Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Contrarian View From the Pew: Materialism I

Teresa posted a few days ago about her [used] new van. In part of her post, she asks,
"If you were to drive through our church parking lot on any given day, you would see Suburbans, Hummers, Expeditions and the like. All beautiful objects of automotive wonder, but are they necessary?"

What does the types of cars in a church parking lot communicate about the types of people in the church pews? How do we even define “necessary”? I have to admit, my first impression of any church is based on the typeS of carS in the parking lot. However, I not only notice the cars, I also notice the bumper stickers on the cars, the size and condition of the parking lot, the traffic cones, and the manners of the people as they drive through the parking lot on their way to a parking space. I will write more on this later.

Teresa’s basic question though is an age old question with a modern context. For centuries some people have argued that the cost of building elaborate cathedrals has wasted money that could be going towards helping the poor. Others have argued that elaborate cathedrals are the proper way to honor and give glory to God.

As believers, we are expected to support our churches with our time, our money, and our other resources. We are admonished by our leaders to avoid materialism and we are judged by our Creator on how we treat those who are in need. However, does buying and owning an expensive car reduce the amount of money needed to do God’s work?

Money, unlike almost everything else of value, can not be wasted. Time can be wasted, as can clean water, goodwill, and most everything else, but money can only be passed on to someone else for them to pass on to yet another someone else. Money only represents the amount of time it took to earn and the value of a good or service it can buy.

Passing money on quickly reduces the amount of time it takes for someone else to earn the money and it multiplies the amount of available money. In economics, this is known as the ‘velocity’ of money. If the $3.00 I spend for a cup of Starbucks coffee is immediately spent by Starbucks on something else, the economic effect of my purchase is the same as if I had spent $6.00 on the cup of coffee and the $6.00 stayed in their cash register for the rest of the day. An economic recession isn’t caused by the lack of money, it is caused by the hording of money or the unwillingness of many to spend it quickly. Likewise, economic growth is cause by a greater willingness to spend quickly and not hold on to money.

Passing money on to a craftsman for a well engineered and well crafted product rewards the workers who takes exceptional pride in their work. Passing money on to the discounter rewards the workers who produce value for their work. Passing money on to the athlete or the performer rewards those who provide pleasure to others through entertainment.

Passing money on to the poor as a gift without exchanging anything of value may relieve an immediate need, but it also rewards those who haven’t contributed their time to create value or enjoyment for others. There are some people who through no fault of their own have an immediate need. There are others who may have caused their own problems but are still in need of immediate relief. We should help these people, but we shouldn’t ever fall in to the trap of thinking we are choosing between helping the poor and being selfish when we spend our money on something we want, because when we do honest work for honest pay and when we reward others who do honest work for honest pay, we are helping others to NOT be poor and we ARE doing God’s work.

Monday, April 25, 2005


It’s not the tears!

Standing in line we knew something really bad was about to happen to us. We were waiting to enter a large tent that seemed empty before turning into a Jiffy Pop popping pan. From our position about 500 feet away, the vision of bodies trying to escape through the sides of the tent without flaps was accompanied by screaming and yelling. We couldn’t understand what was being said, but we knew panic was in the air.

It’s not like we didn’t prepare. Cover the vents with both hands and blow as hard as you can. It really couldn’t be any simpler. We did practice, but the practice seemed like a waste of time. Any moron could do it their first try.

Six or eight or ten more entered the tent. I don’t remember the exact number. The number is not seared in my memory like the rest of the experience. More screaming, more yelling, more panic, and then out they came. Their faces and hands covered with snot, unable to talk or even breathe, running into each other, as they gasped for air.

It was my turn next. I repeated to myself, “cover, blow, breathe”, as I entered the tent. One instructor was in the center of the tent. One at the door of the tent. One each for the rest of us. After the last of us entered the tent and the flap was shut, the instructor in the middle dropped a pellet into a green can. Smoke started oozing from the can. We were instructed to take off our mask and not put it back on until we were told to do so. About 15 seconds later we were told to put it back on. I put my gas mask over my head, covered the vents, blew with all of the air in my lungs, and then started to breathe. My eyes watered and my lungs hurt, but I didn’t panic, and as I looked around, neither did anyone else.

As I started to smile and feel proud of myself, I felt a hand on my mask that was not my own. I reached up to grab my mask, but it was too late. It was also the wrong move. My hands went up in the air just in time to expose my chest and receive a fist right in my solar plexus. Now I understood the panic. It didn’t matter that my Drill Instructor gave my gas mask back to me because I couldn’t breathe anyway. Everyone did their best to escape the tent, but we were blocked and tackled and prevented from leaving. All of the instructors were yelling at us to put our mask on and clear it before we could leave the tent.

I never got my gas mask back on or cleared and I doubt anyone else did either. “Tear gas” really is a misnomer. If it were only the tears. When you breathe tear gas, it feels like your lungs and sinuses are being turned inside out. It’s a miserable experience to suck in tear gas when your lungs have been emptied by a blow to the solar plexus.

Sometimes in life we learn in a classroom; sometimes we learn by watching others. Sometimes it is enough to learn what to do; sometimes we need to learn what NOT to do. Gas mask training in Marine Corp boot camp is a time when recruits are vividly taught what NOT to do. Knowing how to use a gas mask can be the difference between life and death. Knowing not to risk leaving it off can be even more important. I don’t know if I have what it takes to slug a 17-year-old boy/man in the gut inside a tent permeating with tear gas. But I’m thankful someone does.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Contrarian View From the Pew: Europe

Prior to the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church was very clear, if not persuasive, about the criteria for everlasting life. Catholics believed, taught, and acted on the belief, that those who died in mortal sin would not attain everlasting life. The claim that non-Catholics would go to hell sometimes led to abuses in the way Catholics attempted to convert the lost and in the way Catholics acted towards those who disagreed with their beliefs.

Since the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church has been less clear about the criteria for everlasting life. Individual Catholics are all over the place in describing their own beliefs about salvation. Some Catholics believe that a good Buddhist will go to Heaven along with all of the people who never even heard the Gospel. Other Catholics still place their faith in the last rites. The trend for the last thirty years of Catholicism though has been moving in the direction of a more inclusive view of salvation.

As Catholicism has expressed a more inclusive view of salvation, Europeans have become less religious and more secular. It’s not a coincidence. Even with the reformation, Catholicism has remained the major Christian religion in Europe. In the period since 1965, Europeans not only stopped believing they needed to be Catholic to get to heaven, they stopped believing they needed any type of faith because the Catholic Church stopped defending the Church’s historic beliefs.

The secularization of Europe is no small matter in regards to the ability of Christians to salt the earth. Western Civilization consists of the United States and Europe. There may come a time when other parts of the world start to produce leading thinkers, but until that time happens, if it ever happens, it will remain the role of Western Civilization to protect and defend the traditional values that created our civilization. The most important of these values is the belief in the Gospel.

Europeans, as a whole, are at least as thoughtful and educated as Americans, if not more than Americans. As a group, they should respond to the arguments in favor of the Gospel if the Catholic Church would once again become serious about defending the historic faith. The Catholic Church doesn’t need to return to the pre-Vatican II days, but it does need to strategically plan and implement policies that lead to more and better Catholic apologists as well as an evangelistic mindset of its members.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Contrarian View From the Pew: Celibacy


Money is a powerful motivator. So is fame and so is comfort. But nothing motivates like respect.

Sometimes all we want is self-respect. Some people will spend six or seven hours to complete a marathon. They are out there giving it all they have to prove to themselves they can meet the challenge. Sometimes we want the respect of our peers. A soldier will jump on a live grenade, sacrificing his own life for the honor and respect of his military peers. Running 26 miles and sacrificing ones own life defies logic to us. Most humans will never and would never do either. But we respect those who do.

Christian leaders talk a good game when it comes to chastity. We teach our children to wait until they are married. But we put our single members in their own little Sunday school class and we wouldn’t think twice about having a single Pastor. Rarely is a single person even found in church leadership. Celibacy in the New Testament was honored and respected; celibacy in our churches is not.

Christians consider celibates odd. They mostly wonder why someone would choose to be single. They assume it is not by choice. Paul considered celibacy preferable to marriage. He knew that those who are single have more time to devote to ministry. Paul had it right; our churches have it wrong…with one exception; the Catholic Church.

Why would anyone choose to be celibate when they could choose marriage? Why would someone choose a life that most of us would not even consider. Maybe for the same reason a soldier would jump on a grenade and an overweight person would run a marathon. If we can respect the marathoner, can’t we also respect the celibate? Maybe if our actions started matching our words and maybe if we returned to the Biblical respect of Celibacy, the Catholic Church would have less difficulty finding the excellent Priests it needs and our Protestant churches could benefit from the gifts of those who are willing to make the sacrifice to remain single.

Thursday, April 14, 2005


The Christian life is all about being who God created us to be and becoming who God created us to become. God didn’t create us to feel like we could never be good enough or holy enough for his acceptance, but he also didn’t create us to feel like we could please him by remaining as we were when he called us.

Finding the balance between being and becoming is the only way to remain spiritually and emotionally healthy. Christians who focus too much on being, limit the future ways they can be used by God, and more often than not, become unhappy and discontented. Likewise, Christians who focus too much on becoming, limit the ways God can use them now, and more often than not, become unhappy and frustrated with the time it takes to achieve their goals.

Some Fundamentalists and Evangelicals claim that God demands us to be sinless. The drive to achieve a sinless life can only lead to disappointment because a sinless life is not possible. At best, we can become less sinful as we work towards becoming the person God wants us to become. I don’t know of anyone who seems more like Christ by trying to appear or even be more holy than everyone else.

Some Postmodernists and Ecumenicals claim that God’s love and forgiveness allows us to live an unencumbered life. An unencumbered life is a selfish life. If God wanted us to remain as we were, there never would have been a cross and there never would have been a need or a reason for forgiveness.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Contrarian View From the Pew: Priesthood

The decade of the 1970’s was not a proud time for the United States military. The political and military failure of Viet Nam produced an American military without a clear mission. By the end of the 1970’s, military leaders from the different branches of service fought amongst themselves for the small parcels of resources that were being granted to them by a congress that mostly felt and expressed disdain for anything and everything military. Moral amongst the troops was low, soldiers were ridiculed by civilians and recruiting was difficult as the downward spiral seemed to continue without hope. The more standards were lowered to increase recruiting, the worse the moral of the soldiers became.

The beginning of the renaissance of the American military started in January 1981 just as soon as Ronald Reagan was sworn in as fortieth President of the United States. At the time it happened the turnaround seemed miraculous, but looking back now it is clear what happened. President Reagan didn’t treat the military leaders and the common soldiers with contempt. In fact, he treated them with respect. He made sure the military leaders were competent and motivated, he defined a new mission for the military, he asked congress to increase funding, and increase pay. Most importantly though, he increased the standards to become and stay a soldier. Most of President Reagan’s critics thought he was crazy. They didn’t understand how the military would be able to recruit more soldiers by raising the standards. But a funny thing started to happen; the harder it was to become a soldier, the more High School graduates started wanting to become soldiers. The harder it became to stay a soldier, the more soldiers’ started taking pride in their military occupation and the more professional the military became. The rest is history. Since the first Gulf War in 1991, the United States military has been the most respected and feared military in the history of our planet.

The new Pope will face a similar problem at the start of his papacy in regards to the moral of priests as Ronald Reagan did at the start of his presidency in regards to soldiers. For the last thirty years the number of Catholic men who feel called to become a priest has been shrinking. The reason has very little, possibly even nothing, to do with celibacy. The parish priest has lost the respect of the average parishioner because the parish priest has lost the support of the Catholic leadership and because the standards have been lowered to a point where just about anyone who is willing to take a vow of chastity can become a priest. It’s no wonder so few men want to become a priest since priesthood is no longer an honored profession.

The new Pope must first start by actively recruiting the best and the brightest to consider priesthood. He should also set some very high standards for joining the priesthood while at the same time he should begin pruning the current ranks of priests who don’t meet these same very high standards. He should also demand that every Cardinal and every Bishop give emotional, financial, and very public support to the parish priests. Once dignity and respect have been restored to the priesthood, the shrinking number of Catholic priests will no longer be a problem for the Catholic Church.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Responding to Comments: Pope John Paul II - take two

When I wrote my opinions about Pope John Paul II, I tried to differentiate between what I though of him as a man and what I thought of him as the leader of the Catholic Church. If most of the media was being overly critical of this Pope, I would have been the first to jump to his defense because I do think he was a very holy and good man. However, I also think he was only a fair to weak leader of the church that traces it’s leaders all the way back to Saint Peter. I also don‘t believe he should be considered one of the great Popes as he is being portrayed by almost everyone. To be honest, I don’t know if the other great Popes deserve to be labeled great either.

Let me be clear. I respect Pope John Paul II as a man. I think his personal behavior is exemplary, and I also think he has been a great role model of humble leadership. Personally, I am in agreement with most of the policies of Rome. I wasn’t trying to blame Pope John Paul II for anything that happened while he was Pope or before he became Pope. However, I did point out that as the leader of the Catholic Church he has not been successful or even very effective at dealing with the issues that seem to me should be most important to the Catholic Church and it’s leadership.

I believe that anyone who confesses their sins and then acts faithfully on the belief that Jesus is the Messiah will be in heaven. Therefore, I agree with both Jennifer and Teresa that Pope John Paul II is in heaven with our Lord where we also hope to be someday. However, I also believe most of the Popes will be in heaven with us because most of the Popes have acted faithfully in the name of Jesus.

Hammer seemed particularly irritated by my remarks as he scolded me for some of them. I probably don’t know as much about this Pope as Hammer does, but I can assure him and everyone else that I am not ignoring the record of this Pope. From my perspective, most everyone else is ignoring the complete record of this Pope.

Hammer claims this Pope is an equal to Reagan and Thatcher in ending Communism. I agree that Pope John Paul II deserves credit for standing with the workers in Poland, but that hardly makes him an anti-communist. He was also critical of Capitalists. If he was truly an anti-communist, he would have excommunicated all the bishops and priests who promote liberation theology which at it‘s core is no different from Marxism or Communism.

Pope John Paul II did receive a lot of press and a lot of attention for the number of young people who attended his events when he visited the United States. The numbers tell a different story. Catholics who regularly attend church went from 54% in 1975 to 45% in 2004. Ordinations of priests in the United States went from 771 in 1975 to 533 in 1985 and it was still at 533 in 2004. Throughout the entire world the raw number of Catholics has just about doubled in the last twenty-five years while the number of Catholics who attend church regularly and the number of ordinations has remained the same. Clearly, this is a problem that has not been effectively dealt with by the leaders of the Catholic Church.

Nowhere did I imply that Catholic Priests should be allowed to marry. In general, I believe most protestant denominations should become more like the Catholic Church, not the other way around. It is the Protestants, not the Catholics, who have the wrong ideas about celibacy.

Hammer also challenged me for my own solutions to the shortage of priests and the secularization of Europe. Challenging me for my solutions misses the point. I was not the Pope. The point was that this Pope did not seem to even have a plan for addressing these issues. Nowhere else in society would we call a leader great for ignoring the big issues and I don’t think we should treat this Pope any different no matter how good he was as a person and no matter how popular he was as the Pope.

Perhaps in future posts I will offer a few ideas for solving some of these problems and also expound about how celibacy should be treated by Christianity.

Almost daily, I visit and read the blogs of Jennifer, Teresa, and Hammer. All three of them are creative and informed writers. I appreciate the way they test and challenge me. Please give all of them a glance and leave an affirmative comment if you like what you read or a critique if you don‘t.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Contrarian View From the Pew: Pope John Paul II

From all accounts and all appearances, Pope John Paul II was a good man; a very good man, in fact. He seems to be universally adored and respected from the religious left, center and right as well as from the political left, center, and right of most of the nations of the world. This week he is being beatified as Catholics and others proclaim that he should be included in a short list of Great Popes.

I would love to jump on the bandwagon with the rest of the world since I have a very soft spot in my heart for Catholics and everything Catholic, but I just can’t. The record of Pope John Paul II just doesn’t match up to the rhetoric. If being universally adored was a criterion for greatness, we could call Madonna or Princes Diana great. If being a good man was a criterion for greatness, there are many unknowns who should be considered great. However, in my opinion, the criteria for greatness for a leader should be reserved for those leaders who changed the tide of public opinion by their words and by their deeds.

Practically all of the major problems facing the Catholic Church in 1978 when Pope John Paul II became Pope are still major problems for the Catholic Church today. He has done nothing to stop or even slow the secularization and slide towards atheism in Europe. He has done nothing to increase the number of men who are eligible and willing to enter the priesthood. Liberation theology is still a dominant philosophy in many of the developing countries where the major religion is Catholicism.

In addition to the problems Pope John Paul II inherited, he has done very little to correct and fix the child abuse scandal that came to the surface on his watch and he has also failed to communicate a coherent policy to address Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism.

It is impossible to know what the world would be like if Karol Józef Wojtyła had not become Pope. It is possible the world would be a much worse place today if the Cardinals had chosen someone else in 1978. I only have the facts as I know them to judge his effectiveness. I wish I could share in everyone else’s veneration of this very good man. However, I still want great to mean more than good and popular.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Friday, April 01, 2005

Kissing Rules

My daughters have agreed with us on a set of criteria for them and a boyfriend before they can kiss each other. Here are our seven rules:

  1. The boyfriend needs to meet Lisa and me.
  2. My daughter needs to meet the boyfriend’s parents.
  3. The boyfriend needs to believe in God.
  4. The boyfriend needs to be honest.
  5. The boyfriend needs to be kind.
  6. The boyfriend needs to try hard at school work.
  7. If the boyfriend has a driver’s license, he needs to be a safe driver.