Tuesday, March 20, 2018
More recently, Gerber has initiated an annual photo contest to name a national “Spokesbaby of the year.” This year more than 140,000 pictures were submitted, and on February 7 Gerber announced the winner.
Lucas Warren is the eighth annual Gerber Spokesbaby. Son of Courtney and Jason Warren of Dalton, Georgia, Lucas has an infectious smile and an endearing personality. The photo that made him famous caught him in mid-giggle sitting in an overstuffed chair with white pants and aqua shirt, bare feet, and black polka-dot bowtie to complete the ensemble.
The name “Lucas” means “light.” He is certainly that. Courtney said, "We hope this opportunity sheds light on the special needs community and educates people that with acceptance and support, individuals with special needs have the potential to change the world -- just like our Lucas!"
Part of what makes Lucas so adorable is genetic. Of course, that’s true of every photogenic person. He can’t take credit for his facial features or physique. Nor can he be blamed. These things are just as much a part of who he is as his gender, eye color, and inborn talents.
People have always appeared, in every nation, who have shared Lucas’ endearing characteristics. They have also shared a number of physical and mental challenges. In 1866, John Langdon Down described this grouping of characteristics, which came to be called, “Down Syndrome.” Later, in 1959, it was discovered that most (not all) of the people who share these characteristics have an extra copy of the 21st chromosome pair.
All human beings have 23 pairs of chromosomes. When there is an extra copy at position 21, there are three, instead of two. The technical name for this is “trisomy 21” (meaning three chromosomes at the 21st position). For reasons that nobody fully understands, it tends to manifest itself in a cluster of symptoms that are similar, but not identical, from one person to another.
In 2006 the United Nations declared March 21 to be World Down Syndrome Day. The date was chosen because, when written: 3-21, it connotes 3 chromosomes at the 21st position.
Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon said, "On this day, let us reaffirm that persons with Down syndrome are entitled to the full and effective enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms. Let us each do our part to enable children and persons with Down syndrome to participate fully in the development and life of their societies on an equal basis with others. Let us build an inclusive society for all."
As we mark World Down Syndrome Day, let’s start by noting that it is a chromosomal reality, not a disease. Every person is born with a specific genetic makeup. It is unalterably a part of who you are. This specific makeup is duplicated in every single one of your 100 trillion cells. You cannot change your genes any more than you can change your past.
This condition is not a virus like the flu, nor is it an infection like pneumonia, still less a cancer. It is much more like blue eyes and blonde hair. But even this isn’t quite it. Blue eyes and blonde hair are hereditary. Down syndrome is not. It is not a family trait that is inherited or passed on to the next generation. It is simply a genetic trait appears in some people.
That’s why Iceland’s attempts to wipe out Down syndrome are pure evil. You cannot wipe it out like a disease, with drugs and inoculation. You cannot even wipe it out like a race, through genocide and sterilization. You can only wipe out individual people who have it, with no hope of preventing it in the next generation.
Killing people with Down syndrome serves no rational purpose. It is a policy born of ignorance and fear. Worse, what it communicates to those so affected is simply unimaginable. Did nobody in all of Iceland consider how a person with Down syndrome would react to a national policy which calls for his or her utter extinction?
For that matter, did the ACLU, NARAL, and Planned Parenthood give any thought to the 250,000 people with Down syndrome living in America, or 6 million worldwide? What is it like to be told that others have the right to kill you based on a single gene?
Yet every state that has enacted a law to prohibit genetic discrimination has met the litigious fury of abortion activists. Most recently a federal judge has stopped Ohio’s law from going into effect this Friday (March 23, 2018), while Indiana’s law was halted last September. North Dakota’s law is still in effect, while Utah is on the verge of passing its own.
To treat people with Down syndrome as though they had a disease is both unjust and ignorant. But neither should we treat people with Down syndrome as though their genes don’t matter. What cannot be changed should not be punished, but neither should it be ignored.
Basic human rights require that we treat all people with equal human dignity while also respecting the realities of their bodies. This is true whether we are considering the XY chromosomes in the 23rd position that make people male or female, or a triplicate chromosome in the 13th, 18th, or 21st place. Each is unalterably part of their humanity and should be treated as such.
The fact that people with trisomy 21 often experience significant challenges to their health is no different than the fact that people with cancer in their genes will also experience significant challenges to their health.
But trisomy 21 became singled out from every other genetic challenge around 1970 when tests became available to screen for it prior to birth. Although such tests can produce as many as 25 false positives for every true instance of Down syndrome, nearly nine in ten children are aborted after a positive test.
If prenatal tests should be developed that can detect cancer-causing genes, will those people also be eliminated in similar numbers? For that matter, how long before we come to the point of eliminating people on the basis of a prenatal diagnosis that they will, one day, die?
Trisomy 21 happens when either the mother’s egg (88%) or the father’s sperm (8%), contains a duplicated chromosome at the 21st place. When the child is conceived, and this DNA strand combines with the other, instead of the usual 23 sets of pairs, the set at place 21 is a triad.
Triplicate chromosomes (trisomies) can occur at any of the 23 places on the DNA strand. However, we rarely see people other than trisomy 21 (Down syndrome) and trisomy 23 (Intersex). People with trisomy at other places on the DNA chain usually do not survive to birth.
Some believe that genetics is simply a matter of dumb luck. If so, choice only enters when we either accept or eliminate its products. But for those who believe in a God who creates all things, genetics is already a choice, made by One higher than ourselves.
God Himself has chosen to make trisomy 21 and 23 so that people with them do not die before birth. These naturally live and grace us with their presence. They are a specific gift of God and not a “problem” to be fixed.
A society that keeps this view in mind will never make people with Down syndrome feel unwanted or undervalued. It will be “an inclusive society for all,” as Ban Ki-moon urged us to build. Still more, it will be a society that loves and is loved.
Those who know people with trisomy 21 have experienced God’s gift directly. There are few people on earth today who are so filled with joy, and bring so much joy to those around them. I have never known a parent of someone with Down syndrome who would trade this joy for a more “healthy” child.
On this World Down Syndrome Day, seek out such people and experience the joy for yourself.
Tuesday, March 13, 2018
Short of armed guards and metal detectors, the only people who can keep guns out of the sanctuary are the worshipers themselves. This is as obviously true as it is routinely forgotten.
Worshipers whose piety prohibits armaments in the house of God will empty purses and pockets of knives and guns without being asked. Those who see no conflict between piety and what is in their purse may, or may not, be corrected by church authorities.
It is an entirely different matter when the state enacts a law. These neither depend on religious sensibilities, nor on respect for sacred spaces and clergy. Rather, state laws rest upon the threat of fines and incarceration. Such threats may, or may not, persuade worshipers to leave weapons at home. But they definitely do invite secular power into the church.
Laws and rules can only accomplish two things. 1) They can instruct people about what behavior is expected. 2) They authorize punishment and correction for those who are caught breaking them.
When the church sets the rules, it remains clear that the church retains both the teaching authority and the enforcement of the rules. State laws—even those in complete agreement with church rules—assert that the state has teaching authority in the house of God, and necessarily transfer the enforcement authority from the church to the state.
That’s what current Wyoming law does. It brings the state inside the walls of churches, stake houses and synagogues. It requires the “chief administrator” of a church to write a permit for anyone with a weapon. If he fails to do this, law enforcement officials are automatically authorized to arrest the carrier and punish him or her with a $750 fine and six months in jail.
Of course, nobody objects to a church’s authority to institute and enforce a weapons ban. The problem is that when the state makes the decision, it must also enforce it, stripping the church of its proper enforcement authority.
To see the problem, just imagine if the state did the same thing in every house. Instead of letting homeowners make and enforce their own rules, what if the state decreed that if any person carried a weapon into a home without written permission, the police could enter that home and arrest the perpetrator—even if the homeowner isn’t bothered by the weapon, but simply forgot to write a permission slip. That is exactly how current Wyoming statute treats houses of worship. HB 141 was introduced to right this wrong.
The “Principle of Subsidiarity,” involved here, is precisely why the U.S. Constitution was written to limit the power of the state. Alexis de Tocqueville observed this principle at work in communities across America as he reports in his classic study “Democracy in America.”
The term “Subsidiarity” was coined by the First Vatican Council in 1891. It means that "a central authority should have a subsidiary function, performing only those tasks which cannot be performed at a more local level" (Oxford English Dictionary). Simply put, the state should never make a law if the issue can be handled perfectly well by the church or family.
This doctrine recognizes that families and churches are the most basic building blocks of society. It recognizes that flourishing societies are made up of individuals, families, churches and various mediating institutions that have robust self-governance. Every decision that could be made at a local level, but is usurped by a higher level of governance, weakens families, churches and ultimately society itself.
The application of the Second Amendment within houses of worship is just exactly one such decision. Do we really think that a priest, bishop or pastor is powerless to enforce the gun policy of a congregation? Do we think that elders, parish councils or stake presidencies are too ham-handed to decide a sensible policy, faithful to the Scriptures that they preach?
While current law does allow the decision to be overridden by the local parish council, it does not allow for enforcement to be reclaimed by the local church authority. This creates serious unintended consequences.
If a woman’s purse accidently falls off the pew and spills out a gun carried for self-defense, the local pastor or priest would normally have any number of sensitive and discrete options to deal with the sticky situation. These options might range from privately asking her to exercise more care to publicly assuring the congregation that she will lock the gun in the car from now on. He can even call law enforcement and ask for assistance.
But under current law, those options can be denied. She has technically broken the law and may be fined up to $750 and be incarcerated for six months. The decision about whether or not to press these charges lies not with the local parish but with the local prosecutor. Suddenly, an indiscretion that could easily have been handled in-house can be blown out of proportion by anybody who wants to enforce the letter of the law.
As I write these words, I am remembering a group of courageous and principled Trappist monks who died as martyrs near Mt. Atlas, Algeria, in 1996. Their story is told in a beautiful movie called “Of Gods and Men.”
As a civil war swept the nation, their monastery became increasingly vulnerable to attack. Local officials begged them to leave for their own safety. The monks, out of love for the local village, refused. The Algerian government, in a final bid to keep the monks safe, wanted to station troops to protect the monastery with guns. The monks refused even this.
They were kidnapped on March 27, almost 22 years ago, and beheaded on the 21st of May. The movie won the Grand Prix at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival. It powerfully illustrates both of the principles involved in HB 141.
By refusing to weaponize the monastery, the monks voluntarily applied their doctrine to the difficult situation they faced. Not all will choose their course of action, but all should have the freedom to do so.
Self-sacrificial love is a deliberate, personal choice to follow in the footsteps of God. The less it is self-consciously chosen, the less it is like Christ. Government intervention in matters pertaining to the house of God undermine faith, whether that intervention happens to agree with a person’s faith, or not.
Governor Mead’s signature on HEA 34 (HB 141) should not be understood as state approval of guns in the house of God. It is the very opposite of the state enforcing its opinion over church matters. By repealing a bad statute, it correctly renounces any state authority over otherwise-lawful activities in places of worship, and recognizes that the church, and only the church, should teach and enforce rules on church property.
Tuesday, March 6, 2018
Originally named Sam, Scott was born a slave in the state of Virginia. In honor of his deceased brother Eldred, he changed his name to “Dred.” His first owner, Peter Blow, raised him with his sons, who later would help him sue for freedom.
But when Peter died in 1832, Dred was sold to Dr. John Emerson. Emerson was an army surgeon who travelled from base to base--Virginia, Alabama, Missouri, Illinois, Wisconsin and Louisiana. During all this time, even when they were living in the free states of Illinois and Wisconsin, Emerson got additional money by sub-leasing Dred, his wife Harriet and their two daughters to other masters.
During this time, Dred was also saving his money to one day purchase his family’s freedom. Finally, back in Missouri, Dr. Emerson died in 1843. At that point, Dred and his family became the inherited property of the widow, Eliza Emerson. Soon Dred offered her the full amount to buy freedom for his family. But she refused.
It is hard to imagine the injustice and outrage of the situation. Put yourself in their shoes. For no other reason than the circumstances of their birth, a man and his wife and children had been spending all their time and energy enriching others for five decades.
Despite this disadvantage, they had managed to save enough to buy four slaves and so purchase their own freedom. But even their money had no power; their fate as a family lay entirely in the arbitrary whims of the owner. Repeatedly he offered the money for freedom. Repeatedly Eliza refused to sell.
With no other choices available, Scott filed a petition with the Circuit Court of St. Louis County, Missouri, on April 6, 1846. After 15 months of legal wrangling, the suit was thrown out on a technicality. Scott was unable to prove that Eliza was his owner.
How is that for irony? The court left legal ownership of an entire family in the hands of Eliza because Dred could not prove that she legally owned him.
Eventually, there was a re-trial. Then, nearly four years after filing suit, Dred Scott and his family were awarded their freedom. But it was short-lived. Eliza immediately filed an appeal with the Missouri Supreme Court. Two years later, on March 22, 1852, the decision was reversed, and the Scott family was returned to slavery under Eliza.
Scott appealed this ruling in the U.S. Circuit Court of Missouri. He argued two major points: First, that both the “Missouri Compromise” of 1820 and the “Northwest Ordinance” of 1787 outlawed slavery in Illinois and Wisconsin and meant that he was legally freed when his owner brought him to these places. Second, that the Missouri Supreme Court reversed its own precedent when it overturned the ruling that had granted him freedom.
The state of Missouri argued that since Scott was currently living in Missouri, he was legally a slave and could not sue for freedom. If he wanted his freedom, he should have sued while living in a free state.
When the federal circuit ruled against Scott, he appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS). The Court heard arguments on two separate occasions, first in February and again in December of 1856.
|Justice Taney wrote for the Court|
Finally, on March 6, 1857, SCOTUS handed down its infamous landmark ruling: 1) Slaves are property and have no rights; 2) Freed African Americans are not citizens and have no right to use the federal court system; and 3) Federal laws prohibiting the spread of slavery into the western territories are unconstitutional.
The first prong of the ruling effectively declared slaves to be nonhuman. The obvious humanity of the slaves had always been a strong point in the favor of abolitionists. Arguing from the Declaration of Independence, they merely had to point out that “all men are created equal.” From this, it was obvious that slaves had a moral claim to be treated equally under the law.
By declaring that slaves have no rights, the Court denied what was obvious to everyone--that these men are human beings who have unalienable rights. No court and no government can either give or remove rights that are unalienable. These rights come directly from God and do not depend on human laws.
The second prong of the Dred Scott ruling went further still. While the first spoke of people based on their current slavery, which could be removed by the owner granting freedom, the second made their disadvantage permanent and unchangeable.
Famously, Abraham Lincoln had an answer for this second ruling. He reminded Americans that the courts were only granted the power to decide how the law applied to the specific cases in front of them. They had the power to declare that Dred Scott was not a citizen (no matter how unjust that decision was), but they could not force anyone to treat other freed slaves in the same unjust way.
So, Lincoln directed the U.S. Patent Office to grant patents to freedmen. He directed the Passport Office to grant passports to the same. In short, in every way that he could, Lincoln saw to it that his administration recognized freedmen as equal citizens under the law. This is an excellent reminder to legislators, governors and presidents today in the face of unjust overreach by the courts.
It was, however, the third prong of the Dred Scott decision that was the cause of the worst bloodshed ever seen on American soil. By declaring duly passed federal laws unconstitutional, the Supreme Court outraged and saddened decent people all over America. These people had been working tirelessly for decades to bring a peaceful end to slavery by compromise.
Already in 1787, the year that the U.S. Constitution was ratified, they had succeeded in passing laws that prohibited new states from becoming slave states. Then, in 1820, they compromised again and allowed Missouri to become a slave state while Maine became a free state. This compromise also drew an imaginary line westward from the southern border of Missouri and prohibited any territory north of that line from being slave territory in the future.
But now, the Supreme Court had unilaterally wiped out these painstaking compromises. Humanitarians were rightly outraged. Worse, they got the unmistakable message that compromise was useless. No matter what peaceful solutions they might work out in future negotiations, they could be wiped out by nine unelected men in black robes. Civil war was on the horizon, and the Supreme Court cut off at the knees the efforts of everyone working to avert it by compromise.
Today, as we observe the 161st anniversary of the Dred Scott decision, let us take the opportunity to do three things. First, we mourn the terrible injustices done to African Americans by people who refused to see the obvious, our common humanity. Second, let us mourn the loss of our own humanity whenever we fail to recognize the humanity of any person, from human embryos to those suffering with Alzheimer’s or Down Syndrome.
Finally, let us learn the lesson taught by Lincoln of how to stand uncompromisingly in the face of tyranny wherever it may be found. Others may rule and act unjustly, but nobody, not even the Supreme Court of the United States, can force you or me to act unjustly in the exercise of our duties to family, to Church and to one another.
Tuesday, February 27, 2018
Imagine a place where faith in God is forbidden and belief in a future judgment between good and evil is banned. What would people be like in such a world? How would they behave toward one another?
If you are having trouble visualizing such a place, it is only because you have been blessed to live in a time and place where Communism is not the state religion. For Lutheran pastor Richard Wurmbrand, such a world was not a world of make-believe. It was the cold, hard reality of what happened when a million Soviet troops poured into Romania in the aftermath of World War II.
Communism starts with the idea that all property belongs to the state, to distribute for the good of all. The idea of distributing things for the good of all is certainly appealing. But shouldn’t the one who decides between good and evil be the One who actually created all things? If God exists, how did the state come to sit in his place?
That’s the basic rub of the communist system. It is why every communist state, from Red China and the USSR to North Korea and Romania, must declare war on God. Human beings are not just material beings. They have, not only a body, but also a soul. This is just a fact of human life, an inescapable datum that hounds anyone who attempts to deny it.
Without saying so, the Communists themselves were forced to admit it. They quickly learned that, because of the unbreakable connection between body and soul, you cannot control all things without also controlling the soul. Atheism isn’t the natural outflow of Communism, it is the religion upon which it is built; and its orthodoxy must be brutally enforced.
Tortured for Christ,” published in 1967: “The cruelty of atheism is hard to believe. When a man has no faith in the reward of good or the punishment of evil, there is no reason to be human. There is no restraint from the depths of evil that is in man. The Communist torturers often said, ‘There is no God, no hereafter, no punishment for evil. We can do what we wish.’”
A state cannot maintain absolute power without stamping out every idea of the soul, eternity and a God who creates it all. So, when the Soviets had taken over every other Romanian institution, they turned their sights on the Church. Organizing a “Congress of the Cults,” they seduced thousands of prominent churchmen to give speeches saying that Communism and Christianity were basically the same.
Sabina pleaded with him to stand and tell the truth. He turned to her and whispered, “You do know that if I speak now, you will have no husband.” She replied with tears in her eyes, “I don’t need a coward for a husband.”
This exchange is portrayed in a new feature-length film produced for the 50th anniversary of “Tortured for Christ.” This powerful film, which I just previewed last night, portrays the life-long consequences of that pivotal decision. On February 29, 1948 (70 years ago Thursday) Wurmbrand was kidnapped on his way to church and spent the next 18 years in and out of Communist prisons.
It is a hard movie to watch. But if Wurmbrand could endure living it, perhaps we owe him the honor of hearing his story. There are hundreds of thousands of stories like his. But nearly all of them died with their authors in communist cells and torture chambers. Others were silenced by threats of atrocities against family and friends should they be told.
It was a sheer miracle that we have access to Wurmbrand’s story. In December, 1965, after a total of 14 years in communist prisons, he was ransomed by a payment of $10,000 to the Soviet government. They were confident that he would remain silent about his experiences just like many others whom they had threatened and released. But he was not like the others.
He spoke and wrote. He testified before Congress, stripping to the waist to show the marks of his torture. He broke down the wall of silence that hid the evils of Communism from the western world. “Tortured for Christ” has been translated into 65 languages, and has sold millions of copies around the world.
But Wurmbrand’s story is much more than an exposé of communist atrocities. It is an exploration of the power of divine love. Much to our amazement, he relates story after story of people who died under torture while praying for, and loving, the very men who were killing them.
One sequence of the movie tells of his bed-time routine. Each night when he heard the town clock strike 10:00, he knelt in his cell in forbidden prayer. Each night his jailer would look in to find him praying, and take him to the torture room for punishment. Then, bloodied and bruised, he would be brought back to his cell to sleep.
This went on night after night until one night when the exasperated jailer asked, “after having everything taken from you and no hope left, what on earth are you praying for?!” Wurmbrand’s reply was calm and warm: “I was praying for you.”
That’s the other-worldly beauty portrayed in this remarkable film. Time, and again, we are beckoned to see the beauty of self-sacrificial love. We are invited into the glory of passionately loving even those who hate you with the deepest of hatred.
In one particularly compelling passage, Wurmbrand writes, “Later, the Communists who had tortured us were sent to prison, too. Under Communism, Communists, and even communist rulers, are put in prison almost as often as their adversaries. Now the tortured and the torturer were in the same cell. And while the non-Christians showed hatred toward their former inquisitors and beat them, Christians took their defense, even at the risk of being beaten themselves and accused of being accomplices with Communism. I have seen Christians give away their last slice of bread (we were given one slice a week) and the medicine that could save their lives to a sick Communist torturer, who was now a fellow prisoner.”
On Thursday, March 8, Evanston will have an opportunity to see this film. Many of us have worked together to bring “Tortured for Christ,” to the biggest venue we could find, Evanston Alliance Church. Tickets can be purchased online at: https://new.tugg.com/events/tortured-for-christ-movie-f-a0. Every ticket purchaser will also receive a free copy of “Tortured for Christ,” and will be contributing to Christians around the globe who are being persecuted today.
Friday, February 23, 2018
The following is my gracious wife's reply to a shorter version of this article published in the Uinta County Herald by Mr. Nate Martin of "Better Wyoming" and joined by representatives from "Wyoming Equality" and "NARAL Pro-Choice."
February 23, 2018
It is important to
remember that men also grieve during miscarriage. They lose sons and daughters,
as well. There is no male vs. female in grief. Mr. Martin states that
Boner will never experience a miscarriage. Neither will Mr. Martin, but why pit
men and women against one another? I commend Sen. Boner for bringing up this bill
on behalf of women and men who are concerned about the lives lost and
I imagine it becomes
easy in politics to get so caught up in winning or losing that one can lose
sight of the people who are at stake. The connection between women and their
babies begins very early on, and the loss of life is something that one really
never gets over. At 6 weeks, I have seen the heart beating of all of my
children; at 12 weeks, I saw my little boy wave before he passed away at 13
weeks. Being able to obtain a birth certificate for the little ones I lost
would have acknowledged the life lost and would have helped me in the grieving
February 23, 2018
In Nate Martin’s article “Senate Introduces Bill to Give Birth Certificates to Miscarried Fetuses,” there are some points of confusion that I think it would be helpful to address.
First, women already have the option of requesting a certificate if they lose their babies after 20 weeks. While state law requires that still births be registered in each district, women are not forced to obtain birth certificates. SF85 simply extends the option to those who lose a child at 9 weeks or later.
If Martin, Burt, and Burlingame are concerned about the “pressure on a woman who is under enormous stress,” they should rest assured that there is no “forcing” being suggested; to the contrary, the medical attendant “shall advise the patient that the patient may request” such a certificate, if desired. Burlingame said, “male politicians are using it for what feels like a political theater.” Having had 3 miscarriages of my own, I can assure you that this is not what it sounds like to a grieving mother’s ears. I would have gladly requested such a certificate for 2 of my unborn sons if I had had such an option.
|Amadeus* Lange's heartbeat, 6 weeks gestation|
One claim that Mr. Martin makes is that “a seed is not a tree. A fetus is not a child.” The seed of a child is an egg or sperm; no one is arguing that this is a child. A fetus is defined as “an unborn human baby more than eight weeks after conception.” If the term child is a hindrance, I concede that a fetus is a baby and not yet a child (“a young human being below the age of puberty”). Nevertheless, I have undergone births of live and dead babies and can attest that in both cases, a birth takes place.
|Amadeus waving at 12 weeks gestation|
If Martin, Burt, and Burlingame are truly concerned about women, then they will reexamine their positions about this bill.
*Amadeus means "loved of God," and he is. He is also loved by us.
*Amadeus means "loved of God," and he is. He is also loved by us.
Tuesday, February 20, 2018
|AP Photo: Joel Auerbach|
An Associated Press photo by Joel Auerbach is imprinted on my memory. It captures a scene from the mass murder in Florida where 17 students and teachers were killed last Wednesday.
Among a crowd of parents awaiting news of their kids, two women embrace. You can almost hear the red-haired woman with open mouth wailing in grief. Another holds her while choking back her own tears. Around the neck of the second woman, is a silver heart locket. On her forehead, is a cross of ashes.
Anyone who has ever worn the cross of Ash Wednesday can tell you at a glance what she had heard a couple hours before the picture was snapped: “Remember, O man, that you are dust; and unto dust you shall return.”
In this single photo, three events converge. The heart locket hangs in the center of the frame, suggesting St. Valentine’s Day, but romantic love is strangely out of place next to the overwhelming grief of the women. But above it all, as if giving meaning to the whole scene, are the ashes of repentance in the form of a cross.
Grief dominates the picture.
There is no explaining it away. Even the most callous materialist who has no earthly reason to be bothered by death, is horrified by it. PETA may argue that human life deserves no more respect than animal life. But such sophomoric rhetoric dissolves in the face of actual human tragedy. Human slaughter is different than animal slaughter, and we know it.
Darwin teaches that people are mere cosmic accidents, with no meaning or purpose. Even more, Darwinism teaches that the violent death of our forebears is the happy reason we have progressed to our current evolutionary state. For over 150 years we have been told that death is our friend and ally. So why should 17 more grieve us?
But they do grieve us, and no one escapes it. In an instant everyone can perceive Darwin’s lie. The deaths of students Alyssa Alhadeff, Martin Anguiano, Jaime Guttenberg, Cara Loughran, Gina Montalto, Alaina Petty, Alex Schachter, Luke Hoyer, Peter Wang, Carmen Schentrup, Nicholas Dworet, Joaquin Oliver, Helena Ramsay, Meadow Pollack, and teachers Scott Beigel, Aaron Feis, and Chris Hixon have not made us a better race. We are the poorer for it.
In fact, human death evokes such a powerful loathing that we are tempted to harness it to advance our selfish agendas. CNN broke the news at 2:39 p.m. Within minutes, partisan political memes were pasted on social media. Seventeen victims became mere props to advance gun control, mental health spending, pharmaceutical responsibility, or just to bash the opposing party.
That’s a shame. The universal hatred of human death is a unifying force. Let’s not use it to divide. Instead, let’s take some time to rejoice that there is common ground upon which we all can agree. Then, let’s see if recognizing that common ground might help us build a common foundation.
When people die, we instinctively know that something is wrong. Before we start beating each other up about a thousand policy squabbles, we should simply let those words sink in. “Something is wrong.” That is a singular noun, not plural. Somewhere, at the root of it all, lies a singular problem.
Does anybody really believe that having a perfect health system will fix it? Does anybody really believe that a world with no guns would be a world in which nothing is wrong? If we were all armed to the teeth, would the world be all sunshine and roses? Of course not!
The only way that you could claim them to be even marginal improvements on the world, is if you could show that they contributed to fixing that one thing at the root of it all. So, again, what is the one thing that would cure the whole world?
John Lennon thought, “All you need is love.” By that, he meant romantic love. So, he left his wife, Cynthia, and his son, Julian to take up with Yoko Ono. All three of them needed love. But one sought it out at the expense of two others.
Here is Valentine’s Day gone awry. “Be mine forever,” dissolves into a hookup culture. The vow, “’til death us do part,” becomes a lie, and the promised cure-all becomes a fraud.
Nikolas Cruz was conceived in romantic love, too. But those parents did not continue loving him. By the time he was about a year old, he and his younger brother were adopted by Lynda and Roger Cruz. One bond of love was broken and he and Zachary were forced to form a new bond.
|Lynda Cruz and Nikolas|
Then, when he was only six, his new father died of a sudden heart attack. His stay-at-home mom had to leave the home to put bread on the table. Thirteen years later, in November of 2017, his mother Lynda died suddenly of flu complications, and once again, he was without family.
I am not claiming that Ash Wednesday’s tragedy was caused by a broken home. There are countless children who endure similar troubles and don’t respond with mass murder. Perhaps psych drugs, video games, or being bullied contributed to his decision to kill the innocent.
The only point I am making is that love failed him. It’s a nice song, but something stronger is needed than a flutter in the heart. Valentine hearts are a good start, but what’s really needed is an examination of our own hearts.
Even the lack of love in this world is not the root cause, but only a symptom. The root cause is sin. Ultimately, the problem with our hearts is not what others do to them. The problem is what is inside of them.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote, “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
But destroy it, we must. It is the only path to sanity, the only cure for what ails us.
What’s wrong with us? We are.
That basic insight is the meaning of the cross of Ash Wednesday. The ashes remind us that we are destined to die, but they do so without diminishing the horror of death. They also mean repentance. If we were to spend even half as much time examining our own moral failings as we do examining the sins of others, we would all be better off.
But the death and repentance of the ashes, are reformed into the shape of a cross. That cross makes everything right. It is the symbol of One who neither approves of evil, nor hates the evildoer. The cross is about the One who dies that you might live.
Assistant coach, Aaron Feis, and Geography teacher, Scott Beigel, and Athletic Director, Chris Hixon became living examples of Jesus last Wednesday. All three teachers sacrificed themselves for their students. That’s stronger than the Valentine kind of love. It’s the Ash Wednesday kind.
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Tuesday, February 13, 2018
Increasingly, I am noticing the open and unapologetic use of religious ideas and arguments in political debate. This is quite a departure from recent decades.
During these decades, much of the morality, ethics and character that came into Western culture via Christianity has been stripped from legal code and public expectations. They have been overthrown, not by sound arguments that they are bad for human society, but by raw claims that all religion should be driven out of politics.
So why is it, after all these years, we are seeing a resurgence of religion into public policy debates? It’s not Christian conservatives who are leading the charge. Rather, those seeking to overthrow historic Western morals are claiming a superior moral ground—calling their political opponents “haters,” “discriminators,” and “bigots” – all morally charged words.
The first thing we should notice, is that today’s trends are not replacing morality with amorality. They are replacing one morality with another. Put more starkly, they are replacing one religion with another.
The second thing we should notice is that this is a natural human impulse. Nature abhors a vacuum. When one religion is chased out of the front door, two more slide in the back.
Human beings simply cannot live without religion. The relationship between human beings and the divine is unbreakable. Whether or not you, personally, believe the words of Scripture, “God created man in His own image,” you live by this creed.
We all justify our desires, aims, and behaviors by appealing to the nature of God.
• Those who think the Bible infallibly describes the one, true God, seek to conform their lives to every word of the biblical text.
• Those who think that there is no God, set “nature” in His place. This religion seeks to live as though matter, energy, and instinct should guide them at every step.
• Those who think that God is always changing along with the culture, then treat the latest cultural changes as being sacrosanct, and the only civil opinion allowed.
The thing to notice here is that these three opinions (and there may be more) do not offer the possibility of no religion. They force us to choose one.
This may rankle Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, but even they operate by this principle. Their recent lawsuit, filed in Wisconsin, challenges an IRS rule going back to the 1954 Code 107(2) by claiming a clergy tax exemption for themselves. That's irony.
So, why is religion unavoidable? Because the Latin root of the word “religion” is “ligio,” “to bind or tie.” It is about how human beings are tied together in human society. The prefix, “re-,“ means “again.” Religion recognizes that people who were once bound together have been cut apart and need to be re-connected – i.e. religion.
Ultimately, there is one God capable of binding all mankind together. There is a truth, and a way, and a life that is common to all of us. To find it (or, to be found by it) can re-establish the bonds of love.
The very word, “demands,” speaks of a duty to behave in a certain way towards a certain person. Anybody who utters it, no matter from which side of the aisle, is proving my main point. Justice demands recognition of the truth—truth about God and truth about man.
In fact, denial of the truth can only lead to injustice. When Jesus is asked about the greatest commandment, He replies: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39).
Love for our neighbor flows from our love for God. Without the love of God, no love of neighbor is possible, and vice versa. Love for both begins by recognizing the bonds between us. To acknowledge that we are all tied to God as creatures, is to recognize that we are also tied to one another and have duties toward one another that are given by our Creator, and not subject to our wishes or feelings.
For the past century, Western society has been hacking away at natural bonds between people. Beginning over a hundred years ago, the bonds of husband and wife were weakened by making divorces more and more simple to obtain. This was kicked into hyperdrive with so-called “no-fault divorce” in 1970.
Also, we have seen the denial of natural bonds and duties between mother and child / parents and children. The breakup of the modern family has neither benefitted children, nor society at large. Can anybody argue that our neighborhoods and towns are stronger as a result of more broken homes?
As we enter a new phase of political debate, where religion is more openly discussed, I am encouraged that we have a renewed opportunity to talk frankly about the things that matter most. In a sense, James Carville was right. It is about the economy.
But we have forgotten that “economy” comes from the Greek word “oikos,” meaning “household.” We will never get the economy right if all we can think about is wages and prices, Wall Street and Main Street.
In fact, the economy is about Elm Street and Center Street. It is about supporting the household of fathers, mothers, and their children. To recognize and protect those natural bonds between persons, is to advocate for a just society. For, when these bonds are recognized and protected, so also are the bonds and duties of all other human beings toward one another.
America’s founders were not all Christians, but they were realists. They didn’t agree on the nature of God, but they did recognize that there is only one, and that the more perfectly his nature is recognized, the “more perfect [will be] the Union” (Declaration of Independence). That’s “re-ligio,” a binding together of society. “One nation, under God.”