Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Still Crazy After All These Years

Here it is, September 11, 2012.  Just 11 years ago, the towers came down, the Pentagon was gouged, and a lonely plane crashed in a field outside Pittsburgh before its terrorist pilots could ram it into yet another target.  It was a dark day, a day, according to singer Alan Jackson, “when the world stopped turning.”  It surely did stop turning for thousands of Americans who died that horrible day at the hands of Bin Laden’s henchmen.

Everybody who lived that day remembers that day.  Do you remember the immediate aftermath?  It was amazing.  I’d never seen anything quite like it in my then 46 years of life.  American flags went up everywhere including on cars and trucks.  Churches opened their doors for special prayer meetings and people came.  They came to pray for the victims, for the victims’ families, and for our country, and many even prayed for our enemies.  For the next two or three Sundays churches were more crowded as usual—filled with people looking for hope, looking for answers, looking for something beyond themselves.  And in one of the most amazing scenes of all, we saw film of our Congressmen and women, Republicans and Democrats, arm in arm praying together and singing God, Bless America.  Nope, I’d never seen anything like that in my life.

On that day and in the few weeks that followed, there was no such thing as Republicans or Democrats or hyphenated-Americans or upper, middle, or lower class Americans.  We were all just Americans—united, praying Americans, “one nation under God, indivisible.”  Having grown up during the turbulent social revolution of the 60s, the Viet Nam war, and the Watergate scandal of the early 70s, I’d never seen such national unity in my life than I witnessed in those few short weeks after 9/11.

But, of course, it didn’t last.  Once it was obvious that no more attacks were imminent, we went back to our old crazy ways of division and hyphenation, class warfare, and what Bill Clinton called “the politics of personal destruction.”  We went back into our old ways of not asking what we can do for our country but asking what our country can do for us.  Here it is eleven years later, and like the Paul Simon song so aptly says, “We’re still crazy after all these years.”

Would you join me in praying for a united America once again, an America we all long for, an America unashamed to get down on our knees and ask God for forgiveness and mercy?  It would be nice to see that again.  And it would be even nicer if it didn’t take another 9/11 to get us there.  

Monday, September 10, 2012

Reflections of a Political Cynic

Before you read, a caveat: this is not an endorsement of any candidate.  In fact, it’s sort of a gripe and a petition at the same time.  But, as you can see from the title, I don’t expect it to do any good which means it’s probably not very helpful.  And because cynicism is kind of catchy, perhaps you’d be better off to stop reading right here, but that’s up to you.  You’ve been warned. 

Well, the general election is in full swing.  I can certainly understand why people call this “the silly season.”  The conventions are over; the fact-checkers have informed us that both parties have a hard time telling the whole truth.  Negative ads have already been rolling and will probably only get worse.  Like many elections, by the time we go to the polls, we may find that we have to hold our nose, if we’re not holding it already.  Who can be sure what to believe?  The spin machine on both sides is spinning out of control.  America is in trouble.  And in the meantime, on one side we have a Senate minority leader who (in likely speaking for his party) says his number one goal is to make Barak Obama a one-term president.  (I wish his number one goal was to help Americans find work or fix the economy.)  On the other side we have a president and his party who apparently live in an alternate universe, telling us how things are better and how the private sector is doing fine.  And we have members of Congress who fear voting their conscience if it goes against the party line for fear they’ll be shunned or left out or cut off or underfunded in their reelection campaigns.  Good grief!  No wonder these people can’t and won’t work together.  They love power and they hate each other.  That should come as no surprise, really.  It’s usually always about the power and who has it, more than it’s about anything else.  God, help America, please!  Pretty please!  Forgive us for our sins.  Forgive us for our neglect of you and your ways.  Forgive us for our hunger for power and our lack of appetite for you.

Wouldn’t it be refreshing to hear the president say, “Look, I’ve obviously made some mistakes in my first term.  I can read the numbers.  We’re in trouble, and I can’t find a way out of this mess by myself.  I need help from everybody who has good ideas.  I don’t care if the person is a Republican or a Democrat or an independent.  If we don’t get this ship turned soon, we’re all sunk.  So let’s pull together, work together, ignore all ‘political’ considerations, not give a rat’s behind about who gets the credit, and fix this thing.  It’s not going to be easy.  It’s going to hurt.  It’s going to take sacrifice on the part of us all.  It’s not going to be popular.  A lot members of my party are not going to like me.  And I may never be elected to anything again in my life.  But this problem is bigger than me and it’s bigger than political parties, so for at least a season, let’s work together, and God help us get this thing done.”

And wouldn’t it be refreshing to hear Romney say, “Ditto!  If I’m elected, I’m going to adopt that same approach and attitude.  And if it costs me re-election in four years, then at least it will be in a good cause.”

And wouldn’t it be refreshing to hear Congress say, “At least until we get these massive problems solved we don’t have ‘both sides of the aisle,’ we have no aisle.  We are in this together.  To heck with party goals and special interest groups and political action committees and lobbyists!  We’re going to think America first and party not at all.  And every one of us is willing to lose our next election to get these problems fixed.”

But, of course, we won’t hear this out of the mouth of either candidate or the Congress.  They’re too beholding to ideologies, too beholding to their political parties, too interested in power, too worried about re-election and campaign contributions.  I have no doubt that both men and most reps and senators want to do good and right by America.  But I fear they’re too blinded by their ideologies and their quest for power to humble themselves, think for themselves, swallow their pride, take hands, exercise a little personal courage, and actually do what the American people elect them to do.  Can’t they fuss about social issues later, and work on righting this economy now?  I know there are important foreign policy issues at stake.  And I know we all want to fight about abortion and gay marriage and who’s going to pay for whose contraceptives, but the economy is an issue that must be resolved and quickly or we’ll be crushed by our mountain of debt.  It’s time for all the would-be Neros in Washington to quit fiddling and start putting out the fire that could potentially burn our nation down to the ashes of history.  Yet, the fiddles play on.

I can hear you now: “McCallum, you’re a political cynic.”  You’re right; I am.  “McCallum, don’t you understand that all this posturing and filibustering and lying and smearing and distorting and voting the party-line, is just the way the game is played?”  Yes I do.  And that’s precisely the point: this is not a game.  It’s real life.  It’s affecting real people.  And the nation is on the brink.  Anybody who can work basic math can see that our current economic situation is so dangerous to America’s future that it’s as if our nation is the Titanic and instead of 2012 it’s 1912.  Surely someone in Washington, someone with the power to do something about it, someone with their hand on the wheel, can see the iceberg dead ahead.

God help us all!   

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Preaching on Sex: The Cutting Room Floor (Part 2)

As I mentioned in my blog post earlier this week, Sunday’s sermon on sex was a little long and there were several things I gathered in my research I was unable to fit into the sermon.  Those things ended up on the cutting room floor, but they are worthy to read and consider.  I included some of those things in Part 1.  Here are a few more things to help you think wisely about sexual issues in marriage and in our culture.


From The Week, February 16, 2007 via Leadership (Summer 2007), 59.  This will make men feel good about themselves (see sarcasm):

A survey of 1,000 American women found that most valued their favorite clothes more than sex and would gladly abstain for 15 months in exchange for an entirely new wardrobe.


In his book, 11, Len Sweet (p. 32) quotes this statement from Bill Perkins for those who think they're immune from ever falling into sexual sin: “If you think you can’t fall into sexual sin, then you’re godlier than David, stronger than Samson, and wiser than Solomon.”


Does delaying sex until after marriage improve your marital relationship? According to a 2010 research study, the answer is a clear yes. As reported in the Journal of Family Psychology (and later in the January 22, 2011, edition of The Economist), the study surveyed 2,035 married couples and asked them about their initial sexual experience together (before or after the wedding). Of the 2,035 couples, 336 couples reported waiting until they got married to have sex. The largest group of couples had sex within a few weeks of dating, and 126 couples had sex prior to dating. (This prompted a psychologist who reviewed the study to note, "I guess I'm not sure what constitutes dating anymore.")

After analyzing the data, the three researchers concluded that waiting until after marriage improved the relationship (for both men and women) in four key areas: sexual quality, relationship communication, relationship satisfaction, and perceived relationship stability. According to the study, people who waited until marriage:

·         rated sexual quality 15 percent higher than people who had premarital sex
·         rated relationship stability 22 percent higher
·         rated satisfaction with their relationships 20 percent higher

The data showed that premarital sex doesn't necessarily doom the future marriage to failure. On the other hand, based on this research, there is no validity to the idea that premarital sex is needed to "test" and possibly improve the future marriage relationship. The authors stated that waiting until after the wedding day (what they call "commitment-based sexuality") "is more likely to create a sense of security and clarity between partners … about exclusivity and a future."
It takes power away from women as a group, because it provides men with another sexual outlet. Some will say that Playboy has been around a long time, but today's porn is not like that. It puts one bedside in high definition. Individual women notice it in their relationships, especially in marriage. But even before marriage, it's still at work, eroding the value of what she has that he wants. Now she has to compete with virtual sex partners as well as other women.

I used to think young women would have the last laugh here—that men would come to understand that sex is not like porn. I'm not so sure about that anymore. Speaking as a sociologist, you can't form enough accountability groups to erase the effects of porn on the relationship pool. It's not just about helping Joe Christian steer clear of this thing he'd like. It colors more than we think.


Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Preaching on Sex: The Cutting Room Floor (Part 1)

I’ve been preaching a marriage series at church these last three Sundays.  I’ve got one more Sunday to go.  This past Sunday I preached on the sexual relationship.  Because I don’t preach on sex very often, my sermon was longer than usual: I just sort of backed up the truck and dumped a lot of content on my poor congregation.  But even then, there were things I would have liked to have said but just couldn’t find the space or the place.  Because of the high interest in the subject matter, however, I want to share in a couple of blog posts some of the stuff that ended up on the cutting room floor of my sermon preparation.  I find it both interesting and compelling, and I hope it makes you think.  We Christians need to think better about human sexuality than does the prevailing culture.  And, of course, it wouldn't hurt for us to live better in this area too.


In reminding us that sex is not just a body thing but a soul thing, G. K. Chesterton once said that “every man who visits a prostitute is looking for God.”


This is from Will Willimon’s book, Why Jesus? (Nashville: Abingdon, 2010), 71:

One subject that is very, very important to most of us is sexuality—a topic of endless debate at national church assemblies and the engine that seems to drive most advertising.  Curiously, we are clueless about the sexuality of Jesus.  Although he seems to have relished the company of men and women, Jesus seems to have held little interest in sex.  Not that Jesus was prudish (John says he intervened in the execution of a woman caught in adultery, condemning her pious accusers more severely than her).  Jesus simply had little concern for the subject that seems to consume many of us.  To the thoroughly liberated, sexually unconstrained modern person for whom sexual orientation is the defining mark of humanity, Jesus’ nonchalance about sex may be his strangest quality.  We simply cannot imagine any fully human being who is not driven by genitalia.  Our preoccupation with sex is surely a testimony to the limitations of modern imagination rather than to Jesus’ undeveloped libido.  Presuming to stand at the summit of human development yet descending to “doing it” like dogs, rutting like rabbits (which is probably a bit unfair to dogs and rabbits), we surely would not impress Jesus.  So before you dismiss Jesus for his lack of interest in the endeavor that often most energizes us, consider that Jesus was working with a very different definition of a human being than those who help to sell soap, jeans, and male-enhancement medications.  Jesus appears to have held the opinion that you and I are destined for more meaningful activity than mutual orgasm.


In his book, Surprised By Hope (p. 43), N. T. Wright shares this:  “Belief in bodily resurrection was one of the two central things that the pagan doctor Galen noted about Christians (the other being their remarkable sexual restraint).”  And in the sex-saturated, anything-goes Roman culture, Christians’ sexual restraint was truly remarkable.  It would be just as remarkable in our culture today.


And this from Tim Keller, The Meaning of Marriage (New York: Dutton, 2011), 24:

Indeed, sex is perhaps the most powerful God-created way to help you give your entire self to another human being.  Sex is God’s appointed way for two people to reciprocally say to one another, “I belong completely, permanently, and exclusively to you.”  You must not use sex to say anything else.


That should be enough to get you thinking right now.  I’ll post a little more next time.  If you want to read the sermon, you can find it here: