A Serious Argument over a Traffic Stop, or, Why I Love Reading Supreme Court Decisions

One of my secret guilty pleasures (and here you get to plumb the depths of my weird mind) is reading Supreme Court opinions. (I enjoy listening to recordings of the oral arguments, too, but they can get rather dull at times.) I’ve had a fascination with the legal system and particularly the US Supreme Court since I was in high school. I contemplated taking up law as a career path before studying engineering instead, but law continues to fascinate me.

The beauty of the Supreme Court is that by a time a case gets to that level, they’re not dealing with run-of-the-mill principles or with trying to establish facts. The facts have already been established by lower courts, the principles already argued back and forth a couple times in appeals; the USSC only takes on the case when there’s a novel principle to be decided, and when that happens, some of the top legal minds in the country get together to argue the merits.

The thing I enjoy about USSC opinions is that they’re scholarly and dense without being utterly incomprehensible. I’m no legal scholar and undoubtedly don’t get all the case references, but I can sit and read through a 10-page opinion and pretty much understand the gist of the argument, think it over myself, and try to decide which side of the opinion I’d come down on. And sometimes the Justices really get fired up with an opinion, and then the reading gets fun.

But this shouldn’t all be abstract – here’s a recent example.

Navarette v. California

Navarette v. California was argued before the Court on January 21, 2014, and the decision and opinions were published April 22 (today as I’m writing this). The case summary and opinions are available on the USSC website, and the headnote for the decision provides a nice summary of the case:

A California Highway Patrol officer stopped the pickup truck occupied by petitioners because it matched the description of a vehicle that a 911 caller had recently reported as having run her off the road. As he and a second officer approached the truck, they smelled marijuana. They searched the truck’s bed, found 30 pounds of marijuana, and arrested petitioners. Petitioners moved to suppress the evidence, arguing that the traffic stop violated the Fourth Amendment. Their motion was denied, and they pleaded guilty to transporting marijuana. The California Court of Appeal affirmed, concluding that the officer had reasonable suspicion to conduct an investigative stop.

So did you get that? We’re arguing here over whether the police had a reasonable suspicion to make a traffic stop and conduct a search. The word “reasonable” is key here, since the 4th Amendment to the US Constitution says, in part, “The right of the people to be secure… against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated…”.

In this particular case, an anonymous 911 caller claimed that a truck “ran the [caller] off the roadway” and reported the truck’s make, model, and license plate number, suggesting that the driver might be drunk. The highway patrol found the truck, followed it for 5 minutes, didn’t see any additional erratic driving behavior, but stopped the truck anyway. When they approached the truck, they smelled marijuana, performed a search, found a bunch of it, and made an arrest.

So there’s the question. Does the Fourth Amendment require an officer who received information regarding drunken or reckless driving to independently corroborate the behavior before stopping the vehicle? 1

Today the US Supreme Court decided that the answer is yesno. [Whoopsie there! Thanks to _steve in the comment below for correcting me.] Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the majority opinion, which was joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Alito, Kennedy, and Breyer. That opinion runs from page 3 through page 13 of the decision PDF, and it’s not incredibly dense. (It’s also in a narrow-width column so it’s not as long as it sounds.)

Screenshot-2014-04-22_15.14.14

Here’s the summary paragraph of the decision:

Like White, this is a “close case.” 496 U. S., at 332. As in that case, the indicia of the 911 caller’s reliability here are stronger than those in J. L. 2, where we held that a bare-bones tip was unreliable. 529 U. S., at 271. Although the indicia present here are different from those we found sufficient in White 3, there is more than one way to demonstrate “a particularized and objective basis for suspecting the particular person stopped of criminal activity.” Cortez 4, 449 U. S., at 417–418. Under the totality of the circumstances, we find the indicia of reliability in this case sufficient to provide the officer with reasonable suspicion that the driver of the reported vehicle had run another vehicle off the road. That made it reasonable under the circumstances for the officer to execute a traffic stop. We accordingly affirm.

So that’s not too awful or confusing, right?

Then the fun begins, because you have a dissenting opinion written by arch-conservative Justice Scalia which is joined by the three most liberal members of the court, Justices Ginsburg, Kagan, and Sotomayor. And Scalia, when he gets a little bit wound up, can be entertaining. This one is a prime example.

Here’s how he starts:

Today’s opinion does not explicitly adopt such a departure from our normal Fourth Amendmentrequirement that anonymous tips must be corroborated; it purports to adhere to our prior cases, such as Florida v. J. L., 529 U. S. 266 (2000), and Alabama v. White, 496
U. S. 325 (1990). Be not deceived.

Law enforcement agencies follow closely our judgments on matters such as this, and they will identify at once our new rule: So long as the caller identifies where the car is, anonymous claims of a single instance of possibly careless or reckless driving, called in to 911, will support a traffic stop. This is not my concept, and I am sure would not be the Framers’, of a people secure from unreasonable searches and seizures.

Then he starts busting on the arguments.

All that has been said up to now assumes that the anonymous caller made, at least in effect, an accusation of drunken driving. But in fact she did not. She said that the petitioners’ truck “‘[r]an [me] off the roadway.’”.. That neither asserts that the driver was drunk nor even raises the likelihood that the driver was drunk. The most it conveys is that the truck did some apparently nontypical thing that forced the tipster off the roadway, whether partly or fully, temporarily or permanently. Who really knows what (if anything) happened? The truck might have swerved to avoid an animal, a pothole, or a jaywalking pedestrian.

But let us assume the worst of the many possibilities: that it was a careless, reckless, or even intentional maneuver that forced the tipster off the road. Lorenzo might have been distracted by his use of a hands-free cell phone… or distracted by an intense sports argument with José…5

Or, indeed, he might have intentionally forced the tipster off the road because of some personal animus, or hostility to her “Make Love, Not War” bumper sticker. I fail to see how reasonable suspicion of a discrete instance of irregular or hazardous driving generates a reasonable suspicion of ongoing intoxicated driving. What proportion of the hundreds of thousands—perhaps millions—of careless, reckless, or intentional traffic violations committed each day is attributable to drunken drivers? I say 0.1 percent. I have no basis for that except my own guesswork. But unless the Court has some basis in reality to believe that the proportion is many orders of magnitude above that—say 1 in 10 or at least 1 in 20—it has no grounds for its unsupported assertion that the tipster’s report in this case gave rise to a reasonable suspicion of drunken driving.

That’s the USSC version of a smackdown, right there. But he’s not done!

That the officers witnessed nary a minor traffic violation nor any other “sound indici[um] of drunk driving,”… strongly suggests that the suspected crime was not occurring after all. The tip’s implication of continuing criminality, already weak, grew even weaker.

Resisting this line of reasoning, the Court curiously asserts that, since drunk drivers who see marked squad cars in their rearview mirrors may evade detection simply by driving “more careful[ly],” the “absence of additional suspicious conduct” is “hardly surprising” and thus largely irrelevant. Whether a drunk driver drives drunkenly, the Court seems to think, is up to him. That is not how I understand the influence of alcohol.

Thus, says Justice Scalia, “The Court’s opinion serves up a freedom-destroying cocktail consisting of two parts patent falsity.”

I don’t know about anybody else, but I love this stuff. And there’s something great about America when we have some of our greatest legal minds seriously arguing over the legitimacy of a traffic stop.


  1. There’s a nice case and question summary on oyez.org which I’m quoting here. 
  2. Florida v. J.L., (2000), wherein the Court held that an anonymous tip that a person is carrying a gun is not, without more, sufficient to justify a police officer’s stop and frisk of that person. 
  3. Alabama v. White, (1990), wherein the Court held that an anonymous tip plus additional police work was reasonable cause for a stop and search. 
  4. US v. Cortez, (1981) wherein the Court decided that certain observations and circumstantial evidence justified stopping a truck that the police then found to be transporting illegal immigrants across the US/Mexico border. 
  5. Scalia actually references online studies documenting the distracted driving effects of cell phones and sports arguments at this point. I’ve omitted the links, but it’s hilarious to me that he goes that far in making the case for his hypothetical. 

Goerend: This Session Should Have Been A Blog Post

Russ Goerend is a teacher, relative of a friend, and self-admitted sneaky reader of this blog. He sent me a nice email the other day to introduce himself and say he was a reader, and as a matter of course I went to check out his blog, which I’m going to follow. And right there, just three posts deep, was a post that nailed something that had been bugging me for the past week.

Last week I attended an industry conference in Kansas City. Attendance at this conference was evenly split between industry members and government representatives who regulate us. The goal of the conference was to address regulations as they relate to product approval and flight testing.

My twitter stream indicated my frustration during the conference:


Russ nailed a more productive take on a similar problem in his recent post titled “This session should have been a blog post“. Attending a recent education conference session that was designed as lots of quick informational hits, he noted these thoughts:

The issue with that is that the presentation should have been a blog post (SHBABP). Folks who attend a SHBABP session at a conference are missing out on the chance to go deep with someone at the conference. There are quality sessions at every conference that don’t get the audience they should because of SHBABP sessions.

I wrote a post the other day about the apps I use on my phone. No one would have flinched if I had submitted that to a technology conference. I could have projected my phone onto a big screen and spent a minute or two on each app. People would have been furiously scribbling the names of the apps as I went. If I was feeling generous, I could have given people time to ask questions.

I didn’t submit it to a conference, though. I wrote it as a post, with links to the app store for each app. It’s more useful as a blog post. There are comments for clarification.

And, it saves a space in the conference schedule for meaningful conversation.

Bingo.

Too many of the presentations at my recent conference were informational data dumps that would’ve been great – perhaps even more useful – as well-linked blog posts rather than conference sessions. The best conference sessions were ones that provided more original thought and solid Q&A rather than just doing a 45-minute data dump.

Russ proposes an approach to fix this:

So, the challenge. Conference designers: make it known that you will not schedule sessions that should have been a blog post. Feel free to create and publicize a space or hashtag (go ahead and use #SHBABP!) for all your attendees to add and peruse should have been a blog post “session” links. Explain why you’re doing it. Help people understand why you’re holding the session schedule so dear.

Sadly, in my industry there are a couple problems with this approach: 1) the government doesn’t let their folks, even in key positions, publish official blogs. 2) Most of us in industry play our cards too close to our vest to have helpful blog posts, and would likely have to get them officially vetted in a way that would make them impractical.

Still, if I have the opportunity I will encourage conferences to avoid #SHBABP presentations, and will propose presentations that allow for helpful discussion and content rather than just doing a data dump.

Why I’m Leaving the Evangelical Theology blog wars

I’ve had my adventures growing up in the church. In 35 years of church attendance I’ve been a part of a C&MA church, a fundie homeschooling church, two independent Bible churches, two Conservative Baptist churches, and now an EFCA congregation. My family has also been highly influenced by Mennonite and Bretheren folks along the way. We’re an interesting crew.

Let me tell a little bit of my story in order to set things up.

In my mid 20s I was getting involved in leadership at the first church I joined as an adult. Somewhere along the line I got acquainted with Mark Driscoll and started listening through every sermon of his I could find. This led me into what has since been termed the neo-Reformed camp.

One year I went with my pastor to a Desiring God pastor’s conference and heard John Piper, Mark Driscoll, Don Carson, Justin Taylor, and Voddie Baucham. I listened intently as Piper encouraged me to not waste my life, and I still have my Moleskine notebook wherein I hurriedly scribbled Driscoll’s 14 non-negotiable points of the faith. I read C. J. Mahaney’s book on living a cross-centered life and heard his friends tout his credentials to write on humility. I was young, still learning my theology (I’m an engineer, not a pastor!) but had found a place I liked.

But then somewhere along the line things started to change for me.

I read N. T. Wright’s Surprised By Hope and came to realize that the dispensational, Left Behind view of the end times didn’t make as much sense as I had once thought. I read Peter Enns Inspiration and Incarnation and realized that the “literal” reading of the Biblical text wasn’t always the right way to read it. My book pile got overwhelmingly Catholic and Anglican, and the Calvinist I found most winsome ended up being an Iowa essayist named Marilynne Robinson.

I resigned from the church plant I was helping lead because I was completely burned out and had no other way to find rest. I eventually saw that church plant transition to leadership of a young pastor who turned it into a real Acts 29 church plant.

Over the past couple of years I’ve seen a lot of other bits of the system that I once idolized come crumbling down.

I saw Mark Driscoll systematically run out the folks at Mars Hill that disagreed with him, and then spend more money than some of my churches have spent in an entire year’s budget just so he could get “New York Times Bestselling Author” added to his resume.

I saw C. J. Mahaney resign from his denomination over allegations that they covered up child abuse and that he was, ironically, one of the least-qualified people to write a book on humility.

I saw Justin Taylor warn authors against interviewing with a Christian radio host who accused Driscoll of plagiarism, with no word of repentance or apology when her accusations turned out to be correct.

I saw Doug Phillips, the head of Vision Forum (a fundie pro-homeschooling organization) and ministry partner of Voddie Baucham, resign from his ministry after confessing to having an inappropriate relationship with a girl young enough to be his daughter.

What I didn’t see was a lot of public acknowledgment of sin or calls to repentance from those folks surrounding my one-time heroes. The talk was all on the “watch blogs”, where people wrote from perspective somewhere along the spectrum between “godly concern” and “reckless rabble-rousing”. What I did see was a lot of wagons circling, and defensive statements that were factually incorrect and either closed to comment or removed when the comments got loud.

I saw Gospel Coalition teachers define the Gospel in such a way that anyone outside of their little group was probably on the outside looking in. One of Driscoll’s 14 non-negotiables I wrote down that day was penal substitutionary atonement. Al Mohler says that Young Earth Creationism is key. For Wayne Grudem, Owen Strachan, and others in the CBMW, complementarianism is up there at the Gospel level.

What I didn’t see was any acknowledgment that there have historically been various understandings of atonement theory, the age of the universe, the role of women, etc, within the accepted bounds of the church. What I didn’t hear was an acknowledgment that there was a lot of room for negotiables within the bounds of the Apostle’s and Nicene Creeds.

And I’ll be honest: it made me angry.

I’ve spent too much of the last couple years being worked up about these topics. I’ve written angry posts about neo-Reformed Calvinism, young-earth creationism, Biblicism, and gay marriage. And what have I learned? Primarily this:

It’s not worth it.

These online debates have perhaps won me a few cheers but also caused me a few headaches with people within my own church who didn’t understand my attitude or thought I was just trying to cause trouble. They’ve given me a feeling of righteous outrage and truth-telling, but have also helped cultivate in me an attitude of adversarial cynicism that infected my relationship with my own local church.

What it’s taken me a decade to work through and realize is that an awful lot of it is just noise, just hot air. Yes, there are injustices that need to be addressed, but is my blogging actually doing anything productive there? Not really. Does anyone at my church outside of a few of the pastoral staff care about most of these topics or find them worth arguing about? Probably not.

So while it may be exciting to jump on the bandwagon du jour, I’m not sure it’s all that profitable, at least for me right now. There are a lot of other things I can write about and very positive ways to do so. It’s also more peaceful.

So, there are folks I’m unfollowing on Twitter. There are blogs I’m unsubscribing from. There are debates I’m just going to stay out of. And that’s OK.

It’s not that I’m getting less opinionated; I’ll just be sharing my opinions less, and hopefully in more meaningful ways and circumstances. It’s not that I’ll be less upset by injustice and misconduct by church leaders, but instead I’ll stop thinking that my blogging is doing more good for the situation than my praying would be.

Not having the ability to magically make peace for all of America’s evangelical theological battles, I’ll content myself with striving to blessedly make peace and demonstrate love in ways that are meaningful to the people around me. That, for me, is choosing the better part.

To those of you who have been hurt or offended by these posts of mine over the years, my sincere apologies. Let’s talk over coffee sometime soon. I’m buying.

And to those of you who do feel called to continue that sort of blogging, please continue. Go and shout from the rooftops. But also try, as much as it depends on you, to live at peace with all men. Give the benefit of the doubt. Quote accurately instead of selectively.

Loving and defending the innocent and helpless doesn’t mean you always have to be an ass to the oppressor.

That’s not me!

OK, I’ve heard stories before about people having their email addresses added to unsavory mailing lists by pranking friends or malicious enemies, but what about the times when someone is apparently unintentionally using your email address for their legitimate purposes? Such is the odd frustration I’ve been dealing with lately.

headache

I’ve had a Gmail account with a username in the format of firstname.lastname@gmail.com ever since Gmail was invite-only. (Remember those days?) It’s worked great for me, though eventually I’ve semi-retired it for email in favor of using Fastmail and an email address based on my personal domain. For the past six months, though, I’ve been getting a string of non-spam emails that appear to be intended for somebody else.

It started out innocuously enough, with a subscription to a mailing list of Cobb County, Georgia first responders. I requested an unsubscribe, and a real person wrote me back, a little confused why I was asking to be removed. I explained and was eventually removed from the list.

But then I started getting other emails. Over the past 6 months or so I’ve gotten the following:

  • Royal Caribbean cruise itineraries and payment receipts
  • Hudl.com notifications
  • Follow-up emails from car dealers saying “thanks for test driving, let’s talk!”
  • Survey requests

Then on Monday came the one that made me think about this a little more seriously: an email from LifeLock with the salutation “Dear LifeLock Wallet User:”.

Now, I’m just deleting these emails, but there’s nothing that would prevent me, were I malicious, from going to the websites in question, using the email address (which, remember, is my email address) and the Lost Password routine to set up a new password, and I’d have access to that person’s account.

Which is one level of bad if it’s your hudl.com account (which appears to be some sort of sports training website), but an entirely different level of bad if it’s your credit monitoring service.

What I really don’t understand is how this person continues to make this mistake, when s/he clearly isn’t getting the emails in question. (I have Google 2-factor authentication active on my account, and I track my Google logins closely, so I’m ruling out the thought that this person could be actually getting to those email messages.) If it were you, wouldn’t you start questioning why you weren’t receiving emails, and then eventually correct your mistake?

If this were, say, work email intended for another Chris Hubbs at my employer (such a person used to exist!), it’d be easy enough to look up that person, forward the email to their correct address, and let them know to clarify things with their contacts. But in this case I’ve got very little idea who the right recipient is!

Basically all I can do is say this: if you’re Chris Hubbard from Atlanta, you should be aware that chris.hubbs@gmail.com belongs to a guy in Iowa who would be happy to not keep getting your email. Or if you’re gonna keep sending it to me, at least have the decency to send me the cruise tickets and not just the receipts.

Which artist had the impact?

This interview with Rich Mullins’ producer Reed Arvin is months old now, but I thought of it again the other day and wanted to share one revelation in the interview that particularly impacted me.

[Interviewer:] When I was a kid I would just pour over the liner notes to each of Rich’s albums, and I was always surprised to see how few of the instruments he actually played on the recordings. Obviously, he played the hammered and lap dulcimer, but usually you were the one listed as playing piano and not him.

[Arvin:] Rich was incredibly soulful musically but he possessed a particular quality many singer-pianists share: he played all over the instrument, all the time. He was used to accompanying himself, you see. He would hammer out double bass notes even if there was a bass player and things like that. So, when you added other instruments, it didn’t quite mesh. Live, this didn’t make so much difference. But on record, it didn’t really work. Also, he had a very elastic sense of time. Making a record is just a different enterprise. But just to sit around the piano while he played and sang by himself, this was beautiful. And we did that sometimes, just for the pleasure of it.

Rich was the formative artist for me as a musician in my teenage years. I memorized his albums, studied liner notes, learned the piano parts note-for-note, played and sang his songs incessantly.

What somehow never occurred to me while reading the liner notes, that never really hit me until reading this interview, is that maybe I owe Reed Arvin a lot more for influencing my piano style than I owe Rich.

The songs and musical ideas were all Rich’s, so it’s not going to tarnish my view of him and his legacy, but it’s still a surprising thought.

A Startling Bit of Insight

I’ve owned an iPhone for 18 months now, but haven’t had a PIN in place to lock the device until yesterday. I’m gaining the ability to put work info on the phone, but to do so I have to have a PIN and an auto-lock on it. So, I set up a PIN and set it so that I’m required to re-enter the PIN after 15 minutes of inactivity.

What’s been striking to me so far (after just one day with the PIN in place) is how infrequently I have to enter the PIN. Most of the time when I pull my phone out to look at something, I’m still within the 15 minute window since last time I had it out.

I haven’t really evaluated yet whether this represents an unhealthy level of attachment / addiction, but it’s been a startling (and somewhat troubling) bit of insight.

Humility

There are days I foolishly think I’m fairly well-read and have thought through good chunks of doctrine and theology; and then there are the days where I’m reminded that I’m a rank amateur.

I’m thankful for the folks who so patiently share their wisdom and experience. You know who you are.

In which I gripe about my home media center travails

You regular readers (all three of you) know that this blog bounces back and forth between theology and nerd stuff with frightening regularity. This is going to be a nerdy post. You have been warned.

Nearly 5 years ago we got rid of our Dish Network satellite TV service and just went to watching what we could get over the air. We’ve evolved the setup slightly over the last 5 years, primarily by adding Netflix as a video source (our kids were 4, 3, and newborn back then, and have slightly more demands as 9, 8, and 5 now) and by adding a 27″ iMac in our living room that gets used as a video-watching device on a regular basis.

The Basic Setup

Basement Family Room: Big LCD TV. HTPC running Windows 7. HDHomeRun networked tuner (still the 5-year-old original version) hooked up to it. 5 TB of hard drive space in that PC for storing recorded TV and other video. Running Plex Media Server to serve files to the rest of the house. Using Windows Media Center to record TV shows and playback video down there. Works like a charm. That’s the most stable, reliable bit of the system.

My bedroom: Ancient Mac Mini running some old version of OS X hooked up to a 20″ monitor, running an older version of Plex’s Mac desktop app. Great for watching recorded TV shows. Not so great for everything else; the Plex Netflix plugin broke months ago, so if we want to watch Netflix most of the time we have to get up and open a browser and watch it that way. The Plex HDHomeRun plugin broke years ago, so if we want to watch live TV we open up the HDHomeRun app and play the video through VLC. Not integrated very well, but it works.

Living room: 27″ iMac running OS X Mavericks. Here’s where the real frustration begins. Playback of HDHomeRun live video streams through VLC is broken in Mavericks. It’s a reported issue between VLC and Mavericks that hasn’t gotten fixed yet. I can get HDHomeRun to work acceptably through the older Plex app if I manually tune the HDHomeRun device first and then kick up Plex to play the video stream.

However, the old Plex app is now causing serious lockups on the iMac when I ping Plex Media Server to watch recorded shows. As in the only way to recover is to do a hard reboot on the iMac. The new version of Plex’s app (Plex Home Theater, they call it) seems to work OK. Which is great, however, as far as I can tell there’s no good way to view the HDHomeRun video in Plex Home Theater. Grrrr.

So at the moment it would appear that for the iMac I’m going to need to juggle multiple versions of the Plex app depending on what I want to watch. Annoying.

At least I’m saving money

When I remember that we were previously spending something like $60/month on satellite, and now we’re paying $8/mo for Netflix, we’ve been saving around $600 a year for 5 years… maybe we should invest a little bit of that savings on improving the infrastructure. (Do you think my wife will buy that argument? Heh.) But what should I do to improve things?

Where do I go from here?

The home media server solution is working really well, and Windows 7 recording the TV shows is reliable, pretty much seamless. Gonna keep it going as long as I can.

I know the HDHomeRun hardware has been upgraded 3 or 4 times since I bought my original device. Don’t know if I’d get any significant improvements from buying a new one, but it’s hard to be motivated to drop $100 on a new one when the old one still works so well.

I think in the living room I’ve basically locked myself into the iMac solution since we don’t have the room for (or the desire for) a big real TV in the living room. If we move to a new house in the next year or two, we’ll re-evaluate.

Back in our bedroom I think the solution that would get us closest is to replace the Mac Mini and monitor with a real TV and some version of set-top box – maybe a Roku or the new Amazon FireTv. FireTV is new, but it looks like it would get us Netflix, Amazon Video, ESPN video, and even integrate with Plex. About the only thing it wouldn’t support is the HDHomeRun integration; but I suppose I could always split off a signal from the antenna in the attic and run a TV signal down to the TV and use its tuners natively.

That’s all great, but…

While a nerd can dream, in reality we’ll likely be trying to sell our current house and buy a larger one (3 daughters and only one upstairs bathroom!) in the next year or two. So in reality I suppose we’ll hang on with what we’ve got until we make a move, and then re-assess the entire setup at that point.

A little bit of perspective

Just so I don’t sound like a totally self-absorbed idiot for the entire post, let me note that I remember moving from a black-and-white TV to our first color TV back when I was a kid, and in going to a video rental store for the first time when you had to choose between VHS and Betamax versions of the videos. Compared to those days… I guess our expectations have gone up a bit in 30 years.

We need more neighbors

There’s been a lot of virtual ink spilled in the Christian blogosphere on the gay marriage topic the past couple of weeks after the World Vision U-turn. One of the benefits of not saying anything about it myself is that eventually someone comes along who says things a lot better than I would. Today that person is Jen Hatmaker. (All the emphasis in the quotes below is hers.)

First, she says,

…the reason I’ve always held this conviction [about where she stands on homosexuality] close, inviting only my real friends and family and community in, is because I am loathe to be a pawn in a hateful public war. I refuse to be a point in some win column, used for my influence and lumped into ancillary groupthink I don’t share. I’ve said before that this conversation best belongs in true relationships, around dinner tables, over coffee, in real life, and I still believe that.

And yet for the sake of those following her as a leader, she is willing to lay her cards on the table:

I want you to know that I land on the side of traditional marriage as God’s first and clear design. I believe God’s original creation is how we were crafted to thrive: in marriage, in family, and in community, which has borne out for millennia in Scripture, interpretation, practice, and society (within and without the church).

But wait, she’s not done, and her follow-up point is important.

However, I remain disturbed and pierced at how many Christians have handled the gay community publicly. It is a source of extreme grief. We may share theology, but the application of that truth remains a disconnecting point. While Scripture does command us to “speak the truth in love” (and surely Facebook is the dead worst place to exercise that practice), that is not the end of our biblical responsibility.

She then recounts Jesus’ summing up all the law and the prophets as “love God and love your neighbor”. Powerful stuff. And the man wanted to know “who is my neighbor”? What’s my out? And Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan.

Here’s Jen’s words again:

As I lay in bed, it was instantly and perfectly clear that the gay community has been spiritually beaten, stripped of dignity, robbed of humanity, and left for dead by much of the church. You need only look at the suicide rates, prevalence of self-harm, and the devastating pleas from ostracized gay people and those who love them to see what has plainly transpired.

Laying next to them, bloodied and bruised, are believers whose theology affirms homosexuality and allows them to stand alongside their gay friends. (Again, you don’t have to agree with this, but there are tens of thousands of thinking, studied people who hold this conviction.) The spiritual gutting of these brothers and sisters is nothing short of shameful. The mockery and dismissal and vitriol leveled at these folks is disgraceful.

Also wounded on the side of the road are Christians who sincerely love God and people and believe homosexuality is a sin, but they’ve been lumped in with the Big Loud Mean Voices unfairly. Painted as hateful intolerants, they are actually kind and loving and are simply trying to be faithful. The paintbrush is too wide, the indictments unfounded.

And then she brings it home:

We don’t get to abandon the theology of love toward people; the end does not justify the means. That is not Christ-like and it is certainly not biblical. As a faith community, it is time we relearn what “speaking the truth in love” means. Something that actually feels like love is a start. If the beginning and end of love is simply pointing out sin, then we are doomed.

I am convinced we need no more soldiers in this war.

We need more neighbors.

Thanks, Jen, for a powerful word.

Star Wars music on an amazing pipe organ

OK, this is pretty great. Organist Jelani Eddington performs a suite from the Star Wars soundtrack on a massive pipe organ. The organ was built by Wurlitzer in 1927 for a theater in Omaha, NE, and after restoration has been installed at a museum in the suburbs of Chicago.

A little more about the organ:

Mounted on the wall to the left are the 32′ Diaphone pipes, and to the right are the 32′ Bombarde pipes. A 32-note set of Deagan Tower Bells, the largest of which weighs 426 lb., hang on each side of the room. They are activated by huge solenoids from their own console, the organ console, a roll player, and even the doorbell button. To the rear of the room, the ‘Ethereal’ pipe chamber in the attic echoes softly from the skylight area, while the brass ‘Trumpet Imperial’ and copper ‘Bugle Battaglia’ speak with great authority from the back wall.

The grand piano connected to the pipe organ is a 9′ Knabe concert grand with an Ampico ‘A’ reproducing player mechanism. To the right of the console is a rare Deagan Piano-Vibraharp, which can be played by its own keyboard or from the organ console. Toward the rear of the room is a Spanish art case Steinway model A.R. Duo-Art reproducing piano, veneered in walnut with boxwood, pear and ebony inlay. A remote Duo-Art Concertola roll changer has been adapted to play Ampico rolls on the Knabe, or Duo-Art rolls on the Steinway, at the touch of a button on its control panel.

Crazy. Anyhow, this video itself is impressive: