Saturday’s Stray Thoughts

Another week just about in the books–and in central Pennsylvania it was another week without significant snowfall, which suits this guy very well. But it wasn’t a week without controversy. How else would blogs continue, anyway?

Since I’ve included a note or two concerning the campaign trail in these Saturday entries, I’ll start by noting the sudden emergence of former PA Senator Rick Santorum in the GOP nomination race. With a sweep of three contests this week, he is getting a considerable amount of attention that seemed unavailable to him just two short weeks ago. After listening to his plea before the CPAC crowd yesterday, I came away thinking he is a more than capable spokesman for that position. Whether or not that position, on the whole, is the right one is what we’ll all have to decide. But he did seem a lot more authentic than the front-runner.

While on the subject of politics, there is a series of ebooks available through Christianity Today on the subject, edited by Mark Galli, Senior Editor. How to Pick a President is a short series of essays suggesting what the important issues might be for Christians to consider, rather than the ones which we are told about by various interest groups and/or the press. Faith and the American Presidency is an account of the role of the beliefs of eleven different presidents of our country; another volume is in the works which will look at an additional eleven occupants of the Oval Office. For those interested in the real questions but unwilling to bear the shrillness of the process as it has evolved, these might be interesting reads.

The initial essay in the first of those volumes (Mark McCloskey and Daniel Taylor, “Why Virtue Trumps Policy”) is particularly timely with the revelations this week about a then 19-year-old White House worker in whom JFK took more than a passing interest. But the essay talks about more than a president’s ability to pass the “family values” test, looking at the more classic virtues of prudence, courage, etc. That’s good, because we seem to have a well-developed way of holding the “other” party’s miscreants accountable for their infidelity while overlooking or excusing it when it is one of “our” guys caught in the act. Kennedy’s philandering was widely known, but seldom raised as a concern; then there was Mr. Clinton, through whose misdeeds a definite polarization of opinion was the topic of the his entire presidency–for those of one party, some of whose members find no reason to hold Newt Gingrich’s past failures against him. An objective lot, we are.

One of the continuing conversations among Christians concerns how radically we interpret the instructions of Jesus as applied to believers in our own time. A generation ago Ron Sider raised the issue among conservatives with Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, both an outgowth of and a contributor to the Sojouners movement, spear-headed by Jim Wallis. More recently a new, younger voice is sounding a call to take more literally what Christ commands of those who would be his disciples. David Platt’s Radical was given to me by a good friend. I will begin a series of posts soon to engage some of his ideas; if anyone would like to read along, that would be helpful toward an enriching conversation.

The one perennial question about Christian faith’s viability in the contest with reason and with human experience is why there is suffering in the world that God has made. Most people find it a problem; some find it insurmountable and relinquish belief. It continues to surface, and I suspect it will do so as long as there are human beings with a sense of both morality and compassion. I have had to revamp the course I teach on the subject because of the high enrollment. And this week’s newspaper had questions posed to the experts–Billy Graham and the “God Squad.” The question is a real one; and it is usually asked by those in pain or directly observing it in someone close to them. I was reminded, as part of preparation of this week’s class, of Peter Kreeft’s excellent book, Making Sense Out of Suffering. One of the many sharp points from this gem of a book is to acknowledge that this is a problem that counts as evidence against (belief in) God; but while the Christian must attempt to answer this one question, the atheist has about fifteen hard questions to deal with, all of which argue for the reality of God. Good stuff.

Find a blessing; then spread it.

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