Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Happiest Birthday on Earth

And so it came to pass, on September 24, 2008, that Michael Lee Ruffin entered into his 50th year of existence.

In the months leading up to the big event, my good wife asked me where I would like to go to celebrate. When Debra turned 50 last year (that’s right, I married an older woman who is now the cutest 51-year-old I know) I took her on a Caribbean cruise, so I knew that I was allowed to ask big. So what did I ask for? I asked for a trip to Disney World—and that’s what I got! Just the two of us spent four days at the Happiest Place on Earth. We had a blast.

We stayed at the Port Orleans French Quarter resort, which was very nice. Our room, which overlooked a small river, was very quiet and comfortable.

We visited all of the parks. We spent Thursday morning at the Animal Kingdom. We enjoyed Expedition Everest; it’s not one of the best roller coasters I’ve ever ridden but it was fun. The remainder of Thursday was dedicated to Epcot. The much-hyped Soarin’ ride was to me a disappointment. Still, we had a good time at Epcot. The World Showcase is always interesting.

On Friday we spent the entire day at my favorite park, Disney’s Hollywood Studios. We had never ridden the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster which had been added since our last visit ten years ago. It’s a great ride; we rode it three times. We also visited our old favorite The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror three times; that thing freaks me out every time.

Saturday was dedicated to the Magic Kingdom. That was the only day that the crowd size became a problem. Our favorite attractions at the Magic Kingdom were the old reliables Space Mountain and the Haunted Mansion.

We took advantage of the Disney Dining Plan feature which we thought was a pretty good deal. I have no idea if it is cost effective but it sure does simplify the dining process. We ate dinner at Boatwright’s Dining Hall at Port Orleans Riverside, at Tokyo Dining at Epcot (I had sushi!), at Hollywood & Vine at Disney’s Hollywood Studios (a true pig-out experience), and at the Big River Grill at Disney’s Boardwalk. We also spent a little money at Downtown Disney—that Virgin Records Superstore is something else.

The bad news is that on the way home I had a conference—Mercer University’s annual Preaching Consultation—to attend; the good news is that it was at the King & Prince Resort on St. Simon’s Island. We enjoyed our brief stay at that wonderful place.

I have thanked Debra many times over for giving me the happiest birthday on earth. She made my turning fifty a memorable event and I am grateful.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Alabama vs. Georgia

Final Score: Alabama 41, Georgia 30

My predicted score: Georgia 35, Alabama 14

Summary Statement: In the post in which I offered my preseason predictions, I said this about this game: "It won't take long for Nick Saban to make Alabama a national championship contender. Thankfully, it's not this year." My first sentence was correct. Apparently, my second one was not.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Larry Munson Retires

Larry Munson, the legendary voice of the Georgia Bulldogs, has announced his retirement effective immediately. The 85-year-old Munson has been the radio voice of the Dawgs for the last 43 seasons. You can read the Atlanta Journal-Constitution story here.

Product Integration at Church

This morning as I was heading to University Hospital here in Augusta for two early surgeries (my job is to pray, not to operate) my car radio was tuned to NPR. There I heard an interesting story about last night’s Emmy Awards show, which I did not watch since I watch so little television besides ball games, old movies, and news so it makes little sense to watch them hand out awards for shows I’ve never seen.

Anyway…the story was about the trend of “product integration” in television programs. As I understand it, product integration goes far beyond product placement. Product placement means that in a television episode you might see only Diet Coke cans and never Diet Pepsi cans. But product integration means that a particular product is woven into a series or into a story line in a way that is, as the purveyors of the practice like to put it, “organic and natural.” What they mean is that the product is not just seen in an episode but it is actually woven into the plot and the script. Companies are willing to pay to have their products used that way and production companies are willing to receive such money.

All of this got to me to thinking about the possibilities of product integration at church. After all, we live in lean and troubled economic times and we may need to find some ways to bring in additional revenue in order to get our message out about the Savior who had some pretty interesting things to say about the proper use of money.

What follows are some scenarios that I think might be effective. If you are a minister imagine yourself leading in such activities. If you are a church member imagine yourself participating in them.

Scripture Readings

We could solicit bids from the publishers of various Bible translations and editions to ascertain who would pay the most money for the use and promotion of their Bible in our services. The Bible publisher that has its bid accepted would have its Bible placed in the pew racks and in the pulpit and in all Sunday School classrooms. The person reading Scripture during a service would say, “Please turn in your Holman Study Bible, translated by Southern Baptists for Southern Baptists and published by LifeWay Christian Resources, to John chapter 3. And please remember this week’s special at LifeWay—you can find a link to it on our church website. Hear now the Word of the Lord.”

Musical Instruments

I doubt seriously that we could convince an organ manufacturer to pay to have an organ placed in our sanctuary. But, perhaps we could negotiate a reduced price if we agreed to weave the product into our ongoing church conversations. So, the pastor might just happen to uncover a trove of sermon illustrations that just happen to include Allen organs. Here’s an example: “I walked into the sanctuary the other morning and, just as I came around our beautiful Allen organ, I found a man praying at the altar.” Or, “Can you imagine what it will be like when we are all around the throne of God worshipping God forever and ever? I’ll bet that heavenly choir will sound as good as our choir does when it’s accompanied by our organist playing that wonderful Allen organ.” You get the idea.


Baptism requires water. If your church baptizes by immersion it requires a lot of water. Perhaps a bottled water company would agree to sponsor the baptism services. So, we could have the “Crystal Springs baptismal service” or the “baptismal service brought to you by Crystal Springs.” Naturally (not to mention organically), Crystal Springs water would be available at all church activities and dinners. Again, for this to be true product integration, Crystal Springs water would have to be woven into our ongoing conversation. So, the pastor might mention in the announcements that at next Saturday’s ministry day we will be taking Crystal Springs water to folks doing yard work in our neighborhood. Bible study leaders would be encouraged to throw in appropriate and not too obvious references to the product. For example, one might say, while discussing the Exodus, “You know, it would have taken a lot of Crystal Springs water to drown all those Egyptians” or, if talking about the story of the woman at the well, “I’ll bet if they had it back then Jesus would have specified Crystal Springs water when he asked the woman for a drink.”

When the pastor finishes a baptism, she could spread her arms and say, “See, here is Crystal Springs water—what is to prevent you from being baptized?”

The Lord’s Supper

Welch’s Grape Juice. It’s too easy—I can’t do it.

So you see, there are all kinds of ways to integrate products into our services and ministries. It would be challenging but it would be fun—and it might even be profitable, which is, after all, the point.

I know, I know—it sounds like we would be selling our birthright for a mess of Quaker Oats pottage, like we might lose more of ourselves than we would if we followed the Jenny Craig diet plan, or like we might end up feeling so dirty that even Dial body wash wouldn’t make us feel clean, but hey, desperate times call for desperate measures. In times, like these, maybe we just have to be as cunning as serpents (from which Black Jack brand snakeskin boots are made) and as gentle as doves (Have you washed your dishes today? Why not go back to the dependable Dove dishwashing liquid?).

[Please note: this post was brought to you by no one except my own imagination. Also please note: I have become painfully aware that some folks don’t recognize satire when they see it and don’t know when I’m trying to be funny. This post is satire and I’m trying, regardless of my success, to be funny.]

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Be Reconciled to God

(A Communion Meditation based on 2 Corinthians 5:16-21 for Sunday, September 21, 2008)

Reconciliation is one of the most powerful words in the human vocabulary. It names, however, one of the most difficult realities for us to achieve.

The story of Jacob and Esau offers a good example. They were twins, products of the same birth event. Already in the womb they struggled with one another and that struggle continued into their adult lives. After many conflicts and much deception, the brothers got back together in one of the most famous reconciliation scenes in all of literature. Jacob approached Esau in fear, “but Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him, and they wept” (Genesis 33:4). Cheating, lying, manipulation, deception, followed by twenty years of estrangement, and now reconciliation!

Now all is well!

It pays to keep reading, though.

Esau said, “Let’s journey together,” and Jacob replied, “No, that’s too much trouble; you go home to Seir and I’ll see you there.” So Esau said, “How about I leave some of my people with you?” maybe for protection, maybe to keep an eye on his brother. “No,” Jacob said, “that’s not necessary.” So Esau went home to Seir and Jacob went to Succoth.

Reconciled, yes, but at arm’s length; reconciled, yes, but at a distance.

That’s the way that human reconciliation usually is: welcomed but incomplete, gratifying but nervous, together but at a distance. We just can’t do it completely. There are a lot of reasons for that, but one of the main ones is this: it is a struggle for us to accept forgiveness for our own wrongdoing, much less to take someone else’s wrongdoing onto ourselves, to absorb it and to make it our own so that they can be rid of it. In fact, people who try to do that are usually seen as, and sometimes are, too willing to suffer and to blame themselves for things that are not their fault.

Still, there is something marvelous and glorious because there is something Christ-like about a person who can take someone’s, maybe even some of the world’s, suffering onto himself or herself and thereby become an instrument of reconciliation.

And that is exactly what Christ did on the cross. The reconciliation with God that has been made possible by the cross of Christ is, from God’s side at least, complete. Christ took our sin to the cross with him so that it would not have to be held against us. “My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought, my sin not in part but the whole; is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more. Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, oh my soul!” Because of his sacrifice the sin that separates us from God has been forgiven and we can live in a full and free relationship with God. From God’s perspective our reconciliation is not partial or grudging or hesitant; it is complete. That is the fact of reconciliation.

Yet there is an invitation to reconciliation that needs to be heard and heeded. “Be reconciled to God,” Paul said. It is available if you will accept it. God has in Christ done all that needs to be done. All that remains is for us to accept God’s invitation and to be reconciled to God. Christ has taken our sin to the cross with him. He has died so that we don’t have to pay the ultimate penalty for our sin. And now he summons you into a personal relationship with him. He offers you the opportunity to be in Christ and thus to be a new creation. He offers you the chance to live a life that is formed by the cross and shaped by the resurrection. Now, you may already be a disciple of Christ, but are you living in the fullness of your reconciliation? Do you hear his call today to live the life that he has made you to live?

Part of living the reconciled life is to participate in the ministry of reconciliation. Findley Edge pointed out that the call to salvation is a call to privilege and a call to responsibility, by which he meant that we have the privilege of being saved and the responsibility to minister in Jesus’ name (Findley B. Edge, The Doctrine of the Laity). God has entrusted to us the ministry of reconciliation just as much as God entrusted it to Paul, to Paul’s missionary partners, and to the earliest Christians. God makes the appeal to others through us. Our participation in the ministry of reconciliation is both a privilege and a responsibility; we are privileged and responsible to live a Christ-like life so that others can hear that call through us.

I once read a crime novel in which the quest of a detective to find a kidnapped boy is driven partly by his need to overcome feelings of lostness and brokenness from his own childhood; in bringing that child home maybe he can overcome his own sense of homelessness. I guess that none of us get completely fixed until we get home. Still, isn’t it true that our own reconciliation to God inspires us to offer others that reconciliation? And don’t we do that by living lives that take the pain of others onto ourselves and that willingly suffer and that gladly sacrifice for the sake of others? Isn’t that the result of being reconciled and isn’t that the price of being a reconciler?

So now we come with great joy and humility to the Table of our Lord. Here before us are the elements of reconciliation, the bread and the cup. They are to us reminders of the fact of our reconciliation—in Christ we have been reconciled to God.

May they also be reminders of the invitation to reconciliation. Do you need to come to Christ today? Do you need to live the reconciled life more fully?

May they also be reminders of our ministry of reconciliation. May we leave the table ready to be reconcilers ourselves.

Now, let us approach the elements of reconciliation. Let us approach the table of the Lord.

Georgia vs. Arizona State

Final Score: Georgia 27, Arizona State 10

My Predicted Score: Georgia 24, Arizona State 21

Summary Statement: The Dawgs post an efficient win in the desert before playing the much better than expected Crimson Tide between the hedges next Saturday night.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Baptists and Religious Liberty

[Note: Last night (Wednesday, September 17, 2008) I spoke at The Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd here in Augusta on Religious Liberty; it was part of a series of guest talks on Christians and Politics. Part of what I said was adapted from a presentation I made in 2006 at Augusta State University at a forum on Church and State issues. What follows is the first part of my presentation. I think that all Baptists need to be reminded of our heritage of emphasizing religious liberty; I hope that folks of other traditions will be interested to learn about it.]

What you see depends largely on where you stand. Therefore, it is important that I confess right up front that I speak to this matter as a Baptist. Now, Baptists are a very diverse group. When I say that I come to this issue as a Baptist what I mean is that I am operating within what I understand the historic Baptist ways of thinking on church and state to be. I do think that my traditional Baptist way of viewing religious freedom is very compatible with the American tradition of religious freedom, but I’ll let you be the judge of that.

Historical background

Baptists emerged in England during the early years of the Protestant Reformation. The Church of England had separated from the Roman Catholic Church in 1534. Soon, a movement developed within some members of the Church of England to “purify” the church, which primarily meant to “purify” it of lingering Catholic elements. Thus the Puritans emerged. Some of those Puritans sought to purify the church from within. Others believed the only course was to “separate” from the Church of England; thus developed the Separatists. Some of the Separatists arrived at the conclusion that only those who had accepted Christ for themselves should be baptized; they thus rejected infant baptism and adopted the concept of believer’s baptism. They thus became known as Baptists. The first Baptist church of record was founded in 1609 in Holland by English Separatists who had fled there to escape persecution in England. The first Baptist church on English soil was founded in 1612 by Thomas Helwys near London.

The historic Baptist position on church and state must be seen in the light of those Baptist beginnings. Baptists were a persecuted minority—persecuted by the Church of England--in their early years. They were compelled by their convictions to dissent from the established church. Therefore, they advocated for religious liberty. Obviously, there was self-interest involved here; they wanted religious liberty for themselves. But they also advocated for religious liberty for everyone.

While Thomas Helwys, the founder of that first Baptist church on English soil, was exiled in Holland, he wrote a treatise that was addressed to King James I and that was entitled A Short Declaration of the Mystery of Iniquity. He published it in 1612. He was arrested and placed in Newgate Prison in London in that same year. That very important writing “contained the first exposition in English of the notion of liberty of conscience” [Richard Groves, ed., A Short Declaration of the Mystery of Iniquity (1611/1612) by Thomas Helwys (Macon: Mercer University, 1998), p. xx]. Here is the most influential passage from that book; it is foundational for the Baptist perspective on the relationship between church and state.

(O)ur lord the king is but an earthly king, and he has no authority as a king but in earthly causes. And if the king’s people be obedient and true subjects, obeying all human laws made by the king, our lord the king can require no more. For men’s religion to God is between God and themselves. The king shall not answer for it. Neither may the king be judge between God and man. Let them be heretics, Turks, Jews, or whatsoever, it appertains not to the earthly power to punish them in the least measure. (p. 53)

So from their very beginnings in England, Baptists advocated for religious liberty for all.

That advocacy carried over to the New World. Here I mention the name of Roger Williams. While he was a Baptist for only a few months, Williams is credited with founding, along with a several other people, the first Baptist church on American soil in Providence in 1639. While he was back in England seeking a charter for the Providence colony, he published The Bloody Tenent of Persecution, for Cause of Conscience (1644) which included this among its propositions:

(I)t is the will and command of God that, since the coming of his Son the Lord Jesus, a permission of the most paganish, Jewish, Turkish, or anti-Christian consciences and worships be granted to all men in all nations and countries, and they are only to be fought against with that sword which is only, in soul matters, able to conquer, to wit, the sword of God’s Spirit, the word of God.

Much of the drive toward enshrining religious liberty in the Constitution came from Virginia, where my Baptist forebears were again persecuted, now by the Anglican establishment. In the late eighteenth century, the Virginia Baptist minister John Leland had the ear of James Madison. The United States Constitution had no provisions prohibiting the establishment of religion or guaranteeing the free exercise of religion. The First Amendment in the Bill of Rights guaranteed the free exercise of religion and prohibited the establishment of religion.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Historians give Leland and other Baptists (and some Presbyterians and Quakers, too) credit for having a lot of influence on the content and inclusion of that First Amendment. Moreover, the famous phrase “wall of separation between church and state” comes from a Baptist context. While it was used earlier, it is most famously found in a letter written by Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury, CT Baptist Association in 1802.

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between church and state.

True religious liberty necessitates the separation of church and state; that is underscored in the “no law respecting an establishment of religion” clause. True religious liberty is liberty for everyone to worship as they please or not to worship if they please; that is underscored in the “no law…prohibiting the free exercise thereof” clause. Thus are the ideals of my Baptist tradition enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.

Theological Background

Baptists have theological reasons for our traditional insistence on religious liberty and the separation of church and state. [I draw the three categories and the quotations from Walter B. Shurden, The Baptist Identity: Four Fragile Freedoms (Macon: Smyth & Helwys, 1993), p. 49.]

First, it is based on the nature of God. The Bible teaches that God in his sovereign freedom also made people free and that God treasures and works for freedom. As Walter Shurden has said, “Freedom is more than a constitutional right or a governmental gift. God, not nations or courts or human law, is the ultimate source of liberty.”

Second, it is based on the nature of humanity. To quote Shurden again, “Created in the image of God, a human being is the crowning work of God’s creation. Human personality is sacred and life’s highest value. To deny freedom of conscience to any person is to debase God’s creation.”

Third, it is based on the nature of faith. Baptists have historically believed that every person is competent to relate to God for herself or himself. To be genuine, faith must be free and voluntary. (That is why Baptists insist on believer’s baptism; a person must make his or her own decision for or against Christ. Whether or not a Christian tradition insists on believer’s baptism, though, the vast majority of Christians would affirm the idea that real faith must be free and voluntary.) To our way of thinking, only freely chosen faith that leads to life-changing and heart-felt discipleship is real faith. State-sponsored or endorsed religion tends toward explicit or implicit coercion and coercion of any sort stands in the way of such legitimate faith.

My tradition is evangelical; we believe that God through Christ reaches out to people in grace and love and that he desires that they reach back to him in faith and love. God does not coerce. Jesus did not coerce. I stand opposed to governmental coercion in religion because it leads at best to civil religion and at worst to the practice of hypocrisy, which has nothing to do with legitimate faith. As Thomas Helwys put it,

“It is spiritual obedience that the Lord requires, and the king’s sword cannot smite the spirits of men. And if our lord the king shall force and compel men to worship and eat the Lord’s Supper against their consciences, so shall he make his poor subjects to worship and eat unworthily, whereby he shall compel them to sin against God, and increase their own judgements.” (Helwys, Mystery, p. 37)

When the government mandates or dictates religious practices, then people might be coerced into violating their conscience. What has such to do with the kind of authentic faith that evangelical Christians champion and insist is necessary?


My opinion, in which I draw on the historical and theological legacy of my Baptist forebears, is that the wall of separation between church and state has served us well and should be kept high and strong. Historically, Baptists have advocated for religious liberty for all. Simply put, unless everyone is free, no one is free; unless everyone is free to exercise his or her faith or no faith at all, there is no religious liberty. Theologically, we have advocated for a faith that is between a person and God, that is freely and voluntarily chosen. Personally, my main concern is for the vitality and integrity of religious expression. That is why I strongly oppose practices that tend toward a governmental sanctioning of religion.

Besides, churches and temples and mosques are everywhere in this country. People of all kinds of faiths are everywhere. Religious expression flourishes in our nation and I believe one of the reasons is our tradition of keeping church and state from getting entangled with each other.

The ideal is a free church in a free state.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

On Science and Faith

Rodney Dunning, a physics professor at Longwood University in Virginia, has an interesting article today at EthicsDaily.com entitled Science and Faith. I'm always interested in the perspectives of scientists who are also Christians. Before someone accuses me of narrow-mindedness--I'm also interested in the perspectives of scientists who aren't Christians and of Christians who aren't scientists--and even of Christian Scientists! It's just that my interest in science comes from the perspective of a professional minister/theologian who is a layman when it comes to science and I find much help in those whose perspective is the other way 'round.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Coffee with Drew

Drew Hill over at the Coffee with Drew blog has an enlightening post about the need for Christians to display respect in the midst of this volatile political campaign.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Compassionate Father

(A Sermon for Sunday, September 14, 2008 based on Luke 15:11-24)

[Image: Return of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt]

The Bible consistently refers to God as “Father.” What does that image mean to you? For some the word conjures up pictures of a stern disciplinarian. For others it evokes images of a distant and absent figure. For yet others it brings up thoughts of a conscientious provider.

The aspect of the idea of God as “Father” on which I want us to focus on is compassion. Granted, there are many aspects of God as Father on which we could concentrate, but we dare not neglect the compassion of the Father; indeed, we must major on it. In this parable the prodigal son encountered the radical compassion of the Father. If you are saved, so have you. If you will be saved, so will you.

The younger son left home. We have no indication why the son left. His actions show that, at the least, he wanted to “get away.” Maybe he needed to find his own way. Maybe he was tired of living under the strictures of his father’s law. Maybe he had the same problem we’ve all had since Adam and Eve—we don’t like to live with “thou shalt not.” Maybe the son couldn’t have told you exactly why he wanted to leave.

And what of the father? The son said, “Give me my share and let me go,” and the father gave it and let him! I suppose he could have made him stay, even as God could have made us stay. But the father did not do that and our Father does not do that. As Frederick Buechner said, “Even as the father lays down the law, he knows that someday his children will break it as they need to break it if ever they’re to find something better than law to replace it.” (Whistling in the Dark, p. 52. The quote is really about fathers in general and not about the father in the parable specifically.) The Father lets us go when we choose to go. So, at some point in our lives, our innocence gives way to our guilt and alienation. God gave us our freedom and we will go our own way, away from God. We will practice a kind of immature legalism, convinced that God loves us because and only if we are good and keep all the rules. Finally we do go away, thinking we will find freedom, but finding instead estrangement and lostness.

The parable, though, says that if we come back we find grace. Lost, running children need the compassionate grace of the Father. Once we come to ourselves the Father is eager and ready to receive us. Look at how radical and extravagant the father’s grace is in the parable. He ran to meet his son, flinging his arms around him and kissing him. The young man’s father abandoned all dignity and in an outpouring of affection rushed to his son, gathered him in his arms, and showered affection on him. Then he killed the fatted calf, dressed his son in fine garments, and had the biggest blowout the village had ever seen. That is how we should picture God. When we leave, God lets us go. It inevitably happens to all of us—we become sinners. And God knows that if we will come back and find his grace we will be wondrously blessed. And when we come, he rushes out to meet us. When we come, he throws his arms around us and kisses us. There is no “first you must do this” or “first you must prove yourself” or “first you must be punished.” No, there is rejoicing and laughing and dancing in heaven. God himself experiences the reckless abandonment of unbridled joy. Why? Because his daughter or son who was dead is alive, because the one who was lost is now found!

We may have difficulty thinking of our heavenly Father reacting in such extreme ways to the return of a lost child. We may have trouble imagining God running to meet us and throwing his arms around us. But this radical extravagance has already been seen in its fullest manifestation in the coming of Jesus. As Helmut Thielecke has said about this parable,

This is Jesus Christ himself who is speaking. And he is not merely telling us about this Father; the Father himself is in him. He is not merely imagining a picture of an alleged heaven that is open to sinners; in him the kingdom is actually in the midst of us. Does he not eat with sinners? Does he not seek out the lost? Is he not with us when we die and leave all others behind? Is he not the light that shines in the darkness? Is he not the very voice of the Father’s heart that overtakes us in the far country and tells us that incredibly joyful news, “You can come home. Come home!”? (The Waiting Father, p. 29)

How compassionate is our heavenly Father? He runs and hugs and celebrates when a lost child comes home. How compassionate is our heavenly Father? He came in his Son Jesus to be with us and to die for us. How compassionate is our heavenly Father? Hear another story, this one from Philip Yancey.

A young girl grows up on a cherry orchard just above Traverse City,
Michigan. Her parents, a bit old-fashioned, tend to overreact to her nose ring, the music she listens to, and the length of her skirts. They ground her a few times, and she seethes inside. “I hate you!” she screams at her father when he knocks on the door of her room after an argument, and that night she acts on a plan she has mentally rehearsed scores of times. She runs away.

She has visited Detroit only once before, on a bus trip with her Church youth group to watch the Tigers play. Because newspapers in Traverse City report in lurid detail the gangs, the drugs, and the violence in downtown Detroit, she concludes that is probably the last place her parents will look for her. California, maybe, or Florida, but not Detroit.

Her second day there she meets a man who drives the biggest car she's ever seen. He offers her a ride, buys her lunch, arranges a place for her to stay. He gives her some pills that make her feel better that she’s ever felt before. She was right all along, she decides: her parents were keeping her from all the fun.

The good life continues for a month, two months, a year. The man with the big car – she calls him “Boss”—teaches her a few things that men like. Since she’s underage, men pay a premium for her. She lives in a penthouse, and orders room service whenever she wants. Occasionally she thinks about the folks back home, but their lives now seem so boring and provincial that she can hardly believe she grew up there.

She has a brief scare when she sees her picture printed on the back of a milk carton with the headline “Have you seen this child?” But by now she has blond hair, and with all the makeup and body-piercing jewelry she wears, nobody would mistake her for a child. Besides, most of her friends are runaways, and nobody squeals in Detroit.

After a year the first sallow signs of illness appear, and it amazes her how fast the boss turns mean. “These days, we can’t mess around,” he growls, and before she knows it she’s out on the street without a penny to her name. She still turns a couple of tricks a night, but they don’t pay much, and all the money goes to support her habit. When winter blows in she finds herself sleeping on the metal grates outside the big department stores. “Sleeping” is the wrong word –a teenage girl at night in downtown Detroit can never relax her guard. Dark bands circle her eyes. Her cough worsens.

One night as she lies awake listening for footsteps, all of a sudden everything about her life looks different. She no longer feels like a woman of the world. She feels like a little girl, lost in a cold and frightening city. She begins to whimper. Her pockets are empty and she’s hungry. She needs a fix. She pulls her legs tight underneath her and shivers under the newspapers she’s piled atop her coat. Something jolts a synapse of memory and a single image fills her mind: of May in Traverse City, when a million cherry trees bloom at once, with her golden retriever dashing through the rows and rows of blossomy trees in chase of a tennis ball.

Three straight phone calls, three straight connections with the answering machine. She hangs up without leaving a message the first two times, but the third time she says, “Dad, Mom, it’s me. I was wondering about maybe coming home. I’m catching a bus up your way, and it’ll get there about midnight tomorrow. If you’re not there, well, I guess I’ll just stay on the bus until it hits Canada.”

It takes about seven hours for a bus to make all the stops between Detroit and Traverse City, and during that time she realizes the flaws in her plan. What if her parents are out of town and miss the message? Shouldn’t she have waited another day or so until she could talk to them? And even if they are home, they probably wrote her off a dead long ago. She should have given them some time to overcome the shock.

Her thoughts bounce back and forth between those worries and the speech she is preparing for her father. “Dad, I’m sorry. I know I was wrong. It’s not your fault; it’s all mine. Dad, can you forgive me?” She says the words over and over, her throat tightening even as she rehearses them. She hasn’t apologized to anyone in years.

The bus has been driving with lights on since Bay City. Tiny snowflakes hit the pavement rubbed worn by thousand of tires, and the asphalt steams. She’s forgotten how dark it gets at night out here. A deer darts across the road and the bus swerves. Every so often, a billboard. A sign posting the mileage to Traverse City. Oh, God.

When the bus finally rolls into the station, its air brakes hissing in protest, the driver announces in a crackly voice over the microphone, “Fifteen minutes, folks. That’s all we have here.” Fifteen minutes to decide her life. She checks herself in a compact mirror, smoothes her hair, and licks the lipstick off her teeth. She looks at the tobacco stains on her fingertips, and wonders if her parents will notice. If they’re there.

She walks into the terminal not knowing what to expect. Not one of the thousand scenes that have played out in her mind prepared her for what she sees. There, in the concrete-walls-and-plastic-chairs bus terminal in Traverse City, Michigan, stands a group of forty brothers, and sisters and great-aunts and uncles and cousins and a grandmother and great-grandmother to boot. They’re all wearing goofy party hats and blowing noise-makers, and taped across the entire wall of the terminal is a computer-generated banner that reads “Welcome home!”

Out of the crowd of well-wishers breaks her dad. She stares out through the tears quivering I her eyes like hot mercury and begins the memorized speech, “Dad, I’m sorry. I know….”

He interrupts her. “Hush, child. We’ve got no time for that. No time for
apologies. You’ll be late for the party. A banquet’s waiting for you at home.”
(What’s So Amazing About Grace?, p. 51)

That is how the Father loves you! That is the compassion he has for you!

Oh! For the wonderful love He has promised,
Promised for you and for me;
Tho’ we have sinned, He has mercy and pardon,
Pardon for you and for me.
Come home, come home, Ye who are weary come home;
Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling, Calling, O sinner, come home!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Georgia vs. South Carolina

Final Score: Georgia 14, South Carolina 7

My Predicted Score: Georgia 38, South Carolina 7

Game Summary: An SEC win is an SEC win is an SEC win.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Fascinating Article by Joe Klein

It's entitled "Sarah Palin's Myth of America." I don't think it's really partisan--my regular readers know that I try not to be politically partisan here--but it is a fascinating take on the cultural transition through which our nation is going and in which this election is shrouded.

About that elusive "Theory of Everything"

How about this one?

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers--all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:15-17 NRSV)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

With a Bang or a Whimper?

For nine years now, far underground land spanning Switzerland and France, the largest and most powerful particle accelerator ever built has been under construction.

According to the website of CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research), the purpose of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is “to smash protons moving at 99.999999% of the speed of light into each other and so recreate conditions a fraction of a second after the big bang.” The LHC will begin circulating its first beams tomorrow (Wednesday, September 10, 2008) and the first collisions are anticipated about a month later.

Scientists anticipate that the experiments constructed with the LHC will bring about a new era in the study of particle physics. As the above quote says, scientists hope that the LHC will be able “to recreate conditions a fraction of a second after the big bang.” The Big Bang is the inconceivably large explosion that scientists think lies at the origin of the universe. Needless to say, these experiments stand to enhance tremendously our knowledge of how the universe came to be and of how it works.

Some hope that the LHC experiments will eventually lead to the elusive Theory of Everything—a single theory that would make sense of the workings of the universe and thus reconcile or sort out the various theories of physics currently in play, particularly relativity and quantum physics.

This is exciting stuff. I’m one of those Christians that is disliked by both radical secularists and by radical fundamentalists because I affirm the reality of God and of God’s revelation on the one hand and because I affirm the legitimacy of the scientific enterprise on the other hand; I have faith in God and I’m grateful for science. Perhaps I’m simple-minded, but I still believe what I have said to parishioners and to students for decades now: it is the role of science to teach us the “how” of creation and it is the role of the Bible to teach us the “why” of creation. Frankly, I’m more interested in the “why” than the “how”; thus I am a minister/theologian rather than a scientist/researcher. But I affirm the attitude of UCC pastor Michael Dowd, author of Thank God for Evolution: How the Marriage of Science and Religion Will Transform Your World who said, “When I learn of a new fossil discovery, I don’t think to myself as I used to, ‘That doesn’t fit with Genesis.’ I think, ‘Wow, isn’t this cool how God made us’” (Baptists Today, September 2008, p. 6).

So I’m looking forward to seeing where the experiments conducted with the LHC will lead us. New knowledge is a good thing.

There are, though, people who are scared to death about what will happen when the LHC is operational. Some are speculating that the particle collisions could lead to the creation of a black hole into which the earth—and everyone on it—could be sucked. Such fear has even led to death threats against the scientists involved in the project. Most scientists, among them the eminent Stephen Hawking, dismiss such fears, saying that even if a black hole is created, which is not likely, it would be very small and would go away very fast.

Still, I wonder. Even though I appreciate and advocate for scientific advance and even though I have no fear over the LHC (any fear that I did have would be grounded in my ignorance and I try to avoid such wastes of time and energy), I do wonder if and when the time will come when we go too far. The biblical story of the Tower of Babel may speak to this matter. The people in that story wanted to build a tower with its top in the heavens. God judged that it was too much and so he confused their language and scattered them. This etiology of the origin of diverse languages speaks theologically to human hubris and over-reaching. It may be that the LHC will lead to knowledge that could destroy us all. Of course, our discovery of and manipulation of nuclear power has placed similar knowledge in our hands for over sixty years and we’re still here—for now.

It all comes down to eschatology, I suppose. There will be, the Bible teaches, a fulfillment of all things according to the plan of Almighty God and guided by the grace and justice of the God who sent Jesus Christ into God’s creation to begin the process that will lead to its ultimate redemption. I do not know if in God’s plan God will work through the kind of human silliness that could lead to human destruction; given that God has always worked through human instruments it would not surprise me, assuming (probably wrongly) that I will have the opportunity to reflect on the matter, if God did. Again, I’m a simple-minded person, but I affirm what my late friend Rev. Hugh Garner constantly affirmed: “Everything’s going to be all right…some day!” I believe in God’s “some day.” Therefore, I do not fear. Neither should you.

As T. S. Eliot wrote in The Hollow Men (1925),

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

How God chooses to bring it all to its conclusion—whether with a bang or a whimper—is, to state the grossly obvious—up to God. Meanwhile, we should pray and work to share God’s love and to make this old world as habitable and peaceful as we can.

And when the end does come, hopefully we can sing the song of the redeemed, or at least of REM:

It's the end of the world as we know it.
It's the end of the world as we know it.
It's the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine.

So tomorrow they’re going to switch on the world’s most powerful particle accelerator. I suspect that all will be well. But whether it’s well or not well---

Even so, come Lord Jesus!

Monday, September 8, 2008

The Hurdle

I am told that this run by Georgia's Knowshon Moreno was not shown on either SportsCenter or College Football Final on ESPN.

This despite the fact that the redshirt sophomore is listed on just about everybody's Heisman Trophy candidates list.

Now, I'm no conspiracy theorist. Still, you can bet that if Moreno played for Southern Cal or Ohio State (when, oh when will media folks wake up and realize that if Southern Cal played in the SEC they'd have 2 or 3 losses every year and that there are at least six teams in the SEC that would challenge for the Big 10 title if they played in that league?) that highlight would have been all over the national airwaves.

I know, I know--I should turn my attention to some of the real injustice that takes place in this old world, but UGA football is one of the few things in life about which I let myself get irrationally emotional. It's therapeutic.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Consider Your Life

(A sermon for Sunday, September 7 based on the story of Moses)

Frederick Buechner once wrote, “Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness; touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.” (Now & Then, p. 87)

This morning I want to call of us to listen to our lives, to consider what God has done, is doing, and will do through them.

Consider your beginning

Into what circumstances were you born?

Moses was born to Hebrew slaves. But he was raised in the household of Pharaoh with his Hebrew mother as his nurse. He had one foot in one world and his other foot in another world. But it was God’s world that finally and most fully had hold of him.

Were you born into two worlds, in a sense? What advantage came from your family? What disadvantage? As for me, I was born into this world but I was also born into a family that believed in the kingdom of heaven. Other stories are different; your circumstances may have been like mine or may have been much different. Regardless, God works through those circumstances to equip us for what he needs us to be and to do.

What opportunities did you have? Of which did you take advantage? Which did you neglect? To whose whispers did you listen? Regardless, God has worked to get you ready to fulfill your calling. Everything that has happened to you and through you has prepared you for this moment. And this is the only moment you have.

The only question is what you will do with it.

Consider your call

God calls all of us to serve him. The call to salvation is a call to service; being saved is both a privilege and a responsibility.

God calls us in the ordinary course of our ordinary lives. Moses was being a shepherd, which is what Moses did. Deborah was judging Israel, which is what Deborah did. Peter and James and John were fishing, which is what they did. Paul was persecuting the church, which is what Paul did.

You may or may not get a “burning bush,” but God does have his hand on you.

We have hesitations about our call. When God spoke to Moses out of the burning bush and told him that he wanted Moses to lead the Hebrews out of Egyptian captivity, Moses had four questions/requests that revealed his hesitation.

First, “Who am I?” (3:11). This is a good and fair and necessary question. You’re avoiding a very important question if you don’t ask it and mean it!
Notice God’s answer to Moses: “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain” (3:12).

We have to have the faith to go ahead and do what God is calling us to do, trusting that God is with us and everything will be all right in the end. Usually confirmation has to wait until we have done what we are supposed to do! If you wait for confirmation before you act, you’ll never do anything for God.

Second, “What is your name?” (3:12). God revealed his name as “Yahweh”—“I am who I am.” God was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (3:15) and thus the God of the past. This was the God who would bring the Hebrews out of Israel and thus the God of the future. This was the God who was calling Moses in that moment and thus the God of the present.

Now, God has fully revealed himself in the person of Jesus Christ. We know God because we know Jesus Christ who lived, died, and rose again. If we want to know who God is, we need to look at Jesus.

Does God love us? Look at Jesus and answer that question.

Does God forgive us? Look at Jesus and answer that question.

Does God show his grace to us? Look at Jesus and answer that question.

Third, “What if they won’t believe me?” (4:1). God gave Moses the ability to work signs and wonders. God gives us the ability to show grace, to practice forgiveness, and to exhibit his love to all those around us. Those are miracles, too! By showing grace, forgiveness, and love through us, God shows the people around us that he is real.

Fourth, “Please send someone else!” (4:13). We would like to be like Isaiah who said, “Here am I—send me!” In 1978 Jill Briscoe published a book called Here Am I—Send Aaron! That’s the way Moses was and that’s the way we often are. God still wanted Moses to go but he did send Aaron along to be his spokesperson.

No one can fulfill your calling but you. Still, God does call others to be in partnership with you. No one has all the gifts that are necessary. It takes each member of the body of Christ working together.

No one but Moses was Moses. But he needed Aaron! No one is you but you. We need others, too, to complement and balance us.

Consider your service

So Moses went. And that made all the difference! We would not remember him had he not gone, would we? Woody Allen said that 80% of success is showing up. Are you showing up for God and for his kingdom?

How did Moses serve?

He served as liberator. God used him to set people free. How might God use you to set people free? From their sin; from their sorrow; from their need.

He served as lawgiver. God used him to bring people into covenant relationship with him and to grow in that relationship. How might God use you to help people grow in their relationship with him? Can you teach? Can you mentor? Can you encourage?

He served as intercessor. Moses went to God on behalf of the people. We need people who will pray for others. We need people who will do good for others. We need people who will stand up for others.

Sometimes, though, the people got on Moses’ nerves and he had to deal with his own frustrations. Being involved in people’s lives can be painful and stressful. We are not called to work in paradise; we are called to serve in the real world with real people.

Consider your end

When you get to the end of your life you will not have accomplished everything for God that you intended to accomplish or wanted to accomplish. Moses died short of the Promised Land. But he nonetheless entered his heavenly home and I am sure heard “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” Moses did not enter the Promised Land but he did enter the Promised Land.

No, when you get to the end you won’t have done everything. You will have failures on your record. You will have come up short too many times. But when you die, you want to be able to look back knowing that you made progress, that you tried, that you trusted, and that you served.

The Bible says that “no one knows the place of (Moses’) burial to this day.” Where your body is placed when you die doesn’t make much difference. What you do with it before you die does matter. Where you are after you die does matter.


Moses is a model for us. Will we answer the call to serve God and trust him all the way to the end?

Saturday, September 6, 2008

World's Youngest Preacher

If you watch this you just might lose your mind.

Don't say I didn't warn you!

(A tip of the hat to Dr. Buddy Shurden for sending this along.)

Central Michigan vs. Georgia

Final Score: Georgia 56, Central Michigan 17

My prediction: Georgia 31, Central Michigan 21

Summary: Oh me of little faith.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Some Thoughts about the 2008 Presidential Election

A friend sent me an email the other day in which he suggested, kindly and kiddingly (I think), that I write more about the presidential election and less about the Georgia Bulldogs. I responded to him that as far as I was concerned, I had my priorities in the proper order:

1. God
2. Family
3. Church
4. Georgia Bulldogs
5. Country

Upon reflection, I realize that those stated priorities were out of whack. I should have put the Bulldogs ahead of church. (For my humor-impaired readers, that was a joke. The initial list was a joke, too. I think.)

Still, now that the two major parties’ nominating conventions are over (praise the Lord and pass the regular programming), it seemed like a good time to reflect a bit on this year’s presidential contest. I must preface these remarks by affirming what I have stated over and over: as a pastor, I do not engage in partisan politics. I do not endorse candidates (which I’m sure greatly frustrates them, since they might need the two or three votes I could send their way), I do not put bumper stickers on my car, and I do not put signs in my yard. Some pastors feel comfortable doing so and they are within their rights so long as they advocate as individuals and not as spokespersons for their church. I have trouble identifying where the line between “Ruffin as individual” and “Ruffin as pastor” lies—and I think that people in the pew and in the community have even more trouble seeing it than I do—so I stay out of that realm.

My comments here, then, are intended to be non-partisan. Any bias that you detect toward one candidate is either unintentional on my part or the result of bias in the other direction on your part.

Comment #1: Presidential candidates and their surrogates need to stop lying so much. I really think that they should stop lying altogether but, given the pervasiveness of the activity, I’ll settle for an appreciable reduction. We can hardly expect them to go cold turkey. The withdrawal symptoms would be ugly to watch.

Now, I know that politicians have always lied. Somewhere in my vinyl record stack is an album from the early 1970s called The Watergate Comedy Hour. During a sketch in which the lies of the Nixon administration are being addressed, one of the actors says, “Lies? Everybody lies. George Washington lied and now they sell cars on his birthday!” OK, so that’s not one of the funnier lines on the album, but it still makes the point.

Still, it’s disheartening to hear candidates and their supporters spew half-truths, quarter-truths, and non-truths; it’s just as disheartening to hear their audiences cheer in response to those lies like Romans watching a Christian getting eaten by a lion.

My advice: we should all be regular visitors to a source like Factcheck.org so that we can verify the veracity or lack thereof of the claims made by the people who want to be our leaders. I suppose that I’m idealistic, but I just have a hard time taking seriously people who will say anything they need to say to get elected, regardless of the truth, and then expect us to trust them once they occupy the Oval Office. If they’re not faithful in little, how can we trust them to faithful in much?

Comment #2: Change is coming. I confess that I am a bit of a cynic when it comes to presidential elections. After all, the system is the system and I usually doubt that one person, even if that person is the President, can make that much difference. I truly feel sorry for people who pin all their hopes on the election of a particular candidate as if that is the key to the future of the universe. Presidents are not messiahs, even if some folks think of Obama as “the One” and even if others take seriously the assertion in the introduction of McCain at the RNC that “the stars are aligned.” To quote the late, great Elvis when a woman tried to give him a crown because, she said, he was “The King”: "No honey, I'm not the King. Christ is the King. I'm just a singer." We should keep our heads and remember that Christ is the King and Obama and McCain, though powerful in the world’s eyes, are just men.

I have to admit, though, that who is elected president does make a difference. Regardless of personal political persuasions, any of us would have to admit that had Gore become President rather than Bush or had Humphrey become President rather than Nixon or had Douglas become President rather than Lincoln, things would have been different. While I still believe that there is only so much that a President can do, I’m sure that things will be different if McCain is elected than if Obama wins or vice-versa.

Still, I think—and I hope—that whichever candidate comes out on top, he will work hard to change “business as usual” and to alter the partisan climate in Washington. I think—and I hope—that either one will reach across the aisle and try to work with members of the other party and with Independents to do what’s best for America. I think—and I hope—that both Obama and McCain really believe in the agenda of change and reform to which they are both lay claim.

Of these two things I am convinced: (1) In his heart, McCain is a reformer and an independent thinker who would, as President, prove less partisan than his conservative base forces him to sound as a candidate and (2) Obama would, as President, present an image of change and diversity to the world that would speak well of America. I am frankly more encouraged by the choice that I have in this election than I have been in a long time. Whichever candidate wins, I suspect that he will try hard to undertake real reform and to deal realistically and creatively with the world as it is rather than as we would like it to be.

Still, I want to make it clear that as a Christian, my trust is not in either one of these candidates. My Bible teaches me not to trust in the security-promising powers of the earth but rather to place it in Almighty God.

Comment #3: Presidential elections are exciting. Georgia Bulldogs football games are more exciting.

Something for All You Folks Who Just Love to Forward Those Riveting Political Tirades

You really must read That Chain E-mail Your Friend Sent to You Is (Likely) Bogus. Seriously by Lori Robertson.

To quote Augusta native son James Brown: "Please, please, please!"

Interesting Article on the New Baptist Hymnal

Bob Allen at EthicsDaily.com wrote an interesting article entitled Omitted Titles in New Baptist Hymnal Reflect Theological Shift.

The article demonstrates the fact that, given that much theological and ethical teaching comes through our hymns, a church should take care in choosing a new hymnal.

Everybody has their favorites, of course. As for me, the editors of this new hymnal have committed an almost unforgiveable sin in leaving out Low in the Grave He Lay (my favorite Easter hymn) and Because I Have Been Given Much (a tremendous reminder of one of the reasons that we should gladly give of our bounty and thus a great offertory hymn).

I'll be interested to see what the Celebrating Grace Hymnal, to be published by Mercer University Press in 2010, looks like.

It seems to me that "main-line" or "traditional" or "moderate" Baptist churches should wait until they can examine both hymnals and decide which one suits them best.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


Bristol Palin, the seventeen-year-old high school senior daughter of Republican Vice-Presidential candidate and Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, is five months pregnant and plans to marry the baby’s father. Those are the facts and nobody involved is disputing them. The story is, of course, all over the news media.

I think it’s unfortunate that it’s all over the news. I think it’s unfortunate that we know about it. I furthermore think that it’s unfortunate that we think we ought to know about it. It’s too much information.

Both the McCain and Obama campaigns are saying things like “This is a private matter” or “Families are off-limits.” I agree with those statements—but we all know better. When Sarah Palin or anybody else enters the world of politics and especially the arena of national politics they apparently lose all claim to a private life.

The situation is complicated when the political credentials of a candidate become closely related to a family matter. So in this case, Gov. Palin is presented as a strong family values, pro-life candidate, which just happens to jibe well with her personal story: she has a young daughter who has become pregnant out of wedlock and who has chosen to keep the baby and marry the father. Indeed, some political pundits are averring that her family’s handling of this matter proves her pro-family political credentials.

On the other hand, opposition pundits are using the situation to raise questions about just how well the McCain campaign vetted Gov. Palin before naming her as the senator’s running mate. They wonder what other juicy items will be uncovered about her and her family that might call Sen. McCain’s judgment into question. You can bet that political operatives are working around the clock to discover other personal issues that can be used against Palin and against every other candidate. Wouldn't you just be proud to spend God's good gift of a life doing that kind of work?

So far as I can tell, Palin’s conservative family values position is clear; so far as I can tell, a presidential candidate’s judgment, be he the Republican or the Democratic standard-bearer, can always be called into question based on their decisions on substantive matters of legitimate national interest. We don’t need to know about candidates’ private family matters to help us make informed decisions on their candidacies.

Someone might counter, “Well, how a candidate deals with personal and family matters helps us to understand if he or she is a person of appropriate character, and that helps us to decide if he or she is qualified for the office that she or he is seeking.” I certainly see the point. It’s possible, though, for a person of outstanding personal character to have unsound public policies; it’s also possible for a person of questionable personal character to have a keen sense of what is best for the most in matters of policy.

My primary observation on the matter of Gov. Palin’s daughter is this, though: it’s none of our business. Gov. Palin is a human being with a human family and human beings with human families have human family challenges. The only revelation that the news of Bristol’s pregnancy brings is that the Palins are human beings. Thank you, but I already knew that. I don’t need to know the details.

Frankly, I grow weary of politics as voyeurism. A now middle-aged candidate smoked marijuana as a college student? An office-holder’s underage daughters got caught drinking beer? A candidate once got a divorce? This one’s daughter is pregnant? Why do I need to look into a candidate’s den or bedroom windows, especially after getting in my Way Back machine and traveling back in time a few decades, in order to decide if she or he should get my vote?

Yes, I want a close look, but I want a close look at voting records, at party platforms, and at policy positions. I want to know how McCain or Obama would lead our country. How they handle their family’s personal matters is their concern and it should be kept private.

Now that I know about Bristol Palin, I will pray for her and I hope that we all will.

I just don’t see why we need to know.