Friday, November 23, 2012

Coram Deo: Arlington Cemetery Meets the Facebook Generation

Lindsay Stone's now-infamous obscene gesture in Arlington Cemetery
(with apologies to my readers' sensibilities)
So, it would appear the young lady who dishonored Arlington National Cemetery has been fired after taking this photo, posting it to a Facebook page, and then discovering that her little joke wasn't so funny.  Oops.

As one who has been honored to serve on the hallowed grounds of Arlington burying our heroes, I was naturally appalled when this picture went viral across the wires.

Given some time for reflection, however, my sense of this kerfuffle is that this was, in essence, a moment of adolescent knuckle-headedness by someone who is not an adolescent, but yet clearly had no clue where she was. She and a friend saw a sign and thought how funny it would be to take a picture doing the opposite of what the sign said, then posted it for all their friends to laugh at.  Ha ha. I imagine similar acts have transpired on countless high school field trips, with two caveats:  one, she's old enough to know better; and two, the age of social networking magnifies the risks of such ignorance--sometimes exponentially.

I doubt Ms. Jones considered for a second why her impishness might be deemed particularly offensive to anyone, which tells us something about her. She stood in a place steeped in profound meaning and deep personal, national and historical context, and somehow managed to experience none of it.  It brings to mind the words of the prophet Jeremiah:  Hear this, O foolish and senseless people, who have eyes, but see not, who have ears, but hear not.

It was the ultimate Facebook Generation moment in every respect, including the fallout. Now she's suddenly infamous and unemployed, though--one hopes--a little wiser.

This is sad, but can be instructive.  We who live our entire lives coram deo (before the face of God) do so with little daily awareness of His holy presence.  Honestly, if we were to get a glimpse into the heavenly social network--in which our every word, deed and thought has been captured in His lens--what would we see, and how could we stand?

By grace alone, through faith, and this not of ourselves ...  and perhaps this should give us pause as we deign to pass judgement on the wretchedness of Lindsay Jones.

The context missed by Lindsay Stone

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A Very Air Force Thanksgiving in New York City!

Public service announcement! The United States Air Force Honor Guard and Band will be marching in the 2012 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade this Thursday.  The parade will take place from 9:00 - 11:00 AM EST (I have heard that they will be "on the carpet" at 10:40 EST).

The big announcement came on June 4th, 2011 (the Jailer is pictured on the right, holding the shield)
My readers know I have a very personal interest in the Honor Guard in particular, as I was extremely privileged to have been their commander from 2009-2011, which is when we launched this particular project.  When we got the support of the Band we knew we had a great shot.  As you can see above, the good news came through just before I relinquished command.

Since I don't get to go, I'll consign myself to the role of enthusiastic cheerleader and minor-league publicist.  The Honor Guard will be led by my extraordinarily capable successor, Lt Col Ken Marentette.  Please support him and the rest of the team by tuning in and cheering them on, and by expressing your support on the Honor Guard's Facebook page.

11/16/2012 - JOINT BASE ANACOSTIA-BOLLING, D.C -- The United States Air Force Band and Honor Guard will be traveling to New York City to perform a featured patriotic tribute, "This is My Country," in the 86th Annual Macy's Day Parade® on Thanksgiving Day 2012.
Marching 200 strong, these premier ceremonial units from the 11th Operations Group will represent the nearly 500,000 men and women serving in the U.S. Air Force as they march along a 2.65 mile route before more than 3.5 million spectators. 
This is the first time The U.S. Air Force Band & Honor Guard have marched in this parade, the largest parade in New York City. Macy's Department Store first began sponsoring the parade in 1924. The tradition has continued every year except from 1942 to 1944 when the store donated rubber from the balloons to the war effort. 
"We are proud to participate in this time-honored tradition. This is an amazing opportunity for the Air Force Band and Honor Guard to showcase their abilities to the American public," said Col. Gina Humble, 11th Operations Group commander. "The precision and excellence they demonstrate is a reflection of the high standards, integrity and dedication of all Airmen serving today." 
The Band and Honor Guard, working in tandem, regularly perform for the President, Vice President, foreign heads of state, and officials at the highest levels of government and military.  
Through public appearances, the two units inspire patriotism and foster positive image of the Air Force. 
Almost daily, the Band and Honor Guard serve in Arlington National Cemetery, rendering funeral honors to our nation's fallen heroes. 

Lt Col Ken Marentette (right, holding saber), Commander of The USAF Honor Guard, readies his team for its mission to NYC.  
On the left is Colonel Larry Lang, Commander of The USAF Band.

Update!  Check out the sneak preview from local Washington DC news Channel 5 here!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Secession: Sinful Impulse of a Worldly Church

The evangelical church needs to get a grip.  There's something about a national election that brings out our worst instincts.  This cycle's version features apparently serious discussion by some Christians in support of these ridiculous secession petitions.  One word:  STOP.

There are several reasons for Christians to avoid lending our voice to this temper tantrum, but the most important is what it reveals about us:  worldliness.  This entire discussion shines a light on our most self-righteous, Pharisaic tendencies.  We need to repent and get about the business God called us to:
Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul.  Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.  Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.  For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves.  Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.  (1 Peter 2:11-17)
So we're trying to secede from a land where we're already strangers and exiles?  Why?  Because we've gone native--we seem to think we belong here.

Think about it.  Did Jesus come to lead his believers to a new Promised Land?  Did the Apostles lead an exodus from the Roman Empire?  No.  They went willingly to their deaths in submission to the worldly authorities because both loved a kingdom not of this world.  Paul's teaching on the matter could not be more clear:
Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.  Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.  For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended.  For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.  Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.  This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing.  Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. (Romans 13:1-7)
Generally the American Revolution comes up somewhere in this discussion.  After all, weren't our Founding Fathers justified in rebelling against the repression of their imperial masters?  (Warning:  sacred cows about to be gored.)

Says whose Bible?  What we're saying is that the ends justified the means.  Just because we're happy with the result and admire the participants doesn't mean we assume their every action was biblically sanctioned.  Show me the New Testament passage that indicates armed rebellion against the authority God has established is right.  John MacArthur (as usual) goes further:
Over the past several centuries, people have mistakenly linked democracy and political freedom to Christianity. That's why many contemporary evangelicals believe the American Revolution was completely justified, both politically and scripturally. They follow the arguments of the Declaration of Independence, which declares that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are divinely endowed rights. 
Therefore those believers say such rights are part of a Christian worldview, worth attaining and defending at all cost including military insurrection at times. But such a position is contrary to the clear teachings and commands of Romans 13:1-7. So the United States was actually born out of a violation of New Testament principles, and any blessings God has bestowed on America have come in spite of that disobedience by the Founding Fathers.
This assertion seldom meets with easy acceptance in the American church, and frequently leads to the indignant objection:  "Do you mean we should always submit to persecution?"  That's an interesting discussion, but a largely academic one, unless you live in Iran, China, or Saudi Arabia.  So let's take a deep breath and get back to 21st century American reality:  we're just no where near that point.  Not even remotely.

Let's be frank:  we American Christians are pampered.  We don't merely desire godly governance, we insist on it as our birthright.  When we don't get it we are scandalized.  But the Apostles Peter and Paul were writing to churches familiar with persecution on quite another scale.  To these authorities they were commanded to submit and pay respect.   

Jean-Léon Gérôme - The Christian Martyrs' Last Prayer
So how did things suddenly get so bad that serious Christians are joining in the secession chatter in 21st century America?  Someone in your church been fed to lions recently? 

Our freedom to worship in this country is something of an historical anomaly and a tremendous blessing.  But blessings can be squandered, which is what happens when the church gets wrapped up in election results and neglects our first duty:  being salt and light in a lost and dying world.  

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Political Church: This Good Steward Edition

It seems the Jailer's recent ruminations on politics and the church have captured Petra's attention over at This Good Steward.  Petra also syndicates to the Jailer's Facebook page (because, frankly, she's awesome).  

She adds:
May these next few days serve as a good reminder that we could never, ever vote into office anyone who could ever fill what we truly long for! No, the One we nailed to the tree, He is the One who has already perfected even this imperfect heart, this imperfect vote, even here in the imperfect now.
Amen and amen, dear sister!

Oh, and for more wisdom (with an emphasis on stewardship) I highly encourage you pay regular visits to Petra's blog over at TGS.  

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Political Church V: The Theocracy Bogeyman and Pulpit Corruption

Election Day is Tuesday!  You know what that means ... poor little Abby can finally find some peace.

In the meantime, why does your normally mild-mannered Jailer rail on and on about church-state entanglements?  Because I fear theocracy?  Puh-leeze.  The chances of that are approximately zero, hyperventilating doomsayers like Kevin Phillips aside.

Phillips observes the activities of evangelical Christians with a mixture of horror and Margaret Mead-like curiosity.  Take his bemused observations about such odd rituals as "spiritual rebirth":
Conversion on the part of adults — the deep personal experience of being "born again" in Christ — is also far more important in the United States, with its emphasis on individual choice and personal experience, than elsewhere. In the mid-1980s some 33 percent of respondents told the Gallup Poll they had been "born again"; by the early 2000s the number had climbed to 44 to 46 percent.
Fascinating.  It's almost as if these people read the words of this guy Jesus in the third chapter of John's gospel and, um, took it seriously.

(Or maybe they just all read the Born Again series on this blog?)

Likewise, Phillips notes with alarm that these people seem to have an awful lot of *gasp* Bibles:
Likewise notably American is the pervasive influence of the Bible, from the first English migrations a staple of belief and interpretation. Bible publishing in the new republic quickly became an industry — some 1,800 different English-language editions were published between 1777 and 1865 — and remains one today, with more than seven thousand editions available as of 1990.
Oh, the humanity!  These people must be stopped!

Honestly, the fear of encroaching theocratic rule in 21st century America is something for the tin-foil hat crowd (and yes, Mr. Phillips, I'm looking at you).

Is Newt Gingrich preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ 
at this pulpit?  I think not.
No, the country's body politic need not fear a stampede of Puritans across its bulwarks.  Rather, the danger is for the church, which must be wary of the corrupting influence of politics.  When worship services become political rallies; when churches modify their doctrine to line up with party platforms; when politicians are invited to address congregations ... these are indications that the church has fully embraced worldly ends by worldly means.  It has succumbed to the siren's song and put its trust in princes, "in human beings, who cannot save." (Psalm 146:3)

Again I should say that I very much believe in Christians voting, supporting candidates and causes, and even running for office if so called.  But there is a line we must not cross for the sake of the gospel--politicians must NOT invade our pulpits, from whence we exalt only one Name above every name.

After they have dragged our "souls to the polls", they will discard us until the next election.  
In the meantime, what has become of our souls?
If the church wants to impact the world, the Bible has a great prescription:  the church should preach and exalt and live for Christ.  That is more than enough.  Politicians--yes, even "good" ones--will promise us the moon and the stars for our support.  "Trust in us", they say--but they cannot save.