Monday, June 30, 2008

This Law Leads Us to Christ

If you will here stop and ask yourselves why you are not as pious as the primitive Christians were, your own heart will tell you, that it is neither through ignorance nor inability, but purely because you never thoroughly intended it.
- William Law, "A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life," 1728

Friday, June 27, 2008

It's the Weekend. Hallelujah!

I was in Starbucks yesterday, and they were playing Jeff Buckley's version of Leonard Cohen's song, Hallelujah. The first time I ever heard this song, it was performed in concert by Justin Rosolino, and then several months later in another concert by his friend, Brian Webb.

I'm told that some have called this "the most perfect song ever written." I'm not so sure about that, but there is something about it that tends to draw you in and take you to a different place.

I also get the impression that Jeff Buckley's version is generally considered to be the best, but for my money (which is Zero, since YouTube is free), I find K.D. Lang's the most compelling. She's not exactly what you'd call beautiful, but her rendition grabs me. Perhaps it will you, too:

And as a bonus, how about four Norwegian guys singing the song? It's strange, but captivating in its own way. For some reason, it can't be embedded in this blog post, but you can go to it on YouTube here.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Some Confused Catholics (and Protestants)

In my blog a couple days ago, I referenced a Wall Street Journal piece about Planned Parenthood and their murderous practices.

The next day, there was an opinion piece in the WSJ about Barack Obama's National Catholic Advisory Council. It referenced Planned Parenthood, as well.

For my Christian friends who are also Obama supporters, I'd encourage you to think about the issues here. If abortion is truly the taking of innocent life - and what else can it be, if life begins at conception? - then is there any issue that can outweigh this one?

If Obama were running for mayor, I'd consider voting for him. Mayors don't do much, if anything, to set abortion policy. But Presidents are another matter, altogether.

Here's the article, excerpted for brevity (you can read the whole thing here). I've bolded a few passages for emphasis.

NARAL Catholics Line Up for Obama
William McGurn
June 24, 2008; Page A17

You are the Democratic candidate for president. You want to reach out to Catholics. So what do you do when the majority of the elected officials on your National Catholic Advisory Council have the seal of approval from NARAL Pro-Choice America?

That's the position Barack Obama now finds himself in. . . .

This council does indeed include some Catholics whose pro-life credentials are impeccable, including Minnesota Congressman James Oberstar. But let us also stipulate the obvious: Of the 21 senators, congressmen and governors listed on the council's National Leadership Committee, 17 have a 90%-100% NARAL approval rating. . . .

It's not as if these NARAL scores are outliers: Sen. Obama himself boasts a 100% NARAL rating, and for good reason. In a speech before Planned Parenthood, he declared that the right to an abortion is at stake in this election, and vowed that he would not yield on appointing judges that would uphold Roe v. Wade.

Mr. Obama is for using tax dollars to fund abortions, and against restrictions on partial-birth abortion. In the Illinois Senate, he voted against legislation protecting a child who was born alive despite an abortion. In sum, if you want to know what Mr. Obama's policies mean, it's this: taxpayer-funded abortion on demand.

Not fair, complains the Obama camp. They point to statements supporting adoption. They cite the story about how he removed language about "right-wing ideologues" from one of his Web sites after a pro-life doctor complained. Above all, they say he has acknowledged a moral dimension to abortion, that he's willing to listen, and that he wants to work for fewer abortions.
. . .
The problem is that abortion is not just any issue. In the language of the church, abortion is an "intrinsic evil," always and everywhere wrong.

That is what Catholics for Obama have to get around. . . . Already Kathleen Sebelius – governor of Kansas and one of the Catholic co-chairs – has been asked by her bishop to refrain from Communion because of what he says is her support for abortion. . . .

It's not that Catholic Democrats lack a moral language. Sen. Richard Durbin (D., Ill.), for example, is another Catholic council member who also enjoys a 100% NARAL approval rating. During recent Senate hearings, he accused oil company executives of having "all the compassion of Burmese generals."

When Mr. Durbin is willing to use similar language to describe the taking of innocent, unborn life, we'll know we have change we can believe in.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Laura's Story

Laura Story Elvington is one of the worship leaders at my church. Christianity Today just posted an interview with her about her musical career and her husband, Martin.

Planned (Non)Parenthood: How to Kill Your Baby in a "Contemporary, Fun, and Lively" Eco-Friendly Environment

It's a long blog title, and the article in yesterday's Wall Street Journal was longer still. But you can read excerpts below. And I hope to God you won't believe what you're reading, even though it's true.

If you don't have time to read the entire article or even all of my excerpts, I've bolded some of the "best" parts for your "enjoyment."

Planned Parenthood Hits Suburbia
Abortion Provider Goes Upscale; Aid For Poor Questioned

By STEPHANIE SIMON June 23, 2008; Page A1

Flush with cash, Planned Parenthood affiliates nationwide are aggressively expanding their reach, seeking to woo more affluent patients with a network of suburban clinics and huge new health centers that project a decidedly upscale image.

The nonprofit, which traces its roots to 1916, has long focused on providing birth control, sexual-health care and abortions to teens and low-income women. While those groups still make up the majority of Planned Parenthood's patients, executives say they are "rebranding" their clinics to appeal to women of means -- a move that opens new avenues for boosting revenue and, they hope, political clout.

Two elegant new health centers have been built, and at least five more are on the way; the largest, in Houston, will be 75,000 square feet. They feature touches such as muted lighting, hardwood floors and airy waiting rooms in colors selected by marketing experts -- as well as walls designed to withstand a car's impact should an antiabortion protest turn violent.

Planned Parenthood has also opened more than two dozen quick-service "express centers," many in suburban shopping malls. Some sell jewelry, candles, books and T-shirts, along with contraception.

"It is indeed a new look...a new branding, if you will," said Leslie Durgin, a senior vice president at Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains.

While Planned Parenthood executives describe the tactics as a natural extension of their mission, the moves have opened the organization up to criticism from foes and friends alike.

Antiabortion groups point out that Planned Parenthood, the nation's largest abortion provider, reported a record $1 billion in annual revenue in its most recent financial report -- about a third of that coming from federal and state grants to care for low-income women. The nonprofit ended the year with a surplus of $115 million, or about 11% of its revenue, and net assets of $952 million.

"Why are we giving them so much money?" asked Jim Sedlak, vice president of the antiabortion American Life League.

"This is not the Planned Parenthood we all grew up with... they now have more of a business approach, much more aggressive," said Amy Hagstrom Miller, who runs abortion clinics in Texas and Maryland.

Ms. Hagstrom Miller competes with Planned Parenthood for abortion patients -- and finds it deeply frustrating. She does not receive the government grants or tax-deductible donations that bolster Planned Parenthood, and says she can't match the nonprofit's budget for advertising or clinic upgrades. She has carved her own niche by touting her care as more holistic -- and by charging $425 for a first-trimester surgery at her Austin clinic, compared with $475 at the local Planned Parenthood. (Both Ms. Hagstrom Miller and Planned Parenthood say they work out discounts and payment plans for the needy.)

"They're not unlike other big national chains," Ms. Hagstrom Miller said. "They put local independent businesses in a tough situation."

Even as the total number of abortions in the U.S. has dropped, the number performed by Planned Parenthood has grown steadily, to nearly 290,000 a year. In 2005, the most recent year that national statistics are available, Planned Parenthood accounted for about one in every five abortions. In part, that's because independent providers have quit the field, tired of battling antiabortion protesters. Ms. Richards also said that she has encouraged more Planned Parenthood clinics to offer abortions.

"I like to think of it as the LensCrafters of family planning," Steve Trombley, the top executive in Illinois, said as he toured an express center a few doors down from a hair salon and a Japanese restaurant in the well-to-do suburb of Schaumburg, Ill.

In Oregon, clinics are updating to a "contemporary, fun and lively look" with a new color palette that includes pink, orange and teal, said Mr. Greenberg, the regional executive. . . .

In Massachusetts, Dianne Luby, the affiliate's president, also talks up a new "green" clinic, to be built with recycled and eco-friendly material.

Most people associate Planned Parenthood with abortion, Ms. Luby said, so "we're trying to reposition ourselves as caring about their health, about prevention, about a sustainable planet." Or, as she later put it: "So much more mainstream."
How comforting to know that foeticide is ecofriendly and contributing to sustainability. Let's save the world by killing the people.

Monday, June 23, 2008

What We Really Admire: Noonan on Russert

Peggy Noonan wrote in the Wall Street Journal over the weekend about the death of NBC's Tim Russert, and what it reveals about what we really value in other people. Some excerpts:

In a way, the world is a great liar. It shows you it worships and admires money, but at the end of the day it doesn't. It says it adores fame and celebrity, but it doesn't, not really. The world admires, and wants to hold on to, and not lose, goodness. It admires virtue. At the end it gives its greatest tributes to generosity, honesty, courage, mercy, talents well used, talents that, brought into the world, make it better. That's what it really admires. That's what we talk about in eulogies, because that's what's important. We don't say, "The thing about Joe was he was rich." We say, if we can, "The thing about Joe was he took care of people."


After Tim's death, the entire television media for four days told you the keys to a life well lived, the things you actually need to live life well, and without which it won't be good. Among them: taking care of those you love and letting them know they're loved, which involves self-sacrifice; holding firm to God, to your religious faith, no matter how high you rise or low you fall. This involves guts, and self-discipline, and active attention to developing and refining a conscience to whose promptings you can respond. Honoring your calling or profession by trying to do within it honorable work, which takes hard effort, and a willingness to master the ethics of your field. And enjoying life. . . .

Tim had these virtues. They were great to see. By defining them and celebrating them the past few days, the media encouraged them. This was a public service, and also what you might call Tim's parting gift.

I'd add it's not only the young, but the older and the old, who were given a few things to think about. When Tim's friends started to come forward last Friday to speak on the air of his excellence, they were honestly grieving. They felt loss. So did people who'd never met him. Question: When you die, are people in your profession going to feel like this? Why not? What can you do better? When you leave, are your customers—in Tim's case it was five million every Sunday morning, in your case it may be the people who come into the shop, or into your office—going to react like this? Why not?

Goodness. Virtue. Could we say that despite all the messages the world throws at us, at the end of the day what people really value in others is godliness, the character of Christ incarnated in us?

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Fresh Basil With That?

Those who, to please their listeners, avoid giving a forthright declaration of the will of God become the slaves of those they would please, and abandon the service of God.

- Basil of Caesarea (A.D. 330-379)

Friday, June 20, 2008

Where to Go? What to Do? And I Don't Have a Thing to Wear!

"I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go."

- Jesus, speaking to Peter, John 21.19

The world says, "When you were young you were dependent and could not go where you wanted, but when you grow old you will be able to make your own decisions, go your own way, and control your own desitny." But Jesus has a different vision of maturity: It is the ability and willngness to be led where you would rather not go.

- Henri Nouwen, "In the Name of Jesus," p.81


In a recent post, I quoted Thomas Hopko, who said, "The freer a person is, the less they choose. Thus a person who would be perfectly free by God's grace would never 'choose' anything at all. They would see, know, and will what is good, true, and beautiful, and do it." But in the Nouwen quote above, the suggestion is that we need to be willing to be led where we do not prefer to go. Do these paradoxical thoughts go together? I think they do.

It seems to me that a fully Christlike person will automatically do what pleases God, and will want to do it. But we are not yet fully Christlike. Therefore, there will still be times - many times, I fear - when we must force ourselves to do what is right simply because we know it is right. As we continue to develop Godly character through the disciplines of grace, we will increasingly desire to do what pleases Him.

I believe the Orthodox Hopko's statement, but I still often inhabit the Catholic Nouwen's reality. As a Protestant prayer book suggests, if I only do what I feel like doing, I will regularly "leave undone those things which I ought to have done, and do those things which I ought not to have done." I will "follow too much the devices and desires of my own heart." (After the Episcopal/Anglican Book of Common Prayer)

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

News You May Have Missed: Mary, The Musical

News so strange it can't be made up.

The Vatican has blessed production of the new musical, "Mary of Nazareth, a Story That Goes On." It will debut in the Vatican City's Paul VI Auditorium soon, starring a former Miss Italy contestant. The music has been written by Stelvio Cipriani, who also wrote the movie scores for "Piranha Part Two: The Spawning," "Black Orgasm," and "Sex of the Devil."

"Father Stefano De Flores, one of the world's foremost Marian theologians, is a consultant to the production. He said: 'I was trying to ask myself: "Who is Mary of Nazareth and how does she fit into a musical?"'"



Monday, June 16, 2008

Litmus Test

It's truly amazing. In less than 40 seconds, you'll be able to diagnose your theology. Are you Catholic, Calvinistic, Baptist, Atheistic, or what? Watch this video, and your response (or cluster of responses) will tell you, just like that: - Watch more free videos

(Thanks to Friendly Atheist, where I first saw this video.)

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Tozer on Faith

My friend Matt Ballard tells me he's a Tozer fan. So in honor of Matt's birthday today, a Tozer quote:

Faith is the least self-regarding of the virtues. It is by its very nature scarcely conscious of its own existence. Like the eye which sees everything in front of it and never sees itself, faith is occupied with the Object upon which it rests and pays no attention to itself at all. . . . Faith is not in itself a meritorious act; the merit is in the One toward Whom it is directed. . . .

When we lift our inward eyes to gaze upon God we are sure to meet friendly eyes gazing back at us.

- A.W. Tozer, "The Pursuit of God," pp. 82-83

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

No Calvinists in the Presidential Race

It's become common in my Presbyterian circles to point out that we all have "gods" and "idols" in our lives, things we think we need in order to be happy and fulfilled. Usually, however, they are less literal than what our presidential aspirants are carrying in their pockets. Time Magazine tells us that Senator Obama, for example - a professed Christian - carries "a bracelet belonging to a soldier deployed in Iraq, a gambler’s lucky chit, a tiny monkey god and a tiny Madonna and child." Does that make Obama a Hindu-Catholic-Pagan Christian, or just a confused man?

McCain and Clinton have their lucky charms, as well, though apparently not in the same quantity. See the Time web page for more details.

At this point, I'd really like to throw some stones, especially at Obama, who's shown on several occasions now that his claim of allegiance to Christ doesn't include much in the way of spiritual discernment or an understanding of the Scriptures. But I've got my own idols, too, just better hidden than his.

Nevertheless, I really don't believe there's such a thing as "luck" in life. Events may appear random, of course, and they may fail to meet our expectations or hopes, but they can never be divorced from the One who runs the universe.

No one from the east or the west
or from the desert can exalt a man.
But it is God who judges:
He brings one down, he exalts another.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Why I Never Had Kids: Too Many Details to Remember

I went to California over the weekend to visit my friend Karl. He and his wife have two young children.

And last month, I went to see Tony, his wife, and their three kids in Illinois.

These trips have been highly informative. I've learned just how difficult it is to be a skilled parent. For example:

See the rest of the series here.
(Thanks to Friendly Atheist for pointing out these instructions.)

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Come Out With Your Hands Up

Much of our difficulty as seeking Christians stems from our unwillingness to take God as He is and adjust our lives accordingly . . . .

God being who and what He is, and we being who and what we are, the only thinkable relation between us is one of full Lordship on His part and complete submission on ours. . . .

The pursuit of God will embrace the labor of bringing our total personality into conformity to His. And this not judicially, but actually.

- A.W. Tozer, "The Pursuit of God," pp. 93-94

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Not Afraid to Tackle the Hard Subjects

My church just produced this video. I'm having difficulty believing that a Presbyterian Church would be this blunt about an issue that affects so many men . . .

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Nouwen on Spiritual Leadership

I surprise myself to see that after 16 months of blogging, I still haven't featured anything from Henri Nouwen. He's among my favorite authors (a pretty long list, admittedly), and every book of his that I've read has left me with something good to think about.

Here are some excerpts from his 1989 book, In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership. He describes the kind of leader I desire to be:

It is not enough for the priests and ministers of the future to be moral people, well trained, eager to help their fellow humans, and able to respond creatively to the burning issues of their time. All of that is very valuable and important, but it is not the heart of Christian leadership. The central question is, Are the leaders of the future truly men and women of God, people with an ardent desire to dwell in God's presence, to listen to God's voice, to look at God's beauty, to touch God's incarnate Word, and to taste fully God's infinite goodness?
For the future of Christian leadership it is of vital importance to reclaim the mystical aspect of theology so that every word spoken, every word of advice given, and every strategy developed can come from a heart that knows God intimately.
Christian leaders cannot simply be persons who have well-informed opinions about the burning issues of our time. Their leadership must be rooted in the permanent, intimate relationship with the incarnate Word Jesus, and they need to find there the source for their words, advice, and guidance. . . . Dealing with burning issues without being rooted in a deep personal relationship with God easily leads to divisiveness because, before we know it, our sense of self is caught up in our opinion about a given subject. But when we are securely rooted in personal intimacy with the source of life, it will be possible to remain flexible without being relativistic, convinced without being rigid, willing to confront without being offensive, gentle and forgiving without being soft, and true witnesses without being manipulative.

pp. 43-47