Part of the problem

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Just got around to reading this NY Times article asserting that only about 4% of today’s teenagers will grow up to be “Bible Believing” adults.

So, in the fine Evangelical tradition, meetings are being held.

Among the leaders speaking at the meetings are Ted Haggard, president of the evangelical association; the Rev. Jerry Falwell; and nationally known preachers like Jack Hayford and Tommy Barnett.

Yeah. 4%. That seems about right.

One of the thoughts in the back of my head is whether this recent ordeal with Ted Haggard is going to be a watershed moment for the Evangelical movement. It was already losing ground. Now the head of the National Association of Evangelicals has resigned in disgrace. The usual suspects are forming teams and committees and making plans to deal with the embarrassment. All the while moving farther and farther away from Billy Graham’s initial push.

I would define myself as an Evangelical, but I wouldn’t define myself along the lines of those who seem to be the appointed leaders of Evangelicalism who are almost exclusively representative of the mega-Church, seeker-sensitive, movement.

The Baby Boomers are so good at reaching a significant part of a small portion of our society. The wagons have been circling for a long while, and I think there is a weariness starting to emerge. There might be a continuing voice of the NEA, but I suspect that unless there’s more change than yet another smiling, leadership-driven, mega-church pastor in charge than Evangelicals are going to go the way of NBC.

Fortunately, I have a lot of hope for those who are younger. I strongly suspect that while only 4% of present teenagers will follow the steps of those who are presently leading meetings and heading mega-churches, there will be a whole new movement of “Bible-believing” Christians who actually not only believe it, but think it worth modeling throughout their lives.

Give them something to really hold on to that gives hope, and there will be a renewed Awakening. Keep it a political, social, cultural model emphasizing only the barest bits of the depths, and folks will turn elsewhere for sustenance.

Tongues in the Brain

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Brains are scanned while the owners are speaking in tongues.

a parsing of sin

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Sin is a complicated business. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not hard to see or difficult to come up with manifold examples. But, it’s convoluted. Appearances aren’t everything and what we may see might not be the most potent problem.

This whole Ted Haggard thing is an interesting case study. I’ll leave it to others to make judgments and all the proper condemnations, and whatever broad reaching commentary seems soothing.

My interests aren’t particularly in the judging direction. I’m interested in analyzing what happened, as far as I can tell. Not to throw more coals on Haggard. More to see how this illustrates something for all of us.

Now, I’m admitting on the surface I don’t know all the details, or even most of them. I’m coming to conclusions I don’t have evidence for, basically in order to tease out some of the underlying issues which are quite likely true.

First off, I entirely reject any charge of hypocrisy. I think this is an overused word used, now, primarily for rhetorical effect and to frustrate conversation. Hypocrisy is not simply saying one thing and doing something else. It’s saying one thing is wrong, and doing that very thing not thinking it is wrong.

That Haggard spent a lot of time campaigning against gay marriage is not necessarily hypocrisy, it could very well be he campaigned as he did because he knew related temptations and felt them intensely negative.

My guess is that he was sincere in his opposition, disagree or agree with him on the subject, but had bifurcated his life into two different realities.

How could he do this? Well, the answer brings us to sin. Sin does this because sin is a liar, it creates a false reality and seeks for us to live according to this artificial perspective. It leads to death and chaos, later if not sooner, but hides that fact, tempting us with more immediate neurochemical treats.

“The fact is I am guilty of sexual immorality,” he said. “I am a deceiver and a liar. There is a part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I have been warring about it for my entire life. … The accusations that have been leveled against me are not all true but enough of them are true. … The things that I did opened the door to additional allegations.”

So, from this and from what I know about him, I think I have an idea of what was going on.

As a reference, according to early writers on the subject, the basic list of sins are gluttony, lust, avarice, sadness, anger, acedia, vainglory, and pride. These are listed according to soul seriousness.

First off, sexual sin joins gluttony among the two most base sins. By this, I mean these are the two most obvious, and least convoluted. They seek satiation of some animal need. They are physical in nature, seeking to gratify some perceived bodily demand. Because of this, they are oftentimes the most obvious and most easy to condemn. They are Sin 101, not advanced topics on the subject. That’s why most religious or moral judges like to focus on these. Anger and envy tend to be hidden and elusive, covering themselves in fancy clothing.

Not so with lust and not so with gluttony. There is, even now, very little respect offered to either one of these. That’s why the morbidly obese or a sexual predator are at the lowest end of society.

Lust is bad. Lust is also humbling. According to a number of writers both gluttony and lust can serve in a corrective manner. For those who are faced with some of the higher sins they can be grounding, reminding a person they are not what they seem to be.

And so a person who may be subject to intense temptations towards pride may be given an especially strong temptation by one of these more base sins. Pride is the ultimate dismissal of God. While the base sins may provoke a person back to realizing the need for God’s salvation.

Because sins are often tied together, it is impossible to wage war against one without waging war against others. Likewise it’s impossible to be overcome by one without opening the door to others. With unrestrained anger there might be vainglory, depression, or some other kind of sin. The battle is most often lost when one of the more insidious temptations collapses, opening the door to the lower temptations and breaking down a person’s ability to fend off the temptation.

From what I know of Haggard he was a brilliant pastor. He started a church in the basement of his house that became one of the most important churches in the country. He was a leader extraordinaire. He motivated people, brought out the best from people, and had a great, genuine passion for his work.

God blessed his efforts, it seems. With such a blessing, however, comes the need for correction. So, Haggard was allowed to face his own darkness, likely throughout his life, and likely in indistinct ways that ebbed and flowed.

These temptations were tools to allow him to keep his focus on the prize. He was continually reminded of his own inner reality and had to put a face towards the world which had to be constantly washed in the privacy of his own prayer closet.

It is likely, however, that at some point the corrective stopped working. My guess is that over the course of the last years he lost his focus and began to believe he was what people said he was. He listened to sycophants who used his personhood to somehow bolster their own emaciated realities. By linking to him, they felt more real. So, they puffed him up, and in doing so felt even more.

That is vainglory at work, undermining community by insisting on the few over the many. By being the leader, those afflicted with vainglory would seek their sin sustenance by feeding into Haggard’s vainglory or pride. That process begins to break down the corrective temptations and eventually results in a complete collapse of all moral defenses. Haggard justified his actions, at the time, likely by dismissing the seriousness of his base sins on account of his real importance and influential spiritual gifts. He thought himself, even if unconsciously, too important to be sacrificed.

The progression then likely went from embracing thoughts, to becoming worked out in action. He lost his calling in that moment, because he sought to use another for the purpose of sin, rather than to see all men as those in need of Christ. He put himself in a situation where he saw an object to be used rather than another person who needed light. And, it seems, he did not listen to the waning inner defenses seeking for him to set aside his failings.

The corrective became destructive. To save Haggard’s soul, he was given over to the lesser, more shaming temptation so that he would not lose his soul to the pernicious forces of public acclaim. It is likely, in my estimation, that it is because of the more potent and much more culturally acceptable sin of pride that he fell.

Someone in that position would never be shamed for having pride or vainglory, indeed such temptations are generally honored, even in the church. And thus, God moved to save his soul.

The fact that he was greatly tempted does not mean he was a terrible hypocrite. It means he was given a great deal of gifts and was quite valuable for the kingdom. He was a spiritual threat and so he was attacked all that much more. But, he was not invaluable.

God will not be mocked, in private or in public. Those he loves he disciplines. Just as he did with King David.

Because he was a great man, Haggard had a great fall. It is sad he could not find his way right without having to come to terms with a vocal accuser. It is sad that first he apologized more for being caught than for what he did. My sense is, now, he accepts his mistakes, sees them as such, and is wrestling with his new reality that will not be tempted by pride or vainglory.

For those of us smaller people it is a lesson and a caution.

I pray Haggard is able to find new light in his life in the future, a light he may have otherwise been in the serious danger of losing, even with his monumental success.


Scripture 2 Comments »

I was standing outside, waiting for a moment to help carry down a new water heater into the basement, and noticed a curious form walking by along the top our sloping driveway, about forty feet from me.

Took me a second, but the size and the tail gave it away. Looked like a housecat. It wasn’t a housecat. Too big for that. The tail was too stubby.

Bobcat. At 12:30 in the afternoon. Out for a nice Autumn walk.

It stood and stared at me for a good many seconds, not real concerned about me. Then meandered up the hill back on his way.

It’s been a while since I saw a bobcat around here, a few years in fact. Restores my faith in this being a forest.

I wish that bobcat well.

On an Island in the Mountains

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Pics from the Rim of the World highway:

Rim of the World
Rim of the World
Rim of the World
Rim of the World

White-headed Woodpecker

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white headed woodpecker
white headed woodpecker


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Sure, it’s only the beginning of November… way too early to have done something like this. I know. Just had the urge I guess.

I bumped Will Farrell’s Elf to the top of my netflix queue and watched it last night.

What did I think of it? I liked it. I liked it a lot more than I expected to like it.

Indeed, I think it’s a keeper. I’m glad I watched it now, instead of when it came out or later on closer to Christmas. I’m glad because watching it now gave me a perfect analogy for what I said a few days ago.

I love movies that hit presently exploring themes.

words of the day

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Imagine that the Lord is saying to you: ‘For a time I have taken away from you this or that gift of grace, in which you expect your intellect to find fulfillment, and so to be at peace. To make up for this, I have given you instead some other gift. Yet you think only about what has been taken away, not noticing what has been given you in its place; and so you feel dejected, pained and full of gloom. Nevertheless, I am glad because of this gloom which I have brought on you. I make you dejected for your own good. My purpose is not to destroy but to save you, since I regard you as My son.’

–John of Karpathos, c. 680