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Monday, April 27, 2020

The Harvard Education Battle

In the COVID-19 era, we all hear statements made, or conspiracies postulated, that make us laugh. Not because they are really funny. It’s because they are so absurd.

In my combined years of communications and marketing work, I’ve come to realize how important credibility really is. Once you lose it, it’s hard to get it back.

One of the really dangerous results of making absurd statements occurs when you are a de facto representative of a respected organization. Like Harvard.

Long held in admiration along with the other Ivy League schools, when a Harvard professor speaks—it should be worth listening to. But not always. In fact, I find it to be less and less over the years.

A most recent example is the article written by Elizabeth Bartholet. She’s the Wasserstein Professor of Law and faculty director of the Harvard Law School's Child Advocacy Program. My, that’s a weighty position. Her article titled, “The Risks of Homeschooling” was recntly published in Harvard Magazine, a generally respected journal.

There's quite a graphic on the magazine cover. A cursory look at the image highlighting the article shows what readily can be perceived as a child behind the equivalent of prison bars at home. Several other children are happily pictured at play outside the house. What’s also telling is the written inscriptions on the side of the home. They appear to be book titles for Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, and…wait for it….Bible.” (Please gasp here.)

The professor makes some interesting and disappointing personal assessments. She claims homeschooling deprives children of a “meaningful education.” How so? In her view, it prevents our sweet darlings from “contributing positively to a democratic society.”

What bothers the academic in part is the lack of proper authority. “We have an essentially unregulated regime in the area of homeschooling,” Professor Bartholet states. She added, “If you look at the legal regime governing homeschooling, there are very few requirements that parents do anything.” This apparently led her to a conclusion that parents should not have complete autonomy over their children.

Blah. Blah. Blah.

Fortunately, there are more rational and clear thinkers who come out of Harvard. Many of them…formerly homeschooled. A person like Melba Pearson.

Melba graduated from Harvard with honors. As she says, “Harvard was the very first school I ever set foot in. The first 12 years of my education, I was homeschooled, from kindergarten to 12th grade.” And she was proud of it. Until she saw the demeaning piece from Professor Bartholet. A piece to which she responded.

As to limiting parents' rights to teach their own children, Melba argues, “This is a blatant rejection of free thought, suppression of democratization of education, and attack on the freedoms and rights the citizens of our country fought long and hard to win.” (So there.)

She also finds the thought process behind the homeschool critique horribly at odds with a more recent Harvard “crusade of ‘diversity,’ ‘inclusion,’ and ‘acceptance.’” In her four years at the Ivy League school Melba saw a number of protests, rules, regulations, and initiatives promoting “diversity, inclusion, and tolerance.” Somehow, these “values” get lost in certain academic circles.

And let’s not forget the fourth “r” that becomes so offensive at certain higher places of learning. You know, reading, (w)riting, (a)rithmetic and...RELIGION! That’s probably at the core of much of the opposition to homeschooling.

Proverbs tells us “Teach a youth about the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6 (HCSB)

Yes, teach a youth the way he or she should go. Or maybe…not go. Like to Harvard, if they keep such outlandish ideas as Professor Bartholet’s alive.

That’s Forward Thinking. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

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Monday, April 20, 2020

God and the Virus

Uh oh. The esteemed governor of New York has stepped into a mudflow of reactions to a recent assertion about God. After his state has been bitten badly by a vicious virus that holds no prisoners, Andrew Cuomo pushed his un-Catholic like view to center stage. What did he say??

In his own sort of God-forsaken words to reporters the Gov proclaimed, “The (virus) number is down because we brought the number down. God did not do that. Faith did not do that. Destiny did not do that. A lot of pain and suffering did that…That’s how it works. It’s math. And if you don’t continue to do that, you’re going to see that number go back up.”

He’s probably right, of course. I mean the part about people who choose to act foolishly in the face of COVID-19. They must face the consequences. Then if they do get zapped by the virus, many will be pleading for mercy from the God whose wisdom they so easily rejected.

If Andrew Cuomo took his faith to heart, he’d be on his knees every day. After all, look at his brother’s family. Just a couple of weeks ago, CNN broadcaster Chris Cuomo announced he had tested positive for the coronavirus. Adding more pain to his personal misery, he then announced last week that his wife, Christina, had also tested positive. Chris shared, "It is the one thing I was hoping wouldn’t happen and now it has.”

Like I said, now would be a good time for the Cuomos to plead for Divine intervention.

People really only want limited intervention from God. We want it when it suits us. And we don’t when it doesn’t.

The question becomes: what role does God have in the tragedies of life? And the answer is: the same role He has in the glorious victories we find in life. This plays off an important understanding of God’s sovereignty.

People of the Christian faith, and particularly of what is known as Reformed Theology, believe God is sovereign in creation, providence, redemption, and judgment. As a writer for Ligonier Ministries explains, “Nothing happens without God’s willing it to happen, willing it to happen before it happens, and willing it to happen in the way that it happens.”

That’s a hard pill to swallow for many people. That’s because they believe if THEY were God, they would do it differently. Or in their minds, better. Absent from their understanding is the concept of the beauty of free will. A God who forces all of our choices to match His perfect will is a God we learn to hate.

Does God ever “interfere” with free will? Of course He does. In the same way, He intervenes in our rescue more often than we see or know. I’m absolutely sure God has protected me from stupid decisions along life’s way because of His mercy.

But it doesn’t always happen, does it? Tornadoes come. And kill. A virtually unknown virus from a few months ago turns much of the world into a panic. Car accidents. Drug overdoses. Cancer. You name it. No, God does not always intervene for the outcome as we hoped He would.

Yet there is a constant. God IS good. All the time. As the Psalmist wrote, “Taste and see that the LORD is good. How happy is the person who takes refuge in him!” Psalm 34:8 (CSB)

Jim Daly, the president of Focus on the Family, wrote his own commentary on what Governor Cuomo had to say. He ended it this way: “As one with deep faith in God’s overarching sovereignty in our world, I believe there is so much we cannot see – mysteries and movements that mean everything – yet that remain hidden to our earthly eyes. In these uncertain times, how encouraging it is to be reminded that, as the old song says, “He’s got the whole world in His hands.”

And He does. Trust me. You wouldn’t want it any other way.

That’s Forward Thinking. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

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Monday, April 13, 2020

The Annual Cash Covet

Once again Parade Magazine has blessed us with a glimpse of what workers around our country earn for a living. That is, when they are employed. Some of the faces on the front cover of their weekly magazine feature may have recently found COVID-19 to be their demon of unemployment.

I’ve always found this survey to be interesting. In a way, it’s comforting to realize that not everyone is making absurd incomes like entertainers, sports figures, and CEOs. On the other hand, it might well be the first step to the dreaded sin of paycheck envy.

Let’s look at some numbers from Parade’s, "What People Earn: Our Annual Report."

Rush Limbaugh tops the front cover list grabbing an estimated $87 milliion annually for political gabbing. Luke Bryan, country singer, earned less than half that at $42.4 million. Outlander stars Sam Heughan and Caitronia Balfe each pull in $100k per episode of a show I’ve never seen. Nice work, if you can get it.

Now back to the real world. JoAnne Engelhardt earns $13,794 a year as a theatre critic. But how does that happen? She’s obviously horribly paid or is part time. Julie Stripland is a high school band secretary. At $22,614 she’s paid less annually than a full time $15 per hour employee! And Rick Resnick, a Chicago tour guide, is being taken for a ride at $34,500!!

Aside from our curiosity on what the job market serves up, why our fascination with knowing this information? I’m sure at parties it’s a good conversation bit to say, “Can you believe what that Limbaugh makes?” (Or any major CEO of a company.) To which the reply is usually, “NOBODY is worth that kind of money!”

People are not really paid what they’re worth. Some are paid WAY too much. Some are paid WAY too little. How do we really measure the value of the services being rendered in this time of sheltering-at-home?

Some nurses and doctors are doing life-saving work. Some young folks are filling up grocery delivery carts for pickup. Some Starbucks employees, while already getting paid whether they work or not, have decided to show up and get extra pay so we can indulge in lattes. All of them are currently involved in “risky business.”

There is one more aspect of income comparisons that we find a more sinister plague on our soul. That of the earlier mentioned paycheck envy. In this wicked twist, we somehow conclude that the abundance of wealth has made the high rollers a happier lot. More possessions and financial success mean the freedom to buy what we want, travel to exotic locations, and live like kings and queens.

It hits us closest to home in our own workplaces. That’s when we find out how income inequality may have burned us. A coworker makes more. A promotion goes to the undeserved with a fat raise. A better job offer comes to a younger and less experienced employee. We quietly seethe.

Once after John the Baptist finished preaching, the crowd asked how to better live out their faith. He told those with two shirts to share with the person who has none. He told tax collectors to only collect the required amount. And to the soldiers he said, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.” Luke 3:10-14 (NIV)

Apparently, paycheck envy goes way back. And if it wasn’t a paycheck, it might have been property. Or the amount of livestock owned by the neighbor. It’s all the same.

Theodore Roosevelt said that “comparison is the thief of joy.” Margaret Thatcher advised, “The spirit of envy can destroy; it can never build.” They’re both right.

While thousands are losing their jobs this week and next, now is a very good time to be thankful for the job you have. It is not a good time to be comparing.

Even in the good times, the thief of joy is always lurking around the corner.

That’s Forward Thinking. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

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Monday, April 6, 2020

Mindless Christians

Mindless Christians. I could have chosen from several other words. Thickheaded. Muttonheaded. Boneheaded. Even asinine.

Exactly what are church leaders missing in the warnings about gathering in the face of COVID-19? Mindless seems like the best choice, meaning “acting or done without justification or concern for the consequences.” Or add to this…"not thinking of or concerned about.” In terms of their congregations, that’s more dangerous.

There are a number of examples before us. Let’s start with this one. How can mindless Christians help spread the COVID-19 virus? Just sign on to evangelist Jonathan Shuttlesworth’s plan. This Pennsylvania pastor claims he is organizing an outdoor “Woodstock”-like Easter service. His reason is to form a protest over the shelter-in-place mandates.

He’s even coined a special term for it. And boy is he proud about this! "I’m gonna announce it. … We’re gonna hold an outdoor Easter blowout service. Not online. A national gathering. You come from all over, like Woodstock. And we’re gonna gather and lift up Jesus Christ," Shuttlesworth said.

No…we’re not. Not the people who still have brains, anyway. If you didn’t know better, you might think this is a Jim Jones-style call to "drink the Kool-aid." 

This next headline showed up on April Fool’s Day. (Need I say more?) “Churchgoers flock to hear Louisiana pastor despite virus ban.” There were buses and cars aplenty for this Tuesday evening worship service. The pastor decided to ignore wisdom—and the law—by holding his gatherings in spite of a ban on such.

A few of the more reasonable thinkers decided to protest the meeting. One used a bullhorn, hoping to knock some sense into the group. One demonstrator had a sign that read, “God don't like stupid.”

Off we go to Ohio next. There, the Solid Rock Church of Lebanon was determined to continue to hold worship services despite health officials in that state urging them to stop over concerns they would be virus spreaders. Neighbors of the church had actually complained about their gatherings.

Receiving less than honorable mention was the push for churches to be classified as “essential services” as the Texas governor proceeded to do. Admittedly, this is a bit tricky. But here’s some of the language related to the governor’s order: "This Executive Order does not prohibit people from accessing essential services or engaging in essential daily activities... so long as the necessary precautions are maintained” the order reads. Add this, "... The order also includes exemption for religious services conducted in churches, congregations, and houses of worship."

Fortunately, the non-ccoperatives are now in the minority. According to Lifeway Research, about 7 percent of Protestant churches met in-person a week ago. Fewer plan to meet for Easter. But wait…the Lifeway poll revealed 3 percent of churches claim they will meet in-person on Easter “no matter what!”

In an age where you can find strong evangelical worship services on television and you can live stream or send out your own recorded church services, why put God to the test? That’s exactly what it is. Jesus wouldn’t do it.

When Satan tempted him with a dare-devil challenge to throw himself off the temple to see if God would come to the rescue, “Jesus said to him, 'Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Matthew 4:7 (ESV)

The Evil One sees Christians push this “test” button too often. I’m sure he has his own choice words for it. Witless. Foolish. Empty-headed. Vacuous. Lame-brained.

Let me add one more. Sinful.

Don’t be mindless. Set your mind on Jesus. 

That’s Forward Thinking. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

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