Posts Tagged ‘Christian Culture’

Did you hear the broadcast from Egypt on Sunday that told of Coptic Christians conducting mass in Tahrir Square?  What caught my attention was the report that Muslims surrounded the Christians in order to protect them while they worshipped. (Reuters, February 6 2011).

This action follows many reports of Egyptian Christians protecting Muslim men in the same square as they prayed last Friday. Coptic Christians make up approximately ten percent of the population of Egypt, perhaps the largest Christian community in the Arab world. (For background information, you might want to read this article from Foreign Policy.)

Have you heard about the big controversy among some Christians over whether Christian churches should rent church space to Muslims to conduct their prayer services. What do you think your church would do?

Recently, Christianity Today has featured several articles that raised questions about the relationship between Islam and Christianity as well as between Muslims and Christians.

Why We Opened Our Church to Muslims | A response to “Muslims in Evangelical Churches.” (January 27, 2011)

Muslims in Evangelical Churches | Does loving your neighbor mean opening your doors to false worship? (January 3, 2011)

From Informant to Informer | The “son of Hamas” senses God in his life before coming to Christ. (June 8, 2010)

Dispute in Dearborn | Small ministry creates big waves at Arab festival. (August 18, 2010)

Out of Context | Debate over ‘Camel method’ probes limits of Muslim-focused evangelism. (March 31, 2010)

How Muslims See Christianity | Many Muslims don’t understand Christianity—especially the idea of salvation by grace through faith. (March 1, 2000)

The above list appears in a lengthy article discussing the use of the phrase “Son of God” in Bible translations used in Muslim countries. It is an excellent discussion of the difficulties inherent in cross-cultural evangelism (Christianity Today, February 4, 2011).


If you are having trouble even reading the word Muslim without thinking terrorist, then I think you are a pretty normal American Christian.  Unfortunately, I think the dominate word in that last phrase is American, not Christian. But it is very difficult for many of us to separate the flag from the cross, isn’t it!

I am encouraged that in the middle of the political tumult, Christians in Egypt have acted like Christians to those who sometimes even persecute them.  I’m equally thrilled to see Muslims responding favorably to the Christians.

It begins to sound like the early chapters of Acts, you know those verses that describe the good that the first followers of Jesus did among the people who had killed Jesus (2:47) and the “good favor” that ensued from the entire community.

We and LST have been involved in faith-sharing work with Muslims for many years now. Our first experiences were in western Europe–which is struggling with a mushrooming Muslim population. Then later we began work in places that were secular politically though Muslim culturally, both in Asia and Africa.   I have no personal experience in the fundamentalist Arab Muslim countries, but I do know people who have worked there.

So I have many more questions than I have answers, but I am more and more convicted that not only is vilification of Muslim people wrong, but that either intentionally or indifferently ignoring them is equally ungodly.

I am convicted—as you are, I believe—that God so loved the Muslim world as well as the Christian world that He sent His only Son to die for the whole world!  Isn’t that what you believe too?

So how does that change anything for you today?


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Clint Loveness, a friend and Let’s Start Talking participant has created a great story video that speaks about young people, video games, and missions. You probably want to share this with your teens and grandteens!  It’s just over four minutes, so click below and enjoy it.


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My task this weekend is to re-write what we have long called the Let’s Start Talking Guidelines. They are a list of non-negotiable behavior expectations that have grown up over the thirty years of our history.

For instance, we do not wish our workers to get involved with anyone romantically while on their mission project, so we have a No Romance policy.  I hope this seems reasonable enough to you, but because we work with many college students and because being away from home creates an exotic ambience even for adults, this is one problem area that seems to surface every year!

There are only sixteen such guidelines in their current form, so it is not cumbersome,  but over the years we have continued to revise them to the point that sometimes the primary expectation is no longer obvious.  For instance, our No Romance guideline now reads:

“Dating team members is a major distraction to the commitment you have made with LST. Spend that love, time, and attention on those who need it in order to find Jesus. Romantic relationships with Readers will block their ability to find Jesus. Involvement with church members will create undesired problems. From our years of experience, this area is one of the most sensitive. Keep your focus on spending all of your energy sharing Jesus.

See how mushy this is!  So let me tell you what my biggest problem is in this assignment. Maybe you can help!

I cannot find the right word!   Which word or phrase will describe this important document in a way that is neither offensive nor condescending to both our college and church workers? Which word might perhaps even motivate or inspire them to full ownership?  HELP!!!

Rules of Behavior is too authoritarian, but Guidelines sounds like The Ten Suggestions, which has no teeth.  Standards does not ask for commitment, but Commitments is a pretty strong word that makes people run for cover!  A Code sounds military (just think about A Few Good Men), Pledges makes me reach for my wallet, and Promises evokes strains of The Wedding March! Where is Shakespeare when you need him??

As we talked about this in our office common room today, it was interesting to notice which personalities went for which words!

Wait a minute! Therein lies a clue! Outside of gross criminal actions, we live in a society where no one really wants anyone to infringe on their own right to make their own decisions about their own behavior!!  Everybody wants to choose their own word!

How can we live in such a community? How can we live and work together?  How can two walk together unless they agree—on how to describe the mutual expectations to which they are willing submit?  I begin to think my semantic problem is a symptom of a spiritual problem!

After I finish my assignment, I’ll tell you some of the stories behind our guidelines, so you can consider them for your short-term mission project.

What word or phrase would you suggest I use?

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A ten-hour plane ride is ten-hour block of time—a rare opportunity!  Many people sleep it away, but from London to Dallas, you fly during the European and US daylight hours, so sleeping just doesn’t make any sense to me.  Sometimes I read, but I almost always check out the movie offerings. For me, those ten hours are an opportunity to watch movies that I probably would never pay money to see.

 I’m not necessarily looking for entertainment. As most of you know, I taught film and used popular culture extensively in my classes as a professor at Oklahoma Christian. I’ve always been interested in what popular culture tells us about the world around us.  So here is what I watched on Thursday as I was flying back home from London—with just a few review-like or random thoughts about each piece.

 Glee: The Pilot and one early episode – I had seen all kinds of headlines about this TV show since it appeared on TV screens in 2009, but I had never watched it. Glee is about a high school glee club, its members, and the faculty and students of a mid-western high school.  Much is absolutely predictable: the jocks vs. everyone, the beauties vs. the nerds, you know the groupings from your own high school days—so how could it be any other way! The show is meant to be optimistic and fun while dealing with problems of relationships, of emerging identities, and a pretty sizable dose of teen sexuality.  That sounds like high school to me also.  Here are my questions about its portrayal of high school in 2010:  are today’s highschoolers really that open and casual about sex, and are the teachers in the high schools so much like the adolescents?  It’s not a show for young children, maybe not for your teens if you like them sheltered from all of the possibilities out there, but it might be educational to you parents if you are of the protected variety yourselves.

 Vampire Diaries: Pilot  The massive interest in vampire stories is pretty interesting to me. Vampire stories have always included lots of suspense, sexual tension, questions about immortality, and, of course, the choice of life or death.  Perhaps the “hooking up” generation needs something edgy to make relationship stories interesting to them.  I did not see anything in the pilot that was the slightest bit different from the Twilight Series movies—just a TV version of the same. Maybe it has grown from the beginning, but I’m probably not going to find out—unless next year they have the second season on the airplane menu.

 Winter’s Bone (2010) This was a very raw portrayal of rural life of the poorest in almost anywhere in the deep South. The language, the morals, the requirements for staying alive –well there is very little that is civilized portrayed in this film. It has the feel, sometimes even the music, of Deliverance. Jennifer Lawrence plays Ree Dolly, a seventeen-year-old girl, trying to protect, and deliver her crazy mother and two younger siblings from losing their home because their father is running from the law for cooking meth.  The portrayal of the backwoods mafia families and codes of conduct is frightening. Ree’s determination and courage are the only redemptive values portrayed.  Not an easy film to watch, but not a bad film.

 Getting Low (2009)  I saw the trailer to this film at the theater years ago, but the trailer made it look like a goofy movie about an eccentric hermit who wants to throw his own funeral party.  The previews did this film no service; it was much better than the trailers portrayed.  Robert Duval just never stops being a great actor! And he has a special affinity for roles that are mildly moral, religious, even Christian—just think about Tender Mercies (1983) and The Apostle(1997). The story is really about a man who has jailed himself away in a cabin for forty years for a sin he committed in his youth. Now, in old age, he wants to confess his sin and be forgiven.  Sissy Spacek, Bill Murray, and Lucas Black all do outstanding jobs as well in this fine little film.

Book of Eli (2010) Much has been written about this film, so I will be brief. Denzel Washington is and has always been one of the best. Most of this film is rather bleak and often violent, but the moments when Eli has his emotions called out are just as good as the unforgettable moments in Glory when the new, young actor Washington, steals the movie.  And The Bible gets good press in this movie; even the villain knows the power of the Words, and like all Satans, wants to use them for his own power and glory.  There is no doubt about the outcome.

 Airplane movies are usually cleaned up, so I have no idea what the theater version might contain that I did not see.  That’s my disclaimer in case you rent any of these and are shocked that I would watch it. I do, however, believe there is a difference in watching to learn and watching to be entertained—but that’s a topic for later.

 Happy Thanksgiving Weekend to you!

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The city of Rothenburg ob der Taube was first settled in 960 A.D.  OK, stop and think about that for a moment. That is 532 years before Columbus discovered America.  I hardly know how to relate to dates like that.  But here is the date that really caused me to pause and think:  the first Christian church was built in Rothenburg in 968. 

Now I know that the 10th century is 900 years after Paul started churches in Turkey, Greece, and other places, but what that means is that people in this valley next to the Taube River have had some exposure to the name of Jesus and the story of Jesus for over one thousand years.

One thousand years is time enough for many things to happen, for instance:

  • the simple story of Jesus can morph into a complicated, unknowable story, one that only seminary-educated people are supposed to or expected to know.
  • the community of Christ can evolve into a state-organized community listed primarily on rolls for tax collection purposes.
  • the faith of those that would leave the civilized world to build a church in the middle of paganism can evolve into a kind of Christian paganism–a phrase that to me means simple disbelief of the real story but a disbelief described  in words that were formerly Christian words.
  • the buildings constructed on the backs of and at the expense of several generations of peasants, a sacrifice made because of very simple faith but devout faith, these buildings are now museums, some museums of culture and others museums of faith–not much difference really.
  • the values preached and practiced by those earliest Christians have had time to simply be absorbed into the culture–no longer recognized as Christian values, just good values.

All of these thoughts, rather than being reason for discouragement, can also be taken as a challenge for the Christian warrior–not an image we really use very much any more.  At the Euro-American Retreat in Rothenburg, there are about 135 people from twenty different countries, many of whom qualify as Christian warriors though.

There are American missionaries from Albania, from France, from Belgium, from Austria. There are national evangelists from Romania,  from Ukraine, from Italy, from Germany. Then there are the foot soldiers, not missionaries or preachers, but Christians who live in the middle of pagan, of secular, of formerly Christian and formerly Communistic societies, who are here to be encouraged and strengthened, so that they can go back and fight some more!

That’s one of the reasons we love being on mission fields with people who live in mission fields. They know they are in a battle, they know that they are fighting against immense odds. Nothing would suggest that they will win the battle–nothing except their absolute faith in the Victory of Jesus. 

Thanks to Phil Jackson from Missions Resource Network for keeping this retreat alive. It began as an American military retreat when Europe was full of American soldiers. Phil has developed a quality program for all Christians and a growing number now recognize the benefit of spending these 4-5 days together.  Let me recommend it to you!

Tomorrow, Sherrylee, Cassie, and I leave for home via an overnight in London. We are going to take Cassie to the Tower of London and to Phantom of the Opera.  She may remember London more in the future, but I believe she will be shaped more by the conversations with Bill Wilson, with the van Erps, with the Brazles–both couples–and with the workers in Hildesheim. I’m so glad she is with us in Rothenburg; I want her to be a true believer in the Victory for the rest of her life!!

Thanks for going with us on this journey.  We will talk again next week after we recover from Thanksgiving.

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Twice in the last few days, I’ve heard star athletes described as humble. The Dallas Cowboys just signed Miles Austin to a six-year multi-million dollar contract, and when asked what made Austin—who has really only had a partial break-out year—special, the notorious Jerry Jones, owner and general manager of the Cowboys (and head coach), used the word humble over and over again.

Then this morning, I heard Coach K (Mike Krzyzewski ) talking about Kevin Durant, a third-year NBA player, and he used these very words: “he is pure; he’s humble.” Kevin Durant has just led the USA men’s basketball team to its first world championship since 1994 and was voted MVP for the tournament.

Is humble a trait that superstars  are supposed to have? Is humble something you can learn in the minor leagues or in college?  Is humble found in the gym or on the practice field?  What makes humble important enough for it to be an important description for outstanding athletes—or outstanding people, for that matter.

One of the strangest verses in the Old Testament raises for me the same question. In the context of a fairly mundane case of jealousy between Moses and his siblings Miriam and Aaron, the biblical writer makes a parenthetical statement: “Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth. (Numbers 12:3).  There it is again!

Don’t forget who Moses was and what he had done! He was raised as a prince of Egypt. As a young man, he killed an Egyptian overseer in defending his people. Later he drove off a whole group of bully shepherds from the well in Midian. Forty years later, he returns to Egypt, challenges Pharaoh over and over again to his face, then leads hundreds of thousands or more people out of Egypt.

In the face of certain destruction, he walks them through the Red Sea. Then days later, he explodes in fury at their whiny rebelliousness in the wilderness as well as their flagrant relapse into idolatry at Sinai. These same former slaves Moses leads into armed conflict.  This is no humble guy! This is Rambo!

In our culture that values and promotes assertiveness, self-sufficiency, self-confidence, self-esteem, self-promotion—SELF–what do we do with these New Testament exhortations to humbleness?

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. (Ephesians 5:2)

Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. (1 Peter 3:8)

And especially listen to the words from Jesus:

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (Matthew 11:29)

Here are just a few concrete suggestions for teaching ourselves and our children to be humble:

  • Learn to respect every person—every person—as equally important to God as you are! We do lip service to this, but, in fact, what about the people we disparage: foreigners, alternate lifestylers, athletes, nerds, tea party people, liberals!!, et al. When we disrespect someone, we are putting ourselves above them. God does not love you more than he does that person you disrespect—no matter who you are!
  • Learn to see yourself as the result of God’s work, not your own! Are you wealthy, are you smart, are you talented, are you kind, are you generous, are you a great athlete, are you spiritual?  Why?  If we answer with reasons that describe our work, then we are mistaken and showing our own conceit.  It is God’s work in you that makes you everything that you might be tempted to think sets you apart from others.
  • Learn to be about others, not yourself. Learn to praise others, serve others, allow others to go first, even to get the credit for what you did. I suspect this is why Moses needed to stay in Midian and herd sheep for forty years before he was ready to lead Israel. The prince of Egypt needed to learn to lead sheep, to serve sheep—without any glory—before he could be a true leader –a great leader–of people.
  • Learn that you not only can be, but SHOULD be great at what you attempt to do! Moses was a great leader and continues to be honored by all Israel today. Humility is not antithetical to excellence!

If we start with our kids and grandkids in T-ball or pee wee soccer, making humbleness a virtue to be learned and practiced, if we the parents and grandparents will continue to humble ourselves under God’s mighty hand (I Peter 5:6), all the while striving for greatness—to God’s glory—then the promise of Scripture is that we will have all the glory we can stand—and much more than we deserve!

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No, not the president—not either one of them—nor their good wives! I’m talking about Reggie Bush, who won the Heisman Trophy in 2005, the award given to the best player in college football.  For those who don’t follow college football, don’t worry. I want to talk about cheating, not football.

In June of this year, the NCAA (which regulates large college sports) found the University of Southern California—where Reggie Bush played football—guilty of major violations, so guilty that they banned their football team from participating in any bowl games for two years, put them on probation for four years, and stripped them of thirty scholarships—AND, USC had to forfeit all of their games for 2004, which was their national championship year.

The reason for these very severe penalties was that the institution knowingly allowed Reggie Bush to receive “improper benefits” from USC supporters, but continued to report him eligible to play.  Interestingly, both the NCAA and USC—and Bush–everyone agrees that Reggie Bush took money from supporters, which is a violation of his amateur status and would make him immediately ineligible.  Now the Heisman Trophy Trust appears to be on the verge of stripping Bush of his Heisman trophy—which he won in a year when he was playing illegally.  That makes sense, doesn’t it?

It’s the outcry about how wrong this action against Bush is that is so disturbing to me. The main arguments seem to sound like this:

  • He was a college kid playing college football, so what’s wrong with that? (Just pretend there is no rule—and there won’t be !)
  • “Improper benefits” are everywhere! He just got caught because he is so good!(Everybody is doing it! OR, they are just after him!)
  • Bad rule. We should make all college players professionals, then you don’t have to worry about it. (Take away the parking meter and you have no more parking violations! True, but do you then have parking problems—or city financial problems?)

Here’s what I think I hear in all of these responses though: cheating is just really not so bad.

When I was teaching college English at a Christian university where over 80% of the students were from Christian homes, integrity questions appeared every semester—with multiple students. I’m talking about

  • Students who purchased term papers and submitted them as their own.
  • Students who paid or cajoled other students to write their papers for them.
  • Students whose parents wrote their papers for them.
  • Students who stole journals and submitted them as their own.

And I have not even hinted at the infamous bane of all students plagiarism yet!  Plagiarism is using words or ideas that aren’t uniquely yours but claiming them as uniquely yours.  I don’t want to get into the gray areas that you might want to get into.  Let’s just stay with copying an entire chapter out of a reference book, or copying whole paragraphs out of research articles, stringing them together, adding an introduction and conclusion and turning it in as your own research paper.  These are blatant examples of plagiarism and were extraordinarily common among students.

If you cheat in English class, then it must be OK to cheat on the football field. If you cheat on the field, then it must be OK to cheat on your taxes—or vice versa. If you cheat on your taxes, what about  . . . ?  Where does it end?

The virtue of integrity borders on being indefinable in today’s culture. I’ve tried to think when respect for the idea of integrity started to fade.  It may have been Nixon’s lies about Watergate that suggested that nobody in power is really honest, so why should anyone else be?  What’s your theory?

All I know is that honesty and integrity should be not only respected, but expected! I know we live in an age of all kinds of cheating that we are half-truths, marketing, spin, business, and politics, ad nauseum.

What if you and I agree to always tell the truth and to never cheat? And what if you and I agree not to make excuses for those who do?  What if we Christians really become the people who love the truth?

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During my morning walk today, I saw two different mini-vans loading kids with new book bags, new clothes, and big smiles on their faces. At the first house at least, both Mom and Dad were getting in the mini-van, and at the second house, the Mom was saying loudly as Dad closed the door, “And have just a wonderful day,” her voice breaking just a bit on wonderful.

It’s the first day of school for three super gkids here in North Texas.  It is also the first day of school in Escondido, California, because we have one granddaughter starting second grade today and the other starting first grade.

I don’t know if I really remember the first day of first grade in the fall of 1953. I do remember some things about first grade though! I went to first grade at Springdale Elementary School in Fort Worth, starting when I was five and turning six in late October. I didn’t go to kindergarten; it wasn’t required, and I think it cost money.

I was trying to think this morning of what was different on my first day of school from this day for my grandkids. Here are just a few things you might find interesting.

  • There was nothing electronic in our school supply list! The one piece of equipment that I remember owning for the first time was a #1 pencil. They were big and red with very soft lead that wrote very large and very dark lines.  That’s what all kids learned to print with.  They did not have erasers on the end. You had a separate eraser–usually red or green.  I searched for a picture of a #1 pencil and didn’t find any that matched my memory. One more thing to look for in the antique stores.
  • My classmates all had regular names like Ed, Larry, Janice, Betty, Mary—a few double names: Linda Jo, Billy Mac, and one boy’s name was just initials—H.L. –I don’t know if he put periods after them or not.  And I think they were all spelled like you would expect, not in ways that will require life-long explanations.
  • The school was not air-conditioned, which is one of the reasons Texas schools always started after Labor Day. We also stayed until at least 2:30, maybe 3:30. Then we were picked up by my Mom who drove carpool that year and taken home in our air-conditionless Chevrolet. Today, it is supposed to be 105 degrees here in Fort Worth. I’m glad the gkids have air-conditioning.
  • War stamps were sold in our classroom. The Korean War was almost over, but one way the federal government funded the war was by selling war bonds to adults and war stamps to kids at school. I don’t think they cost much and you put them in a stamp book like green stamps and cashed them in later.  I know I bought some. That was back when people always supported the wars that the country was in. Pretty big changes since then!
  • My first grade class learned the 23rd Psalm by memory and recited it to the whole school over the public address system for the regular morning pray. I do regret the disappearance of Christianity from our common life together—but I am not worried about prayer in public schools. As long as we teach our children to pray at home, there will be plenty of prayer at school.

I loved school from the beginning.  It is important to love learning, to learn to read and write well, to learn history, to learn how things work, but as I have thought about it, maybe the most important thing that our children learn in school is how to live in a community with others.

Do you remember the book by Robert Fulghum that came out about 1986 called All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten? I’m finishing today with just a little excerpt from his book that reminds us of what is really important about school.  This is what you want your child to learn, isn’t it?

Share everything.
Play fair.
Don’t hit people.
Put things back where you found them.
Clean up your own mess.
Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
Wash your hands before you eat.

Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
Live a balanced life – learn some and think some
and draw and paint and sing and dance and play
and work every day some.

Take a nap every afternoon.
When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic,
hold hands, and stick together.

Be aware of wonder.
Remember the little seed in the styrofoam cup:
The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody
really knows how or why, but we are all like that.

Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even
the little seed in the Styrofoam cup – they all die.
So do we.

And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books
and the first word you learned – the biggest
word of all – LOOK.

I would just add,God loves you and God is with you, so make Him happy with everything you do and say.”

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While we were in Vermont and Massachusetts last week, I saw a large number of Unitarian Universalist congregations, mostly meeting in buildings that were at one time Congregationalist churches.  I did some work on the Puritans a few years back, so I began thinking about the history of these churches—and I started to get a bad feeling.  Here’s the super-zipped history, so you can see why.

Although historically tied to the Presbyterian church, this new movement eventually separated themselves from that denomination. As they pursued their independent study of the Bible, they became convinced that the only true path to reform was to return to the practices of the first century church, including adult conversion and the pattern of congregational autonomy.

This new movement flourished, but with time, because there was no higher authority than the local congregation, the movement splintered into Arminianism (legalism), Deism (social gospel), transcendentalism (spirit-filled), and Unitarianism (liberal)—parentheses are my translation into 21st century labels.

I thought this could have been a description of Restoration Movement history to this point in time. If you feel that way too, then read on to see where the future might lie!

Within two hundred years of its beginnings in America, many of the most influential Congregationalist ministers were Unitarians (a belief in the singleness of God and a rejection of a trinitarian understanding, including a rejection of the exclusive claims of Jesus because He is the Son of God).

During this same historical period, the doctrine of universal salvation was at its zenith in America. Universalism teaches that a loving God would not create humans, then send them to hell or eternal punishment.  It is no surprise that after rejecting the divinity of Jesus and opening the doctrinal door to acceptance of everything under God, Unitarians quite easily moved into universal salvation as well. It would be the natural step following their move to a more syncretic understanding of God.

Today, these beautiful old church buildings in New England are no longer Christian churches; rather, they are filled with the great grandchildren of those early Restorationists.  Unitarian Universalists profess the following in their own words (http://www.uua.org/visitors/6798.shtml ):

There are seven principles which Unitarian Universalist congregations affirm and promote:

  • The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
  • Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
  • Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
  • A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
  • The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
  • The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
  • Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

Unitarian Universalism (UU) draws from many sources:

  • Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life;
  • Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love;
  • Wisdom from the world’s religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life;
  • Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God’s love by loving our neighbors as ourselves;
  • Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit.
  • Spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.

I want to think that my church could never slide down this path, but I do recognize some of these footprints in the road we are traveling.  I do believe that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” (G. Santayana).

And if this is not what I want for my grandchildren, what must I do today?

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“It all begins  . . .  with a choice.”  And so I felt last night when Sherrylee wanted to go see the third Twilight movie.   We told our friends at supper that we were doing it so we could still have intelligent conversations with our daughter and daughters-in-law as well as the young women on our staff. We entered the theater with low expectations, but we were both pleasantly surprised by the film. For us, this episode in the Twilight Saga films was far and away the best.

Lest I end up with either a stake or a silver bullet (depending on your lifestyle) through my heart, let me just say that I have not read any of the books, so my only information is from the films themselves. My second disclaimer is that I am a male, and these movies are 100% for near-adolescent girls through women whose self-image is 18-25—and I truly do not mean that disparagingly. Don’t we all think of ourselves younger—locked in at a certain age—which makes crossing those birthday milestones that force you to re-think your age just that much more painful!

One of the reasons we had expected less from this film was anticipation that it was all about the war between Victoria’s army of vampires and the Cullen Clan–don’t you love the names! Clans conjure up images of either wild west feuds or Braveheart—but it wasn’t; rather, it did focus on the main characters and their choices—mostly choices about love.  Talking about love choices with your teenage girls should be fun!  I think I would start with questions, not comments. Try these questions and then listen to what they say. After that, you might get to make an observation or two—that’s your choice!

1. Why does Bella love Edward? He’s a pretty face, he’s an “older man,” he’s chivalrous (I’m sure they won’t use that word!), but he also tries to control her and he’s only as passionate as a cold guy can be! So what’s the attraction? . . . You are going to learn a lot about your girls if you can get them to answer this question with something besides giggles.

2. Why does Bella love Jacob? Jacob is the opposite of Edward in many ways. He’s more physical and more physically attractive, warm, same age, much more passionate, and less “mental”—meaning driven more by his feelings than his mind.  Which one appeals to your daughters? Again, if you can listen, you will learn a lot.

3. How can Bella love both of them? You may get some answers that lead to a conversation about attraction versus love—with your girls being more or less able to differentiate. You might also get hit with a taste of the postmodern (or millennial) , that is, you can’t help who you fall in love with, so you are just a passive pawn in a universe driven by nothing. This is a great opportunity to start the real meat of the conversation about love being a choice.

4. Love is a choice! Ok, finally you get to make a statement—and this is really an important one.  Especially this film shows the personal choices that not only Bella, but all of the characters are making. Bella is choosing Edward, not only out of great romantic love, but also because she has always felt like an outsider and powerless and with the Cullens, she feels like an insider and powerful!  Edward is choosing to do the most selfish thing he has ever done, endangering Bella’s soul because he loves her (This might lead to a great conversation on whether this is really love!)  Jacob chooses to fight for Bella’s love because he loves her and believes he is better for her.  (Here’s a thought question: Would Jacob turn Bella into a Wolf if he thought it would cost her something as precious as her soul??) True motivations are always complicated.

5. Is Bella making good choices? I’m not really fond of this character. She’s broody and conflicted, too much so for my tastes.  I don’t like it that she tries to take Edward to bed. (BTW, if I had teenage daughters I would tell them that very few guys will resist if a girl comes on that strong. The boys should—but very few will! ) I understand her conflict with marriage—so typical of young people today who are mostly the product of broken marriages—but I don’t like her choice of not marrying.   I do like that she respects her parents; but she doesn’t really listen to them enough—another bad choice.  She, like many kids, is not a bad person, but  I see her making lots of bad choices . . . . so how does a girl not make these or other bad choices?

6. In our story, does God have a role in any of these choices? Take every opportunity to remind your teens (and yourself) that any story that leaves God out is not the story we want to live out.  That’s our number one choice that should frame ALL other choices. You don’t have to preach a sermon—just let your kids know that for a Christian, this is the most important choice of all.

As I said, those of you who have read all the books may have a completely different view of motivations; I’m only talking about what I see in the films.  Apparently at least two more sequels are already in the pipeline: Breaking Dawn, Part One and Part Two. Whether you are a Twilight fan or not, your daughters/granddaughters probably are, so I’d suggest you use the opportunity to listen first, then talk about love and choices.

And it wouldn’t hurt you Dads/Granddads to be a part of this conversation either! Suck it up and see it! (Oops, wrong metaphor!)

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