Sunday, June 06, 2021

The unknowability of God, and God's character

It's all about character.

Back when I taught teen Sunday school, at one point I used coins as an illustration. It's only really necessary to have two coins for the illustration: pennies and quarters are useful since the images on them are more readily recognized. 

If I hold up a penny, ask someone to look closely at the image, then ask "Who is that?", the answer comes back: Abraham Lincoln. If I do the same with a quarter, the answer comes back: George Washington. And with decent likenesses, we can answer questions from looking at them. "Who had a beard: Washington or Lincoln?" We can see that it's Lincoln. "One of them had a wig with a long strand of hair in back. Which one?" We can see that it's Washington.  

And then: I place the quarter on my thumb, flip the coin so that it spins in the air many times before I catch it, slap it face-down on my other arm in traditional coin-toss fashion, and with the coin still covered I ask one question: "Is George Washington dizzy?"

At which point they laugh but they get the point. You can tell a lot from an image. The better the image, the more you can tell. But the image is separate from the original. We could use the same quarter in a coin-toss all day, and it would never make George Washington dizzy. 

The word "character" is originally a Greek word, used in engraving and in minting coins which were made by stamping an impression. In this sense, "character" is used in a famous passage in the New Testament, discussing Jesus' relationship to God: "Who being a reflection of his glory and an impression of his substance" -- or in the words of a more familiar translation, "Who being the brightness of his glory and the express image of his person ..." (Hebrews 1:3). 

If you have ever spoken to someone who is not used to the ideas of Christianity, sooner or later we are called to explain what we mean about Jesus and God. "Whoever has seen me has seen the Father," Jesus told his disciples. And yet when Jesus died on the cross, God did not cease to exist. Much like, when I tossed the coin, George Washington was not dizzy. The analogy is imperfect but it makes its point.

We can look at the image and learn about things unseen. It is often the purpose of an image: to make known or make present things that are not seen. The better the image, the more clearly we see what we could not otherwise see. Jesus was born in a certain time and place in human history; there was a time before he existed. Much like the coins were minted long after the time of the persons represented. Yet it is a key part of Jesus' essence: whoever has seen him has seen the Father. 

That is my two cents' worth for the day.

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Prophecy and the Spiritual Relevance of the Promised Future

[On the topic of prophecies of the future] In fact, if it weren't spiritually relevant in some way to the time period before the fulfillment, there would be no point in God revealing it. -- St Aron of the neighboring blog Undivided Looking

On Aron's blog recently, he touched on a question that I had not given thought: Why does God give us prophecy? I had considered what I saw in Scripture when there were accounts of previous prophecies being fulfilled: that people might (or might not) recognize a prophecy as it was fulfilled; that people might (or might not) consider God faithful as he kept his promises. Those things are true enough, and either look backward at fulfilled prophecy, or look to the present to see if any signs are occurring at the time. But Aron's comment added more depth to that: the idea that God likely intends some spiritual benefit to us in the meantime. My thoughts turned to how very likely that is, and what spiritual benefits may come:

  • Hope - The expectation of justice and peace can sustain hope
  • Preparedness for adversity - Physical preparation leads us to to be ready with prudent reserves of earthly supplies; spiritual preparation may lead us to treasure Christ in our hearts, or to keep our treasures in heaven, and be mentally prepared for both physical and spiritual hardship
  • Peace - The recognition of God's plans can bring peace to our hearts that insulates us against the chaos in the world
  • Confidence - Trust in God's promises can bring us boldness and a willingness to act even when things seem bleak
  • Faith - Recognizing God's providence, God's compassion, God's mercy can empower us to see the future more calmly and wisely
  • Joy - A foretaste of the feast to come can bring us a moment of joy now as a down payment on the joy of the future

For the promised future: Thanks be to God!

Sunday, May 23, 2021

"Give your church, Lord, to see days of peace and unity"

On Pentecost each year, the churches to which I belong usually sing a particular hymn with a prayer that calls for the peace and unity of the church. In practice, unity comes from having one leader. I believe that the only possible unity of the church comes from recognizing one leader: Christ. And yet Christ's presence is not a physical, visible, tangible presence. The leadership vacuum is variously filled in ways that create either separation (you go your way and we'll go ours) or turf wars where one group believes that others owe them allegiance. It is easy to look at teachings that divide us. Is it the teachings, or is it the attitude? If each group believes it is infallible or inerrant, it is closed not only to correction but also to other understandings. By the way, mention of infallible or inerrant may have the surface appearance that it is meant to discuss Rome or fundamentalists, but it is not intended that way; my experience is that all groups believe that their distinctive teachings are beyond dispute. 

It is human nature to believe we are right, to trust our own thoughts even when we have reason to double-check them. Whenever we are proved to have been wrong, it is easy to dismiss that as a mistake, as a product of a temporary and unusual situation -- instead of part of the human condition where it is all too common to be missing important information or to be swayed to an error in judgment.

And so this year I would add to the prayer: 

Give your church, Lord to see days of true humility
Guide us then to seek you Lord, unity within  your fold.
Lord have mercy!

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Some areas where our culture can grow: Faith, hope, and love

In Christian values, the greatest virtues are faith, hope, and love; the greatest of these is love. These are in stark contrast to the fear, apocalyptic expectations, and hatred that have seeped into the culture. I will admit that I have underestimated the value of faith, hope, and love many times. There is a corner of my mind that is skeptical of them as virtues compared to (say) honesty or courage. Yet people can have honesty and courage while doing things without love and without hope. Honesty and courage are virtues that can be shared by hero and villain alike. And so faith, hope, and love are the type of virtue that will give us the better direction than we would have otherwise.

"Faith" as a virtue was often a relationship-word, something similar to trust. Without faith or trust in someone or something, what remains is a free-for-all, a street brawl, a power struggle. There is no peace without faith in something. It remains to be seen if faith in each other is possible without shared values. Is our shared humanity enough to help our culture? Possibly, if we insist that we do in fact share humanity, and cease dehumanizing each other.

Hope is important as an antidote to despair. Actions of despair, "desperate" actions, have a reputation as showing bad thought, being rash and destructive. Despair prevents us from thinking clearly, prevents us from seeing solutions or from working toward them. Despair is the voice of self-sabotage; hope is the prerequisite for a solution or a reconciliation. Hope can build on the observation that life keeps trying to find a way forward, that people continue working to solve problems, that few people genuinely wish harm on their neighbor. Hope can be a thoughtful hope, considering how many imagined catastrophes have never come to pass, or have fizzled before they materialized.Those who hope in the Lord hope still more.

Taking a stand for the virtue of "love" seems awkward or embarrassing; it's easier to discuss "kindness" (which is also lacking far too often). And "love" can have unintended overtones; it may be helpful to think of it, at the most modest level, as a vested interest in the well-being of another. We do have a vested interest in each others' well-being. There can be more to love than that, but I do not see how there can be less. 

There was a popular commentator who would often say that he chose hope: that giving up is easy, and that hope was a conscious choice (or words to that effect). Let me make a conscious choice for hope.

Sunday, May 09, 2021

Unexpected moments

I know for a fact that this photo is not altered because I took it myself.

That's my chopping block as the background, though I no longer remember what I chopped before the bell pepper that left the little scrap. (I'd considered using the photo for an April 1 post some year when April 1 is suitably far from Holy Week, with a premise that it was an apparition of the smiley-face emoji.)

Lately I have been struggling with maintaining Christian hope toward the future while looking at the amount of dark in the world. And, sure, the smiley-pepper is not exactly a game-changer. But it is the kind of thing I can easily miss if I am focusing only on "worthier" things. 

Fellowship is built one day at a time. Consensus is built one conversation at a time. There is much darkness; perseverance is a virtue well-suited to dark times. And in the middle of dark times, sometimes we need to come up for air. Even that can be a moment of shared humanity.

Sunday, May 02, 2021

An Ecclesiastes kind of day

Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.
What profit has a man of all his labor which he takes under the sun?
One generation passes away, and another generation comes: but the earth abides forever.
The sun also rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to his place where he arose. (Ecclesiastes 1:1-4)

Some days my efforts here "under the sun" seem more empty than others. I once heard the human condition referred to -- not so eloquently as above -- as "arranging deck chairs on the Titanic." Even on the Titanic, there were a few stolen moments of humanness, of compassion and kindness. To moments of kindness!

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Good Shepherd Sunday: Calm waters and good news

As always on Good Shepherd Sunday, the readings and sermon focused on the Lord as our Shepherd who cares for us, who holds back the wolves of the world on behalf of the sheep. This morning's sermon had an unusual twist toward the end: things that a good sheep should do. My thoughts went in a different direction than the minister's, though that was an interesting aspect to consider. 

What does a good sheep do? It doesn't try to fight the wolves on its own without backup. It doesn't go far away from the shepherd. It listens for that voice calling back. It spends time belonging to the sheep. It enjoys the green pasture and the calm water. And as much as it should do these right things, it can realize that not all depends on one sheep alone. 

What if we find ourselves in a place where we are the shepherd to someone else? We learn their names. We provide for their needs -- including safety, security, and belonging. Otherwise why should they listen to our voice? The world has something of a scorched-earth feel right now. I think there is a place for a sanctuary: Oasis evangelism. 

Sunday, April 18, 2021

We cannot serve both God and _____

"No one can serve two masters." -- Jesus

Some years ago in the workplace, for a time it was not clear who was my immediate supervisor. When someone comes and tells you to do something, do they have the right? If you're too busy to take two assignments, who has to wait? Who has first claim on the time? The answer matters.

Jesus originally made the point that no one can serve both God and money. Still, I imagine he would want us to apply it more broadly; money might be a common competitor but it's hardly the only one. No one can serve two masters effectively, God and _____ (anything else). So what are other things that claim our allegiance? No on can serve both ...

God and ego is another way to complete that thought.
God and control.
God and partisanship.
God and ... something not as important, really.

"Seek first the kingdom of God ... all these things will be added."

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Times when human evil was reversed by God's grace

There are times when we look at certain problems in the world -- there is no shortage of them -- and it looks like evil winning. I find it encouraging to look at times when evil looked like it won, but God reversed it so that even the evil ended up serving the good. Here are a few times:

  1. Human evil: Joseph's brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt.
    Reversed: God uses Joseph's position to save his brothers and many others.

  2. Human evil: Caiaphas and Judas, among others, conspire to have Jesus executed on false charges. As Caiaphas said, "It is better that one man should die for the people than that the whole nation should perish." So an innocent man was brutally executed: crucified, died, and buried.
    Reversed: God raised Jesus from the dead, giving hope first to his own nation, and then to all nations.

  3. Human evil: Saul of Tarsus travels the far and wide to destroy the good news, having secured authorization to arrest people for faith in Jesus.
    Reversed: God explains it to him that he's on the wrong side, and so he (now known as Paul) travels far and wide to praise God and extend the good news.

  4. Human evil: Eventually Paul he falls prey to those who think as he once did, and is arrested for his faith in Jesus.
    Reversed: Paul uses his time in prison to write some of his more famous letters, and uses even his court appearances to show his faith.

In some ways it is unfair to discuss Joseph or Paul alongside Jesus; they cannot be held to the same standard. Yet at no time did a mere mortal have his outcome depend on his own action. Still, their human faithfulness -- the perseverance in hope, and in confidence in God the Father -- was vindicated, and God's light was more visible because of their faith.

Sunday, April 04, 2021

God has given faith by raising Christ from the dead

God has given moral guidance throughout the ages. God has shown his glory in all of creation. But at times this seems unrelated to me and to my life. Does my life matter at all, or is it "Meaningless, meaningless!" as someone wiser than me has said? But one wiser than Solomon has said differently. There is forgiveness both for me and for those who have wronged me. There is healing and peace. There is reconciliation and, through it, fellowship. There is hope in the face of death because God does not abandon us in the grave. God has raised Jesus from the dead. 

Sometimes in my mind, I imagine my eventual memorial service. Did Jesus do the same? His was a special case: only a few short days had passed since his death and burial; the friends and disciples who had traveled with him to Jerusalem were still in town. After his resurrection, Jesus sought his friends and disciples, and renewed his fellowship with them. There were reconciliations to work through, absent friends to seek. But mostly a roll-back of the bad news of death, with the almost-unimaginable good news of resurrection. When it's all of us, it will probably be easier to imagine. Until then, my life now is changed by the hope that it brings. 

Or as Dr Mariottini put it so well on his blog this morning

The experience of the disciples of Jesus following his death upon the cross is similar to the experience of every man and woman today. On Calvary, the only message that the hearts of the disciples could read was: "Christ was defeated." But, on the first day of the week, the day when Jesus came out of the grave, the true happy message of the Gospel came through: "Christ defeated death."

Christ is risen!

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Palm Sunday does not last - so why celebrate it?

On Palm Sunday we celebrate Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem. We may even participate in the celebration of those crowds by bringing palm branches to celebrate in the same way that they did. And the sermons of the week generally focus on how fickle the crowds, how clueless the crowds, how we are no different ourselves. True enough, but consider this:

We were celebrating the right person at the wrong time. We were celebrating the triumph we hoped for -- which seemed like the world to us -- without recognizing how small it was in scope compared to the real one. God has better planned than we have imagined; that does not make it wrong to celebrate. It's a foretaste of the feast to come. Then we did it blindly, destined to be confused and disappointed. Now we do it knowingly. If we celebrated a small triumph, unknowing, how much more should we celebrate a greater triumph. If that first celebration faded, the next one will continue. It is right to celebrate. It is advent all over again, in the sense of celebrating the one who is coming.

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Why I can find grudges appealing (not advocating them, but being honest about them)

Since Lent is the season of repentance, I'll own one of my struggles: I know how to carry a grudge. As I try to put down certain grudges, I am learning an uncomfortable thing: I am carrying certain grudges because I don't want to let go of them. In some cases there was irreparable harm done to someone, whether myself or others close to me. Letting go of that kind of grudge seems like letting go of the fact that the "bad guys" got away with it. Isn't it easier to forgive the villain if the villain has been caught and humbled? I do not have the same reaction to a villain who is successfully masquerading as an angel of light. 

If the reader has no comparable experiences, consider the famous grudge pursued by the movie character Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride. He watched someone kill his father; he was too little to do anything about it. His grudge was based on the certainty that his father was worth avenging, that killing his father was wrong, that wrong deserved to be challenged and stopped. In some of the grudges I struggle with, I have not yet found how to let go of the grudge while holding onto the certainty that wrong deserves to be challenged and stopped.

Not all of my grudges are about irreparable harm. I also find it hard to release a grudge if I expect the wrong will happen again, or if the wrong was intentional, for example if there was spite involved.

In different ways, the same point comes up: some grudges feel like unfinished business: like the work that comes before forgiveness is not complete. For now, the best I have found is to notice the common threads, and give voice to what needs saying. I'll stick with the fictional example and name what is true for the people involved: Inigo's father did not deserve to die; he deserved better. The person who killed him did wrong, deserved to be ashamed of his actions, and deserved to be held accountable for his actions. I wonder, how much is that groundwork part of the distinction between being forgiven and getting away with it. What of Inigo; did he deserve the obligation of righting that wrong? Is it a bad or good thing to have that obligation?

Prayer: Lord, grant me discernment to forgive truly, to speak honestly, to set aside any mere resentment or bitterness, and to do unto others as I would have them do toward me.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

The Value of Meditation

"Consider the lilies of the field." -- Jesus

"Whatever is good ... think on these things." -- St Paul

Passion flower: original in Inkscape, 2021.
It is roughly a year ago now that the pandemic gained enough traction to affect daily life. I still remember shortages of all kinds of food, shortages of tissues and toilet paper, even a week or two where the store had no milk -- until people figured that it made no sense to panic-buy something so perishable. Much of what happened at this time last year was driven by fear or its marathon-running cousin anxiety.

I found it was not the scarcity that made the days seem bleak so much as the long-running anxiety and confinement. I find not just wisdom but also healing in Jesus' instruction to consider the lilies of the field. The flower in the nearby drawing is called a passionflower or a maypop. As a rookie artist, this is the first time I have been able to do justice to a passionflower, though hardly the first time I have tried. "Not even Solomon in all his splendor" could match the beauty of the wild. It helps me to consider that the most valuable things in life do not come from prosperity or safety. Creation has mesmerizing beauties. The good shepherd leads us; this is one of those green pastures. He restores my soul.

That is the value of meditation. May I consider it as essential as sleep.

Sunday, March 07, 2021

The Sheep and the Goats: The Hero of the Parable

I've gained some insights by looking at Jesus' parables through the lens of popular story-telling. If a story is "A hero's struggle against an obstacle to reach a goal," what do we make of the parable of the Sheep and the Goats? I'm aware that there's an argument to be made that the Sheep and the Goats isn't a parable but a passing simile in an otherwise real-world account of the future; regardless it's still a narrative where the same analysis can be worthwhile.

We could look at the judge, the Son of Man, as the hero. His actions have the grandest scope available: He comes to inaugurate that blessed kingdom, to resolve all of human history, to provide the final answer for the life of each person who has lived, and ultimately to begin the Last Day when history reaches the goal that has been planned since the world began. 

And yet as we read or hear Jesus' teaching we are listening for our own names to be called, our own fates to be decided. The way Jesus presents it, it's not just his story but the fulfillment of all of our own stories as well. Jesus directs us to focus back on our daily lives: what kind of life have we lived? If we analyze our lives as a story, were we the "hero"? And here the story analysis needs a check: the traditional "hero" may be someone who is focused on his own life, his own goals, his own victories and his own excellence. Our hero may have an impressive list of achievements, may have attained a certain status or recognition. 

These traditional hero goals are not the kinds of actions which Jesus recognizes. "I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me. I was sick and you visited me, in prison and you came to me." In a story, we want to know what motivates a person, gives them the tenacity to pursue their goal, or even chooses their goal for them? For all the actions here, it's compassion, it's mercy, it's love. The only true "super-power" that is recognized in this story is love. 

Wednesday, March 03, 2021

A question about fasting and Lent

The other day someone asked me about Lent: If a person gives up something for Lent, is it ok to substitute something else to make that easier? It's an interesting question so I thought I'd check around for peoples' thoughts here.

Off the top of my head, my own thoughts were: 

  • If something given up for Lent is bad in itself, then replacing it with something good or even neutral would be a good thing. But replacing it with a different kind of bad is no sacrifice at all. 
  • If something given up for Lent is good and the fast is for the sake of self-denial, self-control, or otherwise setting boundaries for ourselves, then any substituting could undermine the whole effort.

I would be interested to hear other peoples' thoughts on that.

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Lost Sheep, Lost Coin, Lost Son: Looking at the Hero of the Parables

Recently I have been taking an on-line course in story-telling. I may use it for writing, though the course instructor comes from a background in movies and performing arts. The instructor has a basic definition of a story that raises some interesting questions: 

Story: a hero's struggle against an obstacle to reach a goal. 

Let's grant that as a working definition and look at Jesus' "parables of the lost" through that lens. 

The lost sheep

Some things are obvious: The hero is the shepherd. The obstacle is the sheep's running off. The goal is the safe return of the sheep. The hero's motive drives the story: the hero values the sheep. The key point of interest is that the shepherd has reason not to bother, but cares anyway. That is Jesus' picture of God: surely we can think of reasons why he might not care -- and while we're lost it will look like he does not care -- but he cares anyway.

The lost coin

Another story with the same point: valuing what is lost, and the belief that what is lost is worth the trouble to find.

The prodigal son

We could look at this story from more than one angle. 

If the hero is the father, then the struggle is hidden in the waiting and the loving, and the goal is reconciliation. And yet the action does not follow the father, and from the story's viewpoint we might look somewhere else for the main character.

If the hero of the story is the lost son, he has a lot of struggles. He begins the story by gaining money and losing his father as his goal is wealth. He struggles with whether joy comes from material pleasure. Whether acceptance comes from riches. Whether riches are sustainable without production of more. Whether security is possible alone without human connections. By the end of the story, the son has reversed entirely: he has lost all the money but regains his father. There is a celebration. He has gained acceptance without wealth, joy without material pleasure, and security through human connection.

In what sense is the lost son the hero? He's not a traditional hero: his actions lead from bad to worse, and the only thing he contributes to the happy ending is trusting, hoping, that he will receive some kind of welcome as he returns home.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Self-love and self-denial

Jesus taught us that the most vital commandments were to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves. The key to a healthy love of neighbor is a healthy love of self. So the self-love isn't about ourselves alone: it's about our neighbor too. It's about the nature of love: a connection of value and affection and goodwill, so that this love builds a community where people are treasured and flourish.

But in the harshness of Lent we hear, "Take up your cross, deny yourself and follow me." No one can want to deny the self; it's against the nature of desire and the nature of the self. Despite the harshness, I continue because I want to know Jesus. No other person in the long history of the world has captured my attention so thoroughly, gained my trust so convincingly, that I find myself believing him that he is the way, the truth, and the life. 

In one sense, I can follow him as I read the accounts of his life: he goes to Jerusalem for the Passover. He goes to the Mount of Olives and prays. And he faces the prospect of death and prays that gut-wrenching prayer: "Not my will but yours." He denies himself. It's not possible for person with a healthy mind and body to want death. He can only take up a cross after denying himself. He doesn't ask us to do anything he hasn't done. He wasn't asking us to follow him like a facebook narcissist who wants to ramp up his follower count. He asks us to follow him and we're all in it together. Even the self-denial builds fellowship.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

What is Valentine's Day good for in a pandemic?

It's easy to be dismissive of Valentine's Day. (Especially easy in the middle of a record-breaking winter storm in the middle of other crises.) Chocolate and flowers: candy and eye-candy. But like most easy dismissals it's also shallow. In the same things we could see easy proof that there is good in the world, and that it doesn't take much effort to make a day better. Gentle recognition that we see value in each other. An understood language of thoughtfulness -- an etiquette of kindness.

So today I'd like to honor simple expressions of kindness and thoughtfulness: 

  • A card
  • A text
  • A treat
  • Listening
  • Time together

Each one has its part in building a kinder and more civil world. It's about intentional kindness, and it matters.

Sunday, February 07, 2021

First they came for Q-Anon, but I am not a Q-Anon. Now what?

Over the last few months, I've been reading more political research than I can usually stomach, mostly in an effort to satisfy myself on various questions that have come up before, during, and since the November 2020 elections (none of which is my point here). I've read and watched videos from people of various political stripes, including of course libertarians (which was as far afield as I'd gone before) but also some different varieties of Q-Anon'ers (which initially gave me the urge to watch my back, but it turns out they aren't quite what I expected).

To be clear, I've met a handful that I think have been separated from their good judgment; I've met more that I'd class as eccentric. I've also met a handful of skilled researchers who still generally believe at least one eccentric thing, but make positive contributions in other areas. For how grounded they are, I see it as something of a bell curve there. 

Here's the thing: I don't see their bell curve as so very different than any other group's bell curve. For Q-Anon, the far edge of the bell curve thinks that there are organized rings of pedophiles in D.C., Hollywood, the Roman Catholic church, and other places. For Republicans, the far edge of the bell curve may be the ones who imagine Antifa thugs around every corner; for Democrats it may be the ones who imagine white supremacists around every corner. I'm sure there are more candidates for the outlier beliefs, but I'm hoping the examples suffice to make the point: at the far edge of the bell curve, our fear and distrust can get the better of us, and we can imagine something as common without a lot of evidence for that belief. And the slightest evidence that the problem exists somewhere is magnified and distorted by that fear and distrust, until it becomes easy to believe the worst about people because we hate them, and hate them because we already believe the worst about them, in a self-reinforcing perspective-proof closed loop.

People are still generally more skeptical of Q-Anon than other groups, and to some extent I can understand that. I'm writing here to humanize them, though, so I will talk about one way in which I can relate. One main thread of the Q-Anon's is a deep distrust of the official narrative in the major media outlets. On that count I can sympathize for reasons I've discussed before and won't rehash now. Lots of people do not have a trusted voice that has enough power to speak for them effectively. That alienation can leave people susceptible, suggestible, depending on their temperament. From their point of view, a "conspiracy theory" is the belief that unethical people keep quiet about it. So every criminal activity that involved more than one person was also a conspiracy, and every unethical maneuver that involved more than one person was also a conspiracy. I've come across some Q-Anon'ers who have believed far more than proved; I've also seen a few who have done some commendable research on unearthing real-world situations of people who are doing unethical or illegal things and keeping quiet about it.

I write this in an effort to humanize the Q-Anon'ers, not just the ones who are good researchers but even the ones who are lost in a "sheep without a shepherd" kind of way. Who has never succumbed to the urge to believe the worst about their enemies? It's human. We don't need more ostracism; we need more connection. We don't need more blame; we need more empathy. And we certainly don't need a scapegoat; we need humility. Every time we say "those people" cannot be reached, evil laughs at getting a potential two-fer.

So if they come for Q-Anon, I will say something even though I am not a Q-Anon.

Sunday, January 31, 2021

Loving the world: as I love myself

There is a real sense in which our calling, as Christians, is to love the world. When God saved the world, we are told that his motive was not duty or obligation, but love. The ability to see us as we were meant to be is love; the inability to see someone in that light is a lack of love. "Love is blind" is not quite right; love has the ability to see the possible, to connect us. Ultimately we become more like whoever shares that connection with us.

In all the stories about superheroes and supervillains, the two groups have comparable abilities; the difference between a hero and a villain is a matter of heart. The meaningful difference is not their prowess but their kindness. Our participation in saving the world is by loving the world. So where can I start? 

"Love your neighbor as yourselves." For that to be true, there must be legitimate self-love: not fawning self-absorption, nor a cold and clinical duty to self. I picture a grounded warmth in the heart, and a willing commitment to our own well-being, our own inclusion, our own consideration in matters that affect us. For us to be able to "love our neighbors as ourselves" requires first that we love ourselves: that we put aside any fawning or coldness or self-directed harshness and instead love in a meaningful way, with a consideration we would be glad to receive from others. It is the ground on which I can meet others; if I have not formed the right heart toward myself then I will not be able to do form it toward others. 

Once I am grounded in love as God intends, I can love the world one neighbor at a time.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

What is the world to me? God loves the world

I believe it would be tone-deaf and inappropriate for me to choose this particular moment to resume my prior series; that kind of thing in its own time. This post, in its way, intends to engage current events with a Christian response. 

Before I have written at length on how the faithful cultivate a heart like God's and pursue actions like God's in their humility, loving kindness, and goodwill. (Series index.) In that light, I'd like to consider one phrase: "For God so loved the world." It's easy to think of "the world" in the sense of "worldliness" as in the well-known hymn, "What is the world to me?" which reflects on the vanities that we do well to avoid. By itself, though, it is incomplete for a Christian to picture the world only in terms of its vanities. "For God so loved the world." For all its messiness, for all its heartaches and troubles, God loves the world.

What is the world to me? 

  • The gift of God's creation, very good in every way. 
  • His providence, his grace for all that he has made
  • The declaration of God's glory. 
  • The beauty of holiness.
  • The home of his people, the bride for his salvation. 

God loves the world and the people in it. The core of God's being, the fountain of God's grace, the origin of morality itself, is love. If our calling is to be like God as beloved children are like their Father, then our calling is to love the world as he does.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Risks for this week: Eyes open, calm, and standing absolutely firm for peace

As much as it's tempting to Monday-morning quarterback now, I think it's dangerously premature. The intent of this post is something I don't think I've ever done before: within my own small reach, I'd like to raise awareness of a couple of things and if possible lower the temperature too. 

I have spent the last 2 months trying to figure out where to find the on-line leaders for the various MAGA groups and allies who have concerns about the election. That's included everything from lawyers to MIT statisticians to professional insurance fraud analysts to patent-holding inventors in the field of optical scanning. (I've even tracked down some of the influential QAnon'ers. They're ... interesting ... but that's a story for another day.) I have not heard any of the conservative influencers call for violence; I have heard consistent calls for peace. That includes the lead-up to January 6, where the intended plan of conservatives at the rally was not violence -- and definitely not insurrection -- but to ensure that the legislators listened to the key evidence of election concerns and cheer for their pending proposal of 10 days to audit the vote. The conservative speakers had already worked out who was presenting which evidence, and the big rally was all about being heard. The bad actors -- and they were a mixed bag -- effectively sabotaged the conservatives' last chance pre-certification to break through the news embargo and get their voices heard. The main reaction among the MAGA people that day was both the horror of what happened and the creeping suspicion that the whole thing was orchestrated precisely to silence and discredit the peaceful majority. To be clear, I'm not weighing in on whether anyone else should agree with their assessment; I am saying that is the most common assessment that I've seen from the MAGA people.

Here's a significant risk moving into this week: By deplatforming the peaceful conservative leaders not just once but twice in the last 10 days, the rank-and-file conservatives do not necessarily know where to find their trusted voices, who to the best of my knowledge were unanimously calling for peace. De-platforming the leadership and hounding them from one platform to the next makes the situation that much more dangerous. In the switch from Twitter to Parler, then from Parler to a diaspora of whatever scattered other platforms exist, several key account names have been grabbed by impersonators. To state the obvious: I doubt that all the impostors are benevolent. Not all the impersonated people have been able to get the impersonators shut down yet on the various scattered platforms. There is no guarantee that everyone is aware whether someone is impersonating them on a platform that they never use, but where people may go to see if they can find a voice that they miss. What would happen if a trusted voice is being impersonated by a bad actor who calls for violence? On the off chance that any MAGA people are reading this: If you see a call for violence, consider that someone may be playing you.

Truly, the leading opinion on the MAGA side of the house is that they were played on January 6. I'd give that claim a mixed review in this: Clearly 99+% of the people there were peaceful. Clearly there was no plan at an actual insurrection even from the bad actors, who generally had round-trip tickets or plans to drive back home. And yet there is no doubt that the woman who was shot was MAGA, and was where she should not have been. One of the people in the vicinity at the time she was shot, and apparently from some audio may have been egging her on, was ... well.

By now, you have doubtless been informed that there were no left-wing agitators

at the capitol impersonating Trump supporters on January 6. 

You may have heard that from a very reliable source. 

I think it's good to look for ourselves and think for ourselves. It can be informative to see who works well together as a team, making sure a clear and consistent message is heard. At a time like this, it's important not to believe unsubstantiated stories. There's a lot of bad information out there.

Right now, the biggest fear that I'm hearing in the MAGA diaspora is that there will be another false-flag attack (from their point-of-view) on inauguration day, possibly even called for by a hijacked "trusted name" who is being impersonated, and that the next false flag will be a pretext to either rob them of their remaining civil liberties or prevent their evidence from ever seeing the light of day.

It is so, so vital this week that we all keep our heads, and do not let ourselves be provoked into turning on each other. Especially if someone starts trouble. The first way not to start trouble is for everyone to be of goodwill; I don't see that as a good bet right now. The other way to stop trouble is by not piling on. 

"Stand down. Stand for peace." "Do not escalate." "Do not retaliate." "Do not reciprocate." "Do not follow a bad order."


Lord, make your people instruments of your peace. I hope I'm wrong, but there's a genuine chance that this week is the week where we must raise our voices for peace more insistently and calmly and urgently than ever before.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Surrealism is not just an art form

At the risk of stating the obvious: The outbreak of violence on January 6 was horrifying and should never have happened. Emotions are far too raw all around for Monday-morning quarterbacking just yet. I'll leave off by repeating my thoughts from November 4, going to sleep when the election was not yet called:

What would it take to delegitimize hatred, dishonesty, and violence? That is our calling regardless of the outcome of the election. If we want a good next four years, it is no longer up to any administration that might be elected. It will take enough of the public to choose honesty and kindness -- not timidly but publicly, to stand firm against those who do not. 

Find out what your side is saying about the other that they consider to be ludicrous, outrageous, or demonstrably false.

Right now the political and media leaders are actively making things worse. If they are leading, it is in the wrong direction. As Christians, may we continue to take a firm stand for honesty and kindness, gentleness and respect. 

If I could try to add one constructive thought: There is a phenomenon called "coregulation" which is about how, for any group of people who are interacting, moods and attitudes will tend to average out and seek a common ground as people interact with each other. For example, if I get angry and communicate it, you are likely to become angry in return or may have to make some effort in order not to get angry yourself. Or if I am kind, you may find yourself feeling accepted and being kind in return. My actions influence your mood and vice versa, with the ultimate outcome affected by things like number of people, reach of influence, and persistence / perseverance / determination. 

That means we have an open path for what we can do to make a difference: If we Christians act in concert, we can be a dampening rod against the hatred, and a point of origin for calmness and reason. We are at such a critical juncture that many of our differences can and (I believe) must be set aside in order to keep things from becoming worse than they already are. If gentleness, civility, love, and respect are to win the day, it's time to raise their banners higher.

Sunday, January 03, 2021

Best of the Blogroll 2020

My posting time was pre-empted by other things during the holidays this year; this piece is normally posted the last day of the closing year. I'd like to recognize Christian blogs that I read with links to interesting or edifying content found there. I would recommend these posts as exceptionally worthy reads: 

In previous years I have taken the time at the end of the year to go back through each blog on my blogroll and find a solid or worthy post to link even if I had not bookmarked one during the course of the year. This year again with my pre-empted schedule the last couple of weeks I have not done that; the links here are simply the ones that I bookmarked over the course of the year. I'm thankful for all the Christian bloggers who serve God and create outposts of wisdom, compassion, insight, holiness, and all the other ways we can serve God.