Monday, June 29, 2020

Kelly Hamren Facebook Post

Reflections from a Christian scholar on Social Justice, Critical Race Theory, Marxism, and Biblical Ethics
During the weeks following the death of George Floyd, I have been following the news with an increasing sense of sadness and concern for the problems facing the United States regarding race and racism. I’ve been unsure how to respond as I’ve scrolled through social media and watched increasingly polarized rhetoric on both sides of the political aisle—except to listen to the voices of Black friends and neighbors who are hurting and to pray for justice. I’ve tried to apply the biblical principle of being “slow to speak” (James 1:19), but I’ve been convicted recently about joining a particular thread of the (inter)national conversation taking place among those who share my faith in Jesus Christ and want to support truth and justice without compromising on principles peculiar and integral to our faith—principles that they are afraid might be stealthily replaced by rhetoric from other, incompatible frameworks of thinking.
Two frameworks I’ve been hearing about increasingly often are familiar to me from my own field: Critical Race Theory and Marxism. Because I have some expertise in these areas, I want to offer some thoughts and, hopefully, clarification to the conversation.
I’ll begin by giving some credentials, not to ask for accolades but to indicate why I want to address these areas of the cultural conversation in particular. I have two English degrees (B.A. and M.A.) from a Christian university and a Ph.D. in literature and criticism from a state university. In my field, Marxism is one of the most commonly studied and most influential perspectives, and Critical Race Theory is also a significant force and gaining momentum. As a result, I’ve studied these theories extensively.
What gives me an unusual perspective in my field, however, is the fact that my primary research interest—and the topic of my doctoral dissertation—is twentieth-century Russian literature. My studies have convinced me that the sufferings and deaths of millions are not only correlated with but largely caused by the Marxist-Leninist agenda, and I am therefore deeply opposed to Marxism as a framework. I hope that, knowing this, those patient enough to read these notes will acquit me of being a closet Marxist covering a secular agenda with a veneer of Bible verses.
That said, I do believe that some reactions to the protests following the death of George Floyd in particular and the Black Lives Matter movement in general are based on a failure to recognize important nuances in the conversation. I’m going to address what I believe to be some problematic reasoning I’m seeing come from Christian sources on race:
Argument #1: Like all sin, racism originates in the human heart. Therefore, the solution to racism is for people’s hearts to change. “Systemic racism,” on the other hand, is a Marxist idea.
Response: The first sentence’s claim is true. If you believe in original sin (Genesis 3, Romans 5), you have to admit that any sin originates in the human heart. Sin might be aggravated by circumstances, but circumstances don’t cause sin. However, the conclusion that the solution to racism is for people’s hearts to change is true but incomplete. If people are born in sin and people build a society, that society will be structured in ways that reinforce whatever sins dominate the hearts of those who build it. Therefore, even if many people’s hearts change a few generations later, those structures might still perpetuate the problems associated with that society’s “original sins.”
This is why—and I believe this is an important distinction as well—it is possible to recognize that many individual police officers might not be racist and still believe that changes in police departments need to take place to discourage injustice. What those changes might be—alterations in training, changes in criteria for which areas are patrolled more often, etc.—is an important conversation, but having it does not mean condemning all police officers, many of whom are no doubt grieved at the horrific actions of other officers, such as the murderer of George Floyd. The problem can be built into structures and (some) individual hearts.
Here is how the above arguments are distinct from Marxism:
Marxism posits that socio-economic forces create the problem, not that they perpetuate the problem. A true Marxist does not believe that individuals have essential selves apart from the historical contexts in which they develop. As an atheistic philosophy, Marxism does not allow for belief in a soul, and therefore, people are merely the products of the world they live in (referred to as a “superstructure” of social norms, historical forces, religious ideas, etc.). The way to change people is to change society, and, for those who follow the most progressive version of Marxism, to dismantle society and recreate it from the ground up (this is what Lenin tried to do in Russia and Mao Tsetung tried to do in China). I know people who hold to the most extreme version of this philosophy.
If you believe (as I do) that sin, such as racism, originates in the human heart and merely manifests itself in society, you can recognize the above project as fundamentally utopian. It won’t work because whatever society you build from scratch will still have problems (perhaps new ones, perhaps the same ones) because you won’t have fixed the source of the problems (the human heart). Only one Person can eradicate sin from the world, and I pray for that Person’s coming with an increasing sense of urgency these days.
However, to reject the claim that “fixing society at the structural level will fix everything” does not mean that we should reject the idea of being good stewards of the society in which we live. The fact that we will never be able to eradicate sin (this side of the resurrection) does not mean we should sit back and allow it free reign. Those among my fellow believers who oppose abortion are already recognizing that sin and its effects can be addressed on both individual and societal levels. Meeting with a desperate woman outside a clinic and convincing her not to end her baby’s life is addressing it at the individual level. But many who reach out to prospective patients outside clinics also campaign for legal protections for the unborn and support clinics (like our local Blue Ridge Women’s Center) that provide desperate women with other options, resources, counseling, and support. Other systemic changes might involve better guarantees for parental leave, stronger incentives for paternal involvement or financial support, and funding for adoptive and social service venues. Addressing the problem of abortion at the systemic level does not mean caving into Marxism unless we believe that doing so is the only, complete, and permanent solution.
I firmly believe that if we are to work toward racial reconciliation, we need to admit that the history of racism in the United States (slavery, Jim Crow, etc.) has left us with problems that need to be addressed at the heart level AND at the structural level.
Argument #2: Critical Race Theory is a Marxist framework, and therefore, it is antithetical to the Gospel.
Response: Critical Race Theory is indeed deeply informed by Marxism. As a result, I recognize that, as a Christian scholar, I will not agree with all of its tenets. However—and bear in mind, this is coming from someone who wrote a dissertation about the ways in which Russian poets coped with Marxist-Leninist oppression—Marx was not wrong about absolutely everything. Very few thinkers are (probably because they are all made in God’s image) wrong about everything.
Here are two statements on which I, as a Christian scholar, actually agree with Marx—while vehemently rejecting his philosophy as a whole:
1) Power does exist, and people do sometimes use it to oppress others.
Reading the Old Testament will make these truths abundantly clear (Nebuchadnezzar, Pharaoh, the list goes on). And everyday experience makes these truths abundantly clear. Just ask anyone whose boss fired him/her for no good reason. Even Marx’s cited evidence for the above truths was legitimate. During the Industrial Revolution, factory workers had few legal protections, worked overly long hours in unsafe environments, and received few benefits and low pay.
2) Oppressed people do suffer, and their suffering is often unjust.
I actually believe that as a Christian, I have a much better foundation for supporting the above statement than Marx did. If people are merely cogs in the wheel of history, it’s hard to explain why anyone should care if they suffer. The fact that most Marxists I know are deeply compassionate people is, I believe, a testament to their humanity (being made in God’s image), not their philosophy. Because I believe people are made in God’s image (Genesis 1); the God whom I worship warned his followers repeatedly not to oppress the poor, widows, foreigners, etc. (cf. Deuteronomy 15:7 and countless other passages); and Jesus reached out to those whom society despised (women, Samaritans, etc.); I can argue with confidence that my faith is wholly consistent with working to mitigate oppression in the society in which I live. By doing so, I am not embracing an alternate gospel but merely living in a way consistent with the Gospel I have embraced since I was a child.
What some are referring to as “social justice” these days—making sure our laws and institutions don’t make it easier for the powerful to oppress marginalized groups—often refers to good, old-fashioned biblical justice. This may mean that those who have more should be given structural incentives to share with those who have less. Ruth was able to pick up the grain from behind Boaz’s reapers because he was following the biblical mandate for them not to go back and pick up what they’d dropped—that was reserved for the poor and the immigrants. He could have argued that it all belonged to him, since he planted it, but he was willing to share. Requiring him to give up every scrap of grain from his field to distribute it equally among the whole town would have been Marx’s solution, but requiring him to leave a little behind was God’s solution (Leviticus 23:22). Exactly how the principle of protecting the poor should be translated into legislation and cultural practices today is a separate question—one I’m not prepared to address here. Some incentives already exist (e.g., tax breaks for charitable donations). I’m merely pointing out that Christians who express concern about the disparity between the “haves” and “have nots” should not be labeled Marxists by other Christians on that criterion alone. And if the term “social justice” is sometimes co-opted by Marxists, rejecting the concept outright robs Christians of the chance to become part of the conversation regarding its definition and application. It is a fluid concept right now, and using the term in a way that validates biblical principles of justice can help shape the way in which the cultural conversation develops. Backing out of the conversation, on the other hand, involves relinquishing the chance to have what could be an important, positive influence.
Argument #3: The Black Lives Matter movement is Marxist and supportive of the LGBTQ community’s attempts to criminalize traditional, biblical views of sexuality.
Response: The official Black Lives Matter movement, started by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi, is indeed built on a Marxist foundation and deeply involved with LGBTQ agendas. I took an entire doctoral-level cultural studies course on the Black Lives Matter movement, so I’m very aware of these connections. However, as the course in question also involved a study of Twitter campaigns and hashtags (yes, people study Twitter in academia these days), I became just as aware that most people who use the #blacklivesmatter hashtag have no connection to the movement proper. The hashtag itself speaks a truth, and people who hold up a sign at a protest proclaiming that truth are not necessarily involved with or even aware of the tenets of the movement proper. Conversations surrounding the Black Lives Matter protests should not assume that the slogan is owned by the movement (nor should the movement itself try to “own” all those who use the hashtag or the slogan). I also believe that if Christians fail to become involved in promoting the truth behind the slogan, we are lending credence to the Marxist claim that Christianity exists merely to perpetuate the injustices it (Marxism) seeks to correct. I think many of my fellow believers would be surprised how many people in my field are disgusted by our faith not because they believe we hold outdated ideas about God (though that’s a common belief as well) but because we’ve failed, so many times throughout history, to stand up for the oppressed. My response to that disgust is that they’re not wrong about Christians having done the wrong thing at many times throughout history but that, when Christians have done the wrong thing, we’ve been acting in a way inconsistent with the tenets of our own faith. Because I believe that even Christians struggle with sin, I’m not surprised when I study history and read about my brothers and sisters having massive blind spots and acting accordingly (it makes me wonder what my own massive blind spots are). But I do believe that those blind spots are just that—blind spots, areas in which they failed to see the truths of Scripture or understand how to apply them. When I see atrocities perpetrated by Lenin, Stalin, or Mao, however, I see the source of those atrocities built into their own philosophy and its assumption that creating a virtual paradise (a classless society) is possible and therefore worth achieving no matter what the cost.
Also, for the record, those in the LGBTQ community are highly sensitive that they not be left out of conversations involving justice for other marginalized groups. While I hold to a traditional, biblical view of sexuality that would offend many in the LGBTQ community, I do believe it is important that they be treated like the human beings they are, and I am willing to listen to them even if I will not agree with all of their claims. There is a real fear among members of the LGBTQ community that they will suffer violence and dehumanization from others (and instances of such violence are well-documented). As human beings, they deserve protection from those threats. Conversations over the distinction between disagreement and dehumanization are difficult because they involve questions regarding identity categories, but I hope and pray that such conversations can still happen.
Argument #4: The concept of “white privilege” is unjust because it blames white people today for atrocities, such as slavery or segregation, that were set up generations ago and that they had no hand in creating. It also suggests that white people today should feel guilty for racism even if they are not racists themselves.
Response: Some people probably do use the term “white privilege” in this way (the conversation is developing at such a rapid pace that such terminology is developing new shades of meaning at an accelerated rate). However, the term is helpful in describing a real phenomenon—one that I’ve personally witnessed taking place. Bear with me, and I’ll define it first, then share a personal story to illustrate what I mean.
“White privilege” refers to the phenomenon in which white people receive certain societal benefits that they did not earn—benefits they receive by default simply for being white.
To be clear, I do not feel guilty for being born white. I was created that way, and it’s no more a sin to be born white than it is to be born a member of any other race. However, I do recognize that some people—and some institutions—will respond to me differently because I am white. I do not, for example, get followed around department stores by loss-prevention officers because I look like “the kind of person who might steal something.” My Black friends do have that happen to them.
This is where the term “privilege” gets sticky, because it can be understood to mean I have a benefit that I shouldn’t have—i.e., that we should both be followed around the store. Actually, however, what I’m receiving is the benefit of the doubt—the default assumption that I’m going to be honest until I do or say something to undermine that assumption. What the concept of privilege actually suggests is that we should both get the benefit of the doubt. It is not a privilege because I shouldn’t have it; it is a privilege because I have it and other people just as honest as I am do not have it. The term, in this context, calls attention to an unjust and illogical disparity in expectations.
Now, how should I respond? Should I feel guilty for the racism informing the tendencies of loss-prevention officers to target customers other than me for surveillance?
I shouldn’t feel the guilt of being individually culpable for what other people do. After all, I didn’t ask the loss-prevention officers to follow other people around. However, I should feel guilty if I recognize the larger problem at work here—both individual and systemic racism—and do nothing about it. I can’t fix it single-handedly, but I can speak up. I can vote. I can teach texts in my classroom that confront these issues. I can say something when a white friend tells a racist joke. I can listen to my friends of color when they share their experiences and allow myself to be guided by their insight. If I don’t, I’m part of the problem and share the guilt of perpetuating it (even though I didn’t personally cause it).
I might also feel other emotions, such as anger, which is a proper response to injustice. This is, in fact, exactly what I felt when I visited the local social security office to get an updated card after my wedding thirteen years ago. My sister, a Korean-American adopted at three-months-old and naturalized as an American citizen in early childhood, had gotten married to her husband in the same ceremony. She, being more on top of things than I was, had already gone to the office to get her card. She had taken the required documents listed on the website—birth certificate, current social security card, a photo ID, etc. When she arrived at the office and showed her papers, however, they demanded more: they wanted to see other papers, records, etc. that were not officially required when she already had a valid social security card. I remember them demanding that she make several trips to their office—I even remember hearing that they wanted to make her take a test in American history (because all real Americans apparently know their history so well). Finally, she got the card.
Having heard about all the hoops they had made her jump through, I was nervous about going to get my card. I double-checked that I had everything—birth certificate, social security card, photo ID, etc. When I got to the window, I handed over my current card and said I was there to get an updated card with my new name. The woman behind the counter handed it to me without even asking to see my driver’s license.
When I got back to my car, I called my sister and ranted about what racist jerks ran the social security office and how outraged I was on her behalf. I probably felt a little self-righteous, if I’m honest, for my outrage, and I do believe I was right to feel the outrage. I shouldn’t have felt so righteous, though. A more righteous person would have walked back inside and asked to speak to the employee’s supervisor. Maybe I wasn’t a racist, but I didn’t do anything to challenge racism when it hit me in the face, and so, notwithstanding my righteous anger, I failed to do the right thing because I don’t like confrontations.
I hope and pray that, given the injustices on national news these days, I will do the right thing the next time I get a chance to. It’s why I’m writing this essay-length note, knowing full well that my Marxist friends (if they take the time to read it) will not appreciate my objections to their philosophy and that some of my Christian friends (if they take the time to read it) will see me as selling out. I want to do the right thing this time, though, and so I’m doing my best to add to a difficult conversation. I welcome any and all honest responses, whether they agree with me or not. There are important questions being raised about issues that directly and/or indirectly affect my brothers and sisters in Christ—and my friends of other faiths and no faith who share similar concerns about justice. So I’ll end my long reflections by saying, on or off social media, let’s talk.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Unnatural Ease

Yesterday I said something about how eating and drinking often keep me going, and I speculated that my dependence on those sorts of "stimulations" to keep me going might be classified as addictions, but tonight, as I think about it more, I wonder if that's true. Maybe it's that we're not typically moving around enough as 20th and 21st century Americans to be stimulated a different way, that is, by physical activity. As I think I mentioned before, it's hardest for me to keep going on tasks that don't involve physical movement, and writing this is one of those tasks.

I know I'm more aware of my physical activity, or lack of it, than others are. There are several people I'm close to in my life who don't seem to mind sitting for extended periods of time. That's certainly true with lots of bus drivers. I think they do turn to snacks to keep themselves awake and alert, but I'm not sure they're aware of what they're doing.

So maybe my "need" to eat or drink something to stay alert and productive is tied more with just not being active at those times, more than I could fairly describe as an addiction.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Fasting & Addiction

It's the day after Thanksgiving. Yesterday we were at my sister's place in Plymouth. We ate a lot of very good food. And I am thankful -- for family, for food, and for a warm place to be on this cold morning. We're not having as full a morning as we thought it would be. One of the kids is sick, so the rest decided not to get together. So I can write a bit more. Sort of on the same subject as yesterday.

Yesterday morning, before we went to my sister's for a midday feast, I had chosen not to eat. I had done something that I've heard called "intermittent fasting" before Toni and I went on our European tour in the early fall, so this wasn't strange. (You may not know anything about this if we haven't talked or if you're not on facebook. I'd be glad to share with anyone who asks.) It was hard, though, because when I'm fasting it's difficult to keep mentally focused on non-essential or non-physical tasks. The other times I did fasted from night until noon was before going on my trip, and during those days I was working. Yesterday I wasn't. I did manage to write a little during the fasting time, but it wasn't easy at all. I finished writing yesterday's post after we got home from my sisters in the early evening.

I've been reminded about how much I depend upon the stimulation of eating and drinking to keep myself moving since I started my periodic fasting. I'm guessing that that "dependence" could be classified as a kind of addiction. I'm guessing, too, that most of our lives, that is, among those of us who have enough food and drink, are driven by addictions of some sort. And I think taking time to fast is helpful to uncover those addictions, and, perhaps, to begin learning to depend directly upon the Lord. I'm often not very good at that. But I'll take it on as a challenge today.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Alone with God

Blogging, which I used to do a lot, is not social media, at least not in the way we think of social media in the mid to late 2010s. Blogging is a more solitary pursuit. At least that's true in my case. It's been almost a decade since I turned to blogging as a way of interacting with others. It was, back in the day, far more social than the once a month columns I would write as a parish pastor. It would get out to the people quicker, more people could theoretically read it, and, most importantly for me, people could comment!

As I was up jotting that previous paragraph before 3 AM this morning, and now as I resume writing shortly after 7, I know it's challenging for me to write alone. And not only writing. It's hard to do much of anything alone. That's not to say that I don't. I do. But it's easier for me to do "whatever," that is, something that is worthwhile (Colossians 3:17) if I think there's some kind of community out there that might notice, even if after the fact, even if they really don't care what I'm doing or might even laugh disparagingly. That might be strange, but it's true.

Jesus, in the Gospel of Matthew, addresses this in the Sermon on the Mount. Two of the "whatever you dos" mentioned there are prayer and fasting. Another is giving to those in need. Jesus begins this section by telling to avoid doing those good things so that others will notice. When you give to those in need, says Jesus, do it quietly. When you pray, do it in secret. When you choose not to eat (when you "fast"), don't let others know. Why? I don't think it's because God wants us to always be alone when you do good things. The warning, in Matthew 6, is against the temptation to put on a show for others. If that's what you're doing, if that's your purpose, God isn't involved. It's just public relations. It's just seeking attention. It's not "real." It's a show.

I don't think this is just about giving or praying or fasting. I think the principle can be applied to any good thing you or I do. If we're doing it for show, or to build up our reputation, then it's not really a positive thing in terms of our "soul" or our life with God. But I don't think it means we should always be doing everything spiritually good in private. The scripture story of Jesus, for example, makes it clear that others noticed when he would get up early to spend time with his Father. On Jesus last evening before his trial and execution he asked his disciples to stay awake and not too far away while he prayed. And Jesus' teaching prayer, the "Our Father," assumes a community of pray-ers. So the point isn't to be completely alone. Just don't do it to show off.

Personally I appreciate the encouragement of others. There are many other places in scripture, at least in the New Testament, where we're told to encourage and warn others in various ways. (It'd probably be good if I'd cite examples but I'll skip that because I still haven't gotten to my main point.) If spiritual life was intended to be entirely private there'd be no way we could know when encouragement or admonition was needed, and we'd never receive it when we were the most in need. And I need it because on my own I lose energy for my spiritual life, and any of the semi-spiritual good things that would be good for me to do.

I think blogging is one of those things that are good. There are lots of other things too. And though this is not "in secret," it's not in a place where very many people see it. I'll say that's okay because just doing the work, with the Lord, gets me into His Word and spending this personal time with Him.

That's enough for now.

Have a good night. It's 9 PM now.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Time for Deeper Things

Are others "troubled," or is it just me? I'm troubled, or perhaps another word would be "disturbed," way down deep inside my mind and soul, and pretty much as a regular thing, because there are so many topics and questions and challenges about which I want to express myself, and pray about, but don't seem to ever take enough time to do that prayerful communicating when I'm in a situation where it would be appropriate. Part of the reason is that there are so many other things to do. Washing and putting away dishes. Cleaning. Taking care of grandchildren and parents. Dealing with the important but practical details of life. And I didn't even mention working for a living!

So what are some of those topics? I'd like to revisit the question of marriage and sexuality, not to change what I've said before, but to dig deeper. I'd like to say something about why I don't believe some topics, such as sexuality and marriage should be addressed "in public" as a first priority concern, while other topics need to be brought into the foreground. I'd like to write more about my understanding of what Jesus did to the world through his death and resurrection. Then I'd share what all these things mean for evangelistic work today.

But tonight, as I sit here after putting one of our grandchildren to bed at his home, I'm tired and would rather do other things before his parents get home. Then, in the morning, it'll be back to work. I'm thankful, so much so, for this life, but I do often feel "troubled" as I wrote above. I'll just need to pray, let go, and trust that the time will come for those deeper things.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Monday Shorts

Instead of posting thoughts on facebook, I'll try posting short thoughts here for awhile.
  • Speaking of shorts, I brought my bus driver uniform shorts to get let out in the waist. "Galls," the place where Metro Transit drivers get their uniforms, said there was an inch of extra material on there they could use.
  • I've been hitting my exercise routine even harder than usual in the last few days, going to the gym for my weight routine, and also doing more running and biking again now that the weather has warmed up and I've got much needed new tires on my 13 year old bike. My recent added workouts might mean I won't need the extra space in the waist.
  • As of today, I've chalked up 100 days in a row working on "French via Portuguese" on the app "Duolingo."
  • Naomi went back to work today after 3 months of parental leave. Toni and I will have her 3 month old son Asher with us on Wednesdays beginning the day after tomorrow.
  • Shatera and Dan's son Liam is here on Fridays from about 10 until noon, and we sometimes go up there to be with Liam on Sunday evenings when his parents are leading their church youth group.
  • Sometime near the beginning of March dad had a minor accident with the car that he and mom own together. Since that time I've been bringing mom and dad to their church most every Sunday. There's so much to say about that.
  • Mom and dad, with the help of my sisters, are seriously considering a move to "Parkshore," a senior living campus in St. Louis Park. Tomorrow we'll go take a look at an assisted living apartment that will be available in early May. Not sure if they're quite ready to move.
  • Toni's been busy with her business and with music, singing in two choirs, leading a wind ensemble, and soon rehearsals will begin with a band she's part of in the summer. Right now she'a playing piano. I love it when she does that!
That's all I'm going to write for now. God's peace to all in Jesus' name.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Beyond the Photo

Thanks to Toni for taking this pic!
It's the day after the day after Thanksgiving. Yesterday, on the Friday after Thanksgiving, we had two of our kids and their kids here. On Thanksgiving Day Toni and I were out in Chanhassen at my brother Peter and his wife Leah's place. I'm told there were 31 there -- the extended Paul & Joan Thorson family -- though I didn't count them all myself. (Leah's mom, and perhaps others, had left before we lined up for this photo.)

In the midst of all this great family time I went to work yesterday, and I've been thinking about bigger issues, issues that we don't talk about much as a family. (I've posted about some of those issues in the last week or so in social media.) I don't think we're intentionally avoiding certain subjects--we just don't have a lot of time together. Our conversations, therefore, focus more on what's going on in our personal lives, or what's going on at the moment in our gathering.

That's how it is usually is when I'm with groups of people I care about -- whether at work or among friends. Groups that have more than 2 or 3 in them usually aren't a good place to talk about political or faith issues. Those kinds of talks happen more when two or three are gathered. Or, now-a-days, online.

The adults in the picture above, dear family members, are intelligent Christian people, capable of deep thought and careful conversation. I look forward to talking with many of them about these larger issues in the months to come.

Let's try to do that. If you're reading this, let me know. Then let's try to find ways to share. It'll take some work. It'll stretch us intellectually and emotionally. It'll challenge us to listen... and to love one another when we disagree. I do think, though, that we need to do that if we're going to be good citizens and helpful members of the church.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Abortion -- A Troubling Question

As some of you know, I threw my support behind the Minnesota "DFL" party during the past election. Many of my friends would not agree -- partly because of the issue of abortion. I'll try to say a few words about that here.

When I think about abortion, I can't help but think of the baby... and the mother too. I do think of the unborn child as just that, a child. And, still, I do believe that a woman, that is, a mother, has the final word on how she will deal with life, both hers and the life she is carrying, when she becomes pregnant. I am staunchly anti-abortion, but I believe that the mother will make choices, choices that only she can make -- unless you're wanting to take away a part of what makes her a free human being.

It's clear, I believe, from science and scripture, that "life" begins at conception. When an ovum is fertilized by a sperm, a new life begins. Some of those new lives survive until natural birth months later. Others do not, for a variety of reasons, some of which are known to the mother, others that are just mysteries.

In any case, for the first few months of life, until that child can survive outside the womb, one life (that of the child) is entirely dependent upon one unique other (the mother). Because of that dependence, it doesn't make sense to me to think of the child as having an independent life. That independent life begins when the child takes his or her first breath. So the life within the mother's womb is not the same as the life of the mother.

Somehow, as we think about abortion, and the many choices that a woman makes about how to care for themselves and the children they nurture during pregnancy, we need to recognize and respect the woman's right to choose. I always hope they will choose life. I hope I'll always be willing to do as much as I can to support her and her children, born or unborn. But, when it comes to the choices that woman makes about the life that's completely dependent upon her, until it's born, I'm not willing to have the government tell her what to do.


Added Monday, November 19: A loved one challenged me about what I wrote above, saying what I wrote above shows that I don't really believe life begins at conception. I need to think about that more. To do that I listened to a two year old "Depolarize Podcast" interview with "Christian ethicist, writer and pro-life advocate Matthew Lee Anderson." There's a section in particular in that interview that I'm looking at closely, actually transcribing it.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Good Night

It's been close to a month since I've written on here. There's just always a lot going on it seems. And now I'll be heading to bed soon.

Toni and I are home after being gone most of the day, first in Northfield with her mom, and then up at my sister's place in Blaine to celebrate birthdays including my mom's 88th.

I'll be up just after 5 AM tomorrow as usual. Good night.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Differences and Truth

Good morning! Toni and I are up at the Dahlin cabin. Today is my last vacation day of 2018. I saved it so we could come up for a long weekend with Toni's mom, mostly, I guess, to "close" it for the coming winter.
Yesterday, after church, we got all the outside stuff into the little garage, took the canoe over to Schoolhouse Lake, and then went out for a meal with some friends. There'll be cleaning etc. to do inside today before we can head home.

The pic at the top of this post was taken, as it says, at Grace Lutheran Church in Hayward. I was hoping to hear Tony Stoutenburg preach, but he was out of town at the LCMC gathering. I was still glad to be there. There's a connection between that church and my own story, a story that has "Truth" at its center.

No two stories are alike though. Even when we are in dedicated service to the Truth, and to the One who is "The Way, The Truth and The Life," there will be differences among us. That's always been the case: It was true among Jesus' first followers, as they emphasized different aspects of discipleship. and it continues to be true today.

There's been a heightened public awareness of those differences during the last 2-3 years, an awareness that has made it more difficult for me to write significant posts on this blog. And there's no clearer example of that than what we just went through in recent days we here in the United States as we have all suffered, in different ways, through the gut wrenching confirmation of Brett Kavenaugh to the supreme court.

My personal story of truth-telling and truth-following has led me to connect, personally and professionally, with Christian brothers and sisters who are often more liberal or more conservative than me. ++ As someone who is hugely concerned with environmental issues, including human caused climate change, and who believes that there is indeed such a thing as "white privilege," something that I've benefited from my whole life, I should be at home among liberals or even socialists. ++ But I can't go there, not completely, because, I'm also convinced that there is a God-given design for family, violations of which have wrought so much suffering on those are not able to protect themselves, particularly among the young. Liberals, in general, have a "love is love" philosophy of relationships that does not generally honor God's original design.

So I find myself, often, without a "tribe," that is, without a conservative or liberal community that I see eye-to-eye with.

I've seen that play out as my friends have cheered, or been angered by, the Kavenaugh confirmation.

It's been puzzling, troubling, gut-wrenching, at least ever since Christine Blasey Ford brought forward her story of sexual assault. I was shocked by Kavenaugh's angry, partisan, conspiracy theory centered denial, and very much saddened by his unwillingness to admit that he could have, perhaps, done something that harmful under the influence of alcohol--so many years ago. I was even more troubled as I saw our presidents supporters cheering as Donald Trump mocked Christine Blasey Ford, and even more bothered as I read comments of my conservative Christian friends who just can't seem to admit the possibility that a "brilliant legal mind," like Kavenaugh's, could have been clouded by alcohol "back in the day."

So I'm betwixed and between, neither conservative nor liberal. It's uncomfortable, but, I'd rather stand with what (and Who) is True than just allow myself to be swayed by friendship or party loyalty. I pray, every day, that I'll be open to hearing any aspects of Truth that I've missed. I pray that I'll always be open to changing my mind when necessary, and that I'll never be too afraid to fail in service to the Truth.

Saturday, September 29, 2018


Toni and I bought a car today. An SUV. It's called a "compact SUV," but it's about 20" longer than the compact car (a Ford Focus). It doesn't seem very "compact" to me. We were able to buy this car because Toni's dad gave his fancy Buick Enclave to Toni before he went to be with the Lord. We are thankful that we were able to exchange the Buick for $9-10,000. Not quite enough for the 2013 Chevrolet Equinox that we chose -- but enough to certainly make it easier to pay for.

Now we're home. Both of us are glad we made the decision, and the purchase, today, before we analyzed it to death. There are always things that we could wish were different. Best just to decide. So that's done.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Burning the Midnight Oil

Monday evening. Toni's on her way home, I think, and it won't be long until I go to bed. I didn't sleep well last night, so I'm looking forward to sleep.
I wrote that 5 days ago, at probably about 8:00 PM. When Toni did get home that night, I was fast asleep. The next night (Tuesday), I didn't sleep well at all. It went like that all week, sleeping well one night and then not much the next. Now it's Saturday night and I'm up again. It's been kind of rough, but I have had some good naps so don't feel too bad.

Since mid week I've chosen to get up and do things if I'm not sleeping. That's what I'm doing now. I'll get tired enough soon to go back to bed, where Toni already is. She sleeps well, consistently. It's rare that she doesn't. Maybe only when she's ill.

One of the things I did last night and tonight was to finish making a list of books that Toni brought home from her parents. She'd been there getting her mom settled into a different apartment following her dad's funeral. The books mainly belonged to him; the ones I've been listing are mainly theological and Christian. Books I'd like to keep if I had space.

One thing I could do at night would be to read, I suppose, and I do that sometimes, but reading takes a sharper mind than I usually have when I'm sleepless. I told our son Daniel this week that doing fairly "mindless" tasks at night is helpful for me. Reading theology wouldn't be mindless at all. It's also not very physical. Keeping my body moving at least a little bit is good to do at night.

So it's getting close to 1 AM. I think it's time to try to sleep again. First I'll finish putting the silverware away -- I put the dishes away earlier. Then maybe I'll take a shower before I go back to bed.