parts of our history, but we hurt our children more by lying to them than by telling them the truth.

Can We Stop Using the World’s Ways?

I’m not a big fan of politics. I have an especially hard time reconciling the beliefs of Christians in the political realm with their actions within that realm. This has nothing to do with their particular stands on taxes, abortion, marriage, jobs, trade, or immigration. It also is not because I feel that Christians shouldn’t be involved in government and politics. It’s just that I constantly get the sense that the Christians  (and the moral conservatives of other religions) are denying everything they supposedly stand for by the way they conduct themselves in the public arena.

Let me show you what I’m trying to say. We’ll transfer this concept into the area of evangelism. Suppose a missionary or preacher wanted to bring as many people to God and salvation as possible. Preaching the Gospel wasn’t working as fast as he wanted, the radio spots weren’t getting enough attention, so he decided to try a new tactic. He mailed out flyers stating that he would personally pay the college education for the children of anyone who accepted Jesus (even though he couldn’t possibly deliver on that promise). He sent out emails to his faithful members, emails full of libelous and scandalous “facts” about the other ministers in town (not a bit of which was true; but his faithful flock passed these “facts” along to everyone on their mailing lists). And how did he pay for all this? Well, because he was doing “the Lord’s work,” he took all the money that was originally earmarked to build a new food pantry and soup kitchen, and he paid for his campaign of salvation.

What were the results? Many people came to the church, curious and excited about the prospect of something for nothing. They heard the Gospel preached, but that wasn’t what they came for. Very few believed and were saved, and several true believers that had been in the church for years were so disgusted with the preacher that they left for another church. And the food pantry/soup kitchen? It never was built. There wasn’t enough money.

No pastor, evangelist, or Christian who is sincere in his or her beliefs would condone any of what our hypothetical preacher had done. He was deceptive, he started false rumors, and he misused the financial resources of his congregation. The sad thing is, when it comes to politics, we seem to think that these tactics are just fine.

I get a few advertisements each week from political campaigns. They have two messages: 1) The other candidate is ruining your life and everything else in this country, and if he is elected, you can pack your bags for the end of the world. 2) Our candidate will make your life better, will stop all crimes, will make everything you disapprove of illegal, and will vastly improve the economy. Anyone who thinks logically can quickly spot the problems here. First of all, a president cannot do either thing so completely. He cannot ruin everything, nor can he fix everything. Now, that doesn’t mean that I think that each candidate is equal; certainly you will find that one of them has more in common with you and seems more likely to improve things to your liking. Second, there is no way for all of the things about “our candidate” to be true. He can’t eliminate taxes and increase spending. He can’t make more things illegal and lower crime. Use your logic, folks!

I understand that this is marketing, and we humans like to hear the simplest, best-case scenarios. But if the election of our leaders is up to each of us, I’d prefer the “us” to be educated about the facts, not just suckered in by shiny promises and fancy-dancy adverts. If we can’t be trusted to sift out the truth from the lies, why should we have the right to decide the fate of our nation?

Have you ever listened to talk radio, especially political talk radio? Here’s a tip: If you have really, dangerously, low blood pressure, just switch on your local talk station. Within 10 minutes, you’ll be just fine. I confess, I used to listen to these shows, mostly because the only other radio stations my car would pick up played a confusing mix of Justin Bieber, Li’l Wayne, and MercyMe. That’s all one station, folks. You see my dilemma. But then I started listening more closely to what these hosts and their guests were saying, and also how they were saying it. I found four themes. 1) Fear – whatever the “other side” is planning, it is going to result in disaster. Therefore you should side with us. 2) Anger – whatever the “other side” is saying, it is evil, it’s a lie, they’re just doing it to make your life difficult. 3) Tunnel Vision – whatever the “other side” is saying is wrong, because they are saying it. Only our (my) way and our (my) opinion is right. There can be no discussion, no variance. Hold the party line, boys! 4) Hypocrisy – the “other side” is always lying, stretching the truth, drumming up negative sentiments, fear-mongering, making false promises. Um, and what is it we are doing? Oh, right, just presenting the objective truth so that everyone will know that we are right. I don’t know about you, but to me, those things don’t seem to be the way that Christ or the Apostles changed the hearts and minds of the people in Israel, Rome and Greece.

What about campaign finances? Now, I don’t want to get into an argument here over legislated spending limits or anything official like that which might be on your ballot this year (it will be here in Colorado). That’s not the point. You can hold your own opinion on who should be allowed to spend how much on what parts of a campaign. The laws are not the issue here. What is at issue is how we as individuals choose to use our money. I understand that part of the thinking behind donating to a party or a candidate, whether you donate $25, or $250,000, is that you are helping change the world by getting your candidate elected. To some extent, that is true. But there are two problems with that. First, how much of that money is really necessary? Is a 600 million dollar campaign 10 times as successful as a 60 million dollar campaign? Second, how much is your candidate really going to change things for the better? A few tax dollars here, a few immigrants there, a couple jobs one way or another – unless they are able to do something radical, there is usually only a modest amount of change.

But imagine this with me for a minute. What if the couple that donated a combined $10 million to the Romney Super PAC or the businessmen and entertains who donated a combined $36 million to the Obama Super PAC had instead donated that money to funds that would target homelessness, hunger in the US, education deficits, struggling single mothers, and at-risk teens (all using proven, effective methods). Would that change our country drastically? You bet it would. And yet, if I asked those donors to give even $100,000 to a jobs program for recovering homeless men or for a crisis pregnancy center that finds homes and jobs for teen mothers and connects them with adoptive parents who will care for their babies, they would probably balk.

Again, I don’t think any law is the answer to this. I think that we need to wake up and realize that no candidate, no president is going to be able to make the amount of impact on the issues that matter to us, whatever they may be, that we could make if we took our money power and combined it, large donations and small ones, and put them towards directly affecting the issues. But maybe we do realize it; maybe the saddest thing of all is that we know our money could be more effective somewhere else, but we are too eager for the power and recognition that comes with being a political backer that we just don’t care.

And finally, the one that really just irks me. The one that makes me wish there were a way to ban certain people from using the “forward” button on their email. Yes, you guessed it: the hyper-indignant, oft-forwarded, absolutely-true, must-read-this, ALL-CAPS-SCREAMING email giving you all the facts that you never knew about who “the other guy” really is, and what will really happen to America if “he” and “his cronies” are elected. Would you believe that Barack Obama is a communist, gay, atheist Muslim who was raised by jihadists and is secretly plotting the Arab invasion of American by giving the banks too much power and letting the Mexicans cross the border? It’s all absolutely true, according to Stephanie Van Winkerflump of the American Society for Political Truth. Or so the emails read. I may have condensed a bit. To prove the point, there are photos, emails, voting records, and YouTube videos. (They can’t put it on YouTube if it’s not true, you know.) I mostly have conservative and Republican friends and contacts, so this is the stuff I get. I’m sure if you were more in with the liberal crowd, you would know that Mitt Romney is part of a secret society along with George Bush (either one – pick the one you hate most) which uses baby endangered animals for their ritual sacrifices, he really has 12 wives (he’s a Mormon, after all), he used his tax shelters and businesses to funnel millions of dollars into offshore accounts to help pay for his 12 wives and 37 children, he leaves his (non-hybrid) car idling in the driveway for more than 10 minutes, and there is some possibility that he is actually an android. It’s all absolutely true, because that guy from that TV show that’s on after the one I really like said so. Celebrities wouldn’t lie. That’s why they get to be so famous.

We pass on all this total nonsense because we like the idea that “the other guy” is so awful. It makes our guy look a lot better. Fact is, if we were to get them in a room together without all the political bunk, they’d probably be a lot more similar than they are different. They’d probably even agree, at least in principle, on a lot more things that we think. But we like the world to be black and white because then we don’t have to use our thinking muscles. Well, let me challenge you, all you political-forwarders out there, next time something shows up in your inbox that presents horrifying facts about the opposition or makes dire predictions about the future, do some research before you hit “forward to everyone who’s ever been in my address book”. Check out snopes.com. Do some googling, and make sure you’re not getting your info from someone else who got the same email. Bottom line: if you can’t be sure that every single thing in that email is true, just don’t forward it. If people already have the same views as you, sending them more lies isn’t of any worth, and if they don’t, then it is just plain wrong to try to convince them of your stance by using lies. If “our” position is the right one, then we shouldn’t need made-up “facts” to convince people of it.


So what do you think, can we do it?

What Will You Do This Summer?

What a summer! I know that summer is usually hot, stormy and all-around crazy, but this particular summer seems to be the absolute limit. It’s hot everywhere, dry everywhere, storming everywhere. Here in Colorado alone we have at least 11 wildfires being fought, and there are nearly 100 fires burning across the US. Even the East Coast, which is usually too humid and wet to worry about fires, has seen several significant wildfires over the past 2 or 3 months. The fires have destroyed hundreds of homes and businesses, hundreds of thousands of acres of forest, and have cost many millions of dollars to fight and recover from. And then yesterday the whole eastern half of the country was subjected to intense winds, rain and lightning, leaving several people dead, and millions (yes, millions) without electricity, just in time for temperatures in the 100’s. People are blaming these conditions on a wide variety of things: poor land use, global warming, cyclical weather patterns, God’s judgment, and so on.

I’ve come to realize that the real cause is that living here on our rapidly spinning planet is a wild ride. To the above fires and storms add all the hurricanes, earthquakes, diseases, wars, terrorist attacks, floods, droughts, famines, and so much more. Make sure your seatbelt is securely fastened, and keep your hands and arms inside at all times, folks! Because we live in a world scarred by sin, we are constantly faced with sorrow, pain, disaster and fear. Just take a look at the news – most of it is trouble, trouble, trouble (makes me want to sing Music Man) and even the good news is usually about someone’s response to something bad: “Dad saves toddler from grizzly bear” or “Brave young boy calls 911 after seeing mother shot”. When was the last time you pulled up the online news or opened a paper and read a headline along the lines of “People all over the world are joining hands, starting a love train”?

I’ve heard from a lot of people that times are getting worse. Not having lived in a random sampling of centuries and eras, I can’t really tell for sure. I think as history moves along, a lot of times we simply trade one evil for another. We may not have gladiators, but we revel in violence movies and books. We may not have slavery here in America, but we tacitly condone it in other countries by the way we conduct business and choose our consumer goods. We might not have to worry about the Black Plague or typhoid, but we have AIDS and addictions. Women may have more rights and opportunities, but they are also more objectified than ever through every source of media, from the obvious degradations of the porn industry to the subtle messages of the beauty and fashion worlds. We have more technology and communications, but less common courtesy and understanding. We have international courts, multi-national organizations and peacekeeping forces, and yet there are still genocides, revolts and civil wars being waged all around the globe. Apartheid, segregation and eugenics may have been abolished in many countries, but people all over are still wary of “the others”. Communism has been largely defeated, and yet nation after nation is falling prey to debt crises, financial scandals and recessions. Obviously we can’t get a firm reign on business and finance, no matter if we’re communist, capitalist, socialist, or anarchist. We have more college educated people than ever, and incredibly high unemployment. The job security of taking over the family farm or shop is a thing of the past, now that we must each make our own way in the world. So is it getting better? I don’t know. Is it getting worse? I think that’s a hard argument to make.

Since the very first choice to live in willful disobedience to God’s command, the whole fabric of the world has been warped, stained and wrinkled. Sin equals suffering and sorrow. I not only suffer from the consequences of my own sins, but I suffer from the sins of Adam and Eve, the sins of my neighbors, the sins of my relatives, the sins of people 300 years ago, and the sins of people halfway around the world. That might not seem fair; why would God allow us to suffer because of something we didn’t do? But look at nature. Lightning strikes a tree and sets in on fire. That fire spreads from tree to tree, from trees to undergrowth, and from the forest to our homes. Why does the 100th tree have to burn? He didn’t stand tall and attract the lightning. Or what about pollution? I ride my bike around town as much as possible, so I’m not contributing nearly as much carbon emissions and the person who drives 30 miles a day, 7 days a week. And yet I still have to breathe just as much polluted air as the person who drives an SUV. It’s the way God created everything. We talk about webs and circles of life, food chains, being part of the local and global community. We weren’t made as standalone objects which can exist independently of one another. We can’t avoid affecting and being affect by every living thing and every natural force around us. What you and I do affects us, and affects others. Eventually our actions will have an effect on people in distant times and places.

But this is actually the best news we could have. Because our world is ordered this way, we have the opportunity to set into motion things that will benefit others, perhaps for hundreds of years. We may not ever fully see the effects of our actions and choices. Do you think that the person who first inspired Jonas Salk to love science was thinking, “If I can just get him interested, he’ll come up with a way to prevent polio”? Did Moses’ mother hide her baby because she thought, “If I just keep him alive, he’s going to change the course of history and religion and be world famous for thousands of years”? Did Florence Nightingale’s father allow her to go against the grain and seek a career in nursing and statistics because he knew she would forever change the practice of nursing and military medicine? No, each of these people was simply doing what he or she knew to be the right thing.

Every day you are asked to choose between right and wrong, between good and best, between selfish and giving, between immediate and eternal. The way you respond will have a lasting impact on the world. Eventually the fires will be contained and extinguished, power will be restored, homes rebuilt, rains will return, the temperature will go down, and this summer will be just a memory. What you do this summer, that can live on forever. You may be relaxing and renewing your mind and energy, or you may be running around busier than ever. But when we get to September, and the classic, “What did you do over the summer?” is asked, what will your answer be? What lasting effect will your actions have? Please don’t miss the fact that the smallest actions can have enormous effects. I’m not suggesting that you try to go out and be a Salk, or Moses, or Nightingale. If you can, that is wonderful. But you might just be the encouraging friend, the nurturing mother, the inspiring father, the caring mentor. And that is a calling that has eternal effects.

Have a Glad Summer!