Pogo, the Pilgrims, and Us


Back in the day when a strange, wood-pulp-based communication device landed on our doorsteps daily, Americans enjoyed their “funnies.” At least that’s what I called the comics section of the newspaper. I would usually be the one to run out to gather the paper, then open it up and follow the adventures of Charlie Brown, Marmaduke, and Beetle Bailey. And sometimes, if I got ahold of the afternoon paper in Cincinnati, I would read Pogo.

Walt Kelly was a brilliant artist and a barbed wit, and he embued his opossum character Pogo and his animal friends with biting observations to match their lovely woodlands surroundings. Pogo beat Doonesbury to acerbic political commentary status by decades. The strip ran many years, and in 1970, an Earth Day edition gave us what became Pogo’s most well known quote:

We have met the enemy and he is us

“We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

I recalled that strip the other day when responding to a friend on Facebook. I was commenting about what has happened to America as a country. Today, a thuggishness seems to pervade our country, especially when it comes to dialoguing about ideas. Whereas Pogo was distraught over pollution, we have become people who cannot abide ideas that are different from our own, whether those ideas are polluted or as pristine as a clear, babbling brook.

Here is where we are:

We Americans have become the very people from whom the Founders of our country fled.

When I see American corporations, politicians, and loud, angry citizens wielding their power as a club to beat down anyone who does not bow down to their ideas, then I think back to the Pilgrims, to a bunch of brave men wondering if they would all hang separately if they did not hang togther, and to the reasons this country came into being in the first place.

From what did our forefathers flee? What drove them to pack up, brave a cruel ocean, and come to an unknown land filled with equal measures of uncertainty and freedom? How is it that we no longer recall our own country’s reason for existence? How is it that we have become the oppressive autocrats from whom our forefathers fled to find freedom?

Consider those boldfaced words above. And may God have mercy on the USA.

The Dreaded Christian To-Do List


Pile, inbox, list, to-doMy son and I are reading through the New Testament together this summer. Though I’ve read through the NT many times previously, the word of God is rich, my life circumstances change, and people grow and see with more spiritual vision over time.

One truth is hitting me hard this time around.

If you are a parent of a child who has gone through public or private school, you received notes from teachers about your child. Some addressed issues in your child’s life that required fixing. Others were updates on the school or its activities.

In reading the NT again, I was struck by how Paul’s letters to the churches often resemble those notes from a schoolteacher. They contain correctives, do’s and don’t’s, progress info, and so on.

But here’s the thing: If I were try to recreate an image of my child, would those letters he brought home from teachers be sufficient to tell me who he is?

I see this tendency in churches to take the Scriptures and make lists of do’s and don’t’s, form an image from those do’s and don’t’s, and then call them The Gospel™.

Problem is, compiling lists and performing what’s on them is not the real Gospel and never has been. Ironically, there exists a list of 10 To-Do items meant for “religious” people and those religious people found it a bear to do them. Even more ironic, the Giver of those 10 items concurred with the people: Yes, those 10 were impossible to keep perfectly.

And yet for most people attending a Christian Church in America, what comes out of the pulpit on Sunday is almost always a list of more “spiritual” things for them to do. It’s three, five, 10, or 12 bullet points (depending on how long-winded the preacher is) that we must now perform to have perfect





prayer lives,

Bible-study skills,

and on and on.

We have exchanged 10 items impossible to do for innumerable items impossible to do.

Preachers love to mine the Old Covenant for these items, despite the fact that covenant has been replaced by a much better one. Then they look at the better one, read all the “Notes from Teacher” letters of Paul, and use those corrective letters as additional fodder for more lists. (If anything, those corrective letters are intended more for Church leaders themselves to wrestle with. Sort of a “Teacher, teach thyself” sort of thing. But then how many preacher/leaders look at them that way?)

Funny thing  is, though the post-apostolic Church has loved its lists, the early Church knew better. When the issue of lists of Christian things to do came before the apostles and early Church leaders with regard to the gentiles, an astute James said there was no reason to frustrate those believers with a massive spiritual To-Do list. In the end, the leaders kept that list sane and super-short.

Even wilder? Those same apostles and leaders called the spiritual To-Do lists they’d had to contend with their entire lives “trouble” and a “burden.” You can read about this in Acts 15.

Jesus didn’t like lists either. When someone tried to force a list of approved behavior out of Him, He said all you needed to do was to love God and love your neighbor.

You know what? I think I can remember a list of two items. (Still, even those two are tough to keep!)

And yet today, the lists multiply and lengthen.

In Ecclesiastes, the narrator complains of the endless making of books and the weariness that comes from studying them. In our self-help, active, To-Do-centered culture today, books now equals lists. Because, hey, we’re too busy with our lists to focus on anything as lengthy as a book.

As someone 50 years old who has been a Christian for 35+ years, I’ve had enough Christian lists spoken to me over the years to gag a T. Rex. Actually, more like a herd of T. Rex. How many of those lists do I remember? None.

But if I really think about it, that statement may not be true. I do remember those lists—in a way. They bubble and churn under the surface of my spiritual life like so much hidden acid reflux and manifest as a case of spiritual heartburn. Not spiritual conviction, just a feeling like I swallowed something that’s stuck in my throat. Something akin to a millstone.

You know what? I don’t need more lists. You don’t either.

What we need more of is Jesus. And He never was and never will be a To-Do list.

Scolds, Killjoys & Blackmailers: When “Good Christians” Become Annoyances


Something was wrong with Jimmy Swaggart.

Watching his TV show back in the 70s and ’80s, I noticed the gradual change: Swaggart went from preaching the Gospel to letting everyone know just who was in error, who was doing it wrong, and who was screwing up.

We all know who was ultimately screwing up, don’t we?

I learned the lesson of watching a “good Christian” go from a blessing to a scold by watching Swaggart. In his earlier years, he used to show people what they should be for. The later years were instead filled with screaming about who and what people should be against.

I believe that sometimes people with a pulpit run out of good things to say. Even bloggers. I don’t write as much as I once did because I noticed the tendency to go negative in my own writings the more I felt compelled to write something, anything.

John Piper fell into that trap last week when he warned that buying a lottery ticket in the Mega Millions frenzy was “suicidal.”

Really, John? Suicidal?

So I spend a buck and buy a lottery ticket once every five years when the jackpot gets to be some stupidly large amount. Is this truly the pathway to personal destruction?

Actually, I didn’t buy a lottery ticket last week. But with the weather heating up, I will buy an ice cream cone now and then. By Piper’s standard, that cone purchase makes me a bad steward of God’s money on loan to me. Or as he puts it, an “embezzler.” Because which of us American Christians truly needs to further strain against the borders of obesity by shoving more crap down our gullets? I mean, have you seen the size of the Christian T-shirts on the nearly spherical visitors to Main Street in Gatlinburg, Tenn.? Just how many Xs come before that L?

Fact is, if Piper’s judgment is meted out rightly, every Christian in North America is an embezzler of God’s funds, because heaven knows we’re not watching every dime of outflow to ensure its sanctified usage. Do I need a cell phone? XM Radio? Private schooling for my kids? A two-story home?

And sometimes, it’s not what I do that’s bad, but what I threaten not to do.

Case in point: From what is yelled at me from the ChristianMilitaryIndustrialEntertainment Complex, I MUST attend Christian movies when they hit the cineplex or else I am not a good Christian. Entertainment blackmailWorse, if I don’t attend, the ChristianMilitaryIndustrialEntertainment Complex Powers That Be will no longer make exceptional ChristianMilitaryIndustrialEntertainment Complex films for my mandatory consumption, which will result in the gates of hell prevailing (despite what the Bible says).

Here’s the thing: Where is grace in any of this?

It’s sad that Christians, the ones charged with being dispensers of grace, actually seem to experience so little of it in our own lives. In addition, some Christians—and often those who talk the most about grace—don’t seem to extend much grace to others.

The effect is that we become those pinch-faced killjoys on matters of life that really aren’t sin for most people. Instead, our dire warnings boomerang. Our every denouncement becomes ripe for media mockery, and we come off as off-kilter Don Quixotes tilting at really tiny windmills.

I’ve written before that one of the most overlooked traits we Christians need to exhibit far more of is winsomeness. Aren’t Christians the people best suited to be attractive to others because of how zestfully we live life? Shouldn’t we be laughing the loudest when it’s appropriate and mourning the most when necessary? Shouldn’t we bring the best wine to the party? Shouldn’t we tell the funniest jokes? Shouldn’t we be the ones with the most joyful outlook on life? How then is it that we’re so constricted and restricted by other Christians with bully pulpits telling us that buying a lottery ticket on a lark (and with no pretenses toward being crushed if we don’t win) will send us to hell?

We talk, talk, talk about freedom in Christ—and then we lay millstones around people’s necks.

The Bible says this:

Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil–this is the gift of God.
— Ecclesiastes 5:18-19

So, why do we reject that gift, folks? Why be scolds, killjoys, blackmailers, and generally unpleasant people to be around?

In other words, for God’s sake, lighten up!