Of Pigs and Pee…

There are a lot of strange laws in the world today that reflect what some people have taken very seriously at one time or another. For example, in Victoria Australia, only a licensed electrician is allowed to change a light bulb. (I’m going to ask my Aussie family to confirm this.) I have also heard that in England there is a law against dying in the Houses of Parliament. (I wonder what they do with the offender?)

Apparently, in France, it is forbidden to call a pig Napoleon. (I think that was the name of the pig in Orwell’s “Animal Farm.”) There is also one I heard about when I was in Switzerland; it is against the law for men to urinate standing up after 10pm, which is the same time that it is illegal to flush the toilet. Upon further investigation I found these restraints were true only if you lived in an apartment complex. (So I guess there is no such thing as the “pee patrol” in Switzerland.)

Since we are on the subject: after sanding the hardwood floors of our home many years ago, I was in the process of coating them with polyurethane when the phone rang. I asked my youngest daughter (about 8 yrs. old at the time) to answer it and ask if I could call back later. She did so by saying, “My dad can’t come to the phone right now because he is “polyurinating” the floor. Can he call you back?” (I never did find out who called because I was too busy laughing.)

Ok, we are on a roll here, so let me inform you about an incredible victory for men’s rights that I read about in a recent news report over Reuters wire service: “A German court ruled in favour of mens’ right to pee standing up…, after a landlord tried to retain part of a tenant’s 3,000 euro (2,298 pounds) deposit for allegedly damaging the marble floor of a toilet by sprinkling it with urine.”

The debate about whether men should stand or sit is no laughing matter in Germany, where some toilets have red traffic-style signs forbidding the standing position. In response, the Germans have developed a derogatory term for men who sit and pee – “Sitzpinkler” – which implies that it is not masculine behavior. (I hope you are not laughing at this)

We could actually biblically defend “anti-sitzpinklerism.” Did you know that in both 1 Samuel 25:22 and 1 Kings 14:10, the word translated as “male” in our English text literally means “one who pees against a wall”? (Check it out in the KJV for a more crass idiomatic expression.)

Where am I going with this? I have no idea. I guess it just goes to show you that some people can get riled up and moralistic about some pretty insignificant things – kind of like the New England Patriot’s “deflategate.”

However, there is one important thing to remember about what I’ve said — guys put the seat up!

Sex and Booze on Campus

In the December 5, 2014 issue of The Chronicles of Higher Education there a series of articles on “Alcohol’s Grip on Campus.” A stunning 44% of all college students are binge drinkers, meaning they typically will consume four or five drinks in a row. More than 1800 students die each year of alcohol related causes; 600,000 are injured, and 100,000 become victims of alcohol related sexual assault. In fact, about 75% of all sexual assault that takes place on a typical college campus is alcohol- related.

Colleges continue their educational programs and the by-line of trusting students to drink responsibly and monitor their own behavior—to no avail. The only thing that has been shown to be effective is restricting easy access to alcohol are stiff penalties when the rules are broken; the exact things colleges don’t want to do because they are afraid of violating student’s rights.

However, “students themselves say more-aggressive enforcement could change their behavior. One survey of those who had violated their colleges’ alcohol policies found that parental notification, going through the criminal justice system, or being required to enter an alcohol treatment program would be more of a deterrent than fines and warnings.”

Some administrators who oversee sexual assault/abuse prevention programs “feel that they can’t say much about alcohol, even though it is a common element in many incidents. If they counsel students to limit consumption, they fear, young women who drink will be blamed, and will blame themselves, perhaps by not reporting attacks.”

Thus in view of this unwillingness of universities to protect students by monitoring and limiting their drinking, students are trying to “protect” themselves from sexual assault by monitoring their friends and intervention. For example, students at Union College in Schenectady NY (my home town) have actually created a campus pledge for people to sign saying they will intervene if they see someone in a risky (drunk/sexual) situation.

I find all of this both sad and ironic. Sad, because another generation is wasting, shaming, and guilting itself all in the name of freedom and because administrators do not want be viewed as overly protective. Ironic, because students will invent systems that are more stringent and overprotective than administrators would ever think of creating.

This “Lord of the Flies” scenario illustrates not only the broken condition of humanity, but also the biblical principle that where there is a lack of vision, the people go unrestrained. I believe it is the responsibility of the university to provide the boundaries of restraint that will ensure the safest and most conducive environment for learning. Such boundaries should consist in more than mere edicts; they should engage students in a community of responsibility toward others which would influence the society outside the school.

What if the university, instead of reflecting the values of the wider culture, had the vision of developing a community with values that could actually change the landscape of culture? What if the importance of self-control, generosity, sexual dignity and respect, and racial reconciliation were values that actually shaped a student during his/her tenure in college? Don’t you think this would have as much or more impact on our culture than preparing another shark for the tank? Think of how these values would affect the average workplace, the housing/mortgage industry, and the criminal justice system!

So if you are looking for a college, look beyond its Club-med atmosphere to see what values it practices in community; not its rules, but the practices that are lived out in community. You will not only get your best bargain there, you will be doing the rest of us a great favor.

A Faith Driven By Commitment…

In the Book of Daniel, chapter 3, we read of three teenagers that made a choice to follow God even though it could have cost them their lives. The text portrays an unabashed anti-Semitism against these young men. They were required to submit to a political act of swearing allegiance to the Babylonian government by bowing down and worshiping a huge image of King Nebuchadnezzar. To these young men such an idolatrous act would rob God of His glory. When confronted with this life or death situation they refused to bow and said to the King (3:16-18), “We do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O King, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold that you have set up.” (Daniel 3:16-18)

Do you get the impression that these teens were nominal believers who suddenly started to get serious about their faith? Rather, I think they had already made a choice to obey God more than they wanted to escape their pain. It was the crisis that made this very personal commitment visible to all.

About 400 years ago, a Jesuit by the name of Francis Xavier landed in Japan and spent two years establishing the church. In just a generation, Christianity rose to 300,000 followers. At the end of that century, nationalism started to influence the Shoguns to change their policy regarding the church and to view Christianity as a Western influence and non-Japanese. Shishaku Endo’s historical novel “Silence” (coming out as a movie this year) recounts how all Jesuits were expelled from Japan and all Christians were required to renounce their faith and register as Buddhists. The government would go into the villages and place on the ground an image of the Virgin Mary and the Christ child- called the Fumie. Any Christian who stepped on the Fumie would be released, and those who refused would be jailed or killed. This pogrom was one of the most effective exterminations of Christianity ever carried out.

What if the mayor of your town suddenly came with the National Guard and made us file one by one out of house or church to step on the Fumie? Maybe that is an unrealistic scenario. Perhaps the Fumie for you might be pornography or sexual temptation; how you handle your money or your attitude toward those in need; whether you forgive those who have hurt you deeply or whether you respond with bitterness and revenge. These tests of faith might have various manifestations, but I dare say, their outcome would be determined by the choices that you have already made.

Martin Luther King once said: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in a moment of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at a time of challenge and controversy.” (1963)

I know a mission’s executive who has a sign in his office that reads, “If now, so then.” It means that crossing an ocean does not make you a missionary if you are not already one here at home. I think the same is true for our commitment to Christ. “If now, so then.” If we have not committed ourselves to live for Jesus today, we will probably not be willing to die for him tomorrow.

And so Joshua, as he confronted Israel and said, “Choose you this day whom you will serve.” Polycarp, the 2nd century Asian Bishop, when asked to swear allegiance to Caesar and not to Christ said, “Eighty and six years have I served him, and he has done me no wrong; how can I blaspheme my King who saved me?” Martin Luther, excommunicated by the Pope and defending himself before the Emperor said, “My conscience is taken captive by God’s Word, I cannot and will not recant anything. On this I take my stand. I can do no other. So help me God!”

In 1555, two men were being burned at the stake in Oxford, England for refusing to recant of their personal faith in Jesus Christ. Hugh Latimer turned to Nicholas Ridley as fire started to engulf their bodies and said, “Be of good cheer, Ridley. Play the man! We shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace…as I trust will never be put out!”

All of these were people of conviction because they had made a prior decision to follow God, no matter what the cost. For without the anchor of commitment, our faith will be at the mercy of the ebb and flow of mood and opinion; and when the Fumie is set down before us, we will stumble and live like heretics for a time until overcome by grief and sorrow.

Perhaps the beginning of this New Year is a time for some of us to make a re-commitment of a faith grown cold. For others, this may be a time for a commitment that moves us from a nominal believer in Jesus Christ to a disciple. Growth in faith will not take place all at once, but it will not happen at all without a commitment. Then, our faith will grow inch by inch, much like a baby learning to crawl, as we learn to live as a disciple of Christ wherever God puts us—even as we confront our Fumie. It will be painful, sort of like the pins and needles you feel in your leg as it begins to wake up from being “asleep.” But as Os Guinness has said, “Better pins and needles than no leg at all.

Adapted from my January 14, 2015 Chapel Talk at Wheaton College (IL), which you can see in full at http://www.wheaton.edu/WETN/All-Media/Chapel/Undergraduate

Unbroken or Broken?

I saw the movie Unbroken during the Christmas holiday. I had read the book a couple of years earlier and wondered why they hadn’t yet made the story into a movie. It is absolutely unbelievable what Louie Zamperini endured. I cannot imagine being in that situation and surviving not just the physical suffering and deprivation of a POW, but the mental anguish and hopelessness that attends such a condition. As I watched the movie, the word “broken” kept going through my mind. I was assaulted by the brokenness of war; the brokenness of a world where people hate and attempt to dominate and denigrate those who look different and speak a different language; the brokenness of families and systems that grow children into adults capable of such atrocities; and the brokenness of the human heart riddled with sin and allergic to its Creator.

Louis Zamperini, though he endured, was actually a broken man living in a broken world. He was not motivated by love and forgiveness, but survived like so many people on the bread of hatred and the water of revenge. It was only after he gave his life to Jesus Christ at one of Billy Graham’s first evangelistic tent meetings in Los Angeles that he became unbroken; something that the movie unfortunately left out. One needs to be whole before they can be unbroken and Louie was anything but whole when he came back from the war. Whole people do not self-destruct, which was what Zamperini was in the process of doing. In a very real sense he was doing to himself exactly what the Bird (the commandant of the prison camp who was so cruel to Louie) had failed to do. And to further underscore his brokenness, Louie walked out on Billy Graham at the first mention of sin. However, Louie’s wife convinced him to go back on another night and he responded to the good news of God’s love and forgiveness in Christ. Louie became a whole man; an unbroken man, driven by love for broken juveniles and for his broken tormentors.

It is unfortunate that the message of forgiveness and reconciliation was a mere echo in the movie because it is this message that our broken world needs so desperately to hear. Instead we hear hatred preached across the racial divide in our own cities, revenge practiced by the purveyors of Islamic fundamentalism in France, and power-mongering violence of the Assad regime in Syria pushing millions to refugee status and to the brink of starvation. Where is the message of reconciliation for the Palestinians and the Israelis? It lies in the gospel of Jesus Christ; the very message our broken world does not want to hear (like Louie, at first) because of its brokenness.

I recommend the movie even though it misses its chance to be prophetic. Perhaps it will influence people to read the book. By the way, another movie that you may want to see is To End All Wars (2001). It is a true story about four Allied POWs who endured incredibly harsh treatment in a Japanese prison camp during WW2. The movie is based upon the real-life account of Ernest Gordon contained in his book Through the Valley of the Kwai. It is not an easy movie to watch but you will see and hear the message of costly sacrifice and reconciliation that is at the heart of the gospel.