Our Immortal Ten moments

When two institution which mean so very much to me are embroiled in future-defining, crises, checking Twitter always comes with the nagging anxiety of, “Oh no, what now?” I’m grateful for the ability to learn critical information at a speed unimaginable to previous generations and react accordingly, but I also understand and identify with a certain Captain Picard meme far too well.

It’s no secret that this has been a troubling time to be an alumnus of Baylor University. My soul aches for anyone subjected to the kind of violence faced by God’s image bearers here at Baylor, even more so when they then face rampant and indefensible institutional failure. And for it to be Baylor, the world’s largest Baptist institution of higher learning and whose Latin motto includes “For the church,” assures that this is a tragic abomination which threatens the very witness and thus future of Baylor. A long shadow by extension is also cast across the church itself.

Speaking of, I believe the church residing in America is in the midst of a crisis and sifting not seen in generations. The eyes of the world are on us to see how we will handle unprecedented upheaval in the marble halls of politics and the forsaken streets of human suffering. In an age of social media and 24-hour news cycles, we cannot hide from scrutiny. Our actions here and now will echo across the physical and spiritual realms for a long time to come.

It’s going to take a lot of work and discernment to choose the right actions for Baylor and for the church, but I know what kind of decision should guide our actions. Jack Castellaw, Sam Dillow, Merle Dudley, Ivey Foster, Robert Hannah, Robert Hailey, Willis Murray, James L. Walker, William Winchester, and Clyde “Abe” Kelley lost their lives on January 22, 1927 img_4128when a bus carrying the Baylor basketball team, yell leaders, and managers was hit by a train in Round Rock, Texas. Ninety years later, we at Baylor still take time to remember the Immortal Ten. I’ve long known about this tragedy, but I missed some of the details by not attending BU for undergraduate studies. In the final moments before the train struck, Abe Kelley saw the train through the storm and pushed his roommate, Weir Washman, out the window. Washman was saved, but Kelley lost his life.

I believe both Baylor and the church in America are each facing an Immortal Ten moment, a time in which we can choose self-preservation or self-sacrifice, idolatry of safety or Christlike giving. We will all face that decision in our lives, privately and corporately, over and over. There is nothing greater to be done than sacrifice for others. If we lose our lives, we’ll gain what our lives are meant to be. But if we cling desperately, we’ll lose everything. We aren’t all administrators or coaches for Baylor, but every employee, alumnus, student, and fan has a role to play through sacrificial love. We aren’t all professional ministers, but every single believer has a role to play as God’s people, a royal priesthood, portraying to the world a God who emptied Himself on behalf of us. Perhaps the hardest part of self-sacrifice is that the things we have to give up often are good things. Power, wealth, and renown are enticing and can be leveraged for others. Longevity is desirable. We all like to be comfortable, enjoying a happy life rather than working through painful topics and conversations. But the storm is here, and the train is coming. We can cling to such things, or follow after Christ and those who portray Him like Abe Kelley. Whatever we decide, the world is watching.

Our Immortal Ten moments

Truth in pro-life advertising

09192efe-8dfb-4f88-b161-4b17203de8bcMuch to my mother’s chagrin, I’ve always found humor in the biting satire and warped comedy of Rocko’s Modern Life, a long-defunct cartoon from the days before Nickelodeon tried to out-Disney Disney. One episode follows the titular wallaby and his friend Heffer as they set out on a business trip for Rocko’s employer. After an avalanche blocks the route, they decide to splurge by taking advantage of a $5 special at a nearby ski resort. After checking in and requesting skis, they soon find out they’ve been had; every thing is five dollars. Skis. Cutting the skis down to size. Lift rides (including subsequent attempts to catch a lift after missing the first one). Bathroom use. Even the “roaring fire” in the lodge has a meter to feed.

It’s a funny episode that hinges almost entirely on a cruel advertising trick which would drive us to rage in real life. When we buy a thing, we want it to be that thing. Whether its the contents of a food product, the efficacy of a medicine, or the performance of a car, we allow for some spin in subjective claims but past a point we demand truth in advertising. Why don’t we in the conservative church demand the same of ourselves?

Pointing to the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, abortion opponents annually fill this week with events such as Sanctity of Life Sunday a few days ago and the March for Life in DC on Friday. If you don’t reside in the conservative Christian community, you may not know about these events but have likely noticed an increase in chatter regarding abortion as a result of the emphasis.

I hesitate to call these events and most of their supporters “pro-life” because I believe in truth in advertising. If only abortion is being addressed, let’s be honest and call it anti-abortion (thankfully some voices stand out; the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commision under Russell Moore’s leadership comes to mind). How can the content of a pro-life material stop at the decision to give birth? Wouldn’t belief in the sanctity of life look to pregnancy and new parent care? And why only pregnancy? Wouldn’t a pro-life ethic have to include addressing poverty, vulnerable populations (like refugeeswidows, orphans, and those in prison as demanded by Scripture), and even the environment on which we all depend and over which God has placed us as stewards? Unfortunately, such topics rarely come up in events, talks, or literature labeled as pro-life; no wonder others mock this position as simply being pro-forced birth. It seems that it’s easier to make quips about Mary not having an abortion than it is to remember that her Son was a genocide survivor and refugee who was tortured and executed as an enemy of the state.

God, however, is wholly pro-life. This past Sunday I preached from Proverbs 24:10-12. This text contains a stern call to action: “Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter.” I told my congregation that this text should constantly make us ask ourselves, “What am I personally doing to refute the claims of Death?” The story of Scripture (and thus Christianity and even history) is at its core a story of Death making claims it doesn’t deserve and God working to reclaim Creation. We, through Christ, have both been made the subject of this work and invited to be co-laborers in the rejection of Death in all its forms.

A complete ethic of life is not only logically consistent and biblical imperative but also incredibly freeing. As the old aphorism goes, no one can do everything but everyone can do something. Consider the ongoing plight of Flint, Michigan, a city forced to live with abhorrent lead concentrations in its water since 2014. It will take years to fully see the deadly fallout as this toxin slowly destroys lives. Roughly a year ago, hundreds of union plumbers volunteered to install filters for the residents of Flint while the government continued to squabble ineffectually. This, friends, is a pro-life act. These plumbers, Christians or not I do not know, saw a place where Death was laying claim and moved to overcome it using the skills they possessed. Abortion is an incredibly complex issue, as evidenced by the fall of the abortion rate to the lowest level since Roe v. Wade despite the decision remaining in effect. Not everyone can affect abortion, let alone wider yet thoroughly interconnected pregnancy and parenthood issues. But each and every one of us is at the absolute most merely arm’s length away from something or someone being unjustly claimed by Death. Each and every one of us has been gifted to affect the world around us. Being pro-life means partnering with God through Christ to grab hold of Creation and place it under the claim of Life using our gifts. May our pro-life advertising be true. Let’s get to work.

Truth in pro-life advertising