From Jeff Munroe
A recent study from the Brookings Institution asked why the national conversation about the corporal punishment of children died so quickly after the Adrian Peterson case. Perhaps, they wondered, it’s because most Americans hit their kids. It's tough to find high moral ground when you do it too.
Paddling children in school is legal in 19 states, yet illegal in over 100 countries. While 20 countries have outlawed spanking even by parents, as recently as 2012, 70% of Americans agreed with the statement "it is sometimes necessary to discipline a child with a good, hard spanking."
Reading this information brought three vivid memories to mind. The first happened in kindergarten. I was out on the playground, doing whatever kindergarten kids do, when I somehow got tangled up with a fellow kindergartner who spilled to the ground. Whack! Someone hit me hard on the rear end. I wheeled around with a smile on my face, thinking it was another kid playing. I suddenly was looking into the red face of my school principal, who grabbed me, shook me, and yelled at me. I remember being filled with fear, and being greatly relieved when he retired a year or so later.
My second memory is in first grade. I had a name card on my desk that said “Jeff M.” and one day I tried to trace over it with a black crayon because I so admired the lettering on my name card. I wasn’t very good at tracing (I’m a guy who got a D- on the first assignment in drafting class, which was to draw a square box). My teacher saw that I had marked on my name card and made an example of me – she announced my crime to the rest of the class, bent me over and swatted me a few times with a ping pong paddle. Geez! I must have been sick the day she told us that she'd hit us if we made a mark on our name cards.
It gets worse.
In their November 2007 issue, to celebrate their 150th year, The Atlantic commissioned an eclectic set of thinkers, artists, and journalists to pen 300-word essays on “the future of the American idea.” In a punchy piece entitled God-Drunk Society, Sam Harris, one of the leading figures of the “New Atheism” movement, pinpoints the trouble many 21st-century people have with Christianity: “(many Americans) apparently believe that Jesus will return someday and orchestrate the end of the world with his magic powers. This hankering for a denominational, spiritual oblivion is not a good bet, much less a useful idea. And yet, abject superstition of this kind engorges our nation from sea to shining sea... it need not be so... We could lead the world in wise environmental policies, scientific education, medical research, aid to developing countries, and every other project relevant to the durable welfare of humanity.”
This is just the problem many have with Christian faith—this hankering for “spiritual oblivion” that distracts the believer from urgently-important this-worldly issues: aid to impoverished countries, medical advance, care for the earth.
Wander into a church building, and listen to a congregation of Christians say the Creed, though—you’ll hear, in the closing lines, that this isn’t actually the shape of Christian hope at all. Christians stake their lives on “the resurrection of the dead,” and “the life of the world to come.”
Taking their cues from the prophetic imagination of the Hebrew prophet Isaiah and the apocalyptic visions of St. John, the Church community lives with the hope that the living Creator will one day heal and renew the cosmos he’s fashioned—that God will create a “new heavens and a new earth” out of the old. In other words, Christians hope for a new world—new, but still the world.
Christians ground this audacious hope in Jesus’ resurrection: they believe that, at the empty tomb of Jesus, God’s grand future has rushed into our unsuspecting present. The resurrection of Jesus is the beginning of God’s new creation, and God’s promise that one day, what he began in the body of Jesus on the first Easter morning, he will complete. One day, the whole cosmos will get a resurrection.
This hope actually energizes Christians for all sorts of efforts that are urgently relevant to the durable welfare of the world. Oftentimes, as I converse with skeptical friends, neighbors, and visitors to the church I serve, I often tell people that, if they’re unable to believe Christian faith, they should at least desire Christianity to be true. Why? Many of them give generously to organizations which seek to care for the earth, do cutting-edge medical research, or educate disadvantaged children—and yet, they live inside of a story of the world which tells them that the world, and their life within it, is a meaningless accident destined ultimately for meaningless death.
The Christian story, on the other hand, says their instincts that justice, beauty, and the material world matter is no illusion—they have these instincts because they are fashioned in the image of a God who created the world, loves the world, has acted to rescue the world, and will one day finally heal the world.
What vision of life could possibly contribute more to the durable welfare of humanity?
Jared Ayers is the founding and preaching pastor of Liberti Church in Philadelphia, PA. He is a graduate of Lancaster Bible College, and is currently finishing an M.Div. from Western Theological Seminary’s Newbigin House of Studies. Jared and his wife Monica have been married for 10 years, and love calling Philadelphia home. They’ve been graced with two sons (Brennan and Kuyper) and a daughter (Rae Ann).
From James Bratt
I wanted to devote this post to some reflections on the assassination of John F. Kennedy, 51 years ago today, and figured that a good way to do so would be by recourse to a poem written about the event. Lo and behold, my college library has a copy of a whole anthology—some four-score pieces—dedicated to just that: Of Poetry and Power, edited by Erwin Glikes and Paul Schwaber and published by Basic Books in 1964. The volume bears the imprimatur of a Foreword by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., high priest of the Kennedy administration and of its historical legacy. I dug in to feast, and came up rather disappointed. Most of the stuff seems quite pedestrian, mid-20th century versifications trying to live up to the mark of allusive Modernist profundity.
The prevailing tone, obviously, is sadness and lament, with an occasional barb at Dallas for being a city of hatred, part of a region excelling in such. For all the allusions to obstructionist congressmen, however, there are also hints that the Noble Knight in the White House had a reputation built more of hope than of achievement. In several poems that skepticism extends to politics, even to the nation itself.
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