April 26, 2005
An interesting exchange
Through reading WatchBlog, I discovered Walker Willingham's blog, as he was an author of one of the Lefty threads. Because his comments struck me as being consistenly civil and respectful (as well as thoughtful), I decided to seek out his site. I read through a significant part of his writings up to the November elections, and I remained impressed. As I said to him in my first comment on his blog
So far, I've found that you probably disagree with me on just about every one of my major political tenents, but that you do so with a great deal more polish and grace that I'm used to hearing from your side.
Quite courteously, he replied to my comment with a very nice e-mail. Since then, I've browsed his blog a few times, but hadn't left any more comments. Over the weekend, however, he sent me a link to an article he'd recently read, asking for my comments. If you're interested, his own comments on the article can be found here. I was quite flattered and very willing to oblige. The extended entry contains my response. Since my response, I've read every entry of Rob Salkowitz's blog since just before the election, and found it quite fascinating. At the moment, I'm desperately in need of a good, long, conservative read to replenish my faith in my ideology :-), but I consider it worth the trouble. Don't worry; I've asked permission to post these things. I'm interested in your thoughts on the issue, as especially your critique of my critique. I'm not exactly a seasoned debater and I have the uneasy feeling that I made many blunders that I'm going to wish I hadn't.
Dear Mr. Willingham,
Before I begin to respond, let me say 'thanks' again. Thanks for
thinking of me, for taking the time to send the link to me, and for
caring (to some degree) what I might think about the article. It is a
great honor to me.
I think that opponents of every kind have a tendency to view their
opposition as more united and dangerous than they really are. For
example, up until the late 1980s (from what I can tell), most on the
right still considered the Soviet Union a united, deadly threat bent on
worldwide conquest. As I've studied Soviet history this semester, I've
realized that they had a whole can of worms amongst themselves that they
were desperately trying to deal with. As I've read it, I've come to the
conclusion that we were more afraid of the opposition than we should
have been. It's like what my uncle said when he first had the
opportunity to fly to the Soviet Union in the 1980s - "If that's the
great bear, it's a toothless old thing." In the same way, I think that
most of you on the left fear the right more than you should. When all
this is history and (perhaps) the Democrats are back in majority in
Congress, you'll be able to look back and see that "the right" was never
as united and dangerous and "evil" as it seems today.
I think that the author has a significant point when he says that "On
the Right, there may be some diversity of viewpoints, particularly
between the self-styled libertarians and the theocrats, but there is a
singularity of purpose, a basic agreement on the style of confrontation
and the terms of debate, and a common set of assumptions about their
tribal identity and the identity of the enemy." One thing I've thought
over the last few years as the Republicans seem to have gained a
temporary ascendancy is "This isn't supposed to happen. We're supposed
to be losing!" You see, much of the right wing, particularly the
"theocrats," is convinced that the larger public is against them, that
the left wing hates them and urgently works for their destruction, and
that the whole tide of our country is going the wrong way. I get the
sense that most of the "theocrats" believe they are fighting a romantic,
noble, "lost cause" against an irresistible tide of modern secular
culture. We don't expect to win. We're determined to go down fighting,
but I don't think anyone really expects to turn the tide. It's something
like being the last few men alive at the Alamo, the night before the
Mexicans attack. You lay down all disagreements with one another and
fight to the death. What do disagreements matter? You're all going to
I don't know what other "theocrats" are thinking, but I've been
wondering for many years now when the other shoe is going to drop, when
our run of luck is going to peter out, and when we'll start openly
losing again. I'm starting to hear a lot more hopeful rhetoric from a
number of sources, but I don't believe it yet. I don't believe in any
sense that we've won. And I think that, at least among "theocrats," my
view is common.
Because of this, I think that a significant part of "the Right" is
unified and held together under a "last stand" mentality. We feel that
we have to "hang together, or we'll all be hanged separately." In some
of the right-wing mailings I receive, there's an earnest debate on
whether or not (and to what degree) we should push for the Republican
party to give us what we want. We certainly want things, but we don't
want to break the coalition. The Republicans may be annoying
politicians, but the Democrats are "the enemy."
So basically, I think that a huge chunk of "the Right" holds together
because they are convinced that if they don't, they'll be destroyed by
what they perceive as a hostile culture. I think that a majority of the
"the Right" is shocked at its victory and mistrustful that it is
genuine. That's why we hold together ... we see a very large and very
powerful enemy. I presume you've seen the Lord of the Rings films - I
think that much of the right feels like the forces of the West after the
battles for Helm's Deep and the Pelennor. We've won twice, beyond all
hope ... but Mordor is still out there. It isn't time to celebrate. We
have to hold together. For the "theocrats," I think that their hope lies
in their faith in the coming return of Christ (just think Frodo and Sam)
rather than any belief they can win the fight against the rising tide.
Of course, I realize that most of you on the left would feel insulted by
a comparison to the forces of Mordor and Orthanc (and perhaps a little
smug when you think that "these poor little minds have this 'good' and
'evil' dichotomy that we see through"), but, from what I've read of the
left's rhetoric, I think that you consider yourselves just as much "the
forces of the West" against "the forces of Mordor" - only you're losing
Part of me doesn't know whether to laugh or cry on hearing a description
of the "Left By Default" as a "reality-based coalition." This line, in
particular, is a gem "However, there is broad agreement on the tactics
of reason, compromise, learning from observation, and distrust of
dogma." Does he honestly think his opponents don't think the same for
themselves? It's all very well to self-righteously pride oneself on
being the voice of reason and rationality, just keep in mind that one's
opponents think the same of themselves. Insofar as, these days, science
is considered a god-replacement (since, if it's scienctific, it's
"true"), he has just, in effect, said "God is on our side, not our
If the Republicans have done a masterful job convincing people that a
vote for the Democrats is a vote for "Communism", the Democrats are
fervently trying to convince the people that a vote for the Republicans
is a vote for "theocracy." Don't try to claim the moral high ground
because the Republicans are trying to paint their opponents in extreme
colors - so are the Democrats.
"They have banished the reality-based members of their coalition and
have fused everyone else together under a banner of uncompromising
extremism, regardless of the specifics of their issues." The
self-righteousness of this line is staggering. "Uncompromising
extremism" indeed. Just be aware, it doesn't look like "uncompromising
extremism" on this end.
I liked your response, particularly in saying that it is important to
hold onto your values and principles. It's good to know that you believe
you have a rational basis for being "left" - I trust you can defend it.
Quite apart from feeling endangered by the left, I have a rational
reason for being "right" as well. The idea of compromise with the left
draws cautious interest from me. What is it you want to compromise over?
Some things are sacrificable. Some things are not. I know you feel the
What do I see in the cards for the future? I dunno. Nothing lasts,
particularly in politics. We've only won by narrow margins, so it won't
take much to start losing again. I don't think that Democrats have
anything serious to worry about. As far seeing any hope for what I
believe in, that depends. While it would be wonderful if "the theocrats"
won and abortion was banned and I could speak of God in public without
fear of being sued by the ACLU, I don't think it'll happen. Besides, if
the "theocrats" did win, then they would go nuts and I would have to
join their opposition to keep them from doing dumb things. I do not
believe this country will be transformed ... certainly not by any
political movement. But God always leaves a remnant. A few will hold on.
If Christians could hold on in Soviet Russia, Nazi Germany, and the
Roman Empire, they'll hold on if the "left" wins.
Personally, I believe the left will win. I believe that within a
generation, Christians will be openly persecuted for their faith with
the backing of the state, likely enough to the point of martyrdom. I
believe that the America I love is almost gone. However, persecution is
a blessing, if a bitter one. The church deperately needs a cleansing
force to help drive out mediocrity. And I know that my opinion is shared
by almost every evangelical I know. With an attitude like that, I doubt
you'll see much compromise in the future. You see, even if the world
isn't ending (and, though I'm not sure myself, most evangelicals seem to
be quite sure the world is about to end), many evangelicals are pretty
convinced America is about to end. To us, it feels like we've allied for
a last-ditch defense and that, if (and when) we lose, it's over. But it
was glorious while it lasted.
It strikes me that most of the remarks on the left that I read sound
about the same - only they're convinced that we stand on the brink of a
neo-Nazi theocratic fascist dictatorship and they are the last defense.
Some of them are as pessimistic as I am. That's what strikes me as so
odd and dangerous - that both sides feel threatened to the point of
near-extinction. Actually, it gives me some hope. I know that, to my
knowledge, the Vast Rightwing Conspiracy is a myth. Maybe, just maybe,
so is the Vast Leftwing Conspiracy. If people on the left are terrified
of people like me or James Dobson (which seems laughable), maybe the
people I worry about aren't really as dangerous. Maybe I'm wrong in
thinking that the US stands on the brink. Maybe. If so, then I can take
a deep breath and we can work things out.
The odd thing is that both sides claim to know more about the others'
intentions than the other does. The left says the majority on the right
are being duped by their evil leaders into supporting a cause that will
inevitably lead to a neo-Nazi theocratic dictatorship. The right says
that the majority on the left don't realize that their policies will
lead to the destruction of the United States and the persecution of
Christianity. Each side sees the other as racing toward a cliff, a cliff
that they alone (the rational, sane side) can see. The question is
"who's right?" Is America just a few short steps away from neo-Nazi
theocratic dictatorship? Are we next door to UN world domination and the
deadly persecution of the Christian faith? Or are we both a little
hysterical? What is true? Can't get around that question.
Obviously, in the near-term, both sides' fears seem ludicrous. John
Kerry's presidency would not have been the end, just as George Bush's
won't be. But where are we headed? "Where are we going, and what's with
the hand-basket?" :-) If I had to guess, all sides have a bit of truth
in them. The vector of what is "right and just and good" is almost never
parallel to any side.
No matter what is true, there's room to talk. To talk about the abstract
ideals of left and right. To debate over present policy and future
trends. We can even do so civilly.
I think I'll close this response (and my thoughts) for now. Thanks again
for writing to me, and for reading this far. My thoughts probably aren't
as clear as I could make them (I'm still musing over a lot of these
issues), but I hope they help.
Thanks much. May God bless you.
~ Daniel Leatherwood
PS. I'd like your permission to post this letter (along with necessary
links to explain it) on my blog. Would that be acceptable to you? Of
course, if you desire, you're free to post this letter as well.
Posted by Leatherwood at 05:25 PM
This post has been classified as "Musings
April 20, 2005
Preliminary Flammability Results and Consequent Musings
As I was gathering my clothes from the dryer today, I went through my
usual ritual of carefully scraping out the accumulation of lint before
removing the clothes. As I did so, I happened to remember an experiment that
I've wanted to try for quite some time. I've heard that lint is highly
flammable, and I wished to put it to the test. Pleased with myself at
remembering this point at the critical juncture when I could actually do
something about it, I carefully harvested the lint and brought it home with
me. I then sat on my porch and lit the ball of lint (I'd packed it pretty
tightly) on fire. The results were far less spectacular than I'd hoped. The
stuff certainly burns, approximately as well as paper, but not nearly so well
as gasoline or some other highly flammable substance. What eventually remained
resembled a charcoal briquette more than anything else. Of course, as the
title of this post suggests, those are only the preliminary results ---
clearly, more testing is in order.
I have certain latent pyromaniacal tendencies ... I think most males do
(I hope so, anyway). One of my favorite discoveries of the flammable properties
of substances occurred in Mongolia. During the long Communist rule of
Mongolia, the Soviets saw fit to plant thousands and thousands of cottonwood
trees in the capital city. They grow pretty well and don't seem to suffer much
from the harsh climate. However, every spring it snows for about two
weeks. I mean, the air is full of soft, downy cottonwood seeds that resemble
nothing so much as snow. Getting them in your mouth is really annoying,
because they don't melt. You can choke on them. However, Ulaanbaatar has no set
scheme for getting rid of these seeds. Because of this, they form small drifts
several inches thick at many places in the city, and will spread thinly across
open, unattended lots (of which there are many).
The most important property of these cottonwood seeds, however, is the
fact that they are as flammable as gasoline. Once I made this happy
discovery, I procured a lighter for myself and amused myself for hours by
prowling my section of the city, torching every drift of cottonwood seeds I
could find. It was truly delightful - flick the lighter at a convenient pile
and flames would flash down the entire length of seeds, consuming them in
about a second or two, leaving the dry husks of seeds and a little black burnt
residue behind. Fortunately for me, they burn so quickly and they're so
insubstantial that there is virtually no risk of lighting anything else
on fire, unlike gasoline. You could put a sheet of paper on top of the pile
and all the seeds would burn away beneath it without even scorching the paper.
My favorite discoveries were vacant lots where the seeds had accumulated over
the ground - there's nothing quite like causing a fire to flash over an acre
or two in a matter of moments. Ah, yes, the glorious days of youth ... :-).
I'm sure that doing anything of the sort would be highly illegal in this
country and would earn me a date with the fire department and probably the
police. It's a shame, really ...
Posted by Leatherwood at 05:38 PM
This post has been classified as "Autobiography
April 18, 2005
Fear of the Mind
In my Capstone II class, one of the topics we've discussed
during the semester caught my attention and my interest. The entire
course is focused on developing "the Christian mind," emphasizing
the rational and intellectual as vital parts of a Christian life.
We're working through a book called Love the Lord Your God With
All Your Mind: the role of reason in the life of the soul by JP
Moreland. Throughout the book, JP Moreland delivers some pretty
sharp criticism of the way the modern Western church has devalued
the rational and emphasized the emotional in the past few decades
(well, hundred years would probably be more accurate). There's no
doubt that he's right - the modern Christian church could really
use an infusion intellectual vitality. But early in the semester,
we were invited to think about the question of why evangelicals
tend to be suspicious of the mind and the intellect. It's on that
question that I want to muse for a while.
Why is there a strong tendency within the modern evangelical
church to view education and intellectual pursuits with a certain
unease? I think there are a lot of reasons. One of the chief
reasons for the split between the mainline and evangelical churches
was a conviction on the part of evangelicals that the Christian
faith as practiced by the mainline churches had grown cold and
formulaic, catering more to modern political and social currents
than to the Bible. In many ways, the evangelical movement was
founded in reaction to a faith without "heart" - the head was not a
primary focus for the movement. Indeed, it seemed to be a primary
focus for their adversaries.
Another reason that the modern evangelical church looks
suspiciously at intellectual pursuits is that it perceives the
prevailing intellectual culture as being hostile to the faith. In
this, they are undoubtedly correct. To a large degree, the orthodox
Christian faith has been under attack since the Enlightenment. Of
course, Charles Darwin's theory of evolution was almost the first
time the rising tide of secularism really caught the church's
attention. To some degree, the theory of evolution was the first
time the rising tide of secularism had really frightened the
church. From an evangelical standpoint, few of the intellectual
trends of the past 150 years are encouraging.
But, most interesting to me, I think another reason the modern
evangelical church tends to shun the intellectual world is out of
fear for its children ... to a large degree, out of fear for people
like me and many of my friends. And there is good reason - again
and again, conservative evangelicals have been their kids troop off
into the wide-wide world and come back changed ... newly
disillusioned and freshly scornful of their "close-minded" parents
and the stuffy, constraining culture they grew up in. Of course,
this doesn't happen all the time or even most of the time, but it
happens enough that I think it's worked its way as a basic fear
into the heart of most evangelicals ... parents in particular.
The secular intelligentsia has enormous power. It's virtually
impossible to be exposed to its ideas and remain unchanged (indeed,
it's not even wise). Perhaps most powerful is the immense peer
pressure of a perceived intellectual peer group that is
dramatically hostile to "good old religion." It's a bewildering
world out there, where "good" "Christian" kids get exposed to all
the power and draw and temptations of the secular mindset and
For me, I think that the most powerful pressure has been my
desire to be well thought of ... I want people to think I'm
intelligent, thoughtful, and insightful. And the chief way to be
seen as all those things is to compromise. To start to talk like
the world outside. To join in the condescending talk about the
"redneck" "intolerant" "backward" evangelical culture. The outside
world puts a great deal of pressure on people to conform, to agree.
And I think that a great part of the evangelical world fears the
And, I think that sometimes this fear can drive the evangelical
culture to overreact - to see any sign of disagreement as incipient
disloyalty. To an unhealthy degree, the evangelical culture is so
afraid of the outside culture that it doesn't tolerate much
I think this is true, but I hasten to add that I don't mean to
mock these fears, or to say that they're groundless. I'm
sympathetic to them ... for they are also in my mind. As some of my
friends differ from the established orthodoxy, a great part of me
rises up in panic, fearing that we may "lose" them ... lose them to
the pull of the secular world. Lose them to the outside world that
so often seems to look at us with such disdain. There are few
things more painful than having someone you love despise you and
all you believe and (for parents) all you taught them to believe.
There's a lot of hurt in that.
Acknowledging the fear and mistrust can help us master it, and
keep it from ruling us. First and foremost, my thought is this -
don't be afraid. Don't be afraid of the secular world and
the tremendous power of its ideology. Truth is true, whatever the
postmodernists say ... and it remains so, no matter how many
degrees the naysayers possess. Truth comes out in the end. My
second thought is this - don't let your fear turn you into an
enemy of the truth. Too often, we clamp down on our ideology
and belief system, refusing to question it, refusing to challenge
it. We do not have a corner on the truth. Like it or not,
the secular world's ideas have power and merit, and learning to
exercise ones mind is absolutely essential. But you can only really
exercise your mind if you aren't afraid of losing the truth.
Instead of seeing oneself as a defender of truth, perhaps it
would be better to see oneself as a seeker of truth. Can't
truth defend itself? Have a little faith - if a thing is true, it
lasts. It'll survive. No-one should ever fear the truth. The truth
should be sought after, longed for, and loved.
Posted by Leatherwood at 11:00 PM
This post has been classified as "Musings
April 17, 2005
Thoughts on Essays
In my reading, I came across an article by Paul Graham. It's a good
article, though fairly length. As I read it, I kept running across
little quotes that I liked very much. I've provided a few of these
(it took a while for me to get the idea of keeping track of them)
below, linked with the thoughts I had while in reading them. I
thought it would make pretty decent marterial for a post ... and I
need to get to bed soon.
- An essay is something you write to try to
figure something out.
- Fundamentally an essay is a train of
thought-- but a cleaned-up train of thought, as dialogue is
- Surprises are things that you not only didn't know, but that
contradict things you thought you knew. And so they're the most
valuable sort of fact you can get.
- Collecting surprises is a similar process.
The more anomalies you've seen, the more easily you'll notice new
ones. Which means, oddly enough, that as you grow older, life
should become more and more surprising. When I was a kid, I used to
think adults had it all figured out. I had it backwards. Kids are
the ones who have it all figured out. They're just mistaken.
I agree - the writing I like to do the
most happens when I really don't know what's going to happen. I
just start with an idea - a question or topic, usually, and think
out loud about it.
I like this way of putting it - though
I don't practice it often enough. My writing suffers from too few
rewrites. Rewriting is something I've heard about again and again
as advice given from "the greats" of writing, but I've never found
it needful. My stuff all seems to come out fine the first time. :-)
I know, of course, that's only my inexperience talking, but the
fact remains that I tend to be very satisfied with my writing the
first time through it. I suppose, though, that my readers would
prefer that I took time to go through and clean it up. That would
be an interesting task ... I know that my writing has a plethora of
rabbit trails (after all, there's a reason that the parenthesis,
the elipses, and the dash are my favorite marks of punctutation ...
). I wonder if re-writing would remove some of those ... or at
least, clean them up. I think I really should go back and rewrite
something, just to see how much it changes and maybe gets better.
It would be an interesting experiment, to say the least.
I wonder to what extent this is true
... if it is true, it is a wonderful truth. I suppose that it
really depends on what sort of a mind you have ...
Posted by Leatherwood at 12:17 AM
This post has been classified as "Musings
April 14, 2005
Oh wow ... it fits!
For the choir director;
according to Shoshannim. A Psalm of David.
Save me, O God,
For the waters have threatened my life.
I have sunk in deep mire, and there is no foothold;
I have come into deep waters, and a flood overwhelms me.
I am weary with my crying; my throat is parched;
My eyes fail while I wait for my God.
Those who hate me without a cause are more than the hairs of my
Those who would destroy me are powerful, being wrongfully my
What I did not steal, I then have to restore.
O God, it is You who knows my folly,
And my wrongs are not hidden from You.
May those who wait for You not be ashamed through me, O Lord God
May those who seek You not be dishonored through me, O God of
Because for Your sake I have borne reproach;
Dishonor has covered my face.
I have become estranged from my brothers
And an alien to my mother's sons.
For zeal for Your house has consumed me,
And the reproaches of those who reproach You have fallen on me.
When I wept in my soul with fasting,
It became my reproach.
When I made sackcloth my clothing,
I became a byword to them.
Those who sit in the gate talk about me,
And I am the song of drunkards.
But as for me, my prayer is to You, O Lord, at an
O God, in the greatness of Your lovingkindness,
Answer me with Your saving truth.
Deliver me from the mire and do not let me sink;
May I be delivered from my foes and from the deep waters.
May the flood of water not overflow me
Nor the deep swallow me up,
Nor the pit shut its mouth on me.
Answer me, O Lord, for Your lovingkindness is good;
According to the greatness of Your compassion, turn to me,
And do not hide Your face from Your servant,
For I am in distress; answer me quickly.
Oh draw near to my soul and redeem it;
Ransom me because of my enemies!
You know my reproach and my shame and my dishonor;
All my adversaries are before You.
Reproach has broken my heart and I am so sick.
And I looked for sympathy, but there was none,
And for comforters, but I found none.
They also gave me gall for my food
And for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.
May their table before them become a snare;
And when they are in peace, may it become a trap.
May their eyes grow dim so that they cannot see,
And make their loins shake continually.
Pour out Your indignation on them,
And may Your burning anger overtake them.
May their camp become desolate;
May none dwell in their tents.
For they have persecuted him whom You Yourself have smitten,
And they tell of the pain of those whom You have wounded.
Add iniquity to their iniquity,
and may they not come into Your righteousness.
May they be blotted out of the book of life
And may they note be recorded with the righteous.
But I am afflicted and in pain;
May Your salvation, O God, set me securely on high.
I will praise the name of God with song
And magnify Him with thanksgiving.
And it will please the Lord better than an ox
Or a young bull with horns and hoofs.
The humble have seen it and are glad;
You who seek God, let your heart revive.
For the Lord hears the needy
And does not despise those who are prisoners.
Let heaven and earth praise Him,
The seas and everything that moves in them.
For God will save Zion and build the cities of Judah,
That they may dwell there and possess it.
The descendants of His servants will inherit it,
And those who love His name will dwell in it.
Psalms 69, NASB95
When I read that this morning, I just had to say ``wow.'' So much of the
Psalms matches up perfectly with how I'm feeling ... it fits. So much of it
fits. Psalms really is an incredible book.
Posted by Leatherwood at 09:57 AM
This post has been classified as "Prayer
April 13, 2005
I'm so happy ...
I have spent just under five hours on my Linear Algebra homework, and I have (I hope) just finished it. Thankfully, we were only given six problems, or it would have taken much longer. And it was easy, as I'm sure
Gallagher would be willing to confirm. The reason it took five hours was that I did it in LaTeX - which I'm still in the process of learning. I'm sure I'll go faster once I'm more familiar with the language, but it does seem like an extraordinary amount of effort for a paltry reward.
I am not constitutionally averse to effort. I did this mostly because I wanted to, in a quirky way. I don't mind working very hard to fulfill a personal quirk. So, if any of you want to see what LaTeX can do with my Linear Algebra homework, I invite you to take a look at
I'm satisfied with myself, which is a rare feeling, these days.
Posted by Leatherwood at 09:01 PM
This post has been classified as "Public Address
April 09, 2005
Faults of the American Christian
The more time I spend on the Internet, reading blogs and politics and the
thoughts of others, the more I come to this conclusion about Christians in
America - our reputation sucks. To some degree, of course, this can be
explained with appropriate Scripture references to Jesus' predictions that His
followers would always be hated by the world. Satan hates us and influences
the world to hate us, too.
But we'd be fools to think this is the only reason why American Christians
have such a foul reputation. If you asked the majority of the people whose
opinions I read to describe Christians, I think a standard description would
include the following: intolerant, self-righteous, hypocritical,
holier-than-thou, prudish, right-wing nutcases ... etc. Heck, if you asked the
average evangelical to tell you about the state of the modern American church,
he wouldn't say anything good. I've noticed in the last few years that (at
least in the circles I run in) the words "the modern church" are a sure
lead-in to a tirade about the failings of the Christian Church in these times.
And, I'm afraid, my post isn't going to be any different. Not at first,
This past Friday in chapel, Dr. Patrick Mays was speaking. He said
something I thought showed a serious problem among Christians (because I hear
it so often). We were discussing sin in the body of Christ, and he looked
around warningly at us and said "You may have issues with ... sex! Or alcohol
... and you're living a double life." These words struck me, not because we
don't have problems with sex and alcohol (we do), but because I realized much
more serious and widespread sins among Christians are almost never addressed.
Why didn't he say "You may have issues with ... spiritual pride! Or a
graceless attitude toward people who are different from you." Sins like
spiritual pride, pharisaism, haughtiness toward people guilty of more obvious
sins (like pre-marital sex or alcohol abuse) ... apathy ... gluttony ... lots
The modern Christian evangelical church is not famous for the love of its
members for one another. It is famous for judging others and serving as the
moral watchdog of America. It is famous for its condemnation of premarital
sex, abortion, and homosexuality. Don't misunderstand me - premarital sex is
rampant in our society and needs condemnation, abortion is murder and needs
condemnation, and homosexuality is a perversion and needs condemnation. But we
get so focused on the sins of society that we simply don't love one another.
The church has become a place where good people go ... or at least, where
people go and pretend to be good. It is not a fellowship of ordinary believers
who love one another. This is bad.
The battles we modern Christians have chosen to fight - abortion,
homosexuality, and pre-marital sex ... I'm beginning to doubt if they deserve
our first attention. Isn't pride a much more insidious and deadly sin than any
of those? Isn't apathy a greater sin? Those are much more difficult battles to
fight. It's obvious (to some degree) if a person is struggling with abortion,
homosexuality, or pre-marital sex. It is not obvious at all if a person is
struggling with pride or hypocrisy. And, to be honest, the people who most
loudly condemn the Three (abortion, homosexuality, and pre-marital sex) are
usually the people most guilty of pride or hypocrisy or gracelessness.
I've heard it said that the average lifespan of a Christian is two years.
That a person, upon becoming saved, often undergoes a radical transformation
that continues for a couple of years ... and then peters off and the person
calcifies and doesn't change again before he or she dies. Jesus said that he
had not come to call the righteous, but sinners. I think there's more to that
than is usually thought. Jesus came for everybody, but He can only reach
people who admit they are sinners. Jesus is of no use to the righteous. So I
think that an average Christian grows until his behavior is roughly in line
with expectations in church. And then, the average Christian considers himself
or herself "good" ... and stops growing.
"Brokenness" is a wonderful word, horribly mangled in recent years. So is
the phrase "speak truth into a person's life" and ... well, lots of others. I
think that "brokenness" is a necessity for growth, meaning that a person has
to honestly see themselves as a sinner. I know that, in the abstract, we know
that "all of us are sinners," but I don't think many of us feel sinful
anymore. We look pretty good. The most deadly and dreadful sins are virtually
invisible to the sinner. Pride. Hypocrisy. A critical, unloving spirit.
How, how, how can we see ourselves as we really are?
We Christians have a bad reputation for several reasons:
- We talk a great talk, but we live lives that are virtually
identical to those of the outside world.
- We change on the outside to some degree, but on the inside we
remain much the same.
- Our churches are a place where we go and listen to sermons and
socialize. They are not fellowships of believers who love one another.
- The most important attributes of Christians are the least
practiced and the most talked about - love, mercy, generosity,
- We condemn outward sins while tolerating worse sins in ourselves.
We condemn without grace.
Posted by Leatherwood at 09:17 PM
This post has been classified as "Musings
Authority and Experience
Both experience and authority are biased sources for truth. Actually, all
sources are biased, but these two sources can be particularly so. A person's
experience is an amazingly narrow slice of reality. Some people's slice is
wider than others, but it can be simply put that a child raised in Mongolia
turns out differently than one raised on the States. I ought to know. If
you've experienced poverty, you have a different view of it. If you've seen
lazy people getting by on the work of others, your view is colored by that
I've been musing over these thoughts for the last little while, mostly in
response to reading the comments of others on
What people believe to be true is enormously shaped by their worldview. Their
worldview is shaped by their experiences and their authorities. Political opinions come in at least two kinds - those prompted by authority
and those prompted by experience. Most people believe the first thing they
were taught. I suppose this is natural - to believe the second thing you were
taught would require rejection of the first thing, which requires effort and
(often) ridicule, which people avoid. Quite reasonably, of course. Sifting
truth and thinking is enormously difficult and confusing work. It's far easier
to live with an imperfect worldview, particularly since it really doesn't seem
to matter in day-to-day life.
Some people also arrive at their beliefs through experience. Experience is
one of the few things powerful enough to challenge a worldview acquired
through authority. Some of the most dedicated Democrats are the ones who've
seen poverty and hate it passionately and want it wiped off the face of the
earth. Some of the most strident Republicans are those who've seen people
bumming off the system, getting by on the work of others, and despise those
who will not work. Supposedly, neo-conservatives began as "liberals mugged by
reality" - a case of authority meeting experience.
Both authority and experience have major problems as bases for truth.
Neglecting the obvious fact that relying on authority only puts the problem of
knowledge acquisition on others (meaning knowledge has to be gained somehow in
the first place for anyone to become an authority), a more serious problem is
that authorities differ. This is enormously annoying, particularly in
politics, where authorities differ so much. Each side has its own statistics
and comebacks. The winner is often the person who has the biggest bag of
citations and statistics (which, on WatchBlog at any rate, seems to be
leftists most of the time, which partly explains my frustration).
Experience can sometimes help adjudicate between authorities. Whichever
authority agrees most with one's experience can be assumed to be correct,
which results in a massive simplification of the problem. However, experience
is also a faulty guide, for several reasons. First, and most glaringly,
experience is too limited. One person's life (particularly when one is very
young, as I am) is simply too short to have a sufficient library of
experiences to consult. This can be remedied, to some extent, by listening to
the experiences of others, but this has several issues.
First, the reason a personal experience is such a wonderful lever in debate
is that you know for sure that it's true. No-one can challenge your
experience. It was reality. It happened. But when you rely on the experiences
of others (my friend lost his job because of X), you are back to authority,
because you rely on your friend to
- tell the truth
- interpret the experience correctly
The problem of learning the right lesson from an experience is extremely
knotty. It is quite likely that a Jew and a Nazi, going through the same
historical experiences (roughly), learned very different lessons from WWII.
The lessons a person learns from his experience depend greatly on that
person's point of view. In other words, to a large degree, your worldview
determines what you will learn from your experiences.
There are some happier notes. Worldviews are immense things, and it's
quite unlikely that a person is mistaken on every point. As a matter of
fact, most people's worldviews are reasonably accurate for their daily lives.
They have to be, otherwise they'd act like lunatics. They're also reasonably
There's also the supremely happy note that reality really exists. True,
our experience of reality is colored by our worldview, but it is not
determined by our worldview. Even the most hard-headed worldview can
eventually split open under repeated assaults of real life. Even a racist can
change through simple interaction with everyday people of a race he or she
Experience is a valuable guide because it is closely related to reality.
Even if the lessons you learn from an experience are greatly influenced by
your worldview, the little bits and pieces left that don't quite fit the
explanation are still stored in your memory. They'll continue to sit there and
grow until you deal with them. When enough of your experiences go unexplained,
thinking will probably take place. This can be a very good thing.
But, in the end, people believe what they want to. This is a
supremely important point. To change a person's mind, you have to persuade
them to want to. Beating people upside the head with reality has some effect,
though. It can make them want to change, if only to stop the pain of running
Posted by Leatherwood at 08:33 PM
This post has been classified as "Musings
April 05, 2005
My Wife Says ...
... that I have to come to bed now and can't post :-). Sorry.
Posted by Leatherwood at 11:33 PM
This post has been classified as "Public Address
April 03, 2005
My Cup Runneth Over, 1
Now that I've complained, I want to praise. I need to praise.
God on High, thank You so much! Thank You for life! Thanks for the smell
of bacon this morning, and the taste of breakfast.
Thanks for the greetings of
people at church who know me, who've seen me come to church for four years,
and who love me.
Thanks for the (somewhat guilty) pleasure of drawing pictures
during church in order to stay awake (and thanks for a wonderful wife to give
me that idea). I didn't know that I was any good at art, but I managed a
couple of sketches that were a lot better than my usual. There's something fun
about that - just making so many little, tiny lines that form themselves into
a shape better than one I could create my trying to just draw it. Thanks for
the fun of that.
Thanks for the pleasure of serving my wife while she slept by
doing some of the chores ... thanks for her pleasure and her happy face (and
her kisses!). Thanks for the simple pleasure of cleaning things ... of wiping
soap and warm water across a surface and having it wipe the nastiness away,
leaving the dish clean and sparkling. Thanks for the grapefruit smell of our
dish washing detergent - I've always loved it. Thanks for the delight of
simple things today - the smell of clean laundry, the feel of a clean floor
under my bare feet, which is its own pleasure! Thanks for the feel of bare
feet in the grass and on the pavement, and that winter is over and I can
stroll barefoot again.
Thanks for the joy of taking my wife to see a movie as
a surprise, and for the fun of a good G-rated film. Thanks for the amazing
wonder that is modern film - the way that the picture looks so real ... and
the way we humans have learned to act in such a way that we can almost believe
that it's real. Thanks for pretty girls and the pleasure it is to see them ...
especially the pleasure it is to lay my eyes on the most beautiful one of all
... the woman You gave me.
Thanks for the fun of driving with the windows down
and the air blowing through the car. Thanks for the weather today - it was so
clear and perfect and gorgeous! I wonder what the weather will be like in
Oh - thanks for the fun of talking with my mother-in-law over the
phone today. God, You have me what seems to be an incredibly rare gift -
a wonderful mother-in-law. Thanks for her concern for us ... even me. Thanks
for the fun of listening to her and Nikki talk together over the phone today.
Thanks for the fun of shopping at a different place, and finding everything we
needed (and a little more). Thanks for giving us all the money we need and
more ... thanks that we had enough to pay for what we bought today. Thanks
that tomorrow is my wife's birthday, and thanks for bringing her gift in on
time. Thanks for how it sparkles and shines ... like her eyes will tomorrow,
I hope. Thanks for dinner, and the simple pleasure of hot dogs. Thanks for the
glorious invention and taste of ketchup, and for the wonderful grill my
grandmother and grandfather gave us as a wedding present. Thanks for being
able to watch fun movies with my wife.
Thanks for a chance to write. Thanks
for this computer, and for the blessing and joy it is to play with it and to
write. Thanks for my friends who'll read this (at least, I hope they read this
far!) - it means so much to me to have other people listen to me, listen to
what I say and what I feel and what I mean. Thanks for their love.
God, You are good. You have been good to me. So very, very, very good to
me. You have blessed me exceedingly and wonderfully. My life is blessed and
filled with wonderful things. I love You. A lot.
There is more. There is You.
You died for me. You forgave me. You chose me as Your own child. You
comfort me. You answer me (sometimes with silence). You love me. You care
about me. You've never abandoned me, never forgotten me, never turned Your
back on me. Your love has been constant. Your faithfulness has been steady.
Your grace has always been there for me. You have always, always, always loved
me. You have accepted me. You have dressed me in white.
There is no-one like You. No-one so faithful. Dear God, I worship You,
giving You all my praise and adoration, for You alone are worthy of it! You
alone are worthy of my highest praise. You alone are good. Great is
the name of the Lord, famous above all else in the earth.
You, O Lord, are good. Your love endures forever. And I claim You as my
God. But You first claimed me as Your own.
Posted by Leatherwood at 11:59 PM
This post has been classified as "Prayer
The Valley of the Shadow of Death, 1
I'm sorry. Sorry for disappointing You. Sorry for wasting the gifts You've
given me. You gave me so much, yet all I seem to be able to make these days
are bad choices. Day after day slips by. Precious time You've given me. And I
waste it. I'm so sorry about my homework. So sorry it doesn't get done. I'm
sorry I've fallen so far behind as regards my devotional life as well. I'm
sorry for failing.
Thanks for the things I got to do today. Thanks for a chance to make
breakfast, go to church, do the laundry, clean up home, watch Ice
Princess, go shopping, eat dinner, and watch Pretender
episodes. I loved it. I enjoyed it.
But it probably wasn't a good idea. I'm desperately far behind in homework
and haven't done any over the weekend. It's madness to do the things I do.
Father, what shall I say? Shall I ask You what I should do? Isn't it
perfectly clear? I should work hard to try to salvage what I can of my
semester. I should do my best. I should throw myself into my schoolwork, and
do it as unto You. Isn't that what You'd tell me to do? Isn't that what You
want from me?
You gave me my academic career. You gave me my ability. You
intended that I use it to glorify You. Are You honored by my legacy this last
semester? By a string of missed assignments, half-completed work, and skipped
classes? By a complete failure to work on the project that mattered most? Are
You honored by that? Are You going to be honored if I fail to graduate, as
And is my sorrow and pain of any use? Are my apologies any good? I suppose
they're only good if I back them with actions, with change. They're only good
if I turn around and work as hard as I can to salvage what I can. God, I have
to admit, I don't think anything is going to change. I think I'm going to
crash this semester with all the grace of a helicopter without a main rotor. So what good are my apologies? What good is my pain?
Don't You despise me? Despise me for what I'm doing? What I've done? What
I'm going to do?
God, it hurts. Every failure hurts. Every missed class hurts. At my
failure regarding the Phoenix project is like a knife, always stabbing, always
accusing me. It hurts, but so what? Without repentance, without change, it's
only self-destructive narcissism.
All this is what it seems like, feels like, and how my mind groks the
situation. But You say, "no." You say that all this is Your doing. That You
are willing to do this - to let me come to the brink of the abyss (or what
seems like it) for Your own purposes. That Your purposes are far deeper and
higher than merely getting my schoolwork in order or living my life according
to the rule. That You've done this to me - that You want me to trust.
God, what should I do? This is all well and good for prayer, but
tomorrow, I have to make choices about actions. And my conscience is going to
want me to work hard and my inclinations are going to want to procrastinate
and waste what little time I have. And all the time, my despair will be
weighing me down, crushing me. "Trust Me" is all well and good, but what do I
do? What do You want me to do? What do You want?
God, do I even hear You? I have an imagination; I can imagine Your voice
as easily as my own. How do I know what is true? How do I know what voice to
heed, whom to listen to?
God, help me. I'm alone ... and I know that's all my fault (like everything
else) - I've pushed people away, held everyone at an arm's distance, refused
help. I don't know what the answer is. I don't know what to do. I don't
understand. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry I failed.
Posted by Leatherwood at 11:41 PM
This post has been classified as "Prayer
April 01, 2005
I've just tweaked the text color for my blog - I got a number of comments telling me it was hard on people's eyes. Is the new color any better? Do you have any good suggestions? I love
Wilson's colors, but I don't want to just copy them. Any reactions?
Posted by Leatherwood at 10:19 PM
This post has been classified as "Public Address
Reflections on S*P
In the past few days, since
posted links to
Something Positive (S*P)'s
Easter mini-series of comics. I'd noticed S*P once or twice
before, mostly on the doors of various people at school, but I was intrigued.
I started from the beginning and took about two and a half days, reading
through just over a thousand comics that have been posted for that site since
It was definitely an experience. S*P is a very cynical strip laced
with black humor, sexual innuendo (and worse), foul language, and a certain
bitter edge towards Christians. But it's more than that. Every few strips,
some gem pops out of the strip that stops and makes you think. While I'm
pretty sure its creator, Milholland, would despise me (he has a rather dim
view of people in general and Christians in particular), he's earned my
respect. His treatment of Christianity is harsh but just. He also criticizes
hypocrisy in any form, praises people willing willing to think and be fair to
those different from themselves, and mocks a lot of other subjects that need
lampooning. Additionally, it was (to some degree) an excursion outside the
"bubble" of LeTourneau and my own cloistered circle of immediate notice.
Part of me is now worried about venturing into the world after college. I
think that I'll find a fair number of people who share Milholland's thoughts
towards Christians without sharing his fairness. I'll meet people who differ
drastically from me in how they speak, how they think, and what they believe.
And, after reading a few years' worth of S*P, I have a better idea
about what people will respect, what they will listen to, and what they will
despise. Quite simply, it is not going to be easy. In reading his work and in
my debates on WatchBlog, I've run across some very keen minds that
fundamentally disagree with mine. To some extent, I feel knocked off balance.
I'm still not quite sure how to conduct myself. At the moment, I'm taking (or
trying to) a very meek stance internally, in response to a great deal of
criticism of Christians that I am increasingly feeling is justified. Many
Christians do tend to be selectively moral, judgmental, rude, and
unkind. Our reputation really sucks.
I'm wary of doing anything that might
make it worse. I don't want people to see me that way. Even more
important, though, is that I really don't want them to see Jesus that way. I
don't want them to see Christianity the way they do. But the only way to make
people see it any differently is to live it differently. Christians are
masters of the talk, but we're ordinary people in the walk. There really isn't
any surprise there - Christians are no worse than most people. The sad thing
is that they really aren't much better, not on the inside. Actually, I suppose
that isn't quite true. I do think that there's a serious difference in
our campus from secular campuses, and it isn't all bad. It isn't all
judgmentalism and self-righteous hypocrisy. There really is a genuine
Christian spirit in some of the people here. Christians really are
different ... but not much. And pride chokes our faith and our witness.
And pride catches us all ... especially me. I tend to try to counter it
with a sickly-noxious sort of groveling humility. This is also wrong. How in
the world can a person develop a quiet dignity and humility?
I think dignity comes from knowing your faith. When you've studied it and
researched it and critiqued it and thought about it and still believe it's
true, you can have a certain dignity when the world criticizes you. But the
awful danger is that it too easily becomes pride, when you stop listening to
the world. Dignity is easily faked - pride with a false gilding of humility
will do. How do you keep from faking it?
Humility comes from recognizing your sin. Not from merely confessing your
sin, but realizing that your heart is twisted. It also comes from honestly
respecting the people you want to save. It comes from realizing that many
times, non-Christians show Christ better than we do. It comes from realizing
that your enemies often have some truth as well. When you realize that, you
can humble yourself and ask that they teach it to you. Humility is also easily
faked - it's easy to say nice, humble-sounding words. It's easy to fool
yourself into thinking that you're humble. I suppose a really humble person is
the only person in all the world who doesn't realize that they're humble. They
merely recognize that they're honest about themselves.
It's an interesting world I'm preparing to venture into. I hope God can
use me in some way in it.
Posted by Leatherwood at 10:03 PM
This post has been classified as "Soliloquy
I'm ... ARDITH?!?
This can't be right ... though I suppose you left out a "Leatherwood" option.
Which Member of the Shadow Council Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla
Posted by Leatherwood at 05:01 PM
This post has been classified as "Public Address