Sep 10 2016

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying And Support Hillary Clinton

I am not now, nor have I ever been, a Democrat. I don’t ever remember voting Democrat–the first Presidential election that I could vote in was when Jimmy Carter was running. Though I liked him as a person, I don’t believe I voted for him.  

I have never liked Hillary Clinton. In fact, I liked her less than I liked Bill.  I seldom could bring myself to watch or listen to them.  I have been one of those who believe that Hillary is at best a liar, and possibly a criminal.  And, I have been one of those who has secretly hoped that one of the rumors about her would be proven true, and her political life would be over.  It bothered me that she of all people would go down in history as being the first woman to be a major party candidate for President. Like many other conservatives, I was emotionally biased against Mrs. Clinton.

And then there was Trump, who was funny for a short period until I realized a lot of people were taking him seriously.  I believe that Trump is a liar and a fraud. I also believe that he’s incompetent, ignorant, a bigot, a narcissist, and a loose cannon who is fundamentally dangerous.

The Turning Point

One night, I was watching an episode of “Black Sails,” the Starz show set as a prequel to Treasure Island, when there was a very interesting exchange between the characters Long John Silver and Billy Bones.  At this point in the story, both knew than Captain Flint was a liar and a murderer, acting solely out of his own self-interests.  Billy asked Silver how he could serve under and support such a man. Silver’s reply was that even though he hated Flint, he knew that Flint was a more than capable captain and their best hope at surviving the situation they were facing. 

I immediately thought of Hillary Clinton, and the logic of Long John Silver’s analysis cleared away the fog, and I looked at things logically.  

Hillary, unlike Trump, has the necessary qualifications to be President. She has 8 years of White House experience, plus having been Secretary of State. She probably has more respect around the world than Obama. And, she’s not crazy. She may have ego issues, but that can work for a leader: She won’t let the country fail, because that will reflect on her.  Trump, at least so far, doesn’t seem to care. His MO is to blame someone else, proclaim his greatness, and move on.

Bill will also be a great asset as First Man (or whatever). He obviously will have the most experience of any First Spouse, and in spite of my not liking him personally, I always admitted that he was, in fact, a pretty good President. And neither of them are going to dump the country, as it’s not in their best interest.  

And, Hillary has consistently been the most truthful candidate of this election (that is, of the statements made throughout this election cycle, objective analysis has found her to have been the most truthful).  Then, there is the point that in spite of the myriad attempts by her enemies to find some skeletans in her closets, none have been found. 

So, this is the process by which I overcame my avulsion to Hillary Clinton.  And considering I find Trump’s policies (such as they are) morally repugnant, I will have no problems voting for Clinton.  And I actually expect her to do a pretty good job.

Jul 9 2016

Confessions of a Privilege Addict

[Note: I realize that some of you will not agree with my perspective here, but this is my story, so…}

Hello, My name is Alden, and I am a privilege addict.  

I’ve known that I was privileged (although I never thought of it in those terms until recently) since I was a child, and I have relished every minute of it.  I know that many of you will doubt or dispute this, as I have never been part of the “1%” and have usually hid my elitist arrogance, but it’s true. 

I believe that humans are inherently tribal in nature; our brains, as my daughter recently explained to me, naturally categorize and order things in order to attempt to understand them. We do the same thing to ourselves, categorizing and ranking ourselves within the greater culture. As children, we are dependent upon others and finding our way in the world outside of our immediate family (or sometimes even within the family) can result in insecurity. The sooner we organize ourselves–finding our tribes, so to speak–the sooner we will achieve some sense of security and belonging.  

As a typically insecure child, I found security in my birthright categories:

  1. I was an American, living in the best and most powerful nation in the world. In a world where war was the norm, there was confort in knowing that we could blow up any nation that challenged us. And yes, there is still some comfort in knowing that in spite of the threat of terrorism, we could destroy any country we wanted to.  I have no real comprehension of living in a country where being invaded is a very real possibility.  I am privileged to be an American.
  2. I was a Christian, living in a Christian town in a Christian country.  It was a small town, with perhaps one Jewish resident. Better yet, I was a Lutheran, belonging to the largest and most impressive church in town, which also happened to be the most theologically correct church (and yes, I still believe that, but my belief now is based on study, not culture).  We were superior. There was no persecution of any kind for a Lutheran in Minnesota.
  3. I was a male. “Man” was the default.  Adam was a man, Jesus was a man, etc. “Man” was the generic label for humanity.  This was kind of a mixed blessing, as males had more expectations put on them than women.  We had to learn to be providers, we may have to go to war, etc.  However, these decisions were in our power, as men were the leaders. 
  4. I was white.  In my home town, we were all white.  And, being all white, we could be benevolently and safely non-racist. Everywhere I went, it was clear that white was the norm. Jesus was white, Santa Claus was white, the President was white, and nearly everyone on television what white.  It was obvious that whites were the majority, and the norm, and that it was in our power to be gracious and accepting of non-whites.  It was in our power.  

So there I was.  And here I am, a straight white male Christian middle-class employed American, with a great wife and children, living in an idyllic setting in a peaceful, small town in Oregon.  I am privileged, and I enjoy it very much.  From the comfort of my climate-controlled home, I can view the hate and hurt of the rest of the world, and pretend to have empathy.  

But, I know I can’t. I will never understand what it is to grow up being one of the not-privileged.  Not really.  Twice in my life I have been in situations where I’ve faced armed policemen, but I’ve never experienced it as a black, an Hispanic, or a Native American. I’ve never interviewed for a job as a woman. I’ve never been refused service or the right to marry because I’m gay, or been reported as a terrorist because I speak Arabic. 

I know I am privileged; I am the norm. I don’t feel guilty because of it; as Lady Gaga sang, I was born that way. I admit that I am glad that I am privileged, because I know that my life is a little bit (or a lot) easier because of it.  I am addicted to being privileged.  I like it. I can’t change the fact that I’m a straight white American male, but I can admit that it makes me automatically privileged, and acknowledge that it’s wrong.  To make the Declaration of Independence a reality–where all men are truly equal–I have to be willing to sacrifice my privileged status; that’s the way equality works. 

Jul 3 2016

Grace is still the thing

Recently I attended a local church service and heard a sermon on sex that was bad on so many levels–structurally, logically, factually, and theologically.  (The entire experience was redeemed by the worship band having done possibly the best arrangement of “Be Thou My Vision” that I have ever heard.) And, to wrap it all up, the pastor ended with an exhortation to resist sexual sins by “exercising your holiness option.”  

Excuse me?  Then he said it again; I hadn’t mis-heard. “Exercise your holiness option.”  It was like they had a booster switch they could flip to throw them into light speed. 

So now we have another whole slough of errors.  First, I recognized that he was using the bad English definition of “holy” as meaning pure or sinless, rather than the definition of the Greek word, which essentially means “different.” It makes sense for God to say, “Be different as I am different,” rather than “Be sinless as I am sinless.”  But, the latter is the interpretation I usually hear.   

Can we choose to be sinless?  I think the vast majority of theologians would answer “no.”  We can desire to be sinless (I myself desire to be sinless, sometimes),  but if the Bible is to be believed, getting there is beyond our grasp. The two main schools of thought are that 1) we can cooperate with God to become more Godlike; and 2) our wills are bound by our sinful nature and we depend entirely on God’s grace.

Paul, as well as Jesus (read through John),  seem to lean towards the latter.  I completely reject the Calvinist doctrine of total depravity as mischaracterizing both God and humanity.  We are created in God’s image, destined for glory.  “Total depravity” doesn’t fit into that picture.  If you read through the Gospel of John, you may be struck by the fact that Jesus treats sin the same as a physical disease.  Just as our bodies are subject to failure, we are also afflicted by the disease of sin.  Not totally depraved, but afflicted and in need of grace and healing.   

Paul made it clear that sanctification (holiness to some), just as with salvation, is a product of grace. In Galatians 3:3, he asks rhetorically, “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?”  To the church in Corinth, he writes, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18). Sanctification, “holiness,” theosis, or becoming more Christ-like–whichever term you prefer–is a product of grace, of God’s direct work in us. It is not a matter of “exercising the holiness option.”

Grace matters.  It is still a concept which many churches prefer to hold at arm’s length, as a church under grace tends refuses to fit in nice, neat boxes. 

A few years ago, I took what I had found to be the best teaching on grace I had ever encountered and turned it into a book, The Gospel Uncensored. I still believe this to be the best book on grace that I’ve seen.  It’s fairly short, easy to read, and directly to the point, primarily using Paul’s letter to the Galatians as the outline.  People have told me how it’s changed their lives, how it’s their favorite book, and that they periodically re-read it.  It’s that good (you can trust me, my name is on the cover).  

There is no “holiness option.” The only 2 options are self-righteousness, and grace.  I highly recommend grace. 

May 1 2016

The Progressive Problem

“… progress means getting nearer to the place you want to be and if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.” ~C.S. Lewis

I tend to relate to a lot of people who fall under the “progressive” Christian category, probably moreso that most other categories in current use.  I’m definitely not a fundamentalist, and am not a good fit in the contemporary evangelical category either (something which will be the subject of another post).  I’m too conservative to be liberal, and too liberal to be conservative.   And “moderate” is just too lukewarm-ish.   Like I said, I tend to relate the most to people who fall into the progressive category, but unfortunately I don’t belong there either.

The term “progressive” obviously comes from the root “progress,” and I guess that’s my issue.  I simply reject the enlightenment notion of progress.  A wise man once wrote, “There is nothing new under the sun.”  I tend to believe that assessment. While progressives may be moving on from the status quo (which is usually the remnants of the last progressive movement), I don’t believe they are actually “progressing.”  Moving is not necessarily going forward, and not all evolution is a step forward.

Progressing implies improvement, or leveling-up, if you will.  Each generations progressive movement has moved away from the status quo of its day, but it’s debatable whether any such movement has actually moved forward, or if Christianity has actually gotten any better because of it. Luther’s Evangelical movement (which I do identify with) did not claim to be progressing, but the goal was to actually regress (i.e. reform) to the gospel evident in the New Testament that had been lost in years of Western nonsense. As the Lewis quote above indicates, moving backwards can be progress from a certain point of view. But, nothing that Luther taught was new, at least intentionally.  If a movement does, in fact, come up with something new and different, I would argue that it’s not progressive, it’s just possibly heretical.

There are some contemporary progressives which I think may be borderline heretics, having thrown out too many things with the bath water.  Perhaps more importantly, I think there are more than a few non-progressive evangelicals who are possible heretics as well–at the very least, they are terribly mistaken about a number of things.  Conservatives, for the most part, are those who hold on to yesterday’s progressivism. The thing I like the most about those under the current progressive banner is that they are willing to toss out the heresies of the status quo evangelicals, and in the process discover some of the attitudes and truths that were expressed by Jesus and the early church. But as far as becoming “a new kind of Christian,” that simply isn’t happening.

Jesus, and Paul, perhaps, were the only true progressives in that the revelation of Jesus was a new understanding of something old.  The Gospels, especially, are very progressive books, from Jesus’ interpretations of the Old Testament to how he viewed people.  Referring to the Law of Moses as “you have heard it said?” Refusing to judge sinners? Forgive, turn the other cheek? A Samaritan is your neighbor?   Then, of course, there’s Paul, breaking down racial, cultural and sexual barriers even further, and declaring the Law, for all practical purposes, dead.  I suppose, in that sense, anyone who follows this radical gospel of grace and reconciliation is a progressive, in that Christianity is itself the only true progressive movement. Humanity has always been going to hell in a hand basket, and we’re not any better or worse than at any prior age. However the New Covenant is the progression from the old, and sets the only way of true progress: redemption of creation and the full revelation of the Kingdom of Heaven. This is the only way of true progress. Apart from this, mankind has not progressed at all, in spite of science, technology and knowledge.

I really dislike labels, but understand why they are necessary, or at least convenient. “Postmodern” was a very unfortunate term, and “emerging” was even more so. Postmodernism was post-nothing, and you can only be emerging for a moment before you become the past. As hard as people try, we can’t escape the past, or we risk following the flight path of Icarus. “Progressive” is somewhat unfortunate as it is a relative term; the challenge, it seems, is not defining “progressive,” but rather to define what it is you’re progressing from, and what you think you are progressing to.

I can’t claim to be a progressive, because I am not sure that I am in fact progressing. I’ve thought I was many times in my past, and I’ve spent a great deal of time doubling-back to venture out in a new direction, hopefully just a tad bit wiser. But, the only thing I can be really sure of is that I’m probably wrong about a great many things.