My Most Recent Books
Posts from the Ages
I have not commented at all on the immigration issue. Not one of my issues. My limited thoughts have been this: Ellis Island worked and opened amazing opportunity for most of our families. Lets do that again.
The President is going to announce his plan for executive action on the topic. Gonna take the bull by the horns. But as the WaPo reports, this is something he has strongly and consistently said a basic understanding of US law does not allow. One example from March 28, 2011:
With respect to the notion that I can just suspend deportations through executive order, that’s just not the case, because there are laws on the books that Congress has passed — and I know that everybody here at [this school] is studying hard so you know that we’ve got three branches of government. Congress passes the law. The executive branch’s job is to enforce and implement those laws. And then the judiciary has to interpret the laws.
Another from Jan 31, 2013 is even more pointed:
Well, I think it’s important to remind everybody that…i’m not a king, I’m the head of the executive branch of government.
On Feb 14, 2013 he let us know…
I’m the President of the United States. I’m not the emperor of the United States. My job is to execute laws that are passed [by] Congress…
WaPo calls this a “royal flip-flop” but it seems like, by the President’s own explanation, a royal disregard for our national rule of law, which two times he has solemnly swore to uphold.
Here in Venice.
Wanted to give some quick and (hopefully for you) interesting bits from my trip so far. You can do Venice pretty cheaply if you’re innovative. And you get to see the same Venice everyone else does who go the ‘spensive route.
1) My hotel (pic here) is not bad for 150 euros for three nights total. Clean bed, clean bath and bohemian character. It’s right on the Grand Canal, across from the train station – where I head in the morning to catch the train to Florence – and just a hop over the canal bridge where the airport bus which dropped me off on Monday for 6 euros. Then a two day (30 euros) unlimited transportation pass so you can go crazy going everywhere, which I did.
2) Yesterday I toured the city like a man on a mission. I wanted to see all the major Cathedrals in the city. There are many. And lots of “little” churches surrounding these. More churches here than we have Starbucks at home. But sadly, not as passionately frequented by the faithful.
a) First was the Basilica San Marco – the place where St. Mark’s bones rest. It is the most famous and popular for tourists.
b) The one I liked best though was across the canal and visually stunning. The Basilica Santa Maria Della Salute, dedicated to Mary after it was perceived she saved the city from the hardest tragedy of the plague of 1630, hence the name “salute” for health. I made my way around the sanctuary taking in all the art, and soon thought, “hey, that’s like the other piece they have over there.” Then moved on to the next in the following chapel, saying the same thing. Then I realized I had been so taken with the surroundings that I was on my second time around the place. A remarkable house for God. These people had vision.
c) The next church I enjoyed as well was the Basilica Santa Maria Glorioso dei Frari, completed in 1338. It sits back in one of the neighborhoods, a bit hard to find. I just happened to stumble upon it. It has amazing art, more so than the previous two, one of which is Titian’s most important religious work, the Assumption of Mary presented as the altar piece. (Titian is buried here as well.) The light Titian incorporated to illuminate the action is a mark of his mastery.
Bellini has two noted triptychs here, Madonna and the Saints in a side chapel and Christ on the Throne in another.
I sat in this church for quite some while, just taking in the surroundings and reflecting. These works each tell a story about our faith.
Compared with the other two cathedrals, it is unimpressive externally, but exceeds them both internally. It’s just magnificent. Too many pictures to share with you here, but this one of the choir stalls below shows their beauty, all in meticulously hand-carved detail of course. Just stunning.
When I finally rose to leave, the sun had long set and since I just tripped upon finding the place, I had no idea how to get home. So I started walking in the direction of my hotel. And kept walking, taking turns here and there to make sure I was headed in the direction of the Grand Canal to catch the vaporetto (water bus) to the hotel. I was sure I was on the right path and just kept confidently pressing ahead. Came around the corner, and there she was… the basilica I had just left. Big, big circle. So I took a different path home, which must be the right one. Twist, turns, over bridges, down alleys. And there she was again: Santa Maria Glorioso. It wasn’t so glorioso this third time. Tried it again, another different route and made it to the vaporetto stop. Then home, too tired to go get dinner, so went to bed at about 9:30 and slept like a bear til breakfast, windows open, cool breeze and the gentle sound of rain.
Today, November 12, it rained and rained and rained. All day. Then some more for good measure. Stayed in my hotel room and read the New Yorker and Waugh’s Brideshead Revisted. And slept some more.
By dinner time, the rain wore off and I was hungry. Took the water bus out to the Venetian beach and got dinner, which is where I am now writing this post. And there must a poker game in the back, cuz shifty looking men keep coming through and taking the stairs to a room above. Members, or victims of the Venetian mafia? And there’s a shifty looking guy watching the door. But the soundtrack from Little Mermaid is playing on the sound system (serious!), so it must all be wholesome fun.
And i leave you w/ a nice classic venetian pic.
The recent Synod of Bishops on the Family.
You know, the one that got everyone either freaked-out or excited about how the Catholic Church was going to finally join the 19th Century regarding sexuality. The interim message from the bishops seemed clear: Homosexuality is maybe ok, Divorce is not as bad as we thought, and maybe it’s time to modernize a bit. This conclusion was reported in nearly every paper and every broadcast around the world.
This wasn’t the first time the general media got a church story terribly wrong and it won’t be the last. But as the Synod’s final and official report came out recently, it was largely ignored. One would have to dig deep and wide to find any substantive report on. Why? Probably because it is unspectacular, affirming a thoroughly Catholic and biblically faithful sexual, marital and familial ethic. Dashed hopes of the puffed-up elites who possess the prescience to know what the Church needs.
The bishops and Pope Francis proclaim clearly in the final report: “Throughout the centuries, the Church has maintained her constant teaching on marriage the family” which is that,
God consecrates the love of husband and wife and confirms the indissoluble character of their love, offering them assistance to live their faithfulness, mutual complementarity and openness to new life. Therefore, the Church looks to married couples as the heart of the entire family, which, in turn, looks to Jesus.
The Fathers note and systematically commend how this teaching has been consistently and unmistakably amplified in the Church through the recent decades from Vatican II’s Gaudium et Spes (47-52) to Pope Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae, Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body and Familiaris Consortio concluding with Pope Benedict XVI’s Deus Caritas Est. A clear voice which they want us to know is intended to be continued through this Synod’s work.
Section 55 addresses the white-hot issue of homosexuality and a proper pastoral perspective regarding it. Equivocation or any hint of change in Catholic thinking is just not there. Regarding families with members “who have homosexual tendencies” the report explains that “the synod father asked themselves what attention might be appropriate for them in accordance with the Church teaching…” The answer is crisp regarding a foundational Christian sexual and familial ethic that can animate pastoral work here:
There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family.
But regarding the same-sex attracted person, the Church’s pastoral stance is gracious:
Nevertheless, men and women with homosexual tendencies ought to be received with respect and sensitivity…. and…every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.
The human person – regardless of their story, struggles or sins – should always be treated with dignity and respect as a divine image-bearer. No exceptions or qualifications. No one is better or worse than another. Classic Catholic anthropology.
The Fathers add that exerting political pressure upon pastors and the Church to fall in line with the current cultural tide and mores on the issue of same-sex identity and ethics is “totally unacceptable.” They add that “international organizations who link their financial assistance to poorer countries” based on their acceptance of laws allowing same-sex ‘marriage’ is also equally unacceptable. Clearly the Bishops and the Pope are aware of the relentless political pressures brought to bear upon Christians in so many countries and they reject it, saying it has no authority or influence upon the Church.
There are a few curiously unclear statements though and they relate to cohabitation. While being very clear about God’s absolute design for sexual and domestic relationships – life-long marital union of husband and wife – and elevates “this type of family as the basic, necessary and fruitful unit of humanity’s life together” it also addresses the pastoral challenges present in those who live together outside of marriage. The report explains,
A new element in today’s pastoral activity is a sensitivity to the positive aspects of civilly celebrated marriage and, with obvious differences, cohabitation. While clearly presenting the Christian message, the Church also needs to indicate the constructive elements in these situations which do not yet or no longer correspond with it.
While this is a clear call to teach Christian orthodoxy regarding sexual and domestic relationships, it is unclear – to me at least – what the references to cohabitation actually mean. Can a Christian pastor really hold “a sensitivity to the positive aspects of…cohabitation”? Don’t think so.
Or is the report referring to the “positive aspects” and “constructive elements” of both civil marriage and cohabitation that could be seen as the steps toward moving the couple along the road to an authentic sacramental marriage? Perhaps, but who knows? Clarity matters.
But as studious Catholics know, this is not or ever was a strictly theologically or prescriptive gathering or document. It is pastoral, addressing how the bishops of the world, and their priests, should pastorally navigate the current and ever changing world in fidelity to the historic and biblical teachings of the Church as well as for the dignity and slow pilgrimage of every member of their flock into a fuller life in Christ. This pastoral task is certainly not precise work. It is messy because people are messy. All of us. And this document is generally helpful in assisting our pastors on keeping their eye on the ball regarding orthodox belief and pastoral practice.
Breathe easy, the Church is on track.
Anyone who knows me in the slightest way – and reads here time to time – knows I’m a long time Dylan fan. I even (kind of) crashed his house one time. So…
My sixteen-year-old daughter Tess asked me this week, “Dad, you know Dylan is in Denver on Saturday night. I sooo want to see him. Will you take me?”
If I were a small puppy my little puppy tail would have wagged itself right off my back end. I told her the answer to that question is the same one to “Hey dad, my arm is on fire. Will you put it out for me?”
So tonight, Tess will be my third child to go see Zimmy with me. Totally stoked. Livvy and Schaeffer asked me to take them to see Dylan last summer, which included Wilco and My Morning Jacket (which I kept calling to their annoyance “My Afternoon Cardigan”) opening for him.
Actually Schaef is going with us tonight, so he will be a two-timer seeing Dylan. So I am a giddly happy and a proud dad. A celebrated Dylan fan in bringing him three new, young fans.
When someone, particularly a stranger, talks to us at length about the specifics of their sexuality, the general response is similar and predictable. Almost to a person, it is received as boorish, tone-deaf self-indulgence. It’s just bad manners. Except when it’s seen as heroic.
Of course, this is exactly what we are seeing with Apple CEO Tim Cook’s happy proclamation of the details of his sexuality, enhanced with his deepest and most personal feelings about it.
A small group of evangelicals have recently founded a curious organization, Evangelicals for Marriage Equality. I will have the pleasure (sincerely) of getting together with their leading spokesperson this week at an important conference on evangelicalism and sexual ethics. In anticipating this meeting, I want to put my thoughts down regarding my general disagreements with effort and the case they make for their work.
I have three primary concerns.
- Their basic proposition – EME states in the first line of their statement “we believe you can be a devout, Bible-believing evangelical and support the right of same-sex couples to be recognized by the government as married.” And they conclude by saying, “What we should be able to agree on is this: You can be a faithful evangelical Christian and at the same time support civil marriage equality for same-sex couples.” These are two gigantic whoppers of assumption.
It is too much to get into here, but there is simply no biblically faithful case for same-sex marriage and family, either religious or civil. Nor can one make a case that is faithful to historic Christianity belief or practice. And this is not from want of trying. Some of the theological revisionist cases seeking to square this circle are better than others, but each of them are at base the same and take tremendously novel liberties with basic biblical hermeneutics.
- Religious vs. civil marriage – They make a key and I think strategic distinction between a Christian and a civil understanding of marriage. They contend they are not asking evangelical to change their theology of marriage necessarily and therefore can seemingly avoid the whole theological debate.
But this is a weak effort at distinction, like that used by supposed “pro-life” politicians on the abortion issue where they claim the tenuously tight-rope position of being “morally opposed, but will not force their beliefs on others.” Few devout, Bible-believing evangelicals – which EME says they are – have ever seen this as a reasonable position. It’s a bendy effort to have one’s cake and enjoy it to. It is the same here on marriage.
The only problem, however, is that I didn’t see any real arguments. I saw a lot of emotion. I saw appeals to injustice and craven caricatures of Christianity, but I didn’t see any real arguments. …[T]here’s not a coherent argument about the nature of marriage. And that’s what this debate Americans are having is about, isn’t it?
I agree. Such an important and complex discussion on marriage cannot ignore the fundamental question of what marriage is, either as a theological or public and social institution. But EME ignores this question in total, a serious failing. Is there a public case for what marriage is and should be as a necessary human and social institution? Of course there is and it is quite robust. Just a few quick examples are here, here and here. Plenty of others exist and are easily found.
- “Marriage Equality” – I could not reject the use of this phrase in stronger terms. It is a carefully and literally focus-group-tested rhetorical tool that the pro-SSM marriage folks started using a few years ago. To be honest, it’s very effective, but cheap and manipulative. How? “Mr. Stanton, aren’t you for marriage equality? No, I am firmly against equality.” It puts one’s opponent in a seemingly impossible position. Smart rhetorically, but inaccurate and unprincipled.
It’s similar to how a particular parenting philosophy presented itself many years ago among evangelicals called “Growing Kids God’s Way.” When our children were little, well-meaning friends would ask, “Are you guys doing Growing Kids God’s Way?” I wanted to respond, “No, we’re doing ‘Growing Kids Satan’s Way’!” as if we that were the other option.
There’s a good measure of arrogance in absolute identification choices such as these and they lay a heavy judgment on those who take a contrary position. I prefer “marriage redefinition” as it’s more straight-forward and freer of manipulative baggage. The explanation is important.
Current marriage law simply does not discriminate against gay and lesbian people. Straight out. No civil authority anywhere issuing marriage licenses queries couples if one or both of the individuals are same-sex attracted, gay, lesbian or otherwise. As long as they meet the requirements of the law, the state simply doesn’t care what their story is. It’s not their business. They don’t even care if they actually love one another. Every story we hear about a same-sex attracted person announcing they are leaving their opposite-sex spouse proves the point. On top of this, rights are conferred upon the individual citizen, not couples. So same-sex attracted people – like everyone else – enjoy marriage equality. Under current law, they can marry as freely, easily and fully as anyone else. So let’s drop the claim that traditional marriage law is discriminatory to same-sex attracted citizen, either in intention or result.
But I see your eye-roll and what it communicates.
Obviously same-sex individuals don’t want to marry under current law, they want to marry according to their relational and sexual interests. Of course. But this means they believe the current definition of marriage under law doesn’t allow them this option. Therefore, they must press for changing the way marriage is defined under current law. And that is exactly what happens when courts demand states recognize such marriages: the state must literally amend the way marriage is defined in its legal documents. This is a not an academic point.
These are just three of the reasons I think EME’s mission is ill-conceived and unlikely to plow any ground among evangelicals.