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News That Illustrates: August 15,2011

Republicans vs. Democrats: Which Prayers Does God Prefer?
Michael Gerson at The Washington Post observed that both Republicans and Democrats invoked the name of God to support their side of the recent debt limit debates. For instance, Republican Tim Scott credited "divine inspiration" for his opposition to one of the proposals. On the other side, Democrat Donna Brazile tweeted, "Jesus would be fair and support shared sacrifice." Gerson wryly noted, "It was not immediately clear whether the Son of God endorses corporate loophole closings or prefers tax-rate increases." Gerson wasn't suggesting that we should never mix politics and prayer. Instead, he wisely argued that when churches "become clubs of the politically like-minded" and "when religion becomes too closely identified with a detailed political platform, both are quickly outdated."

Jennifer Lopez: Divorce Expert
After seven years of marriage, Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony are calling it quits. In a recent interview for Vanity Fair, Ms. Lopez shares that she's still "a hopeless romantic and passionate person when it comes to love." Unfortunately, most of that love seems to be about loving herself more. "It's not that I didn't love myself before," she claims. "To understand that a person is not good for you, or that person is not treating you in the right way, or that he is not doing the right thing for himself—if I stay [in the marriage], then I am not doing the right thing for me. I love myself enough to walk away from that now." It's fascinating to contrast this contemporary view of self-love with, say, Thomas a Kempis who 500 years ago wrote, "You must know that self-love is more harmful to you than anything else in the world."

The Case of Anders Breivik: Are We Basically Good or Evil?
In the wake of the last month's killing spree in Norway, the British prison psychiatrist Theodore Dalrymple recently made some theologically astute observations about human nature (thanks again to our brilliant friends at Mockingbird). We used to adhere to a biblical view of human nature—namely, that we're skewed towards evil and sin. However, Dr. Dalrymple claims that since the time of Jean Jacques Rousseau (the 19th century philosopher who believed in the basic goodness of people) all that has changed. According to Dalrymple Rousseau's views have triumphed so now "we believe ourselves to be good, and that evil, or bad, is the deviation from what is natural …. Most people now have a belief in the inner core of themselves as being good. So that whatever they've done, they'll say, 'That's not the real me.'"

Schools Scramble to Stop Cheating Scandals
As a specific example of Dalrymple's (and the Bible's) view of human nature, consider the rampant cheating scandals occurring in public schools. More than 30 New Jersey schools are under investigation for falsifying test scores. Atlanta officials recently discovered that 44 schools and 178 teachers and principals have been faking test scores for the past decade. The article also mentions ongoing investigations of possible cheating scandals in Pennsylvania, Dallas, Baltimore, and Houston. Why the sudden spike in cheating? Apparently, it's a desperate attempt to avoid getting the dreaded government "failing" rating. So rather than face and admit failure, many teachers and school officials are choosing to cheat.

Have You Seen Enough Television Anti-Heroes?
An interesting article in the LA Times noted the growing trend of TV shows that focus on antiheroes. Shows like "The Sopranos," Nip/Tuck," "Dexter," "Rescue Me," Sons of Anarchy," "Californication," "Mad Men," and "House" (to name just a few!) have made "darkness and dysfunction the norm." The article claims that there's "nothing provocative or daring in the antiheroic attitude right now; we are up to our necks in it, and to create more series in that image is no longer to fly in the face of convention but to coast in its wake." Is it too much to ask that someone produces a show about real heroes—people with flaws and clay feet who choose the path of compassion and goodness? Of course the problem is deeper than that: we live in a culture that enjoys the dark, dysfunctional antihero shows.

The "No-Kids Allowed" Movement Keeps Spreading
The "No-Kids Allowed" movement continues to spread across the country. The article states, "Lately, complaints about screaming kids are being taken seriously, not only by airlines, but by hotels, movie theaters, restaurants, and even grocery stores." The trend (also called "Brat Bans") pits small children against adults who just don't want kids seen or heard. Whole Foods stores in Missouri are offering child-free shopping hours. In Florida a controversy is brewing over whether kids can be banned from a condominium's outdoor area. The article asks, "When did kids become the equivalent of second-hand smoke?"

Celebrate Lemonade Free Day (August 20th)
Speaking of anti-children attitudes, apparently there's been a spate of lemonade stand shutdowns across the country. For instance, on June 10, 2011 the Philadelphia Department of Health shut down a cancer charity's lemonade stand for lack of a permit and hand-washing station. On July 19th, officials in McAllen, Texas shut down a little girls' lemonade stand for failure to obtain a food permit. They also might asses a $50 fine against grandma for helping with the illegal lemonade stand. In response to this wave of citations and shut downs, Robert Fernandes has declared that August 20, 2011 should be Lemonade Free Day. This is a great story to set up a sermon on anything related to legalism, law versus grace.

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