Law Religion Culture Review

Exploring the intersections of law, religion and culture. Copyright by Richard J. Radcliffe. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Another Dead Hero.

This year, I was privileged to eulogize my Uncle, John A. Radcliffe.

Here's the sum and substance of my remarks:

"This was a great man.

There are so many ways we can unpack his greatness.

For example, his admirable leadership as a wonderful family man, his integrity as an attorney (and otherwise), and his intelligence exhibited, in part, by graduating as valedictorian of his law school class at the University of Chicago, could be talked about for hours.

However, I want to highlight some of this through a story.

In part due his influence, I followed Uncle John into the legal profession. Early in my career, I spoke with an opposing attorney. She asked me if I was related to John Radcliffe. I said yes.

She then recounted how professional, honest, and gentlemanly he was. If you know anything about lawyers, such high praise--from an opponent--is highly unusual. He evidently made quite an impression on her.

He also impressed me. In that moment, I was proud to be an attorney, but more importantly, I was especially proud to be a Radcliffe."

Thank you, Uncle John.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Body of Christ, Part II.

As part of my ongoing pilgrimage through Southern California churches (in addition to my home church), I visited an innovative, large church meeting in a converted warehouse last Sunday night. (Full disclosure: I went to college with the "lead pastor".)

Several things struck me:

1. The place was populated with college-aged people, except the greeter at the door, who was probably in his 50s; it seems the "post-modern" generation is hungry for truth and community (common themes of the night);

2. Bibles were omnipresent and would be handed out to anyone requesting one;

3. Except for a revved-up "How Great Thou Art", the songs were mostly unrecognizable to a visitor and spoke largely of personal sacrifice;

4. Folksy pastor came out talking about NFL games that day, and interrupted his remarks at least twice to comment on the highlighting appearing on a woman's Bible sitting towards the front; he didn't appear to have any notes, but he led a vigorous march through OT and NT scriptures about how God builds community and then sends them out;

5. In his remarks, the "teaching pastor" forcefully developed a theme of contrasting the "out there" with the "in here", and observing that those "out there" are not looking for a reproduction of their consumer-driven existence, but a distinctive from those "in here";

6. Even for a Sunday evening service, there was no seating available for anyone showing up at the start time; the "overflow" room, full of screens and odd, mismatched chandeliers (darkened during singing), was nearly packed; and

7. In the overflow room, people were standing to worship via song and applauding those in the other room for no particular reason (since they couldn't hear).

However, the most intriguing aspect of the night was an announcement of the church's vision for the year, involving building a "church of communities" through additional campuses and church planting. The lead pastor asked, "Where would a church plant have the most influence?" "Hollywood" was the correct answer, he said. He described Hollywood as "upstream from culture", and hence, highly influential. He explained that things flow out of Hollywood into the larger culture--a metaphor that could be taken positively and negatively.

In any event, the more I thought about it, the more stunning the announcement became in its unmitigated temerity and strategic vision. Breathtaking audacity, coupled with genius.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Book Review: Columbine (2009) by Dave Cullen.

Just about everything you've learned about the April 20, 1999, Columbine massacre is wrong.

At least that's the thrust of Dave Cullen's Columbine published in 2009--following 10 years of intense research and analysis.

Cullen writes: "[I]n the great media blunders during the initial coverage of the story...nearly everyone got the central factors wrong....I hope this book contributes to setting the story straight." (p. x.) Likewise, Cullen indicts the mainstream media: "Virtually all of the early news stories were infested with erroneous assumptions and comically wrong conclusions." (159.)

Cullen debunks the numerous myths surrounding this tragedy, including martyr narratives seized upon by some Christians, with compelling evidence. At its core, however, Columbine attacks the central myth of "Columbine as a pair of outcast Goths from the Trench Coat Mafia snapping and tearing through their high school hunting down jocks to settle a long-running feud. Almost none of that happened. No Goths, no outcasts, nobody snapping. No targets, no feud, and no Trench Coats Mafia. ... The lesser myths are equally unsupported: no connection with Marilyn Manson, Hitler's birthday, minorities, or Christians." (149.)

Instead, Cullen builds a case predicated on psychological profiles of the killers, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. In this regard, Cullen relies heavily on the work of Dr. Dwayne Fuselier, an FBI agent who headed the FBI's domestic terrorism unit in Denver (and whose son went to Columbine High School at the time). Cullen contends that Harris was a psychopath, and his plan for the attack was far larger than implemented. He had plans for mass killing at the school, using bombs and napalm. Because his efforts fizzled on that day, people have misread his intentions. By contrast, Cullen describes Klebold was more suicidal than homicidal. He writes that Klebold squeezed off a mere five shots, and it's unclear whether any hit anyone other than himself. Curiously, Klebold's journal in his final week was focused on one topic: love.

Cullen's analysis of the killers' journals and "Basement Tapes" is very insightful. Cullen drills down into this compelling evidence as well as reams of other data (including 25,000 pages of documents compiled by investigators), and comes up with a persuasive case as to what this tragedy was really about.

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Saturday, September 05, 2009

The Body of Christ.

"For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body....Now you are Christ's body, and individually members of it." (1 Cor. 12:12, 27; NASB).

In addition to my home church, I like to experience other gatherings, which meet at different times. By doing this, I marvel at the unity and diversity of the Body of Christ, i.e. the Church.

Last Sunday night, I attended a Reformed church that especially illustrated this unity and diversity. Here are the highlights:

1. Multiracial, multigenerational, and multisocioeconomic strata attended (including what appeared to be a couple of homeless men);

2. Like most churches, the congregants were asked to greet each other. Unlike most churches, this exchange was designed to delve beyond surface pleasantries, but to involve sharing of what God was doing positively in one's life. This level of sharing was buttressed by the statement later that 90% of the church were involved in discipleship or accountability small groups.

3. Communion was held, but not in the traditional fashion. During the lengthy second segment of worship (after the message), I noticed many people leaving. At first, I thought it rude to the worship leader, at a minimum. I then remembered seeing a slide projected at the beginning of the service, which announced that the Lord's Supper (served weekly) would be available throughout the service. I turned around and saw in muted lighting with candles a large cross with the elements placed next to it. I also saw many fellow worshippers taking communion, praying and then circling back to their seats.

4. Like most churches, the service was comprised of spiritual songs and the spoken word. Like most churches (and for good reason), one of the songs was Chris Tomlin's, "How Great Is Our God". (I think Tomlin writes the most theologically rich contemporary songs today). Unlike most churches, perhaps, the pastor was 26 and took the stage in flip-flops. Unlike most churches, perhaps, he spoke with authentic vulnerability. Further, in the middle of his talk about one of Jesus' parables, he took an excursion into what he termed the "Romans Road", which included a frank discussion about hell and salvation.

5. The pastor's interpretation of this parable (Matthew 20:1-16 [Laborers in the Vineyard]), reflecting his Reformed orientation, was fresh, however, and informed through apparent study of differing interpretations.

6. The pastor repeatedly closed his prayers with "I thank you, and I love you." He also ended the service by sincerely saying that he loved each of us, and that was the reason they were doing what they were doing.

In many ways, this experience was similar and dissimilar to other churches today in the Protestant tradition. As such, it serves as a shining example of the unity and diversity of the Body of Christ.