Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Why Art Thou Secular, Ye Olde New England?

I mentioned yesterday that secularism in New England runs deep. Anyone who has ever worked for the church here knows the challenges that this region presents when trying to spread the Gospel. I can think of numerous individuals who have come here from afar, hoping to take this region by storm, only to retreat to a more receptive part of the country after a few years.

Naturally, one wonders why New Englanders are apparently so hostile to the Gospel and Christianity. And why, somewhat related to this, the region seems to be so liberal politically. One faithful reader wondered that very thing yesterday, in response to my post.

I do not pretend to have all the answers. But I would like to - very informally - offer a few reflections on why this might be the case. This is not exhaustive, of course, and it is nowhere close to being a scientific treatment of the issues. But, as someone who was born in New England, and has lived here my whole life (with a few hiatuses to Michigan and Scotland), I have been able to brood over this issue a bit over the years. And, hopefully, it will eventually help me turn the tide here in this wonderful region.

Another small caveat: my New England roots may not go back as far as some others. On my dad's side, his family was originally from New Brunswick, Canada, and they moved to Massachusetts when he was just a kid. Similarly, my maternal Grandfather was originally from Nova Scotia, Canada. His family eventually moved to Massachusetts as well. The furthest my roots go back in New England is my maternal Grandmother, who was born and raised on Cape Cod, Mass. Her mother is German, however, who, I believe, was born in the motherland. I am not sure where my great-grandfather was born, however, but it is probably safe to say that the longest line of New England heritage goes through him.

So my New England-ness may not be as deeply rooted as others, but, as at least a third generation New Englander (through my grandmother), I am at least somewhat "qualified" to speak on the subject!

And now, these are the issues that I believe contribute to the secular nature of New Englanders.

1. Independence. New Englanders have always been independently minded. The pilgrims came to this land because they wanted to get out from underneath the religious oppression that they were experiencing in Europe. Of course, the early New England Puritans then proceeded to set up their own oppressive religious climate, which ultimately led Roger Williams to establish Rhode Island - which, for the first time in America, promoted the separation of church and state.

Williams was extremely progressive religiously - maybe even more so than any other churchman in history. Although he established the first Baptist church in America, he soon split off from that group, saying that "God is too large to be housed under one roof."

Vermont is also a classic example of this independent thinking as well. Although there is some debate as to its political independence throughout history, Vermont first seemed to be a republic before it joined the union. Even today, there are many within the state who would like to make Vermont an independent republic again. Such people have banded together and called themselves "The Second Vermont Republic," describing themselves as "a nonviolent citizens' network and think tank opposed to the tyranny of Corporate America and the U.S. government, and committed to the peaceful return of Vermont to its status as an independent republic and more broadly the dissolution of the Union."

Old time Vermonters can be very traditional, and yet they are very independent. They may be personally opposed to same-sex unions, for example, but they are not going to bug anyone else who chooses to pursue this lifestyle. And, consequently, what has happened is that the out-of-staters ("flatlanders," as they are called) have taken advantage of this independent thinking and flocked to Vermont, trying to set up their own "Utopian" society.

Thus, it is not necessarily true Vermonters who are pushing for same-sex unions, for "nudist" towns, for liberal politics. It is the "flatlanders" who have seen the vacuum in Vermont's government and moved to the state to set up their own liberal agenda. But, interestingly, there is now starting to be a backlash among old time Vermonters, who are getting frustrated with these flatlanders taking advantage of them, setting up their liberal agenda, buying all their property, privatizing their land (historically, hunters have had free reign over anyone's private land. But now flatlanders have bought up a lot of the land and posted "Private Property: No hunting" signs, and this has greatly frustrated the old timers). Because of all these issues, it was not uncommon a few years ago to see signs - whether painted on barns, or stuck beside the road - saying, "Take Back Vermont."

All this is to say that New Englanders are very independent thinkers. There is kind of this unspoken rule that says, "I'll stay out of your business, if you stay out of mine." New Hampshire's state motto is "Live Free or Die." Thus, we don't really like it when others cross the line into our private lives, supposing that they know how we should live, what we should think - at least not when it comes to religion.

2. Affluence. New England is a very affluent region. Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire typically rank in the top five or ten of the wealthiest states in the country (this extends to other Northeastern states outside of New England to include New York and New Jersey). Closer to home for me, the community in which I minister was recently declared by Forbes to be "the least vulnerable town in America to the economic crisis," essentially declaring it to be "recession-proof."

Of course, everyone knows the challenges of wealth. If individuals in a community or region feel comfortable economically, there is little impetus to look outside oneself for anything else. And this is directly related to that "independent thinking" that I mentioned above. What need is there for God if all of my needs can be met by my own money, my own hard work, my own abilities?

3. Education. New England is really the epicenter of education in the United States, and maybe even the world. Four of the eight Ivy League schools (Harvard, Yale, Brown, Dartmouth) are in New England, and most of the "Little Ivies" (Amherst, Bates, Bowdoin, Colby, Middlebury, Tufts, Wesleyan, Williams), as well as places like MIT, Wellesley, Smith, and Mount Holyoke, are all in this small region. There are over 100 colleges and universities in the Greater Boston area alone! (This accounts for over 250,000 students in the cities of Boston and Cambridge themselves every year.) And New England is really the cradle of the "prep school" educational model as well.

All of this lends itself to a very "liberal" landscape. And, as you are well aware, college campuses are the hot bead for "progressive" and "ivory tower" thinking, and knowledge has to the tendency to "puff up" (1 Cor 8:1). There is a natural arrogance that accompanies the acquisition of knowledge, and such people often feel little need for God.

4. Catholic "backlash." As I mentioned yesterday, a large percentage of those who are religious are Catholic (besides English, the predominant ancestries in New England are Irish, Italian, and French). This has affected the religious landscape in a number of ways. First, many of those Catholics are "nominal" Catholics, and, though they do not attend Mass regularly, or have a great deal of interest in their religious heritage, would never, ever consider being anything else but Catholic. The phrase, "Once a Catholic, always a Catholic" most definitely applies.

On the other hand, there are many others who were raised in a Catholic environment, but have now become hostile towards religion because of Catholicism's abuses - both religiously and politically. There are many people who are bitter because of the sex abuse scandals, the church's views on homosexuality, divorce, and contraception, and other theological issues. As a result, these people want nothing to do with God or religion. (Admittedly, if my understanding of God was that He would burn people in hell forever, I would be turned off towards religion as well).

I just happened to pick up a book yesterday at Borders that spoke to this point beautifully. It is called, Being Catholic Now, and it was written/edited by Kerry Kennedy - one of Robert Kennedy's 11 children! She interviews 37 individuals with Catholic backgrounds (from Bill O'Reilly, to Bill Maher, to Frank McCourt, to Doris Kearns Goodwin, to Nancy Pelosi), and reveals their perspective on the present climate of the Catholic church. I was able to read some of it, and a lot of it was quite enlightening.

I think this Catholic component has a huge influence on New Englander's openness to religion and God.

Conclusion. All of these components, plus others, lend themselves to the reality that New England is a very secular and politically liberal region. In many ways, I cannot blame New Englanders for their animosity towards God and religion. If I believed some of the things they have been taught about God, I would be very hostile towards Him as well.

That's why He has called some of us here! Hopefully, by His grace, we can overcome some of these challenges and see the message spread with vigor in this part of the world. This is where the early Advent message began, and I believe, before His return, that message will return with power to this place.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Buddhism in Vermont, and Christianity in New England

I came across this interesting tidbit a few years ago, and I was recently reminded of this a few times recently. But Vermont's Buddhist population is alive and well. According to some studies: "California may have the nation's largest number of Buddhists, but Vermont, where Asian-Americans are barely 1 percent of the state's population of 621,394, has what surveys suggest is the highest concentration of Caucasian Buddhists."

I thought of this today, specifically, when replying to someone's comment that the Northwestern United States is the most "non-religious" area in the United States. I responded by saying that about 90% of those who identify themselves as "religious" in New England are Roman Catholic, and a high percentage of those individuals are beyond "nominal," but will always identify themselves as religious.

In addition to that, New England has a large percentage of Unitarians, UCC, and other Congregational churches which are, essentially, "secular" Christians (I realize this is a blanket statement, and I apologize to any who may be a part of these communities, to which this does
not apply). I live two doors away from one of the above churches, and, essentially, their idea of "religion" is getting together to listen to classical music, and have pork and bean dinners. This is nothing against them, but such individuals are not very open to the more "evangelical" understanding of Christianity. The above revelation about Buddhism, and the general oppenness to non-Judeo-Christian exploration, also lends itself to a very non-Christian landscape here in New England.

Thus, I will continue to maintain that New England is the most difficult field in the United States to spread the Gospel. The typical New England scene, complete with a white-steepled church, is very deceptive.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Surprised by N.T.

N.T. Wright is the real deal.

I had the privilege of meeting him (though I use the term very loosely, as you will see below) and listening to him speak this past Tuesday, when three of my elders and I attended lectures by him at Gordon-Conwell Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts. For those of you who are not familiar with N.T. Wright, he is the fourth-highest ranking Bishop in the Church of England and is widely considered the leading scholar on the New Testament in the world today (so says Time and Newsweek - though I don't usually rely on those publications for my religious commentary).

Oxford trained, his latest book, Surprised by Hope, has caused a lot of commotion because he has turned the common understandings of heaven, the resurrection, and the church's mission, on their heads. Some of his "rethinking" has not shocked everyone, though. When he candidly admits that the Bible does not say that a person goes to heaven after he or she dies, Adventists have applauded.

I wanted to share some reflections on the four lectures he gave, which were entitled, "Between God and the World: Reading John in Tomorrow's Church." The day was absolutely amazing.
  • I admire the fact that Wright approaches the Bible believing that it is the Word of God. It is very common these days for people of his ilk to approach the Bible with a secular perspective (or, as he calls it: "18th century presuppositions"). And, quite often, they may put on a good show, but privately admit that they don't believe what they are saying. I did not sense this at all from him. At the beginning or end of some of the lectures, he would pause and say, "We need to pray. I just cannot proceed without soaking this concept in prayer." He seems to be the real deal to me, a completely sincere disciple of Christ.
  • His depth of knowledge is amazing and humbling. Though he is a New Testament scholar, his knowledge of the Old Testament seems exhaustless. It seems apparent that he believes the New Testament is a continuation of the Old Testament, and that the OT is the foundation of the NT. So many these days would like to divorce the two.
  • The advice that Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, gave him when he was appointed Bishop of Durham is priceless. It goes along beautifully with a previous post of mine. Williams told Wright: "You really only understand how to be a theologian when you become a bishop [pastor]." How true it is!
  • He seems to do something that I have the habit of doing: exegeting songs (especially contemporary "praise" songs). Before he spoke, some students led the audience (about 500 in attendance) in two songs. We first sang "How Great is Our God," and then "In Christ Alone." This latter song is one that I have been intending to write about for a while, and I still will in the future. But he picked up on something that I had not noticed. He got up and said, "There is something about this song that doesn't sit well with me whenever I sing it, though I do enjoy the song. The song says, 'Till on that cross as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied.'" And then he said, "Doesn't John say that God loved the world? Maybe the words should instead read, 'Till on that cross as Jesus died, the love of God was satisfied.' "
  • For Jews, around Jesus time, they were anticipating the glory of God being revealed. This was what the OT prophets looked forward to, and everyone in Jesus' day was eager for God's glory to be revealed. Of course, as Wright pointed out, when Jesus showed up and revealed God's glory, it wasn't the way they were expecting it. But, quite interestingly, Wright pointed out that "God's glory was fully revealed when He went to the cross." This is a profound idea, and one that many people - who like to emphasize God's glory - seem to forget. God's glory is not necessarily about His sovereignty, His grandeur, His bigness. It is about His humility, condescension, and love.
  • Though I don't necessarily go exactly where Wright goes in his estimation of the Sabbath, he noted that when Jesus said, from the cross, "It is finished," He wasn't primarily talking about His work of salvation. Instead, this seems to be in relation to creation, when, on the sixth day (the same day of Jesus' death), God "finished" His work. Thus, Jesus' death was in fulfillment of a new creation.
  • He noted that when Jesus washed the disciples' feet, there was a profound message in this act - echoing the truth of Philippians 2:5-8. I like that connection - which I have made before myself. But he also commented that there is something wonderful about a church that takes part in the footwashing experience, saying, "Of course Jesus meant the footwashing metaphorically, but you learn the metaphor by doing it literally."
  • He also noted that John 13 - which records the account of the footwashing - is really the origin of Christian missiology. This, probably, isn't the origin we would expect. Jesus showed that serving others is the church's true mission.
  • This rethinking of the church's mission is somewhat controversial in many people's minds. Instead of focusing solely on converting and baptizing, we need to also focus on being the hands and feet of Jesus. Hope should not simply be about the future, but about the present as well. As he asked, "What does it mean to be signmakers and seedsowers for the kingdom in our day?"
  • As I've learned a little bit about N.T. Wright recently, I've come to realize that many within the "Emerging" movement cite him as an inspirational figure. Many in the emerging movement, of course, would like to take away any future hope, and imply that all we should be concerned about is the here-and-now, focusing solely on a temporal or "realized" mission. So I wanted to know, point blank, what his throughts were in relation to Christian mission. So during the Q & A session, I worked up my courage and approached the microphone. When my chance came, I asked him, "How does your 're-thinking' of the mission of the church and the kingdom compare to the traditional methods within Christianity, and specifically Evangelical Christianity?" His answer was essentially thus: "Well, if by 'traditional Christian methods,' you take it back to William Wilberforce, then my views are not a whole lot different. Wilberforce emphasized things like discipleship, and salvation, but he also talked about abolishing slavery. So he combined the future hope with the present hope." He then went on to explain that sometime in the last 200 years there has been a divide between what he labels the "Gospel Christians" and the "Epistle Christians." The "Gospel Christians" want to talk only about the here-and-now: hunger, education, equality, etc. The "Epistle Christians" want to talk only about heaven, salvation, forgiveness, etc. He said that what he sees in the Bible, and therefore, what his vision for the church is, is a combining of the two. I was very satisfied with his answer.
  • This wasn't my only interaction with him, however. During one of the breaks, I had him sign my copy of Surprised by Hope, which I have begun reading prodigiously since Tuesday. I will have a review of the book (hopefully) sometime in the future.
Let me just share a few more reflections on my experience as a whole at Gorden-Conwell. I was very impressed with the campus and the school in general. What also impressed me, and reminded me so much of my time in the seminary, was the singing before his talk. It was such a blessing. Quite often, one of my favorite parts of the seminary was chapel time, when in unison, 500 men would be singing heartily. In this instance, there seemed to be an abundance of men again. This is no put-down of ladies, but there is just something about a large group of men, singing their hearts out together in praise to God. It was wonderful.

It also reminded me of how much I enjoy academia. I love it. I could have sat at his feet all day, every day. There is nothing quite like listening to an energetic and knowledgable Biblical scholar. The insights they share are so fulfilling, and it helped me see how much I enjoy such a setting. Perhaps there is something in the future for me in this type of life.

Jesus and John

I have often wondered about the balance between the message of John the Baptist and the message of Jesus. I spent a few minutes this morning in my devotional time thinking about the seemingly different messages these two important individuals shared. At a surface level, it almost seems like a "good cop, bad cop" scenario. John was the messenger sent to prepare the way for Jesus. He preached a message of repentance. And then Jesus came along and preached a message of forgiveness.

Is such a distinction valid? Could we say that John demonstrated "tough love," and Jesus demonstrated "gentle love"?

Furthermore, how do these two messages relate to my own ministry? How does one keep a balance of "repent!" with a message of "God loves you"? Many people, it seems, would like to emphasize one or the other. And maybe it is appropriate to have various members of the church body emphasizing one, while another emphasizes the other. I, myself, get very uncomfortable with people who would like to preach "fire and brimstone," so to speak, and are very strong in their message about the need for repentance and change. But there's John, sitting smack dab in the middle of the Gospels, yelling at people and calling them "brood of vipers," and other such unflattering things. The picture to the right almost seems appropriate in relation to John's emphasis.

Of course, Jesus' message wasn't always one of "gentle love," either. He certainly took on the Pharisees with some strong language. And maybe that's just it. In the particular text I was looking at this morning, we seem to see that Jesus, as our High Priest, is "gentle" towards those who are "ignorant and going astray." This is found in Hebrews 5:2 and the word for "ignorant" (agnoeo) seems to have the connotation of sinning in ignorance (see Lev 4:13). And the word for "going astray" (planao) is in the passive form, thus literally meaning those who "have been mislead, or deceived."

Thus, these people that Jesus shows sympathy to, and is gentle with, are those who are not participating in deliberate, willful, premeditated sin, but, because of various circumstances in their lives, are participating in sin because they are mislead and ignorant. For such people, Jesus can demonstrate "gentle love," but for people such as the Pharisees, who sin out of the pride in their hearts, He has to be a little more "tough" with. Indeed, as Hebrews later says, "For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins" (Heb 10:26). Such language is quite strong.

Of course, this raises a whole other problem: how does one know if a person is sinning deliberately and willfully, or sinning out of ignorance?

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Priesthood, the Covenants, and the Gospel

Many of us fail to realize that it was never God's intention to have a "Priesthood" per se. It was never His desire to require a human being to stand as a mediator between Him and His people. And such a misunderstanding also contributes to a lot of confusion on the Old and New Covenants.

Before Sinai, God's people apparently came directly to Him. Cain and Abel brought their offerings directly to the Lord (Gen 4:3ff). Noah built an altar and sacrificed to God (Gen 8:20). Abraham, Jacob, and, of course, Moses, built altars to the Lord. All of these individuals seemed to serve as their own priests.

God wanted direct contact with all of His people. He wasn't like the pagan gods, who angrily required a human mediator to stand between him and his people. But, unfortunately, God's people did not understand His character. Having lived in Egyptian bondage for so long, they were convinced that Yahweh was vengeful, exacting, and needed to be appeased. So in the shadows of Sinai, they said to Moses, "You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die" (Exo 20:19).

Of course, since God is humble, He relented and set up a priesthood - a group of men that would intercede and mediate on behalf of the people. Instead of communicating directly with His people - which He wanted to do all along - He had "go-betweens" that relayed any communication to the Children of Israel.

Since Christ came, we now understand this more clearly. We are all "priests" (1 Peter 2:9) and Jesus is our great High Priest, Himself (Heb 6:20). We do not need another human being to stand as a mediator between God and ourselves, and any system of worship that requires a priest to stand as a mediator between us and God is based on paganism. Such are truly living under the "Old Covenant."

As I said earlier as well, such a misunderstanding of God's original intentions for the priesthood also contribute to our misunderstanding of the Old and New Covenants. The Israelite sanctuary service - with its priesthood, sacrifices, laws, and rituals - is rightly labeled the "Old Covenant," but it was not the result of God's initiative and original plan, but because of the hardness of His people's hearts. Thus, God was not necessarily setting up two systems (or "covenants") of salvation, as many in Christianity would like us to believe. Faith has always been the way by which salvation is appropriated (compare Gen 15:6 and Rom 4:3). God always wanted direct access to His people; He always wanted to write His law directly on the hearts of His people, instead of on tables of stone. It was because of His people's stubbornness that He had to humbly relent to their system.

As always, God mercifully meets us where we are.

Questions on Doctrine Discussion

Here is a discussion between Dr. Walter Martin and William Johnsson, former editor of the Adventist Review, from a number of years ago. It is the first clip from a series of 14 videos posted on Youtube that talk about the book Questions on Doctrine and whether Adventism is a "cult." You can find the rest of the videos here. I haven't yet watched all of them.

Question . . .

If I think a person is doing something wrong, does that mean that I hate him or her?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A Monopoly on Tolerance

I try to steer clear of political banter on this blog, but I wanted to just briefly comment on what has been happening in California in the wake of the passing of Proposition 8. It seems to me quite odd that those on the left, and those in the homosexual community, feel as though they have a "monopoly" on tolerance, when they themselves show so much intolerance. But because they define tolerance on their terms, it is quite easy to come across as "tolerant" when they are allowed to define it.

Essentially, someone who is tolerant is a person who accepts all their views. Yet, if the liberal person acts intolerant to the person who disagrees with their views, then that liberal person is not truly intolerant because they are just trying to rid the world of intolerant people. So, what it boils down to is that you cannot be intolerant, except against so-called "intolerant" people, and since liberals get to define who is tolerant and who is intolerant, they can never be labeled as intolerant. It's nothing but circular reasoning.

Of course, they do not see it this way. I've had many discussions where I've made this point, and, again, since they are the ones who define tolerance and intolerance, they would never label their views as intolerant.

For the record, this is not a discussion of heterosexual/homosexual issues. I have had many homosexual friends, and I have family members who are homosexual. I believe many people are, in fact, born with such an orientation. But what I find unfortunate is that homosexuals have shown their true colors, in many ways, and revealed the fact that they will get downright nasty - something they have accused the other side of doing - to further their agenda.

The clip below is just one - of too many - clips that show how hate-filled and intolerant people in this community can be. Not everyone is this way, of course, and there are plenty of people on the other side who can get this way. But of all the coverage I have seen on this issue so far, I have rarely seen those who favored Proposition 8 getting so upset, violent, or intolerant. I'm sure there is some, but I have not come across it.

Whatever happened to the peaceful demonstrations of King, Ghandi and many others? Those who would like to equate homosexual oppression with that of racial oppression are falling far short of the example that the above gentlemen displayed. Watch the video below (especially around the 2 and the 7 minute marks) and tell me if the homosexual demonstrators look more like the oppressed African-Americans, or the oppressive white demonstrators. (Ant notice, especially, Eisenhower's last statement: "Mob rule cannot be allowed to override the decisions of our courts.")

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Richard Dawkins at His Finest

Here is the clip from the movie Expelled where Richard Dawkins says he has heard from a lot of people that they feel a sense of liberation when they give up God. Ben Stein asks him out of the 8 billion people in the world, how many he has heard from. His response is priceless.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Pastoring . . .

I was talking with a friend of mine recently who is married to an evangelist, and she was saying how she was not sure she could ever envision her husband going into full-time pastoral ministry. "It's nice getting to know people while we're in town," she said, "but I can't imagine putting up with all the drama that goes with being at a place long-term."

To be sure, there is a lot of "drama" that goes on when you are a pastor. You are intimately involved with the everyday stuff of life. In my short time in the ministry, I have probably seen more drama than many other pastors have in years of pastoring. My dad told me that in his 30 years or so of ministry, he has never encountered some of the stuff I've experienced in my young ministry. This is not to say that I have bad churches. And I hope that the few of you who are from one of my churches that read my blog aren't trying to figure out if you've added to my pastoral drama!

But that is the stuff of pastoring. And it's why it is one of the most interesting - if not the most interesting - careers anyone could ever enter. When you are involved in the nitty-gritty of a hundred people's everyday existence; when they call you with some problem they have with another church member; when they criticize your sermons, or gripe about the way a board meeting went - this is the stuff of life. And it builds character. And it grounds you in reality. And it humbles you.

I've wondered quite a bit if I will ever "specialize" in an area of ministry at some point. You know, become an evangelist, or be a church planter, or become a Youth Director, or - were the opportunity ever presented - be a senior pastor of a 2000 member church, or even get into academia. (The latter option is somewhat attractive to me because I enjoy deeper study and theology.)

But some of these "specialized" positions seem to take a person away from reality. The evangelist meets people, gets to know them moderately, and then moves on. The senior pastor goes to meetings all week, prepares his sermon, and then does it all over again the next week. (The pastoral visitation is usually left to an associate pastor who is in charge of that area.) And the person in academia exegetes his texts, shares it with his students, and bids them adieu every 2-4 years.

It is the district pastor - the one who visits with the people, rolls up his sleeves, and becomes intimately acquainted with the ups-and-downs of his parishioners - who grounds himself in reality. He knows the hurts, the joys, the struggles of people. And life is really about people anyway. It's not simply ideas, or theology, or preaching, or evangelism. It's about people. And in no other calling are you so intimately tied to people as you are in pastoral ministry. Yes, it can be extremely stressful. But there is probably no more rewarding "job."

And that's why, if I do someday go on to get a PhD (as opposed to a DMin), I don't know if I would ever really want to continue on the path that most PhD's follow - that of leaving pastoring for academia. And it's why I think that people who go straight from schooling or training, straight into evangelism or academia, are at a huge disadvantage. They are not as grounded in the everyday stuff of what people are experiencing. The concepts they share are not as "practical," or relevant. And they are missing out.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Goodbye, Lincoln!

Me: Man, I was almost brought to tears reading about the last moments of Lincoln's life.
My wife: I wish you would cry about me sometimes [note: she has never seen me cry - though I did cry once when she wasn't around.]
Me: You haven't died.
My wife: Is that what it takes?

And thus ends my long interaction with Abraham Lincoln. After 757 pages, I finally completed Doris Kearns Goodwin's book Team of Rivals - and I can definitely say that I am a better man for having read it. What an inspiration Abraham Lincoln was! I would definitely have to say that he is, bar none, my biggest hero (outside the Bible, of course). He is such a towering figure and there is so much that I learned from reading about his life.

I don't have time to go through all of the things I learned about his life, but here are a few reflections on the latter days of his existence (here on earth, I'm hoping and praying):
  1. His assasination was one of three attempted assasinations that were taking place at the same time. His secretary of state, William Seward (another inspiring man) was almost murdered at the exact same moment. He was slashed nearly to death as he rested in bed in his Washington home. The only thing that saved him was a metal plate that was holding his broken jaw in place - which was the result of a carriage accident 9 days before that nearly took his life. He was literally saved by that carriage accident - testimony that one never knows how providence can work things out.
  2. The other assisination that was to take place at the same time was against Lincoln's vice president - Andrews Johnson. The man who was supposed to assisinate him had second thoughts, and instead of entering his hotel room, went to the bar, pondered it for 15 minutes, and decided better of it. Thus, of the three, Lincoln was the only one who didn't make it through the night.
  3. John Wilkes Booth was an actor, as many probably already know. His brother, Edwin Booth, was the pre-eminent Shakespearien actor of the day. While Edwin was a Union supporter, John Wilkes was a Confederate sympathizer, having spent quite a bit of time in the South. All this goes to show that we should be very skeptical of actors - especially in relation to politics (see Matt Damon as exhibit B).
  4. Obviously, Lincoln was one of the greatest figures in world history. But a question naturally arises in my mind about him: I wonder how history would look at him had he lived out his three score and ten years and never been assisinated. Our admiration for people inherently increases when they give their lives for a cause, and Lincoln is no exception. Had he continued his second term and lived to be an old man, who knows what our thoughts would be about him today. I'm sure very positive, but perhaps not nearly as much as has resulted from his "martyrdom."