Monthly Archives: November 2005


A Visit to the Howard Center

For some years I knew of the work of the Rockford Institute. I also knew of some of the trials that impacted that work in the early 1980s. Yesterday I visited the Howard Center in Rockford, Illinois, which sits next door to the Rockford Institute. The Rockford Institute publishes the often eccentric magazine Chronicles, which I read each month with very mixed response because of the often odd direction of contrarian editor Thomas Fleming.

I write about this about Rockford Institute because the Howard Center is not to be confused with the Rockford Institute. The short story is that the Rockford Institute was begun by Dr. John Howard, who was then president of Rockford College (1960 until 1977). Dr. Howard originally began the work of the institute as the Rockford College Institute. Soon after stepping down as president the college wanted no part of his courageous and conservative pro-family agenda. Dr. John Howard later invited Dr. Richard John Neuhaus, then a Lutheran minister in New York City, to edit The Religion and Society Report, the wonderful periodical of the Rockford Institute in those

By |November 29th, 2005|Categories: Culture|

The Chicken or the Egg?

Which comes first, the chicken or the egg? The debate goes on year after year. I thought about that question over the weekend while I browsed through a new Pilgrim Press book catalog. Pilgrim is the publishing arm of the United Church of Christ (UCC). I asked myself, "Which came first, the books in the catalog or the denominational leadership that published these books?" The answer is not as straightforward as it may at first appear. The denomination was born (in the mid-1950s) leaning in the wrong direction on several matters, or so it appears to me. The publisher has simply followed that direction. At the same time the publisher sets the direction for many in the UCC by the book choices they promote to their churches.

This catalog features titles such as The Spirituality of Mazes and Labyrinths, Not Religion, But Love and Religion is a Queer Thing. (You get one guess as to what this book promotes!) There is a whole category of titles called The Global Spirit Library, which includes books that feature 366 readings from Taoism, Buddhism, Hinduism

By |November 28th, 2005|Categories: The Church|

Christian Values in the Culture

My last few days have been spent at home, with my mother visiting us so we could celebrate her ninetieth birthday, as well as our family Thanksgiving Day meal. We have eaten way too much, enjoyed a lot of good conversation and watched more news television than I usually see in two months. The big deal on the chat circuit last evening was Christians and Christmas celebrations in the public square. Jerry Falwell was on, doing what Jerry Falwell does—making comments about the culture that are quite unhelpful if the goal is to actually win minds and hearts for Christian values. The particular debate was about Boston having a "holiday tree" rather than a "Christmas tree." Barry Lynn, the UCC minister who represents the Americans United for the Seperation of Church and State, was Falwell’s opposite. Lynn, in contrast with Falwell, appeared reasonable and calm. His arguments were legally sound and his reasoning had a measure of sanity behind it.

The problem for Barry Lynn’s position, however, is that there really has been a serious loss of Christian values in the the

By |November 24th, 2005|Categories: Culture|

The Sad Story of Judge Lefkow

Most of the nation is aware of the story of Judge Joan Lefkow. She is the federal judge in Chicago who came home on the evening of February 28, 2005, to find her husband and mother shot to death in her basement. The killer was a deranged man who was striking back against the judge for a ruling she rendered against him several years ago.

When Judge Lefkow’s story first made the national news the fear was that Matthew Hale, a convicted white supremacist who had openly vowed to kill her, was behind the brutal murders. The man who actually committed the crimes was later found in Milwaukee, where he had committed suicide and left a note. His story was also a tragic one to say the least.

The Chicago Tribune ran a "Special Report" in the Sunday edition (November 20) on the unfolding journey of Judge Lefkow since that horrific evening in February. It is heart moving stuff frankly. I could not read it without deep emotion and empathy. Several tragic things stand out in the story that I believe

By |November 23rd, 2005|Categories: Current Affairs|

On Political Courage

Judge Frank J. Williams is the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the state of Rhode Island. I have come to know him though his leadership of the Abraham Lincoln Forum. Judge Williams is not only a brilliant jurist but a devoted Lincoln scholar. He moderates various sessions at the annual symposium in Gettysburg and did so again last week (November 16-18).

Judge Williams is a man who is filled with enthusiasm for people and life. His sense of humor, apt words at important moments, and brilliant mind are all noticeable to the interested observer. When he introduced historian Jay Winik (author of the award winning book, April 1865) last Friday evening the judge spoke about the need for political courage and how this was demonstrated in April 1865 by Abraham Lincoln, as well as several others. Judge Williams noted four distinct marks that are present where you find real political courage in action:

1. A leader will be firm in their beliefs despite criticism.

2. A leader knows their own mind.

3. A leader is obsessed

By |November 22nd, 2005|Categories: Politics|

Did The Catholic Church Kill Lincoln?

One of the more  interesting things about my time at the Lincoln Forum in Gettysburg (November 16-18) last week was the theme of this year’s event: The Assassination of President Lincoln on April 14, 1865. As with the Kennedy assassination in 1963 a host of theories have surrounded Lincoln’s death for over 140 years. For example:

1. Did John Wilkes Booth act alone? There is no doubt at all that he fired the shot that caused Lincoln’s death at 7:22 a.m. on April 15. In this case there is no second-shooter theory advanced by anyone.

2. If the eight co-conspirators arrested in the aftermath were really involved how so?  All eight were convicted by military tribunal, not a civil court. Four of the eight who were convicted were hung and four were sent to prison. The four who were hung included the first woman put to death by law in American history. What did these eight individuals know and when did they know it? Were all truly guilty in some way? The sense of the panel, though not entirely universal,

By |November 21st, 2005|Categories: History|

Lincoln's Assassination

I am attending the tenth annual Lincoln Forum Symposium in Gettysburg this week. The event brings together both professional historians and ordinary readers who just love to talk about Lincoln. I am in the second category.

The theme this week is the assassination of President Lincoln, which took place 140 years ago. Theories regarding his assassination, as you probably know, vary considerably. Who was involved, what did they know, and when did they know it? One thing stood out today—equally good historians do not agree on a number of important facts, even though they have the same evidence. 

This discussion reminds me of James McPherson’s famous quote that "You don’t judge history through the wrong end of a telescope." The McPherson’s quote should be applied to Christian historians as well. It should be applied even more so to ministers and lay people who misuse Reformation history in the same way. Wanting to make a specific point, in favor of a previously adopted viewpoint, they selectively use sources, fail to get the big picture in focus, and then make their polemical

By |November 17th, 2005|Categories: History|

Engaging the New World

I wrote yesterday (November 15) about the aging baby boomer generation and the way this massive group of people (78 million) has altered our culture dramatically. The generation that is coming behind the boomers is very different, radically different in many cases. Some see this as a terrible development. I am not of such an opinion.

The younger generation, especially those young adults born since 1976, reflects what is sometimes called the postmodern generation. Older Christians are pretty negative to these developments. You can spot this type of reaction a mile off. It links postmodernism to relativism and then the condemnations and fearful reactions are not far behind. This approach is not only shallow and reactionary, but it fails to see the missional moment we now face, thus the amazing opportunity the church now has with these younger folks. 

I’ll not elaborate on the philosophical differences between these various age groups but I will tell you that I regularly teach people from this generation. I also have adult married children in this generation. Personally I love what I see in

By |November 16th, 2005|Categories: Missional Church|

The Generation That Changed America

Newsweek devoted a cover story this week is to the "boomer" generation (the people born between 1946 and 1964) who are turning 60 very soon! Now there’s a cause for celebration. The richest, most self-centered, most conflicted generation in America’s history is aging, and not so gracefully it seems. The real problem, notes columnist Ruben Navarrette (Washington Post Writers Group), is that this generation simply doesn ‘t have the grace to give up the center stage yet. No surprises here either since this generation believes that it solved almost every problem known to modern man since 1964!

Whether it was Bill Clinton, or now George Bush, our leaders have consciously and shamelessly catered to this huge generation of 78 million for several decades. (President Bush’s startegy for the war on terror and his promotion of the Social Security issue in 2005 both underscore my point about how leaders "market" to this generation.)

USA Today recently concluded a series on aging in America and touched upon almost everything related to getting older in modern America. The conclusion I drew is a really

By |November 15th, 2005|Categories: Culture|

Purpose Makes the Difference

If history is to have real meaning it must have purpose. It must be going somewhere. If no specific end is in view then all things loose their meaning and life becomes pointless. Humans have known this from time immemorial. And Christians, of all people, need to remind the modern world of this regularly. If all we do is live and die then the work of our hands has no long term importance and all is vain.

The famous Henry Ford once concluded that "History is one damned thing after another." He’s right, if Christ did not rise. Resurrection gives meaning to all things. If the grave is the end then history doesn’t matter. My story is bunk and so is your’s.

The Greeks called this telos, or purpose, the end for which something was made or existed. The Christian faith sees Christ as the true telos, the goal and end of all history. If we would live well, we must stay focused on Christ as the telos of all things. Only then will history not become "one damned thing

By |November 11th, 2005|Categories: History|

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