Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Island

Last night I saw a movie I had somehow missed when it came out in 2005: The Island.  Once I realized the plot of the movie, my attention was riveted.

Lincoln Six-Echo (played by Ewan McGregor) is a resident of a seemingly Utopian but totally enclosed, underground facility in the year 2019.  Like all of the inhabitants of this carefully controlled environment, Lincoln hopes to be chosen to go to the "The Island" -- a paradise that is reportedly the only uncontaminated spot on the surface of the planet.  But Lincoln soon discovers that everything about his existence is a lie.  The earth's surface is not contaminated.  It is, in fact, very much like the earth we know.  He and all of the other inhabitants of the underground facility are actually human clones, being raised as "insurance policies" to provide organs and body parts for transplants to prolong the lives of their look-alikes on the surface--people who have no idea that the "tissue" and organs they receive are harvested from the clones.  Those inhabitants of the facility chosen by "the lottery" to go to the Island are actually selected to be killed when their organs are needed.  

Lincoln makes a daring escape with a beautiful fellow resident named Jordan Two-Delta (played by Scarlett Johansson).  Relentlessly pursued by the forces of the sinister institute that once housed them, Lincoln and Jordan engage in a race for their lives to literally meet their makers and to let them know that their "insurance policies" are actually human beings who are being killed for their organs and body parts.

What compelled my attention was the similarity between this work of science fiction and the recent revelations of  Planned Parenthood's involvement in harvesting fetal organs and body parts.  As in The Island, Planned Parenthood perpetuates the myth that those from whom the tissue and organs are harvested aren't actual human beings. 

In the now famous video, Deborah Nucatola, Planned Parenthood’s senior director of medical services, discusses harvesting tissue and organs from aborted fetuses over lunch in Los Angeles:
I’d say a lot of people want liver.  And for that reason, most providers will do this case under ultrasound guidance, so they’ll know where they’re putting their forceps.  The kind of rate-limiting step of the procedure is the calvarium, the head is basically the biggest part.  Most of the other stuff can come out intact . . .  So then you’re just kind of cognizant of where you put your graspers, you try to intentionally go above and below the thorax, so that, you know, we’ve been very good at getting heart, lung, liver, because we know that, so I’m not gonna crush that part, I’m going to basically crush below, I’m gonna crush above, and I’m gonna see if I can get it all intact.
Is this not the most callous discussion of harvesting human organs you have ever read?

After an extended and exciting chase, Lincoln and Jordan eventually reach the home of Lincoln's clone donor (also played by McGregor), who in a twist of deception proves to be more interested in prolonging his life than in caring about where the necessary body parts come from.  I couldn't help but wonder if those who support Planned Parenthood's outrageous conduct could see themselves in this character.

Finally, Lincoln and Jordan break back into the underground facility in order to destroy it and liberate the residents, eventually being aided by the very mercenaries who were sent by the facility to track them down and kill them.  Even in science fiction, the idea of harvesting human organs is too repugnant for all but the worst villains.

Write or call your representatives in Congress and demand that they stop funding Planned Parenthood with our tax dollars.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Brothers, We Are Not Professionals

We pastors are being killed by the professionalizing of the pastoral ministry. The mentality of the professional is not the mentality of the prophet.  It is not the mentality of the slave of Christ.  Professionalism has nothing to do with the essence and heart of the Christian ministry.  The more professional we long to be, the more spiritual death we will leave in our wake.  For there is no professional childlikeness (Matt. 18:3); there is no professional tenderheartedness (Eph. 4:32); there is no professional panting after God (Ps. 42:1).
But our first business is to pant after God in prayer.  Our business is to weep over our sins (James 4:9).  Is there professional weeping?

Our business is to strain forward to the holiness of Christ and the prize of the upward call of God (Phil. 3:14); to pummel our bodies and subdue them lest we be cast away (1 Cor. 9:27); to deny ourselves and take up the blood-spattered cross daily (Luke 9:23).  How do you carry a cross professionally?  We have been crucified with Christ, yet now we live by faith in the one who loved us and gave Himself for us (Gal. 2:20).  What is professional faith?
Thus begins, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals, by John Piper.  Released in a second edition in 2013, this convicting and compelling work is probably more necessary now than when Piper wrote the first edition thirteen years ago.  It is more necessary because the "professionalism" of the church has only increased in the intervening years.

The seduction of the Church takes many forms.  The most obvious seduction is the one that has occurred in mainline traditions that have adopted the sexual morality of the culture.  The seduction that has affected the evangelical church is the one to which Piper points prophetically--the notion that a professional style and management techniques learned from a secular culture can somehow substitute for the radical nature of our calling and the spiritual graces and power that are God's gift along with that calling.

This outstanding work is now available as a FREE .pdf download from John Piper's ministry, Desiring God.  It is also available for purchase as a paperback or Kindle version.

If you are a pastor, or if you train or disciple clergy and lay leaders in the church, this book is an indispensable part of your formation in how to raise up servant leaders who have a passion for God and who are truly useful in his service.

And, after all, isn't that what it is all about?

Download or buy this book and read it now!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

It's official: The universe is dying

From here, where there is more:
"The universe has basically sat down on the sofa, pulled up a blanket and is about to nod off for an eternal doze," the leader of the Galaxy and Mass Assembly project said.

Scientists have speculated since the '90s that the universe has been in decline.  This latest project between dozens of universities is just a further confirmation of that.

The researchers measured the energy being emitted from more than 200,000 galaxies.  They measured at 21 different wavelengths, between ultraviolet and the far infrared.

Theoretically, the Big Bang created all the energy in the universe, some of which became mass.  Thanks to Einstein and his equation E=mc2, we know stars shine by transferring that mass back into energy.

The stars have already lost half their brightness, not just in terms of visible light but in all the 21 wavelengths measured.

But, there's good news:  Researchers say the universe has a few billion years left to live.  That's plenty of time for us to figure out our next move, right?
Read the rest.

The Apostle John wrote in Revelation 21: "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away..." (21:1).   As Christians, we know that the One who has the whole universe in his hands already has that next move figured out.  But these confirmations from science help us to realize that, even though it may be billions of years away, everything we take for granted in this physical universe will someday come to an end.  And the reminder of our own universe's mortalty puts everything we do now in a new perspective, doesn't it?

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Sometimes there is pain...

Being an introvert, I tend to process things, not in the moment they are happening, but afterwards.  So vacations are often a time for recollection and introspection.  And, as I am getting older, that introspection tends to turn to thoughts of how I have lived my life, what I have stood for, and how well or unwell things have gone.

A few weeks ago, at the Anglican Congress in Fort Worth, one of the workshop leaders--an emerging leader in his diocese and a graduate of Nashotah House during my deanship, referred to that decade as "a golden era" in the life of the House.  A former faculty member with whom I had dinner last week said the same thing.

Again, being an introvert, I have never been good at self-promotion and, indeed, as a matter of godly principle, have eschewed it.  During my ten years as Dean and President at Nashotah House, whenever someone complimented the good things that were happening, I invariably gave credit (usually with a finger pointed upward) to God--and rightly so--without Him we can do nothing.  "God is doing great things; I am just going along for the ride," I often would say.

During that decade, we established two master's degree programs through distance education and a Doctor of Ministry program.  If you look at the enrollment of Nashotah House today, it is apparent that, without these programs, the House would be faced with closure.  We built Adams Hall, with its large assembly room and additional classrooms (the first public building constructed on the Nashotah campus since 1965), without which there would have been no room for the expanding degree programs or for the conference venue which the House seeks to become.

One of my greatest fears in life is having success be given the appearance of failure.  The machinations and betrayal that resulted in my stepping down as Dean and President are, without doubt, the greatest pain of my life and, have, quite frankly, left wounds that may not heal this side of heaven.

In 2007-2008 I underwent the standard evaluation specified in my contract prior to the renewal of that contract.  The external examiner for that evaluation was the Very Rev. Dr. Philip Turner, whose experience in the deanship of two other Episcopal seminaries makes him the unrivaled expert in the field.  (He was selected by the Board, not by me, for this evaluation.)  A Board committee conducted its own internal evaluation and the two reports were presented together.  Both reports constituted a glowing evaluation which resulted in a five-year renewal of my contract and an embarrassing (but much appreciated) 33% raise.

Two events ensued almost immediately that proved challenging to the House.  (1) The departure of four of the House's most supportive dioceses from the Episcopal Church and the subsequent formation of the Anglican Church in North America.  (2) The Great Recession, from which many individuals and congregations still have not fully recovered.

For many years, the Diocese of Quincy had taken "refugees" into its ordination process (conservative aspirants for Holy Orders who had been rejected in more liberal dioceses).   In the 2007-2008 academic year, Quincy alone accounted for 23 students in the House's student body, roughly one-third of the House's residential enrollment.  When Quincy left the Episcopal Church, that pipeline closed down immediately, and over the next three years, we watched a portion of those 23 students graduate each year with no replacements forthcoming.  A couple of the other supporting dioceses that left the Episcopal Church experienced "freezes" or moratoriums on their ordination processes with the result that nearly half of our residential enrollment was affected.  If it had not been for the distance education degree programs we had already put in place, the situation would have been bleak indeed.

Then, in 2009, the Recession hit.  I received letter after letter from rectors who expressed their continued support for the House but who said, sadly, that they were being forced to reduce their outreach budgets and that they would, for a time, have to reduce or suspend their giving to Nashotah House.

Both of these storms could have been weathered.  The four dioceses that left the Episcopal Church now constitute only a small part of the growing Anglican Church in North America--which is not only a substantial source of new students and financial support, it is a Church which shares the orthodoxy that the House says it wants to maintain.  

And so the second pain I feel is for Nashotah House.  Instead of pursuing stronger relations with the Anglican Church in North America, the Board leadership could only misread the signs of what was happening in this crucial period to conclude that the House needed to redouble its efforts to reach out to the Episcopal Church.

By continuing to pursue the Episcopal Church to the neglect of the Anglican Church in North America and other conservative bodies, Nashotah House has placed itself in a paradoxical and untenable position:  a seminary that has no ordained women on the faculty or staff and doesn’t allow women to celebrate at the altar, and that doesn’t recognize same sex marriages or allow same sex couples to live together on campus—and yet they are desperately pursuing the Episcopal Church where these things are all but mandatory.  Nashotah House has missed a golden opportunity to “come out of the closet” as a conservative, countercultural seminary, serving orthodox Anglicans of whatever jurisdiction and conservative Christians of other traditions—and to let the Episcopal Church continue on the path to its own inevitable destruction. 

There is no future in simply being another seminary of the Episcopal Church.  (The examples of Seabury-Western and General Seminary should be lesson enough--and the contrast with the success of Trinity School for Ministry, which has pursued a more independent course, is startling!)  But the House has too many trustees who are living in a romantic delusion, incapable of recognizing that their brand of Anglicanism is no longer welcome in the Episcopal Church.  They will probably never figure this out in their lifetimes.  But the House may well not survive either the dangerous fantasy or downright cluelessness in which many of the Nashotah Trustees are living.  This situation could still be turned around; but, alas, there is no one with the vision to lead them.

These are the things I ruminate over as I sit on vacation.  And sometimes it causes pain.