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As I write this blog I’m sitting in a Metro Detroit airport Northwest World Club lounge. Once again I’m reminded that cell phone technology has removed all semblance of privacy, quiet reflection, or personal space. Another traveler and I have been sitting in an alcove of the lounge, removed from the ever present CNN monitors and other noise-producers, reading our papers and working on our laptops. I’ve enjoyed my few moments of respite between planes, and he seems to have enjoyed his. Then a woman chose a chair near us. Not two minutes later she begins talking on her cell phone “at the top of her lungs,” as my Grandmother used to say, as if the other two of us do not exist.

I don’t mind the occasional interruption, nor do I think “my space” is inviolable in otherwise public areas. And I don’t want to sound like a curmudgeon. But I’ve got to say that cell phone ethics simply don’t exist. People talk anywhere near anyone in anyway they please. The rest of us are supposed to think “It’s a free country,” shrug, and put up with it. By the way, moving to another location doesn’t help. All the other locations are already taken by terminal cell phone users.

Even if you could find a space where no cell phones are in use it will be dominated by ubiquitous monitors proclaiming “the news”—around the clock. You can’t even sleep in the airport between red-eye flights without the white noise of talking heads.

So, where does one go to read a book? Remember that? Reading. Where can you go to simply sit, drink your coffee, and think in a quiet public atmosphere?

I recommend cell phone-free zones, like public spaces now reserved for smokers. If you really need a smoke, you can generally find a place in bus terminals and airports where you can smoke behind walls in a space set aside for you. Why not establish libraries or reading rooms or simply “Quiet Areas” for those who want to unplug?

Northwest World Club tries—one alcove in the club is labeled “Quiet Zone” with a lined-out circled cell phone. But a television monitor still plays on the wall in the alcove and travelers still sit and talk loudly. Apparently “quiet” only refers to cell phones.

All this makes me appreciate country clubs where many of them have outlawed cell phone use in the dining areas and on the golf course. At least there’s one place one can still get away from cell phones. Maybe I’ll take my book and read on the second tee.

 

© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2006

*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 him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.

Bill Cosby has been pulling no punches about what he considers poor choices and lack of personal responsibility among low income Black individuals. As commentator Clarence Page says, Cosby’s choice of words is harsh (“We’ve got these knuckleheads walking around who don’t want to learn English…In neighborhoods that most of us grew up in, parenting is not going on…These people are fighting hard to be ignorant.”), he doesn’t have all the answers, and he doesn’t have all the facts. But Cosby is at least speaking up.

Cosby is right in at least one thing—destructive forces working against Black families and Black self-reliance are as much about each individual’s values and choices as they are about community opposition, politics, or racism. The same can be said for destructive forces among Whites, Asians, Hispanics, and any other hyphenated American.

The point is not to claim naively that racism doesn’t exist or to heap all the blame and burden upon the backs of the poor and disadvantaged. Clearly racism does exist, and clearly many individuals cannot make it on their own. They need help. There’s nothing wrong or inconsistent about exercising compassion even as one calls for more personal responsibility.

But the answer to turning around individuals and even entire communities is not found solely in government help programs, more money, or pointing fingers everywhere but at the individuals making the choices. People are born in to very bad situations. People are hurt by limited education, poverty, broken families, and a host of other social pathologies. All of these negative circumstances take a toll. But people are still responsible.

Black or White, Asian, Hispanic, or new immigrant—people are free agents. Their lives are determined by their values and the choices they make based upon those values. They can exercise their moral will, apply their talent, learn, work and contribute, and demonstrate basic values like honesty and reliability. Individuals who choose not to learn, who choose delinquency and crime, who choose sexual promiscuity, who choose anger and belligerence, who choose laziness, who choose amorality, always pay a price.

Cosby is right: Poor and disadvantaged Black Americans [and I would say any other racial or ethnic subgroup] need to work harder to construct their own future and hold themselves accountable to proven value choices. Clarence Page is correct: “Black America needs to look not for what’s right or what’s left but to what works in our drive to liberate those who have been left behind by the civil rights revolution.”

In other words, it’s not about race. It’s not about power, politics, or ideology. It’s about values. This is not a “conservative thing.” It’s a time-tested, religiously supported, common sense thing.

 

© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2006

*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 him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.

 

Three cheers for the New York Catholic high school principals who cancelled their proms on principle. Brother Kenneth M. Hoagland, principal of Kellenberg Memorial High School in Uniondale, cancelled his school’s prom because he was weary of the financial excess, ostentatiousness, and debauchery accompanying many senior proms. Nearby Chaminade High School soon followed suit.

Hoagland cited the “bacchanalian aspects” of school proms. In a letter to parents he said, “It is not primarily the sex/booze/drugs that surround this event, as problematic as they might be; it is rather the flaunting of affluence, assuming exaggerated expenses, a pursuit of vanity for vanity’s sake — in a word, financial decadence.”

Hoagland later accepted student a recommendation to substitute a modestly priced, dress code governed dinner cruise. In the end, there will be a celebration, but it will be more affordable and safer. The Rev. James Williams, president of Chaminade, said the revised celebration “is much more consistent with the values we adhere to.”

More high schools throughout the country should take a page from the courage these Catholic institutions have displayed. For too long, proms have been taken over by drunken driving and loss of virginity resulting more in a teenage nightmare than a senior class celebration. People know this, but they wink at it like it’s some kind of essential right of passage. Meanwhile, kids die on the highway or wake up with hangovers, embarrassment, pregnancy, or emotional baggage some carry for years thereafter.

Hopefully these high schools will start a corrective swing of the pendulum back toward common sense. Our teenagers will be the better for it.

 

© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2006

*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 him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.

In Matthew 23, Jesus warns his true spiritual followers about the hypocritical Pharisees, people who Jesus said, “do not practice what they preach” (23:3). The Pharisees and other teachers of the law publicly and with great showiness tithed their income, yet “neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy, and faithfulness” (23:23). Concerning the Pharisees, Jesus told his followers, “Everything they do is done for men to see” (23:5). Jesus said the Pharisees might be clean on the outside, but inside they were “full of greed and self-indulgence” (23:25).

The Pharisees judged everyone else based on their own man-made code of conduct. This penchant for making up their own rules for spiritual behavior was so pronounced, and the Pharisees’ consequent neglect of biblical principle so profound, that Jesus said, “You blind guides! You strain at a gnat but swallow a camel” (23:24).

Straining at gnats and swallowing camels. That’s the general condition of many Christians and churches in this postmodern culture. They’re not operating with a spiritually discerning, Christian worldview. They’ve forgotten about, never understood, or rarely applied Christian liberty. In their effort to be “Not of the World,” they’ve simply become “other-worldly,” focusing on minor matters and therefore exercising very little or no earthly impact.

Insofar as Christians worry about the cultural “gnats” in their environment, they miss some of the much more spiritually threatening “camels.” For example, Christians break fellowship with other believers over the color of carpet in the church (this is not an apocryphal illustration but has really happened in many churches) or whether hymnbooks are used in the service, while local schools, universities, and zoos teach evolutionary theory unchallenged.

Christians argue and split churches over use of drums or guitars in the church, while the philosophic implications of the use of technology of any kind are largely ignored. Christians become emotionally animated to the point of anger over a young person getting a tattoo or wearing a ring in an eyebrow, while Christian moral outrage is limited at best in the face of America’s seduction by legalized commercial gambling.

Christians are good at straining at “gnats,” and like the insect, there are seemingly an unlimited number of “gnat-like issues.” But there are two “gnats” that occupy more of our attention than any others: music styles, and fads and fashions.

Music is perhaps the number one “gnat.” While music clearly offers legitimate grounds for Christian liberty debates and sanctified disagreements, music can nevertheless be another “gnat” causing us to miss more spiritually threatening “camels.”

For example, is the person who makes the following observation a cynic or a realist? Consider these words: “American Christians dispute the type of music appropriate for worship while church members gossip, lie, and generally ignore pre-marital sex and adultery between its members.” These are fairly harsh words, but honesty requires us to admit that they’re an all too accurate description of many churches. We strain at “gnats” and swallow “camels.”

Music is a cultural battleground. No other issue causes more Church division than Christian culture wars fought over music. No other issue demonstrates more clearly that Christian liberty may be the least understood and least practiced doctrine in the Bible. No other issue better illustrates (or more wrenchingly illustrates) Christians’ lack of a fully developed Christian worldview.

A Christian worldview informs us: “The world as created is an unfinished symphony. God called man, his cultural creature and co-worker, to take up the work and bring it to the fullness of that perfection which God had placed in it as promise.” Music is part of that unfinished symphony. Christians need to understand music in terms of the biblical definition of life provided by a Christian worldview.

Christian culture wars are fought over issues of near infinite variety. It seems that our ability to create our own “holy lists” knows no limit. One more of these cultural issues significantly and perennially disrupts Christian unity and therefore demands our attention: clothing fads and fashions.

Clothing styles rank near music as an obstacle in our mission to fulfill the Cultural Mandate and the Great Commission. Given the amount of emotional and spiritual energy we pour into this debate, I’d have to say that clothing fads and fashions are another “gnat.”

Let me illustrate. A few years ago a nationally known preacher spoke at Cornerstone University. During that chapel message, he vigorously derided former NBA rebounding star, Dennis Rodman, for the constantly varying unnatural colors of his hairstyle. At the time there were two students attending the university who wore their hair in bright, unnatural, sometimes florescent colors. I saw them in the balcony during that chapel and wondered what was going through their minds. These were two young men who lived dedicated Christian lives, playfully enjoyed their differently colored hair, did not associate this action with unbiblical attitudes and values, and who today wear their hair in their natural colors.

During the next week’s chapels, I took what is a very rare step for our university and commented about this speaker’s diatribe. I noted the focus on Dennis Rodman’s hair. My point with the students was that from a Christian point of view the color of Mr. Rodman’s hair was the least spiritually objectionable thing about the man. His fame came more from his outrageous, degenerate behavior than from his basketball exploits. At the time, Mr. Rodman lived a highly public, in-your-face, immoral, even debauched lifestyle founded upon a worldview antithetical to the Christian faith. The color of his hair, like the blue colored hair of the elderly lady in church, simply does not mean much. It’s a “gnat.”

Fads and fashions are notoriously fickle. During these postmodern times of rapid social change, clothing and personal appearance styles come and go, or more likely are simply layered, with astonishing speed. This fact alone should make Christians proceed with a bit more caution in creating bandwagons of resistance to fads and fashions. More to the point in terms of a Christian worldview, unless fads or fashions are immodest, we need to appreciate the variety and move on to more important concerns.

“Modesty” is the key biblical principle governing clothing choices. When Adam and Eve sinned against God in the Garden of Eden and knew that they were naked, they sewed fig leaves together and covered themselves. Later after God dealt with their sin, He made garments of skin and clothed them (Genesis 3:7,21). How extensive these coverings were we do not know. We do know that regardless of the culture in which we live and whatever the clothing styles of the moment, we are to dress modestly.

Beyond modesty, the Scripture does not give us law; it gives us liberty. We are responsible to spiritually discern how to participate in fads and fashions in a manner that allows us to live in the world while being not of the world.

This text is excerpted from my book, Christian Liberty:  Living for God in a Changing Culture (Baker, 2003).

 

© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2006

*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 him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.

I just finished reading John Grisham’s eighteenth book, The Broker (Dell, 2005). Like all of Grisham’s best-selling legal fiction, this book is well-written, interesting, and contains a plot taken from recent front pages. And most surprisingly of all, it’s clean! That’s right. Grisham has made a very good living as a contemporary author who has not found it necessary to resort to four-letter vulgarity and sex-laden chapters to sell books. His kind is increasingly rare.

You’d think that finding a good novelist who writes books for the annual $24 billion publishing business which are largely free of gratuitous language and sex wouldn’t be all that difficult. But it is. Promiscuous protagonists rule the day. Sure, there are a few good authors left. Mary Higgins Clark comes to mind. She, Grisham, and a handful of others make a rather small book club.

I’m not prudishly arguing that my sensibilities are too tender to survive here and there what we used to call a “bad word,” or even a descriptive of expression of human sexuality. I am saying that I am weary of trying to find television programs, movies, or books that are not thoroughly immersed in our culture’s preoccupation with sex and shock-value language.

I’m currently reading, for example, Billy Crystal’s book called 700 Sundays:  A Memoir (Warner Books, 2005). This is an at times heart-warming, frequently funny account of Billy’s childhood memories of a rather remarkable Russian Jewish family in New York City who made an early mark on the Jazz industry. More specifically, it’s Billy’s memories of his father who died too young. Billy figures he only got to spend “700 Sundays” with his father.

My own son read this book and gave it to me. It’s something we can talk about as father and son. It’s got some good things to recommend it. But for some reason Billy Crystal apparently couldn’t write the book without a considerable measure of everyday profanity, what I’ve always called low level “bathroom humor,” and even frequent use of the “F word.” Now Billy’s family likely used this language, so he’s probably remembering them accurately. But I find it curious that he so easily mixes references to his Jewish religious consciousness with language rejected by Judeo-Christian teaching.

The “F word” quit being funny for me, Billy, in the eighth grade. Why do I need to read it now? How does this kind of language help me understand or respect your father? Or you?

John Grisham’s The Broker is currently fourth on the USA Today Best-Selling Books list (Crystal’s 700 Sundays is 108). It deserves this ranking. It’s a good book about a “broker,” a lobbyist—not unlike Jack Abramoff, whose bribery and fraud scandal is lighting up Washington, D.C.—who makes a gazillion dollars bilking people of their money and buying influence on Capitol Hill. He and the excesses of the lobbying system do not make a pretty picture. John Grisham’s trademark slightly cynical look at our legal system is also on display.

And you will find a few, a very few, “bad words,” so not even Grisham writes a fully sanitized book. But he writes good fiction that does not depend upon titillating words or sexual scenarios to keep you interested. This from a man who once told an interviewer that he avoided such material because he wanted “to write a book my Mother could read.” I appreciate his efforts.

 

© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2006

*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 him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.