Category Archives: In the News

The Costly Substitution of our Values

The author Max Lucado related the story of some clever thieves who were able to rob a department store in a large city without hiding any items in purses or clothes or taking a single item from the store that was not checked out by a clerk. They received a receipt for everything they stole.

The band went to the store, dispersed and, like other shoppers, quietly browsed through the merchandise. Unlike other shoppers, they furtively removed barcode tags from less costly items and swapped them for the tags on pricier items. They exchanged the tag on a $395 camera for the tag on a box of stationary. They put the price tag from a paper-back book on an outboard motor. Then they left the store without taking a thing.

When the store opened the next morning, there were displaced price tags everywhere. One would expect chaos to ensue but, surprisingly, the store operated normally for some time. A few customers (the thieves were likely among them) got away with steals while others, outraged by what they considered ridiculous prices, refused to make purchases. It took four hours before management noticed the mix-up.

Something is happening in the larger world that mirrors that department store. A hoax has been played on us that has been generations in the making. Price tags on values have been switched and few people have taken notice. Possessions are treasured more highly than people. Greater importance is attached to careers than to children. Fulfillment is esteemed above faithfulness.
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My Declaration of Dependence

The English colonies in America began with land grants made by James I to the London and Plymouth Companies, and developed as business entities managed by shareholders or proprietors in the pursuit of financial gain. Georgia, the last of the thirteen colonies to be chartered, proved to be the exception. Its founder envisioned it as a place where debtors and the “worthy poor” could flourish, though the Crown was more interested in its value as a buffer between Spanish-held territory to the south and its income-producing colonies to the north.

In the beginning, the American companies – whether the Massachusetts Bay Company or the Virginia Company or Lord Baltimore’s Maryland province – were in competition with each other. But as the decades (and centuries in the case of Virginia and the New England colonies) rolled by, their people increasingly recognized their common interests and bemoaned their common injuries.

When representatives of the thirteen colonies assembled in congress on July 4, 1776, they issued a very solemn Declaration of Independence from the British Crown. But before declaring the colonies to be “free and independent states,” the signers emphasized that they were in unanimous agreement as the “thirteen united States of America.”

The representatives recognized their own limitations. They understood that they could not successfully declare their independence from Great Britain without acknowledging their dependence upon one another. Independence from a greater power requires dependence upon another power, whether the collective power of individual states or the ultimate power of a divine being. The founding fathers acknowledged their dependence upon both. Continue reading

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The Bedrock Upon Which Racism Is Built

The author, activist, and preacher Jim Wallis has called racism America’s original sin. Racism is, indeed, an ancient and ugly sin. It is a sin that is even more heinous when it occurs in the Church of Jesus Christ in whom there “is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.”

Yet I think Wallis is wrong to identify racism as America’s original sin. There is an even older one. It was here before our “more perfect” – though never perfected – union was formed. There is greed.

When I was in elementary school (and, later, junior high and high school), I liked history classes. History texts and history teachers told stories, interesting stories that affirmed my place in the world as an American. Before I left elementary school, I understood that our forefathers and foremothers heroically left their homes and journeyed here to gain their religious freedom.

While this is true it is not the entire truth. Whatever the reason our particular forefathers and foremothers came here, many of them were able to come because their presence in the new world proved economically advantageous to the Crown and to the leading business interests of England, France, Spain, and the Netherlands. Continue reading

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Let’s Get Our Bearings Before We Give Directions

In the summer of 2016, my wife and I were on a 70,000-acre lake in Quebec that we had never been to before. On the third or fourth morning we were there, I took the boat out by myself. The sun hadn’t yet risen, but the east was already turning colors and steam was rising everywhere off the lake.

It was so gorgeous that I fumbled around for my camera and was taking pictures as I headed toward a spot we had fished the previous evening. I didn’t stop the boat to take pictures because I was hoping to reach that bay before the sun broke the horizon. So, with the outboard at full throttle, I’d take a picture, look at it in the view screen, delete it if I didn’t like it, then take another.

I had been doing this for five or ten minutes and was passing through a straight that opened up into a much larger arm of the lake. That was when I looked around and realized I didn’t know where I was. The landscape was not at all familiar. I was lost.

When you don’t know where you are, you don’t know how to get where you’re going. I immediately stopped the boat and sat still on the glassy water. I got out the rudimentary map we had been given when we arrived – it was more like a restaurant placemat than a real map – and tried to figure out where I was.
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Prejudice: Going After the Root

When enough people care enough about prejudice, when concern reaches critical mass, action is taken. This usually means that legislation is passed or new policies enacted. The display of hatred associated with a particular prejudice – for example, race discrimination … Continue reading

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While We Were Looking Elsewhere

Such things need to be considered, of course, but Covid-19 cannot be all that we think about. There are other things going on. Tomorrow, I will officiate a service for a family who lost their loved one. It will be the fourth such service in two weeks, including one for a good friend and co-worker. None of them had the coronavirus. Life (and death) goes on, even in a pandemic.

If the pandemic (and the politics that circle around it like turbulence around a hurricane’s eye) is all we can think about, we will miss out on life. We will miss out on the good God is always doing, even in the storm. We may also fail to avoid the bad things that happen independent of the virus.

A few years ago, some Hollywood director must have realized the impact a collision scene – particularly one viewers did not see coming – would have on an audience. Since then, one director after another has used the unforeseen T-Bone collision for its shock value. I wonder, as we stare down the road the pandemic is taking, if we are on such a collision course with the unseen. Continue reading

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AKA Jane Roe: The Norma McCorvey Story

FX Networks (a Walt Disney Company) is about to release the documentary AKA Jane Roe, the story of Norma McCorvey, the woman whose challenge of Texas law led to the 1973 U.S. Court ruling that struck down many state and federal abortion laws.

Ms. McCorvey was 21, unmarried, and pregnant for the third time when she was referred to lawyers Sarah Weddington and Linda Coffee, who were looking for a way to challenge and overturn Texas’s abortion laws. That was in 1969. Long before the case reached the Supreme Court, McCorvey’s baby had been born and given up for adoption.

In the mid-1990s, McCorvey made a very public conversion to Christianity, was baptized in a nationally televised event, left her job at an abortion clinic, and became a very public anti-abortion advocate. She published a book in 1998, recounting her conversion, and continued protesting abortion for more than two decades.

A few months before her death, however, she made another highly publicized, filmed for television “deathbed confession,” as she called it, saying that her anti-abortion advocacy was all an act. She said she was paid handsomely (FX puts is around $500,000) to say the things she had said and claimed it made no difference to her whether “a young woman wants to have an abortion.”

Ms. McCorvey went on to say proudly that she was “a good actress,” then added, “Of course, I am not acting now.” But who knows? She had played the actress so frequently in her life, it is possible she could no longer tell whether she was acting or not. Continue reading

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Scapegoating, Responsibility, and Neighborly Love in the Plague

Here’s a very relevant article to the age of Covid-19 – a brief history of the church’s response to another pandemic – this one in the 14th century. There are lessons for us here, and I recommend it to you.

The writer is my son, Joel Looper (PhD, University of Aberdeen), author of the forthcoming book A Protestantism without Reformation: What Dietrich Bonhoeffer Saw in America (Baylor Press). Continue reading

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Dealing with Isolation During the Covid-19 Crisis

In 2016, long before the advent of Covid-19, The New York Times ran a piece by a Dr. Dhruv Khullar titled, “How Social Isolation Is Killing Us.” “Social isolation,” Dr. Khullar wrote, “is a growing epidemic—one that’s increasingly recognized as having dire physical, mental and emotional consequences. Since the 1980s, the percentage of American adults who say they’re lonely has doubled from 20 percent to 40 percent.”

What effect will the social distancing measures ordered by state and federal leaders to combat the spread of Coivd-19 have on this older and more pervasive social isolation epidemic? When it’s over, will people make an extra effort to connect with others following weeks of enforced social distancing? Or will these temporary measures have legs—will they continue on after the executive orders have expired?

Digital distractions have already replaced human interactions for many people in daily life. The coronavirus may exacerbate this new reality.

Experts say that about one in three people in the U.S. lives alone. Among those who are over 85, the number is more like one in two. Katie Hafner, reporting in The New York Times, writes that “studies … show the prevalence of loneliness among people older than 60 ranging from 10 to 46 percent.” Khullar states that “A wave of new research suggests social separation is bad for us,” impacting sleep, altering immune systems, and raising stress hormones levels.

When isolation becomes the norm, outsiders become a threat—and for many people, isolation is the norm. Continue reading

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Has the Generation Gap Become an Abyss?

The term “generation gap” came into use in the 1960s, as both young and old people recognized basic generational differences in outlook, aspirations, and values. Acknowledging that there were differences did little to improve strained relationships. It may even have exacerbated them.

The troublemakers in those days, at least in the eyes of the “Traditionalists” (as they are sometimes called), were the Baby Boomers. Those young whippersnappers went off to college and suddenly thought they knew everything. They called the older generation names: “square,” “uptight,” and “plastic” (that is, hypocritical). They faulted them for not thinking for themselves; for just doing whatever “the Man” told them to do.

How ironic it is that today’s Millennials and Gen Z’s, while using different terminology, accuse the formerly freethinking Boomers of the same things. The gap may not be as wide as it was in the sixties, but it has deepened. When a Gen Z says, “OK, Boomer,” they’re not just telling Boomers they are wrong, they’re telling them they don’t matter. Continue reading

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