27 October 2008

Slavery, Abortion, and Rights

In the Virginia state legislature's resolution apologizing for the state's role in slavery (Feb. 2007), it states:
[Slavery] ranks as the most horrendous of all depredations of human rights and violations of our founding ideals in our nation's history.

I am wondering exactly why slavery is thought to be such a bad thing today. Was it abolished on grounds of some rights or principles in the Constitution? Or was it on moral grounds? I think it is an important question for us to ask today in comparing slavery to abortion. If someone finds it self-evident that slavery is bad yet allows for abortion, isn't this inconsistent?

In looking at the slavery comparison, the above quote says slavery is worth apologizing for since it violated "human rights" and "founding ideals in our nation's history." Since "human" rights are referred to, this means one of two things happened: either humanoids of African descent were acknowledged to be humans, or the definition of human was broadened to include African descent humanoids.

We can see an example of broadening the definition of human in certain groups' attempts to extend rights to animals and plants. Isn't it obvious that documents like the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution refer to human beings? But in our morally relativistic postmodern world, why can't "human" also include pigs or rabbits? If you are a plant reading this blog, my advice is to move to Switzerland. You'll have rights there. We should note how evolution is at the root of this. If everything evolved from the same primordial soup, why should there be human dignity if not plant dignity?

Abe Lincoln said,

...I think the negro is included in the word "men" used in the Declaration of Independence.

I believe the declara[tion] that "all men are created equal" is the great fundamental principle upon which our free institutions rest; that negro slavery is violative of that principle; but that, by our frame of government, that principle has not been made one of legal obligation; that by our frame of government, the States which have slavery are to retain it, or surrender it at their own pleasure; and that all others -- individuals, free-states and national government -- are constitutionally bound to leave them alone about it.

Notice that both morals and American ideals are involved: Lincoln believed that slavery violated the principle that all men are created equal. But he knew that only applies if we understand blacks to be included under "men", so Lincoln had to fall back on a moral belief that black men were men--human--just as much as white men. So it seems that there is a political basis, but we can't begin to use it without a moral background.

How does this relate to abortion? I find it ridiculously incredible that the same philosophy that leads to animal rights also leads to no rights at all for unborn humans. As Lincoln recognized that "all men are created equal" includes blacks, we must today recognize that it also includes the unborn. Once we agree on that, we'll still need to deal with how a mother's pursuit of happiness can conflict with her child's right to life. Of course, it is all meaningless without belief in a Creator:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

In a postmodern world, words can mean whatever you want them to mean--and that means all things mean everything, and thus nothing at all. Abe said, "I think Slavery is wrong, morally, and politically." We must return to such clarity and conviction.

Jesus, come.

Food, Sabbath, Etc.

I am going to tidy up the loose ends from the last post, so this one won't be too structured.

A lady asked me a couple weeks ago a question about working on Sundays. She asked, with the given assumption that we as Christians are to do no work on Sunday, if we can replace Sunday with a different day of the week. For example, if my job schedules me to work on a Sunday, can I still be obedient to God if I do no work on Monday instead?

First, I told her that, if we want to be technical, the Sabbath is Saturday. If we are going to be particular about a day, we've already screwed it up by taking Sunday so seriously. Next, what day is it really, anyway? How can we know that last Saturday was an exact multiple of seven days since God rested? (I have no reason to believe it isn't.) As we are soon to fall back our clocks, we've conceded to the fact that time as we reckon it is arbitrary. Likewise, when exactly Sunday begins and ends is arbitrary. So again, anyone who is particular about a day ought to be regarding the time of rest as stretching from sundown to sundown. If instead you go by society's clocks, you've screwed it up.

As Chicago posed, does anybody really know what time it is? Does anybody really care?

Does God care?

I told the lady that the day doesn't matter. The only reason Sunday is important today is because that's when the Body gathers. If I am to be obedient to God and build up the Body, I ought to meet with them. We've decided to do that on Sunday. And, if I am doing good things, Kingdom work, on Sunday, then that is far better than working to see how little I can work.

Now, as it relates to food, here's my thought: Is cooking for yourself on a sabbath day of rest considered work? I didn't research much, but on Leviticus 23 Matthew Henry commented:
On other holy days they were forbidden to do any servile work (Lev 23:7), but on the sabbath, and the day of atonement (which is also called a sabbath), they were to do no work at all, no, not the dressing of meat.

If it is forbidden work then we should prepare our food on Saturday or eat out for every Sunday meal. The problem with eating out is that we've simply passed the buck on to other people who do the work for us. Make someone else sin so I don't have to. Great!

My point is simply that if you are going to make a fuss about Sunday, at least be consistent. But really, don't make a fuss about Sunday. Do some Kingdom work, and meet with God's people.

The last thing I want to say regards tipping servers at restaurants. I was eating out with a Christian brother once, and he made a point to tip generously. He explained to me that since God has been generous to us, of all people in the world we ought to be most generous. Should the tip reflect how well the server performed? Maybe. But I know that if God was generous to me in proportion to how well I perform, it would be some generous wrath. Sure, the server may take the money and squander it. Regardless, I believe it to be an act of worship towards God when I act generously out of gratitude for his generosity. Another point to consider is Jesus' emphasis on serving:

Luk 22:27 "For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves."
Mar 10:45 "For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."
Luk 12:37 "Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them."

The person that serves us at a restaurant, as insignificant as it may seem, is acting Christlike. So I say tip 'em well.

But decide for yourself.

19 October 2008

Food and Simple Living, Pt 2

I've had some time to think since the last post regarding food, so I'd like to follow it up a bit and address that last line:

Then I'll pick another rest'rant

Mark Driscoll once quoted a woman from India who, after being some time in the US, said she couldn't stomach the rampant idolatry here. While we might think idolatry is far more prevalent in India, he said she was referring to our televisions in every living room, our massive sports arenas, and our restaurants on every corner. She said our stomachs are our god. (As for the televisions, a discussion of entertainment is coming soon...)

Simple living seeks to love our neighbors as ourselves in rejecting selfish arrogance. The other important principle is that it seeks to love God with all we've got by rejoicing in his blessings and rejecting the world's empty promises of happiness. When it comes to eating out, let's be thankful for the opportunity to do so, and give glory to God in enjoying it. After all, He made taste buds. (Although it is interesting to note that the first sin showed itself as a desire to satisfy taste.)

On the other side, we must reject the lie that our happiness is dependent on the food we eat. Consider the great and precious spiritual blessings God has bestowed upon us in heavenly places in Christ (Eph. 1:3). What is food in comparison? Store your treasures in heaven.

As a final word on the primary importance of giving thanks when we eat food, consider the mention in Scripture of "blessing" a meal. People today often say some kind of prayer or "grace" before stuffing their faces. Why is this done? Is it wrong not to pray? Does the food chemically change when it is "blessed" so that we become better nourished?

A friend told me of an experiment: Two identical dishes were ordered. One was prayed over and the other was not. Two out of two taste-testers agreed; the dish prayed over tasted better.

But really, I challenge anyone to find me any bit of Biblical evidence for such an idea. What I find is that blessing a meal and saying a prayer of thanks are the same thing. The phrases seem to be used interchangeably, as in the accounts of Jesus feeding the multitudes or at the Last Supper. I think that it's cool not to pray before a meal if instead you pray in thankfulness with every bite, with a sense of awe in God's sustaining power in even the chemical and biological processes that bring us nourishment and continued physical life. How is it that we can be so religious about prayer before a meal, yet turn around and toss in the trash that for which we claim to be thankful for?

(Check out 1 Tim. 4:3-6, or 1 Cor. 10:30-31.)

There is much more that can be said! There are issues like attending luxurious restaurants in order to flaunt one's status, how to tip your server, and how eating out on Sunday is different. You might guess I feel strongly about this stuff. This and more coming when I get around to it...

07 October 2008

Food and Simple Living

Before continuing on the satirical journey, I want to confirm for you that my last post was Biblical. We only need to look at one passage:

1Ti 6:17 As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.
1Ti 6:18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share,
1Ti 6:19 thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.

Last time I said I shouldn't be arrogant in my desire for comfort, but thankful instead. "Haughty" in verse 17 could be translated "arrogant." Then I said thankfulness should lead to good works, as in verse 18. This passage also never condemns "stuff" in itself, but condemns putting our hope in our stuff. Finally, I admit I don't fully understand the whole "treasure in heaven" thing, so we'll leave that for a later date.

Now for the scheduled programming.

I am suffering:
Too much food hurts my belly.
But someday I'll be happy,
When I'm hungry again.

Then I'll pick another rest'rant.

Whenever I go out to eat I make sure I get my money's worth. This stems from a desire to be a good steward of the money entrusted to me. I don't want to waste it by paying a bunch for barely any food. Naturally the best option (when considering the wallet) is to cook for myself. For now, let's take for granted that occasionally eating out is okay.

If after eating out I decide that I paid too much, I won't eat out again for a while. That's why I love buffets -- I'll never have to leave thinking I got less food than I paid for. Here is where the problem for me comes: "Too much food hurts my belly." In the name of getting my money's worth, I eat to the point of discomfort. Then in my discomfort I think I am suffering. Oh to be hungry again!


One of the primary principles of simple living is to guard against arrogant selfishness. It is to keep in mind those that are truly suffering. Would I moan of my overly full stomach to a child dying of starvation? That's not love for my neighbor.

It is fitting to bring up here that line when food gets wasted. Something like, "There are children starving in Africa that would do anything for that food." I hope the sentiment behind that statement is understood. The point is to jog self-centeredness with a reminder of what's happening in the world. Are you thankful that you aren't dying of starvation? Then why throw food away? Some say in response, "If they are starving in Africa, then just send this food to them!" Yes, we should seek to do something about it. And say I got involved and fed the starving with my own hand. Would it be consistent then to continue to leave food on my plate and throw it away? So even if I don't help anyone, isn't better to at least remember them? We wish to remember Christ, certainly. Well, what we do for them we do unto him (Mat. 25:40).

For that reason, it pains me to see food left on a plate and then thrown away. Arrogance. So I end up eating that food to save it from waste. "Are you gonna eat that?" In a sense, I eat it on the starving's behalf.

Then again, we can do something to help. There are ministries and programs in place that require very little effort to support, yet do a whole lot of good. Just look around. Can I skip eating out a couple times and instead give the money to feed the starving? Sure. Can you?

There is much more I could say. I didn't even get to the last line of the stanza. Next time then.

02 October 2008

Luxury, Comfort and Simple Living

The next satirical stanza:

I am suffering:
I haven't the money for luxury.
But someday I'll be happy,
When I retire for certain.

For now I will be comfortable.

Last time I said that throughout this I address issues that I am seriously dealing with. Here the issue hits at the heart of simple living, work, and the American dream. John Piper said:

Getting old to the glory of God means resolutely resisting the typical American dream of retirement. It means being so satisfied with all that God promises to be for us in Christ that we are set free from the cravings that create so much emptiness and uselessness in retirement. Instead, knowing that we have an infinitely satisfying and everlasting inheritance in God just over the horizon of life makes us zealous in our few remaining years here to spend ourselves in the sacrifices of love, not the accumulation of comforts.

The world says that I need to have luxury. If only I had the excess of money, I would buy that car, that house, that big flatscreen tv. As long as I don't have them, I am suffering.

The world's answer to this problem? Retirement. Just trudge on through the working years, live it up on the weekends to hold you over, and build up some wealth for retirement. Then the real fun begins! Then you get the Cadillac and move to Florida. Luxury! You've earned it, after all.

I am resolved that the next time someone asks me what I plan to buy with my new-found income I will answer, "Happiness." I hope then the inquirer will realize how ridiculous the world's lie is.

Since I'm obviously not biting on this lie, how exactly am I struggling with this issue? It's in the last part with being comfortable. Luxury is not much a temptation, but comfort I refuse to surrender. These words, luxury and comfort, seem to be relative for each person; luxury to me is probably mere comfort to a millionaire, whereas my basic comfort level is likely seen by the impoverished as luxury. For each individual, luxury is extravagantly more and comfort is just a little more. The sin is to say in my lack of luxury and even in my lack of comfort that I am suffering, because that is selfish arrogance. I must keep in mind those who are legitimately suffering. It is not love for my neighbor when I complain, "If only my 1,000,000 square foot home was 10 degrees cooler! This is unbearable!" Arrogance.

I don't wish to say right now that having "stuff" is bad in itself. The danger is losing a sense of gratitude for all that you are given. Yes, it is given, not earned. I am contending that those who continually harbor that thankfulness and a remembrance of people with less will be compelled to help those people. Then the luxuries become sour and the "sacrifices of love" become sweet.

I've heard something of "treasures in heaven." What's that about? Hmmm...we'll get there.

01 October 2008

Loneliness and Simple Living

Too much time has slipped past without a post. I've been spending more time on 'rithmetic lately than 'riting. I guess I could 'rite a post about the 'rithmetic, but that might bore you to the point where it would be better if I never posted. *sigh*

On the satire, I am going to take one stanza at a time and explain what I mean. You probably skimmed over it, said to yourself "Wha??" and went on with your life. Plus, I've been promising a discussion of simple living, so on with it already. Here's the first bit:

I am suffering:
I am lonely.
Someday I'll be happy,
When I marry I'm sure.

And happily ever after.

In each part, I address an issue that I am seriously dealing with. Here it is loneliness. It is easy for me to get real down about it, to the point where I think I am suffering. By calling it suffering, I've exaggerated it so far that it is obviously ridiculous. (Indeed, that's what makes it satire.) So I'm telling myself, "Loneliness? So what? Get over it." Others in the world have it far worse. It is sheer self-centered arrogance to wallow in the self pity of my loneliness.

Then, there is the world's promise of the loneliness cure: marriage. It is easy to believe. But I have this suspicion that it isn't true. I've been told by some with insider information that it isn't true. So I'm telling myself, "Yes, marriage is good. It will help the loneliness. But be prepared to get there and find out my spouse is not a savior." The lie is that marriage is "happily ever after" -- but I'm pretty sure that begins at death.

The title of that post was Suffering and Happiness. In it I described situations that aren't real suffering and proposed solutions that don't bring real happiness. One side of this is brought out by that oft-quoted creatively eloquent description by C.S. Lewis:

If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

Yes, our desires are too weak. The other side of the issue is that when we don't have those temporal pleasures we tend to think we are suffering. So this, my friends, is why simple living is so important: To desire a simple life is to reject the lie that being without fleeting pleasures is suffering and instead embrace the truth that "if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content." To desire a simple life is to reject the lie that "drink and sex and ambition" and "stuff" bring real happiness and instead embrace the truth that in God's presence "there is fullness of joy; at [His] right hand are pleasures forevermore." Finally, to desire a simple life is seek pleasure in God to love Him with all of my being and doing, and to abandon selfishness to love my neighbor as myself.

The next part of the satire is next time, along with more of all this.