The Beginning of Dementia Isn’t the End of Grace

How the church can come to the aid of sufferers and their loved ones.

In the era of modern medicine, a great many human afflictions can be treated, if not cured outright. Medicines easily defeat diseases that once would have killed us, while prosthetics and pain-relief drugs help us adapt to disabling symptoms and incurable illnesses. Dementia, unfortunately, remains neither curable nor especially treatable—and it is only getting more common as our population ages.

Dementia is especially fearsome in a culture like ours, one that treats autonomy as essential to human flourishing. Losing the ability to think and make rational decisions is always a profound loss, but it is especially terrifying for people who value independence so highly. Thankfully, Finding Grace in the Face of Dementia by physician John Dunlop is an excellent companion in thinking through the questions that dementia raises.

The first half of the book covers some basic theological precepts about sin, illness, and the body, as well as medical and scientific details about dementia. Dunlop then describes the daily experience of those who suffer from dementia and the people who care for them. Plenty of books and resources contain this sort of information, but this book remains immensely useful for anyone—pastors, family members, or even people in the early stages of dementia themselves—seeking basic facts about the disease and subjects like in-home care or nursing homes. Having spent many years caring for demented people at every possible stage, Dunlop helps readers step into the non-slip socks of a person with dementia and understand his or her frustrations and sorrows.

For the rest of the book, Dunlop asks whether we can find any grace in dementia. To do this, he first confronts the assumption that makes people …

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Should Christians Keep Advising a President They Disagree With?

Leaders inside and outside Trump’s inner faith circle weigh in.

With each controversial decision or remark President Donald Trump makes, his evangelical advisers come up against mounting pressure to resign and cut their ties.

“This is why @rev_rodriguez and I have refused to leave the faith advisory council,” Tony Suarez, vice president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC) tweeted Tuesday, following the White House decision to phase out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program over the next six months.

While Trump pledged to end DACA during his campaign, Suarez and NHCLC president Samuel Rodriguez have spent months lobbying to protect it for the sake of family unity, meeting with the President to defend their case as recently as last week. In their eyes, access to the chief executive—and the opportunity to influence him on political matters important to the church—is worth it, even if the decision doesn’t turn out their way.

For the two dozen or so evangelical leaders who signed on to advise Trump in the campaign and have gone on to enjoy an open invitation to visit him at the White House, what should they do when their convictions as Christians counter what the President says? (This scenario came up as many believers challenged Trump’s “two sides” approach to Charlottesville last month.)

Here’s what several advisers themselves have said about why they remain involved—some evoking the Old Testament prophets speaking before kings as well as Jesus himself dining with tax collectors—and what fellow Christian leaders think about the line between when to offer counsel and when to step away.

Should Christians keep advising a President they disagree with? Responses arranged from “yes” …

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God, Guns, and Oil

A Los Angeles church seeks the good of its neighborhood by confronting crime and environmental distress.

One of the first things that Richard Parks learned after moving into South Central Los Angeles is that Bible studies and liquor stores don’t mix.

In 1992, Parks and a few friends moved to LA following the riots sparked by the acquittals in the Rodney King trial. It was an act of faith, inspired by Parks’s experience as a summer intern with John Perkins and the Voice of Calvary Ministries in Mississippi. The friends found a pair of rental houses just off Jefferson Boulevard in the Exposition Park neighborhood and set up a tutoring program at a storefront around the corner.

There was just one problem.

Their new home was not far from Lucky Liquors, a haven for crime in the neighborhood. The store served cheap beer and sold cups full of ice with their liquor, encouraging customers to hang around outside the store and drink, according to city zoning department complaints. Prostitutes and drugs dealers often hung around the store as well, and the street nearby was littered with broken bottles and other trash.

Then there was the violence. In their first year in LA, Parks says, there was one homicide at the store and more shootings than they could count.

“We quickly learned that gunfire was a call to hit the floor and pray,” he said.

One night as the bullets smashed their walls, the friends prayed the Lord’s Prayer—“Your kingdom come, your will be done.” Afterward, Parks was furious.

He’d grown up in a quiet suburb, where the kind of chaos he saw on a daily basis in his South LA neighborhood would never have been tolerated. So why was it tolerated in his new community?

The next morning, he and his friends set out to answer that question—and to shut down Lucky Liquors as a public …

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Do They Know It’s Labor Sunday?

The century-old observance is scarcely observed, but its concerns remain current.

Unless you are part of the United Church of Christ, you likely do not know that Labor Sunday is coming up September 6, 2009. I’ve never encountered this observance in a lifetime of attending assorted denominational and non-denominational churches. The UCC website suggests ways to bring the concerns of workers before the congregation, but Web searches on “Labor Sunday” plus the names of other denominations bring up only very old documents like a 1907 Assembly Herald (Presbyterian) and a 1911 Herald of Gospel Liberty (General Convention of the Christian Church). The latter declared, “This day stands for the united action of the churches in the field of industrial life, a fact of supreme importance in the history of religion. … And yet how many preachers, and how many church members are familiar with the ‘Social Creed of the Churches,’ and its requirements[?]”

Though Labor Sunday precedes Labor Day on the calendar, Labor Day is the older holiday. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, either Peter J. McGuire, cofounder of the American Federation of Labor, or Matthew Maguire, secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York, proposed the holiday in the early 1880s. In the middle of that decade, municipalities across the country declared a “workingman’s holiday” on the first Monday of September. Congress recognized the date in 1894. Typical celebrations included a parade, intended to demonstrate “the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations,” speeches, and amusements for workers and their families.

Churches organized alongside labor interests in the first decade of the twentieth century.

In 1907, the (Northern) Presbyterian Department of …

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A Prayer and Confession of the Church in America During These Days

A prayer of Daniel as a model of repentance.

As I write this, I am reflecting on what took place two weeks ago in Charlottesville, Virginia. My heart breaks over the division, hatred, and strife that we face in this country over the issue of race. I freely confess that I’m no expert or wise sage who can speak profound thoughts about this situation. Others like Ed Stetzer and Karen Swanson and Wendy Martin have spoken more eloquently about the politics and institutional issues at play, calling for change.

I’m simply a Christian who cannot help reacting to such tragedy.

The history of humankind is replete with stories of one group seeking to dominate another. As far back as we have historical record, there is evidence that humans have failed to treat one another with dignity. Any student of the Ancient Near East historical record will recall the constantly shifting boundaries as one empire after another swept through the lands, conquering and dominating everyone in their path. Our more recent world history is no different: one nation colonialized another, often taking those people as slaves, dictators leading genocides, human trafficking…

Why do humans seem so driven to grasp for power by pushing others down?

Even the apostles struggled with this urge. “Jesus asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the road?’ But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest” (Mark 9:33-34). How many times, I wonder, did Jesus catch them arguing about who would be the greatest?

And are we any better today?

How many church congregational meetings have I sat through, listening to parishioners fight over who gets to have things their way?

How many hours of speech full of judgments, racism, sexism, and classism have …

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God Hears Your Back-to-School Prayers

A new school year brings more challenges and opportunities for Christians in education.

The sight of the school supplies section is enough to cue a combination of excitement and anxiety for kids, parents, and teachers counting down to the first day of school.

In addition to the practical preparation for another school year, we find ourselves back in the ongoing debates and pressure surrounding education in America.

Andrea Ramirez, executive director of the Faith and Education Coalition for the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Coalition, sat down in August with author and speaker Bianca Olthoff to talk about our role as Christians in education—including how to handle back-to-school stress and divides between public, private, and homeschool parents.

In honor of this weekend’s Education Sunday, where churches across the country will pray for their students and their local schools, we are sharing some highlights from their conversation.

You can watch the whole thing from CT Women’s Facebook page.

On how can parents incorporate God into preparation:

Ramirez: In the few weeks before school, there is just this time of dedication. I remember my parents explaining to me, “God has called you to do incredible things, and right now, what he called you to do is do well in school. He wants to open up your mind, to prepare you, equip you for the assignments he has for you, so how you spend your time at school—it’s worship… it’s an opportunity to invite the Lord into how you spend that time.”

There was this discipleship that happened. Instead of having a negative view about taking a test or taking notes, I felt like, “Wow, the Lord blessed my note-taking!” What really clicked for me was during my college years, an English professor at Dallas Baptist University …

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Are We Missing the Point of Spiritual Disciplines?

The goal isn’t merely getting closer to God, but making a difference in everyday life.

One crisp fall morning, I watched my son’s first-grade soccer team attempt to play soccer. Many of his teammates had not played the game before that season. Even a few weeks in, the young athletes were struggling.

While watching, I thought back to their practice earlier in the week and found myself intrigued. During practice, they had executed drills without any problems. They had dribbled, taken shots, and even passed the ball to one another. They looked like they could play soccer—but their practice did not translate into the ability to play a real, live game.

I began to wonder: Why was there such a disconnect between the practice and the game? Were their practices really preparing them to play the game of soccer?

Then I began to think of our churches and ask similar questions. Like my son’s soccer team, don’t we sometimes experience a disconnect between real life and what we “practice” at church? Are Sunday school classes, small groups, and spiritual disciplines the equivalent of ineffectual soccer drills? Perhaps, even when Sunday school classes are full, small groups well attended, and spiritual disciplines regularly practiced, these practices are not helping us know how to love God and our neighbors in the nitty-gritty of real life.

Vertical and Horizontal

These are the kinds of questions Kyle David Bennett asks in Practices of Love: Spiritual Disciplines for the Life of the World. Bennett, a professor of philosophy and director of The Spirituality and Leadership Institute for Young Leaders at Caldwell University, is eager to show believers what it looks like to follow Jesus on the ground. Bennett believes that spiritual disciplines are supposed to help us as we seek to follow Jesus, …

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When Jesus Doesn’t Calm the Storm

As I faced the Houston floods, I found myself asking questions about God’s providence.

As a missionary kid growing up in Guatemala, I survived the destructive effects of a massive earthquake and a major military coup. As an adult now living in Houston, I have survived the destructive effects of a hurricane. But I don’t think I’ve coped with it very well.

Hurricane Harvey had already been at work for three noahic days when my wife, Phaedra, asked me to check on the condition of the streets so that we could make an informed decision: pack our bags or hunker down. We have a five-year-old daughter and a four-month-old son; we couldn’t afford to make a poor decision.

I raced down my street on a mountain bike in the town of Pecan Grove, just southwest of Houston, as sheets of rain lashed at my marine-blue jacket. At times, the water rose to my knees and soaked my shorts. My back brake pad suddenly fell off, leaving me with only my front brake to navigate the sloshing waters.

As I turned the corner onto Plantation Drive—the street that would usually take us out of the neighborhood—what I saw startled me: a small black sedan, like a child’s toy in the bathtub, bobbing up and down on the swollen waters that blocked our way out to safety. Approaching me were three men pulling at a canoe with ropes. In it sat two women, one of them holding a dog cage, gaping at the muddy brown waters that steadily rose around them.

By that time, nearly a trillion gallons of water had fallen over Houston and more were coming.

After staring at the canoe, I turned my bike around and bolted for home. I am 45, but I felt like 17—shot through with adrenaline. I knew there was one exit on the opposite side of our neighborhood that remained untouched by the floods, and I was determined to make it through …

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Iceland Capital’s Only Baptist Pastor Doesn’t Want Down Syndrome Eliminated

Pro-life minority faces major challenge in ‘most godless country’ in Europe.

My family has spent a lot of time at Landspítali, the major hospital in the capital of Iceland.

For over a year, our five-year-old son has been undergoing chemotherapy for leukemia. Our youngest son, born this April, also spent two months at the hospital as doctors ran tests on him, finding a genetic mutation in his X chromosome that only two other people in the world have been diagnosed with.

Every day, as I walked into the intensive care unit at the hospital, I looked over a wall of pictures of young children and teenagers holding up photos of themselves as premature babies. They had been born after as little as 21 or 22 weeks of pregnancy. It was a monument to the lives that were saved.

Meanwhile, the cultural conversation in the rest of Iceland seemed so distant from what I saw in the hospital. There were talks of new legislation pushing to make abortion available as late as the 22nd week of pregnancy. And this month, the issue of abortion in Iceland took the internet by storm, with a CBS News report on how the country (population 340,000) is on the verge of eliminating Down syndrome.

What sounded like an impressive medical achievement was quickly revealed to be a spin on our heartbreaking reality. Only two to three children a year are born with Down syndrome since nearly 100 percent of mothers whose tests show a high likelihood of the condition end up choosing abortion.

Those of us who value life in the womb see Iceland is not eliminating Down syndrome, but terminating babies who have it (or could have it) before they are even born.

The Icelandic media, taking up the CBS story, have even shifted to use new language around abortion. They use a term suggested by a government think tank—Þungunarrof, which …

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A Humble Political Influencer Gets His Crowns in Heaven

At least, that’s what I expect for the late Michael Cromartie.

Michael Cromartie, who passed away earlier today, was one of the most life-affirming people I ever met.

He had a radiant personality, deep and winsome faith, endless energy, and tremendous generosity of spirit. He touched and brightened countless lives during his earthly pilgrimage, mine very much among them.

I first met Mike in 1985, when we started to work together at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. He has been a colleague for many of the intervening years and a close friend for all of them.

Mike was a wise counselor, a great raconteur, and a friend of just about everyone he met. He was also one of the most important figures in modern American Christianity. As director of the Faith Angle Forum, which he started in 1999, he worked to strengthen reporting and commentary on how religious believers, religious convictions, and religiously grounded moral arguments affect American politics and public life.

Through his work there, including as moderator and host of his two-and-a-half day retreats with scholars, theologians, and writers, Mike introduced a generation of journalists to the positive role faith can play in the life of our country. He enriched the public dialogue and helped shape American culture.

In addition to that, and in many respects more important than that, Mike enriched the lives of those who became part of his community with his kindness, his genuine interest in others, his light touch, and his joie de vivre. This was obvious based on the outpouring of affection as his health worsened. This was a man who left a deep imprint on people’s hearts and souls.

When I met with Mike soon after he learned his cancer had spread and was terminal, we talked about many things, including his own feelings about what lay …

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