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On 9/11, terrorist hijackers sent more than the American economy into a tailspin. America’s cultural mindset took a hit to its very core and hasn’t gotten over it.

In addition to the ongoing threat of another major terrorist attack, Americans have endured a series of upheavals that, together, have birthed a sense of vulnerability among us like no other time in our history. We live with barely veiled anxiety or fear, which is affecting every level of society.

Wars we’ve fought before, but the Iraq and Afghanistan wars seem intractable, yielding nothing but trillion dollar costs and thousands of American lives lost. These wars seem, dare we say, Viet Nam-like, with no end, no hope, and no win in sight.

The global and Wall Street economic meltdown in 2008-2009 further depleted not just our portfolios and pension plans but our reservoir of optimism. And we’re not sure yet if we’re through the Great Recession—still, there are national debts and deficits, debt juggling, inflation, entitlements. Greece, England, and France, nearly the whole of Europe, are in serious financial straits and the United States isn’t far behind. In “the world is flat” era in which we live, what happens elsewhere in the world sooner or later comes home to roost in America. Their problems are our problems.

Our political leaders on both sides of the aisle talk big, but no one has yet stepped forward with a bona fide plan to put America on a financial, big government, entitlement diet. We, therefore, continue to risk our children’s and possibly our country’s future without any real hope of doing otherwise, the Tea Party Movement notwithstanding. The newly elected 112th Congress offers promise, but this and a $1.50 will get you a cup of coffee. Promises unfulfilled are simply rhetoric.

We long for a return to normal, but a phrase increasingly used in journalism, “the new normal,” is becoming the new normal. In other words we aren’t going back to a satisfactory much less an idyllic past. The new normal is uncertainty.

Add natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina, tsunamis, and the Haiti earthquake to a list of unsettling developments that stretch our ability emotionally and financially to respond.

While political rancor, name-calling, and divisiveness have always characterized American politics, the level of vitriol, mean-spiritedness, and polarization we’ve experienced this decade have increased, uglier in some ways than the rhetoric of days gone by. Political leaders lack class, don’t seem to have been reared with a sense of limits or social restraint, and clearly don’t think much about their reputations, let alone the reputations of others. Anything can be said because in today’s political equation the end justifies the means.

All this has engendered a cultural pessimism that’s socially and politically debilitating and dangerous. We don’t really believe in progress, in a better tomorrow, or anything much but fate or luck. Our destiny is no longer ours to create. It’s handed to us by forces beyond our control.

We’re particularly susceptible to cultural pessimism because in the past three or four decades we’ve set aside genuine faith in a real and Sovereign God who stands outside of history. If he doesn’t exist, and if he doesn’t modulate evil in this world, than we’re left with whatever the fates and our own depravity brings to us. Not a pretty picture.

But the Sovereign God does exist and he is still in charge. Within the context of his permissive will he allows human beings to make choices including bad, wrong, or negative ones. He gives us liberty and responsibility, both of which we often use unwisely. But he’s still there. He’s still working his purposes in history and his son, Jesus Christ, the Great Shepherd, still cares for his sheep.

We should place our faith and security in the Lord rather than governments, financial markets and pension plans, bank accounts, heroes in their 15 minutes of fame, or our own mind and moxie. All will fail us. Only the Lord never leaves nor forsakes us. Rediscovering who he is and how he works in history will restore our social and personal optimism, tempered by realism yes, but optimism nonetheless.

We may have concerns, and we should work for positive, productive changes that benefit one and all. But we need not live with anxiety, angst, or fear. No matter what confronts us we’re still to live as instructed in Micah 6:8:

“He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2011

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

So now you can get ordained online. No fuss, no muss. No theological education necessary. No experience needed. No Ordination Council to survive, and none later to backstop you when you’re thrown your first curveball. No criteria whatsoever really, except maybe a handling fee.

Google “Online Ordination” and you get links like “Become a Minister Today” or “Fast Minister Ordination.” Or the all-purpose “How To Become An Ordained Minister Online For Free.”

I’d laugh, but I don’t know if I can laugh and shake my head at the same time. In my book online ordination is right up, or maybe down, there with online, non-accredited, no-coursework-necessary college diplomas. We’ve endured diploma mills. Now come ordination mills.

A trend is developing nationwide wherein more engaged couples are turning to friends and quicky ordination for friend-led weddings. The idea is that it’s cheaper, more intimate—couples at the altar “feel better” with someone they know as opposed to a clergyman they don’t know. And friend-ordination reduces pressure to be married in a church.

The Universal Life Church claims to have ordained some 18 million people, about 3,000 per month. This is all in the name of religious liberty.

It gets worse. Some of ordination websites assure the would-be applicant he or she will be able to start a church or conduct religious ceremonies. One site suggested ordination is a good way to get a business going, earn extra money, and travel to interesting locations to administer ceremonies.

Why become ordained, for free or fee? Websites proclaim advantages:

--Perform weddings

--Earn respect typically accorded to members of the clergy

--Gain a title, like Reverend, Bishop, Rabbi, or even Prophet

--Earn money

--Garner preferred treatment often given to clergy—like parking spaces.

One online ordination site offers “Clergy Packages,” which is to say if you pay more money, about $40 to $60 more per package, you’ll get more helpful items: new ministers handbook, ceremony templates for weddings, funerals, baptisms, an Honorary Doctor of Divinity, and my favorite, a CLERGY dashboard sign.

Online ordination is important more for what it represents than what it is. What it is, of course, is ludicrous. But what it represents is further secularization of American culture. One more important life event is removed from the experience of the church.

Why doesn’t the betrothed couple know the pastor or want a church wedding? Because they don’t go to church.

But ordination isn’t a game denominations play. Sure, one can always find examples of excess. But this isn’t the norm. Religious orders, Catholic, Protestant, Judaic, and more, which take their beliefs seriously, look upon ordination as an important, exciting, and affirming experience in a young ordinand’s life.

Generally, an ordination involves the ordinand’s statement of a call to service. The ordination is an examination for which the ordinand has prepared, probably for years, gaining theological degrees and experience. It involves the questions, review, and affirmation of a body of denominational leaders who know what it means to be clergy. Ultimately, an ordination means the leaders have examined and attested to the young person’s character, call, preparation, and readiness for religious leadership. And finally, the ordination is a dedication, a high point near the end of the ceremony when some honored person prays for the applicant to ministry, for the future ministry, and for the Church.

To undercut this kind of solemnity with online ordination is to undermine the integrity of the Church and to make a mockery of religious dedication.

So I think online ordinations are shoddy, shallow, and sad.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2010

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow Dr. Rogers at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

 

Each US President's signature is etched in the wood panels of the entrance hall of the Ronald W. Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, California. It’s an interesting exhibit, which caught my attention immediately not because it was first on the tour but because I’d never seen anything like it.

Like the public, some presidents wrote well or even beautifully; some did not. Some wrote small versus larger letters. Some wrote legibly, meaning some were not easy to read. A few wrote with the proficiency of John Hancock. Some used initials. Some used middle names. Some signed his name with what appeared to be a certain flourish. Some signed his name in what appeared to be modesty, almost timidity. But now I’m interpreting or “reading into” the signature. Interpreting signatures is controversial.

Graphology is the pseudoscientific analysis of handwriting. One of the earliest books on the subject was written in the 16th Century, but graphology in practice if not in name dates much earlier than this. Analyzing handwriting includes signatures, of course. Supposedly, graphologists can predict personality traits and identify how people will likely think if appointed to, say, a jury. But pun intended, the jury is still out on this one.

I’m not enamored with the idea anyone can deduce anything from a person’s handwriting or signature—except perhaps how accomplished the person’s grade school teachers were in handwriting instruction. But I’ve always found it interesting to consider how or why people sign their name as they do.

I’ve especially wondered what leads people to sign their name in a virtually or even thoroughly un-readable fashion. If you saw their signature anywhere but where signatures are supposed to reside you’d think the signature was simply a scribble mark. What strikes me as odd is that this signature, this scribble, is legally them. It commits them to whatever they signed.

A scribble is generally not distinctive, or at least another person could claim the same scribble. Yet your name and signature belong to you (This thought breaks down, I know—believe it or not, there are a lot of Rex Rogerses in Michigan let alone the US, UK, and Australia. But there aren’t too many Rex M Rogerses). So why do people sign their name like illiterate people did in pioneer days? Just “Make your mark here” someone said and people put down their X. It's not like it's a sin, mind you, but I don’t get this.

Supposedly medical doctors writing prescriptions model the world’s worst handwriting, but I don’t think that’s fair. They just provide examples of their handwriting to a broader cross-section of the population than most professionals do.

Poor penmanship is endemic to modern civilization. We’re in a hurry, and we spend most of our “writing” time on keyboards anyway. Good penmanship is doomed, even in our own signatures.

At any rate, handwriting in general and signatures specifically are different because people are different, whether learned behavior or some mystical thing rooted in personality. I just find signatures fascinating, a kind of fingerprint with words.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2010

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow Dr. Rogers at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

 

If you noticed that I had a visible tattoo, would it make any difference in your opinion of me? Apparently for some it would—to the point they either acquire or avoid tattoos pretty much for the same reason—they believe tattoos change what people think about them.

Tattoos are now visible in whatever direction you look. They’ve gone mainstream. Seemingly everyone, at least under 30 years of age, is tattooed and the resurgent popularity of body art doesn’t seem to have reached its peak.

Today, religious people, including Christians, get tattoos as a way of conveying their faith, including all manner of religious symbolism, crosses being the obvious favorite but also doves, angels, biblical references, and more.

This is a different world from my youth when tattoos could only be found on three kinds of individuals: 1) a few armed forces veterans sporting small, arm tattoos, 2) bikers and other assorted bad guys, 3) or tattooed ladies at the carnival. Today you can see tattoos on most of the prison population, the young lady serving you an omelette, innumerable college students, and not a few young pastors.

But when I was a kid, religious leaders, if not adult culture in general, tended to frown upon the practice of getting tattoos. So I wonder why it’s OK now to wear tattoos when it wasn’t OK in my youth? And I wonder, how do we decide to tattoo or not to tattoo?

When Christians ask these questions the first verse cited is in the Old Testament book of Leviticus: “Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the LORD” (19:28). Some people quote this verse as the letter of the law, thus the end of the argument. No tattoos, ever.

But this isn’t a valid interpretation. This verse commanded the Israelites to avoid certain funeral practices wherein bodies were marked in some pagan hope of attaining a good afterlife. This verse doesn’t really address present-day tattooing, and as part of the Israelite’s ceremonial law it does not apply to us today. So we look to the New Testament, only to discover it says nothing about whether or not a person should get a tattoo.

The fact is, God didn’t give us a “black or white” yes-no answer on tattoos. He left it in the so-called “gray area” in between, so we have to figure out what to do and “be fully convinced in (our) own minds” (Romans 14:5). In other words, God gave us enough other commands and principles in Scripture for us to be able to decide this “matter of conscience” for ourselves. This is called Christian liberty.

Since clearly God wants us to maintain a lifestyle that honors him, we should make decisions or discern what is best (Philippians 1:9-10). If we discern properly we’ll live according to God’s command: “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

So let’s summarize:

--God doesn’t answer all our lifestyle questions and he grants us Christian liberty to discern what is best.

--He expects us to choose in a manner that glorifies him.

--Tattoos are not proscribed in Scripture.

--So each person must decide whether, why, when, how, where, what to tattoo or not to tattoo.

So, to tattoo or not to tattoo? While we’ve discovered God didn’t give us rules we should remember he did give us principles to help us answer this question, one of which is that not everything we can do we should do: “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive” (I Corinthians 10:23).

So to discern whether to tattoo or not to tattoo we should ask ourselves and perhaps our confidants these questions:

--Do I want this body art for my entire life? (Some say 90% of people who get tattoos later regret it; 5% regret it immediately.)

--What will this tattoo say about me, what I believe? (Like Christian body art sends a message other symbols send different messages.)

--Is the place and procedure I’m considering medically safe?

--Why am I getting a tattoo? (Peer pressure? Rebellion? To look better? To look tough? Other?)

--What will my tattoo look like in 20 or 30 years?

--Will the tattoo really look as cool or beautiful as I think, or will it look silly, cheap, sad, revolting, or worse?

--If I get a tattoo what might it’s existence prevent me from doing or experiencing later? (Job or profession? Relationship?)

--Why shouldn’t I get a temporary rather than permanent tattoo? (If you asked me, and you really could not be dissuaded from getting a tattoo—my preference—I’d argue for this short-term experimental option.)

For the record, I’m not against all tattoos. I’ve seen a few small ones, like butterflies or flowers that I thought were attractive. But by far, most of what I have seen suggest to me the person is trying to reach for something—barbed wire on men’s biceps, odd designs on women’s lower backs that can’t be seen other than with low-rise jeans. Not attractive. Certainly I feel for people whose bodies are plastered with tattoos. It's their free choice, but I believe they've made an unwise one.

If you already have a tattoo and want to get rid of it removal is now possible-if-painful and expensive. Laser and other methods are available.

To hear a lot of people tell it, tattoos are often acquired impulsively—in the early years this is part of their public braggadocio. But tattoos last a lifetime and impulsiveness isn’t a good decision-making attribute no matter who you are or who you aspire to be.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2010

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow Dr. Rogers at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

 

Recently constructed homes are smaller than their predecessors. In fact, they buck a trend that’s been headed toward bigger-is-better since the 1950s.

The average size home in 1950 was 983 square feet. We’re more than twice that today, even with recent cutbacks.

The median size of a home in 2007 was 2,300 square feet. That’s median, the mid-point. A lot of homes topped 10,000 and in celebrity or other show-homes 20,000 plus square feet is common. This has happened despite the fact that the average size family has steadily declined, and these statistics don’t take into account those families that maintain two, three, and even four homes, cottages, condos, or flats.

While there’s nothing intrinsically wrong, as near as I can tell, with building a large home if you can afford it, people even with means are beginning to scale down their McMansions.

In 2010, the median size home being built has dropped to 2,100 square feet. But given the recession, many builders are now responding to consumer desire for even smaller homes between 1,500 and 2,000 square feet.

Sarah Susanka, the author of The Not So Big House, says even multiple bathrooms are passé. At least for the middle class, it seems that, for now, the day of Big Houses has gone the way of Big Hair.

What I find particularly interesting is the return of the front porch. The larger, “sit-able” front porch and detached, hidden garage are now in demand, as opposed to small front stoops and attached garages with two-car doors dominating the house front. For years I’ve watched and wondered what attracted people to houses with minimal-to-no front yards, huge garage doors, and small walkways around corners to almost hidden front doors. You might as well have put a sign on the front of the house saying, “We’re car people and we don’t really want to connect personally with neighbors.”

A lot of variables are encouraging the new trend to smaller homes with front porches: the recession, energy prices, two-worker families who spend relatively little time at home, reconsideration of what suburbia means if it offers cookie-cutter houses hidden behind fences, a nostalgic yearning for the perceived benefits of small town life, and an emerging desire for a return of human scale, an alternative to life in the urban jungle. If one has to work in the alienating rat race maybe at home one can find some sense of meaning and perspective.

In this postmodern age when everything is up for grabs, people are looking for anything that offers them a sense of stability, solace, and meaning. This is true in religion, the related but less defined search for “spirituality,” the professions, marriage and family.

It’s like we’ve rejected—

--the 50s as naïve,

--the 60s as chaotic free-for-all that turned out not to be free after all,

--the 70s as plastic and incoherent,

--the 80s as greedy,

--the 90s as sensitivity run amok, and

--the new millennial 00s as fear, anxiety, and loss of our confidence in who we once were, loss of our way, and loss of hope.

In the extreme, all that’s left is emotional surrender running to nihilism or denial running to hedonism. That sounds like an exaggeration, but I said “in the extreme.” Not everyone is ready to jump off a bridge or bury themselves in bacchanalia.

Still, certain cultural inclinations are visible and they affect our politics. As a nation we seem to have lost faith in our founding values, we don’t know who we are, we don’t agree on who we want to be, and so we don’t know where we’re going, much less how to get there. Doesn’t matter if it’s Democrats or Republicans, no one seems to be able to articulate a clear and resonant vision for the future.

I know this is a lot to glean from trends toward smaller houses with larger front porches. But rather than become morose I prefer to look for signs of renewal in the human spirit. I'm hoping we're trying to right ourselves, re-centering the bubble in our cultural level.

I like the trend toward smaller houses with larger front porches and detached, somewhat hidden garages. Along the way, I hope we rediscover and recover a lot more worthy small town, uniquely American values.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2010

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow Dr. Rogers at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

 

More than 7.5 million opposite-sex couples are living together in the United States, an increase of 13% from 2009 according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Theoretically, the economy is the primary factor in this increase. This idea suggests the job market has made meeting living expenses more difficult so pooling unmarried couples’ expenses makes financial sense.

Cohabitation is much higher in the South (38 percent) than the West (23.2 percent), Midwest (15.8 percent), or Northeast (15.8 percent). Education as well as income comes into play, as do local cultural values.

Cohabitation, the act of living together without benefit of marriage, is not something Christians can embrace, even in the face of economic pressures.

Churches understandably haven’t been pleased. Some mega-churches, like Trinity Fellowship Church, Amarillo, Texas organized an event called “The Big Summer Wedding” for cohabiting couples. Some 32 couples were married in this event.

Cohabitation has grown in recent years among older retired adults in their 60s or 70s. The argument is made at times that it’s about keeping family finances cleanly divided for the children’s sake. Or the argument is made that “We’re older so it doesn’t matter that we’re living together”—in other words, sex is something for the young so the older aren’t acting in an immoral fashion. But of course older adults still engage in sexual activity and whether or not they do, Scripture still speaks clearly about male-female relationships.

Cohabitation is not the financial common sense it may seem. It can be demonstrated that by circumventing or delaying marriage cohabiting couples pay a greater price in the long run in the loss of marriage-related tax benefits, insurance coverage, or estate planning advantages. This is aside from any moral considerations.

Cohabitation may sound harmless but it’s a dead-end street, even if it takes place in a seniors retirement and healthcare home. Because people are older or even elderly doesn’t remove moral considerations in their relationships. There’s nothing in Scripture that suggests this.

The other disadvantage of cohabitation, and a significant one, is that it’s a terrible model for young people. In other words, if older adults can cohabit what’s the big deal about young adults cohabiting? Increasing numbers of unmarried couples is already a major social phenomenon with growing impact upon family health in Western countries. Encouraging it isn’t going to help the next generation because it magnifies the number of households in which children are maturing without benefit of family stability. Youth need examples of adult long-term commitment.

Cohabitation is not historically new, but it’s not any more valid or wise than it’s ever been.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2010

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow Dr. Rogers at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.