Monday, December 14, 2009

Rush Limbaugh: Why Do So Many Dislike Him?

I'm a political conservative - there I said it.

And I'm a political conservative because I'm a conservative, period. The only liberal thing about me (and most other conservatives) is my generosity.  (A recent study and follow up book by Arthur C. Brooks, professor at Syracuse University, entitled Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism proves with hard data that conservative Americans are much more, well, liberal, with their charitible giving than so-called "liberals." And Americans are much more charitable than Europeans, and so much for the stereotypes. But I've already digressed way off topic...)

I'm a political conservative, and I listen to Rush Limbaugh. (And I've read both of his books, The Way Things Ought to Be and See, I Told You So). And I agree with him on a lot of things. Most things. Almost everything, when push comes to shove.

I've noticed, though, that there are some conservatives who would not be willing to make the public confession I just made. And I know other conservatives - some of them conservative clergy like myself - who don't like Rush. I've also got friends and relatives who are conservatives who gladly admit that they don't like Rush.  When these people give a reason why they don't like him (and I like to ask, just to tweak them a bit!), there's one word that they use more than any other in their answers:

They say that Rush Limbaugh is arrogant

They also say he's obnoxious (second most common answer in my unscientific survey - but I think my results are more accurate than any current "scientific" global warming models!). He's in-your-face. He's rude to callers (not really - not until or unless they're rude to him...and never as rude as some other TV and radio personalities I've heard, both on the right and the left).

So I've thought about this...

...this whole "Rush Limbaugh is arrogant"  mantra.  Why do people have this almost knee-jerk response in their dislike for the man? Many of them have seldom or never listened to a single daily three-hour Rush Limbaugh radio program.  I suspect most only know of Limbaugh second hand, from what they've seen/heard said about him in the media, and by now we all should know how today's media edit everything they report for their own desired slant on issues or news.

But there's something else at work here. There's another reason why people say Rush is arrogant. It is this: because Rush speaks with passion to the issues of the day, and he has an opinion about nearly everything...and he believes he is RIGHT. No, I don't mean he believes he's on the right (versus the left); Rush believes and has the conviction that he is speaking THE TRUTH.

And that makes a lot of people today nervous.

Because we live in a culture today that believes it's just fine to have an opinion about things, but it's not politically (or culturally) correct to have the conviction that one's opinions are TRUE (unless of course, those opinions reflect the liberal / politically correct / Hollywood / mainstream media / academic ivory tower mindset that is pushed on us from every direction these days). 

If you have conservative convictions, you are not supposed to believe your convictions are TRUE...they are just your opinions, and you really should keep them to yourself, thank you. Don't impose them on me. Stay out of my personal space (my bedroom, my womb, the internet sites I visit late at night). Many persons who have conservative beliefs and convictions (about what is true) have been pressured by those around them to keep quiet - and even to question whether their convictions are anything more than, at best, personal preference. 

Enter Rush Limbaugh. Loud Rush Limbaugh. Passionate Rush Limbaugh. Rush Limbaugh who is "right 98.6% of the time" (his words on his radio show - occasionally he says he's right as often as 99.2% of the time). He talks about being a "Truth Detector." The "Doctor of Democracy." "Talent on Loan from GOD." And liberals go nuts!

Why? Because their mantra is "no one has a corner on the truth" (except them). There are no absolutes (except that little "absolute" - oops!).

Over his 20 years on The Rush Limbaugh Show, Rush has accomplished something that not only makes liberals crazy, lately it is making them very nervous. He has moved the markers of the public conversation.  Liberals no longer control the conversation in the public square - Rush and other conservative talk show hosts (and news outlets like FOX News) have more listeners than the old (and new) liberal media outlets.  And that is impacting public opinion.

Does Rush speak "the truth?" Well, you can say, "no" all you want, but over 20 million listeners every week are tuning in, most of them agreeing with his views. Again, other conservative shows are also attracting huge numbers of listeners (Sean Hannity, Glen Beck, Laura Ingraham, and others who are more libertarian, like Neal Boortz and Tammy Bruce).

Is anything TRUE? For sure? Does Rush - does any one of us - have the right to say "this is the truth, that is a lie; this is right, that is wrong"?

Well, if we can't say with certainty that some things are true, how can we live our lives and function each day? Is that car silver or red?  Is the sky blue or green? Is this a $5 bill or a $50 bill?

What about much more important things, like defining murder, lying, adultery, stealing, and other vices? What about defining marriage as between one man and one woman? (Certainly those on the left have absolute moral definitions for their "pet sins," like homophobia, obesity, smoking, business profits and year-end bonuses for executives in the private sector)?

We quickly see that everywhere we turn, things must be defined - we must pass judgment - and our judgments are all about moral choices, convictions about right and wrong.

Since I'm a minister, I can't resist taking this blog post in the direction of religion. And even if I were not a minister, I would need to do so, because religion is where many (all?) of our convictions about right and wrong are founded (that includes the liberal left's moral convictions as well - they won't admit it, but they do come to those convictions by faith). 

The Jewish and Christian religions have a great deal to say about right and wrong; there are definitions and judgments of good and evil throughout the Old and New Testament scriptures of these two faiths. The Bible calls some behaviors "sin," period. There's no getting around it.  And we should note that everything defined as "sin" in the Bible is an act that breaks relationships - either between God and human beings or between one person and another (this includes between individuals, or between private persons and the state, etc.). 

Jesus made judgment calls all the time, while still extending love, grace and forgiveness to persons. But he was not shy about calling something "good" or "evil". And he made a profound statement about truth in John 8.31-32:

"If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."
(emphasis added, English Standard Version)

Jesus said very plainly here that "the truth" can be known (by those who are his true disciples). It can be discerned, practiced, and named.

And Jesus said to those disciples, "the truth will set you free." Our founding fathers would say that this means free from the need for others to govern you, because you are self-governing. Yet we see more and more laws being passed - why?  Because we are a people losing our moral conscience - and therefore our ability to be self-controlled, and self-governing.

"Free" also means free from restrictions on where you can travel, what you can eat, where you can live, what size home you can own, what kind of work you can do...these were all freedoms assumed and enumerated by our founding fathers who wanted to keep an oppressive government out of their lives.

This is the "truth" that Rush "preaches," and it is an understanding of freedom that many Americans have lost because our generation no longer understands these constitutional concepts. Therefore many people easily accept the liberal left's own truth claims, without asking for sources or evidence for why we should listen to them or trust them.

So Rush drives people crazy and brings on their wrath because he, too, has the arrogance to claim to know and speak the truth.

I'm sorry that this bothers some people. I'm sorry if it makes a few folks uncomfortable. I'm sorry if it embarrasses people in polite society when someone says with conviction, "you're wrong."

In today's dark world, we need someone to turn the light back on. Keep talking, Rush!

Stay connected,

Pastor Mike

P.S. Since I brought up generosity at the beginning of this thread, I'll also note that Rush is a generous philanthropist. He holds an annual fundraising telethon called the "EIB Cure-a-Thon" for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. In 2006 the EIB Cure-a-Thon conducted its 16th annual telethon, raising $1.7 million; totaling over $15 million since the first Cure-a-Thon.  In 2008, Rush raised his pledge to $400,000 after someone called in and challenged him to do so.  Rush usually matches a pledge each year made by two anonymous donors, whom he only identifies as two sisters. So ... Rush is another liberal, generous conservative.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Facing The Spirits During Christmas...

Ebenezer Scrooge was confronted about his miserly, self-centered life by the Christmas Spirits.

And in the 2000 movie release, The Family Man, Jack Campbell (Nicolas Cage) is likewise confronted by - whom? an angel? the Spirit of Christmas? - and he's given the chance to find out what a "real, down-to-earth" life feels like. Oh boy.

I trust you've seen the movie, so I won't go into a long synopsis of the plot. (If you haven't seen it yet, crawl out from under your rock, add it to your Christmas viewing list, go rent it, and you can thank me later!)

I'll just say this: what happens to Jack Campbell - being transported Scrooge-style from his penthouse bed on Christmas Eve into a parallel universe - would be an equally troubling experience for anyone during this Christmas season, but an experience that might do some good.

If the Spirits of Christmas - past, present and future - were to visit you, what powerful or painful moments from your life would you see? And based on your current trajectory, what does your future look like?

Let's approach this question from the "fly-on-the-wall" vantage point. To whom among your family or friends would you love to see this happen? Who do you know that needs just such a "wake-up" call?  Is there a Scrooge in your life to whom you would love to play Marley (while still alive, of course!)?

The biblical account of Christmas ought to be as disturbing to us as a visitation from Marley or the Christmas Spirits.

The angels come to announce the birth of the Savior...but the story is very different from the way we would tell it if we were writing...

God chooses folks of humble origin to parent the Christ child. The angels make their joyous announcement of God's peace and good will to society's least and last (the shepherds were the social outcasts or their day). All of this happens in out of the way places, in "fly-over country" as we call it today. It only comes to the attention of the political and religious leaders later, when Jesus is sought by magi from the east, when they alert a jealous, counterfeit Jewish King Herod of the birth of the true "King of the Jews."

Herod was nervous because he knew he was a phony. And the political and religious leaders around him also knew that their power was based on fraud and deceit. God comes into our world and shines his light into our comfortable, self-centered lives and says, "Is that it? Is that all you've got, Jack Campbell?"

We like the baby Jesus at Christmas - harmless, gentle, sweet. But when he is King Jesus he's a bit unnerving - he intends to be on the various thrones that we've created - political thrones; cultural and religious thrones; the "money, sex and power" thrones where we sit, planning our next conquest.

God isn't out to squash our fun. But he knows that there's something so much better for us - like Jack Campbell - but we will need to make some radical adjustments in our lives. We will need to let go of what seem to us like good or even great things in order to make room for the best things, God's gracious gifts. God can only place his gifts in open, empty hands.

And, like Jack Campbell, you will have to "walk by faith" for a while. At first this new life, with God in control, will feel like a strange fit, like someone else's clothes. It won't impress like the old wardrobe.  But it's much more comfortable, much more durable, and it is more "suited" to our new life (okay, one bad pun!).

So when the Christmas Spirits show up, it can be scary. It feels very threatening, it IS very threatening. King Jesus intends to transform the kingdoms of this world into the kingdom of our Lord. And the kingdom he will start with is the one you are presiding over today.

Stay connected,

Pastor Mike

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Merry Christmas, signed: Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan has released a Christmas CD this year, entitled "Christmas In The Heart."

Don't worry, I don't expect you to run out and buy it! (I don't even have it yet...Kathy did promise to get it for me for Christmas...) Dylan's voice is Dylan's voice, and some people just can't get past that - or maybe won't take the time to listen seriously to his lyrics to hear from a man who is still one of the most engaging prophetic artists of our time.

So I know - I know - there just aren't many (if any?) serious Dylan fans among those who normally read this blog! By a "serious" Dylan fan, I mean someone who can name a song title or album title that Dylan has released in the last 25 years, which would be sometime since'cha can't do it!

Some of Dylan's fans of his older music might wonder why he would release a Christmas album, and reviewers who have heard it are all over the place in their reviews.  I've heard clips of a couple songs on the internet, and read some of the reviews.

Indeed, the questions could run along this line of thinking: "Why would Dylan release a Christmas album?  After all, isn't he Jewish?  I thought he got over that Christian phase of his a long time ago?"

But as I continue to listen to Dylan's music (and I have most of his albums of new material released in the past 30 years), I hear him expressing - in his own apocalyptic, mysterious and enigmatic way - a searching faith that struggles to embrace his Jewish roots with a Messianic Christian worldview...and I find Dylan's "wrestling in song" more compelling than most of the contemporary Christian music that is being created and released today (which may say more about my limited awareness of contemporary Christian music over the past few years than it does about contemporary artists and their music).

We'll come back to Dylan's new Christmas album in a moment...

This year marks the 20th anniversary of - in my humble opinion - one of the best albums of Dylan's entire career, the 1989 release, Oh Mercy.

Oh Mercy was released ten years after Dylan's breakout "Christian" album, Slow Train Coming, yet it contains songs that ought to be as compelling for people of faith as the songs on that 1979 artistic masterpiece.

(ASIDE: It should be noted that Slow Train Coming was praised - sometimes years later - by many critics, even some who didn't resonate with Dylan's overt Christian lyrics on the album. And many songs from this phase of Dylan's career have been recorded by some of today's best known gospel artists - Shirley Ceasar, Dottie Peoples, Aaron Neville, Helen Baylor, Mighty Clouds of Joy, Mavis Staples - on the 2003 album entitled Gotta Serve Somebody: The Gospel Songs of Bob Dylan. This is a poweful, moving album of black gospel music! It's a testament to just how good these Dylan songs are - how well they hold up over time, and how well they translate when interpreted by other artists.)

Song titles from Oh Mercy include, "Everything is Broken," "Ring Them Bells," "Political World," "What Good Am I?" and "Disease of Conceit."

"Everything Is Broken" is an honest, painful look at the brokenness of our world - not just broken stuff, but broken relationships, broken systems, and the likelihood that nothing "under the sun" is going to change that.

"Ring Them Bells" is one of the most moving songs on the album; it is both hymn and anthem with it's words and deliberately slow but intentional forward requires you to take it seriously.  Here are a couple verses that illustrate Dylan's worldview, a worldview which includes more than what the eye can see:

Ring them bells St. Peter
Where the four winds blow,
Ring them bells with an iron hand
So the people will know.
Oh it's rush hour now
On the wheel and the plow
And the sun is going down
Upon the sacred cow.

Ring them bells Sweet Martha,
For the poor man's son,
Ring them bells so the world will know
That God is one.
Oh the shepherd is asleep
Where the willows weep
And the mountains are filled
With lost sheep.

(Copyright ©1989 Special Rider Music)

There's more, but these two verses give a glimpse into Dylan's head for those willing to consider what he's saying.  The last four lines quoted above are interesting...who is "the shepherd"? What does Dylan mean by "lost sheep"? These are powerful biblical images used especially by the Old Testament prophets, but also by Jesus.  While it is dangerous to read meanings into lyrics (I'm tempted to view "the shepherd" as the Church today, failing to be faithful in addressing the brokenness of our culture, and therefore leaving many sheep lost), these lyrics say quite a bit themselves about what Dylan thinks of the current condition of the church, the world, and our culture.

"What Good Am I?" is a powerful examination of a life, an examination the subject fails:

What good am I if I'm like all the rest,
If I just turned away, when I see how you're dressed,
If I shut myself off so I can't hear you cry,
What good am I?

What good am I if I know and don't do,
If I see and don't say, if I look right through you,
If I turn a deaf ear to the thunderin' sky,
What good am I?

What good am I while you softly weep
And I hear in my head what you say in your sleep,
And I freeze in the moment like the rest who don't try,
What good am I?

What good am I then to others and me
If I've had every chance and yet still fail to see
If my hands tied must I not wonder within
Who tied them and why and where must I have been.

What good am I if I say foolish things
And I laugh in the face of what sorrow brings
And I just turn my back while you silently die,
What good am I?

(Copyright ©1989 Special Rider Music)


Dylan seems to be relentlessly on tour these days, and continues to perform songs from throughout his 40-plus year career. The set list is constantly changing, to include new music from his latest releases, but he also delights fans with his old hits, and leaves some of them perplexed by his occasional inclusion of his "Christian" songs. For example, at concerts in 2008, Dylan added the song "I Believe In You" from 1979's Slow Train Coming to his set. He sang,

Don’t let me drift too far,
Keep me where you are
Where I will always be renewed.
And that which you’ve given me today
Is worth more than I could pay
And no matter what they say
I believe in you.

(Copyright ©1979 Special Rider Music)


So...why has Dylan released a Christmas album? And a Christmas album chock full of traditional Christmas favorites...AND...Christian Christmas carols (I know, "Christian Christmas" is redundant) that proclaim the birth of the Savior of the world?

Well, we should just let Dylan's music speak for him (as I said above, it's dangerous to read into things, much as we're all tempted). He chose "Oh Little Town of Bethlehem" to close out the album. It's one of the cuts I've heard (isn't the internet wonderful?!). Clocking in at just over two minutes, with only two of the carol's verses, here are the words from the last song on Dylan's Christmas album, sung slowly, thoughtfully, and even reverently by Dylan and his backup singers:

Oh little town of Bethlehem how still we see thee lie,
above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shine, in everlasting light,
the hopes and fears of all the years, are met in thee tonight.

How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given;
so God imparts to human hearts, the blessings of all his heaven.
No ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin,
where meek souls will receive him still, the dear Christ enters in.

So while there's seasonal fun and frivolity in the songs of this album ("Here Comes Santa Claus," The Christmas Blues" and "Christmas Island"), there is also an abiding and longing faith expressed in Dylan's interpretation of the church's traditional Christmas carols and hymns. Dylan sings the closing "Amen," which means, "truly" or "it is true," leaving us to ponder the meaning of this over our eggnog or hot chocolate.

I'll leave it to you to make up your own mind. As I continue to listen to Dylan's music (and, in my opinion, much of his best music has been written in the past 20 years, as Dylan gets older and wiser), I still hear a passionate prophetic voice whose message will resonate long after the man himself has left this all behind.

Stay connected,

Pastor Mike

*It should be mentioned here that all of Dylan's profits from the album Christmas In The Heart are being donated to various charities in the United States and other countries to feed the hungry.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Tiger Woods - the Legend is Human

...and right now, not a very pretty picture of humanity.

But an accurate one. And a reminder once again that our heroes can fall, even from very high and seemingly indestructable pedestals.

So what will we learn from Tiger's "transgressions," to use his word for his marital unfaithfulness and chronic adultery?

Tiger Woods is not just the envy of the average man on the street; he's no doubt the envy of quite a few of his fellow star athletes. He's the richest - at somewhere between $800 million and over $1 billion.  He's a legend on the golf course, and still young enough to grow that legacy. He has a beautiful wife, if external appearance means anything (and to most of us, it does) and a couple of healthy children.

And yet we've learned in the past two weeks that he has been involved in affairs with several (and maybe more than several) women, who's stories are beginning to be told in the media.

So Tiger Woods is a dirtbag. A sleazeball. A loser. A lowdown, no-good, cheating, carousing, two-timing member of the species.

I know that all sounds harsh, and some will say I'm oversimplifying his "situation." But sometimes the truth is pretty simple. And simple is something that most people, regardless of their moral or religious convictions, recognize pretty quickly and easily.  When a married man has sex with another woman, that's adultery. That's cheating on his wife. That's low. It's WRONG.  Even our irreligious media can get that one right (especially when it's guaranteed to sell).

I don't mean to single out Tiger Woods, as though he's the only one who ever "transgressed" in this way. The list of folks who have committed adultery is long and is not limited by economic or social class. We all know folks in our own workplaces, neighborhoods, and even churches who have cheated on their spouses (...there's more than one adulterer mentioned in the Bible!). And we know we're all capable of it, too.

I'm singling Tiger out because we observe a powerful truth at work - call it a spiritual truth if you want, but Truth, nonetheless.

Tiger has it all; I've already given the rundown of his accomplishments, blessings and worldly wealth. So you ask, "What more could a man want?" After all, who wouldn't trade places with Tiger Woods (before this past week's revelations, of course!)? And if not trade places, who wouldn't want to experience success at his level? Surely he has life by the tail?

But if we've learned anything, we've learned that success does not guarantee fulfillment. Something in Tiger's head or heart was still yearning, still not fulfilled, still searching. How is that possible, when he seemed to have it all?

Again, this will sound like a simplistic response, but the Truth isn't usually rocket science. Jesus said you can gain the whole world and still lose your soul. You can be so rich your neighbors all envy you, and yet be unhappy and still searching for something - just ask Zaccheaus.  Ask any Hollywood star, ask any great athlete. Ask Tiger.

He's not the first to learn this lesson. He won't be the his story slips off the front page there will be others. And there will be those in your circle of friends who won't get their picture in the tabloids.

The question is, what will Tiger learn from this? Anything? Will he do the necessary self-reflection, self-examination that could lead to acknowledging the deeper need in his spirit?

We should pray for Tiger - maybe he's at a place now where he himself has realized how empty his "full" life really is. That can be a good place to be - if we're spiritually open and willing to seek God's grace and redemption.

And every one of us should confess right now, "Lord, but for Your grace, there am I." And we should back away from judging the person (while still judging their behavior for what it is, wrong and hurtful to all concerned). We should see Tiger's fall as a warning of what can happen to any of us if we look for success or fulfillment in this worlds pursuits, accomplishments or treasures.

May you pray for Tiger, and for anyone else you know who is struggling in sin. And then pray for yourself. Ask God to keep you in his grace, and to help you find your life in Him.

Stay connected,

Pastor Mike