Unplanned Parenthood

Seeing as yesterday was my mom’s birthday and today is the 50th anniversary of the notorious Roe v. Wade decision, I thought I would share a few stories that both affirm the sanctity of human life and honor my late mother, Phyllis Moore Spiegel.

When my mom became pregnant with me, she was already the busy mother of three boys and thirty-six years of age. Although my parents were not planning to have a fourth child, they didn’t exactly take a rigorous approach in trying to prevent this, as they later informed me that at the time they were using a rather unreliable spermicide contraceptive. When my mom discovered she was pregnant, she was somewhat apprehensive because, being in her late thirties, she thought of herself as too old to have another child. At some point she shared her concern with her dad who responded by offering to pay for an abortion. My mom obviously declined the offer, essentially telling my grandfather that just because she felt anxious about being an older new mother (at least relative to those days), she had no thoughts of terminating the pregnancy. In fact, she was disturbed by the very suggestion.

Still, my mom continued to struggle with anxiety about having another kid at her age. This continued even after I was born and wasn’t put to rest until she heard some wise words from our pediatrician, Dr. Stopman. One day when she took me in for a check-up, Dr. Stopman asked her how she was doing and my mom shared her concerns with him, saying “I was sitting there in the waiting room, looking around at all those young mothers, and I just feel like I’m too old to be doing this again.” Dr. Stopman looked at my mom and, pointing at me, he said, “he doesn’t think you’re too old.” My mom would later say that after this she never thought about it again. And Dr. Stopman was right. Never once did I think of my mother as “old,” even when she was in her 90s. She was always just my mom—my insightful, kind, good-humored, sometimes curiously enigmatic mom. She remains one of the two most interesting women I’ve ever known. (I’m married to the other one.)

One day when my grandfather was visiting our house a few years later, my mother noticed him pensively staring out the window at me as I was romping around in the backyard. My mom asked him what was on his mind, and he replied, “I look at Jimmy playing and I just feel horrible about the offer I made you to get an abortion.” With the frank honesty that was so typical of Phyllis Spiegel, my mom replied, “Well, Dad, you should feel horrible about it. And you know what? I should have taken your money and used it to pay for a good trip somewhere.” My grandfather smiled and said, “You’re right, honey. That would have served me right.”

As I have reflected on these stories over the years, I have been struck by the profound impact that a simple conversation can have, deciding the direction—or even the existence of—an entire life. I also contemplate the fact that although, from a human perspective, the fate of any one of us might seem uncertain at times, we are all securely in the hands of God—from the moment of our conception until the day we depart this world. As the Psalmist says, “My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Ps. 139:15-16).


Safety First

Monday Night Football is a near sacred ritual in our home, dating back to Jim’s younger years. In one of my favorite anecdotes from his childhood, little Jimmy, who is the youngest of four boys, would come home from school each week as a young elementary student, eat dinner, do his homework, and go to bed to be woken up in time for kick-off. With Andrew in Bolivia this NFL season, I have picked up the mantle of Jim’s watching companion and embraced Monday night dinners in front of the TV watching football.

Last night I had an after work haircut and didn’t get in till late. Flinging open the front door, my greeting was “Let’s go Bills!” whom I had picked to win only to see Jim stone-faced, somberly watching coverage of Buffalo Bill’s safety Damar Hamlin’s dramatic on-field collapse. There was no trash talk or celebratory end zone dances to be found. Instead, grown men, who are paid to slam other grown men to the ground each

Duane Burleson/Associated Press

week, hid their faces and cried while countless sports commentators and fans sent thoughts and prayers to Hamlin and his family.

I in no way wish to minimize the trauma of those who witnessed the medical personnel’s desperate struggle to revive Hamlin. What his family, teammates and fans witnessed was, I am sure, a horror they will never forget. I applaud the NFL’s decision to suspend play in deference not only to Hamlin but also out of respect for the shock and grief of both teams.

However (you knew a “however” was coming), I do take issue with a great deal of the hyperbole spouted by ESPN commentators and others regarding the significance of this event. Yes, Hamlin obviously experienced a potentially life-altering injury or at least a life-altering event. We can only speculate as to the cause of his cardiac arrest. While it could be entirely unrelated to the blow to the chest he received seconds before he fell to the ground, that seems unlikely. Assuming it was related, this event only differs in severity to the countless smaller, but nonetheless life-altering injuries players experience each time they take the field. How many other players in the very same game received a few more bumps and bruises, a little more damage to their knees, another blow to the head, all of which add up to wear and tear on their bodies which is irreversible, impacting their quality and likely length of life?

And how does this differ from highway workers hit by cars, policemen killed in the line of duty, coal miners with black lungs, etc., except in the size of their paychecks and the amount of attention and concern their injuries arouse? There was a baggage handler killed earlier this week while going about his unglamorous job in an Alabama regional airport. Where were the mourners questioning the safety of his working conditions or calling for the airport to be closed longer than a few hours out of respect?

I’m in no way saying that in the face of such a sudden and dramatic event we shouldn’t be moved, or pause to reflect, or if so inclined to say a prayer. But instead, I first caution against painting Damar Hamlin as a victim. Life is a game of weighing pros and cons and choosing which risks you are willing to take and which you wish to avoid. Hamlin chose an inherently risky profession, with decidedly high rewards. Let’s honor that choice rather than paint him as an oppressed victim of a violent profession.

Secondly, I suggest we all take stock and recognize that if an exceptionally healthy 24-year-old can go to work one day and drop, even momentarily, dead of a heart attack, then who knows what the game of life has in store for the rest of us? Death is just a drive down the highway or a visit to the doctor for any of us. I think that is what stirred such raw emotion among commentators, fans, and players alike. Not the singularity of Hamlin’s collapse but the universality of it. The idea that it could have been me and it will be one day. Are you ready for your final play?

There once was a young man, healthy and strong. And He was engaged in a game of sorts, a high stakes game of life and death. He lived and then He died and then He rose in victory. One day He will return and settle the score. It could be today, it could be tomorrow, it could even be on a Monday night.


The Best and Worst of 2022

It has been another eventful year. Jim continued his work as Head of School at Lighthouse Christian Academy in Bloomington, and Amy continued her role as an agent with State Farm Insurance. Now we are looking forward to the next chapter of our lives, as we will be moving to Hillsdale, Michigan where Jim starts work at Hillsdale College next week. As usual, we are closing out the year with summary remarks about good and bad stuff related to film, music, books, sports, food, and family.

Film Experiences

Jim: 2022 was not a particularly good year for me, as regards film. I didn’t have the time to take in as many movies as I normally do. And most of the films I watched were oldies, from the Silver Chalice (Paul Newman’s film debut) to several classic Dirty Harry and James Bond films. Among the new releases I did see, Amsterdam was noteworthy. Well-acted with a strong script and an interesting, if somewhat predictable, plotline. This year we watched the conclusion to Better Call Saul, the Breaking Bad prequel. While never matching the quality of Breaking Bad (what TV series possibly could?), Better Call Saul is nonetheless compelling, if only for the tremendous performances by Bob Odenkirk and Rhea Seehorn. I also enjoyed The Thief, His Wife, and the Canoe, a fascinating four-episode drama about a man who faked his own death in order for insurance money to avoid bankruptcy. Based on a true story, it is a powerful cautionary tale about the tragic outcome that may follow if you refuse to face the just consequences of your actions. If the series had a subtitle, it could be “How to Make a Bad Situation Far Worse.”

Amy: Like Jim, this wasn’t the year of the film for me, not because I didn’t have time but because I have lost patience with Hollywood’s agenda pushing. Most of my watching hours were spent with crime series, true and otherwise. You may call it dark voyeurism, but nothing thrills me more than watching the good guys and gals track down the bad ones. The Puppet Master, Untold: The Girlfriend Who Never Existed, Girl in the Picture, Bad Vegan, Heist and The Tinder Swindler were some of my favorites. The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent with Nicholas Cage was a surprising gem, though somewhat profane. A few disappointments were An Enemy of the People (starring Steve McQueen, just in case we are tempted to think Hollywood went woke in this century), The Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (a victim of poor casting despite the treasure trove of talented actors and lack of plot creativity, though the visuals were superb) and Persuasion (I have been anticipating this film version of my favorite Jane Austen novel in “half agony, half hope.” It wasn’t the anachronistic casting that bothered me but the complete reinvention of the characters, especially my beloved Anne Elliot, which lowered it’s worth in my eyes. If you want to make a film about a cynical, alcoholic spinster, fine; just refrain from hijacking the heroine of someone else’s creation and go make your own.)

Food and Music

Amy’s Best Food Experiences of the Year: This year I, along with my senses of taste and smell, fell victim to Covid . . . twice. Therefore, food became a lot more about the company I was sharing it with than the meal itself, which wasn’t such a bad thing. Meals shared with new friends in Bloomington and old friends passing through. A meal graciously brought to my dad’s hospital room and eaten with my sister and mom while we rejoiced in my dad’s recovery from life-threatening blood clots. And, of course, any meal we got to eat as a whole family since those are rare these days. I did conquer the art of croissant making this year, which I am quite proud of. There is nothing more heavenly than layer upon layer of flaky butteriness.

Jim’s Best Musical Experiences of the Year: In terms of listening experiences, my 2022 highlights were Weezer and Sinatra. Since the early 2000s I had not followed Weezer’s releases very closely. But last Spring their 2021 OK Human album caught my eye—a fully orchestrated collection of songs that is now my favorite Weezer album. The band immediately followed this with Van Weezer, which hails their metal heroes, and in 2022 a series of four 7-song EPs entitled SZNZ, each named for, and released on the first day of, one of the four seasons. That’s nearly 50 songs over the past two years from these guys. And it’s all wonderful stuff. In a completely different stylistic vein, I have greatly enjoyed Frank Sinatra’s Watertown, a concept album released in 1970. The only album in which Sinatra sang over pre-recorded instrumental tracks, it has a very different feel than all of his other material, and in a good way. There is a certain intimacy in the songs that you don’t hear in his other work. Upon its release, the album was met with tepid reviews. But a half century later, Watertown is now widely regarded as one of Sinatra’s best. If nothing else, I recommend you check out my favorite cut from the album, “I Would Be In Love Anyway.” Beautiful.

Sports

Jim’s Favorite Sports Moments of the Year: Watching Sam emerge as starting goal keeper on the Taylor University soccer team. He had some spectacular moments in goal this year, and he was recently named as a captain on next year’s team. That’s my boy.

Amy’s Favorite Sports Moments of the Year:  Watching Sam play is almost equal parts thrill and terror for me, so I don’t know that I can say I enjoy it until it’s over. With Andrew away during most of the NFL season, I became Jim’s companion for Sunday football watching and thoroughly enjoyed it. We predicted winners and losers each week and I even managed to come out on top a few times. I also loved watching my Tennessee Volunteers return to their former glory. Go Vols!

Jim’s Most Disappointing Sports Moments of the Year: The Atlanta Braves getting bounced by the Phillies in the National League Division Series playoffs. I really don’t like how this new playoff system effectively punishes the best teams with long layoffs before their first playoff games. Unlike many other sports, in baseball such layoffs disrupt players’ rhythms, especially hitters, and therefore hurt rather than help teams. Oh well. Hopefully, MLB officials will recognize this and revise the playoff format.

Amy’s Most Painful Sports Moment of the Year:  Falling victim repeatedly to renewed hopes that the Colts really did deserve my allegiance as well as witnessing the demise of Tom Brady. I have never liked the guy, on or off the field, but it’s just sad. As one of the greats, you’ve gotta know when to walk away. 

Good Reads

Jim: I highly recommend Carl Trueman’s The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, an astute study of the historico-philosophical developments which led to the sexual revolution and ultimately our current confused cultural condition regarding sexuality. Rod Dreher was right in calling this one of the most important books of the decade. I also appreciated Pete Hegseth’s Battle for the American Mind, which I used for an LCA faculty book study this Fall. Hegseth traces the history of the progressivist takeover of American public education and issues a compelling call to the growing classical Christian education movement. But the best read of the year for me was a work of fiction: Alexander Dumas’ Count of Monte Cristo. At 1250 pages, reading this book takes commitment, but it is well-worth the journey in terms of the moral and even theological insights that Dumas’s rich, multi-layered narrative provides.

Amy:  My reading slowed down quite a bit this year but I managed to read some great ones: Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry, The Midnight Library by Matt Haig, A Kim Jong-II Production by Paul Fischer, Intellectuals by Paul Johnson, Ordinary Men by Christopher Browning, and Soundtracks by Jon Acuff. Some were heavier than others but all insightful and well worth the time.

Best 2022 Family Memories 

Jim: Although it wasn’t a family memory as such, the highlight of the year for me was when we sent Sam and Maggie down to Bolivia to spend six days with Bailey and Andrew the week before Christmas. A cross-cultural experience for all of our kids to remember, for sure. And they sent us some spectacular photos.

Amy: The birth of Austen’s puppies was definitely the highlight for me. Life truly is a miracle and our dogs are a focal point of love we all share. Car rides with the kids and walks with Jim and the dogs. Watching Bailey launch himself into the world after graduating from college.

New Year’s Resolutions

Amy: Getting off the couch and getting more active. Spend more time reading and less streaming.

Jim:  To post more consistently on Wisdom & Folly!

Happy 2023 everyone!


For Crown and Country

For years while living in Upland, I was a part of a women’s book club. I enjoyed the group for many reasons: it had a long history and I loved being a part of something that spanned decades. It was multi-generational and made up of women at all stages of life which added a depth to our discussions I really appreciated. We had varied tastes in books so it forced me to read books I never would have chosen, some of which I really enjoyed. One such book that I did not appreciate at the time was Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch by Sally Bedell Smith. This was definitely a book I would not have read on my own, and I never really warmed to it. It was very long and at the end, while I felt I knew a great deal more about Queen Elizabeth’s life, I didn’t feel I knew all that much more about her. My summary to the group was “She has met a ridiculous number of historical figures and led an extremely eventful and interesting life, but she doesn’t seem like a very interesting person.”

from Wikipedia

Though I have strong opinions on the subject, I don’t intend to use this post to go into the credibility of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s claims of mistreatment and prejudice. I will leave that to the royal experts to publicly debate. But there was one statement by Prince Harry which has been rattling around in my brain for the last week that seems worth further explanation, whether you are Team Sussex or Whales.

In discussing his choice of a wife, Prince Harry said “I think for so many people in the family, especially obviously the men, there can be a temptation or an urge to marry someone who would fit the mold, as opposed to somebody who you are perhaps destined to be with…”

There followed clips of Katherine and Meghan, and the viewer, I suppose, is meant to draw the conclusion that Prince William made a calculated decision for someone who “fit the mold” and Prince Harry made the bolder, more courageous decision to follow his heart. This is certainly the advice that every modern day fairy tale would endorse: take a “leap of faith,” look beyond differences in personality, family backgrounds and plans for the future, and go with your gut. I couldn’t disagree more. Going with my gut leads to me sitting on the coach, eating improvised Rice Krispie treats from a bowl at 10 pm. Taking leaps of faith can sometimes lead to wish fulfillment, but it can also lead your life straight off a cliff if you haven’t first determined just where you will be landing.

I don’t believe it is necessary to make evaluative statements regarding the morality or wisdom of choosing a spouse with one’s head or with one’s heart, but rather that one should carefully consider the possible outcomes and accept the consequences of either choice, nor do I think this applies exclusively to one’s choice of life partner. In choosing a husband or wife, career or calling, it seems essential to one’s long-term happiness to accept that by choosing a particular person, profession, or path, one is naturally excluding other options. If I choose a job that pays well but requires long hours, I can’t complain about working overtime. If I choose to work a job with flexible hours and low stress, I can’t complain about lower wages or boredom. Prince Harry should be free to choose a wife who doesn’t “fit the mold,” but it seems unfair to then complain when she doesn’t fit in. Joining an institution steeped in tradition and hierarchy would definitely require loss of autonomy. Leaving that institution would involve loss of another kind. Life seems to be orchestrated with those types of trade-offs as part of the package. Our current cultural trends glorify victimhood in a way that tempts many to paint themselves as helpless. I don’t see the appeal of that mindset. Isn’t it better to take ownership of one’s decisions and their consequences?

This brings me back to Queen Elizabeth and my initial assessment of her as bland. I see now that this “blandness” was a choice on her part, an intentional suppression of personality in service to what she saw as her duty. Now I will leave it to you to decide whether or not the role of Queen of England is a worthy role to devote one’s life to, but I think we can agree that she believed it to be so and was willing to pay the price for a job well done. If, perhaps, more of us embraced our own duty, as husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, community members and citizens, and were willing to pay the price required rather than demanding that we have our cake and eat it too, we would have more successful marriages, happier children, and peace between nations. We might not end our lives with millions paying tribute, but I think there would be more jewels in our crowns.


Not All Conspiracy Theories Are Equal

One of the most common pejoratives used these days is “conspiracy theory.” Media pundits often apply it as a term of derision to conveniently dismiss a person or view they don’t like, and this almost always goes unchallenged. Even otherwise nuanced intellectuals often categorically impugn conspiracy theories as foolish. Novelist Oliver Markus Malloy has said that “conspiracy theories are popular among the ignorant, because they offer simplistic answers to difficult questions” (Inside the Mind of an Introvert). And neuroscientist Abhijit Naskar insists, “all conspiracy theories are the product of the subconscious attempt of an ignorant yet creative mind to counteract the fear of the unknown with tales of fantasy” (Mucize Insan: When The World is Family). While perhaps satisfying to the uncurious, superficial observer, such claims are remarkable for their dogmatic assumptions not only that all conspiracy theories are irrational but also that the root psychological cause of conspiracy theories is the same in every case. If for no other reason, such quick and haughty reproaches should give us serious pause to consider the possibility that they protest too much.

Like most cultural memes, the term “conspiracy theory” is rarely carefully defined. The Oxford Dictionary defines a conspiracy theory as “a belief that some secret but influential organization is responsible for an event or phenomenon.” Some examples of obviously absurd conspiracy theories include the claim that the U.S. moon landings were hoaxes, staged in a Hollywood backlot and that the 9-11 attacks were orchestrated by U.S. or Israeli operatives or didn’t happen at all, in which case it is claimed that bombs destroyed those buildings, not commercial jets. While it might be appropriate to say that such claims should not be dignified by a critical response, it should be with the understanding that a truly critical response can overwhelmingly demonstrate the ludicrousness of these theories.

But are conspiracy theories always without merit? And should we automatically condemn as irrational anyone who espouses a conspiracy theory? In fact, there are many significant historical events which are widely recognized to have involved conspiracies. The assassination of Julius Caesar was certainly conspiratorial in nature. The Watergate burglary involved a conspiracy of at least five people, probably many more than this, and the later cover-up expanded the circle of conspiracy even further. And numerous Mafia organizations have been exposed over the years, all of which constitute conspiracies of some kind, whether or not those infiltrated high echelons of government. It is an uncontestable historical fact, then, that some conspiracy theories have turned out to be correct. Moreover, many of these seemed absurd to most people at the time, until evidence eventually proved them to be true. The simple lesson, then, is that such theories should never be dismissed tout court. Each should be assessed on its own merits. And failure to do so, as is so typical these days, especially on the American left and in mainstream media, is manifestly a fallacy of faulty generalization.

So it seems that not all conspiracy theories are equal and that some are actually quite rational. Therefore, it is for good reason that certain conspiracy theories are accepted by those open-minded enough to carefully examine the evidence. Ironically, then, Oliver Markus Malloy’s condemnation of all conspiracy theories as problematic because “they offer simplistic answers to difficult questions” actually applies to his own categorical dismissal of conspiracy theories, as his is, indeed, a simplistic answer to a difficult question. Similarly, media pundits and cultural commentators who hastily apply the phrase as a convenient pejorative reveal their own failure to think critically even while accusing others of the same.

So why have such categorial dismissals of conspiracy theories become common parlance these days?  Perhaps, at least in part, it is because of the widespread irresponsible appeal to conspiracies, due in turn to the fact that they are entertaining and more likely to draw “clicks,” “likes,” and website traffic. Perhaps also because of cognitive laziness and an impatience with the process of critical inquiry and the sometimes painstaking evidential scrutiny this entails. More likely, it is because dismissing all such theories is an easy way to further one’s own narrative and hamstring competing views. After all, a sweeping demonizing of all conspiracy theories is a very efficient way to rule out any such theory that threatens one’s political perspective. The problem is that this approach also effectively poisons the well against the discovery of actual conspiracies, however rare these might be.

So, setting aside the more obviously absurd conspiracy claims about flat earth, hoaxed moon landings, and the like, are there any diabolical conspiracies associated with, say, the World Economic Forum, the 2020 presidential election, a Chinese takeover of U.S. businesses, Covid-19 vaccine mandates, or recent U.S. riots? With regard to any of these things, might there be powerful people and organizations working behind the scenes to expand their power or bring about their preferred political aims? We will only know one way or another through critical inquiry. Rejecting all such theories from the outset not only closed-mindedly rules out the discovery of possible truths but also places us in greater danger of being victimized if one of these theories turns out to be true.

History has shown that sometimes evil people band together in secretive ways to do sinister things. And in many cases those who had veridical suspicions about these plots were ignored, ridiculed, or denounced as loony for the accusations they made. Might some of today’s “conspiracy theorists” be correct as well? Time will tell. But dismissing all of them as equally ignorant or psychologically twisted will only slow our progress toward the discovery of truth in each case, and to do so is no more rational than uncritical acceptance of flat earth theory or a moon landing hoax.


Being Pro-Choice

In a historic decision, the Supreme Court has been asked and has answered a fundamental question regarding personal autonomy and freedom: under the law, does one have the basic right to secure one’s life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? The Court has resoundingly denied that freedom. This decision creates two classes of citizens; one free to go about their daily lives unencumbered and often enjoying pleasure at the expense of the other, subjugated and less powerful class. This class is forced to carry the burdens of others without the right to determine their own future, unable to pursue their dreams and to develop their potential.

I am speaking of course of the monumentally misjudged case of Dred Scott vs Sandford (1857) in which the Court ruled that Scott was the property of another human being and therefore had no legal standing under the Constitution. To me, the parallels between this horrific blot on our nation’s legal legacy and the now overturned Roe vs Wade scream out for comparison. In both cases, the rights of one citizen were denied for the convenience of another. In Dred Scott, he, along with millions of other black Americans, were denied their freedom for the financial gain of their masters. As a result of Roe, tens of millions of children have been stripped not only of their legal rights but their very lives. In both cases, the vulnerable were left unheard and not seen as human beings, despite the overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary.

Another similarity between the two is that the arguments made in defense of the unjust actions of the Court often fail to address the fundamental issue being debated: is this a human being who, through no fault of his or her own, has been made dependent and at the mercy of another? Once one recognizes the undeniable fact that we are all one race of human beings, no matter what the color of our skin or the stage of our development, the argument is over. But, at the time of Scott, many argued about the financial devastation which would befall the South if slavery were to be ended just as now people argue about the economic consequences of an unplanned pregnancy for the mother and society. There were even arguments made that slaves were better off as slaves rather than fending for themselves just as many argue that children of unplanned pregnancies or those suffering from various genetic issues are better off dead than alive.

While the unmet needs of women and their children are certainly something we should consider and address, this does not justify the killing of one let alone millions of innocent and helpless children, any more than it justified the enslavement of millions of slaves. Look at the millions of dollars devoted to treating sick and injured children each year in this country; or the enormous economic cost we were asked to pay as a nation and individually through loss of income and other various government mandates during the pandemic. If those situations justify such great financial outlays, shouldn’t we be willing to do the same in order to save the millions of children aborted each year? I’m certainly willing to support various agencies designed to do just that; are you? One would certainly question that willingness on the part of some in the pro-choice movement given the recent wave of vandalism against crisis pregnancy centers.

I think it is also worth noting that the proponents of both slavery and abortion profited handsomely from its continuation. Planned Parenthood, the most recognizable abortion provider in the U.S., makes millions of dollars a year through the dismembering of the unborn. This is done at the expense of not only those children but also their mothers who, we can all agree, are often in a vulnerable place themselves. It is well-documented that not only do PP workers lie to and pressure women into abortions, but also fail to report those who are being exploited by sex traffickers and abusers. Those who call for the pro-life movement to step up and provide resources to pregnant women, as they should and often do, should be equally vocal in their condemnation of what is clearly not an isolated phenomenon. On the topic of Planned Parenthood, it should be noted that like slavery itself, this organization was founded by racists who sought to limit the influence of those they deemed subhuman.

The final comparison I will make between these two cases is the obvious one: they have both been overturned, righting the wrongs of decades of immoral behavior and illogical thinking. In the case of Dred Scott, it was overruled by the 14th amendment which granted citizenship to all those born in the United States regardless of their skin color. In the case of Roe, of course, it was overruled this month by Dobbs vs Jackson Women’s Health Organization. The 14th amendment by no means brought immediate equality and was only accomplished after years of bloody battles, not in the courtroom but on the battlefields. But it did bring about an age when former slaves and their descendants were free to contribute mightily to our nation’s legacy. They were free to become lawyers and continue the fight for freedom; free to become doctors and advance our understanding of what it means to be human; free to enter civil service and even rise to the highest offices in the land, including the White House and, yes, the Supreme Court of the United States.

In the case of Dobbs, despite what some seem to think, this decision is very pro-choice. It has not made abortion illegal; rather it has sent the issue back to individual states who now have the freedom to stand on the side of justice and morality or to stand on the side of oppression and murder. The choice seems an obvious one, just as Dred Scott seems to us now. I hope that, in whatever state you may live, you will find yourself making the right choice: the choice to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves, that we can truly become a nation “indivisible with liberty and justice for all.”


The End of a Matter

There is a passage in the book of Ecclesiastes that has always fascinated me. It is Ecclesiastes 7:8, which says, “The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride.” Specifically, the first clause has always struck me. Why is the end of a matter better than its beginning? Why is finishing better than starting? My quest for a better understanding of this idea naturally prompted me to consult biblical commentaries on the passage, but I found that in most cases the commentators skirt past this clause to focus on the second clause which is far easier to understand and explain, however strange it might be to contrast patience with pride (as opposed to impatience).

So I’ve essentially been left to my own devices to understand why the end of a matter is better than its beginning. Fortunately, personal experience has proven to be an effective interpretive tool in this case. As the years have passed, I have been struck by the vivid truth of this passage as it applies to various events in my life and in human experience generally. It hit me again two weeks ago as we celebrated the graduating class of Lighthouse Christian Academy where I serve as head of school. And it hit me a week before that when our oldest son, Bailey, graduated from Taylor University. In both cases, there was a celebration of completion, the attainment of long sought goals, the realization of the telos for which the students strived for so many years. And that is most definitely a very good thing, even better than the beginning of the journey for each of the graduates, however fun or exciting that might have been for them.

Graduations are positive outcomes, of course. But many human experiences are quite negative, even horrifically so. Here again Ecclesiastes 7:8a is clearly applicable. Whether we are talking about a painful trip to the dentist, an unhealthy dating relationship, or any number of other negative experiences, it is certainly good when such things come to an end. After some such event, it is not uncommon to hear people say, “Man, I’m glad that’s over with!” This seems to be a tacit affirmation of the negative pole of the Ecclesiastes 7:8a principle.

So I would sum up my analysis like this. The end of a matter is better than its beginning because any particular “matter” (experience/event/project) is either good or bad. If the matter is bad, then it is good to have it over with. And if the matter is good, then you still benefit from and even enjoy and celebrate the achievement. Either way, then, the end is better than the beginning.

One might object, however, that it is sad when good things end, such as when a virtuous person dies or when a good friend moves away. How could the end of wonderful things like this be better than their beginning? One of Aristotle’s observations about happiness is useful here. He notes that you cannot know you have had a happy life until it is over. This is because until a life is actually completed it is always possible that it can go awry in some way. Only when a person is dead can it be truly said with confidence that that person had an overall good life. And what is true of an entire lifetime is true of particular events (e.g., a good game or a good evening with friends). So for all of the sadness of saying goodbye to a loved one or to a sweet phase in one’s life, it is nonetheless a blessed thing to be able to say with confidence, “Old Joe was a tremendous guy” or “Didn’t we have wonderful times together!”

All of this thinking about “ends” naturally prompts me to think about the ultimate end of things—the culmination of human history as promised in Scripture. Numerous times in the Bible we are reminded that the end of the matter when it comes to the course of history will be marked by the return of Jesus Christ in power and glory. And that will be goodness on a colossal scale. The writer of Genesis says that when God created the heavens and the earth and everything in them, he repeatedly declared them “good.” But as great as that was, it doesn’t compare to what will be achieved in the end—a glory that we are told, often cryptically, is beyond our ability to fathom (cf. Rom. 8:18, 1 Cor. 2:9), a time when “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” A time when Christ will rule with perfect justice and righteousness, and perfect joy and fellowship among his people will be established forevermore (Isa. 9:6-7). Now that is an end that is truly better than its beginning!


Thoughts on the “Body of Christ” Metaphor

In numerous places in the New Testament the apostle Paul refers to the church using the metaphor of the “body of Christ.” For example, he addresses the church at Corinth saying, “you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” (1 Cor. 12:27). In Ephesians he says, “the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior” (Eph. 5:23). And elsewhere he declares, “my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God” (Rom. 7:4).

In using this metaphor, Paul deploys the standard teaching methodology of Jesus, who constantly used figurative language (e.g., “born again,” “light of the world,” “living water,” sheep and shepherds, etc.) to convey deep moral-spiritual truths. Like all recurrent biblical metaphors, the “body of Christ” concept warrants close attention. What are the features of a literal body and what are the implications for this metaphor used by Paul?

  • A body is composed of many parts working together. The same is true of the church, as it is a collection of individual persons who work together to do God’s work on earth;
  • A body’s parts (e.g., hands, feet, lungs, kidneys, etc.) perform a variety of functions. Similarly, the various people in the church serve different functions (teachers, prophets, administrators, etc.);
  • The parts of a body must be nourished to grow and function properly. Each individual Christian must practice the disciplines of the faith (i.e., prayer, study, worship, fellowship, etc.) in order to effectively function in the work of the church;
  • If a body part fails or is damaged, the whole body suffers. Just as tissue damage in one part of our physical body compromises the ability of our body as a whole to carry out its functions, when an individual Christian suffers or struggles in some way, the church suffers as a whole;
  • Tensions between parts enable growth. Just as pressure and tension are important for the building of muscle, the different parts of Christ’s body—individual people—grow through suffering; this may even include conflicts with other people (cf. Pr. 27:17—“iron sharpens iron”).

The “body of Christ” metaphor also suggests some significant parallels between Christ’s body and the Church which we should find encouraging. First, as Christ suffered, so must his body (the church) suffer. As Christians in this world we tend to regard our troubles and difficulties as nuisances that get in the way of our primary occupations in this world. But what if our suffering is actually the better part of our business here on earth? As the prophet Isaiah tells us, Jesus was the “man of sorrows,” purposefully stricken, afflicted, and oppressed for a greater good. As members of Christ’s body, we should take a similar perspective on our own suffering. After all, James tells us toConsider it pure joy, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4). Apparently, our trials are essential to our spiritual maturity, an immense good to be sure.

Secondly, as Christ’s body died and then rose again, so too will his metaphorical body (the church) die but rise again. The great promise of the Gospel is that those who are in Christ—who are members of his body—will live eternally with the Lord and his people. This is precisely because of our being united with him in his death. As the Apostle Paul says, “if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been set free from sin” (Rom. 6:5-6).

Thirdly, our being united with Christ in this way, as members of his body, implies that a premium must be placed on personal repentance, as Paul emphasizes in that Romans 6 passage. If we are united with Christ, and thus crucified with him (cf. Gal. 2:20), then our lives now should reflect this. As Paul says, “do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life” (Rom. 6:12-13). This means daily renewing our resolve to resist temptation and honor God in all of our thoughts, words, and deeds. And this, of course, requires that we pray faithfully, remain steadfast students of Scripture, and practice other spiritual disciplines as well (e.g., fasting, confession, meditation, fellowship, etc.).

These are just some of the lessons we can glean from the biblical metaphor of the church as the body of Christ. Rich and inspiring stuff!


The Stargazing Christian Leader

In his classic work The Republic, Plato uses the analogy of a shipmaster to illustrate some important points regarding leadership of a state. In order to properly steer a ship to its destination (in Plato’s day anyway), the shipmaster must always consult the stars to orient himself geographically, since the stars are the only fixed directional guide out on the open sea. And yet one who observes a good shipmaster continually consulting the stars in this way might think he is distracted—an impractical stargazer!

The situation is similar with good Christian leaders, who are properly also theologians, since they, too, must constantly “look up” in the course of their work, consulting eternal, lofty truths as a directional guide. And they, too, might appear to be distracted from practical matters. Yet, they are actually being very practical. Like the shipmaster, they orient themselves morally and spiritually according to what is constant and unchanging in order to steer their “ship” (their local Christian community) through the turbulent waves of life.

So what are some of those immovable biblical truths according to which Christian leaders should steer their ships? It seems to me that a good Christian leader, whether a pastor or leader in a Christian school or other organization, must do two things: remind those they lead of their identity and their purpose. Many leaders fail to do this, perhaps because it seems to them ponderous, abstract, or simply impractical, given the many pressing issues they face. But I can’t imagine anything more practical than to know your identity and purpose as a Christian.

The apostle Paul, one of the leaders of the early Christian church, does exactly this in all of his epistles. A good case in point is Ephesians 2:1-10. In this passage Paul reminds us of who we were before our transformation in Christ: dead in our sins, slaves to fleshly desires, and servants of the devil, thus “by nature deserving of wrath.” He also notes who we are now—our identity as Christians: alive in Christ, saved by grace, and destined for eternal riches. These observations culminate in Paul’s remarkable observation about our purpose: that “we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do” (v. 10). That is, we are the handiwork of God who are also ourselves handiworkers. So Paul is telling us that we are working handiworks.

This might seem ponderous and abstract, but it is profoundly practical as all good theology is. And the practicality of these truths are evident in the fact that they are encouraging, affirming our value as children of God, and highly motivational. What could be more motivating than to know that your work has eternal significance?

So as a Christian leader, I will always dwell upon and remind those I lead regarding their identity and purpose in Christ. This might make me appear to be a theological stargazer, but it will help me get the ship I captain to its destination!


The Best and Worst of 2021

It has been another eventful year for the Spiegel family. After 27 years in Grant County, Indiana, we relocated to southern Indiana, where Jim assumed the position of Head of School at Lighthouse Christian Academy in Bloomington. We love our new community there as well as the town of Bedford, where we live. As usual we are closing out the year with summary remarks about good and bad stuff related to film, music, books, sports, food, and family.

Film Experiences

Jim:  It was good to get back to movie theaters after a year of Covid-induced cinema shutdowns. I enjoyed No Time to Die, Daniel Craig’s worthy swansong as the eternal James Bond character. And Free Guy was a lot of fun. Ryan Reynolds is tremendous in this creative adventure that blurs the lines between reality and digital fantasy. The long-anticipated Beatles’ Get Back documentary was wonderful to experience. For those who don’t know, this is Peter Jackson’s extensive re-editing of the original footage made of the Beatles during their writing, rehearsals, and recording in January 1969, which culminated in their famous EMI rooftop performance. Jackson casts this chapter of Beatles history in a refreshingly positive light, as he captures the Beatles’ wit and playfulness in a way that was missed by the original Let it Be film. It is six hours of pure joy for Beatles fans. As for disappointments, the most notable of these was Oslo, August 31st. Brilliantly directed by Norwegian filmmaker Joachim Trier, it is the most dark and depressing film I’ve seen since Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream. Trier’s storytelling about a relapsing heroin addict is excruciatingly believable. I kept waiting for some light to dawn in the main character’s life. I’m still waiting.

Amy:  Not many in-theater experiences to reflect on this year, but I do agree with Jim that Free Guy was a highlight. The Netflix series Maid was a well-acted look into domestic abuse and the razor’s edge woman trying to escape their abusers. Impressively, it is a well-balanced depiction of how broken many aspects of “the system” are without villainizing everyone who is involved in the system.  If you are looking for a quirky, dark but touching series, The Cleaner is a good choice. If you are a true-crime addict like myself I highly recommend Heist, another Netflix series and This is a Robbery.

Food and Music

Amy’s Best Food Experiences of the Year:  For food experiences, I’ll lump together all the lunches and dinners we have enjoyed as a family since moving to the Bloomington area. We have really enjoyed the variety of choices, everything from Indian and Thai to Turkish and Traditional American. The food has been great but also the joy of being together as a family, which with three of the kids living away from home, is priceless.

Jim’s Best Musical Experiences of the Year:  I discovered and journeyed through the discography of the moody Canadian band Metric, whose musical style has ranged from new wave to dance pop to synth rock. I also enjoyed doing a deep dive into the music of Sia, whose addictive pop driven by her powerful, quirky vocals, feels like a guilty pleasure. It started with her Everyday is Christmas album (easily the most catchy, if utterly secular, Christmas album I’ve ever heard), and from there I traveled back to her early days in the alternative band Zero 7. She’s had a fascinating musical evolution. My favorite albums of the year were Flyte’s This is Really Going to Hurt, the Bleachers’ Take the Sadness out of Saturday Night, and Lord Huron’s incredible Long Lost—my favorite album since Cage the Elephant’s Melophobia. But the musical highlight of the year was seeing Bob Dylan in concert for the 7th time, with my daughter Maggie at Indiana University in November.

Sports

Jim’s Favorite Sports Moments of the Year:  The Atlanta Braves are World Series champions! Oh yeah, baby.

Amy’s Favorite Sports Moments of the Year:  Jim, Andrew and I have created a weekly family NFL pool. Winner picks our Sunday lunch spot and the loser mows the yard or does the dishes for the week. I consider having beaten Jim and Andrew three times a lifetime achievement.

Jim’s Most Disappointing Sports Moments of the Year:  The Chicago Cubs let go of Javier Baez, Chris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo! What were they thinking? Combined with the previous dismissal of Jon Lester and Kyle Schwarber, this ridiculous fire sale cut the heart out of the team. Still, the Chicago Cubs will forever be the 2016 World Series champs. At least the Cubs’ front office can’t take that away from us.

Amy’s Most Painful Sports Moment of the Year:  Bryzzo, say it isn’t so!

Good Reads

Jim:  In 2021 I devoted more of my reading time to classic literature, which was a welcome break from virtually non-stop technical scholarly reading for the previous 30+ years. A definite highlight was Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. I also greatly enjoyed reading the science fiction of H.G. Wells, including The Invisible Man, The Time Machine, and The War of the Worlds, all of which are replete with interesting lessons about human nature and the ethics of technology. Recently I began reading Ovid’s Metamorphoses. I’ve purchased four different translations and so far am most pleased with the rhymed version translated by Addison, Dryden, Pope, et al.

Amy:  Reading The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs had the unique effect of a balm to my battered spirits but also continually challenged my earthly perspective and called me to a deeper faith. I believe every committed Christian should read this book. Live Not by Lies by Rod Dreher helped me to articulate my feelings regarding our government’s approach to Covid and inspired me to hold the line of my convictions. Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey was as insightful as it was entertaining, and sometimes weird. I also discovered mystery writer Anthony Horowitz and only regret I have now read all of his books.

Best 2021 Family Memories

Jim: My favorite memory of the year, and one of the best of my life, was our son Bailey’s engagement to Grace Bennett a few weeks ago. The Bennetts and our family conspired for surprise get-together at the Bennetts after Bailey’s proposal. Fortunately, Grace said yes!

Amy: We have a little nook off our living room which I have spent a few afternoons curled up in listening to the kids joke around in the kitchen together. Also Austen and I have enjoyed many a delightful walk on the trail behind the new house, contemplating the universe and stalking squirrels.

Best Kids’ Quotes of the Year

  • Maggie (about her brothers preparing steaks for dinner): “You’ve gotta love the mutilated bodies of tortured animals.”
  • Bailey: “Before the Internet people were stupid.”

New Year’s Resolutions

Amy: To beat Jim in our fitness challenge, read more, and figure out what I want to be when I grow up.

Jim:  To continue to pray every morning on my knees.

 Happy 2022 everyone!