Thursday, April 28, 2016

Burning a Dead Body

If I die, I'm going to be cremated.

Now obviously, the likelihood is that I'm going to die at some point.  However, as their pediatrician once told my brother and sister-in-law regarding the gender of their pre-born children, "there is a God factor."

When it comes to death and dying, the "God factor" involves something many secularists don't believe.  But I'll spell it out here anyway, before moving on.  The only reason I wouldn't die would be that Jesus Christ, as I believe He will, returns to Earth to claim His living followers in an event Christians call the "Rapture."

Otherwise, if Christ does not return to Earth during my lifetime, I will die.  Eventually.  And if/when I do, I've already given instructions for my cremation.

When Dad died from Alzheimer's last fall, Mom and I arranged to have him cremated.  It's what he wanted.  Mom is planning on being cremated, too.  The three of us believe that our mortal bodies aren't what's eternal - it's our soul that is eternal.  The Bible does not forbid cremation; in fact, no mention of cremation is made anywhere in Scripture.  We get a restored, healthy body when we're in Heaven, so to us, what difference does it make what happens to our body when we're done with it down here?

According to some theologians, however, it does make a difference whether we burn our corpses or not.  Their line of logic is pretty thin, and depends on a lot of tradition, theory, and symbolism, but it basically rests on the respect we humans need to display towards the mortal vessel God created to house our soul, in which His Holy Spirit dwells while His followers are alive.

For the conservative Presbyterian ministry, Ligonier, R.C. Sproul Jr. opines that "burial... affirms not only that the human body has dignity, but also that it has a future.  It affirms that death is not the end of the body."

Conservative Baptist preacher John Piper goes quite a bit further, but just as unconvincingly.  He talks about Christ having a human body, so (somehow) cremation dishonors Christ's body.  Piper also describes how fire in historic cultural practice is considered negatively, especially when it comes to its destructive force.

So maybe if we didn't burn our corpses, but disposed of them in some way other than burial, Piper would be satisfied?

He says he's particularly concerned that evangelicals these days seem preoccupied with the cost of burying a corpse, and are opting for cremation simply because it's cheaper.  Piper even goes so far as to suggest that churches should establish burial funds so less-affluent congregants can avoid the unsaintly tinge of cremation for their loved one.

Now, so far, nobody is actually saying that cremation is sinful.  And to a certain extent, these opinions from professional Christians serve as unsolicited guidance for people who are wondering what various perspectives might be out there regarding cremation versus burial.  And in terms of offering philosophical reasons for why somebody might stick with burial over cremation, these perspectives aren't wrong.

But they're not exactly helpful, are they?

After all, Piper has a point:  There remains a huge cost differential between conventional burial and much less expensive forms of cremation.  And while some larger churches might have expendable resources to help families make up the difference, is spending money on saving a corpse from an incinerator a smart ministry investment?

In places like New York City, or Boston, or other large cities where land is scarce and exceptionally pricey, purchasing burial property is a challenge for even wealthy families.  Should a corpse be hauled off to the middle of nowhere so "affordable" burial plots can be purchased, even if the family will rarely be able to travel out to visit their dearly-departed loved one's gravesite?

Anyway, besides the money, what's so sacrosanct about a corpse?  Okay, so burning the human body is not a pleasant or even natural thought in the best of circumstances.  But if the preservation of the human corpse is so important, what about people who've had limbs amputated?  Should those amputated parts be enshrined someplace, or kept on ice to be placed in the coffin with the rest of its original body when the time comes?  What about organ transplants, or the surgical removal of diseased organs?  Should Christians avoid those?  What about organ donation, when the still-viable organs of a deceased person are harvested to provide sight for a blind person, or a new heart or kidney to a desperately ill person?

And what about 2 Corinthians 5, which directly talks about the difference between our earthly and heavenly bodies:

For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.  For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked.  For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.  He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee...  We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord..."  - 2 Corinthians 5:1-6

There are some who interpret this passage as meaning that God will give all of His followers an utterly new, perfect body in Heaven.  Others interpret this passage as meaning that God will essentially "fix" what was "wrong" with our earthly bodies so they're perfectly functional in Heaven.

What we all can appreciate from this passage, however, is that the poetic and allegorical language used by the Apostle Paul in writing it does not actually specify whether God patches up our original body, or gives us a brand-new body that might not look a whole lot like our earthly body.  Why this lack of specificity?  Probably because it doesn't really matter to us now, right?  If God wanted us to know explicitly what we'll look like in Heaven, He'd have put it someplace in the Bible.  But He doesn't, so what does that tell us?

That tells us that all the saints who've gone before us, centuries and millennia ago - whose corpses are now mere dust within their rotted caskets and fetid crypts, will receive a body by God.  New, revised, repaired, whatever!  This passage acknowledges that our earthly bodies will likely be destroyed by something - fire, or time, or plastic surgery, or illness, or maggots - but it doesn't really matter, because God's already arranged for us to have something "new" and "perfect."

So why fuss about how wrong cremation might be?

What should matter is whether the person within the body is going to spend eternity in the proverbial "Lake of Fire" or not, right?

Tuesday, April 26, 2016


If you're male, and you love country-western music, you just might be trans-gendered.

If you're a woman, and you love watching football on TV, you just might be trans-gendered.

I read an article yesterday in which the author assumed that aberrations within traditional masculine and feminine hobbies could be sufficient justification for trans-genderism.  Actually, the more widespread trans-genderism becomes in our sociopolitical narrative, I hear this assumption a lot.  Especially from people who are supposed to know better.

In other words, according to this assumption, if you're a boy but you like music - which our society says is a feminine predisposition - then maybe you might be trans-gender.  At least, that's the bottom-line rationale.  And if you're a girl, but you like sports, then you're "butch," and very much on the brink of trans-genderism.

After all, true boys should enjoy manly things, and true girls should enjoy feminine things.

But when our likes cross these gender lines established by society, is that indicative of trans-genderism?

Isn't that notion something at which liberals used to scoff?  And not too long ago, either.  Remember the battle of the sexes?  You mean women want to work outside the home?  Conservatives used to be the ones who said that was a weird notion; that a woman's place was in the home.  Liberals were the ones who claimed a woman could still be a woman even if she didn't feel fulfilled doing housework.  After all, employment shouldn't be a question of gender, but competence, right?

But now, liberals say if you don't feel feminine, or masculine, then you're cross-gender.

See what happens when we let society write the rules?

Two friends of mine got married this weekend.  One of them is a wonderful singer and performer in community theater.  The other is getting ready to enter the police academy in suburban Dallas.  Now, quick:  which one did you peg as the bride, and which one the groom?

True, the bride recently graduated with a degree in music, but she's headed off to join the police department in Irving, Texas, where the Dallas Cowboys used to play.  Her husband is a career fire-fighter for the city of Dallas, and as a hobby, he's sung in church choirs for years, and acted in local stage productions for almost as long.

They're both good-looking, and about as representative of their respective gender's best physical qualities as you could want.  And yes, he's a man, and she's a woman, and they're definitely not trans-gender.

Hey, here's a progressive notion for you:  It's okay for a guy to like acting in community theater and still consider himself a guy.  It's okay for a beautiful woman to pursue police work, and still consider herself a beautiful woman.

Trans-genderism used to be a rare biological abnormality in which a person's original reproductive apparatus and chromosomes didn't all jive.  But now, somehow, in a direct affront to those few people struggling with legitimate trans-gender issues, the liberal line is this:  If you feel like a man, but you've got all the equipment necessary to give birth to a human being, then it's still cool to say you're a dude.

And if you're a dude, but you've got feelings for womanhood despite your lack of baby-birthing equipment, then it's warm and fuzzy to say you're a lady.

Folks, this is not science.  This is nothing but twisted socialization.  This is a perversion of ideas pertaining to what makes a man a man, and a woman a woman.  Gender roles aren't about emotion, or hobbies, or talents.  It's not even about the types of clothes in which you feel comfortable.

Do we have to start drawing pictures again?  Don't they teach anatomy in school anymore?

You're not a man because you like football.  And you're not a woman if you don't.  Listening to songs about jilted lovers sung with a lilting twang doesn't make you a cowboy any more than it makes you feminine.

You'd think progressive liberals would be the ones holding the line against unfair gender-skewed presumptions here.

As it is, we've got yet another reason to acknowledge the obvious:  Not only does our genitalia actually mean something about who we are, and who we aren't.  But society can do a really lousy job with our socialization.

This isn't a theological issue, or a political issue, or a moral issue, as much as it is a basic issue of civilized maturity:  Males have the insertion device, and females have the device into which the insertion device is, um, inserted.

Folks, I'm not being flippant here, but this is not difficult, or complex.  It's really not.  And because it's not complex, we've been able to survive pretty well using some fairly basic rooms with porcelain devices designed to accommodate basic bodily outputs and those output devices.

Until now.  All of a sudden, choosing a public bathroom has almost nothing to do with actually eliminating bodily waste in relative privacy.  Suddenly, being part of an "advanced" society has transformed going to the bathroom into a brave new social experiment.

With this type of myopic social regression, ISIS won't have to attack us to ruin Western civilization.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Angst Against Us Christians

It seems nobody's content with America these days.

Especially when it comes to politics.  Conservatives can't seem to find anybody conservative enough, and liberals can't seem to find anybody liberal enough.

And no matter their political persuasion, it seems everybody has a theory for how America has reached this predicament.

There are the political theories, which range from basic us-versus-them paradigms to sophisticated historical matrices of power, idealism, and morality.

Then there are the economic theories, which parallel the political theories.  And the religious theories, which skew heavily towards a Judeo-Christian interpretation of world history and America's role in it.

And, increasingly, there are the individualists who don't care anything about what it all means, or how we got to this point in history; they just want what they want and they don't see why they shouldn't have it.  Now.

Sexuality seems to have been the tipping point in all this, with homosexuality playing a starring role in the liberal push for gender neutrality, and the conservative scramble to salvage a traditional view of marriage - and even toilet facilities.  Yes, ISIS has a lot of Americans worried about terrorism, and economic disparity is as pronounced these days as it ever was, but the stories capturing the most headlines and most deeply captivating the angst of the country are sexual in nature.

And, ironically, they're about initiatives designed to protect a mere sliver of our population.  It is estimated that only three percent of Americans are gay.  This means something bigger is at stake:  What will be America's prevailing ideology regarding rights?

There are cake-bakers, photographers, calligraphers, wedding chapel owners, and county records clerks who don't believe they should support gay marriage by being forced to apply the tools of their trade to the cause of a ceremony they believe offends their Deity.  There are gay people in love offended by the stance being taken by these cake-bakers and county records clerks, because nobody usually likes being told that something they deeply want to do is immoral and contrary to God's design for the human family.

And there are a lot of people who are simply fed up with religion in general, and Christianity in particular, and all of the piety, rules, pomposity, self-righteousness, and hypocrisy that seem to govern the Christian ethic.

And of all the ways in which our society is being defined, differentiated, and segregated, it's a person's adherence to conventional Biblical values that seems to be cutting the deepest in these public dialogs over who is entitled to marriage or using the women's rest room.

Over the generations, most evangelical Americans have been lulled into a false sense of religious security regarding Christianity's place and purpose in American civic life.  The realization that years of our own sloppy discipleship and our society's liberalized standards - from public schools to business ethics to Sunday morning worship services - have finally caught up with our ambivalence to what our testimony looks like to everyday Americans is sobering, and distressing.

If you think about it, if the evangelical church simply went away, a lot of the dissension ravaging America today would disappear.  Even hedonistic, carnal conservatives don't have much going for their arguments without the venerable dictates of a Judeo-Christian value system, even if we modern Christians aren't very good at modeling that value system in our own lives.  This likely is the reason why it seems as though society at large is turning against people of faith.  Right?

Yet, honestly, this is not a recent development.  Christ told His followers that throughout time and place, we should expect to be opposed.  The Gospel of Christ is not about sexual freedom, just as it's not about military might, or democracy, or earning a nice income, or schooling, or breeding, or anything other than honoring God with whatever He's given us.

And "freedom"?  Freedom in Christ is not political, or sexual, or economic.  Christ's freedom is emancipation from the bondage of sin, yet so many of us seem far more comfortable applying patriotic imagery to Christian freedom than Biblical theology.  And it's messed us up.

Sure, our United States Constitution gives us freedom of religion, but as we can see, democracy has its limits when it comes to guaranteeing political freedoms.  Are gay people free to marry each other, or are people of faith free to decline to participate in such weddings?  One person's freedom often comes at the expense of somebody else's, or something else.  And if popular sentiment shifts, how strong a protection can religious people expect the Constitution to provide?

There are some Americans who say that all of this talk of impending religious oppression is balderdash.  Somewhere, somehow, there must be ways of mutual reciprocity and harmony, they say.  Even I myself usually take a politically moderate stance, advocating for compromise when it's appropriate.  And in many cases, political compromise is appropriate.

But when it comes to religious beliefs, the traditional view has been that the sacred is sacrosanct.  However, now that more and more people view religion as expendable, the sacred is now relative.

Otherwise, explain how American society is not coming down to this final distinctive.  Individuality is becoming king, supplanting Biblical orthodoxy in an epic groundswell of disdain for Judeo-Christian virtues.  Personally, I've seen this coming, and have blogged about it for several years.  But I don't enjoy being correct in this.  And it's not like I'm the only person who's seen it coming.  After all, again, Christ told us that this would happen.  And He warned His followers to model His precepts well, so that the peoples among whom we live would think well of us.

Well, our fellow Americans no longer think well of us. 

Is it too late for Christ to fix that?  Maybe not.  But the way Christ can fix that is likely the same way He told us to live in the first place:

  So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.  Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good...

  ...You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.  Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 

  Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.  Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.

  Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by Him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.  For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.   

  Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.  Honor everyone.  Love the brotherhood.  Fear God.  Honor the emperor.  - 1 Peter 2: 1-3, 9-17

Of course, more accurately living out the Gospel is no guarantee of bliss with people who don't share our creed.  The Bible warns of persecution for people who profess the Gospel of Christ.

Nevertheless, if we're to suffer, how about we Christ-followers suffer for His sake, and His alone, rather than our own myopic version of it that we've tended to offer our world.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

What UT's Murder May Be Costing Us

It wasn't supposed to happen to her.

But maybe it's the price we're willing to pay.

She was a bright, beautiful, and talented freshman at the University of Texas in Austin.  On April 5, her lifeless body was found on campus.  Originally from Portland, Oregon, Haruka Weiser had been murdered at one of the most prestigious universities in the Lone Star State.

The university's leadership was appalled.  Parents of UT students - a privileged lot by any measure - were aghast.  This type of thing doesn't happen at UT, a sprawling institution flanking I-35 through the middle of Austin's popular and congested downtown district.

Although the center of a metropolitan region numbering over a million residents, the only thing that makes Austin feel like a big city is its atrocious traffic.  For decades it had quietly served as the bureaucratic hub for the state's government, but lately, its fortunes as a world-class technology center had re-made the capital into San Jose East.  Property values have skyrocketed.  Its slums - if it has any - are hard to find.  Its streets are mostly clean, and its culture - the most socially-liberal of any major Texas city - reeks of hipness and cross-racial progressivism.  Crimes aren't non-existent, but they're mostly petty.  When it comes to violent crime, Austin ranks third from the bottom nationally.

And for this ranking, being at the bottom is a good thing because it means for a city of Austin's size, violent crime is rare.  Parents who send their kids to UT usually only worry about how drunk they'll get when they go out partying on Sixth Street, the city's raucous bar row.

So not only is any murder appalling, but in Austin, at UT, any murder is also surprising.  Was it a romantic tryst gone horribly wrong?  A gristly case of mistaken identity?  A botched mugging?  Weiser is the first person to be killed on-campus since the infamous clocktower mass-shooting of 1966.  In the wake of Weiser's death, the institution has been reeling with angst and distress.

When police announced they had arrested their suspect in Weiser's murder, however, this tragedy took yet another unexpected turn.  Allegedly, Weiser's murderer is younger than she was, a 17-year-old black teenager.  And he is homeless, believed to have been taking shelter under a bridge near the UT campus.

Police have yet to detail* their suspicions of his motive, but their suspect, Meechaiel Khalil Criner, is believed to have mental problems.  At the very least, Criner has experienced a tortured family life.  Court documents researched by the media record that child welfare officials removed Criner from his mother's Dallas home in 2001, when he was two years old.  He went to live with his grandmother, but the state took him away from her in 2009 after she "hit Meechaiel in the face with a belt, leaving him with two black eyes."

A caseworker testified in court that his grandmother beat him so badly, his eyes were swollen shut.

Criner then went to live with an aunt, but she died last year.  Since then, as far as the police can determine, he's been homeless.  He has at least one sister, in Houston, who told the media that she believes her brother is mentally ill.  An uncle has described Criner as being intellectually disabled.

Of course, that is an assessment at which many onlookers often scoff.  Another murderer trying to get off by claiming insanity, they figure.  You can hear it now, can't you?  Maybe you're even presuming that yourself.

Who cares about his environment, his growing-up years, whether or not he was in a nurturing family?  We're all accountable for our actions.  You can't simply see a beautiful woman walking across a college campus and kill her, and then expect to walk with an insanity plea.

Indeed, motive remains a mystery.  We don't know what led to Weiser's killing.  Besides, the courts have yet to determine that Criner is the person who killed her.  But according to Criner's uncle, his nephew likely doesn't even know what murder is.

Criner has the mental capacity of a ten-year-old, according to his uncle.

“I refuse to believe he just maliciously killed this young lady,” the uncle told a Dallas Morning News reporter. “This kid don’t know nothing about killing.  His mind don’t compute like that.”

Criner was in Austin because, after being caught shoplifting in a far north Dallas suburb, he'd been sent to a homeless shelter there specializing in at-risk youth.  He had a locker at that shelter, but apparently, didn't necessarily sleep there regularly.  Police paired him with Weiser's murder after initially arresting him for a trash fire near the UT campus.

It's a story of state-sponsored intervention after state-sponsored intervention, time and time again, for practically all of Criner's still-young life.  Child Protective Services (CPS) investigations, different police departments, and CPS-directed placement in state-recognized youth shelters.

How sad, right?

Of course, this would be another point at which indignant taxpayers would respond with questions of why the state has to spend money to try and fix family problems like Criner's.  If families were tighter-knit and better-functioning, the state wouldn't have to get involved, and maybe young adults like Weiser wouldn't get murdered by teenagers like Criner.

And yes, these are valid points.  And there are even better questions:  How much money, for example, should taxpayers be expected to pay to fund public agencies to manage problems families have historically be expected to manage?

Then again, at what point are mental deficiencies too big for families to handle?  If a family member becomes too belligerent, or too combative, why shouldn't the state step in somehow to protect physically-vulnerable family members?  When does physical contact among family members become criminal assault?  For that matter, when does psychological gamesmanship among family members become criminal mental abuse?

The answers to such questions are vague at best.  But we do know a few other things.  We know Texas is notorious for spending relatively little on family agencies like CPS.  The state ranks at the bottom in terms of per capita spending on child welfare, and that's not a good list to be at the bottom of.  Meanwhile, Texas consistently ranks at the top of the list when it comes to the number of children killed through child abuse - again, not a good list to be at the top of.

These bleak statistics were true in 2009, and they remain true today.  CPS suffers from chronic under-staffing, and an inability to retain what staff it manages to hire.  Caseloads are prohibitively high, morale is extraordinarily low, and whenever a sensational case like Weiser's grinds through the media, taxpayers cluck about how their tax dollars are going to waste in such an inefficient department.

Yet the numbers speak for themselves, even if Griner is simply one teen in a caseload total too big to count.  And the numbers add up to at least one incontrovertible fact:  kids are expendable.  At least politically.  After all, they don't vote, so politicians have no vested interest in placating them.  And while their parents do vote, enough parents are saying that they don't want to pay any more taxes to bail out those parents who have bailed on their kids.

Taxpayers likely figure the state couldn't get child welfare done right no matter how much money it could spend.

All combined, these attitudes have created a political climate in Texas that, for all practical purposes, says protecting the welfare of children is not a high priority.  The state's vocal religious conservatives like to presume otherwise, what with their family values and all, and they protest vehemently when it comes to abortion and unborn children.  But woe be the post-birth child left to grow up in a woefully dysfunctional household.  The state's former governor, Rick Perry, used to criss-cross the nation, trying to poach jobs from other states by touting Texas' quality of life for families, plus its low taxes.  All the while ignoring what those low taxes weren't paying for.

Perry made quite a name for himself because he kept a hard line on taxes.  Which, of course, isn't necessarily a bad thing.  Nobody denies that there's a lot of bureaucratic and political waste in government, and low taxes help curtail at least some of that waste.  And the government is hardly a comparable replacement for loving, nurturing parents.

But for Texas to consistently lag behind the rest of the country when it comes to funding public agencies that try to do the work Texas families can't - or won't - do themselves..?

Maybe Weiser's murder is the price Texans are willing to pay for barely funding its child welfare department.

Hey, there's no proof that a well-funded CPS would have managed Criner's case any better than it has.  Besides, if Criner's extended family didn't like the way CPS was handling things, why didn't they turn to a faith community for help?  If you don't want to hold Criner accountable for his actions, then blame his mother, who was a drug addict.  Or his grandmother, who beat him.

Just don't blame us taxpayers, right?  Are we supposed to be our brother's keeper?  Or our sister's?

Update 4/13/16:  The Austin American-Statesman is reporting that Weiser was sexually assaulted and strangled.