Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The price of power

As an orthodox, evangelical Christian living in the United States in the twenty-first century anno Domini, I often get frustrated with the way that my fellow believers sometimes use the influence that we have gained with our rise into American politics.

And though I do not agree, as one of my best friends often argues, that Christians should stay out of politics, I do believe that we should take our values and worldview into the political area. All too often, though, it seems that Christians who enter into politics, at least in the United States, end up adopting the same-old way of doing things to advocate for our policies.

Yes, the policies are important, but I think that the way we advocate for Good is just as important as the Good that we advocate.

That is not to say, of course, that in my limited experience in real-world politics that I have not been influenced by the proximity to power. There is a reason that the saying "Power corrupts" has endured. It's true.

Of course, there is one Power that does not corrupt; and if we, as Christians, seek to continue to influence the world around us, it is best that we remember, as the article below contends, who we serve.

* * *

WE ARE WHAT WE BEHOLD
Resisting the demons that accompany influence and savvy

Editorial
Christianity Today
Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Esther knew what was at stake in her decision. No one approached King Xerxes without an invitation and lived to tell about it. Not even her renowned beauty could spare Esther the same fate. Yet who better to intervene?

Mordecai reminded her that God would save his people from Haman's plot one way or another. So why not play a leading role in God's redemption story, Mordecai reasoned: "And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?" (Esther 4:14).

Esther risked her life, and God saved the Jews. Yet her relationship with Xerxes was a double-edged sword. While her influence represented the Jews' best hope, it also caused her to pause, thinking she could survive Haman's plot as a member of the royal family.

In the same way, evangelicals have wrestled with our relationship to power. When in a position of influence (and in our better moments), we leverage power to better the lives of our neighbors. Cultural savvy enables us to successfully translate the gospel for a changing world.

But it's a double-edged sword—influence and savvy can also dull the gospel's transcendence. We achieve a royal position, but soon we are using a worship service to Almighty God to hawk Justice Sunday III. We worry that the culture has forgotten the meaning of Christmas, but we cancel Sunday worship because it's Christmas. We fret because of our culture's biblical illiteracy, but sign up for the Sunday school class on our pet social-justice cause rather than the Bible or theology track. In short, we complain that the church has sold out to culture, but we subconsciously give our allegiance to a political or social subculture and champion its agenda.

Scripture provides no systematic teaching for how we should relate to culture. But it does tell us what's of first importance: "That Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures" (1 Cor. 15:3-4).

Scripture gives only one antidote for the temptation that cultural influence presents—worship of the living God. We are what we gaze at. "And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another" (2 Cor. 3:18, ESV).

The psalmist Asaph expressed a God-honoring attitude: "Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever" (Ps. 73:25-26). We do not shun this world that our creator God sustains, and that means participating in one subculture or another to work for change. But first things first: we must behold our heavenly Father in worship.

Worship, broadly conceived, comes in the form of many simple God-ward habits. Keeping the Sabbath directs our hearts heavenward and sets us apart from a society whose busyness elbows God aside. Sacrificial giving builds kingdom work and forces us to depend on the giver of all good things. Reading God's Word—especially the Psalms—molds our minds for Christ-exalting worship. As we share our faith and serve the poor, we submit our wants to the great high priest who gave his life for us and meets our needs. Prayer and contemplation test our love—do we love God for his own sake, or do we love him for how he makes us feel?

None of these forms of worship is much concerned with influence or savvy.

Or if they are, it is influence and savvy of a very different sort.

* * *

FEELING: Called anew to my purpose in life
LISTENING TO: The still, small Voice

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Miss Christian goes to Birmingham

Kat got to come to Birmingham for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday (which in Alabama, apparently, is also commemorated as "Robert E. Lee's Birthday" -- yeah, these people are really outragoues), and we had a great time while she was here.

PORK, TOMATOES, & DECAF: OH MY

Kat got here on Friday afternoon, just in time for dinner. After showing her around the revised edition of the apartment (revision: less some of the Lieutenant's furniture, plus some of the things Mike and I purchased), we headed down to the Five Points neighborhood of Birmingham for dinner.

After driving around a bit (evidently, I hadn't shown Kat this part of Birmingham, and she was actually very impressed by it), we decided on Five Points' Bar & Grill for our evening repast.

I had a very excellent pork roast, with some potatoes and fried green tomatoes (done in gourmet style, of course), and Kat had an awesome burger, that I will order when I go back to The Grill (which is how the restaurant is known among Five Points' regulars).

After dinner, and some wonderful conversation, we crossed the square to the Five Points Starbucks where Kat enjoyed some decaf coffee (still don't know why people drink that, Kat included), and I had some hot chocolate (which I usually get at Starbucks).

We shared some more good conversation, and then journeyed back across Red Mountain (passing Vulcan) to head to bed (since it was already midnight).

FROM THE DESERT TO THE PACIFIC

The next morning we woke up rather late, since both of us were tired from a long first-week-back at school, and got ready for lunch. After lunch, we went to the Birmingham Botanical Gardens, which turned out to be a great place for a romantic, afternoon date.

We had time to enjoy the Conservatory, with its desert, tropical, and camellia rooms, and the Japanese Formal Garden, much of which was donated by Birmingham's sister city of Hitachi, Japan.

Kat and I especially enjoyed the Japanese garden, though I did get a little caught up in the experience.

With those two emphases, we only saw about one-third of the gardens. We've already made plans to go back when it's a bit warmer, and more of the plants are in bloom (maybe March or April). It should be beautiful.

WILD FOREST(S)

That night, I invited a few people over to Mike's and my apartment to meet Katharyn and generally hang out. There was a good turn out, and we had a lot of fun, with people staying well toward the early hours of the morning.

It was a lot of fun.

On Sunday, Kat joined me in worshipping God at First Baptist Church of Birmingham, and afterward, we had lunch at Panera in Vestavia Hills.

We went back home and changed clothes to get ready for our second date of the weekend, the Birmingham Zoo.

Let me tell you: for a city in Birmingham's position, their zoo was amazing. The variety of animals, the cleanliness and layout of the Park, and the helpfulness and sophistication of the staff were all incredible.

In addition, the Birmingham Zoo had some truly unique attractions to boast: one of the park's gorillas, Babec, was suffering from heart disease (similar to human heart disease). In late 2003, Babec's heart disease was said to have advanced beyond veterinary medicine's ability to heal him.

The zoo sent out a press release, which The Birmingham News published. Soon after that, the zoo received a letter from a physician at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), who informed zoo officials that he believed Babec could qualify for a heart "pacemaker" to treat the gorilla's heart disease.

After consulting with UAB's human heart specialists and Auburn University's veterinary medicine specialists, a team from both Universities and from UAB Medical Center volunteered their time and expertise to attempt the first-ever implantation of a pacemaker in a gorilla.

The surgery took place in late 2004, and all of Alabama held its breath as Babec went under the knife.

When he regained consciousness the next day, back in his habitat at the zoo, he showed signs of strong recovery, and his heart health had increased by almost 35%!

The operation was deemed a huge success, and zoo keepers expect Babec, who was 24 at the time of his surgery, to live another 25 years, to a normal gorilla life-span of about 50 years.

In addition to the heart-warming tale of Babec, there were other fun exhibits at the zoo, including the flamingoes. Yes, I made Kat pose for the picture, and no, she wasn't all too thrilled about it. But folks, how cute is that picture.

We had other up-close encounters at the zoo, including our visit with the Indoasian Tiger in the Predators' section. This male tiger was a beautiful, stunning creature. His eyes gleamed with intelligence, and his body rippled with hidden, yet potent strength. He was truly an amazing animal to behold, and he earned both mine and Katharyn's respect.

Indeed, the tiger's ferocity earned a certain unease in all who watched him, despite several inches of bullet-proof glass between him and us. Despite the glass, we all watched him with some wariness as he paced about his habitat.

DINNER AND DEPARTURE

After the zoo, dinner with some friends at Chili's led to our last night together and Kat's return to Gainesville.

It was a great weekend, and I am thankful that God allowed us to share such an amazing time together. The more time I spend with Kat, the more I realize what a blessing God has made her in my life.

Now, my mini-vacation is over, and it's back to the grind: and, wouldn't you know it, Birmingham decided to rain on me this morning as I went back to class. But oh well, it's another day, and tomorrow (as Scarlett O'Hara famously said), will be one, too.

FEELING: Blessed and happy
LISTENING TO: Whispers and the tapping of computer keyboards in the library

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

An historian saves the day

As a bona fide historian, courtesy of my B.A. in History (and in Poli Sci), I love learning about new things that we didn't know about the past. And last night, something was confirmed, by the time-honored tradition of historical research, which has been disputed for decades.

The dispute was ultimately settled by a lawyer and an historian, and a recourse to primary sources in a dusty archive in the capital of North Carolina...

HISTORIC COURTHOUSE SQUARE BELONGS TO ROGERSVILLE, NOT COUNTY

by Jeff Bobo
The Kingsport Times-News
Wednesday, January 11, 2006

ROGERSVILLE -- While some members of Hawkins County government are under the impression that the county owns property on Courthouse Square in Rogersville, City Attorney Bill Phillips presented evidence to the contrary during Tuesday's Rogersville Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting.

Alderman Brian Hartness, who also serves on the Rogersville Historic Preservation Commission (RHPC), had requested that Phillips research ownership of the vacant section of Courthouse Square in the southwest corner of Main Street and Depot Street.

Ownership of that property became an issue after the Hawkins County Commission approved the request of the group Soldier's Homefront for the construction of a monument honoring Hawkins County military veterans, but the RHPC rejected the request.

Members of Soldier's Homefront, which requested the monument, as well as Commissioner Danny Alvis were disappointed with the RHPC decision against the monument. Alvis proclaimed that because the Courthouse Square property in question belongs to the county, Rogersville should pay the county rent for use of it during Heritage Days.

In response to that comment, Hartness said he wanted the question of ownership of that property settled.

Phillips researched the town charter and deeds with the assistance of Rogersville's leading historian, Henry Price. Prior to being chartered in 1789, Rogersville was known as the community of Hawkins Courthouse.

When Rogersville was chartered in 1789, it was still part of North Carolina. The original charter set aside 48 half-acre lots in what is now downtown Rogersville for formation of the town.

The original layout of the town stretched between Kyle Street to the north and Washington Street to the south; and between Church Street to the east and Hasson Street to the west. The town square - known today as Courthouse Square - includes all four corners of the intersection of Main Street and Depot Street.

Phillips said Rogersville's original charter, which was filed in Durham, N.C., clearly states that the town square is set aside for use by the city. Two lots were set aside for use as county buildings, but that was on Washington Street between Depot and Hasson streets where the First Baptist Church now exists.

Phillips noted that in the early 1830s the original courthouse burned down, and in 1836 the county purchased the lot where the existing courthouse - built that same year - currently sits.

"Where the courthouse sits is actually Lot 15 behind the town square," Phillips said. "It's not actually on the town square and never has been on the town square."

Phillips quoted from the lengthy charter for the BMA, highlighting the section which states that a board of trustees was empowered and entrusted to oversee development of the 48 lots set aside for development of the town, with exception of the two lots on Washington Street, which had been designated for the county.

"The town square was always laid off to be the town square for the town of Rogersville," Phillips said. "Mr. Price informed me he'd done extensive research and that all through the years the town of Rogersville has exercised domain and control over the town square. For instance they passed ordinances that said you couldn't have cattle sales there because at one time every Saturday people would bring their cows down there and have a big sale.

"They passed ordinances about what you could and couldn't do, like you couldn't have loud and raucous music, so it's always been under the control of the town."

Hawkins County has maintained the Courthouse Square lots in the past with mowing and landscaping. Mayor Jim Sells said he will send a letter to County Mayor Crockett Lee informing him that the city will be maintaining Courthouse Square from now on.

* * *

FEELING: Proud of my chosen professions, history and the law
LISTENING TO: The soundtrack toLive and Let Die, the James Bond movie currently on TV

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The eyes of Texas...

...are upon the National Championship trophy. Congrats to the Longhorns -- not that I'm the biggest Texas fan ever, but it's always enjoyable to see U.S.C. lose.

So, in honor of America's best college team: "Hook 'em, Horns!"

FEELING: Smug since Southern Cal lost
LISTENING TO: Lee Corso using hyperbole

Christmas Break: Rogersville & Washington

Wrapping up our Christmas Break coverage here in Annales, I thought I'd give you a brief overview of how things have progressed since we last left our protagonist upon his return to the Promised Land.

DECK THE HALLS

The first thing I noticed upon my arrival home, besides how much I missed the mountains, was how beautiful Peaceful B Farm (our house and grounds) looked.

This year, my mom and dad truly outdid themselves in decorating our house and grounds for the seaon. When my sister and I were younger, we always encouraged mom and dad to put up Christmas lights on our house; since we were so far out in the country, where there are no street lights, our house always sparkled as a jewel in the middle of the valley.

And with our Star of Bethlehem proudly pointing the way to our Nativity scene inside, the decorations were both tasteful and faithful.

For Christmas 2005, mom and dad decided to take a more subtle approach to decorating the house, choosing to emphasize the rustic beauty of our two-story log house, built circa 1850.

This year, plain wreaths with bright red bows and ribbon adorned all of the windows of the house's front, with wreths on either side of the front door, and evergreen garland surrounding the door frame. Instead of white lights, the usual choice of our family, three ground-based flood lights illuminated the classic Christmas decor.

On the side facade, the entrance to our home that we use, evergreen garland, lighted by white Christmas lights, combined with red ribbon bows to festoon the porch; twin, lighted wreaths surrounded the door, and evergreen garland surrounded the door frame.

Out on the road, our perimeter fence, a wooden, four-railed fence painted the color of our home's highlights, took large evergreen fixtures with garland extended to either side of the entrance-way, boasting bright, red ribbon for bows and trim.

Overall, our home looked very beautiful with the Christmas decorations highlighting the many strengths of our one hundred and fifty-five year old home.

TENDER, TENNESSEE CHRISTMAS

With the decorations in place, it was time to get ready for the celebrations of the our Savior's birth which we observe every year: the annual Christmas Eve Family Gathering.

As in the past, my mom's brother (my uncle), Dick Templeton; his wife, Debbie Templeton, their daughter (my cousin), Tara Templeton Harrell; and Tara's husband Jacob Harrell joined my dad, mom, and sister in gathering at our house for the festivities.

We always have hors d'oeuvres and punch, while we catch up on everything that our family has been up to since we have seen each other last. We usually call my grandmother, who lives in Indiana, and my aunt, uncle, and cousin who live near her in the same city.

Finally, we all exchange gifts, before everyone heads home.

After our guests leave, my mom, dad, and sister join me as each of us opens one present that we have for each other. Then, we go to bed, usually in order to get up and take care of our Christmas Day activities.

This year, unlike in years past, Christmas fell on a Sunday, and so this year, we went to church on Christmas. A certain clarification is necessary here, I believe.

Though I was unaware of this before I went to Vanderbilt, it is traditional for most Christians to attend a church service around 11 pm on Christmas eve, in the custom of the Midnight Mass or Vigil Mass on Christmas eve (which was adopted by many of the Protestants after the Reformation).

As a Southern Baptist, evangelicals largely rejected (in a case of over-reaction) the Christian liturgical calendar; our celebrations of Christmas and Easter, with some churches remembering Advent, are remnants of the calendar (note well that as I have grown older, I have found quite a bit of value in the grand traditions of classical Christianity, including the liturgical cycle of Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost, and I have -- as noted on this blog many times -- done my best to begin celebrating them regularly).

At any rate, when evangelicals rejected the liturgical calendar, that included the practice of services on "holy days" that are not Sunday. As such, it is not normal for evangelicals to attend church on Christmas; indeed, evangelical "festivals", at least in most of the South, have developed around the civil calendar, with churches recognizing Christmas, New Year's, Easter, Mothers' Day, Memorial Day, Fathers' Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Veterans' Day instead of the traditional Christian seasons.

Of course, I'm now delving into a historical analysis of the divergences of Evangelical Christianity from classical Christianity, an interesting rabbit chase, but one for another time.

So! Back to our family's celebration. Since Christmas was on Sunday, First Baptist Rogersville was holding services as normal, except that Sunday School (Christian education and Bible study held for all ages before worship services) was cancelled in order to give every family a chance to celebrate together.

Because Sunday school was cancelled, our family opened our Christmas gifts before church (mainly so that we could wear some of our new clothes to church). I received a new camera (hooray), since my old one was broken, along with numerous clothes and other items.

The service was beautiful (as I've discussed earlier in my blog), and I certainly appreciated the opportunity to worship God in that way.

After church, our family returned home for a grand dinner, consisting of baked turkey, dressing, baked and honeyed ham, mashed potatoes, creamed corn, green beans, macaroni shells and cheese, peas, rolls, cranberry sauce, and gravy all around. There was sweet tea, and there was home-made fudge and candies (thanks Mom) for dessert.

We rested, and we enjoyed our time together.

CHRISTMAS NIGHT

The night after Christmas Day, Christmas Night, is always a night of tradition in our family, where we attend a movie together. This year, we did the same, and our family went together (the first time in quite a while) to see The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe at the Cinema Four in Rogersville.

Though dad was initially not too thrilled about seeing what he termed as "a kid's movie," the whole family enjoyed the movie and its moving message. If you still haven't seen Narnia, you should. Or at least read the books.

KNOXVILLE-TO-DULLES

After Christmas, I was preparing to depart the Promised Land for Washington, to visit Kat and her family for New Year's.

I flew out of Knoxville into Washington-Dulles, on the Virginia side of the city. Kat picked me up, and it was so good to see her. Even though we'd only been apart for two weeks, it seems as though the time we spend together is like a small sip of an elixir that one longs to drink completely.

It was good to see Katharyn's family, again, too. I hadn't visited them since July, and it was amazing to see how much Fran, Katharyn's little sister, had grown in the six months since we had last been together. She's sixteen, now, and I was commenting to Kat that it seems as though I have watched Fran grow up: after all, she was in the sixth grade when I first met her -- now she's a sophomore in high school.

In only two short years, she'll be choosing, hopefully as her brother and sister did, to go to college. It's hard to believe.

KAY-DEE TIMES

Seeing Kat was great. We spent lots of time just hanging out and talking, and we saw some of her friends from high school.

We spent New Year's at a dinner party with her family, followed by some time downtown, and finally watching the ball drop together with a little celebratory, carbonated, fermeted grape juice.

The next day, I had to fly home, much to both our chagrin.

MAN YOUR BATTLE-STATION

Despite a generally fun and relaxing break, there was some sad news (in addition to the sad story of the miners trapped in West Virginia). I found out over the break that my roommate, friend, and brother, Second Lieutenant Scott Williams, has been pulled from law school to go to active duty with the United States Army.

Scott should be in Missouri by this time, beginning Officer Basic, which is basically a refresher in the practical skills of being an Army man that Scott already knows from his time in R.O.T.C., but that the Army wants to thoroughly impress upon Scott, and his fellow newly-commissioned officers, before they serve in the field, leading troops.

While Scott is excited about this opportunity, I am worried (unlike Scott) about his safety in the future, in addition to being disappointed that I was losing a friend in Birmingham.

The Lieutenant assures me, however, that he'll be fine, and that he'll be having fun (and probably more than me).

Keep Scott in your prayers, along with all of those serving our country in the armed forces. They're good people.

ONCE MORE UNTO THE BREACH

With Christmas Break all but concluded, it's time to return to the Heart of Dixie for Law School, part deux. I'm a seasoned veteran, now, and really the only thing that worries me is finding a job for this summer (oh, and if any of you Hizeciheliphiles would like to offer me one, please leave your name and email address in a comment below).

I hope you had a wonderful Advent, Christmas, Hanukah, or New Year's, or whichever variety thereof you celebrate (after all, just about everyone I know can celebrate at least one of those).

FEELING: Rested
LISTENING TO: Beethoven's Mass in C Major, Movement II, "Gloria"