Thoughts on Red Envelope Day

The first time I made an excursion into the blogosphere things ended up being very churchy.  I said a lot of worship styles, culture war, etc.  I really don’t want to do that this time around, though we’ll see if it can be avoided.  I did, however, want to offer a comment or two about yesterday’s Red Envelop Day.

The (in)famous Internet Monk provoked a few thoughts of mine when he posted on this topic yesterday. His objections were as follows:

1)It does nothing
2)It makes millions feel they’ve done something
3)The combined expenses and energy could help hundreds, even thousands of people. (Dig a well. Send a Dr. somewhere. Build a clinic.)
4)Evangelicals no longer believe that it is valuable to do something that only GOD and a few affected people see. No…it has to have media coverage to be worthwhile.
5)Jesus wouldn’t do it. He’d save a child.
6) John the Baptist wouldn’t do it. He’d preach in the street.
7) Mary wouldn’t do it. She’d say I’ll raise a child.
8) It’s typical of evangelicals now: shallow and silly in every department.
9) It’s a rerun of that O’Hare/FCC bit that cost millions of dollars.
10) It insults the President, who is fully aware of his position.

While I am tempted to argue these points, I can’t say that I disagree with him all that much.  I said the following the comments thread:

“I agree with iMonk’s point. But let us not forget that the force of law matters. When things are illegal, people are, as a matter of course, less likely to do them. So if abortion is not available, it would not be used as often as a matter of convenience. So while we clamor for financial support of doctors, adoption, clinics and all these other worthwhile endeavors, there is no shame at all in petitioning to make abortion illegal and in voting on that issue alone.

Having said that, Red Envelope Day is silly and ultimately useless.”

A couple of points.  First, I stand by my original response.  No matter how much we support women’s shelters or similar efforts to aid single mothers in need, there is no reason to give up on the intellectual fight against Roe v. Wade.  The force of law matters, because when something is illegal, people are less likely to do it.  One commenter in the thread mentioned prohibition, but that is simply an apples to oranges situation.  In the case of prohibition, alcohol was part of a lifestyle.  Abortion is a part of almost no one’s lifestyle, and banning it would be a source of deterrence for many, many women.  If the law didn’t deter, there would certainly be more nineteen year-olds drinking and more fifteen year-olds smoking.  Pro-lifers should not, under any circumstances, give up on the fight against Roe.  Oftentimes I read pieces like this, with their accompanying comment threads, and I hear a lot of talk about how we should all put our time and money where our collective mouth is and go volunteer at the shelter or adopt a child.  And all of those things are right and proper, but the law still matters.  I would hope writers like Michael Spencer would remember that the pro-life movement is much, much more than James Dobson.  It is also Robert P. George, Hadley Arkes and the late Richard John Neahuas.  That’s a Catholic list, so I’ll include Russell Moore and Charles Colson as evangelicals in that category.

I also think there is a place for a public demonstration like Red Envelope Day.  It is important that citizens, whatever their concern, make a public show of their approval or disapproval of certain policies.  The problem with Red Envelope Day is that this sort of thing is getting old.  It is much effort, so much ballyhoo over a public display of pro-life sentiment towards a very pro-choice President, but it will produce very little in the end.  I suppose we can pray over the envelopes and quote 2 Chronicles and hope that President Obama all of a sudden changes his mind, but that seems unlikely.  I hate to say it, but I do feel that this is typical of evangelical activity.  Make a lot of fuss over a matter and feel as though great deeds have been done.  It all has a very Don Quixote-like quality.  Let’s have Red Envelope Day if we like and let’s wear our red Life bracelets and protest silently and march and wave signs, but let us never, as once great football coach said, confuse activity with accomplishment.

Moore on Love, Sex and Mammon.

In the new issue of Touchstone, Russell Moore offers some timely advice to Christians.

A few things stand out to me.

One, Moore, a Southern Baptist, is referring to St. John and St. Paul.  Interesting.  I like it, but interesting.

Second, I would say that while Moore is right that we should be talking about these issues, I think the talk has to be in the Church first.  I think the Republican Party would be right to sideline the culture war and go after the economy.  I really mean that.  If a GOP Senator wanted to ignore cultural issues and just tackle the economy and domestic policy, that would be a boon for the GOP.  And it would still leave the culture stuff to the church, which is were it ultimately rests, anyway.

I think that’s been part of our problem, confusing what belongs in the church and what belongs in politics.  We would have all been better served if James Dobson had not become a leader of the Republican Party.

A few more thoughts from Moore’s piece:

“Why do Christian parents, contra St. Paul’s clear admonition in 1 Corinthians 7, encourage their young adult children to delay marriage, sometimes for years past the time it would take to discern whether this union would be of the Lord? Why do we smilingly tell them to wait until they can “afford” it? It is because, to our shame, we deem fornication a less awful reality than financial hardship.

Why do our pastors and church leaders speak bluntly about homosexuality but not about divorce? Because, in many cases, they know the faces of the divorced people in the pews before them—and they fear losing the membership statistics or the revenue those faces represent.”

This is important stuff.  And there’s no good answer to it, because these issues have never come up in so many churches.  And I’m really torn here, because as I move towards a Reformed approach to theology (more Luther than Calvin, fwiw) I’m concerned that churches and pastors focus on the Gospel more than they focus on issues.  The problem, though, is that the issues to often go ignored.  And at some point, pastors must be willing to address these issues in light of Scripture.  But the next problem is that too often pastors carry on about issues that don’t face their congregations.

How many pastors go on and on about gay marriage but, as Moore points out, say nothing about divorce?  How many youth groups prattle on about abstinence but then suggest that marriage must wait until after college and then after financial stability?  I’m sympathetic to the idea that marriage waits a while, but anyone who suggests that young people should, as a rule, wait until their mid-twenties for marriage and remain abstinent is in sad denial.

All in all, this is really important stuff, but like most things that Moore says, I imagine that most pastors and lay people will let it go in one ear and out the other.

Important Records

Lots of my friends have been comprising a list of the records that had the most influence on their lives. I thought I would join in the fun with a list of fifteen albums that really helped shape who I am, for better or for worse. I’m excluded classical music because I feel that symphonies and sonatas operate on a different plane.

This list is in no particular order.

  1. R.E.M. – Automatic for the People. This was the first rock album I own. My grandmother gave it to me, along with a live Creedence Clearwater Revival album, for Christmas when I was in the seventh grade. I was twelve. I pulled the album out the other day, and it still sounds fresh. “Nightswimming” is still as pretty as it was in 1993, and “Drive” is just as confusing.
  2. Nirvana – In Utero. It would be easy to say that Nevermind was the Nirvana album that did it for me, but In Utero was the only one I actually owned. And I didn’t even own it, I just had a copy on a Maxell tape. But this was the record that introduced to heavy music in an intelligent fashion; weird time signatures and the like. And those vocals! Kurt Cobain’s howl left a lasting impression, because I would find its likeness again years later in discordant punk bands like Hot Water Music and even Fugazi. Of course at the time I didn’t know that Fugazi had influenced Nirvana (instead of the other way around), but I would find out a few years later.
  3. Fugazi – In On the Killtaker. Not Fugazi’s greatest record and certainly not their most well-known. But it was the album that helped bridge the gap – for me, anyway – between hardcore punk and the more introspective indie rock that I had been towing around with for a few years. Fugazi remains one of my favorite bands even though I rarely pull out those records. They still sound new and exciting, in a way that few other rock bands managed to do.
  4. Radiohead – OK Computer. I picked this record up (along with that Fugazi album) on a church trip in 1998. I didn’t listen to anything else for the next three months. Radiohead took everything I knew about creepy, ethereal music and turned it on its ear. I still haven’t been able to ignore this sort of music and it’s been eleven years. They were then and probably still are the best band on the planet.
  5. U2 – The Joshua Tree. The obligatory U2 reference. The last non-cynical album they released, and it was full of life and vigor. As famous as the first three tracks are, I always had a soft spot for “Red Hill Mining Town.”
  6. The Allman Brothers Band – A Decade of Hits. The Allmans are my absolute favorite classic rock band. This collection is important in one particular way for me; it showed me how jazz and blues really did influence rock and roll. Listening to Duane Allman’s guitar riffs made Miles Davis make sense. I picked this up at McKay in Chattanooga on a lonely Saturday during my freshman year.
  7. Miles Davis – Kind of Blue. I know it’s the most famous (and best) jazz album ever, but it’s the record that got me into jazz. Not gross Kenny G records or bad elevator porn music, but jazz in all its contradictions of simplicity and complexity.
  8. AVAIL – Over the James. My all-time favorite punk band, the one that I’ve stuck with for almost ten years. This album is focused; not reckless and obnoxious. Punk rock for grown ups, really, even if it did get me through my freshman year of college. I really would like to see them one last time, but I’m not holding out much hope.
  9. Ryan Adams – Heartbreaker. As the title implies, I bought this record while bummed out about something or other. But like all good music, this record managed to outlive my circumstances. This was the first country album I discovered that was angry and sad and sentimental and not the least bit cheesy. “Oh My Sweet Carolina” still makes me a little bit wistful.
  10. Dusty Springfield – Dusty in Memphis.  I don’t think those oldies stations realize how good this really is.

That’s it for now. I’ll post the other ten records soon. There’s more out there, to be sure.

Labor Music.

Lori had me pick out some music to play in her room while she’s in labor. Here are two of our selections.

First is the Innocence Mission’s most recent album, We Walked in Song.

Here’s a clip of the Don and Karen Peris (the husband and wife behind the band) singing a track off the album.

We’re also taking with us the Rachels’ brilliant Music for Egon Schiele.

Here’s a clip of one of the tracks from the record. This is simply one of the prettiest things I’ve ever heard. Lori and I have been listening to this record since we first met, and I’ve been listening to it for about seven years now. It hasn’t gotten old yet.