For Good Self-Control, Try Getting Religious About It

From the New York Times

By JOHN TIERNEY

If I’m serious about keeping my New Year’s resolutions in 2009, should I add another one? Should the to-do list include, “Start going to church”?

This is an awkward question for a heathen to contemplate, but I felt obliged to raise it with Michael McCullough after reading his report in the upcoming issue of the Psychological Bulletin. He and a fellow psychologist at the University of Miami, Brian Willoughby, have reviewed eight decades of research and concluded that religious belief and piety promote self-control.

This sounded to me uncomfortably similar to the conclusion of the nuns who taught me in grade school, but Dr. McCullough has no evangelical motives. He confesses to not being much of a devotee himself. Continue reading

People in Divorce Care understand this

Santa Shooter Commits Suicide After Killing Spree in California – I think people in DC intuitively understand this scenario. The violence done in divorcing, disputing over the kids, finances, and friendship networks, the hurt, humiliation and pain are all killing things. The death wish is at the bottom of so many divorces – everybody must go down, there can be no future, the darkness is too deep.

It bears to be repeated. You cannot get that close to a person in marriage and then make tearing apart in divorce a gentle thing. The devastation is too deep, the vulnerability too extreme. People who leave their spouses just “because they want to be happy” find that they are choosing a death path. You can’t just walk away. Pe0ple won’t stand for it. Yes, there might not be bodies lying around afte a shooting spree, but there will be spirits lying around, battered and bruised.  And home forever will be the scene of the crime.

It remains true that the two great plagues on our culture are alcohol abuse and divorce. Scratch the surface of the normal man on the street and the dark stories of alochol and broken homes are just beneath the surface and all that goes with it.

Recently I listened on the radio to the candidate from the Prohibition Party in the last election. Yes, there is still a Prohibition Party. The facts and statistics that rolled off his tongue were stunning. I felt like I was standing in front of a machine gun. Alcohol and divorce are kissing cousins. Our courts are full of the consequences of these two scourges that hold no prisoners. A death sentence – pure and simple.

Gran Torino – a movie review with no spoiler

My sons and I went to the Christmas night opening show. It was only showing at one theater in the South Shore area. In spite of the language and violence (no real sexual themes) it is a Christmas movie – a change of heart, honesty about who we are and what we have become, the power of acceptance and love, and the move from power to sacrifice as the lever to change what’s wrong with the world – one block of one neighborhood at a time.

Clint Eastwood is an ornery old guy who has just lost his wife in death and who must now live alone. His hard ways and impatience have alienated his sons who seem a bit too eager to shove him off to a retirement complex and collect whatever is theirs from what is left over. But Eastwood can’t be bothered to care. All he wants is to live alone and have everyone stay off his lawn.

The only problem is that his neighborhood is turning Hmong and eventually their ways and issues begin to suck Eastwood into a world of family, the one thing Eastwood doesn’t do well. But through a couple of teenagers next door the gap is bridged and before long he is caring and fixing and repairing and sharing. Watching him do this is the funny part of the movie. And there was a lot of laughter in the audience during the show.

All Eastwood wants in life was to do his job well, not be bothered by stupid people, including the Church, keep his tools in order and take care of his Ford Gran Torino. But his new life won’t let him stay there. He finds out that he not only can love but does. And that love will move him to a sacrifice he could not imagine making.

Gangs are part of the neighborhood – as one teen observes, the girls go to college and the boys go to jail. Those gangs threaten the two teens who live next door and Eastwood must save them. Vengeful violence is his natural way, but he has seen what that did to him and the hard man he became. The two teens next store must be saved but retribution will not be the answer because of what it does to the distributors of justice. The rest of the movie is in your hands.

I am constantly amazed that no matter how secular a movie, the themes that keep surfacing are the very ones met head on by the Christrian worldview. A thoughtful world knows that somewhere there must be a Savior who conquers by love and through whom we have justice of another kind. The myths and fables of the ages are alive among us today. Christianity is a true myth. It’s the story as old as the world come to life.

Rest on the Flight into Egypt

merson1

The Naked Pastor comments on this painting:

I was stopped dead in my tracks by this painting that was hanging in an obscure corner of the museum. My friend lost me and I lost him as I stood before this magnificent piece for over an hour, just absorbing the power of the image. It is the French artist Luc-Olivier Merson’s Rest on the Flight Into Egypt, painted in 1879. I’m normally not into religious art. But this one was different. It completely caught me by surprise. It isn’t your typical holy family portrait. It is painted with a limited palette, dark, and the figures are sensual and somewhat realistic. Joseph sleeps on the desert floor. Mary, perhaps to protect herself and the child, is sleeping up between the feet of the Sphynx. A thin ribbon of smoke rises from the smoldering fire. The donkey sleeps standing. The only intentionally “religious” part of the painting is the glow around the baby. But it is perfect. The symbolism is what struck me. The good news, silently nestled in the arms of a foreign symbol.

Christianity on Sundays when it snows

iMonk blogs about Mark Driscoll’s reflections on those who show up at church on those Sundays when it snows. Gosh, I relate. Question: did the real “hardcore” (as Driscoll calls them) Christians show up and the soft core stay home? Do we have several classes of Christians here?You do know the class sysem, don’t you? The first class is the “barely Christian.” This is the Christian who isn’t exactly a nonChristian. This is the minimum level. Then among the Christians there are several classes. There are the “most of the time in church” Christians. They’re usually there, but if their vacation starts on a Saturday, don’t expect them to work their plans so they show up on Sunday and then travel after that or fly back on a Saturday so they can be in worship on sunday. Then there are the “if the doors are open we are there” Christians who, by the way, would never stoop to using a pew Bible because pew Bibles are for lazy Christians who can’t bother to bring their own Bibles to church. (And who also, by the way, feel no need for the Pastor to refer to the page number for the Bible reading–if you don’t know where the passage is without a page number, then you had better get right with God).

And then there are the “snow day” Christians. These are the Marines of Christianity. Canceling church? What kind of whimp does that? These are the people willing to pay their insurance deductible for any car bumps and bruises that it takes to get to church. Getting stuck in the church parking lot? It’s a badge of honor. 

Like iMonk I think Driscoll is too hard on people who didn’t risk and life and limb to get to church on a snowy Sunday. But I think it’s a good thing for a person to face a challenge and make a decision. How bad do I want to meet for worship? Is this a convenience thing for me? Or is this an opportunity to say to God, “You matter this much to me.”? How much rides on a Sunday anyway?

At least snowy Sundays are an opportunity to say to another Christian, you matter enough to me to show up and be a part of your life and encourage you along the way. And they are an opportunity to give God a gift of sorts, to let Him know, if only for our own sakes, that our Christianity isn’t about us – it’s about Him. I think about these things when I wonder whether or not I should withdraw a Sunday service on account of snow. I might be taking away an opportunity for someone to give God a gift. Or I just might be a narcissist with delusions of grandeur so lofty that I think even weather patterns should work around me. It’s your call.