An under-reported COVID-perspective

I think this article, while written for the Canadian context, does a good job of putting a finger firmly on a perspective that is, at best, under-reported in the midst of our current pandemic situation. From my experience working among the citizens in a blue-collar town in West Virginia where the opioid epidemic has only become more deadly because of covid, the heartache and the anxiety that this author names is spot-on. But covid numbers are easier to quantify and turn into a punchline for news outlets.

“He was an immigrant from India, and he had worked tirelessly to achieve the Canadian dream. It was his dream to immigrate to Canada to own a small-business and provide for his family. And his dream came true—briefly. By the end of the first lockdown in August, he lost his dream—he lost his restaurant. COVID-19 didn’t make him lose his restaurant, the government did. And he isn’t alone.”

Of Symbols, Racism, and Leadership

Rev. Dr. Ligon Duncan was asked by the Lt. Governor of Mississippi and the Speaker of the House for Mississippi to make a statement on the issue of whether the Mississippi flag ought to be changed or not.  Rev. Dr. Duncan is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (the denomination in which I serve), the chancellor over Reformed Theological Seminary (the seminary from which I graduated), and the former Senior Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, MS where he served for almost 18 years.  His statement on this issue is sound, loving, and demonstrates good leadership.  The truth it contains has application far beyond the borders of Mississippi.

A Statement on the Flag of Mississippi

Deny Yourself

A Review of a Significant Book

I have sat with a young woman who talked of being raped by her step-father from the time she was 14 until she was about 17. Her mother either didn’t want to know or was too drunk to care.

I have been in the emergency room with church members when they were told that their loved one lying before us was brain dead and that only the rescue measures were keeping him alive. They turned and looked at me with the implied question, “What do we do now?”

I have had a neighbor knock on my front door at 3:30 AM to ask me to call 9-1-1 because his brother was lying unresponsive on the bedroom floor. He had died of a drug overdose. The 9-1-1 operator asked me to check and see if my neighbor’s brother had a pulse while we waited for the first-responders to arrive.

I have prayed with a woman whose husband was so verbally and emotionally oppressive toward her that she had to flee their home in order to feel safe. Her church leaders only wanted her to meet with him to work toward reconciliation.

These experiences don’t make me an all-star. They just mean I was the one placed in the path of those who were suffering. No amount of training can make one prepared for the gravity and gut-wrenching nature of these situations. No book that one can read or course that one can take or counseling cohort one can participate in could ever fully deflect the emotional impact of being asked to bear these burdens. But knowing that one is going to be involved in some form of helping field (e.g. pastoral ministry, hospital/hospice work, military chaplain, etc.) and not receiving any training or not preparing oneself for the impacts that are sure to come only means one of two things (if not both): 1) you will be wounded more severely by hits you didn’t see coming because you didn’t expect them and should have; and 2) you will worsen the trauma of those you are seeking to help. There is help to be found. One can begin to prepare. One should begin to prepare.

Dr. Diane Langberg’s book Suffering and the Heart of God: How Trauma Destroys and Christ Restores is an amazing step forward in preparing people for what to expect if working with traumatized people (i.e. abuse survivors, rape/trafficking survivors, etc.). Dr. Langberg has worked with trauma-related issues in the counseling field since the 1970’s and has traveled globally to study, as she puts it in several places, “the litter of hell” that is left scarring our fellow humans.

This book is not enjoyable. There were days I tried to read it while eating my lunch, and I couldn’t because it was making me nauseous to read of such evil being perpetrated on other people. However, it is quite possibly the most important book I’ve read since I finished seminary in 2006, and it is my hope that this book will have a broad readership, especially in the Church, since it is the Church’s calling to be a minister of mercy to the oppressed and afflicted (James 1.27) in whatever community She finds herself. And rest assured, they are in every community. We will meet them if we are being faithful.

What follows is a kind of review, but not really. Really all I’m doing here is listing my recommendations for various people groups that would derive benefit from this book.

  • Recommendation for men preparing to become ministers: Read this whole book. You and I will most likely never be an expert in trauma or even counseling, but we are often called upon to be like a spiritual first-responder. Dr. Langberg has stared into the face of horrible evil both within the church and without. This isn’t just evil that has marred people who show up at church. Some of this is evil perpetrated by church leaders … self-deceived, self-justifying, sheep-devouring church leaders. Yet Dr. Langberg still loves the Church. This is your calling, so learn from her. You will enter into the lives of wounded, raped, abused, and oppressed people in your community, some of which have been victimized by church leaders or other people who claimed the name ‘Christian’. You must help the wounded; and when their trauma infects your days and nights, when their wounds make you want to hate the Church, you must realize your own need for the risen Christ. And you must remember that it is the same Church that Christ shed his blood for.
  • Recommendation for Church leadership/elders: Each Church session/consistory/board of deacons should have at least one person who is conversant with this book. I would go so far as to say that every single church elder should read the chapter “Understanding Domestic Violence”. Many are quick to say that the words “abuse/abuser” don’t appear in the Bible. But the words “oppressed/oppressor” are prominent words (Pss 9.9, 12; 12.5; Prov 31.8-9; Jer 22.3 to name a few). Study those words and you will see that the Church is called to look like the Lord in defense of the oppressed. This includes demanding more than a few tears from the oppressor/abuser. Dr. Langberg’s words about self-deception and repentance in this regard (both below and elsewhere) are worth the price of the book:

“Anyone who engages in abusive behavior has practiced self-deception. They have practiced avoiding the truth. To think that someone can practice a sin pattern for years and simply say “I am sorry” and be all better is to fail to see sin as our God does… True repentance is consistent change demonstrated over time and is shown to be real when the cup is bumped again and again and something new spills out indicating a new pattern.” p. 265 {emphasis original}

  • Recommendation for Church members: Read chapters 1-7 and 11. These chapters will teach you much about the mind of Christ, his heart for the oppressed and the suffering, the nature of sin and self-deception, and our own proclivities to avoid suffering and grieving people because their suffering and grief make us uncomfortable. However, what did the Son of God do for us? He set aside His glory. He entered our darkness. He laid down His right to comfort to enter into the human condition. He was the Word of God made flesh… the Word of God applied to suffering, despairing, grieving humanity. This was no glib and light-hearted jaunt in applying the Word of God to humanity. So just as Christ didn’t glibly apply himself (the Word of God) to His people, but rather entered into our state of grief and pain, so we need to learn to apply ourselves (embody the Word) thoughtfully and carefully to those who have survived/are surviving oppression, pain, trauma, and grief. Dr. Langberg is master instructor in this area and your church will be better equipped if you sit at her feet for a while.

For the Church in general and for those who are involved in helping fields in particular, we are involved in stepping into the litter of hell when we minister to the oppressed, the suffering, the grieving, the abused. But their pain, rage, grief, addictions, fear, obsessions, despair, twisted thinking, volatile emotions, etc. are not the enemy. Sin and death are the enemy, and the Lord Jesus has already conquered them. He calls us to join him in his work of turning back sin and death. Dr. Langberg makes this point beautifully as she relates the ministry to the suffering to the raising of Lazarus from the grave in John 11. I’ll let Dr. Langberg have the last words here and invite you into this work:

“[Jesus] engages human beings in the resurrection process. Now, someone who can raise another from the dead is surely not troubled by a little stone being in the way. It was not necessary that people remove the stone, but he catches them up in his resurrection work. He calls Lazarus out and engages humans again. “Unbind him.” Lazarus… cannot see, is bound with clothes that restrict him, and he stinks. Jesus calls people to assist…He could just as easily have Lazarus come out free of grave clothes. Stones and sheets are not a big deal if you can raise the dead. God has called you and me to participate in his resurrection work. We do ordinary things like move stones and remove grave clothes. He has called us to go with seemingly ordinary methods into the place of death and darkness… [But] no matter how good you are at rolling stones, handling stench, and removing grave clothes, you cannot raise the dead. He is the resurrection and the life.” pp. 75-76 {emphasis original}

Nothing New Under the Hood

I’ve been doing some reading recently pertaining to counseling and the “cure of souls”, and I keep running into the idea that the same problems we’re facing today are the same ones humanity has always faced.  This jumps off the page and smacks me in the face when I read books that are hundreds of years old.  This might become more apparent in our modern conversations if our chronological snobbery wasn’t so deeply rooted.  But we know who we are and scoff at who they were.  We think we are so much smarter, wiser, clever, etc. today than the smartest of the smart from, for instance, the 1600’s.  With our more developed understanding of how our biology affects our thinking and emotions, what could a pastor from the 1600’s teach us?

How about this?

And pride also, with a desire of liberty, makes men think it to be a diminishing of greatness and freedom either to be curbed, or to curb ourselves. We love to be absolute and independent; but this, as it brought ruin upon our nature in Adam, so it will upon our persons.  Men, as Luther was wont to say, are born with a pope in their belly, though are loath to give an account, although it be to themselves, their wills are, instead of a kingdom to them, mens mihi pro regno [my mind for the kingdom].  –Richard Sibbes, The Soul’s Conflict with Itself

Notice how the author skewers the impulses common to all of us.  There are those of us who hate controls from outside of us, “…to be curbed…”.  We say, “I will not lay down my rights for the sake of another.  For that would be to give away my freedom, to submit to tyranny, and diminish me as a human.”  But there are also those of us who hate to exercise control on the inside, “…to curb ourselves.”  On this end we say, “I will not lay aside this thing inside that feels so right.  For that would be to deny myself this freedom that I desire, to submit to tyranny, and diminish me as a human.”

Someone might object that this is just common sense.  “Of course pride is a problem for everyone.  Thank you so much for that, Captain Obvious.”  But what does it say about us if we’re so proud of our intellectual accomplishments as a culture and yet forget, for all practical purposes, the common sense that by-gone eras practiced so much better?  Maybe the author above didn’t know anything about chemical imbalances in the brain or PTSD.  But I think he might be able to take us to school on the basics of what it means to be human, to deal honestly with our own hearts, to be willing to lay aside one’s rights in service of others.  I know this author has been taking me to school.

C.S. Lewis on Fake News

You’re probably thinking, “C.S Lewis on fake news?!  Uhhh… wasn’t he dead long before this whole fake news trend started?”  Well… yes and no.  Yes, in the sense that it wasn’t called fake news in his day.  But, no, in the sense that misrepresentations of current events in order to shape or alter public discourse/opinion (e.g. yellow journalism, etc.) has been going on for a good long while.  Only our chronological snobbery (also a CS Lewis-ism) would allow us to think that fake news is a postmodern American problem.  So I commend this reading (and illustration!) of Lewis’s take on how we can be done with wicked journalists.  An added bonus in this video is this: Lewis shares some very clear-headed thinking on a subject that many in our knee-jerk culture struggle to grasp, namely that it is possible to make a moral judgment on someone’s actions or words without necessarily falling prey to the charge of “self-righteous”.

Questions to ask yourself before you cast your ballot

There’s a level of anxiety being expressed on social media right now that is far from healthy and giving birth to an ugly sectarianism.  And for the Christian, that kind of anxiety and sectarianism is both damaging to an individual’s walk of faith as well as harmful to the unity of the Church.  Yet turning a blind eye to matters political and neglecting our privilege of voting is being a poor steward of the kingdom we are to be seeking above all things (Matt 6.33).  So in this soup of sound bites, polarizing talking heads, nasty barbs and zingers, suspicious conspStei101028iracy theories, red-faced cries of injustice, and enough analytical info to cause the most patient among us to throw up their hands in disgust, here are a few questions that we all can ask ourselves to help bring focus to our faithfulness at the polls.

  1. Who possesses my greatest motivational allegiance?  Our loyalties call us to be motivated to all sorts of things.  As a Washington Redskins fan, I’m motivated to support them through thick and thin.  However, if Kirk Cousins, the surprise QB star of the Redskins’ most recent season came out in favor of voting for Attila the Hun for POTUS, I’d probably have to respectfully decline to follow suit regardless of how cool Cousins’ first name is.  This comes into political play when the party we most often align with puts forward a nominee that requires a Christian to check his or her allegiance to Christ at the door before casting their vote.  Are you being asked to violate your conscience in voting for someone of questionable character and/or competencies in order to “support the party?”  If so, ask yourself, “Why do I feel an allegiance to this particular political party?  Would I ever ask a politician to violate his or her conscience in order to support some agenda that I have?”  There is a cost of discipleship when one claims allegiance to Jesus Christ.  Sometimes that cost entails relegating one’s vote to what the world might consider irrelevant.
  2. Should I submit my conscience to the ‘lesser of two evils’ argument?  Or another way of asking the question is this: how despicable does a nominee for my party of choice have to be before I refuse to support them?  I mentioned Attila the Hun earlier only partially in jest because the choices for nominees Americans are being offered have been increasingly distasteful over recent years.  But I want to point out the ethic that is often behind the motivation to vote for one ‘evil’ over another one.  Most people think, “I have to vote for Candidate Gag.  I don’t like it one bit, but Candidate Blech has to be stopped.”  Or another way of describing this ethic is this way: the ends justify the means.  But not only is this a sub-Christian ethic, it is the ethic that gave this world such atrocities as Hitler’s “Final Solution” and Mao’s “Great Leap Forward.”
  3. Is my choice of candidate driven more by fear of the future or by the fear of the LORD?  So much fear-mongering goes on on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media avenues that the Christian must be careful to guard their heart.  And part of that guarding process is reminding oneself that no Christ-follower ought to fear whoever occupies the oval office.  Though our nation’s Commander in Chief wields more authority now than ever was intended by our nation’s founders, it doesn’t alter the fact that “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lordhe turns it wherever he will (Prov. 21.1).”  Do not fear the state.  Fear God.  Or as Psalm 143 puts it: “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation… Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, who keeps faith forever (Psalm 146.3, 5-6).”
  4. Am I familiar with what God’s Word says about what makes a good leader?  I considered not putting this point in this post but I keep hearing my bride’s voice tell me things like, “Go ahead and believe the best about what other people know but state your point anyway.”  To that end, part of fearing God is a working knowledge of what His Word has to say about who is qualified to lead and who isn’t, who is a fool and who is wise, who is a righteous person and who is wicked.  I am fully aware that we are not electing a PastorOTUS, but the Bible nevertheless gives us a glut of data by which we can judge who is fit to be a public official and who is not.  Consider just a few verses from just 10 chapters of Proverbs that apply to at least one of the top three major party candidates: 10.4; 10.9-12; 10.18-19; 11.2; 11.9; 11.12; 12.15-18; 13.10; 13.16; 14.2; 14.5; 15.1-2; 21.4; 21.23-24; 21.29; 22.5; 22.10-11; 25.14; 25.19; 26.1; 26.12.  Take these earthy proverbs alongside other biblical data about what kings aren’t supposed to do (Deut. 17.14-17) and what kind of person an overseer in the Church is supposed to be (1 Tim 3.1-7; Titus 1.7-9) and a much clearer picture emerges about what a public, elected servant ought to look like. [Note: Harry Reeder in a recent blog post put an important qualification: “[I]t must be remembered that at times, God’s common grace produces leaders that though unsaved have a dependable and reliable character.”]

Can we not look at the major party candidates as well as independents and minor party candidates, vote for the best person available with a clear conscience, and trust that we are cared for by the mighty hand of the King on His heavenly throne?  Can we not trust a long-range view in which there is major reform in the existing major parties or their break-up and subsequent shift in the political centers of gravity?  So yes.  We have a right to be upset with both the Democratic and Republican parties.  But no.  We should not allow our anger to cause us to respond faithlessly at the polls.  We must consider how the reactions in our own hearts can lead us down unwise paths.  We must weigh our decisions and actions according to the clear teachings of scripture, for “By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established (Prov. 24.3).”

The Church, the Poor, and Planned Parenthood

Yesterday, I received this story from a lady associated with the 40 Days for Life-Winston Salem prayer vigil currently underway outside the Winston Salem Planned Parenthood clinic.  I have received permission to share this story and have left it unedited with the exception of changing the names of those mentioned and inserting links to those organizations specifically mentioned.

A young couple with another lady parked in the top lot and walked down the steps while I was praying but they came back up pretty quickly chattering pretty loud and I hollered across the street to see if they would like some help.  They didn’t hesitate-they all came right over.  It seems that “Jim” & “Sally” are homeless and their friend named “Maggie” brought them for a pregnancy test.  I don’t know where Maggie came from-she said she was trying to help them-maybe from a church.  Anyway, they live in a tent in the woods and Sally thought she was pregnant and PP wanted to charge this homeless couple for a pregnancy test so they left.  I gave them the list of pregnancy centers with directions to Salem PCC & Birth Right and also a pamphlet for Room at the Inn.  Jim said “if you can get her off the street that’s great, I’ll stay if you can help her.”  They were very grateful and drove right off to go to the pregnancy care centers and Maggie took my cell phone number.  I assured them of our prayers and told her to call if there is anything else we can do, that  we have a large network of folks willing to help.  Please pray for them!  As they drove off, I was praying the mystery of the Rosary of the Nativity of Our Lord from the Holy Scripture and I thought how they could relate.  They went for help at a place that is supposed to be an advocate for poor or low income women and families (or so they say), and they were turned away-there was no room for them at the non-profit, taxpayer funded “Inn” of Planned Parenthood without $$$$$!  Thankfully I had a pamphlet for Room at the Inn of the Triad who takes them in for free and is run on Christian charity-as well as the pregnancy centers.  Again, please keep Jim and Sally in your prayers and their unborn child if she is indeed pregnant.  Pray that Jim finds work-he said he was looking-pray that Sally gets the real healthcare she needs.

This story helps reveal two things:

  1. The Church’s pro-life stance is full-orbed.  She cares for not simply the unborn children but the pregnant mothers as well, regardless of their socio-economic status or religious affiliation (notice that the lady telling the story didn’t check to make sure the homeless couple were Christians before offering her help).
  2. The idea that PP somehow cares about serving poor women in under-privileged circumstances is a sham.

Review of Openness Unhindered by Rosaria Butterfield

When I picked up Rosaria’s book in 2012, I thought to myself, “Well… she’s an English professor.  openness_unhindered_coverAt least the prose will be enjoyable.”  Now I’m ashamed at how low my expectations were.  I had no idea how her book would become the tip of the spear for a rewewed cultural discussion dealing with sexual identity and orientation.  Since that time it has been my privilege to get to know Rosaria through emails, prayer request exchanges, and a shared event at a local university. So when I saw that she was due to release her second book at the beginning of July I was delighted and my expectations were so much higher.  To say my expectations were met would be an understatement and not because I now consider Rosaria a friend but because the book is excellent in so many ways. Continue reading

Letter to the Department of Health and Human Services

I wrote the following letter/email this past Monday to Cynthia Burwell, Read a blog post from Secretary Burwell about Mother’s Day.the Secretary of the (federal) Department of Health and Human Services.  I have yet to receive any notice that they received it or that they intend to perform any actions.  I leave the letter here to let readers determine if I have been uncharitable or untruthful.

Dear Mrs. Burwell,

I’m writing to you as an American citizen who is concerned about the care and protection that is not afforded to a certain demographic of our nation.  And since you are a very accomplished woman who is involved “in work that touches the lives of Americans at every age, from every background, in every part of our country” as stated on your bio on the HHS website, I thought you’d be a natural place to share my concerns. Since you are “committed to the mission of ensuring that every American has access to the building blocks of healthy and productive lives” I know my concerns won’t be treated flippantly or dismissively.

My concern is this: since the release of the expose’ videos on Planned Parenthood concerning the trafficking of the body parts from aborted American babies, I feel that there is no concern at the federal level that has risen to the level of action.  The mistreatment of non-American citizens at Guantanamo Bay rightfully got heavy media coverage and swift governmental response.  So why has there been no statement, no plan of action issued at the federal level?  So please, since these videos demonstrate serious ethical and procedural breaches on the part of Planned Parenthood (involving the killing of human beings), and Planned Parenthood receives funds from American tax-payers, I implore you from the heart of all it means to be human, launch an investigation/inquiry into this mercenary, Frankenstein-esque organization and the affiliate offices in question. 

While I happen to be a Christian citizen, I hope you will not, as I stated above, treat this dismissively as if I am simply some fiery-eyed, shibboleth-launching conservative.  But as a Christian, I do believe that you have been placed by the Hand of Providence in your office for such a time as this.  As the health and human services arm of the executive branch, you have been endowed with an authority to be “not a terror to good conduct, but to bad (Romans 13.3).”  The duty to appeal to my superiors is mine to fulfill.  The duty of your office to protect the weakest and voiceless among the American people is yours.  To do nothing at this point is to be complicit in the barbarism happening behind clinical doors.

If you would like to schedule a visit to have a sort of “town hall” kind of meeting in our community, the information that your website requests is below my signature at the bottom of the email.  Our location for calling such a meeting would be an advantage because we are situated between the Piedmont Triad (Winston-Salem, High Point, Greensboro) and the greater Charlotte area.  I look forward to hearing from your office as to what actions or plan of action you will take. 


Kirk Blankenship

Gay Pride… Christian Shame, part 3

In part 1 of this brief series, we have examined how the LGBT symbol of the rainbow flag is a sign of their community’s pride in their identity, whereas the primary symbol of the Christian community is a symbol of shame, depicting the death of Jesus, the necessary sacrifice given because of who Christians know themselves to be. In part 2, we learn that the Christian community also has the rainbow sign in its repertoire of symbols. And while the rainbow of Noah’s day was symbol of God’s faithfulness to keep His promises, it was also a symbol that God is a God of war who lays aside his war-bow in the sky to remind us of why the flood judgment had to fall. The rainbow reminds the Christian of his humble position of being saved by grace and that the judgment of God is inescapable except aboard the one vessel that has absorbed the wrath of God.rainbow eye

So in this final installment, we will look furthering the reality that God is not some soft, toothless, grandpa-in-the-sky and how it is reinforced when we look at the two places in the Bible where the rainbow appears again. Continue reading