Treating People as more than Just Bodies

Photo by Laurin Guadiana

A couple days ago, I talked about the biblical basis for defining a person as both body and soul, and how our ultimate hope is not to become a disembodied spirit, but rather to spend eternity in a glorified body. We are not only our bodies, but our bodies are certainly an integral part of who we are. Having laid down that scriptural foundation, I would like to now discuss how human relationships can break apart when we fail to properly apply these principles.

If the ancient Greeks tended to view people as souls trapped in a shell, the modern world has a tendency to view everything as material. If you are a true materialist (in the philosophical sense), you do not believe that souls exist. Therefore, a human being really is nothing more than their body, and all of their thoughts and feelings are the result of electrical signals that they cannot truly control. This has led some atheists, such as Sam Harris, to write treatises declaring that free will does not exist.

This is not the Christian view. We believe that the human will is under the influence of the sinful nature, and that without the power of the Spirit, humans are unable to perform true acts of righteousness or choose to follow God. However, we certainly do believe that all humans have a soul…even if that soul is dead in sin. No human being is only a body. We affirm the real nature of the physical world while also acknowledging the existence of the supernatural.

Despite this belief, many Christians join right in with non-Christians in acting as if people do not have souls. What do I mean by this? Just look at how we tend to treat people whom we look down on for any number of reasons: we often deemphasize their mental and spiritual nature and view them only in terms of their body. Continue reading

What is my Novel About? Here’s the Answer.

Image of Empress Matilda (far right) from a 12th century manuscript

These days, I tend to get the same question time after time. “What is your novel about?” People ask this question after they learn that I have written a novel. If they were to ask it before receiving that piece of information, I would consider them rather odd…or maybe psychic. In any case, it’s a natural sort of inquiry. They no doubt wish to know if I am the sort of person that writes Stephen King-esque horror novels (in which case they should avoid me), or one who writes teenage chick lit (in which case they should also avoid me), or even one that writes science fiction epics (which in my husband’s case would make me his ideal woman).

Alas, I write none of these things, and thank God for that! The only one I might attempt some day is the sci fi epic, and then only because my husband is already begging me. No, my domain is that of historical fiction, if indeed I can refer to it as “my domain”. It must be noted that it was never my life ambition to write novels, and I did not receive the level of academic and/or professional training that is common among many of those hoping to break into that industry. I am simply a person who wrote essays and academic papers, only to one day be seized by a particular story…and then wait a few years before doing anything about it.

Some people know they want to write a novel, so they go searching for a story to tell or create one on their own. That was not my experience. It all started back around the time I graduated from college (the first time). I developed an interest in family history and decided that I would attempt to trace my bloodline back as far as I could in any and all directions. I was rather fortunate in this enterprise, for a few relatives had made a start at gathering records in years past. This allowed me to quickly discover some of my heritage, though in the cases where I had less information at the start, the task was that much more difficult. Nevertheless I progressed to the point where I was able to identify approximately 2,000 of my ancestors.

Early on I realized that a few of these lines were particularly interesting. When you reach a certain point in history, the record keeping is just not as good. Births, marriages, and deaths were somewhat forgotten unless the people in question were very rich. For this reason, I have had difficulty tracing many lines back past the 16th century. Lucky for me, some of my ancestors were rather important people, and as a result, I was able to follow the line not 100 years, nor even 500 years, but well over 1,000 years into the past.

One day, I was sitting in my dorm room in London (for I was a student at King’s College at that time) and came across a rather interesting name: Empress Matilda. She was clearly a member of the English royal line, but I was quite confused as to why she should be called “empress”, as that is not a normal title for British monarchs. (Technically, Queen Victoria did have herself styled Empress of India.) I quickly went to that source of all questionable wisdom – Wikipedia – and what I read there ended up changing my life. Continue reading

What are You Building with that Social Media Account?

Image by Wikipedia user Ibrahim.ID

Although I have had a Twitter account for years, I only started using it in earnest a few months ago. I quickly connected with other people in the Christian blogosphere, particularly those in the Reformed tradition. Some of what I saw encouraged me. People were making use of this social media platform to communicate gospel truth. Yet, a good percentage of what I saw also discouraged me.

Twitter has confirmed what I already suspected about the human condition: people are often more drawn to the negative than the positive, regardless of what they claim. I was aware of this phenomenon, having a background in political science and knowing full well that the same voters who claim to hate negative campaign ads are heavily influenced by them. This principle seems to hold true with social media. A criticism, however legitimate, attracts more attention than, for instance, a kindly reminder to love your neighbor as yourself. To give an example, of all the articles I have posted in recent months proclaiming the virtues of reconciliation and redeemed suffering, the ones that received the most page views by far were the two that criticized Donald Trump and a third that leveled a very mild criticism (if you could even call it that) at two individuals connected with The Gospel Coalition.

The negative is certainly attracting a lot of attention in our world today, even among Christians. I have been disappointed (though once again not at all surprised) to see many people using their social media accounts not so much to build up the body of Christ, but simply to critique any little thing in that body that annoys them. Now, I am not stuck in some utopian fantasy. There are a lot of things wrong in this world, and there is a lot of stupid out there! We need to confront the stupid. However, my problem is not so much with the fact that people are using social media to criticize, but rather that they seem to be focusing on criticism almost exclusively or going about it in an unnecessarily offensive or careless manner. Continue reading

France Just Dodged a Bullet…Or Did It?

France has just elected its youngest president in history by an overwhelming margin. Emmanuel Macron defeated Marine Le Pen with nearly two-thirds of the vote in the presidential runoff, a margin of victory that would make most politicians exceedingly jealous. (Here I must exclude certain autocrats who would surely say, “Only 66%? I win 99% of the vote!”) This has caused many observers, including myself, to breathe a sigh of relief.

While he may be to the left of Bernie Sanders on the political spectrum, Macron is much more in the realm of normality than Le Pen, who many have branded the French version of Donald Trump. Her National Front Party is anti-immigrant, anti-EU, anti-globalization, and pretty much anti- anything that isn’t as French as a baguette wrapped in a croissant. She also seems to be opposed to people wearing religious symbols in the public square and has a worrying lack of policy know-how that became clear at times during the campaign. Continue reading

The Speeding up of History

Woodcut of a printing press operation by Jost Amman, circa 1568

I can’t help observing that things seem to be moving a good deal faster today than they ever did in previous eras. My grandmother was born in 1932. Her childhood home had no flushable toilets, no heating or air conditioning, no car, no television, no radio, and certainly no computer. I scarcely need to mention that at the time she was born penicillin had yet to be discovered, “the pill” had not been legalized, the idea of sending a man into space was ridiculous, atomic science was in its infancy, there was no social safety net in the U.S., and the populations of such countries as China and India were only 1/3 of what they are now.

Universities were mostly for the rich or abnormal. In contrast, it wasn’t at all strange for people to drop out of school well before the age of eighteen. The Catholic Church still forbade saying Mass in anything but Latin, and Islam had barely touched the West. The entire continent of Africa was under the control of more powerful European nations. In the U.S., African-Americans were treated as slightly less than human and Japanese-Americans were being placed in internment camps. This is to say nothing of the enormous upheavals in the global economy and popular culture. The world, in short, was a vastly different place in 1932. Continue reading

Humble Rebellion: Living as Ambassadors of Christ

“The Christian Martyrs Last Prayer” by Jean Léon Gérôme, circa 1863-83

This is the latest in a series of essays on the topic of reconciliation. You can find links to the previous articles at the bottom of this page.

How can we expect to reconcile with a world that hates us, or what are we in relation to that great mass of humanity? Should we simply abandon the world to its fate? We are fools if we think we can do so, for the world will always find us in the end. More to the point, we would be rather poor disciples of Jesus Christ, who commanded us to go out into the world making disciples (Matthew 28:19), serving as witnesses to the gospel (Acts 1:8), and living as salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16).

Sometimes we labor under the mistaken assumption that God is only seeking to reconcile with the Church. On the contrary, God is looking to restore all of creation. (Romans 8:18-25) This entire universe was His good work, and though it has been tainted by sin, it still belongs to Him. When Jesus spoke about the kingdom of God, it was in effect a massive restoration project. However, it was also a rebellion, because in the present age, the earth is under the reign of evil. Therefore, to side with the kingdom of God is to stand against the kingdom of Satan. To live for righteousness is to live in opposition to sin.

When I say God is not looking to reconcile merely with the Church, I am not suggesting that there is some path to lasting reconciliation and salvation outside of the Church or the work of Jesus Christ. I am not advocating something akin to universalism, where every person will have their sins forgiven whether they believe in Christ or not. Rather, I refer to the Church’s role as a witness to the nations. Continue reading

Another Path to Reconciliation?

“Liberty Leading the People” by Eugène Delacroix, circa 1830

This is the latest in a series of essays on the topic of reconciliation. You can find links to the previous articles at the bottom of this page.

I am about to transition from speaking about reconciliation within the Christian Church to speaking about reconciliation in the world as a whole. In doing so, I am taking not a small step but a massive philosophical leap. Up to this point, I have been arguing that the gospel of Jesus Christ is the only true path to lasting reconciliation. More than that, it places upon us an imperative of reconciliation. Such an argument is easy to make when the majority of people in question agree that the gospel message is both true and important (at least in principle). Once you move into the wider world, where there is no agreement as to the truth of the gospel and few common beliefs of any kind, appealing to Christian principles does not have the same effect.

The world is never going to want to solve problems the gospel way. Why? Because it is really, really hard. Now, when I say “really, really hard”, I don’t mean it in the sense that solving a Rubik’s Cube is hard, or staying upright on skis is hard, or even completing a PhD is hard. I am referring not to complexity, but to gut wrenching sacrifice. The gospel is hard because it requires everything we are. To follow Jesus Christ is to die to self that we might be raised with Him, and when that happens, we cease to be the same person we were previously. The life of a Christian, lived according to the gospel message, is one of continual dying to self. This is the grace of God, but it is costly grace, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote. Continue reading

Bhagat Singh Thind Had His Citizenship Revoked…in 1923

The “Asiatic Barred Zone” instituted by a 1917 act of Congress

The current debate over immigration that is taking place in the United States is certainly nothing new. Much as Americans like to pride themselves on being a “nation of immigrants”, this has never been a particularly easy place to come as a foreigner and start a new life. With each new ethnic and religious group that has landed on these shores, there has been a certain amount of suspicion. I am not saying this to demonize anyone who wants to place any kind of restriction on immigration, but as a way of framing the issue I intend to address.

Way back in 1790, restrictions were put in place that limited just who could become a naturalized citizen of the United States of America (as opposed to those who became citizens by virtue of being born within our borders). The specific groups that caused concern changed over the years. By the beginning of the 20th century, it was mainly Asians who worried Americans. Congress passed a law that restricted many types of immigrants, including “idiots, imbeciles, feeble-minded persons, epileptics, insane persons…” One wonders what kind of test they employed to measure what constituted an “idiot”, as a good number of persons living in any country on earth at any point in history have surely deserved this label. Yet, the law was more specific in excluding,

…persons who are natives of islands not possessed by the United States adjacent to the Continent of Asia, situate south of the twentieth parallel latitude north, west of the one hundred and sixtieth meridian of longitude east from Greenwich, and north of the tenth parallel of latitude south, or who are natives of any country, province, or dependency situate on the Continent of Asia west of the one hundred and tenth meridian of longitude east from Greenwich and east of the fiftieth meridian of longitude east from Greenwich and south of the fiftieth parallel of latitude north, except that portion of said territory situate between the fiftieth and the sixty-fourth meridians of longitude east from Greenwich and the twenty-fourth and thirty-eighth parallels of latitude north…

Immigration Act of 1917

If you found that confusing – and you undoubtedly did – then let me put it in plain terms for you. This law barred immigrants from any part of Asia except for the Russian Empire, Japan, Korea, and eastern China. This was understandably a problem for many people of Asian descent who were planning on immigrating to the U.S. Continue reading

What I Learned about Scripture from Gardening

Bees hanging out on a zucchini flower

Three years ago, my husband and I moved from our urban setting near Washington, D.C. to a decidedly suburban environment in Ohio. This brought about a number of changes in our lives, not the least of which was that we were able to rent a house rather than an apartment, property being far less expensive in Dayton, Ohio than it is in Arlington, Virginia. With the house came both a front and back yard, and for the first time in my life, I began to think about gardening.

Although I did not grow up in a large city, I was pretty far removed from an agricultural mentality. My mother had always been a wonderful gardener, but I rarely helped her growing up, and she can attest to my decided lack of interest. I was much happier indoors reading a book. Yet, renting a house forced me to think about how that house looked, for no one wants to be the eyesore of the neighborhood. With some extra time on my hands, I decided to start growing a few plants for food in addition to all those flowers and shrubs. My aspiration was no greater than having some fresh basil to put on my pizza. Continue reading

B.B. Warfield in Dayton

B.B. Warfield photographed during his later years as principal of Princeton Theological Seminary.

When it comes to the history of Dayton, Ohio, my home for the past three years, there is pretty much one name that you need to know: Wright, as in the Wright Brothers, creators of the world’s first practical airplane. The successful test flight famously took place on the beach in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, but all of the grunt work was done here in Dayton, where Wilbur and Orville Wright applied their bicycle-making expertise to a loftier venture. The town is full of things named after them, most particularly Wright State University and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

True to this heritage, Dayton is known to this day for its association with all things aviation. My husband often jokes that, “There are three things to do in Dayton. There’s the Air Force Museum…and I’m still trying to figure out the other two.” That is surely an exaggeration: we also host the first four games of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament each year, a nearby village has one of the world’s biggest Christmas light displays, and if none of that strikes your fancy, Cincinnati is just an hour down the road.

What Dayton is not particularly known for is its religious heritage. We do have a major Catholic university in town – the University of Dayton – and for those of a more evangelical fervor, there’s Cedarville University out in the neighboring cornfield. But upon the streets of Dayton, you will find neither megachurches nor world-renowned seminaries. As much of Ohio was settled by German immigrants, we are also a bit lean on what you might classify as the Reformed brand of Protestant Christianity. If you want some Reformed heritage, your best bet would be to go to downtown Cincinnati and visit the mother congregation of Reformed Judaism. Continue reading