Monday, October 23, 2017

A Bar is not the Way to Grow

City Council is in the process of considering a change to the existing ordinance as it relates to the sale of alcohol in non-residential establishments. There has been some healthy debate on this topic, but the more debate I hear, the more I fear that most people do not understand what is really being considered. I also get the impression that even some council members do not understand this proposal.

There are a handful of restaurants in Union that serve alcohol; the law allows that, and no one is considering changing that in any way. To hear people defend this new proposal, though, one would think those of us in opposition are trying to keep restaurants from serving beer. That is not the case. We are not pushing to become a dry city, nor are we trying to get restaurants to stop serving alcohol.

The current law in Union forbids the operating of an establishment for the primary purpose of consuming alcohol; the proposal before Council would change that. If the ordinance is changed it would allow for bars to open within the city; nothing more, and nothing less. That is why I was shocked to hear council members at Tuesday’s meeting, saying that if we change this ordinance then we can get chained restaurants to come here. They already can, and it is mindboggling that Council doesn’t know that. Restaurants operate for the primary purpose of serving food, and by law, can serve alcohol. Bars and taverns operate for the primary purpose of serving alcohol.   

Will this bring revenue? Of course. But at what cost? The state of Minnesota released a fact sheet to see how much revenue was generated from alcohol, and they found that number to be a staggering $296 million annually. But Minnesota had the wisdom to also factor in what they had to pay out as a result of selling alcohol. Here is what it cost them:

After factoring in alcohol related homicide/suicide, falling and other accidents, drowning while under the influence, certain types of cancer, liver disease, other chronic illnesses, vehicular accidents, unintended pregnancies, birth defects, and alcohol dependence programs, Minnesota found out that they paid out $5.06 billion because of alcohol sales. 

In other words, they took an almost $5 billion loss. These numbers are admittedly state wide, not city wide, so the numbers aren’t comparable, but the concept is. Alcohol always costs more than it brings in. Alcohol always costs more than it is worth.

Let’s not forget that South Carolina leads the nation in vehicular deaths on country roads. We also lead the nation in DUIs causing vehicular death and are in the top five of overall DUIs. We have ranked at or near the top for years. Drunk driving and fatal accidents are directly proportional. Please, let’s keep that out of our city.

We rank at the top of the vehicular fatality list while Utah consistently comes in at number 50. When you consider that two-thirds of Utahans are Mormons who drink no alcohol it is easy to see why they don’t have problems with drunk driving. Anyone can see the correlation: drinking and driving leads to innocent people dying.

There are many ways to grow our great city, but a tavern isn’t one of them. Do we really want to bring in an establishment that exists for the primary purpose of alcohol consumption, especially just a couple of hundred yards from our only University, especially in light of our new campus housing?

The most alarming thing I heard during the meeting was when someone actually suggested that maybe some of these vehicular deaths were caused because people have to go to Spartanburg to go to a bar. She said that if these people could go to bars in Union, then they would have fewer miles to drive under the influence of alcohol (which, for the record, is a felony). 

If the best argument we can make is that it is better for citizens of Union to drive drunk for shorter distances than driving drunk from Spartanburg, then we really haven't come up with a good reason to pass this ordinance.

A tavern on Main Street will not be a bright spot for our city. It will be a blight on our city. I applaud Tommy Anthony (District 1) and Ricky Todd Harris (District 4) for their opposition, and I respectfully ask the other members to join them and block this measure.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Theological Divergence on the Presence of Christ in the Eucharist: Luther Versus Zwingli

The Protestant Reformation was a time of religious awakening around the world, giving rise to new denominations, new Bible translations, and new heroes to admire. It was an era characterized by a new boldness to attack the papacy, exposing powerful men for their corruption, and castigating the entire church, calling into question anything and everything that originated from the Vatican.
Amid all the clamoring to present new interpretations to timeless Scripture were men with larger-than-life personalities who were often quick to vilify anyone with whom they disagreed. Many of these emerging scholars agreed with each other on the major tenets of the Reformation, but they would quibble over the minutia, evening questioning the salvation of their near-likeminded opponent. Two of these reformers who found themselves at odds with each other were Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli.
Their main area of disagreement: the presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper. Both men agreed that the mass needed improvement; for Zwingli, the Lord’s Supper should not be observed daily or weekly, for this had potential to “suffer loss of effectiveness by too frequent occurrence[1].” Luther took the position that the sacraments in and of themselves were insufficient to save, a position that put him at odds with the church.
Where Luther and Zwingli sparred was on the question of presence—did the bread and wine literally become the body and blood of Jesus once they were administered? For Luther the answer was an emphatic yes; for Zwingli, it was just as emphatic in the negative. This may not seem like an important debate, but readers in the 21st Century need to keep this in context; as Ryrie noted, “It is worth pausing on this issue, because, abstract as it may appear, it was fundamental to early Protestants’ religious experience.[2]” Believers observed the Eucharist so frequently that this issue could not be ignored.
Martin Luther
Luther was a gifted theologian whose mastery of the Greek language allowed him to correct translation errors in the Latin Vulgate. In his translating Luther “was able to perceive a certain arbitrariness in allegory. He thought of it as opposed to the literal sense of Scripture, which he wanted to explore through attention to grammar and the original texts.[3]” His dispute with Zwingli, however, was not over a translation error, but in a question of to what extent the Lord’s plain words should be taken. His take on the presence of Christ in the sacraments is most easily seen at the colloquy at Marburg, a famed discourse between opposing parties that failed to reach an agreement.  
At Marburg Luther had written down the simple phrase “This is my body” in chalk on the table where the men would later sit. During the debate he whisked away the velvet tablecloth that concealed his mantra, saying, “Here is our text. You haven’t yet managed to wring it from us, as you said you would.” He later added, “Jesus Christ clearly states: ‘Hoc est corpus meum,’ truly I cannot get around it, but clearly must confess and believe that the body of Christ is present therein[4].”
Beyond the words of Luther are his actions. If the bread and wine are actually the body and blood of the Savior, the Savior whom Luther dearly loved, then the elements themselves must be holy and cannot be mishandled. So in 1543 when some Communion wine was accidentally spilled on a woman, Luther went so far as to lick the wine from her coat, and “cut out the bits of the jacket they had been unable to clean, plane away the sections of her pew where the wine had splashed, and burn the lot.[5]” This may seem like strange behavior, but it is fully consistent with Luther’s theology, and is the logical response to dealing with something as holy as the actual blood of Jesus.
Luther knew that his critics said Jesus could not be the bread and wine because He is at the right hand of the Father, in accordance with Acts 2:32-33. This objection didn’t phase the Reformer, who taught that the doctrine of omnipresence applied just as much to Communion as it did to anything else.  
Luther rejected transubstantiation as it was presented by the Catholic Church, but his position may be thought of as transubstantiation lite. Whereas the Catholics taught the bread and wine are fully morphed into Christ’s body and blood and provide instant grace for salvation, Luther maintained that Christ was present in the bread and wine (and most importantly, that the meal was not propitiatory). Luther held that Jesus was “physically present in the sacramental bread, just as the Son of God was wholly present in the man Jesus, and just as the Word of God was wholly present in Scripture.[6]

Ulrich Zwingli
While Martin Luther garners much of the attention and praise from the Reformation, his opponent in this debate was no slouch. In addition to being highly educated himself, Zwingli was a reformed humanist who had a deep understanding of Scripture. It has been recounted that Zwingli, “overcome by the epistles of Peter…copied them by hand and committed them to memory[7].” He comes to this divergence with Luther able to hold his own.
Zwingli rejected any form of transubstantiation. Yes, the actual words of Jesus are clear: “This is my body…this is my blood.” But are they to be interpreted in the most literal sense? Zwingli would say they are not. As proof he pointed to other “I am” statements from the Messiah, such as, “I am the door,” and “I am the vine (John 10:7, 15:5).” By Luther’s logic, one must also conclude that Jesus were an actual door and an actual vine, while simultaneously being the actual bread, all while being seated at the right hand of the Father. This was too much for Zwingli to take.
 Because of this position, Zwingli translated I Corinthians 11:24 to have Jesus say, “This signifies my body,” an interpretation he said came to him in a dream. Far from the stance of the Lutheran camp, the Zwinglians adopted the phrase, “spiritual eating” to refer to the sacraments (Luther countered this notion with physical eating). As a proof text Zwingli put forth John 6:63, which says, “It is the Spirit that giveth life; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I have spoken unto you are spirit, and are life.” From this verse “flesh availeth nothing” became a battle cry for Zwingli and his followers.  
If Luther were correct then each time believers sat down at the table, Christ would be sacrificed anew. This would be clearly refuted by Hebrews 10. That is another reason why Zwingli emphasized the bread as signifying Christ, not being or becoming Christ. For Zwingli the observance of the Lord’s Supper is spiritual, and as Dr. Yarnell points out, “nobody could accuse Zwingli of retaining the sacrifice of the mass, though Zwingli could accuse Luther of such[8].” For Zwingli there was a new sacrifice at each eating of the bread, but it was the sacrifice of the communicant, who was proclaiming “the Lord’s death until He comes (I Corinthians 11:26).”
While the Eucharist was commonly thought of as a grace that brought salvation, Zwingli’s take has been summarized thusly: the bread and wine were reminders of a grace already received rather than vehicles of a present sacramental grace. [9] Zwingli believed the ordinance served as an agent that should cause the believer to contemplate the crucifixion of Christ.
Theological Critique
Despite being only seven weeks apart in age, these men were worlds apart on this critical issue. Luther and Zwingli found themselves in an irreconcilable position, and because of their disagreement, neither man was fond of the other. On his Zurich foe, Luther wrote in Confessions Concerning Christ’s Supper, “I regard Zwingli as un-Christian, with all his teaching, for he holds and teaches no part of the Christian faith rightly. He is seven times worse than when he was a papist.[10]” On his Wittenberg counterpart, Zwingli refused any association, wishing to be called Paulinian instead of Lutheran. After all, he quipped, he had been preaching Christ’s gospel “before any man in our region had so much as heard the name of Luther.[11]” After their colloquy at Marburg, Zwingli attempted a brotherly embrace of Luther, but the latter coldly refused the gesture.
Since these men and their followers failed to come to a compromise, it is left to subsequent theologians to continue the colloquy in their absence. Despite efforts by John Calvin and others throughout the years to reconcile the two sides, there has never been a consensus. While Luther was correct in his assertion that Scripture should be interpreted literally first, he failed to allow for the other types of literature in Scripture (such as the metaphor). There are several problems with this purely literal approach. Millard Erickson has written about the problem of this theological divergence: “To believe that Jesus was in two places at once [in bodily form and on the plate] is something of a denial of the incarnation, which limited his physical nature to one location.[12]
Erickson went on to conclude, “We should think of the sacrament not so much in terms of Christ’s presence as in terms of his promise and the potential for a closer relationship with him[13].” That big picture approach may be the best way to balance the positions of Luther and Zwingli.
It is this author’s opinion that Zwingli was closer to the truth, seeing the meal as similar to baptism, not something that is salvific, but a public testimony of a previous action. As in all things, balance is key. Luther championed the “Real Presence” of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, but some have swung too far, resulting in a “Real Absence” in their efforts to not be Lutheran. The communicant must see Christ in the bread and wine, but in a symbolic sense; otherwise, there is no point in taking Communion. Christ is there, because Christ is in the believer, and because the elements of the meal point back to Christ in a beautiful symbol of His horrific death.

[1] Gerrish, B.A., Reformers in Profile, Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1967 p.129
[2] Ryrie, Alec, Protestants: The Faith that Made the Modern World, Penguin Random House, 2017, p.63
[3] Allen, Paul L., Theological Method, A Guide for the Perplexed, T&T Clark International, 2012, p.125
[4] Roper, Lyndal, Martin Luther, Renegade and Prophet, Random House 2016 p.310
[5] Ibid p.345
[6] Ryrie, p.64
[7] Bingham, Dr. D. Jeffrey, Pocket History of the Church, Intervarsity Press, 2002, p.108
[8] Yarnell III, Dr. Malcolm B., Royal Priesthood in the English Reformation, Oxford University Press, 2013 p.241
[9] Gerrish, p.128
[10] Atherstone, Andrew, Reformation, A World in Turmoil, Lion Books, 2001, p.81
[11] Gerrish, p.6
[12] Erickson, Millard J., Christian Theology Third Edition, Baker Publishing Group, 1983 p.1046
[13] Ibid p.1047

Sunday, April 23, 2017

13 Reasons Why Not

The Netflix original series 13 Reasons Why has been a big topic for young people. The show is about a high school student who commits suicide, but first recorded cassette tapes as a sort of suicide note for the people she blamed for leading her to take her own life. People have billed this show as something designed to teach students about the horrors of bullying, and if that is the case, it would be an important tool. However, if that is the case, this show has greatly missed the mark. Since the main character Hannah Baker left thirteen reasons why she took her own life, I will offer thirteen reasons why this show should be ejected[1].

1.    This is not What we Want to Teach Kids. If the point of this show is to demonstrate that bullying is unacceptable and can lead to suicide, that would be a good thing. But this program glorified and glamorized everything wrong with society. While trying to teach a moral, it threw morality to the wind.
2.    Language.  I may sound like an old fuddy duddy here, but the language in this show is flat out offensive. The cast is composed of high school students, and they all use the “f” word often and with ease. Additionally, the “s” word and “gd” are also peppered throughout. I am absolutely furious that anyone would use language like this in something peddled to students, and horrified that any parent would ever let their kids watch it. To go back to the first point, if we are trying to teach students a lesson, then why have such salty language? The real lesson that comes through is, “everybody talks like that.”
3.    Drinking/Drugs. The amount of underage drinking and drug usage is astounding. There are numerous parties where houses are filled with drunk kids and no adults, in addition to teens being stoned. Again, the take away here is that these parties and substances are par for the high school course.
4.    Sex. As one can imagine, the show is teeming with sexual activity, from locker room talk among the guys, to ranking girls’ bodies, and the obvious sex scenes. Once again, the audience is made to think this is normal behavior.
5.    Parental Absence. Some characters’ parents are nonexistent, but the parents who are featured are mindboggling. They make almost no effort to discipline or correct their kids, and they seem to be aloof at best. They stand idly by while their kids swear and drink (like the mom who asks her 11th grade son, “Are you drunk? On a school night? You never do that.”). Like much of the garbage on TV that undermines the family unit, this show glorifies the buffoon parent who exists to only cook and chauffer; there is no sound wisdom or advice from mom or dad. I can imagine students watching this show thinking their parents are lame for caring too much, unlike the checked-out “parents” on this trashy show.
6.    Bad Counselors. Like many other shows that subtly belittle authority figures, 13 Reasons makes a mockery of the school’s guidance counselors. The original counselor is a goofy woman who is predictably called the “b” word, and she is replaced by a man who seems top notch, until later episodes reveal he was a part of the problem. When the main character confided her rape by a school jock, he told her the best option was to simply, “forget it,” and, “move on.” If this show is trying to prevent suicide, they should be glorifying, not vilifying, the school counselors who can actually help at risk students.
7.    Where are the Teachers? In the same vein as the bad counselors are the moronic teachers. We see the coach sleeping through history class and playing a John Wayne movie, a rude principal, and an out of touch teacher in some type of social behavior class. Where are the Mr. Feeneys who used to go out of their way to help their students? Kids today need to know they can trust their teachers, and this show doesn’t reinforce that concept. 
8.    Too Graphic. The final episode shows the suicide of Hannah Baker. As she sat in a bathtub and slit both wrists, she began to pant and shiver and slowly, graphically die. It was so realistic I had trouble sleeping, feeling ashamed that I watched someone die without intervening. The scene is disturbing, and when we remember that the target audience is minors, it is even more disturbing.
9.    Suicide Glorified. The violent scene notwithstanding, suicide is glorified throughout the series. As Hannah is able to almost torture her tormentors posthumously, viewers can fantasize about their last revenge. A person on the edge may actually decide to go through with suicide after seeing how Hannah was able to get the last laugh. 
10. Blame Shifting. While bullying in any form is wrong, if a person does choose to commit suicide (and I say this with sensitivity), the choice was made by the one taking his own life, not by classmates or anyone else. While it is important that we teach people not to be factors in the decision (i.e., treat people the right way), this show’s conclusion, in the finale, was that 13 people were at fault for Hannah’ death, and none of them was Hannah herself. She is the victim and the 13 others bear the guilt. This just simply isn’t true.
11. No Positive Elements. Not only are so many vices glamorized, there is also an absence of goodness. With the exception of the show’s protagonist Clay Jensen, there is virtually no one doing anything noble or decent. There is no character that makes you think, “I need to be more like him.”
12. Questionable Motives. Netflix and the shows bosses are standing by their work, using the predictable line of, “starting a conversation” about this topic. It seems, though, that if the motivation was getting out the message, they could have made one movie or a much shorter season. Instead, they put out 13 hour-long shows; the extra airtime resulted in more profanity, more drinking, more sex, etc. They could have gotten to the point much quicker, and it leads me to believe the motivation behind this project was much more financial than it was beneficial. Sex sells, and they sold a lot of it.
13. Incorrect Conclusion. If this show had been done right, teenagers would come to the finale and leave with a positive message: I need to treat others the way I want to be treated. I need to watch what I say, and put others’ needs ahead of my own. However, as stated at the beginning, I’m afraid the conclusion will be far from that. I believe the conclusion will be that in order to be cool, kids need to swear like sailors, sleep around, get wasted at un-chaperoned parties, and get their advice from peers as opposed to parents, teachers, counselors, or other trusted adults.

I decided to give this show a try after hearing some middle school students talking about it. I was absolutely appalled that this garbage is available to kids, and that there are parents who either allow that filth to do the parenting, or else are too uninvolved to know or stop it. Parents, please think twice before you let your kids watch this show.

[1] I watched the first two episodes, then skipped ahead to the final show because I did not want to keep listening to the filthy language.