Friday, August 31, 2007

Scandal in the Senate

A Christian Response to the Craig Crisis

In June, Idaho Senator Larry Craig was arrested in the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and charged with soliciting sex from a plainclothes police officer in a public men’s restroom. Obviously, the story is a bizarre one, and its ramifications haven’t fully unfolded. As of this post, Senator Craig is protesting his innocence, though he has resigned his committee posts in the Senate and may even resign his seat entirely.

What makes the story especially thorny is that he signed a plea agreement in August admitting his guilt, though for only one of the two charges against him. Adding to the scandal, Senator Craig is a third-term Republican who has been a strong supporter of family values and has consistently voted against legislation favoring same-sex relationships.

Though I don’t often blog on politics, I think this sad situation offers the opportunity for a thoughtful response from the Christian community… a uniquely Christian response. By “uniquely Christian,” I mean a response that is more than just politically expedient or commensurate with traditional family values. I’m after a response that only believers in the gospel could give.

What does the gospel say about this sort of scandal? Does the message that “Jesus died for our sins” demand that we think or do anything in particular?

First, we should pray. The gospel tells us that sin matters most, not because it costs us political support or personal success, but because it offends the God who created us and will someday judge us. So we should pray that this event will bring about some spiritual good in Senator Craig’s life. When God arranges events such that we get caught in our sins, it is His mercy to us (even though it feels more like judgment). Sin corrupts, and left unchecked, it can destroy. But when our sin is exposed, its advance is halted and the impending disaster is avoided… IF we awaken to the danger, turn, and seek help to change. So we should pray that God’s mercy at work in these circumstances helps Senator Craig to awaken, turn, and avoid greater destruction.

Second, we should fight hypocrisy. Our own, not Senator Craig’s. Of course, in his case, the political cartoonists and late-night TV hosts have had a heyday working the hypocrisy shtick. But once again, the gospel changes our viewpoint and reminds us that we are all sinners in need of a Savior. The cross reminds us that when we speak of sin, we need cast the problem in terms of “we/us” rather than “they/them.” Only a blatant liar or a self-deceived fool would lambast Senator Craig for hypocrisy and not admit the same despicable hypocrisy in his/her own heart. Who among us has a perfectly pure heart? Which of us does not know the shadows and distortions of sexual perversion in our own depraved soul, at least at some level? “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone” (Jn 8:7). One of the things that makes Christianity (and conservative politics) so objectionable to many people is the hypocrisy that so often characterizes those claiming to be its adherents. This is a criticism we can deflect, not by being perfect through our own self-righteousness, but by admitting that we are not perfect, casting ourselves on God’s mercy, and directing attention to the only Perfect One who ever lived.

Finally, we should love each other. If Senator Craig wanted to find a safe place to retreat this weekend, a place where he would be loved and not laugh at, helped and not harangued, do you think he should come to your church? I would suggest that if we were loving each other as Jesus intended (cf. Jn 13:35), then scandalous, self-conscious sinners would know that they are welcome among us. What a great reputation to have! We might actually start hearing the sorts of accusations Jesus heard: “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” (Lk 5:30)

So next time Larry Craig’s face is paraded across your TV, let it be your reminder to pray, to be real, and to love.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

New Mercies, Take Two

Another Perspective

NOTE: My good friend Brad, who lives in Michigan, emailed me his response to my post from yesterday. It's very funny, but that's not the only reason I'm posting it. I'm posting it mainly because it makes the same point I was endeavoring to make, but from a much different perspective. Enjoy!

My morning goes more like this…Alarm goes off and I am already tired – oh wait, that wasn’t the alarm…it was my daughter kicking me in the ribs while she, still asleep, rolls for the 100th time in our bed. I jump out of bed (no…I am still half asleep and only imagine jumping out of bed). My back hurts far too much to jump, so I rise slowly, trying to straighten the kinks. As I head to the shower, I see the framework of the sun rising outside the bathroom window, desperately trying to fight its way through many layers of clouds. After stepping from the shower, I see myself in all my natural glory, marveling at the 30 pounds I put on over night…thought about riding a bike a few years ago. As I lumber out into the room to try to cover my flabbiness, I hear the crisscross of small feet in the rafters of the bedroom ceiling - not my sons, but some other denizen of this fallen world seeking the destruction of my home. I too see light coming from downstairs, only to discover that it is emanating from the basement. This particular light reminds me of a trick candle – no matter how many times I turn it off, it comes back on within a few minutes (I have a similar one in the garage). Eventually, I make it to the garage, glass of cold water and box of dry cereal in hand (my creative breakfast most days). I trip over the bike I thought of a few years back, then trip a few more times over kid’s bikes, a rusting pitchback, and a few other items. I gingerly attempt to make my way through the minefield I call my garage. In the process I spill some water on my computer bag (carrying that in my third arm) and hope it doesn’t make it to the computer. I hop in the car and start driving, shaking to the familiar wobble in a tire or some other part of the drivetrain that is refusing to be diagnosed and repaired properly. Another day has begun.

Strangely I have the same thought as you…

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. Lamentations 3:22-23
Thanks, Brad, for the great reminder that it's not the glory of the morning but the glory of our God that satisfies our soul!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

New Mercies

The Beginnings of Another Day

Alarm sounds. Snooze. A voice in my head: “It’s too dark to ride.” Alarm. Snooze. Another voice: “The whole day goes better when it begins on time.”

My wife stirs, my eyes open, and my feet slide over the side of the bed. With contacts in, riding gear on, and Zune in hand, I head for the garage. My three-year-old son stands in the doorway as I stretch by the van: “Hi, Dad.” He rubs his eyes and yawns as I turn him around and head him back toward his bunk.

It’s a cool morning, and wet. I stand on the pedals, letting the wind awaken my body and mind as I coast downhill. The sky is brightening, but the full moon is still visible above the mountains to the west, streaked with a few thin clouds. As I turn uphill to the north, the long incline burns my lungs and legs. The mountain air is invigorating, and I savor the smells: fresh rain and wet lumber. Two of my favorites.

I stray from my normal route and turn east to watch the sun rise as I climb another hill. Cresting the ridge, I see the thumbnail of fire breaking the horizon and scattering the darkness from the forests and fields around me.

Three miles out I turn and head for home. The downhill ride makes my ears ache with the wind, but it gives me the chance to relax a bit and coast. A yellow spray of wildflowers covers the hills. A snake moves on the pavement. Two bucks bound across the road in front of me; a doe lags behind.

Braking slowly, my bike glides to rest next to my wife’s. I slip quietly back into the house and notice that lights are on in the bathroom, the kitchen, and the hallway. Apparently my attempt to delay my son’s waking failed, and his quest for breakfast is fully underway. After making sure he’s all set, I grab my journal and Bible and head for the couch. Another day has begun.

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
Lamentations 3:22-23

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

A Reminder of Home

...In the Death of a Friend

I miss my brother-in-law. It’s weird. Sometimes I sort of forget that he’s gone, and I have this spontaneous urge to call him up. About six months ago during a time of extreme mental and emotional fatigue, I even had a fleeting moment driving home one day where I picked up my phone and actually started looking for his number. I remember having a vague notion that he had left and gone to a place where I hadn’t been able to talk to him for a while, but strangely, my weary mind suggested: “Oh! I could just call him!” And a half-second later I remembered that that number had been disconnected for months, and the quiet ache settled in all over again…

I wish I had some profound thing to say about all this, but I don’t. But that figures, because raw emotion is usually ineffable anyway. The closest emotional category I know to put it in is longing, but even that isn’t quite right. It’s deeper than normal longing, and heavier, but with tiny flecks of gratefulness and joy here and there, too.

There is a positive in all this, a silver lining around this dark cloud that has lingered on my horizon for so long. It always reminds me that I’m not home. I think C.S. Lewis is probably right when he says, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” (Mere Christianity)

Ed’s death is God’s reminder to me that something is dreadfully wrong here, but that thankfully, “here” is not my main address. I’m a traveler, one who has lost a dear companion on the journey, but one who knows that he’s not lost or fallen behind. He just beat me home.

His memorial service was 13 months ago today. My sister asked me to speak, and so, reluctantly, I did. These were my closing two paragraphs:

I recently read of a man whose wife passed away from an incredibly painful disease. Her suffering had been especially intense in her final days, and a few hours after it ended, her husband said to their pastor, “Pastor John, I think my wife suffered as much as Jesus did.” To which the pastor tenderly responded: “Perhaps. And if so, when their eyes met three hours ago, they didn't have to say much.”

That’s how I’ve imaged Ed’s home going. Face to face with Jesus, one of those broad Ed-Horn smiles, but not many words. One look said it all. And during their strong embrace, I have no doubt that Jesus put his lips to Ed’s ear and whispered: “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Welcome home."
I think I started this post out wrong. I put a period on that first sentence a little prematurely. After thinking about it a little more here, I guess it would have been more accurate to say, “I miss my brother-in-law… because he reminds me of home.”