We Don’t Feel the Pain of War


According to The Washington Post and their website “Faces of the Fallen,” the United States has lost 6,013 soldiers in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

What a tragedy.

In an age of voluntary enlistment in our armed services, a small percentage of American families experience the anxiety of seeing a young man or woman sent off to war. Few feel the awful pain of being told that their 20-year old has died serving his or her country.

In fact, most of us feel no pain at all, with the exception of long security lines at airports. Instead of feeling the pain of war and making personal sacrifices so that America can be at war, Americans are encouraged to live life as if nothing is going on out of the ordinary.

In light of the terrorist attack of 9/11, President George W. Bush’s plea to the American people was to shop. "Get down to Disney World in Florida," he told us. "Take your families and enjoy life, the way we want it to be enjoyed." I understand Bush’s strategy. He wanted to not allow terrorism to disrupt the American consumer’s way of life.

He never raised taxes to actually pay for these wars. In fact, he cut taxes. His administration made sure we were made aware of terrorism (with those long lines at the airports and the multi-colored terrorist threat warnings), but we were intentionally distanced from the wars themselves.

Americans were asked to “support the troops” (who wouldn’t do that?) which meant that we were to salute their sacrifice for our way of life here in America (and not question why we are fighting these wars). But what that actually happened was this: We ended up pretending that we are really not at war. We never felt the economic hardship of having to pay for these wars. We just went to Disney World. We lived in the “World of Make-Believe.”

Face it: War has become just one of those things we do now. We send our volunteer troops all over the world to fight in battles all the time. The average American does not have a say in the matter. Heck, Congress (the ones that are supposed to represent us) doesn’t even have to declare war (as the Constitution mandates) anymore. A president can simply send our troops into harm’s way with his own authority (as long as he can play politics enough to scare members of congress that they’ll be seen as unpatriotic if they resist).
I propose two ways that we can stop our country from fighting in so many wars:

1. Reinstate the Mandatory Draft. While conscription has proved to have a lot of problems (and thus was halted in 1973), if every American had a stake in our country’s choices about war, I think we’d hold our elected officials more accountable. We wouldn’t have such a complacent attitude about war if it wasn’t just those who volunteered to fight who are in harm’s way, but our own sons and daughters.

2. Mandate that All Wars Are Paid For. I find it fascinating that in all the recent debates about budgets and deficits and spending cuts, our leaders almost always skirt around the issue of paying for our war efforts. We hear the call for “PayGo” legislation, where any spending projects must be paid for with tax increases or cuts in spending in other areas. Why not “PayWar” legislation, where any wars that the President feels we must fight must first be paid for with tax increases and/or cuts in other areas?

The website costofwar.com has a running total of the combined cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Here is a screenshot I took today:

We wonder why we are in the financial mess we’re in now. Look at those numbers! Nearly 1.2 Trillion Dollars spent in the last decade.

And remember that these wars are not a part of the national budget. Remember that the American people were never issued a War Tax to pay for these wars. Remember that War Bonds were never issued for our purchase to fund these wars.

We were just asked to continue our merry way, shopping and consuming, playing and pretending that war has no cost.

Oh, but we would occasionally having patriotic services on Memorial Day for the fallen. That’s good, I suppose.

So, my proposal gets at two of the places where Americans would hurt the most if we are ever to go to war: (1) our families and (2) our bank accounts. Unless we begin to feel real pain, we will continue to see more and more faces of the fallen on The Washington Post’s website.


The Christian Life is a Peach, Not an Orange


How would it revolutionize discipleship, evangelism, and culture-shaping if Christians saw their lives not as oranges (made up of compartmentalized, separate, sealed segments—some important to God and some not) but as peaches (a single fruit, with God at the Core, where all of life is important to God)?

LICC (London Institute for Contemporary Christianity) articulates what I’m trying to do with my ministry perfectly. Thanks to Mark Greene, the Executive Director of LICC for this video:


Governmental Political Solutions are Not Ultimate

One of the reasons I've been participating in the Q Gathering conversation is because this group of Christians embrace all the options for cultural change available to us.

Gabe Lyons
Gabe Lyons helpfully delineates seven channels of culture:
  1. Media
  2. Education
  3. Arts and Entertainment
  4. Business
  5. Government
  6. Social Sector
  7. Church
When people embrace their place in one or more of these culture channels (based on their gifts, passions, education, skills, training, influence, etc), they can then produce major change.

Notice that Government is certainly one of these channels. Notice, also, that Church is another one of the channels. Not the only channel, but one of them. There are a lot of other ways we can bring about change.

I submit that when we place our hopes in only one channel, we do so at our society's peril.

Government is not the end-all cure-all to our societal problems. Our American society has fallen into this belief-system. Many people believe that in order to change our society, we must do so politically. Lots of money, time, and energy goes into attempting to pass laws and elect people that will solve society’s ills. However, when we place our faith in government, I believe that we have edged toward what the Bible calls idolatry.

By the way, I also believe that the Church is not the end-all cure-all to our societal problems. There has been a terrible history of Christians believing that God’s solution to the world’s ills is the institutional church. But this is idolatry as well. The Institutional Church is not Christ nor is it Christ’s Kingdom. An institution does not save the world. The people of God are called to be the witness of Christ and his Kingdom.

Back to my main concern: What I fear is that many people have a religious devotion to Politics. Our faith systems revolve around who people will vote for, what issues will be on the ballot, how we can save the world from the bad guys (the “bad guys” are those of opposing political ideologies).

Politics has its place, and we need people who will understand political issues deeply and be political activists. This is a legitimate cultural channel. I have many friends who reside in D.C. who are on the front line of this battle.

But here’s the rub: When we switch over to believing that our particular political ideology has salvific power, we no longer are being (a) realistic, and (b) honoring the only one who indeed provides salvation.


Huckabee is Gone: Will Republican Politics Find Compassionate Conservativism Again?

Mike Huckabee announced that he will not pursue the Republican nomination. That’s too bad. As Ross Douthat wrote in his op/ed, “A Requiem for Huckabee,”
“He’ll be missed in the 2012 race, and not just because his absence promises to dramatically reduce the entertainment value of the Republican debates.
He’ll be missed because he embodied a political persuasion that’s common in American life but rare in America’s political class. This worldview mixes cultural conservatism with economic populism: it’s tax-sensitive without being stridently antigovernment, skeptical of Wall Street as well as Washington, and as concerned about immigration, family breakdown and public morals as it is about the debt ceiling.”
Huckabee definitely had his flaws. Sometimes he said things without thinking just to win political points (as when he said that Obama grew up in Kenya and was inculcated with anti-imperialist political ideas by his father and the Mau Mau Revolution, when in fact Obama was born in Hawaii and spent his early years in Indonesia and did not even travel to Kenya, his father’s birthplace, until later in life).

But what Huckabee represented was a unique place in politics: An understanding that compassion for people must trump towing the party line on all things. He appealed to those of us who Douthat calls the “disaffected demographic” – “whose hostility to big government coexists with anxieties about corporate power.”

Salon's David Weigel wrote yesterday in his article, "Huckless: Mike Huckabee's decision marks the end of compassionate conservatism":
"Without Huckabee, this race actually shifts further to the right.
That's because Huckabee is (or was) the last Republican with real national political pull who didn't believe in economic conservative orthodoxy. He believes in an activist government. He favored a smoking ban in Arkansas, and for a while he favored expanding it to all 50 states. He's OK with Michelle Obama running an anti-obesity campaign from the White House. (Bachmann said the first lady was implementing a "nanny state," and most conservative voters agree with her.)
If that seems like a minor spat, it wasn't—it comes out of Huckabee's philosophy about what government should do. In December 2007 and January 2008, he feuded with Rush Limbaugh, who said Huckabee was simply ‘not a conservative’ given his views of what government was good for.”
What we had in Huckabee was someone who found the new Tea Party libertarianism immoral, and that the Republican Party is going in the wrong direction. Weigel shared something that Huckabee said in an interview:
“'The greatest threat to classic Republicanism is not liberalism,' he told reporter Will Mari. 'It's this new brand of libertarianism, which is social liberalism and economic conservatism, but it's a heartless, callous, soulless type of economic conservatism because it says, 'Look, we want to cut taxes and eliminate government. If it means that elderly people don't get their Medicare drugs, so be it. If it means little kids go without education and health care, so be it.'"
In an age when evangelical Christians are caricatured as pro-wealth, pro-big business, pro-war, anti-help for the poor, anti-care for immigrants, anti-government, Mike Huckabee (an ordained Southern Baptist minister) stood out as someone who actually tried to figure out how government could work for the common good… maybe even for Kingdom principles. He didn’t always get it right, but at least he was trying to think above the fray of political rhetoric.

Will there be another?


For and Against:

  • For: Cultural conservativism that takes seriously the notion that sometimes change is not always best. 
  • Against: Cultural conservativism that unthinkingly thinks that all things were better "in the good old days" (as if they actually had existed).
  • For: Economic populism that realizes that corporations do not often pursue the best interest of the common good.
  • Against: Economic populism that believes that government will do any better.
  • Against: Rhetoric that demonizes the government, as if it is the greatest evil facing society.
  • Against: Rhetoric that demonizes business corporations, schools, trade associations, families, churches, or any other social structure needed for a healthy pluralistic society.
  • For: An economic system where people are free to pursue an abundant life, unencumbered by unjust laws and corporate greed.
  • For: An economic system where people share their resources for the common good, including a tax code that has those who have more pay more.
  • Against: An over-reaching government that extends too far into social spheres that are better handled by others (because the government does not have the expertise or locality to solve most of the problems that face us).
  • For: Universal flourishing of all, what the Bible calls Shalom.


The People of God or The Corporation of God?

I’ve been often troubled by the fallout from the 1886 Supreme Court decision, Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad, which applied the Fourteenth Amendment to corporations, granting them the right to be recognized as persons. As Skye Jethani writes in his excellent book The Divine Commodity: Discovering a Faith Beyond Consumer Christianity,
“Ironically, the same law that ensured human beings would no longer have legal status as property was used to grant property the legal status of human beings” (p. 90).
Jethani then connects the dots between that decision and how we now emotionally, psychologically, and theologically convey personhood to institutions. Because of branding, we don’t just buy oats, we buy from “a smiling Quaker man;” we don’t just drive a car, we shout, “I love what you do for me, Toyota!” “…as if the carmaker was a benevolent individual and not 300,000 anonymous employees organized into a profit-driven multinational institution. One hundred years of relating to personified corporations has caused a profound shift in the way we live” (p. 91).

Jethani connect the dots all the way to the institutional church, which we have personified like other corporations. We therefore believe we are supposed to have a relationship with the institution of the church rather than the people of the church.
“As such, with all sincerity, we can say, ‘“I love what you do for me, Faith Community!’ The personification of institutions in our culture means the institutional church, rather than the flesh-and-blood people of God, has become the vehicle of God’s mission in the world.”
Thus, we who lead the church as pastors start to believe that our job is to create a corporate brand, a church institution that people will be loyal to, that will have a positive reputation in the community, that our members will invite their friends to.

We develop vision statements, create programs, and we use slick marketing tools (including contemporary logos), all because we believe that the mission of God is to get people to “buy in” with our church, devote themselves to our programs, and in so doing, they will become deeper disciples of Jesus Christ.

But as soon as we start believing that the goal is to sell people warm feelings about the church, then we are way off the mark of God’s true mission for his church. The mission of God is the redemption of His creation. In other words, God is ushering in His Kingdom. The institutional church is not the Kingdom of God, but rather the witnesses to the Kingdom.

Instead of placing the emphasis on marketing the church, the church should be equipping its people to be the witnesses of the Kingdom. It is the “flesh-and-blood people of God” that the Spirit indwells in order to be the incarnational-missional instrument for the Kingdom.


Movie Review: 127 Hours

127 Hours: Being a Loner is Not All That It’s Cracked Up to Be
127_Hours_10see my review at two different websites:
Jesus Creed (Scot McKnight’s Blog)
Internet Movie Data Base

Individual Identity and Consumerism

In his book God for a Secular Society: The Public Relevance of Theology, Jürgen Moltmann gives insight into the catastrophic implications of combining individualism with global marketing.
Moltmann-God for a Secular Society“Like all other life, human life is shared life, communicated and communicating life, communion in communication. Today the necessary communities which make up human life are threatened from two sides: on the one hand by the stepped-up individualism of modern men and women, and not the other by the global marketing of everything, including relationships.
The global marketing of everything and every service is much more than pure economics. It has become the all-embracing law of life. We have become customers and consumers, whatever else we may be. The market has become the philosophy of life, the world religion.
The marketing of everything destroys community at all levels, because people are weighed up only according to their market value. They are judged by what they can perform or by what they can afford.” (p. 153)
Free Market Capitalism is indeed the new American (and global) religion. So much so that many evangelical Christians cannot any longer differentiate between the teachings of the New Testament and the teachings of the American Political Right, today’s versions of Ayn Rand.

American Christians have been so anti-communist/anti-socialist for so long that we have swung the pendulum too far to the right. Certainly communism and socialism are failed systems because of they went too far in squashing individual freedoms in favor of communitarian ideals. But squashing communitarian needs in favor of individual freedom has its own cost.

As Moltmann writes,
“The society of solitary individuals who do not meddle with each other (is) a society of social frigidity. In this way freedom becomes general. But is it true freedom? No: for a person in not an individual. The distinction is simple, but seldom made.”
He explains that a human is only a human in the context of his or her relationships –
“In the network of relationships, the person becomes the human subject of taking and giving, listening and doing, experiencing and touching, hearing and responding. We approach humanism only when we pass from individualism to personalism.” (p. 156)
Americans’ “rugged individualism” is reaching its breaking point, because it has been coupled with marketing, which is the business of selling individuals the means for finding their personal identity. The way humans are meant to find their identity is in community – with family, neighbors, friends. Now, identity is manufactured and sold to individuals. Identity is defined by your ability to be a consumer.

Moltmann writes,
“In families, neighborhoods and free communities human relationships exist in mutual recognition and acceptance. If the market becomes the dominant power, then relationships if mutual recognition and acceptance come to an end. The self-respect experienced through the recognition gives way to the value assigned by the market…Because we are supposed to ‘fulfil ourselves’ through work and consumption, if we have no work and are poor we lose our won selves.” (p. 162)


Without Equity, We Have No Freedom

Jürgen Moltmann, in his book God for a Secular Society: The Public Relevance of Theology, writes,
“Without equality there is no free world.
It is in the spirit of early Christianity that we call the truth that all human beings are created free and equal ‘self-evident.’ 
Equality doesn’t mean collectivism. It means equal conditions for living, and equal chances for living for everyone.
As a social concept, equality means justice. As a humanitarian concept, equality means solidarity. As a Christian concept, equality means love.
Either we shall create a world of social justice, human solidarity, and Christian love, or this world will perish through oppression of people by people, through a-social egotism, and through the destruction of the future in the interests of short-term, present-day profits.” (p. 69)
In a polarized political climate, where any mention of “social justice” or “economic equality” or “human solidarity” are labeled socialist and anti-American, Christians need to stand firm and steer the conversation into a third way – beyond unbridled capitalism on the one hand, and Marixism on the other, toward one that reads the Hebrew Prophets afresh and realizes that God’s plan for humanity is captured by the Hebrew words “shalom” (peace / flourishing among people), “mishpat” (justice between humans and between God and humans), “tsedeq” (righteousness in relationships), and “yasar” (equity).


Review: Transatlantic, The Whirlwind

An Epic Tale of Apocalyptic Scale
This is a mirror review from Prog Archives: http://www.progarchives.com/Review.asp?id=442708

TRANSATLANTIC-The whirlwind.After a prolonged time since their last collaboration when they made “Bridge Across Forever” in 2001 (one of the best albums of the decade), Prog Rock’s premier super group, Transatlantic, have given us the incredible gift of “The Whirlwind.” This is an epic story both musically and lyrically, a magnum opus with eschatological undertones but with hope in the midst of suffering.

Musically, the sound is distinctively Transatlantic – an intriguing stew that mixes Neal Morse’s (ex-Spock’s Beard and a critically acclaimed solo career) sophisticated themes, catchy melodies, and seamless transitions with the quirkiness of Roine Stolt’s (The Flower Kings) compositional genius. This is old-school Prog, in the vein of Kansas, Pink Floyd, Yes, Genesis, Gentle Giant, King Crimson, with plenty of influence from The Beatles of the late-60s.

You’ll find layers of guitars, both electric and acoustic (Roine Stolt has won plenty of awards for his guitar prowess—having been compared with David Gilmour, Steve Hackett, Steve Howe, and Frank Zappa), lush keyboards (dominated by organ and synth and with flashes of piano by the virtuoso singer/keyboardist Neal Morse), bass guitar that gets perfectly fronted plenty of times (from Pete Trevawas of renowned Neo-Prog band Marillion), and drumming that moves from heavy to delicate and back again with ease from the legendary Mike Portnoy (ex-Dream Theater). There is simply no better rock drummer performing today than Portnoy.

There are plenty of instrumental flourishes on “The Whirlwind,” the highlight being “On the Prowl.” Vocals are shared by Morse, who excellently sings with both emotion (especially on “Rose Colored Glasses”) and intensity (he particularly nailed it on “The Wind Blew Them All Away”), and Stolt, whose vocals are an acquired taste (a taste that I have actually acquired!) and does a wonderful job as well, especially with a mad-scientist sound on “A Man Can Feel.”

This album is meant to be understood as one continuous, 12-part, 78-minute epic composition. In Neal Morse’s normal MO, the opening track includes an “Overture” giving the listener a foretaste of the musical themes that tie the album together. The main Whirlwind theme draws you in instantly, and with that opening track, your appetite is whetted, and you’re ready for the musical journey on which these four men are going to lead you.

Lyrically, the songs are dominated with the Christian worldview of Neal Morse. Morse converted in 2002 and left the band he founded (Spock’s Beard) as well as Transatlantic in order to pursue more strictly Christian themes in his music. Morse’s solo albums have been critically acclaimed for their musical genius, even by those who did not appreciate his Christian lyrics. When Transatlantic announced a reunion, I wondered how much leeway the other band members would give Morse lyrically. The answer is: A lot. The other three seem to respect Morse’s faith enough to allow him to express it in his songs, which speaks highly for Morse and his relationships with these men.

The story that “The Whirlwind” tells is apocalyptic, the story of judgment and turmoil, but also of hope and mercy. In “The Wind Blew Them All Away,” Morse sings,
And in the master's house
They're partyin' down
But there's no resting place
In this prodigal town
But there are some we know
Thought they'd go all the way
But the wind blew them all away
In “Set Us Free,” there is more explicit eschatological overtones and a cry for help:
Look at the people
Tossed in turmoil in the street
Satan like lightning falling down
The ungodly world
Is like a vicious troubled sea
Feels like our ship is sinking down
We have been blinded in our hearts
We want to say
And somewhere inside we know
It's not supposed to be
Come bring this ship
Out of the whirlwind and
Set us free, free, free, free...
The album is very accessible and intriguing through the first eleven songs—telling a story that all can relate to with music that is captivating and cutting-edge musically. It talks of finding meaning in hardship, of justice, and of finding hope for the next life in the midst of all of it. But then comes the final song, the sappy “Dancing with Eternal Glory.” I understand the need to tie up the story with a glimpse of heaven, but this song seems out of place, too cliché, too kitschy. Morse sings,
And you're dancing with eternal glory
Taking a step to another land
You are dancing with eternal glory
This is much more than time and chance
When the giver of life is asking you to dance
This is a bit too cheesy for such an amazing album, too trite. I have simply pretended that the first six minutes of this song does not exist, and skip immediately to the final six minutes where the reprise of the main theme occurs.

Transatlantic has placed themselves in the upper echelon of the great rock supergroups of all time. How good are they? Good enough for me to drive eight hours to Philadelphia to see them live in concert back in April. What a show! After they played this entire album through, they took a break for intermission and then played songs from their first two albums. Before leaving the stage for intermission, a sweaty Mike Portnoy stood next to his drumkit and said, “Well, that was our first song. How’s that for an epic? A 75-minute opening song!”

It is indeed epic, and worthy of many, many listenings.


Hoping for a Post-Pundit, Post-Polarized News Source

I discussed with college students the other day where they received their news. Some said they got their news from Saturday Night Live, others from Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, others from discussions with their parents (who get their news from FOXNews or CNN). When a major news story breaks, they either go to the internet (cnn.com or news.yahoo.com) or tune in to FoxNews or CNN.

I asked if they ever read a newspaper or a newsmagazine. Not one of them did.
I asked adults in my church where they got their news, and most said either FOXNews or CNN. Did they read newspapers or newsmagazines? Few read newspapers on occasion, but hardly any read "Time" or "Newsweek" or another print news source.

When I was growing up, news was on every evening at 6:30, and only from CBS, ABC, and NBC. The three news anchors competed for the viewers’ trust by attempting to be the most accurate and credible. Commentary was in written form in serious news magazines like “Time,” “Newsweek,” and “US News and World Report.”

Now the news is read by big-chested beauty queens on the cable news channels. Commentary is offered on these same cable news channels by partisan pundits with axes to grind.

On FoxNews, ultra-conservative Glenn Beck vilified those that had a different political view from his. On MSNBC, ultra-liberal Keith Olbermann did the same. Thankfully, both shows have been canceled.

Too often I hear Christians taking on the persona of their favorite cable news channel pundit: arrogantly stating a position from presumed authority, refusing to hear the other side of the debate.

Christians should rather take the high road of civility, authentically articulating a view on political and social issues while at the same time being willing to listen to other views.

One of the greatest prophetic gifts the American church can give our culture in the 21st Century is a new way of engaging the issues. A humility that goes beyond the current television vitriol will, I believe, be a witness to the grace of Jesus Christ.

And perhaps, just perhaps, we can influence the culture in such a way that fresh news sources will spring up, a post-pundit, post-polarized way of interacting with one another.