Responsible Pet Ownership

Imagine a billion-dollar company called Responsible Pet Ownership. Their stated purpose? To provide essential services and education that will improve the lives of pets and their owners. Too many pet owners find themselves overwhelmed with the responsibilities of providing nutritious food, adequate exercise, and the attention that pets need for a quality life. Some of these beleaguered pet owners never asked to have such a responsibility, yet once they do, their lives become encumbered with the expectations of society and the needs of their pets. Puppies or kittens on Christmas morning are certainly cute and cuddly, but after only a month of pet ownership, many of these families struggle, and soon realize that their lives will never be the same.

Responsible Pet Ownership is here to help. When prospective pet owners need assistance to find the right pet for themselves, when they need some training or even supplies to get themselves on the right track, they can turn to Responsible Pet Ownership for the vital support they need.

These services are especially important for pet owners from the lower social classes. They are the ones who find pet ownership most burdensome. In far too many cases, the additional responsibilities of a pet have hindered a poor child or family from escaping the clutches of poverty. Since Responsible Pet Ownership provides essential social services for people in these conditions, the company receives a subsidy from governmental entities. The federal government has subsidized the work of RPO with over half a billion dollars over a year for these services. In this way, Responsible Pet Ownership fills the gaps in service provided by traditional veterinarians.

But the use of tax money invites public scrutiny and much criticism. Some people claim that since more pets are brought into an RPO office than come out, something dishonest must be taking place there. Is the business taking tax money and enriching its leaders without providing the services it claims to provide? Are the services really necessary? Is it providing those services in an ethically acceptable way? There are faith-based organizations that object in principle to the mass euthanization of animals, claiming that this is the true purpose behind Responsible Pet Ownership. Some go as far as claiming that behind closed doors, RPO is a secret partner with other corporate interests, especially pharmaceutical companies. Instead of euthanizing and disposing of the unwanted pets, the claim is made that RPO is selling them alive on a black market, for the purpose of vivisection and experimental drug testing. (Vivisection was promoted in the earlier days of the Progressive movement, inspiring the practices of the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany.)

In recent years, the pitch of the controversy surrounding Responsible Pet Ownership has risen. Citizen advocacy groups have engineered “sting” operations in which they pose as pharmaceutical company buyers and meet with RPO executives, recording the meetings with hidden cameras. These videos have been published online for the world to see. These groups claim they are doing the public service that the mainstream media ought to be doing. As a result, the traditional media organizations have portrayed their work as muckraking sensationalism, and reported the information as a controversy rather than an exposé. In the minds of those who suspect RPO of unethical practices, this has damaged the reputation of the traditional media, and confirmed their suspicions.

Yet the furor about the ethics at RPO has emboldened former employees to come forward and reveal what has really been happening in their so-called “puppy mills.” According to these former employees, RPO workers have lied to customers, saying that their pets have a terminal illness, or did not survive routine procedures. The company’s justification for this is that the customer will be better off without the burdensome responsibility of pet ownership. Meanwhile, the healthy pets are taken and sold on the black market for experimentation. Those that are not healthy enough for experimentation are sold into the pet food market.

These embarrassing claims have been mostly ignored by RPO media representatives and executives. Instead, the company focuses on how essential their services are for the community, and the good they do for the lower social classes by freeing them from the long-term responsibilities of pet ownership. It also stresses that any pets taken from their home situations of neglect and malnourishment are better off without a lifetime of suffering. Meanwhile, RPO has engaged in an intensive effort to rebuild its brand using social media. It has encouraged a campaign of re-posting memes that say, “I stand for Responsible Pet Ownership.”

When pressed on-camera, the CEO of Responsible Pet Ownership has followed the company line. Off camera, she has expressed frustration. “Look, we are dealing with pets here, but these people are treating us as though our business were based on seducing downtrodden women into physical peril with life-long sorrow and guilt, or killing defenseless human beings! We have our problems, but we’re not that bad.”

God Doesn’t Need an Hour of Your Time

Sometimes I have the impression that some of God’s people think they’re doing something for him when they show up for church on Sunday, whether fulfilling an obligation or doing Him a favor. Other times I have the impression that some of God’s people think they have come for a purpose comparable to watching a football game. When the score becomes badly lopsided in the fourth quarter and the result seems certain, it’s fine to spend game time raiding the kitchen for chips or beer. What could you possibly miss?

It’s important for God’s people to realize that He doesn’t need anything from them. You do him no favors by showing up on Sunday, and you have no obligation to turn over 59 minutes, 59 seconds of your precious Sunday morning to Him. He can do just fine without that, thank you very much.

It’s also important to realize that when we come to church expecting to be entertained, diverted, or otherwise “pulled in” to Sunday worship, we’re badly missing the point and depriving ourselves of something much greater and (dare I say it?) far more important that football. You can’t measure eternal life by quarters, or slow it down with time-outs.

So if God doesn’t need you there, and you don’t go for the entertainment value, is there any reason to attend church on Sunday?

Yes. Yes, there is.

First, let me clarify: I’m not saying that God will only give eternal life to those who came to church faithfully on Sunday. A presumable case in point was the penitent thief on the cross. But understand this: God doesn’t give eternal life to people the way a state fair vendor hands over a corn dog.

Lutherans should already understand the term “means of grace” in a common way. These are means by which God imparts His spiritual gifts to us. They involve common, outward, earthly things; even apparently unspiritual things like water, human language, bread, and wine. Anyone not paying attention to what God has said about this stuff should yawn at this point. But those who care more about what He says than about their own ideas of worship should sit up and pay attention. Baptism, the gospel message, and the Lord’s Supper are not idly called means of grace. For us, they are nothing less than the keys to paradise. If someone gave you the keys to a Ferrari or an F22, would you dare to complain about how boring and ordinary they look, or how unlikely it seems that they would really work? Because of what God imparts through them, the means of grace are themselves the most precious thing we can hope to receive on Earth, ever.

That’s what the Sunday service is for. It’s where you get to receive from God such valuable treasure that you can’t even hope to appreciate it properly. The structure of the service, which we call the liturgy, developed organically over centuries of use by God’s people, to address the shifting conditions of the world with the unchanging gifts of God in the means of grace. Those gifts don’t change, because the needs of humanity don’t change. We remain lost sinners without them. We need Jesus. They provide Him to us in the most comprehensive summary form available, right in the Sunday divine service.

We don’t come to church to serve God. He comes to church to serve us, because that’s how sinners receive eternal life. That’s what we mean by the term “Divine Service.”

Special Challenges of the Church in the Present Day

Areopagus

What do you notice that’s different from present-day American religious conversation when reading Acts 17:16-20? It fairly jumps out at me that the people in Athens wanted to know what Paul had to say. They wanted to hear him. What passes for communication today is not the same. People may not mind if you post something near to your heart on Facebook or Twitter, or even if you try to tell them something that you think they need to hear for their eternal well-being. But will they listen? Will they read? Or will they scroll by in their hurry to find something that they really want to hear?

As it happens, the next verse in Acts explains why things worked out as they did in Athens. “Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.” So Paul gave an impressive and impassioned sermon, and while some of the hearers believed and wanted to know more, many quickly concluded (wrongly) that they had heard enough to know that Paul was not worth any more of their time. Sound familiar?

I’d probably expect a similar reception in today’s university setting, which may be the closest thing we have to Mars Hill in Athens. But in the previous chapter, Paul had much better success in a town called Philippi. There he and his companions brought their message to a place they supposed to be a prayer gathering. Did they think the people there were praying to the living God? Probably not, because it was their first stop in Europe. If Philippi had a synagogue, they would have gone there. At least the synagogue worshippers had the scriptures, but those gathering for prayer in a pagan land would be praying to pagan gods. Or am I missing something? Yet that’s where Paul and company thought to begin speaking about the true God. In other words, they were directly contradicting and correcting their hearer’s deeply-held spiritual views.

And it worked, at least for Lydia and her household. The place they went was outside the city gate at the riverside. One of the things that made this a natural gathering spot would be the riverside itself. I recall somewhere a commentator saying that women would gather in such places to handle the laundry needs of their family. Maybe someone like Lydia would have a slave to do most of the work, but this is speculation. What we see is that it worked.

Is there such a place today? If Lutheran missionaries went to the “place of prayer” in our own American towns and began teaching things contrary to what the people thought was true, how would it go over? It seems that would-be missionaries are under pressure not to contradict what other people believe. Maybe you have felt that pressure yourself.

Or you might say that the present-day gathering place is online. It’s certain many people spend a lot of time there, grazing through a myriad posts but generally consuming nothing. That’s the problem. The message of the Gospel is something that must be presented and consumed. The chief activity with online message board or social media communication is not thoughtful reading, but scanning, scrolling, and maybe reacting emotionally to one or two things. It’s like having an open bag of potato chips on the kitchen counter. By the time dinner rolls around, the bag is somehow empty, and you’re not sure if you’re really hungry anyway.

In a world of incessant scrolling and intensely personalized consumption, how does the Church communicate the Gospel? Thankfully, there is still such a thing as friendship. The most powerful communication is between a Christian and his neighbor. Yet at some point we must cross the invisible line and say something that challenges our heathen neighbor to his toenails. It’s almost certain the Christian will be unfriended. What then?

Back in Action, Baby!

Whew! After a very busy hiatus, the olde Chicken is once again growing its feathers. We’re still in need of a lot of blog-level configuration, but it’s running.

Just so’s ya know, The Plucked Chicken will only be up during the days when someone turns on the machine. Previously I was isolating the web server with virtual hardware, but that’s no longer necessary. Next step: figure out how to automate Docker when I’m not logged in.

Look for more posts and updates here going forward. I know I will.

Life is better without Facebook

I once thought that Facebook was a medium where friends could freely exchange ideas. Later I realized it’s not about exchanging ideas at all, but more about affirming feelings and reinforcing opinions. It seems most people prefer that now, anyway, which accounts for Facebook’s success. Now this. In the world of Generation Snowflake, where people are finally able to insist on their own version of reality and still be considered both mentally and morally sound, it shouldn’t be surprising that Facebook is part of it.

Christians would do well to remember that Facebook is not a public forum, but a corporation. Its highest goal is to please its shareholders, not to serve truth. Its business is advertising, not ensuring the free exchange of ideas and allowing them to stand or fall on their own merit. It will not treat the biblical worldview fairly, but instead will draw Christians into accepting things contrary to the word of God.

Just so you know.

Where Are the Men?

At Christian churches across the United States, it seems that there is a disproportionate number of men and women. I’m no advocate of affirmative action, but this long trend is disturbing. More recently, it struck me not as some failure on the part of the church, but as stations and posts that have been neglected, abandoned, or deserted.

Perhaps churches have a responsibility to serve men better than they have. But that’s not the whole story. The rest of the story, to borrow an appropriate phrase from Paul Harvey, is that Christian men have an equally great responsibility to man their stations. Not only do they have divinely-assigned tasks in the workforce, but also in the home and in the church. Those are the places where God has put them and given them a special, vital role. In some cases, men seem to be more interested in recreation than in any of these things, and in other cases, Christian men have forgotten one or more of these areas of responsibility.

Much has been said and written to criticize the biblically-defined roles of men and women under God’s moral law and the ordering of His Church. Much of this comes from the feminist tradition, especially since the sexual revolution. It seems less concerned about what’s good for men and women, and more concerned about erasing any notion that they are distinct from one another. Perhaps Christian men on the whole have bought into this. Whether or not they have, the fact remains that God has given them a distinct place in the Church, and in general they are going AWOL. Instead, churches are filled with women and children, with very few men. It’s little wonder that the children — especially boys — also drift away from the Church as they get older, since the men who ought to be guiding them are generally not there. It’s no wonder that some women would like to take the place given to men, when that place is mostly empty.

Take a lesson from Tolkien. In The Lord of the Rings, the Shire enjoyed centuries of peace and safety in an otherwise dangerous and hostile world because the Dunedain, the Rangers of the north, worked tirelessly and selflessly to protect its borders, while the men of Gondor stood bravely at their watch against the evil power growing in the east. If those men had not been so faithful and doughty, the Shire and much else that is good and fair would have perished long before the story began.

Or take a lesson from history. Time and time again, men both young and old answered the call from their comfortable homes to defend their loved ones against forces often greater in strength, and in circumstances both dark and grim. It was not a sense of ease or self-preservation that drew them, but love for their wives, their children, their neighbors, their homeland, and their way of life. Many even fought to preserve a place for their faith and the freedom to live by it all week long, raising their children and grandchildren to trust the Word of God. Some failed despite valiant effort, but knowing that the effort alone was worth the risk. Others succeeded, and many of us have enjoyed the benefits of their great efforts. Make no mistake: we are engaged in such a war. Though it may at times be less bloody, the stakes are higher and more lasting.

Or take a lesson from Holy Scripture. Ephesians 6:4: “And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.” And Luke 12:35-36: “Let your waist be girded and your lamps burning; and you yourselves be like men who wait for their master, when he will return from the wedding, that when he comes and knocks they may open to him immediately.” In too many churches and Christian homes, the lamps are dim. If they burn still, then all too often it is to the credit of faithful women who have taken up the fight not only for themselves, but in place of their missing husbands and fathers.

We men should pray that God would forgive our disregard for things that are more important than our own comfort and recreation, and help us to once again assume our places as guards and sentinels on the walls of Zion. Will you be a man or a child? We need to lead our families to church weekly, and especially in the seasons when the Church celebrates the person and work of Christ. We need to lead our churches in keeping their priorities straight and advancing the mission with which the Church has been entrusted. None should be more eager for prayer and repentance, or better examples of the same. None should be better students of God’s Word, or more motivated teachers in word and deed.

May God forgive our faint hearts and supply what we lack, that His church, our families, and houses may be blessed. Christ is our example, and His mercy is our reason.

Mozilla and Marriage

I was deeply disappointed with the response from Mozilla to pressure from the LGBT(ABCDEFG) activist community leading to the April, 2014 announcement of the Mozilla CEO resigning. The pressure was exerted by activists because the CEO, who had helped to lead Mozilla from its founding, had also contributed to the grassroots efforts in California to pass Proposition 8. This was an effort on the part of the people of California to enact a law defining the state’s involvement in marriage according to the so-called “traditional” concept of marriage. That is, the concept used for millennia throughout the world, that marriage is a permanent institution uniting a man and a woman, recognized by government because of its foundational role in the fabric of society and its well-documented and frequently-observed benefits in promoting a stable and morally-sound environment for raising children.

There have been other concepts of marriage through the ages, but none so well-rooted in the design of human gender, and so beneficial. The alternatives have produced greater strife and less stability, not to mention moral depravity.

So Proposition 8 was not a revolutionary proposition. It was reasonable and well-supported by the history of human civilization. Prior to 21st-Century America, nobody anywhere seriously conceived the institution of marriage including groupings of the same gender. It’s self-evidently contrary to nature, and nonsensical.

When the furor was fabricated against the Mozilla CEO, attempting to strong-arm the Mozilla organization into public support of the LGBT(ABCDEFG) agenda, it was my impression at the time that the organization caved, and I was deeply disappointed. I had been using Firefox as my browser of choice, and subsequently began to prefer alternatives.

It turns out that my impression was only partly right. Mozilla did issue a blog post in support of “LGBT Equality,” going as far as “including marriage equality for LGBT couples.” That is still deeply disappointing to me, because Mozilla’s existence and Manifesto are unrelated to the politics of immorality. This incursion is more than a distraction from the excellent purpose of Mozilla, it also turns Mozilla ever so slightly into an influence upon others in favor of that immorality, even if the organization never actively pursues it. Mozilla should retract that blog post and issue another saying that it takes no public position on such issues. Until that happens, I can’t wholeheartedly endorse Mozilla or its products to others, because it has taken a position on a moral issue that happens to be wrong. That’s not my personal judgment. It’s the clear judgment of the Bible, which I consider to be God’s Word.

Despite this corruption of Mozilla’s focus, it has not gone any further in support of such things, and has otherwise continued to advocate for the principles of its Manifesto. It has clarified the circumstances of the resignation of its CEO, making clear the fact that this was another coordinated ambush by a tiny minority group, attempting to coerce a well-known entity into showing support for a revolutionary immoral stance. It may be that the CEO’s resignation helped to limit the corruption of Mozilla’s mission.

So I will again recommend Firefox and related technology to others, because the free Internet has few advocates, and Mozilla is one of the strongest. My recommendation has the caveat: ignore the public statement by Mozilla about “marriage equality.” It was a coerced statement, and we can hope that like a coerced marriage vow, it doesn’t mean much. As for me, I will begin using Firefox again even as I keep an eye on Mozilla and all of the companies and organizations which I support through my use of their products.

The Value of Life

There is an exciting possibility at church this year. We’ve been talking about starting a school, and the best ways to do that from scratch. Now, there is a likelihood that we will be able to start with students and families who have been attending another Christian elementary school, as it transitions into our new classical Christian day school. That could be rolling as soon as September! Please pray for the congregation, students, and their families as we work toward that end.

In the midst of this flurry of activity, here is something worth posting, and hopefully worth reading. When I was in (public) Jr. High school, a group of students were involved in the “Great Books” program. I suppose it was a precursor to the current federal Common Core program, which seems to be pretty much the opposite of classical education. One of the discussions we had involved four people in a lifeboat at sea, with only enough supplies for three to survive. We were supposed to wrestle with the value of human life, and perhaps defend a distinction between the four different people in the boat.

A conversation in our kids’ school this morning (a classical school at home) centered upon the question, “What gives a person’s life objective value?” People seek to find value in their lives through things like health and appearance, in diet and exercise; through their education and jobs; through popularity; or in the simple fact that they are alive or that they are human; or that they were created by God. The former options are self-evidently shallow. The latter options sound better, but still fall short of the answer. There are many living things, and a reasonable person can see the difference in value between a tree or a fish and a human being. Moreover, all of those living things were created by God.

The answer is this. A person’s value is determined not by something in themselves, but by the most external thing possible: by the love of God, which is expressed emphatically in the incarnation and death of His only-begotten Son. When we say that Jesus Christ died for all people, to reconcile us to God, that sets the value of every human life as high as it could possibly be set, because God was willing to pay the greatest price for it. John 3:16 tells us the objective value of every single human life.

Scientific Jury Still Out on Hypothesis

The title of this post is something like a tautology in that no scientific hypothesis is considered the final word. Unless, that is, you are listening to certain people about the “theory” of evolution. It’s not a theory in the sense that it can be disproven (the classic sense), but in the sense that people use it as a model for trying to understand new evidence. So it’s more like a hypothesis, which means a claim (or “thesis”) that’s somewhat less (“hypo”) than fully developed. To hear some people, evolution is settled science. In reality, it’s just the best alternative they have found to biblical creation.

Along those lines, an article linked today on Drudge caught my eye. Though written from an evolutionary point of view, it’s rich for pointing out the weaknesses of that “theory.” If you read it, just keep in mind that the ages mentioned there don’t disprove the biblical timeline, because they are based on a number of assumptions, several of which may easily be wrong.

But one thing above all seems noteworthy in that article. It discusses several different species identified in this research, which are “theoretically” related to human beings (homo sapiens). It says,

Meanwhile, using improved methods, Dr. Paabo, Dr. Meyer and their colleagues assembled a rough draft of the entire Neanderthal genome in 2010.

That discovery shed light on how Neanderthals and humans’ ancestors split from a common ancestor hundreds of thousands of years ago. It also revealed that Neanderthals and humans interbred about 50,000 years ago.

My point is this. If Neanderthals and humans interbred at some point, then they are really the same “kind” of creature, as described in Genesis chapter 1. So not only are the ages applied to these discoveries wrong, but even the classification of creatures like Neanderthals as “non-human evolutionary relatives” must also be wrong. Rather than evolutionary relatives and ancestors of mankind, this research is identifying something more like a variety of races within the human family tree. That sounds biblical.