Scared of Halloween?

When we lived in Uganda, our Ugandan friends were frequently curious about our culture, as we were curious and learning their culture.

We found it difficult, however, to explain Halloween to our Ugandan friends. In fact, we were awakened to the fact that any holiday that glorifies gore and darkness is suspect at best and can lead to sin at worst.

Like many other Christians recently, we’ve helped our children avoid dressing up as blantantly evil characters. Events have been changed from Halloween to “Fall Festivals,” and trick or treating has become “trunk or treats” at churches. Yet there we were, ironically, “celebrating” a holiday in a country where we were trying to move Ugandans out of superstitions and control of evil and preaching Christ as more powerful than the evil one or evil spirits that most Ugandans very much believe in (Jn 4:4).

Over the years, we appreciate and attend here in the states “Fall Festival” activities modified for the spiritual health of our children. That said, however, Halloween has been one of the best times of the year to participate in what the culture around us is doing and meet more of our neighbors. I’ve heard of boycotts that encourage people to turn off their front porch light and not answer the door on trick or treat night. I don’t agree with not answering the door or boycotting a time when there is potential for meeting neighbors. We’re already too isolated as it is. Few days (or nights) of the year do whole neighborhoods open up their doors and expect people to come see them. Many Christians are taking this opportunity to be a light in a dark holiday.

My children are pictured (from left, Anna, 8, Ashley, 10, Jacob, 6), and we’re on our way to trick or treat and will also spend some time at home, opening our door to those goblins coming to our door. Posted by Hello

By Greg Taylor Posted in General

I met George W. Bush when he was called “Junior”

I met George W. Bush in 1988 when he came to Harding to stump for George H.W. Bush, or as I wrote the headline, “dad.”

George Jr. wasn’t known then as W but simply as, “Junior.” I walked him out to his car, asking him questions along the way. I don’t remember many of the questions I asked, but the story in the student newspaper gives clues: gun control, pledge, early furlough from prison. The issues were certainly important but not as intense as they are in this post-9/11 world, it seems.

In 1988, he had already acquired the swagger walk, but as he got in the car, I had no clue he would be president. Do you suppose he still has that Harding sweatshirt? Posted by Hello

By Greg Taylor Posted in General

Deeper look at abortion

I am strongly against abortion and partial birth abortion. The church, however, has erred in the way it has gone about dealing with this. Christians have taken the stand for the life of a fetus and infant and many have left mothers and the larger structural justice in society out of what has become a single-issue voting conundrum that leaves many Christians incredulous that anyone could vote any other way but Republican.

In 1992, during the Clinton vs. George H.W. Bush campaign, I took a photo of a couple carrying a sign that said, “A vote for Clinton is a sin against God.” I’ve searched for that photo but can’t find it. The sins of Bill Clinton may justify people who held or hold that position, but we ought to look at the fruits of his administration relative to what the sign intended. It was meant, I think, to refer to Clinton’s view on abortion. But did abortions increase in the eight years Clinton was president? I don’t know but perhaps we could find out.

According to the ethicist/statician, Dr. Glen Harold Stassen, abortions have actually increased during Bush’s administration.

Pro-life? Look at the fruits by Dr. Glen Harold Stassen.

How do we account for this? Is it justice and mercy to take a stand and not also look to the larger moral issues involved? As I have mentioned in this blog, some do take this stand with great conviction, but my challenge is to look deeper, read the above article, post others here that we can look at.

A comment earlier says I’m naive to think we can not have political parties. The intention was to wake us to the reality that we have been co-opted by political parties and we have a lot of work to do in the church to reverse this, and it cuts both ways. Democrats sometimes shamelessly use churches to get votes from the black community. Republicans sometimes shamelessly use churches to get votes from Christians. By giving the example of no parties, I was trying to illustrate that a Christian might come out with a more kingdom-focused mix of moral issues rather than being “forced” to choose between one party that says there’s no way you can’t vote Republican because of abortion and Christians in the Democratic party that can’t understand how someone can abide this “just war” as a Christian.

Both think the other at best is missing the point, and at worst, sinning against God.

By Greg Taylor Posted in General

Richard T. Hughes – Myths America Lives By

Just began a series of articles on Wineskins that will run through election day: Christians and Politics. The first is a review of the Richard T. Hughes book, Myths America Lives By. Go to This is a free series of articles. Wineskins is otherwise a subscription site. My fuller review of Hughes’s book will appear in the December 2004 print issue of Christianity Today. Posted by Hello

By Greg Taylor Posted in General

God is not a Republican or Democrat

Thanks to all who are expanding on the issues raised about civility and morality in the campaign, bouncing off of the photo of Teresa Heinz Kerry.

Sojourners is an organization that is calling Christians to non-partisan support of biblical values in this election, to the belief that “sincere Christians and other people of faith can choose to vote for President Bush or Senator Kerry – for reasons deeply rooted in their faith.”

By Greg Taylor Posted in General

Some opponents want Teresa Heinz Kerry to appear as “Queen of Beers”

This photo has been forwarded around the internet as a character slam on Teresa Heinz Kerry. A friend sent it to me with the caption, “Kids, this is no first lady.”

I would rather say something else to our children, similar to what my wife, Jill, told my daughter one day when she came in the dining room of some friends who had served us wine: “Ashley, we are drinking wine. It’s OK. It is not wrong. Jesus and the disciples drank wine. The Bible does not say not to drink. What God does not want is people to mis-use alcohol and get drunk.”

Had the Pharisees snapped a photo of Jesus at a wedding feast or sitting with lousy fishermen, prostitutes, and Jewish renegades, no one would have elected him. They would have crucified him, which figuratively is what opponents of Kerry want to do with his and his wife’s character. Posted by Hello

Explaining how I feel to a non-sports fan

I tried to explain to a friend, who’s not a sports fan, the sense of disappointment about the Cards getting swept by the Red Sox. It’s like

  • An avid reader and fan of C.S. Lewis finding out he made up his life story
  • A Ford Mustang enthusiast buying the ’04 and finding a ’72 Pinto engine in it
  • A W. or Kerry fan and your candidate gets shut out in debates or loses campaign

Even so, we could not have been swept by a better and more anointed team of destiny than the Boston Red Sox. I may have come down with a case of the dry heaves if the Yankees had swept the Redbirds. So, not just congratulations to the Red Sox but a hearty Pedro Martinez glove slap on the rear like he did to Larry Walker in game 3, “Way to go, Red Sox! You deserve this.”

By Greg Taylor Posted in General

Don’t use commentaries

I received a letter (not an email, a letter–you know, one of those things in an envelope that someone actually types or handwrites only to you, remember?) from a friend who taught my Bible class when I was very young. We have been corresponding about John Mark Hicks’s and my book, Down in the River to Pray.

Among the many things she is disturbed about in the book (most people are troubled by chapter 10), she called for me to stop using commentaries and simply read the Bible. This has been a common mantra in primitivistic churches (meaning ones, like Churches of Christ, that want to restore the early church as closely as possible). Mix with this the idea of individualism and the modernistic idea that we can know all flawlessly by simply investigating it ourselves, and it’s not surprising that my friend wants me to ditch the commentaries. There is also a long-standing suspicion of higher learning (hey, I’m not exactly an ivory tower, Greek and Hebrew spouting scholar!).

After the first of two letters from my friend, I wrote back with as much tenderness as I could muster. I want fellowship with Christians like my friend, even if they feel strongly against what I am doing. And by the way, the book is full of straight biblical exposition – what my friend is picking up on but doesn’t have a category for is the fact that the book is “historical theology” while at the same time a re-examination of a sacred cow and one of the more appropriately highly regarded and practiced doctrines in the church of Christ. But the historical doctrine part, by necessity, looks at Old Testament thought about baptism, early church fathers, New Testament texts on baptism, Reformation, Restoration, and modern day interpretation. Each of these major areas is covered in a chapter, then there are several application chapters. So the thought of Christians through the ages is discussed, and it would be arrogant of us to think we could just skip the valuable thought of Christians through the ages.

So I will likely write back to my friend and resist the urge to say, “In that case, we need to stop reading one another’s letter commentaries on one another’s beliefs.” No, I won’t say that, but I will continue to sensitively and with grace and concern (as God’s grace for me is exaggerated and overwhelming and undeserved), dialogue and try to remain in fellowship with some of my brothers and sisters who believe what I’m doing is wrong.

By Greg Taylor Posted in General

Out of the closet and into the light

Much prayer, thought, and team editorial work can go into one article for a magazine or journal. One example is one by Dr. Christopher Austin that is available both in our newest print Wineskins and our online journal NEW WINESKINS.

The article is titled, Out of the closet and into the light: ministering to those with same-sex attractions, and is one of the most frank yet nuanced and biblical contributions to the discussion of homosexuality I’ve read in some time.

Along with the article are several good resources for those struggling with same-sex attractions or for ministering to them. When you click over, if you are not a Wineskins subscriber, you will be asked to sign up for a 10-day free trial. Our site was on the front edge of the new movement to provide high quality articles for a small fee. Ours is very minimal: $19.95 a year for a subscription and full access to new articles daily and archives of the magazine.

By Greg Taylor Posted in General

Elmer Fudd and The Series

Was my Cardinals win over my wife’s Astros worth the fact that she now hates me?


But I’m like Elmer Fudd in the best episode–“Bugs Bunny Opera”–of the greatest cartoon “series” ever made on the cliff calling “Norf winds bwow! Thunder Wightning! Beat the Astros, beat the Aaaa-stros” (low note). It is done.

Then I look down and see the lifeless body of my wife. I trip on her lower lip. She blames me for this. What did I have to do with it? I was just cheering for the genetically encoded team of my youth. And now I can almost see Jill in that orange Astros shirt in 8th grade, cheering for Jose Cruz, Nolan Ryan, J.R. Richards.

What have I done?! I’ve killed the Astros? They’ve never been to the October Classic, ever. Jill nearly gags when she hears the announcer say this is the Redbirds 16th trip. “We’ve been around much longer than the Stros,” I say. It doesn’t help, only serves to twist the knife. I’m filled with remorse. She says she may cheer for the Red Sox. No! I’ve had enough of this intra-family rivalry. No, not again!

Deep breath. Slowly climb the cliff till Saturday’s game one. “Norf winds bwow! Beat the Red Sox, beat the Red Sox, beat the Red Soooooox (low note)!”

By Greg Taylor Posted in General

5th – 6th graders silent?

In my class of thirty 5th and 6th graders–we call it JAM 56–we had five minutes of quiet reflection. Do you know how hard that is for that age on a Wednesday night. Actually, it’s more effective than trying it with adults–might put them to sleep after work day on Wednesday.

Here’s the straw poll on this group. About ten percent have some kind of structured quiet time in their homes. About the same percentage say their parents pray with them. We’ve been talking about developing their prayer life with God, praying the Lord’s Prayer, talking about our true Father who we can address in our prayers, who Jesus invites us to call “Abba,” as in a Dear Father to us. Jesus’ Father is our Father.

We’ve also been learning how to turn Scriptures into prayers. We prayed last night during our meditation to “Open our eyes to see the wonderful things in your teachings” (Psalm 118:19).

During the quiet time, I was tempted to dash out and check the score of the tied Cardinals game. I did not pray for them because I’m not sure God would care the outcome, but they won and tied the series anyway. After church I told a friend–after talking five minutes with him–that I needed to go and check on a couple of championship games, and he jokingly said, “I’m glad my life is not ruled by such addictions.” I said, “Me too. We can’t all have the same addictions, brother, or we wouldn’t be a body.” Then I left to watch the most incredible baseball game outcome that I’ve experienced in my lifetime as the Boston Red Sox came back from a 3-0 deficit with the Evil Empire and won the series 4-3! Never been done in baseball history. Jill thinks Johnny Damon is cute. She also wants the Astros to win tonight, and I’m of course a Cards fan, but if the Astros do win, I’ll be happy to see these two hungry teams, since the Astros have never been in history to the World Series.

By Greg Taylor Posted in General

An Election Hymn? “In Times of Great Decision”

A hymn for the election? Odd? Not really. Songs have through the ages been written out of the context of political, religious, and social boilerplate issues.

While some conservative Catholic bishops say voting for Kerry would require that person to go to confession, and as the nation approaches the election in polarized voting blocks, here is a song for both sides. One that reflects the speech of Abraham Lincoln that are written on the Lincoln Memorial walls, a song of justice for the world, a song that cries out not that God be on our side but one with a plea for us to be on God’s side.

Rev. Carolyn Winfrey Gillette wrote a new hymn called, “In Times of Great Decision.” She also wrote a song following 9/11 called “O God, Our Words Cannot Express” that has been featured by PBS-TV and BBC-TV and used in thousands of churches. The following is from a press release from the National Council of Churches.

The Christian pinciples (of her songs) apply biblically-based, well-established ecumenical views to both domestic and foreign policy issues. To date, more than 12,000 copies have been downloaded from the NCC Web site. Evidence of their balanced approach? Critical reaction splits about evenly between those who find the Principles too ‘pro-Kerry’ and those who find them too ‘pro-Bush.’ We invite
you to study–and sing–them for yourself. And remember to vote on November 2.

Here is the text of the hymn:

In Times of Great Decision
By Rev. Carolyn Winfrey Gillette

In times of great decision, be with us, God, we pray!
Give each of us a vision of Jesus’ loving way.
When louder words seem endless and other voices sure,
Remind us of your promise: Your love and truth endure.

O God, whose gifts are countless, You send us bearing peace.
You fill our dreams with justice for all communities.
You give us global neighbors that all may justly live.
May those we choose as leaders reflect the life you give.

O God, you bridged the distance; You opened wide your door.
You call us by our presence to reach to serve the poor.
You teach us: Welcome strangers! Seek justice on the earth!
May those we choose as leaders See every person’s worth.

You call on every nation to put aside all greed,
To care for your creation and for your ones in need,
To care for those in prison, for children, for the ill.
In times of great decision, may we choose leaders well.

The new hymn’s suggested tune is Samuel Sebastian Wesley’s AURELIA D (“The Church’s One Foundation”) or Welsh folk melody LLANGLOFFAN (“O God of Every Nation”). To hear this tune, go to Cyberhymnal’s version of “The Church’s One Foundation.”

By Greg Taylor Posted in General

Communion Thought From the Back of the Head

Sitting in rows in church I saw the back of my real estate agent’s head during the Lord’s Supper and thought I need to talk to him, partly because he’s my agent and also because he’s an elder at my church who happens to be an opera singer who promised to bless my house with a song someday if only I’d invite him, but I’m embarrassed because he mentioned I ought to fix a crack in the front stoop of my house, which I haven’t done, and I’m looking at his nicely combed hair from the back and drinking the juice, the blood of Christ, and thinking how I ought to get my mind back on the Lord and yet I can’t stop thinking about the crack in the foundation and how expensive it would be to repair and could I do it myself and how do they jack those foundations up anyway but as I looked up to see that communion service was over I wondered how much I’d examined myself or thought about Jesus and how much more I’d contemplated my own porch cracks and the back of my real estate agent’s head and thought he is much more to me than a salesman but also a shepherd and in that way I’m very blessed to be friends with a man I can trust who prays for me and wants to sing for my family and care for us like the sheep that we are, and he is also bowing to the Lord then looking around at his brothers and sisters he loves and singing vibrato for God’s glory, and I’m drinking all this in and thinking that somehow perhaps I have recognized the body of our Lord.

I Corinthians 11:27-29

By Greg Taylor Posted in General

Wedge Issues

Election years bring many wedge issues intended to do just that, drive a wedge between voters and force a decision one way or the other.

Wedge issues are laid out on every front:

  • Politically. President Bush is currently stumping that Kerry is too liberal, has a liberal voting record. Senator Kerry is stumping that President Bush is not for the poor but gives tax breaks continually to the rich, too conservative.
  • Morality. President Bush doesn’t seem to be using this issue excessively but for several decades morality, family values, and abortion have been elements of the Republican agenda that they have used to drive wedges and lead party members in the belief that Republican values are American values and more moral than Democratic values. Democrats, meanwhile, are calling for the liberty of people to make their own value judgments about their bodies (abortion), their lifestyles (gay marriage), but at a deeper level they are concerned for the rights and liberties of these individuals, not the particular choice they are making.
  • Taxation. Senator Kerry is driving a wedge between those who make $200,000 and above and those below that line. I can imagine his campaign has done their homework on the number of people who make more than $200,000. They certainly have written off their vote, but amazingly there are many who make much more than this–the antecdotal example would be actors in Hollywood who endorse Kerry but would be far enough above the $200,000 line that they would not feel the repeal of the Bush tax cut for the high bracket.

I wanted to give these examples for this reason: that we not allow wedge issues to divide us. We have the tendency to think, How can I live with that guy when he thinks like that? We do this with church issues, civil issues, neighborhood issues, political issues. But we should be particularly aware in times like this that affect all of us in the United States, that we not allow wedge issues to drive us apart, keep us from conversing about the issues, keep us from having confidence in one another just because we come out red or blue on certain issues.

Wedge issues are a political means to electing individuals to office. Granted, a particular wedge issue may ring with truth to a percentage of Americans, and there are issues of principle and truth on the table here, but let’s stay focused on treating one another with respect and honor, regardless of how we vote. Don’t let the election drive a wedge between you and someone else.

By Greg Taylor Posted in General

Stumbling Block

Remember hearing people talk about being a stumbling block to another person?

I’d heard this term before when I was young. I remember when someone in my childhood congregation “went forward” to confess sin: she had been “a stumbling block to others around her.” I never knew for a long time what that meant.

In a recent adult (seniors/retired age) class I teach, we were studying the curious injunction in Leviticus 19 not to put a stumbling block in front of the blind. Who would do that?

As classes often do, we got diverted on several tangents in an effort to understand stumbling blocks. One said the churches of Christ have been a stumbling block in our treatment of outsiders, because rather than draw them to the Lord we’ve often repelled them with harsh exclusivism. Another disagreed, saying the context of this text ought to lead to appropriate application. The context, he said, is a recounting of the law in terms of relationship and the distinction of Israel from the nations, and the nations had no regard for their neighbors or concern for them. Still further, a third person in the class, an elder, said we ought to remember the mindset of the ancient world, that a person with a defect, blind or maimed or deaf, would be considered not blessed by God and even cursed.

A stumbling block is “any object that may cause someone’s downfall, whether literal (19:14) or figurative . . .” (Harper’s Bible Dictionary). Idolatry is a stumbling block in the hearts of people in Ezekiel (14:3f). In Isaiah the people stumble over God himself (Isaiah 8:14), and Simeon in Luke 2:34 says the child Jesus “is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel.” Paul, in Romans 9:32-33, compares unbelieving Israel to those who stumbled over the “stumbling stone” because they pursued religion of works instead of Christ by faith. Paul calls Christ crucified a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Greeks—in Greek the word is scandalon, an offense. He parallels this with the tendency of believers who find new freedom in Christ to flaunt this and therefore make others stumble (Harper’s Dictionary).

The figure of the stone is used throughout OT and NT, yet in the dramatic turnabout that Scripture is famous for, the stone that makes us stumble is the rock that becomes the cornerstone, our rock of help, the cleft, our firm foundation . . . and, in the words of the popular song that our mission team sang nearly every time we gathered,

I know I can stand secure . . . Jesus, you’re my firm foundation . . . I put my hope in your holy Word, I put my hope in your holy Word*

*©1994 Integrity’s Hosanna! Music Words and Music by Jamie Harvill and Nancy Gordon)

By Greg Taylor Posted in General