Category Archives: Worldview and Culture

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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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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Good News for Today

The humorist and actor Robert Benchely once wrote, “There may be said to be two classes of people in the world; those who constantly divide the people of the world into two classes, and those who do not.”

Benchely then drew the droll conclusion that “Both classes are extremely unpleasant to meet socially, leaving practically no one in the world whom one cares very much to know.”

Benchley’s characterization of the world is funny because he, by dividing people in such a way, has unwittingly placed himself in the first of the two classes, among those one cares very little to know. But, of course, there was nothing unwitting about it, which is what makes his remark so witty.

With his self-deprecating humor, Benchely was taking on a serious subject: the human proclivity to exclude people who differ from us. If we can classify someone, put them into a box and label them, it becomes easier to discount them. They are, after all, just liberals … or conservatives … or whites … or blacks … or Mexicans … or …

In recent years, some politicians have used this human inclination to “otherize” people to their advantage. It has become part and parcel of the political playbook. It is, however, nothing new. Continue reading

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Everyone Is a Storyteller: What’s Your Story?

Every grasping, hoarding, angry person is telling themselves a story. So is every generous, sacrificial, compassionate person – but they are different stories.

The middle school Spanish teacher is a storyteller. So is the foundry worker and the clerk at the gas station. The theologian is a storyteller, as is the banker, the automaker, and the spy. Even the middle school Spanish student is a storyteller.

The stories we tell frame our understanding of the world and explain our experiences. Much of our thinking is done in stories. History is an exercise in storytelling. So is philosophy. So is science.

This is not some abstract truth. It is a daily experience. If you find a ten-dollar bill lying in the driveway, your brain automatically generates a story, or more than one. The bill slipped out of your pocket when you got out of the car to get the mail. Alternately, it fell out of the mailman’s pocket when he got out of his jeep to bring a package to the door. The story you tell yourself helps you know what to do with the ten dollars.

This is not some abstract truth. It is a daily experience. Continue reading

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Too Sophisticated for Idolatry? Think Again

Moderns think of idolatry as something that died a natural death in the early centuries of the common era. Zeus fell on hard times. His children, no longer fed by the worship of the humans, grew emaciated and wasted away to nothing.

Hardly. They merely changed their names. Athena became Education. Ares became Technology. Hermes became Media. Plutus became Economy. Nike – okay, Nike stayed Nike. Humans merely shifted their hopes for success and security from the old gods to the new or, more precisely, to the same gods in different guise. 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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