Archive for June, 2009

Driscoll slams stay-at-home dads

June 28th, 2009 7 comments

It has been a long time since something has really gotten my blood boiling, but at 1:00 in the morning while I waiting on videos to render I came across this video.

Let me give a disclaimer first.  I have always approached Mark Driscoll with some hesitancy.  Most of the time I don’t disagree with what he is saying, but I do question his delivery.  To put it simply, I tend to put the emphasis different things.

That being said, this commentary on gender roles is completely out of line and personally offensive.  In case you don’t know, I am currently a stay-at-home dad and this was a decision Beth and I did not take lightly, but are completely happy and at peace with the decision.

Okay, enough with the disclaimers — on to the video:

Lets start with delivery before we dive into the deeper points.  I am convinced Mark thinks he is a better pastor if he drives people out of his church.  He seems to take an arrogant pleasure in the fact that some of the stuff he is saying will piss people off and cause them to leave (by the way… this seems to be par for the course.)  I am sure he would say he is sticking to his guns in the face of a fickle society.  Don’t get me wrong, Christians need to be unwavering on some issues and refuse to compromise.  However, even on issues that stand at the core of Christian belief, there is no need to enter the conversation by speaking down to those who hold opposing views.  There is no room for discussion or clarification.  For Driscoll, this is how it is and everyone else can go to hell.  It is one thing if he takes this attitude on things like the divinity of Christ, but he is talking about stay-at-home dads here.  If I remember correctly (and I too have read the whole Bible) there is no definitive passage addressing the evils of stay-at-home dadding, so we are all forced to interpret secondarily what the witness of scripture is.

Continuing with my critique of Driscoll’s tone, I must call him out for on some of the offensive things he said (and implies).  First, I think it is clear that Driscoll thinks all stay-at-home dads are deadbeats.  Forget his theological rational, his argument revolves around an assumption that it is not manly to stay at home.  Furthermore, he basically says that men suck at nurturing.  That may be the case for him, as he clearly admits, but lets not paint with too broad of a brush.  His statements about men not being cut out for the job of staying at home relies on stereotypes, is short-sighted and is offensive to those who do a great job (may I point to my man Lee Fowlkes.)  Furthermore, he builds his case on the assumption that women cannot adequately provide.  These comments are not based on biblical exegesis, but on ignorance.  If he wanted to make statements about the topic from a (conservative) biblical viewpoint he could have said something like “The bible outlines certain roles each gender should follow.  To deviate from those is a sin.”  Saying that would have been more biblically based without conveying arrogance, ignorance or hate.  The bible does not give him the right to judge the effectiveness of males parenting/nurturing skills.

Now, on to his arguments.  Driscoll bases most of his discussion his interpretation of 1 Timothy 5:8

If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

He has taken the phrase “does not provide for his relatives” to mean the “a man should be the breadwinner.”  But be careful here and go back and read the verse.  Is it addressed to men?  No!  The verse says “anyone” who does not provide for his relatives… So a wife not providing is as bad as a husband.  This is bolstered when you realize this whole segment of 1 Timothy is addressing how to care for widows.  Paul addresses gender roles, but he doesn’t do it here.  Even if you take traditional approach to Christian gender roles and insist on the male being the head of the household, you must admit scripture does not say the man must bring home the bacon.

Since Driscoll is a man who values “The Word” lets take a look at the word.  In 1 Timothy the word for provide is pronoeo and has nothing to do with providing physically.  Instead, it implies thinking ahead (pro=before) and planning.  It is used 3 times in the NT and tends to carry an administrative nuance.  So even if this did apply to directly and only to men (which it doesn’t), a first year seminary student could tell you the exegesis doesn’t allow for a reading that points primarily to providing physically. Driscoll says “if you are an able bodied man it is your job to provide for the needs of your family” and then he goes on to talk about work and material provision.  Where is he getting this, because he sure didn’t get it out 1 Timothy. He is clearly reading what he wants to into the text.  Even if we throw the greek (and context) out, we must admit that “providing for a family” is a multi-faceted thing.  A father could provide all the money in the world, but if he is not taking his turn changing diapers, he is worse than an unbeliever (sarcasm intended). If anything, American fathers need to know that God calls them to provide holistically for their families.  The last thing we need is more distant fathers.

“If our father is our basis for God, and our fathers abandoned us, then what does that tell you about God?” – Tyler Durden in Fight Club

Okay… lets look a bit deeper at how he chooses to answer the question.  The question was “What are your thoughts on stay-at-home dads if the mother really wants / needs to work.”  His answer reveals his convictions on gender roles.  Not only does he speak out against men staying home while women work, he makes it clear he believes a woman’s place is at home.

Personally, if a woman wants that, I think its a great option.  BUT… it is not the only option.  Again, even if you go into a discussion of gender roles, we have to understand what scripture says and doesn’t say.  It clearly does not say a woman should stay at home with the kids.    Driscoll bashes the “culturally relevant” argument, but in doing so he neglects the social situation of the day.  Thank God we have come a long way as a society and women now have choices and are not considered property.  Lets not adopt an archaic social structure (i.e. slavery) just because scripture addresses that cultural circumstance.  But again, that is not even relevant because scripture is silent on whether women should stay at home.  But I digress… I want to return to affirm women who choose to stay at home.  I think this is a much better option than paying someone else to raise your children.  Likewise, if women do work, I think that is a perfectly fine model as well — as long as your family is being cared for.

Lets return to Driscoll’s argument and something his wife says: “”It is hard to respect a man who does not provide…we need to take the word seriously.”  While I agree it would be hard to respect a man who does not care for his family, lets not forget “the word” does not use this phrase to address material, but actually care and foresight.  She then quotes Titus and Paul’s words to this young missionary.  Again, if we look at the context, Paul is giving some suggestions on what to teach to a new church.  There is one phrase in chapter 2 that says “women should be busy at home.”  Now… is there enough in those 6 words to base your entire post-marriage career path on?  I think not.  Can a woman (or man) be busy at home and have a job.  Absolutely.  Just ask my wife!

Lets end on a Driscolls closing.  He says there is nothing in scripture that allows for this sort of family structure.  First, I would also point out there is nothing in scripture that clearly lays out the structure he insists on (mother at home, dad bringing home the bacon).  But more importantly, I would disagree with him.  We do have a model of this.  Check out Lydia in Acts 16:

Lydia’s Conversion in Philippi

11From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace, and the next day on to Neapolis. 12From there we traveled to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days.

13On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. 14One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. 15When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.

40After Paul and Silas came out of the prison, they went to Lydia’s house, where they met with the brothers and encouraged them. Then they left.

The text clearly shows a woman working outside the house.  The household is identified by her name rather than her husband’s and she is in a prestigious business.  I will grant a couple points: She was not a christian when described as working, it is possible her husband is dead / she is not married.  However, what I find important here is that the text is neutral and does not paint Lydia’s work outside the home as a bad thing.

Lets get personal for a second.  Beth and made the decision together for me to be a stay-at-home dad.  We realized that we could provide for our family best if she worked and I stayed home.  We are not giving into cultural trends, we are biblically asking how we can best provide and following through.  Let me say this too.  Beth is not working just so she can make the money to sustain the family.  She is working because the job she has allowed for more ministry than anything I could get.  Plus, it freed me up to engage in ministry of my own that I would not be able to do if I was working full time.  Forget killing two birds with one stone, we just took out a flock of geese with a boulder: Beth can minister as a teacher, I can minister during the day, Mikayla is raised primarily by her parents, financially we can give more to charity and the church…. and the list goes on.

Driscoll’s conclusion to the question asked is very direct: unless there are extreme circumstances, it is outside God’s will for a man to be a stay-at-home dad.  He even goes as far as saying such an action would require church discipline.  Once again, I must ask… on what grounds?  It is so frustrating to hear his pastor rail so heavily on the importance of the scripture, yet when you take even cursory glance at his arguments you realize his preconceived views are more heavily at play than the authority of scripture.  We aren’t even discussing interpretation of difficult passages.  Driscoll is ignoring the context and running with a flawed ideal.

This is not just about me getting my feelings hurt.  This man is calling into question the career and family life of a significant number of godly people.  Heaven forbid godly men and women abandon their life just because some pastor misreads (or ignores) the implications of Scripture.  If Beth and I were to act on his advice and take up his model for a godly family, we would be living on less, giving less, Mikayla would have less time with her parents, Beth would leave a job she loves and I would have to take a job I hate, our opportunities for ministry would decrease and our stress would increase.  Is that really the biblical ideal of providing for one’s family.  I think not.

I would leave his church over statements like this (and perhaps that would only stoke his ego) because I think they are dangerous and ignorant.

Beth and I are not ignoring the call of God, we are embodying it.  We are not clinging to culture and rejecting biblical truth, we are clinging to godliness and rejecting naivety and closemindedness.

Thankfully, after writing over 2000 words on the matter my blood pressure has returned to normal and maybe I can get some sleep. 😉

*I found this video while searching for stay-at-home dad blogs.  HT to athomedaddy.

What is your driving question?

June 27th, 2009 No comments

I participate in a book study at Broadway UMC.  Right now we are working through a called Simply Christian by NT Wright (who happens to be one of the scholars I most look up to).

This past week the topic was supposed to be the Character of God and the story of Israel.  It surprised no one when we got a bit off subject and began talking about “souls” and what the main point of Christianity was.  When it comes to the soul I am a monist with reservations and thus don’t believe in a soul as traditionally defined — I reject the dualism of the whole proposition; I find thinking of the body as something separate from the soul leads to an unhealthy anthropology as we either see the flesh (and therefore the world) as bad or inconsequential.

That was a bombshell for some.  However it led to a good discussion on the philosophical development of the idea of the soul.  For the most part, writers in the Old Testament did not conceive of a soul.  Where the word does appear (nephish) it is referring more generally to “the self.”  Furthermore, the concept of an afterlife is virtually non-existent until the post-exilic age.  By the time of the second temple and the ministry of Jesus, the soul and the afterlife were firmly developed in Religious discussion.

So, that leads one to wonder, “What caused this change?”  Well the answer is relatively simply.  In the patriarchal (Abraham-Moses) era through the Monarchy (David, Solomon, and then all those chaps whose names you skim over when reading), the people of God saw all their needs fulfilled in YHWH in their day to day life (granted they did not always act like it).  They had YHWH’s presence with them; they had been given the promised land; and their identity was firmly established. There was no need to ask questions about what happens when you die because they saw fulfillment in their current situation.  For them, the primary question was “What does it look like to be the people of God.”  The answer to that is simple and contained in the promise to Abraham: “You will be blessed so that you can cause the blessing of all nations.”  From there, the laws and customs evolved to help flesh that out.

Things change once exile comes.  After the sins of the divided kingdoms, YHWH turns to the Assyrians and the Babylonians to be his instrument of judgment.  Simply put, Israel was not living up to their calling and the Presence, Land and Identity were stripped of them.  Before YHWH dwelt in their temple, now they were captives and YHWH presence seemed so distant.  They lamented: “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion…  How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land?”  Their daily lives did not exhibit the hope they once had.

Carving depicting Assyrian Exile (you can tell by the pointy hat).

Carving depicting Assyrian Exile (you can tell by the pointy hat).

At this point, hopefully you are connecting the dots.  The concept of a soul and of the afterlife developed because the people of Israel had lost their identity and primary calling.  It no longer made sense to envision God’s will being played out in their day to day lives.  Their hope instead had to lie in the “by-and-by.”

The early Jews were driven by the question: What does it mean in this day to be the people of God?  This included issues of identity, blessing and duty.  For exilic and post-exilic Jews, the question evolved: What will it mean to be the people of God?

It is interesting these questions still dominate today.  To oversimplify, liberals/emergents tend to ask the first question while evangelicals/fundementalists ask the second question.  It is easy to find ourselves in one camp or the other.  One may say, “I am better because I realize the presence of God here and now” and the other may “I am better because I care about things that eternal.”

Of course the correct answer is that both questions are valid and equally important.  We must understand what it means to be the people of God in this world, and live in eager expectation and preparation for the world that is to come.  Without doubt, the ministry of Jesus brought together these questions and he provided the ultimate answer for each in these: He lived the perfect life of reconciliation and restoration, while providing mediation and direction for the life to come.

The real power is actually not found in asking these questions side by side or together.  Rather, I am convinced we should simplify our question back to original roots:  What does it mean to be the people of God.  This question involves Identity, lifestyle (holiness) and hope.  It is rooted in an understanding that we are blessed in order to cause the blessing of all the nations.  Christians must first understand themselves as the people of God and with that identity they can begin to ask “How should the people of God live in this present world” all-the-while experiencing the hope and reassurance of the world that is to come.

There were a thousand tangents I wanted to take with this post (community vs. idividual understanding of Christianity; Hebrew parsing of Abraham’s calling; heaven, hell, sheol, souls and nephish, etc.) but for now I will be content not making my primary question revolve around my present actions or my future destination, but rather about my identity and implications it brings.

Pondering the Question

Pondering the Question

Arguing on the Internet

June 24th, 2009 No comments

Trust me… I have no problem arguing.  Just ask my wife, my parents, or any of my friends.  I am pensive by nature and tend to think through things, so I am usually ready to defend my views.

That being said, I have learned repeatedly the futility of arguing on the internet.  I have been active in a number of forums and debated issues on facebook and blogs.  I find very rarely does it turn out well.  It seems virtual arguments tend to escalate quicker and people tend to assume the worst.  Electronic posts lack the non-verbals necessary to gauge things like sarcasm vs. sincerity or attacks vs. suggestions.  When you don’t have a larger context it is easy to stereotype and pigeon-hole.

I write this because I find myself sticking to my commitment to blog regularly (I have already posted more in the last week than I have on my various blogs over 5 years).  I am sure I will post some controversial things and I am up for discussion and encourage feedback and suggestions. However, I refuse to get into arguments over what I post.  I see blogging as a way for me to express my thoughts (and work through them) and not as an avenue for convincing others to join whatever philosophical camp I happen to be representing.

I hope to have great conversations in the coming months, but please don’t be disappointed if I refuse to respond to some comments.  It is not that I find the points invalid, or don’t appreciate a person’s thoughts.  It is just that I don’t think it is helpful for anyone to argue over the internet.  Too many words have been spilled and no many emotions raised over topics that in the end never amounted to anything.

Garden Update

June 23rd, 2009 No comments

Blistered palms, sweaty brows, dirty clothes and oh so little to show for it… yet!  Beth and I are in the heat of the gardening season.

Kickert's Garden Plot

Kickert's Garden Plot

This is the third year we have gardened together.  The first two years we were part of a community effort to maintain a plot, but this year we charted out a course on our own — in our backyard.  We enjoyed our time sharing the workload with other couples the last two years, but this year it made sense to fly solo.  It is great to be able to work side by side with people you care about to bring about a harvest.  It is amazing to share in the sweat equity of friends and celebrate with uber-local meals.  It is a relief to be able to rely on others when you will be out of town, or extra busy one week.

However, with baby Mikayla on the way (currently here of course), and an uncertainly of how easy it would be to get out into the garden, we decided to put a plot in our backyard.  We tilled a 25′ x 25′ tract in the back corner of our property and then put black plastic over it to kill the remaining grass.  2 weeks later we pulled the plastic and tilled again.  Let me just say… each year we have broken new ground, and this by far the most effective method we have used to start things off — 2 months in, the weeds are a fraction of what they were.

We got lucky with our timing.  We put our transplants in the ground on Saturday and Beth went into labor on Monday, then it rained for 2 straight weeks.  If we had missed that planting opportunity, there is a good chance this post would be titled “25 fun things to do with a 25′ x 25′ mud pit in your backyard.

Here is the summary of what went in:

  • Onions
  • Tomatoes (Roma and Better Boys)
  • Peppers (Green, Jalapenos, Chili and Banana)
  • Broccoli
  • Squash
  • Zucchini
  • Okra
  • Basil
  • Sweet corn
  • Asparagus
Basil and tomatoes

Basil and tomatoes

Broccoli and Onions

Broccoli and Onions

Squash, Zucchini, Peppers and Okra

Squash, Zucchini, Peppers and Okra

Asparagus and Corn

Asparagus and Corn

Our onions came from ACE and were planted as bulbs, and the sweet corn came as seeds.  The rest were transplants that we got at either Warren East green house or the Farmer’s Market (See Beth’s post about the Farmer’s Market) at an amazing price of 4-6 for $1.  Most of the transplants were young, but we actually ran into a problem with them being too hearty — we planted extra expecting some to die, but we only lost 1 or 2 plants.  The corn we planted on a staggered schedule so we could have a wider harvest period (we will have to self-pollinate to make up for the lack of density of mature plants) and the asparagus will have to wait a year to produce.

Green Tomatoes

Green Tomatoes

We also did a bucket experiment with a tomato plant and two squash plants.  The tomato plant is looking good, and the squash plant is healthy, but not hearty.  I will keep you posted on how that works out.

Bucket Tomatoe and Squash

Bucket Tomatoe and Squash

As of this week the harvest has begun.  So far we only have basil, okra and green tomatos, but that makes for a heck of an itallian style fried dish!

Beth and I are not experts by any means, but here are some things we have learned:

  • No person ever needs more than 2 squash/zucchini plants.

    Rain Barrel

    Rain Barrel

  • Human hair keeps the rabbits away from fresh transplants
  • Pulling the “suckers” off tomato plants really does make a difference
  • Speaking of tomatoes, spend the money and invest in quality cages – it is worth it to save the hassle
  • It is much easier to weed 15 minutes a couple times a week than to take a week of and try to catch up
  • A quality tiller (rear tine) is worth its weight in gold and worth borrowing
  • Young pumpkins look like hearty watermelons, but taste like crap.
  • Dish soap and water is an effective deterrent for bugs.
  • Corn takes up a lot of space and can be bought super cheap, BUT it requires minimal maintenance.
  • A simple rain barrel saves money and is easy to make in an hour or two for less than $30.
  • Starbucks gives away free coffee grounds which can be used in your garden (plan on stocking up, it will take quite a few bags to cover a plot the size of ours.  I would think 1 per 100 sq feet of garden).
  • Jalapenos from the garden vary significantly in their “heat” — be warned.
  • Be willing to try new things (eggplant), but don’t plant something you never expect to eat (amaranth).
  • Herbs do better in large planters near your house where you can easily access them.
  • Don’t expect to save money the first year – there can be a significant investment early on (not a few big things, but a large amount of small things: hoses, sprinklers, shovels, rakes, hoes, gloves, seeds, tomato cages, etc.)
  • If you value your time at more than $1/hour, don’t ever expect to save.  We have learned you garden because you love, not because it saves money.  It is relaxing, connects you with creation, gives you an appreciation of your resources, is environmentally friendly and teaches your patience.

And… for those of you dedicated to read the end of the post… the best resource I can point you tou is a publication by UK’s Extension Office called Home Vegable Gardening in Kentucky.  Here you will find all the information you ever need plan, plant and maintain a garden in the bluegrass.

Budding Broccoli

Budding Broccoli

Banana Peppers

Banana Peppers

Categories: Family, Random Tags:

Not Your Daddy’s Diapers

June 21st, 2009 No comments

Seriously?  Your doing what?

That is the typical response Beth and I get when we inform people we are using cloth diapers.  There are varying levels of shock.  Some people think we are absolutely crazy, others are cool with it until we tell them we are not using “a service” but washing them ourselves.  Most people can appreciate the idea but insist it is not worth the effort.  At least half try to wager with us that we will stop using them within a month or so.  Very few are excited about it and open to cloth diapers as a mainstream option.

To the doubters, I must insist: you simply do not understand.

These are not the cloth diapers my generation was raised on (my parents started me on cloth, but abandoned early on).  Many people blindly assume that using cloth diapers involves rubber bloomers and safety pins.  While you can still do it like that, things have come a long way.  Beth and I use a brand called Fuzzi Bunz that are of a style known as pockets.  Basically they look like regular diapers.  They have a water proof shell, a fleece liner and a place where you can insert micro-terry pads.  Fuzzi Bunz use snaps and adjust to wide range of sizes (other pocket styles use velcro).  Putting the diapers on and taking them off is as easy as disposable.

Waterproof Shell in variety of colors

Waterproof Shell in variety of colors

Fleece Liner and Micro Terry Inserts

Fleece Liner and Micro Terry Inserts

What about cleaning them?

That is where admitedly it gets a bit more difficult than disposable.  You don’t just throw them away [TANGENT: this is actually the primary reason we went with cloth diapers, we could not stand the thought of throwing away 8-12 diapers a day for the next 2 years].  We do it this way:  Right after changing Mikayla, we take the daiper to the backroom, rinse the poo off in the toilet and then throw the diaper into a plastic 5 gallon bucket with lid and sprinkle a little baking soda every now and again.  At most it takes an additional minute to do this step.  When we are on the road, we carry a water proof bag with us and just rinse the diapers when we get home.  When we running low (we have 27 diapers now) we take the whole bag to the washing machine, dump it out, run it through a rinse cycle with cold water, and then wash Hot/cold with Purex Free and Clear.  We then pop the inserts in the dryer and let the shells air dry.  After they are dry it takes about 15 minutes to stuff the diapers (which I usualy do while watching TV).  We do about 2 loads a week.

Total additional time commitment: (1 minute extra changing time x 10 / day) + [(10 minutes to wash / dry + 15 minutes to stuff) x 2 / week) = 2 hours / week.

2 hours may seem like a lot, but when you think you spend 2-3 minutes per diaper change anyway, you are already looking at 2.5-3 hours/week on diapers, and if feedings take 20 minutes x 8 times per day you are looking at 18 hours/week with that.  Lets face it, babies take time, and the 2 hours you spend on clothe diapers are not productive minutes you are wasting, but idle minutes.  Compare that to the teenage years where every soccer game requires a two hour commitment of prime evening time!

What about cost?

Cloth diapers can be expensive.  Fuzzi Bunz are around $18 apiece.  BUT… we buy our diapers from a diaper exchange site called Daiper Swappers.  (Be careful… these “mommies” are intense – it takes about a week’s learning curve to understand the forum.)  and get them for between $5-10.  Yes they are used, but they still have plenty of life left in them.  To get us started it took about a $220 investment.  However, when you consider we will be able to sell those back and purchase the next size, we will be able to recoup most of our money.  If you shop around and are patient you can get good deals and then actualy sell them back for a profit.  That is what our friend Michelle does.  So when you consider it, we will basically get our diapers for free.  Compare that to my sister in law who spends $100/month on diapers for her two boys.  Even if you buy new, you are saving money. [NOTE: Fuzzi Bunz come in multiple sizes as well as an adjustable model that allows you to stay in one size for the whole time your baby is in diapers.  According to their website, most babies only use two sizes: S and M.  There are 4+ size options on each diaper and Mikayla is still on the smallest setting]

Mikayla in a fresh Fuzzi Bunz

Mikayla in a fresh Fuzzi Bunz

I am not saying cloth diapers are for everyone, but after doing our research and going through the process for 2 months, we are totally satisfied.  With Beth breastfeeding and us using cloth diapers, our monthly costs for Mikayla are close to zero.  To end, here are some pointers we have learned so far to:

  • Get a dry pail for home use. We picked up a 5 gallon bucket and lid for less than 5 dollars at Lowes.
  • Have at least two wet bags for traveling (3-4 would be better).
  • Since we bought used, our micro terry inserts have a variety of thicknesses.  We put the thicker ones in the colored diapers and the thinner ones in the white diapers.  That way it is easy to tell which have great absorbency when using them overnight, or for a long car ride. [Update: We ended buying more “doubler” inserts — basically thin inserts that can be added when you need extra absorbency — and making all of our diaper thicker”]
  • Take the time to understand the various styles.  Fuzzi Bunz are not the only type, but after comparing different brands, it was obvious this was the right match for us. (others are cheaper, but require more work; others use velcro which is easier to use, but can wear out faster).
  • Be prepared to change diapers a bit more frequently because there are no chemicals to instantly dry the liquid.
  • While you could make it with 10-12 diapers, it is well worth the extra money to get 20-30.  Not only do you only have to do wash every 3 days or so, but it saves water because you can do larger loads.
  • We still use disposables on occasion.  We have been using them at night simply because we were given so many at showers.  It is also nice to have them when traveling, but using a wet bag is not difficult or messy at all.
  • We haven’t had to do this yet, but the word on the street is that you can get rid of pesky stains by letting the diapers sit out in the sun.
  • Finally, don’t knock ’em until you have tried ’em.

Gun Control, The Constitution, and Interpretive Communities

June 19th, 2009 No comments

*This is a repost of a prior facebook note.

I have been having a conversation with a few guys about gun control laws in the US. This has moved into a discussion of the proper reading of the Constitution. Because my current studies involve understanding the role of Interpretive Communities in finding the meaning of authoritative documents, that has come into the conversation as well. Below are some excerpts:

I think a discussion of gun control must include a discussion of the constitution. Let me be clear from the start – I believe the constitution is THE authoritative document concerning the rule and government of the United States. If something is truly unconstitutional, it should be squashed. I will resoundingly agree with those who say that “this document defines the USA”

Now comes the rub. Despite our agreement on the constitution’s authority, we all read the document differently. In fact, there isn’t a single correct way to read the constitution by which all other readings and readers must be held accountable. A perfect example of this is our Supreme Court, which has the authority (and I will quickly admit the constitutional source of this can certainly be debated) to interpret the Constitution in judicial cases. In the most important constitutional cases, the justices are often split. What does this teach us? Even the final authorities on constitution interpret it differently.

Let me a share a bit about myself. I am a pastor and have recently completed an MA in Biblical Studies. These discussions concerning the meaning and authority of documents are very near and dear to me. I spend most of my days working with documents many find to be authoritative, yet find different interpretations. Recently, I have begun a study on how Interpretive Communities affected the formation of scripture and consequently how that affects our reading of it. I am relying heavily on a literary theorist named Stanley Fish. It is at this point that our conversation must move from the political to the philosophical (namely the post-modern). Fish argues “meaning” and “truth” can only be grasped by the reader. He certainly affirms the importance of “authorial intent” but claims we will never be able to fully grasp that because we will always read a text through our own experience. Now critics often attack Fish for being too subjective – they say he is throwing out absolute truth by saying truth means different things based on the reader. He argues that a text cannot “mean anything” but instead must be found within certain parameters. Sometimes those parameters are tight, other times loose. In fact, he is quick to affirm those parameters change over time. For Fish (and for me as well), the source of those parameters, and thus the source of the constraints on possible meanings, are “Interpretive Communities.” Basically he argues we are a part of a shared community with shared experiences and worldviews. Being a part of those communities affects how we can read documents and find meaning. In fact, it is impossible to understand a text apart from our current context, our experiences and the Interpretive Communities to which we belong.

Here is a cheesy example. If I was in Kindergarten and we were reading a book that said, “we dropped the little boy on an island” because of the context and community I was a part of, the meaning would certainly be that a child was placed on some land surrounded by water. However, after I became a part of a community that understands WWII and the context of the nuclear age, I know the meaning of that could now be related to the dropping of an atomic bomb. Before my context / community changed, I could not possibly understand the other meaning – even if it was clearly talking about Hiroshima.

In discussion of the constitution, we see this happen when one court upholds one reading of the constitution, but later courts reject that view. What has happened? The interpretive community has changed.

I say that that, to say this. While I support the authority of the constitution, I do not necessarily agree with others reading of it. The second amendment reads:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Grammatically (forget interpretively) this is a difficult sentence to understand. First, we could read this as one subject or as two. We can read this as a protection for both militias and the right to bear arms, or we can read it as simply a long sentence about protecting the militia wherein the right to bear arms is a part. Based on the syntax, this later definition makes more sense. After all, the second clause (being necessary…) clearly modifies the first. It would be fair to assume the third clause concerning the right of the people to keep and bear arms is simply describing the nature of a well regulated militia as well.

However, lets take the most popular reading and assume these are two rights being addressed together. Now we must ask what does it mean to have the right to bear arms? It does not say, “right to bear any arms,” it simply grants the right. So then if you own a .22 pistol, you are bearing an arm. As long as we allow some arms to be owned and do not flatly outlaw all arms, then one could argue the right is still being supplied. (By the way, I am not making this argument, just listing it). Now even if we reject this last argument and contend this amendment is protecting all arms, we must deal with the issue of infringement. It would be great to take a literalist argument and say NO LAW shall infringe in ANY WAY. But lets face it, that is not practical. To argue this takes us to absurd places. We find ourselves arguing for private citizens owning nuclear weapons and toddlers being able to carry concealed weapons.

AssaultRiflesThe fact of the matter is even a vast majority of gun owners support some limitations on types and contexts of arm bearing. Even those that argue the purpose of the second amendment was to ensure the people could be as well armed as the military do not want private ownership of nuclear weapons. If you make this absolute literalist argument and demand absolutely no infringement you must then argue it is perfectly acceptable for US citizen to be given a nuclear weapon by Iran. Lets try to stay away from the absurd. We must acknowledge a line must be drawn somewhere – our real question is where. Do we allow howitzers but outlaw a-bombs? Do we allow rocket launchers but outlaw howitzers? Do we outlaw rocket launchers but allow fully automatic machine guns? Do we outlaw fully automatic machine guns, but allow semi-automatic rifles? The list goes on. It is not a question of whether or not we limit the right to bear arms, but a question of where. Historically the authoritative readings of the constitution have allowed this line to be drawn and it requires a dance between the judicial branch and the legislative branch to find that spot.

My friend made the following point concerning the intent of the second ammendment:

The second amendment allows citizens to have whatever armament the military has.

I think this is a great point, but unfortunately it is not backed by the constitution. Even if we could prove this was the intent of the framers (which is impossible to do) that does not make it the correct reading. You see, our constitution does not instruct us on how to read it. It does not state that the most correct reading is one that aligns itself with how the founding fathers viewed the world. I find most “constitutionalists” are not only arguing for the authority of the document, but also for a particular reading – in this case one that attempts to mimic the founding fathers. I don’t think this is a wrong reading, but there is no evidence this is the only correct reading. A person can be faithful to the letter of the law, without having to adopt the worldview of 18th century politicians. If our constitution included a section on how we are to interpret the document, then I would certainly honor that. However, this is an area that the constitution is silent on. One could assume the founders recognized that each generation would have to interpret it for that generation.

I want to be clear… I don’t think a reading that attempts to mimic the views of the founding fathers is wrong. However, I also don’t think that a person who reads the constitution faithfully through their own worldview and is following it the letter of the written law, is treading on our founding document (as people like Sean Hannity might argue). I firmly believe you can be faithful to the constitution without having to read it through the framework of the original authors. After all, any attempt to completely formulate authorial intent is subjective and incomplete at best.

To be honest with you, I have not formulated my own views on gun control and the second amendment. I am still trying to work through a proper approach to the issue. In discussions like these I think it is always best to find some common ground so we can avoid the extremes and discuss the implications of the particulars. For gun control discussion I think that means admitting there are legitimate reasons to own a wide variety of weapons (even those currently banned), most gun owners are responsible law-abiding citizens, criminals will still break the law, and that in all practicality, there must be some laws limiting the right to bear arms – even if we are only talking about nuclear weapons and toddlers with uzis.

Once those parameters are set, we can have a helpful conversation about where that line should be drawn without risking it descending into the absurd. We may not agree, but hopefully we can learn and genuinely discuss the positive and negative consequences of each law. I want to hear how a law is going to affect law abiding citizens as much as I want to hear the potential benefits. In order for that to happen, we have to be civil otherwise we simply pigeonhole each other and their arguments.



June 19th, 2009 No comments

For the past 6 months I have been the “guest speaker” at a rural church in Logan County.  Stephenson Chapel has been good to us and Beth and I have enjoyed our time there.  Even though there are some cultural differences (most of the church works on the farms and 80% of the families are related to each other and have been there for decades), they have granted me an amazing amount of flexibility.  I have benefited from being able to take some of the thoughts floating in my head from Seminary and give them flesh and coherence.  At first I just modified some sermons I had previously preached, but as time went on I began developing my own sermons series from scratch.  Knowing you only have a limited time, it is challenging to decide what is the most important things to focus on.

My first series was a merger of Rob Bell’s New Exodus material and Sandra Richter’s approach to understanding the Old Testament. This series focused on the major flow Israel and God’s constant desire to use his people to bring about a reconciled world.  From there, we transitioned into Lent where we looked at how Jesus fulfilled and continued this trajectory of redemption.  We ended by looking at what Jesus focused on when addressing believers and looked at wealth, possessions, worry, hate, etc.  Through all this my intention was to paint a picture from Genesis to Revelation of how God expects his people to join him bringing about a restored earth.  I always had in mind the picture from Revelation 21-22:

1Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

1Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. 3No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. 4They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.

When I first began to work through my faith, I never understood Christianity in any other way than a personal relationship with God that resulted in eternal life when I died.  The more I have worked through the Christian Narrative, the more I have realized following Jesus is just the entryway into a life of reconciliation that places Christians as the primary agents of restoration.  It was my goal in laying out the sermons at Stephenson Chapel so that this fuller understanding of Christianity was taught.  I don’t know if I succeeded or not, but it was helpful for me in my own faith to work through it.

Well last Sunday was my final day at Stephenson, and part of the motivation to write this post was my own reflection on the message I left them with.  Even as Beth and I were driving back to BG, I was thinking through these ideas.  It was during that drive that John Lennon’s song “Imagine came on.  I have included the video and lyrics below:

Imagine there’s no Heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace

You may say that I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world

You may say that I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one

At first blush it seems this song has nothing to do with Christianity (and I am sure Lennon would have agreed with that).  It talks about a world where there is no religion and heaven and hell are absent.  In fact, Lennon himself called Imagine “an anti-religious, anti-nationalistic, anti-conventional, anti-capitalistic song.”  So what in the world does this song have to do with picking sermons to preach?

Well, I am convinced the world Lennon imagined is not far off from the world God is seeking to bring about through redemption.  The picture Revelation 21-22 paints is of a perfected earth where unity and peace are experianced.  The biblical witness highlights a life where greed is no more and where possessions are unimportant.  The unity of all nations is part of the expected telos that is to come.  As for heaven and hell, the golden streets and pearly gates are not way off in the by and by, but here on this earth.

In the end, the world Lennon imagined is not too far off from the world God imagined and is working to bring to fruition.  Of course there are myriad tangents this discussion can go, and plenty of proof-texting from both sides of the aisle.  But for now, I am content being a dreamer, and stand with confidence that a world where we will live as one is coming.

Ninja Obama

June 18th, 2009 No comments

He may not be the messiah, but he does have some mad crazy reflexes

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Mainstream Media

June 13th, 2009 No comments

ABSTRACT: Conservative pundits (especially those on talk radio) bash the mainstream media; but what is the alternative they offer? Should we get our news from them with their unapologetic partisanism?

Many of you know that I generally split my radio listening between Conservative Talk Radio and NPR when I am driving. Occasionally I get so disgusted I would rather sit in silence than listen to a bunch of arrogant talking heads.

Well anyway, I have been thinking quite a bit about a term often thrown around by the conservative pundits: The Mainstream Media. If you listen to Hannity, Ingram, or especially Limbaugh, you will notice they speak of “The Mainstream Media” (MSM for short) with the same level of contempt as they do when speaking of terrorists, criminals or illegal immigrants. While they never say it, it can be assumed the MSM refers to traditional news sources other than Fox News. The big 3, CNN, and of course the New York Times and Washington Post.

Now, I have a bit of experience in this discussion. My capstone project for my Mass Comm undergrad degree was on bias in the media and the quest for objectivity. I am willing to admit (for the sake of discussion) that in general, the media leans slightly to the left. However, I will qualify that by saying the reason it does so has more to do with the type of people drawn to media rather than conscious effort (just like most economists are conservative). I would also remind people that the idea of objectivity in the news is a relatively new concept. In fact, it only became mainstream (no pun intended) in the last 75 years with the invention of the television – when only a few diverse people had access to your broadcast you wanted to make sure you did not alienate them. In fact, our country was not founded on the notion of an objective press, but quite the opposite. The press protected by our constitution is a partisan press. When the Bill of Rights was signed, nearly ever media outlet (newspapers of course) served as the mouthpiece of a political party…

But anyway, I digress…

I want to comment on the disdain expressed by conservative pundits towards the MSM. So here is my question: What option are you offering that is better?? Rather than watching CNN or MSNBC are people actually advocating that we should get all of our news from conservative talk radio? Is Rush a better news source than Anderson Cooper or Larry King? Sure there might be some liberal bias in the news stories covered by Brian Williams on the Nightly News, but should we instead turn to people who serve as resounding mouthpieces for their political ideologies? Is Hannity offering a more objective analysis of the president than Bill Russert? Should we get our news from people who have obviously sold out — and by sold out, I am refering to every pundit’s willingness to endorse x product right along side y ideology. Laura Ingram talks about “Go to my PC” with the same enthusiasm as she does about fiscal conservatism and Rush endorses “Cryptonite” as adamantly as he does stricter standards for immigrants. If they are willing to say those things just for the money, why not assume they are willing to spout their political ideology for similar reasons. I don’t blame those guys (and girls), you have to make money some how… but back to my question. If in your ideological ranting you bash the MSM, what is the alternative??

Now I think Nancy Grace is way out there and Olberman has his issues and is obviously speaking from a specific political standpoint. You have just as much right to reject the ramblings of liberal ideologues as I do to reject the rhetoric of conservative talk radio – both extremes are obviously bias. But what does that leave? By my count, it seems to be the “Mainstream Media.”

I am not saying we have a perfect system, but I really do wonder what sources those that bemoan the MSM think we should follow? Can anyone help me out with this?

Variety is the spice of life

June 11th, 2009 No comments

First, the mandatory confession: I suck at blogging.  There, I said, it now I can continue with my post without having to promise I will do better this time.  Lets face it, chances are this will be my only blog post for six months.  Now on to the good stuff.

The last 2 months have by far been the most transitional of my life.  Mikayla was born, I graduated from seminary, the distillery I work at had its grand opening, Kaleidoscope is undergoing a major transition… the list goes on.  In reflecting on these months I have grown to appreciate the tension of my life (some would call it chaos).  I love having my hands in a bunch of different pots (although I will admit I am not the best multi-tasker).

Right now, my primary job is that of stay-at-home dad.  This is the first week Mikayla and I have been home together alone on a regular basis.  I gotta say I love it.  She is sleeping right next to me on the bed as I type this.  I had someone urge me yesterday to apply for a full time job with great benefits and an excellent salary.  I turned it down.  I would not trade these hours with my daughter for any amount of money.

My primary source of income now comes from Corsair Distillery.  We make top shelf craft spirits.  Right now we are selling a gin, absinthe, spiced rum and vanilla bean vodka.  We are also working on several varieties of whiskey.  I love it because my job is different everyday: run the still, do tours and tastings, clean up, manage press releases, work with distributors, label, bottle, package….  I also enjoy the mix between science and craft.  We basically use science to create a craft product.  I guess you could say my artistic medium of choice is ethanol.

Speaking of Art, that brings me to my next job: Kaleidoscope.  Things really have changed since I came on in 2007.  Instead of a 250K budget, we now have about 5K in our account and no regular source of income.  I used to work more with community development, now I work with development.  Basically I am a (near) volunteer grant writer.  Right now we have well over a million dollars in outstanding grants.  It is crazy just waiting around to hear back on these.  We could live the next 3 years in feast or famine.

Finally, I work as UMC local pastor.  While my appointment is currently to Broadway UMC in Bowling Green, I have spent the last 6 months in Russelville at a small rural church.  They have been awesome to us and it has been great to have a chance to shape my seminary education into messages relevant to the church.  I am sure some of them are sick hearing about the Old Testament and importance of understanding the trajectory of redemptive history, but I am confident our time together has resulted in a better understanding of how we fit into the bigger picture.

Each of these four areas are so diverse, yet capture a small part of who I am.  I am a husband/father/distiller/grant writter/community developer/pastor who doesn’t seek to reconcile his existence, but instead find comfort in the tension.