Friday, August 19, 2016

Are You Working Hard Enough To Maintain Your Elite Status?

That was the subject line of an email that I received as we were returning from the hospital the other day.  Background: The sender was the frequent-flyer miles program of the airline that I usually fly with.  Last year, which included a wonderful vacation in New Zealand with Liane as well as other personal and business trips, had promoted me to the lowest named tier ("silver") of their frequent-flyer program. This year, with all kinds of travel curtailed by loss and cancer, somehow it looked like I wouldn't make the grade.  What a failure! Shouldn't I be getting out there and flying more?  Look, here are some special offers!

It's a basic assumption of this kind of advertising that, if you slice your customer base into various levels ("silver", "gold", "platinum" and the rest), then people will grasp for the higher status levels - however meaningless they may acknowledge that the whole exercise is.  Something about the idea that "I am inside the elite group and you are outside" feels tremendously appealing.  Let's take a moment to acknowledge that it is also completely un-Christian.  As Paul writes,
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in human likeness.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8)
We are called to imitate Jesus in repudiating the whole grasping business.  We could ask one another how well we are doing at getting rid of our elite status so as to serve others more effectively.  One hopeful example seems to be the author J.K. Rowling

This news is a few years old (see here) but I only came across it today and found it an encouraging antidote to "Airline X"'s trying to convince me to worry about my "status" in their dumb frequent-flyer program. 

Monday, July 18, 2016

Mike Pence and Causality

Governor Mike Pence of Indiana has been in the news since his selection as Donald Trump's vice-presidential nominee.  Of course, this means that some of his more surprising statements over the years have suddenly found themselves highlighted.  For instance, "Despite the hysteria from the political class and the media, smoking doesn't kill."

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Memories IX: A Step over the Void

Skyline Traverse is a Seneca Rocks classic, described in the old guidebook as "one of the finest routes of its grade".  The author then continues, however, "The start of the second pitch has filled the hearts of many beginning climbers with fear".  When you arrive there, it is not hard to see why, especially if (as the "beginning climber") you are the second person on the rope.

You climb most of the first pitch on big holds which deposit you on a wide horn of rock forming a comfortable ledge.  A nice place to belay from but where does the route go now?  Your leader slots in a piece of gear - probably a #1 Camalot - behind a convenient horn high up to your left, and then proceeds to traverse delicately leftwards about six feet.  From there, he gets established in a typical Seneca corner system and moves up quickly until he is out of sight.  You are left alone on the ledge, waiting for the "On belay" call, and knowing that when it comes the first thing you will have to do is to remove that reassuring Camalot and make the leftwards traverse for yourself - trusting that the rope above you, running to your leader out of sight at the top of pitch 2, will protect you if you slip.

Because the step off the belay is a deliberate choice to put yourself in a place that feels really dangerous. Make that step and there are 120 feet of air below the heels of your climbing shoes, an eye-popping level of exposure for a novice climber to accept all in one gulp. You might hesitate for a while; you might ask yourself if your leader really can be trusted to protect you; you might even need a little encouragement from the next party behind.  But eventually, like Miriam when I first took her up this way, you will make the move, find the secure stance, and whoop for joy.

It can take everything a young climber has, to make that step of trust.  Just as it can take everything a young person has, to say to their parents "Mom, I'm gay"; "Dad, I'm transgender". What a void of potentially deadly misunderstanding they must bravely step out over!  And, parents, in this picture I see us as the ones holding the rope - communication is difficult but we are still responsible for our loved one's safety.  Love, the first commandment, is the belay skill we need here; the skill to hold our loved ones close and keep them safe.  But courage is their contribution; to follow the way marked out for them can feel like taking a step over the void.

Image from Pixabay.  Public Domain.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Are You Receiving Me?

Justin Lee
Our child Eli loved to dream big.  Several times over the years, he and I dreamed together about putting on some kind of event - perhaps a mini-conference - in State College that would highlight the call for the Christian church to be fully inclusive of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, as well as the many gifts that our LGBTQ siblings have to offer the church.  This call, we believed and still believe, is one that issues from the heart of the gospel and is also one that many Christians are longing to hear (whatever may be the 'official line' of the churches to which they belong).

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Can "Moral Foundations" Be Criticized?

You've probably heard about moral foundations theory, which is described in detail in Jonathan Haidt's book The Righteous Mind.  Simply put, this theory suggests that human moral judgments are points in a higher-dimensional space: we don't just evaluate actions or policies along a "good/bad" axis but along several different axes such as "care/harm", "fairness/cheating", "liberty/oppression", "purity/disgust", "authority/subversion" and so on.  These axes (okay, I know that a high-dimensional space does not come with a preferred coordinate system, but bear with me) are referred to as "moral foundations".

It's been suggested further that the cultural-ideological fissures evident at least in American society are tied to the relative weighting of these moral foundations: "progressives", it is said, prioritize the Care and  Fairness foundations almost exclusively, whereas "conservatives" give the other foundations equal weight with these two.  I find this helpful in terms of understanding the different ways in which people think.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Exclusion and Embrace

A few posts ago I was sharing some of the themes that are, or have become, prominent on Points of Inflection - among them, faith-based commitment to creation care, support for the LGBTQ community, and dealing with cancer which has recurred since my treatment in 2014.  Though these seem quite a disjointed collection of ideas, I believe that as I live through them and their implications, I'm going to find connections and intersections.  In talking friends recently, I've come to feel that one important connection is this question: where exactly is the boundary of the beloved community?

Monday, May 16, 2016

Wine That Makes Us Stagger

In Psalm 60, the writer has a complaint to make to God.  Trouble has been piled upon trouble.  You have made your people see hard things, says verse 3; you have given us wine to drink that makes us stagger.  We're reeling!

In a recent post I tried to sum up some of the themes of Points of Inflection; the faith-based concern for the earth; the math and the climbing; the sound of lamentation, most recently and personally in the loss of our dear child; cancer as a metaphor, and my own cancer struggles in 2014.  When I wrote that post, our cup of trouble was full.  Since then it has been overflowed by further news, the wine that makes us stagger; my cancer has returned in a different part of the body, and we are facing an uncertain future.

I wanted to mention this on Points of Inflection once, but I am not this time going to be blogging regularly about my personal health news here.  Instead, I have established a private web site at Caring Bridge which you're welcome to visit for updates. The address is

and you need to establish an account at Caring Bridge to log in and view news updates.   Meanwhile, I will continue posting here on the regular subjects of this blog.  I think it will be helpful to keep health news separated.

Right now Liane and I are on vacation and enjoying time together in California.  If you're the praying kind (actually, even if you're not) we value your prayers for us.