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Internally Displaced Person

homer-plessy-16x9The October 2013 issue of National Geographic Magazine contained an article titled “The Changing Face of America.” The article was built around a series of arresting photographs featuring people who combined physical characteristics associated with different “races.” (Why I am using scare quotes is the point of what follows).

Between 2000, the first year it was possible to do so, and 2010, the number of Americans who checked off more than one “race” on their census form grew from 6.8 million to 9 million. And that probably understates the phenomenon. An estimated one third of all African-American men have European Y-DNA markers, which means that they have at least one ancestor of European descent. An untold number of “white” (yes, those are also scare quotes) Americans have some African or other “non-white” ancestry. Read More >
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Worldview and You

man_reading_bibleI can’t get used to the Bible.

I’ve been a follower of Jesus Christ for almost 40 years, in Christian ministry for nearly 35, and I still can’t get used to the Bible.

I memorized the first chapter of Ephesians in college, so it’s familiar enough; but just now when I opened up to that passage, I couldn’t get past the sixth verse. I could only put the book down, lean forward with my head in my hands, and lament: “Who can keep up with this?”

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Semper Quaerens

Heaven_posterWith more than 6 million copies of “Heaven is for Real sold, and translations being made in 36 languages, you knew there had to be a film in the works. “Heaven is for Real,” starring Greg Kinnear as Todd Burpo, Kelly Reilly as Sonja Burpo, and Conner Corum as four-year-old Colton, opens in theaters today (April 16). Will people like the movie as much as they did the book? I spoke with “Heaven is for Real” author Todd Burpo about the film, and how the explosive success of the book about a little boy's journey to Heaven has changed the lives of the entire Burpo family.

Anne: What did you think about how your family was portrayed on film?

Todd: It's really hard to watch yourself on screen, period. But as my friends watched it, they were just chuckling because of how good a job [the actors] did at portraying us. The second and third times I saw it, it was easier for me to watch it, and one of my friends said Greg Kinnear even walks like me—and he does. As far as portraying our family, especially the boy who plays Colton, it's impressive how good a job they did. It's almost too impressive. It's so impressive that . . . it gets creepy. How did they do that?

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All Things Examined

icon4Imagine travelling down the expressway, sunroof open, XM dialed in to the “’60’s on 6,” and lost in reverie until you catch a whiff of something—a bouquet with that certain rubbery tang. You glance down and notice the “Temp” indicator is red; you glance back up to catch the first puffs of steam wafting from the hood. You pull over, get out of the car, and raise the hood to an engine belching coolant in gray billows. As you wait for the tow truck, head in hands, the significance of those small puddles of antifreeze on the carport you’ve noticed, but ignored, for the last several days, becomes clear.

Something like that has happened in our nation. The national conscience, which for the better part of 200 years had been informed by Christian principles, developed a leak decades ago. It started as a slow drip, scarcely noticed. Left largely unattended, it progressed from a trickle to a stream to a gush that has led to the de-Christianization of America.
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Priorities

collegehumor.4bb6ac72a5485dd237ef8376cf5fb92aSometimes my most difficult Facebook arguments aren’t with nonbelievers—they’re with Christians.

A case in point: The other day I posted a link to an article with the title, “Startled Amazon tribesmen pictured jabbing their spears as they see an airplane for the first time.” It carried photos of some nearly naked men at a crude grass shelter in a jungle. They were part of a 200-member tribe in Brazil’s Acre state that so far has had no contact with the outside world.

The only observation I offered was this: “There are still peoples who haven't heard the good news. . . .” For Christians who believe in the Great Commission, it’s an obvious point—one hardly worth making. But I did it anyway, partly because I like to have a good mix of topics on my Facebook page, and partly because I have always been a missions advocate.

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Internally Displaced Person

Noah2I rarely go to the movies—the combination of a decent home theater, Blu-ray, and RedBox works very well for me—but I made an exception for “Noah.” I was aware that Christians were arguing about the movie, but mostly I was curious about what the man who created the only movie that had ever put me to sleep in the theater, “The Fountain,” would do with Genesis 6 through 9. I even paid extra to watch it in Regal’s competitor to IMAX, RPX.

According to Dr. Brian Mattson, I was laboring under a misapprehension: As he put it, “The Bible is not [director Darren Aronofsky’s] text. His ‘Noah’ is the product of a Jewish esoteric texts and practices associated with kabbalah.” After citing examples of Kabbalah's influence on Aronofsky’s film, Mattson ends by calling the failure to recognize Aronofsky’s gambit by both Christian leaders who endorsed the film and those who blasted it a “scandal.”

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Literary Lights

pk_jesus15-kings_ho-300x273
If ancient examples of faith and proofs of God’s grace and deeds edifying to men have on that account been collected and written down, so that by the reading of them as though it made them once more present, both God is honoured and man is strengthened, why should not modern examples also be collected?

—Tertullian

Most people think of director Cecil B. DeMille in connection with the film “The Ten Commandments,” and rightly so. It is considered by many to be the greatest of all biblically based epic films. But there was another, earlier film for which he deserves to be remembered—perhaps even more so than for “The Ten Commandments.”

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Worldview and You

Gods_Not_DeadMarch 21 marks the nationwide opening of the movie “God’s Not Dead”—“the best Christian film ever,” I’ve been told. I’ve seen the film in a pre-screening and I agree with that assessment, but what do I know? The teenage boy who came with us was the one who gave it that glowing review, and his word carries a lot more weight than mine, I’m sure.

Still, I’ll make so bold as to say that among films made by Christian production companies, it’s the best I’ve seen. Its message is strong, and except for a few moments of humor, there isn’t a hint of it being contrived, as too many Christian movies have been. Those moments could almost be taken as self-deprecating parody of the easy-miracle Christian film genre. I say “almost” because in the end . . . well, that would be telling.

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All Things Examined

kirstenpowersFox News political analyst Kirsten Powers is a Christian who supports same-sex “marriage.” In her moral imagination, the only thing fueling the opposition to “marriage equality” is anti-gay bigotry. She suggests that if Jesus was a baker today he’d bake a cake for the ceremony. Her reasoning? In part: “Christianity doesn't prohibit serving a gay couple getting married.” (My emphasis.) I’ll come back to the “argument from silence” in a moment.

Scarcely more than a decade ago, Christians who favored homosexual “marriage” were in the minority, at around 40 percent. No longer. Contrary to biblical teaching and historical church doctrine -- not to mention millennia of cultural tradition -- the support of same-sex “marriage” among Catholics and white mainline Protestants is the same as for the general public: 53 percent.

Strengthening the trend is the growing number of churches endorsing same-sex unions by way of consecrations or other solemnizing ceremonies. Among them: the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ, the Presbyterian Church USA, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

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Internally Displaced Person

800px-Ariadne_auf_Naxos_at_Hamburgische_Staatsoper_2012_-_Photo_No_180_by_Monika_RittershausThe decision by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer to veto a bill that defined “exercise of religion” as the “ability to act or refusal to act in a manner substantially motivated by a religious belief, whether or not the exercise is compulsory or central to a larger system of religious belief,” has undoubtedly disappointed and even angered many of us.

This is especially true given the hysterical way in which many of the bill’s opponents portrayed SB 1062 and the motivations behind it. I won’t rehearse those portrayals because I suspect that it would be an occasion of sin for many of us.

What follows, with your kind indulgence, are some thoughts prompted by the fate of SB 1062 and the events that led to its demise.
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Priorities

wedding-cake-clip-art-AT-2-285x300In a recent column for USA Today, Fox News contributor (and confessing Christian) Kirsten Powers waded into the debate over Arizona SB 1062. The bill, vetoed by Gov. Jan Brewer on February 26, would have allowed religious freedom as a defense against discrimination lawsuits—for example, in the case of an owner of a flower shop, bakery, or photography business who does not want to be a part of a “gay wedding.”

Powers says that because Jesus served and died for all, Christians should serve all, even when they disagree with the recipients’ underlying morality. “Christians backing this bill are essentially arguing for homosexual Jim Crow laws,” Powers writes. “Maybe they should just ask themselves, ‘What would Jesus do?’ I think he'd bake the cake.”

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Literary Lights

fig13Memorial Day, 1982. For three years, I’d heard young men from my high school read the Gettysburg Address in the town cemetery of Exeter, New Hampshire. After our marching band finished playing a somber piece, one senior would step forward and read, using two 3x5 cards containing Lincoln’s text.

I would listen, and look around at the faces of those who listened with me. The oldest faces interested me most: the faces of veterans who’d fought in World War I—the Great War—“the war to end all wars.” They were well into their 80s now, and it was hard to picture them when they were my age. “And they would have been my age, or close to it,” I thought, when summoned to their terrible duty.

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Worldview and You

800px-Scientist_looking_thorugh_microscopeWhat is the proper place of science in contemporary culture, and what happens if we lose sight of where science belongs? David Gelernter’s recent exploration of those questions, in his “Commentary” article “The Closing of the Scientific Mind,” is worthy of further reflection. His article opens,
The huge cultural authority science has acquired over the past century imposes large duties on every scientist. Scientists have acquired the power to impress and intimidate every time they open their mouths, and it is their responsibility to keep this power in mind no matter what they say or do.
We live in the age of the expert. Every field has them: experts in Egyptian history, Shakespearean literature, pop culture—virtually anything you could think of, including of course science. Science’s “huge cultural authority” comes not only from its expertise, however, but also from the overflow of that expertise.
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All Things Examined

living-togetherOver sixty percent of first-time marriages are preceded by cohabitation, according to the University of Virginia's National Marriage Project, which reports a 17-fold increase in the practice since 1960.

Sliding in

Cohabitation has become so accepted and commonplace that for many couples it is not the result of a conscious decision or even a conversation. Instead, notes clinical psychologist Meg Jay, more often it "just happens," as a couple slides, ever so surely, from dating, to having sex, to sleeping over, to sleeping over a lot, to moving in together without discussing goals or expectations.

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Priorities

v2-Seymour1-Gettyv2Reports of American celebrities “entering rehab” no longer shock us. Just last year, according to Peggy Drexler of The Huffington Post, the following stars checked in for help with their addictions: Josh Brolin, Zac Efron, Lindsay Lohan, Elizabeth Vargas, Adam Shankman, and Amanda Bynes.

The death of acclaimed character actor Philip Seymour Hoffman earlier this month, however, is a different matter. On February 2, the Oscar-winning actor was found dead on the floor of his $10,000-a-month New York apartment, a needle full of heroin in his left arm. The apartment had more than 70 bags of the narcotic, plus five prescription drugs. Hoffman had made six ATM withdrawals of $200 the day before.

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Literary Lights

Lyme_Regis_cliffsSo often, the start of a new year brings a welcome time of reflection. Many recall moments that prompt thoughts of gratitude, and I’m one of them.

As a reader, and an author, I try to remember way stations of good things that have graced my journey. They remind me that while there are many challenges that arise in following a writer’s calling, there are moments that make it all new again, and deepen one’s commitment to that call.

At the start of this new year, while a winter storm blanketed the land around our home in white, I had a chance to revisit one set of memories for which I’m particularly grateful. They are rich in ties to history and literature. For me, they carry a wealth of blessings too.

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Worldview and You

planned-parenthood-clinicJames Chastek, who blogs at Just Thomism (and whom I found via First Things) asked last month, “Do you even want to win the culture war?” He suggests that if we did win, then,

This would mean that belief in Christ would be policed and encouraged in the same way that our current cultural beliefs are: by manipulation of the levers of power to control spoils, intimidate dissent, and coin new taboo words and thoughtcrimes that can immediately condemn without argument and persuade without reason.

I’m not sure he’s looking at the complete picture of the culture war, which I’ll come back to in a moment, but his question does spark some thought. His conclusion intersects with a thesis that was new to me when I read it last month in Rodney Stark’s 2011 book “The Triumph of Christianity: How the Jesus Movement Became the World's Largest Religion.”

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All Things Examined

apple-tree-image

The story of the rich man and Lazarus is more than a bracing reminder about our duty to the poor; it is a cautionary tale about misjudging our spiritual condition.

In Jesus’ day, material wealth and well-being were commonly assumed to be divine blessings for personal righteousness: The rich were rich because of their moral virtue, and the poor, poor because of their sin. The rich man had bought that line, only to learn too late that he had been wrong—tragically so.

Sadly, it is a line selling well today, as evidenced by the popularity of the Prosperity Gospel and its various permutations.

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Priorities

FITNESS-articleLargeMy father had begun playing tennis regularly with my younger brother, who was a good athlete, but he never played with me. It isn’t fair, I thought, jealously. What kid hasn’t thought the same thing at one time or another?

But my dad wasn’t the source of the unfairness, and he wasn’t playing favorites. I had a significant physical disability that kept me out of the sports that most of my family enjoyed routinely. All I could do was sit and watch . . . and brood.

One day, my frustration got the better of me, and I had an ugly, self-pitying tantrum in the bathroom. Well, my parents surely heard my bitter complaints from the other side of the door, and soon my dad was taking me—just me—to the tennis court.

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Internally Displaced Person

nazareth15For Emily Colson, “darkness in a theater” is a metaphor for life with her autistic son, Max. I am grateful that nothing remotely as ugly has ever happened to my son, David, and me. Then again, every autistic person is, to paraphrase Tolstoy, autistic in his own way. David is fine at the movies (assuming you can get him out of the house) and even does well at sporting events, so long as we leave before the ninth inning and avoid the crush at the Navy Yard Metro stop.

The closest I ever come to what happened to Emily and Patty, albeit without the ugly crowd, is, of all places, church. David can’t stand the sound of babies crying and/or fussing. His distress and anxiety are almost palpable: Waves seem to emanate from him.

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