Everywhere censors

While right-wingers loudly whine about liberal “cancel culture,” they are the ones primarily engaged in it.

One recent example is the inclusion of a child’s board book on a list of books that one group wants banned from libraries in Florida.

The book is Everywhere Babies, by Susan Meyers, illustrated by Marla Frazee.

It shows babies doing what babies do: walking, crawling, sleeping, making noise; and being carried, fed, dressed, rocked and so on. Pretty normal stuff.

Ah, but the book banners have discovered some allegedly pornographic influences here, babies being “groomed” for future deviancy.

One illustration shows two men sitting together at a playground watching their children play. They could be friends, neighbors, brothers – or married to each other. (Adding to the potential offense, one might be white, the other black.)

Oh, and there’s also an illustration that includes a detail of two men walking, one with a hand on the other’s shoulder. And one in which two women are collapsed together near a baby cradle, where the baby finally appears to have gone asleep.

Yup, these folks sure do know pornography when they see it.

Friends, can we bring a little sanity to this discussion?

Word of the potential banning has now made the book a best seller. Good.

In fact, I bought a copy for my new grandson. We hope his big brother reads it to him when he’s ready for board books.

It would be an example of him being groomed for real life.

Not the pretend life of the immoral morality police. But real life, where there are everywhere babies.

Giving up Lent for Lent

“This year I’m giving up Lent for Lent.”

It sounds like a comedian’s joke, but I’ve heard it said by real ministers of the gospel (and not just by sneering “evangelicals” who don’t practice Lent anyway but want to score imaginary points against those who do).

Lent is supposed to be a time of self-reflection and spiritual renewal in the days before we pass through the horrors of Holy Week and celebrate the joy of Resurrection Sunday.

There’s nothing wrong with giving up something we enjoy (such as chocolate) during Lent. Self-denial is about learning the proper place of things that are good but not essential. We deny ourselves the joy of some good so that we can discover what is not only good but essential.

We can take it too far, of course, and focus on what we’re giving up rather than on what we’re gaining from the experience. And sometimes the whole exercise just feels like it’s too much to endure.

As we stagger out of our pandemic shelters and vaguely wonder if we can go maskless in this situation or that, Lent feels more like a weight holding us down than something that will raise us up. Would it be wrong to give it up this year?

This is the first spring in 30 years that I have not been in some sort of pastoral role during Lent. I don’t have to worry about worship planning or sermon preparation or most any kind of spiritual leadership. I am responsible for my own Lenten journey alone. No others will look to my example.

So my Lent has been disorganized, scattershot, probably not nearly as fruitful as it could have been. After having my forehead marked on Ash Wednesday, I have observed no special spiritual exercises – nothing beyond my ordinary habits of prayer, devotional reading and a bit of study if a question comes up.

I have done, basically, what I suspect most lay people in the church do every Lent. Maybe it’s enough for them. This year, I think it’s enough for me.

After only nine months of retirement from pastoral ministry, Linda and I are still struggling to get back into the habit of Sunday morning worship. We have ties to many churches, we want to renew relationships with people in them all, and getting around to them all takes time.

We also have a new grandson three hours or so away (and the remnants of a nasty cold he passed on the last time we visited; kid germs are toxic to adults). Some mornings, it’s just hard to get to church.

(Note to pastors: If you don’t understand how hard it is for many people to get out of bed on Sunday morning, your lack of understanding could be crippling your ministry.)

We’ll eventually get back into the habit of regular public worship. Next year, maybe I’ll observe a “proper” Lent, whatever that may be. This year I’m content to give up Lent for Lent.

Self-denial during Lent is about giving up something valuable to gain a better appreciation of something essential. Lent itself is valuable but not essential. Heartfelt worship and devotion to God are essential. I’m content to give up Lent now if that leads me toward greater worship and devotion.

May God bless your Lenten journey and fill your heart with joy on Easter!

Church + state = disaster

If you are still unsure about the wisdom of entwining church and state, you should look at Russia.

It is good that the Russian Orthodox Church has rebounded after years of oppression under Communist leadership. It is bad that the church has now climbed into bed with a different authoritarian government.

Patriarch Krill (Cyrill) is a longtime ally of “Vlad the Impaler” Putin. A short time ago Krill gave the church’s blessing to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

Brutal military tactics featuring atrocities against civilians, a vicious program of destruction that leaves nothing worthwhile standing – not to mention a totally baseless and fictional rationale for the attack itself: Krill blesses it all.

He shares with Putin a love of “traditional values,” Russian style, and a hatred of all things from the morally degraded West, especially anything related to that gravest of all possible sins, homosexuality.

Maybe that’s why so many “evangelicals” in America proclaim their love for Putin. He hates some of the same things they do, and “evangelicals” typically go ga-ga over authoritarian types like Putin, who loves to strip off his shirt to show off his hairless, manly chest.

There are 260 Orthodox Christians in the world, perhaps 100 million of them Russian Orthodox. Ukraine has about 30 million Orthodox believers of various stripes, including an independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church that Krill considers apostate.

But Ukraine is central to Russian nationalist mythology and now Russian Orthodox religious mythology, too, so it appears Putin and Krill are intent on destroying Ukraine in order to save it.

Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, has called for the Russian Orthodox Church to be expelled from the World Council of Churches. That seems no more likely than Russia being expelled from the United Nations Security Council, which exists mostly to keep the world’s biggest nations from blowing us all up.

It is sickening to see a major Christian figure drop all pretense of “just war” theology and not only defend but encourage a clearly unjust war. Such is our world today, as it always has been and will be until Christ returns again. This is what happens – always – when church and state become intertwined. State wins. Church turns idolatrous. Witness for Christ is forever stained.