Archive for February, 2017

Legalizing Courtesy

February 28, 2017

Wouldn’t it be nice if we as a people could agree tacitly on common courtesy rather than requiring the government to make courtesy a matter of law?

That’s basically what’s at issue regarding the use of cell phones during flights.  If people could simply understand that it’s rude to hold a conversation with someone who isn’t even there, while surrounded by a bunch of other people, things would be so much more, well, courteous.  Is it illegal to use cell phones in movies?  I don’t think so, yet we all recognize that it’s not appropriate (or at least most of us do).  Simple logistics would seem to dictate this.  If I’m trying to hold a conversation with someone on the phone while the person on either side of me is doing the same, it’s going to be hard to hear my own conversation.  I’ll have to raise my voice.  Which of course will cause the people around me to raise theirs.  It won’t be long before everyone is yelling and still can’t hear their conversation.  Shouldn’t that be obvious?

What an opportunity we have on plane flights to actually get to know someone new without any sense of obligation.  To simply strike up a conversation and learn about them and share about yourself and see the world through another pair of eyes for a short period of time.  If it goes well you can always talk with each other on the phone in the future.  If there isn’t much chemistry, well, you never have to talk with them again.

But can we just agree that it’s impolite – and ultimately very difficult – to have hundreds of conversations going on with people who aren’t even physically present, fully ignoring the hundreds of people who are physically present and sitting incredibly close to you?  Do we really need the government to make yet another law ?

 

 

Advertisements

Reading Ramblings – March 5, 2017

February 26, 2017

Reading Ramblings

Date: First Sunday in Lent – March 5, 2017

Texts: Genesis 3:1-21; Psalm 32:1-7; Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11

Context: This is the first Sunday in the liturgical season of Lent, which is in my opinion the most curious of the liturgical seasons. It balances the acknowledgement that every Sunday is Easter Sunday again, a celebration of our Lord’s dramatic victory of sin, death, and Satan through his resurrection from the dead. But at the same time the season has a somber edge appropriate to the self-examination and confession of our sinful need for a savior. Jesus undergoes his Passion because of you and I and our sins, to save you and I personally and specifically. Balancing the celebrative with the contemplative is an interesting homiletical challenge! Being in Lent, we are no longer in the liturgical season of Ordinary Time, and will not return to it until June 18 after Pentecost and Holy Trinity Sundays. At that point the lectio continua will resume, but with the middle of Romans instead of 1 Corinthians.

Genesis 3:1-21 – A season for the contemplation of our sinfulness logically begins with the source of our sinfulness, the primordial sin of our ancestors Adam and Eve. Sin is disobedience from God, and we struggle to consider that such a simple exertion of self-will against divine will could brook all the chaos and suffering we know in our world and lives. But this is so. One command in the beginning, not ten. One act of disobedience, not the myriad failures you and I experience daily as a result. While we may source our own sinfulness in Adam and Eve’s, it is inaccurate to try and shift the blame fully to them. We participate actively in sin, whether large or small, whether societally abhorrent or privately nagging. Disobedience is disobedience, and the excuse that it is just a small matter fails to recognize that rebellion on a small scale inevitably leads to rebellion on a grand scale (consider the murder in the next chapter!).

Psalm 32:1-7 – A beautiful psalm not only of confession, but confidence in God’s forgiveness. It acknowledges the guilt that we suffer when we sin (vs.3-4), and though we are inclined to want to hide our sinfulness from God and not talk about it, it is only in the act of honest confession that we receive relief (vs. 5-6). So it is that we can and should encourage one another to constant confession. Self-examination is something that leads us closer to God, not farther away. As we confess our sin we are forgiven, a blessed state indeed! As Christians this continual act of confession is not because God has not forgiven us already. Rather, it is the means God gives us for remaining aware of our dependency on him, and guarding our hearts and minds from being misled by others or our own brokenness into determining that something God has declared to be sinful is, in fact, not sinful. Such an error is dangerous, and confession based on the Word of God is a strong tool to keep our hearts and minds aligned in Him, rather than our own spurious feelings and ideas.

Romans 5:12-19 – Romans is an amazing book for connecting Scriptural dots. I’m often asked by people new to the Bible how and what to read first. Genesis 1-3, at least one of the Gospels, and then Romans is my standard response. Romans connects the implications of Genesis 1-3 with the good news of Jesus Christ in a personal way. Death and sin are our inheritance. But in Jesus, we are set free from those chains, receiving instead grace and righteousness instead of condemnation in guilt. In Adam, all humanity was condemned. In Christ, all humanity has been redeemed. Salvation is a reality that only need be received, not earned.

Matthew 4:1-11 – In order for Jesus to redeem humanity, He must remain obedient where Adam was not. So it is that before He begins his public ministry, He must – weakened by fasting – withstand the temptations of Satan. It’s easy for us to dismiss this as a rather trivial matter. But Jesus is truly human as well as truly divine. He has a human will which truly could deviate from his heavenly Father’s commands. The temptations of Satan are real. He tempts Jesus physically in his hunger. He tempts Jesus’ pride and vanity by asking him to prove his identity. And he tempts Jesus in regards to his work and mission, by offering another way to accomplish allegedly the same goal. Jesus withstands all three temptations by relying on the Word of God to correct Satan’s misuse of God’s Word.

We who face temptation have the same weapon at our disposal to withstand temptation. The Word of God is more than capable of thwarting Satan’s temptations, or the suggestions of the world, or our own sinful desires. Knowing God’s Word is essential to detecting misuses of that same Word.

Lent is a time of reflection and confession of our sinfulness. But we reflect and repent in the light of the empty tomb. The resurrected Christ assures us that our sins are forgiven through faith in his once-for-all sacrifice. There is nothing more to be added to his work. Although we are weak and will fall prey to temptation where Jesus did not, our hope is not in compensating for those failures or making up for them in some way by becoming a better person. While striving to be a better person is a noble pursuit, we dare never allow it to become the means by which we try to show God our own worthiness of his love. He loves us, assuredly, but if we wish to stand on our own merits, we must keep his Law perfectly, at all times. As with Adam and Eve, just one failure condemns us, because there is no way to make up for failure. Only when we rely fully on the sacrifice of Christ can we be assured that his death and resurrection have forgiven every single one of our sins – past, present and future.

The Common Cup

February 22, 2017

Does your church use the common cup (chalice) or individual cups for the wine at Holy Communion?  How much do you think about how it’s done?

The common cup/chalice is the ancient practice of the church, stemming from Jesus’ words and practice at the Last Supper where it seems very clear that the disciples are drinking from a single cup that Jesus passes to them.  But around the turn of the 20th century, that began to change for many congregations.  For a tongue-in-cheek history, you could read this essay.

One of the major concerns appears to have been hygiene – how safe can it be to all drink from the same cup now that we know about germs and bacteria and the like?  Well, it appears to be a lot safer than we thought it was, or than we think it is now.  For a more official treatment of the topic, you could reference this LA Times article from a few years ago.   The fact that most Communion chalices were/are made from silver or gold means that they don’t host bacteria and other nasties on their own.  Combine this with the (slight) alcohol content of the wine, and the use of a clean purificator utilized in an appropriate way, and you have a very sanitary ritual.

In fact, the cleanliness traditionally began before the chalice ever touched anyone’s lips.  The Roman Catholic mass includes the lavabo, the washing of the celebrant’s hands.  In the ancient Eastern church, this rite took place just before the celebrant would put on the special vestments for Holy Communion (the chasuble).  The chasuble helps to draw greater attention to the high point of Christian worship – as we receive the body and blood of Jesus the Christ in with and under the bread and the wine.  In our Lutheran circles there are still some churches and pastors that utilize a chasuble, but it has fallen out of fashion with the majority of them.  In the Western church, the lavabo rite was performed also just before actually administering the elements, rather than prior to vesting.  The name of the rite comes from Psalm 25:6, which was read (through verse 12) as part of the rite.

So, in other words, in the oldest practices of the Church, the common cup/chalice has been a safe means of sharing in Holy Communion – certainly far safer than other traditions such as the passing of the peace or the traditional time of fellowship after worship.  I’ve just reinstated the use of the common cup/chalice in our congregation, offering it as an option for those who request it.  Most don’t, but more and more are beginning to.  And if they so choose, hopefully they’ll realize that it is relatively safe to do so!

City Liberals

February 21, 2017

My high school best buddy shared this article on Facebook recently.  When we were growing up, he was very conservative.  However these days, while he is probably fiscally still a conservative his other views have grown a lot more liberal than mine.  I’ll talk about the article in a moment, but I’ll give a couple of my own thoughts first to explain our divergence.  What are some other factors – other than where you live – that might contribute to a shift in ideological perspectives over time, particularly from conservative to liberal?

Church or no church?  Granted, there are plenty of very liberal Christian denominations and congregations out there.  But it would be interesting to see a study of how many people who begin at least nominally religious (parents only make them go to church occasionally as a child or more particularly as an adolescent) vs. those who are deeply embedded in church every week (even a congregation with a dysfunctional youth group, as mine had, at least to a certain extent).  Being part of regular Christian worship (and eventually believing it) certainly can and should make us more open to our neighbors, but also should instill some basic concerns about our human capacity to deal with the issues they (and we) face.  My high school buddy rarely went to church from junior high school on.  He claimed he believed in God, but I’m not sure if he would make that same statement today or not.

Who you marry.  My buddy married a very liberal woman.  Her views on almost every issue would, I imagine, be seen as very liberal and progressive.  Now, I don’t really know her at all.  I haven’t spent much time around her in the last 25 years or so.  I would imagine some of that perspective may have been softened by my buddy’s conservatism.  But when they were dating, she was a fire-brand atheist liberal with a very strong personality.  Regardless of the issue under consideration, marrying someone with an opposite perspective from you on it is likely to draw you at least somewhat towards their point of view.

Now, about the article.  I think it’s an interesting article in several regards, despite being one of those fluffy, popcorn-level articles with very little meat to it.  But the observations it makes are worth looking at.  I disagree once again with the automatic division of every issue into liberal or conservative viewpoints.  None of these issues are in and of themselves a liberal or conservative issue.  They are human issues,  citizenship issues, and ought to be addressed as such.   Until we realize that our political system capitalizes not on solving problems but on aligning people into supportive camps, we’re going to keep banging our collective heads against the wall.  Or more accurately others are going to keep banging our heads into the wall so they can blame it on the other party and galvanize us to keep voting a certain way which keeps a particular group of people in power.

The important thing to realize is a multitude of perspectives.  City folk see certain things a certain way because of exposure to things like crime and public transportation.  People who live in rural areas see certain things a certain other way.  The problem is the polarization of our society, so that each side thinks that it’s view is the only correct one.  As I’ve argued before, if we focused less on working towards problem-solving rather than working to keep a certain political party in or out of power, this would be  a lot healthier.

I don’t think liberals are stupid.  Many of them have a particular ideological bent that I don’t personally agree with even though I may appreciate their stance or approach to particular things.  Likewise, I don’t think conservatives are stupid.  I may err more towards their side of the fence than not, but they have an ideological perspective that has valid points as well.

 

Book Review: Cold Case Christianity

February 20, 2017

Cold Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels

by J. Warner Wallace

I ordered this and the children’s version of it for our family for Christmas.  I haven’t looked at the kids version, though my oldest son (14) was reading it and thought it was interesting.

This book is exactly what the title says.  Wallace applies his training and experience in working homicide cold cases (murders that remain unsolved for year and are no longer under active investigation) to examining the Gospels.  He utilizes his skill in evaluating witness testimony to determine that the Gospels are what they claim to be – eyewitness accounts of the ministry of Jesus culminating in his arrest, execution, burial, resurrection and ascension.

This is a form of evidential apologetics, which treats the actual facts and details of the New Testament documents as worthy of scrutiny and as more than able to stand up to critical evaluation both in terms of their legitimacy, authenticity, and accuracy.  This is a great resource for the person who wants to honestly and objectively evaluate the Gospels on criteria that should be acceptable to anyone who isn’t pre-disposed to disregard or dismiss them based on what they say.  I will be encouraging each of my kids to make use of this book as they grow in their faith and understanding.

I have only one real complaint about the book.  It’s a small one at the very end, and could have been easily omitted.  Wallace talks about becoming a two decision Christian, which I interpret to mean moving beyond an objective acceptance of the Gospels as authentic, to a subjective faith and trust that they apply to me.  He uses the example of a brief conversation with an arrested drug addict and bank robber.  Wallace basically believes that if this person had a real faith in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior, if he had moved beyond an objective belief that to a subjective belief in Jesus as his Lord and Savior, then this guy would no longer be a drug addict and bank robber.  Jesus would have changed his life dramatically.

I understand the temptation, but I find this a patently offensive dismissal of faith in another person.  It’s clear that St. Paul spends a great deal of time exhorting people who already accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior and are truly Christian, to quit behaving like they did before they were brought to faith.  In other words, it isn’t that they aren’t Christians, it’s just that living like a Christian is a big change for some people and they’re going to struggle in it.

Like I said, it was a very brief part of the book, and after the evidential apologetics work which this book does a great job of making understandable.  I just wish he hadn’t brought it up at all because it clearly wasn’t necessary.

So get this book for a very valuable lesson in how good the reasons are that we treat the Gospels as reliable witnesses to a very extraordinary Savior.

Reading Ramblings – Transfiguration Sunday

February 19, 2017

Reading Ramblings

Date: Transfiguration Sunday – February 26, 2017

Texts: Exodus 24:9-18; Psalm 2:6-12; 2 Peter 1:16-21; Matthew 17:1-9

Context: As we prepare for Lent, we conclude with remembering our Lord’s Transfiguration. We dare not see Jesus as the tragic figure, the helpless victim in the clutches of his enemies. We dare not presume to pity Jesus for his predicament. He is the Son of God made flesh. Nothing happens to him except by his obedience in allowing it. His glory is hidden, surrendered to his humiliation in becoming part of the creation He spoke caused to come into existence (John 1:1-5), but it is his glory, and no one is capable of taking it from him.

Exodus 24:9-18 – Witnessing the glory of the Son of God is not simply a transfiguration or resurrection thing. I hold with this who trust that events in the Old Testament where God is described as coming amidst his people in physical form is merely the Son of God prior to his Incarnation. In God’s appearance to Moses towards the end of this section, note the presence of the cloud covering the mountain and compare to the Transfiguration account of Jesus.

Psalm 2:6-12 – The second half of this psalm emphasizes the power and majesty of God’s chosen one, the king who is also the Son of God. Once again we have the Old Testament language of God’s holy hill as the setting for the rule of God’s chosen one. This chosen one rules in power, not in meekness and humility. The nations are warned, and rulers are cautioned lest God’s holy ruler move against them who rage and plot in vain (v.1). But those who take refuge in him and acknowledge his lordship are blessed. Those who recognize the authority of God’s chosen one have nothing to fear from him. It is only those who continue to strive against him who have reason to fear.

2 Peter 1:16-21 – Peter reflects on that moment on the Mount of Transfiguration, when he and James and John viewed Jesus in his true glory. Peter defends his gospel. He has not made it up. He has not collaborated with others to create a story to fool others. He simply has told what he saw and experienced in regards to Jesus of Nazareth. So he reports seeing Jesus in his glory and hearing the voice of God the Father speaking from heaven. It is this relationship that gives Peter the authority to speak to others. So when Peter warns against false teachers in the following chapter, he expects his words to be taken serious. He has not chosen this role for himself, but he does not shrink from it now that it has been given to him. He will testify to the truth of Jesus Christ and call out those who preach and teach falsely. These false teachers seek their own benefit, but Peter contends that the Word of God has never been given simply for the material benefit of the man who spoke it, but rather God’s prophets were compelled by God the Holy Spirit to speak the Word of God honestly and completely, to the blessing of God’s people.

Matthew 17:1-9 – Peter, James and John are given a glimpse of Jesus in his divine glory. They watch and listen as He talks with the greatest figures of the Old Testament – Moses who is associated with God’s Law, and Elijah who is the greatest of God’s prophets. So Jesus’ divinity is attested to not simply by the disciples witness but by the presence of these esteemed personages and their representation of God’s complete Word to his people. Why are only these three privileged to witness this? Scripture does not say. Why does Jesus command their silence? Perhaps because reports of his divine glory might only confuse the people coming to hear him teach and receive his healings. What they witness is for them, and for them to share with others after Jesus’ death and resurrection when they can make proper sense of what they saw and experienced.

As we sit on the edge of Lent, we marvel that the glorious Son of God, co-eternal with God the Father, should submit himself to the humiliation of arrest and beatings and crucifixion and death. We marvel that He gives up everything – both his divine glory and his human life – that we might be saved. He does this voluntarily. There is no power on earth that could force him to give what He did not wish to give. Jesus’ hope is fixed on the plan of God the Father and the glory that awaits the Son on the other side of death. So we enter Lent, with our eyes fixed on Easter even as we take on the ashes and sackcloth of mourning and repentance.

Managing Fire

February 14, 2017

US Scientists have released a set of recommendations about how and whether and when embryonic human beings should be genetically modified.  The report was mentioned in this article, and you can download the entire 261-page report here.  A shorter summary is available here.

Important take-aways include the reality that this is already being done in laboratory situations where implantation for pregnancy is not the purpose.  Another important take-away is that scientists are basically saying that since the technology is going to be developed somewhere, by somebody, we should develop it here and regulate it carefully.  How this improves things eludes me.  If people dislike the idea of extensive regulations and prohibitions in their own country, they’ll simply travel to destinations with less regulation and restriction.

This reality makes the recommended prohibitions in the release a moot point.  The only type of genetic modification explictly recommended against development or deployment would be genetic enhancement modifications – to produce an exceptionally strong child, for example.  But again, if someone somewhere else has less scruples about this, it’s still going to happen.  Medical tourism is a reality that we don’t have a way to control and therefore even those technologies we really don’t like are eventually going to be developed and deployed in the name of safety or some other fuzzy goal.

Once again this reminds me of one of my favorite books, A Canticle for Leibowitz, which grapples with our scientific and technological dilemmas.  Scientists can’t control how their discoveries are used and applied, and there will always be someone willing to take the step in a bad direction that others refuse to.  Our own intelligence is our own undoing, an inevitable result of our fundamentally broken and sinful condition.

So it’s nice that scientists are thinking about these things.  But at the end of the day their research money comes from governments and other entities that will exercise control of one sort or another over the application of their discoveries.  There isn’t a way to avoid this, just as there isn’t a way to prevent less reputable or ethical researchers from selling off discoveries to the highest bidder.

That would be fundamentally depressing, if there weren’t some greater hope beyond our own abilities or inabilities.  As a Christian I can applaud the judicious use of science and our intellects, while fully expecting that it is only a matter of time until these things are abused or misused by someone or other, perhaps to the detriment of all humanity.  But my hope is not in these discoveries, in their proper or equitable use or distribution, but rather in a future where our abilities will ultimately be able to used and managed properly.

In the meantime, managing fire will remain a difficult and dangerous business.

 

Mea Culpa?

February 13, 2017

Having recently read Silence, I’ve been wrangling over whether or not to see the movie.   This essay should encourage me to do so.

My reasons for being wary of the movie are multiple.  I don’t consider myself a film buff.  The book was fascinating precisely because of the interior glimpses of the protagonist, and I’m not sure if that can or will translate onto screen.  There’s the unpleasantness of scenes depicting human suffering and cruelty – not in a popcorn-guzzling fake way, but actual, real human suffering and cruelty.

But as someone who frequently hears people lamenting about the state of our entertainment industry, and as someone certainly not immune to haranguing on the issue myself, I would do well to take this article’s point to heart.  Hollywood follows the money.  My money.  Perhaps I should be more willing to shell out to support Christian or ‘wholesome’ movies to encourage more of them to be made.

Or maybe I should just convince you to.

Reading Ramblings – February 19, 2017

February 12, 2017

Reading Ramblings

Date: Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany – February 19, 2017

Texts: Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18; Psalm 119:33-40; 1 Corinthians 3:10-23; Matthew 5:38-48

Context: During the liturgical season of Ordinary Time, the Old Testament, Psalm, and Gospel tend to work together thematically while the Epistle reading follows a simpler lectio continua format. Thematically, the three readings emphasize the priority of mercy and love for neighbor in contrast with an attitude of self-seeking. The Leviticus text provides some clear direction of what it means to love your neighbor, and precludes the unthinking affirmation or uncritical attitudes demanded today under the guise of love for neighbor. The psalm once again contrasts the desire to follow God’s precepts with the unpleasant reality of failure in this regard. We can recognize our selfishness as wrong but we struggle to control it, necessitating a reliance on an outside righteousness that can only come from God. Jesus drives this home in attacking the misuse of legal precepts also found in Leviticus.

Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18 – How we treat one another matters a great deal, not just to ourselves and the people affected but ultimately to God. He creates every single person, and expects his people to see his handiwork in everyone they come into contact with. Nobody is to be mistreated, taken advantage of, or otherwise scorned or held as anything less than a creation of the Creator of the Universe. This is all part of being holy. Our behavior is a reflection of God’s feelings and attitudes towards all of creation. He loves us. He cares about us and for us and intends the best for each of us, and we are to expect and give nothing less than this with one another.

Psalm 119:33-40 – The psalmist desires to know God’s will and has the desire to do it. She trusts in God’s Word as the means of knowing God’s will so that she can follow it. The alternative would be to focus on personal gain (v.36). Such a self-centered attitude ultimately leads us to focus on things that have no value or worth – not in the eternal sense. Once again as the psalm draws to a close, we sense that despite the psalmist’s good intentions, his follow-through is lacking. He asks for God to affirm his promise to him (v.38), something that would hardly be necessary if the psalmist perfectly observed God’s laws the way he wanted to! He fears the Lord’s reproach for his failure, despite his understanding that God’s laws are good and that he should want to fulfill them. He knows the right thing to do and yet is unable to do it, something Paul expresses very well in Romans 7:7-25. The psalmist ends with the request that Paul asserts God has fulfilled in Jesus Christ – we receive the very righteousness of God through faith in the gift of God’s Son, Jesus the Messiah.

1 Corinthians 3:10-23 – Paul continues to deal with the proper way the Corinthians should consider himself, Apollos, Peter, and any other teachers they may encounter. All such teachers should only build upon the foundation of Jesus Christ, the message of the Son of God crucified and resurrected for our blessing and righteousness. This is the foundation, and every good teacher should and must regard it as such and recognize that they can only build from here as equipped by God. Not all teachers will be equal in this task, however. Some will be better equipped for their task than others, or some may be inclined to attempt to do more than they are actually capable of accomplishing. Their efforts will be measured and tested and shown for what they are. This should be a source of humility to teachers in the faith, but it should also teach God’s people to have a reasonable reserve, not assuming that anyone who comes teaching in the name of Jesus is going to be capable or skilled in that regard. On the final day we’ll know what was of lasting value and what was not. This may not be an issue of salvation (v.15), but leads off of the idea Paul has already raised in v.8 that different teachers and evangelists may look forward to different rewards based on their work.

Why such concern about the work of those who preach and teach in the name of Jesus? Because the effects are experienced in the faithful, the followers of Jesus Christ, who are no less than temples of God the Holy Spirit. If a preacher or teacher does damage to one of these temples, they will be held accountable to God for this. That’s how much God loves every one of us!

Paul concludes with words perhaps aimed at the teachers who have misled the Corinthians as well as the Corinthians themselves. Humility is a wise attitude to maintain in all things, neither counting ourselves as too great, nor ascribing to others a greatness that might exceed their actual worth. Just because someone is rewarded for their efforts is not reason enough to assume that they are doing good work. So we are to boast only in Christ, recognizing that it is only through him that we have received all things, and that any human teacher or evangelist can only build on the foundation of Christ himself, and never replace or substitute it.

Matthew 5:38-48 – Jesus continues to clarify the intent of Scripture, in opposition to the application of Scripture that has led God’s people – through their leaders – to mistaken understandings of how God wants us to live our lives. Jesus quotes from Leviticus 24, verses 17-22. But what is the intent of these verses, which limit the extent of blood vengeance in the case of an injury or offense, while still seeking for not only justice but also obedience? Is God desiring that we should demand the harm of our neighbor in every instance where we have been harmed? Of course not! God desires the good of all his creation. Evil and malice must be restrained, and the Law functions towards that end. Restitution is sometimes necessary and good, but only within reasonable bounds.

Harm occurs and if possible we should seek to deal in mercy and forgiveness as God deals with each of us. When this is not possible or helpful, then restitution should be given. But that is not the goal. The goal is restitution of proper relationship. This extends not just to those we are in community with – friends and family and neighbors – but even to our enemies as well, which is where Jesus continues in v.43. The command to love is always a starting point, not a definition of the farthest boundary. If we hope that our neighbor will one day become our brother or sister in Christ, we need to treat them that way while they are still our enemy, in love and prayer. This is not to say that we should not take steps to protect ourselves, but there is a difference between self-protection and seeking actively for the harm of the other, just as there is a difference between reasonable restitution and seeking to leverage an advantage to someone else’s harm.

Loving only those who care for us is simply reasonable. But Jesus demonstrates God’s love in that God sends his Son to save sinners who will eventually scream for his crucifixion and mock him as He suffers and dies. We are to seek to emulate such sacrificial love in our lives.

But we should understand that we will fail at this. Likely far more often than we succeed. Which again is why the Law cannot be how we seek to justify ourselves with God. This is how Jesus began in v.20, and He reiterates it here in v.48. If we wish the Law to justify us, we must keep it perfectly and completely. We must be not just the most righteous people we know, we must be as perfect as our heavenly Father. Since none of us are, Jesus calls his hearers to re-evaluate our hopes for justification with God. We can’t rely on our own righteousness because it is inadequate. It doesn’t matter if we’re better than Hitler because God doesn’t grade on a curve.

We are to strive for holiness, but in response to God’s love rather than in an effort to secure it.

Deceptive Smugness

February 9, 2017

History has always fascinated me.  While that makes me marginally useful in trivia battles, it also (hopefully) provides me with valuable perspectives on life today and how we see ourselves.  The habit of looking at people in the past ought to condition how we look at ourselves.

As such,  I found this essay from Scientific American interesting initially because of the historical trivia.  But what I found ultimately more interesting is his philosophical application of the trivia.  He mocks doctors from 140 years ago for rejecting a new scientific idea circulating at the time which attributed infections to bacteria in the air and elsewhere which could only be seen under a microscope.  Of course today, when this has been well-proven it is easy to laugh at someone 140 years ago who doubted the novel assertion.

Germ theory is generally claimed to have emerged in the 1860’s or later. One of the doctors being mocked in the essay, Frank Hastings, graduated from medical school in 1835. The other, Alfred Loomis, graduated in 1852.  They can reasonably be excused for being suspicious of a new theory of infections.  But the author of the essay uses their initial disregard of germ theory as an example of how we shouldn’t miss opportunities to become smarter.  He then applies this to current politics and observes that “we insist on staying stupid when becoming smarter is an option.”

I don’t know many people who willfully remain stupid.  I know a lot of people who, like Loomis and Hastings, are skeptical about wholeheartedly endorsing whatever the latest scientific fashion or hypothesis is, particularly when we live in an age of information overload and so much of what we are told one day is seemingly reversed and contradicted the next.  Depending on who funds the study and what their perceived bias’ might be. Historically speaking, becoming smarter is a decidedly difficult thing to do properly.

Our country continues in the throes of violent (physically as well as verbally) disagreement over the trajectory of our nation’s policies.  The status quo – tacitly agreed to by both political parties – has been thrown off course somewhat by an unexpected President who  holds little regard for either political party and is attempting to implement some rather massive changes to the political system.  He doesn’t appear to have any major reason not to push for changes he actually thinks would be helpful.  He’s quite successful personally and isn’t reliant on political connections to further himself personally now or after his term ends.  He appoints outsiders and people who haven’t been part of the system to head major agencies.

This infuriates those who disagree with him, who are unable to understand how and why anyone without relevant experience in a given area, or with experience that is deemed undesirable in an area should be placed in charge of a government agency.  They seem convinced that the system is just fine.  In need of some tweaks and fine tuning, perhaps, but essentially functioning properly.  In the case of education, this means decrying the appointment of someone from outside of the teacher’s unions and without relevant bureaucratic experience as Education Secretary.  Despite the fact that a long string of far more qualified people have failed to improve substantively the quality of public education as a whole.

We could be in the middle of a difficult and surprising transition, an opportunity to become smarter despite the prevailing wisdom which is grounded in ideas and policies of the past.  How shocked many people would be to look back in five or ten or twenty years and recognize that the major changes suggested by an unpopular and inexperienced administration could actually be smarter than the advocacy of staying the course or doing things the way they’ve been done for years!  I imagine that critics today, confronted with their obstinance at some point in the future, would defend themselves by saying that there was no way that anyone could have known that such changes were actually smarter than prevailing wisdom, just as Loomis and Hastings undoubtedly would say in their own defense today.

A familiarity with history should ultimately lead us towards humility, rather than smugness.  One constant of history is that people have been surprised by major shifts in nearly every aspect of life.  It hasn’t been a steady progression of getting smarter, but often the raucous in-breaking of an outsider’s ideas that have made all the difference.  We’re grateful for their contributions in hindsight, but at the time they were nuisances or written off as charlatans, persecuted and mocked.

In the sciences as well as in every field, we need to train our young people to retain a bit of humility regardless of how  advanced their studies, how many degrees they accumulate, or how many articles they publish.  They may be critical of new ideas and have many good supporting reasons, but they should also be open to the possibility that they’re wrong.  That they’re only human and therefore blind to an opportunity to become smarter.  Not because they’re bad people, but just because they are limited in what they can know. The bleeding edge of becoming smarter is a pretty exciting place to imagine yourself, but odds are that a lot fewer of us are actually on that edge than imagine ourselves to be.