Archive for the ‘Theology’ Category

A Sweet New Year

September 21, 2017

We were privileged to attend a Jewish Rosh Hashanah service last night (Shana Tova!) at the invitation of friends of ours.  It was my first such opportunity, and a memorable one.  The synagogue was beautiful, and there were many folks on hand for the first of the High Holy Days.  It is a Reform Judaism synagogue, something I wasn’t aware of initially but became very clear as the service went on.

Similar to Christian worship, there was music and ritual.  There was no direct reading from Scripture, though the ‘ark’ containing their copy of the Torah was opened several times during the night for festive singing – but never to actually read what it had to say.  Fascinating!

Two moments stand out – the sermon and the after service address from the congregational president.

The sermon was delivered by an intern, a 5th year student at a Jewish Seminary in Los Angeles.  The topic was hope.  He opened with a quote, in which he told us he was going to replace the word hope wherever it appeared in that quote with the name God.  He then reread the quote with the original word hope in it.  And then he basically invited people to consider that both the word hope and the name God both made really good sense in the quote.  He then went on to preach a sermon without ever mentioning God again.  I wasn’t surprised that he didn’t mention Jesus, but he never mentioned God.  It was clear that his expectation was that many folks in the room didn’t actually believe in God, but certainly could believe in hope.  He ended his sermon with snippets of current events and the actions of individuals in the midst of tragedy and challenge as the basis for his hope for the coming new year.

It was one of the most hope-less sermons I’ve ever heard, because it grounded our hope in ourselves, despite his mention of equally jarring moments recently where humans demonstrated that they are not people to place hope in or expect hope from.  The upshot I guess is that at least some people are capable of and demonstrative of actions of hopefulness, so let’s just focus on that despite the fact that the news overwhelmingly favors the preponderance of less helpful actions.

The address by the congregational president at the end of the service was also notable.  He was extremely well-spoken and as I understand it is a man of some renown in our area.  He spoke of growing up being ethnically and ritually Jewish.  He didn’t necessarily believe any of it, but he had done the appropriate things that a Jewish person should do.  Until an event 30 years ago in the area jarred him into a sense of urgency to be more involved in Jewish leadership.  Not the faith, per se, but rather acting on behalf of Jews in the community.  He recounted his family’s personal brush with the Holocaust in Germany, and stated strong resolve to help this particular congregation remain strong and secure into the future.

Secure.  There’s a fascinating term both for Judaism and Christianity.  Certainly a review of Jewish history will quickly reveal that security has rarely lasted very long in any given place.  That since their dispersal from the Promised Land by the Romans in 70 AD, the Jews have truly wandered out of necessity.  They have settled, only to be forced to move at some point later.  Until the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, the Jews have never enjoyed a very secure anything.  The fact that the state of Israel is only 70 years old only underscores this further.

Christians also have endured a great deal of insecurity.  While enjoying a privileged place in Western culture for many centuries, that security is eroding rapidly.  Elsewhere in the world security for Christians has been far more tenuous and unpredictable.

And in both cases, Scripture, the Word of God to his people, has explicitly stated that this is how things are going to go.  We might expect many things in this world based on the promises of God, but temporal security isn’t high on the list, or on the list at all.  I’ll be the first to come to the aid of someone else – Jewish or otherwise – but I won’t pretend to tell either of them (or myself, or my wife and kids) that safety and security are something we should just take for granted, or something that we can control.

This doesn’t mean that we don’t strive to be secure.  That’s human nature both individually and communally.  But for God’s people, that security is tempered with a greater understanding that the best that security can do for us here and now is ensure a somewhat smooth life for 100 years at best.  Even temporal financial and physical security doesn’t save us from Death.  Our greatest hope and goal can’t simply be security.  It has to lie elsewhere.  And for God’s people, that place has always been God.

It must be so difficult to lead a congregation of people rooted in a shared set of past experiences but not a shared interpretation of them.  It must be weird to have a liturgy that repeatedly talks about God, but have to remind people that if that makes them uncomfortable they can just close the book and think about something else.  God isn’t the source of discomfort!

I walked away from the evening grateful for the experience but aching for those people, so close to God historically and even liturgically, but for many very far away from him actually, personally.  I ached that they might hear and know truly good news in a God who has made them specific promises that are not dependent upon the actions of random people around the country or world, and are not dependent on their own contributions.  I ached for these people who have inherited not just a culture and a set of rituals but the revealed Word of God, and yet choose to keep that Word locked away, who consider it something optional at best.  This people through whom God brought the Savior of the world into creation, this people that God remains deeply committed to through his promises to Abraham and Moses and David.

I pray for them a sweet new year (a traditional expression associated with Rosh Hashanah), and as such, a new year rooted in closer experience with the Creator of the Universe and the Son He brought through them to give us real and lasting hope.

 

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Who to Promote

September 20, 2017

I was raised with solid middle-class, middle-America values.  Children should be seen rather than heard.  Or maybe it was heard rather than seen.  Frankly, the preference was probably that we were neither seen nor heard.  In any event, the idea of self-promotion of any kind has always been anathema to me.  It isn’t that I don’t crave recognition.  I do.  But perhaps as a means of controlling that monster inside of me I’ve tried to avoid the spotlight as much as one can do from the front of a classroom or the front of a church.

I dreamed of being a writer but have abandoned that in a post-literate age where anybody can get published inexpensively.  Some of the folks that follow this blog seem to do so out of a concept of mutual self-promotion that eludes me.  I hope for fame, but expect that I won’t have to be the one telling people how awesome I am in order for that to happen.  It will just, someday, but broadly recognized and I won’t have to push for that recognition.

Is that too hard to ask?

My job is not to promote myself –  my job is to promote Christ, to make him known to as many people in as many different facets as He gives me time and opportunity.  But in order to put his name out there, it can be easy to be put mine out as well.  Given time and a bit of temptation, the desire for my name to be glorified can quickly eclipse the desire that his name be glorified.  On the flip side, excessive self-deprecation and equally result in his name not being shared as broadly as possible.  I’m wondering how to put out his Word without necessitating the inclination most people have (not entirely incorrectly) to want to know more about the messenger.

I’m being asked more and more to share my preaching and teaching with expanding audiences, particularly via the Internet as well as more localized outlets such as pre-recorded and live radio options.  It’s something I’ve been hesitant to do  because crafting a message for an audience unfamiliar with me, my congregation, my theology, etc. is a lot more complicated than just videoing a sermon and putting it online.  In a day where it’s customary to take things out of context, I want to think carefully about what I say before facing criticism either from those who don’t share my belief, or those who think they share my belief to a greater/stronger/more accurate extent than I do.

It’s also a lot of work, and being basically lazy, the idea of taking on additional work is unattractive.

But more and more I’m being led to see that this bears investigating further.  I went to lunch today with a gentleman who had the main intent of convincing me to think more seriously about radio and podcasting and other means of speaking to a larger audience.  Of course my ego loves this, and I have to try and put that down while still hearing what is being said and considering it as objectively as possible.  We have such Good News to share with a world that is so incredibly hungry for good news.  If we need to be reconsidering and reevaluating how we do Church in a rapidly changing culture, I can’t simply say that I’m not willing to consider other avenues for sharing the Gospel and helping people to understand it better.  Prayers are appreciated!

Rosh Hashana

September 20, 2017

I’m so excited, as I’ve been invited (along with my family) to attend Rosh Hashanah service tonight at the local synagogue.  I’ve been fascinated with Judaism ever since reading Chaim Potok’s The Chosen (and going on to read most of his other works, including his beautiful Wanderings: Chaim Potok’s History of the Jews).  Obviously the strong historical and theological linkins of Christianity and Judaism lend themselves well to this fascination!

But I’ve never been able to attend a service before, and I look forward to this opportunity!  Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year, and occurs 10 days before Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

Bullseye

September 19, 2017

Part of the challenge and risk and reward of having a public presence online is that you never know who is going to stumble across your stuff or how they’re going to react to it.  So it was only a mild surprise when someone posted to a Facebook page I have for campus ministry.  The actual flow of events seems to be that this person found the page, liked the page, and then came across one of my posts there and freaked out.  The post was an open invitation to our Sunday evening happy hour.  I don’t think that anyone locally is likely to find the page and the invitation and request info, but I posted it more in terms of letting whomever know the kinds of things we were doing.

I have no idea who this person is beyond the little Facebook tells about her.  She isn’t apparently local, but has taken it upon herself to call me to repentance for offering a weekly happy hour.  Based on the destructive role of alcohol in the life of her family, she clearly sees it as a sin that should never be encouraged.

She could just be a bored troll hoping to start angst.  But I presume she’s sincere and so I take the time to respond to her and engage her concerns.  It’s not the kind of interaction I created the page for, but it is interaction, a chance to share the Gospel or apply the Gospel to our daily lives.  And I don’t know who else might see the interaction so I want to do so in love along with a good application of Scripture.  Her concerns are valid, based on her experiences.  The difficulty is balancing that something might be harmful and therefore sinful to one person, but not be harmful or sinful to someone else.

Maybe others will be drawn into the conversation.  What I hope this woman realizes is that her concerns are real, but not necessarily the best basis for condemning something as sinful in someone else’s life.  Especially someone she’s never met.

 

Mind the Collar

September 12, 2017

There was a brief flurry of comments about the young man who appeared at the MTV Music Video Awards in his clerical collar to denounce racism.  This got him into a bit of trouble with his congregation resulting in him offering his resignation.  This is his letter explaining his actions and the results.  Where to start with this?

Let’s start with his congregation’s concerns about his actions.  Is this warranted?  Of course it is.  The young man expresses surprise that his congregation has a problem with what he did.  Their reaction was”deeply hurtful” to him.  Perhaps he can understand then why his actions and words were “deeply hurtful” to some in the congregation.  He mentions his “right to free speech”.  But his right to free speech ends when he puts his clerical collar on.  Once he puts on the garb of a minister, he is voluntarily giving up his civil right to free speech in recognition that he is formally representing the Church or at least his congregation.

Did he consult with his leadership regarding whether or not appearing on a show broadcast around the world was a good idea?  Did they approve the specific statement he issued in that venue?  Did he honor his congregation by verifying that this was something they wanted him to do beforehand?  He specifically states that he is speaking “as a pastor”, but a pastor has a context.  Without ensuring that his congregation supported his statement, he should not be surprised that some were hurt by the publicity and offended at certain aspects of his remarks.  If you want to appear as a private person, without a collar and without reference to your vocation of pastor, that’s one thing.  But if you want to wear that mantle, you accept the restrictions that go with it.

Regarding what he said specifically, I have a few issues.  His designation of racism as “America’s original sin” has a lot of theological implications when he speaks in the uniform of and under the title of pastor.  I’d be curious how he reached this conclusion.  What is the exegetical basis for this assertion and again, how is it that he decides to publicly assert this as a leader of part of God’s Church?  It sounds a lot more like personal interpretation and exegesis to me, regardless of how many others might share in his viewpoint.  How does this become the country’s original sin given that it was not a sin universally engaged in?  At what threshold does can a sin be attributed directly and personally to everyone, if everyone does not directly or personally engage in it?  Slippery stuff, there.

I agree that racism is a sinful thing that should be confronted as such as necessary.  What about white supremacy, though?  How is this defined?  Does the demographic preponderance of whites automatically equal white supremacy?  Is it the particular ideological assertion that whites are inherently superior to other ethnicities?  That’s a big term to throw around without defining anything.

Most egregious, however, is the fact that when referring people to inspirations for confronting racism and white supremacy, Mr. Lee mentions only contemporary political movements and persons with extremely limited scope and questionable ideologies of their own.  I would think that if he wants to don the garb of a pastor and speak as a pastor, then he should have at least referenced Scripture as the first and foremost inspiration and power for confronting sin in all of it’s many facets.  Was he requested not to mention Scripture, or did he simply not think of it, or did he specifically choose not to mention it?  Curious.

So yeah, I understand why some of his congregation was upset.  And I find his rather immature surprise and hurt at this to be just that (hopefully) – immature.  His letter smacks of a self-righteousness that still doesn’t recognize the hurt that he caused, preferring to focus on the hurt he has personally experienced.  I pray for his sake as well as for the sake of his next congregation that this is a time of growth and maturation for him as a man and as a pastor.  I pray that he finds good, wise folks around him to help him in this process.

I pray this for myself.  I’m pretty sure it’s a good prayer for everyone, which might minimize the frequency of these sorts of public problems.

 

Vocationally Challenged

September 6, 2017

Talking with your kids and grandkids about what they want to be when they grow up is a cherished, necessary and important task of family.  These days, however, make sure that you’re providing them with some good perspective on what vocations are going to be challenging for them in the future.   The cultural landscape is shifting rapidly, and if you hope that your family member will remain firmly rooted in Christ, yet still be able to avail themselves of the career options that were once so open in our country, I have bad news for you.  At the very least, it’s sobering news that needs practical application.

California Senator Dianne Feinstein today criticized a nominee for the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals because of her Catholic faith, something which Senator Feinstein basically stated was a stumbling block for conflicting with the ideologies of others.

Senator Feinstein criticized and questioned Amy Coney Barrett because of religious writings and lectures she produced as a Law Professor at Notre Dame.  Feinstein specifically questioned and challenged Barrett’s actual adherence to and defense of Roman Catholic theology that Feinstein correctly assesses to be at direct odds with the prevailing spirit of the day.

“When you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s of concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have fought for for years in this country.” (And let’s ignore that large numbers of people have fought against some of these big issues.)

In other words, any dogma that challenges the status quo dogma is dangerous.  And to protect against any such outside dogmas, we’re going to pretend that dogma is not permissible to a judge.  Unless of course the dogma is in complete agreement with the spirit of the day.  So if you are against abortion on theological grounds, you shouldn’t be a judge because judges are supposed to support abortion because it’s been legal for almost 50 years.  Since we can’t legally – yet – prevent someone who disagrees with abortion from being a judge, we’re going to pretend that anyone with a strongly held belief is ipso ex facto inacceptable as a nominee.  Unless, of course, they happen to agree with abortion, in which case we’re totally fine with that because it’s not really a dogma.

So if your little darling wants to go into law, and hopes to one day be a judge, and may aspire to be an important judge, they may have to decide whether they would rather be an important judge or an actual follower of Jesus Christ.  Because if they’re going to practice what is preached to them, they might not be allowed to progress up the vocational ladder of judge-ness.

Isolated and unique situation, you say?

  • What about pharmacists?
  • What about if you believe that sexuality and gender confusion can be clarified and resolved through therapy?
  • What if you want to be a teacher?
  • How about a doctor?  Are you going to prescribe your patient enough medication so they can kill themselves if they choose to?  Doctor-“assisted”-suicide is legal in several states today.

The reality is that in more and more fields, being a committed Christian is being defined as a career liability.  And parents and grandparents and other key people need to be aware of this to help young people make sense of the rapidly shifting career landscape.  Especially before you take out $100,000 of student loan debt to achieve your goal, only to find you aren’t employable.

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Gnostic America

September 1, 2017

Gnostic America: A Reading of Contemporary American Culture & Religion According to Christianity’s Oldest Heresy by Peter M. Burfeind.

This was a recommended text for a continuing education seminar I attended this summer.  I’ve been struggling to get through it ever since, and am finally throwing in the towel.

This is not an easy read.  The guy is all over the place in an impressive fashion as he ferrets out the connections that link the gnostic philosophy/religion of ancient Greece and early Christianity to American culture today.  Because he covers so much ground (literature, politics, music, etc.) I find it difficult to track him.  A good background in philosophy is helpful, but by no means necessarily enough to help you keep track of the various strands he weaves together!

You’ll definitely come away with a different way of viewing much of American culture, and this is a good thing.

Humility in the Wilderness

August 31, 2017

I’m leading (and creating) an in-depth Bible study on the book of Revelation.  It has been an adventure, to say the least, one that has left me with a deep appreciation for the awesome task of making sense of God’s Word, and the reality that our understanding is at times very limited in this respect.

Today we’re tackling Chapter 17, the beginning section treating the fate of three powerful entities aligned against the people of God, his Church, and ultimately God himself.  The events of Chapter 17 unfold in the wilderness, a locale scripturally associated both with God’s formative work in people’s lives (the people of Israel in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy) as well as temptation (Jesus tempted in the wilderness, Matthew 4).  In John’s revelation, the wilderness is both where the Church flees from the persecution of Satan (Chapter 12), and is now also where John beholds the Great Harlot and her fate.

Even in just that simple paragraph I’ve no doubt offended, confused, or contradicted several dozen different interpretative moves amongst Revelation scholars.  I take comfort in that they also offend, confuse, and contradict one another, so adding my comparatively light academic and theological opinion to the mix is hardly the straw that will break any camel’s back!

But what struck me as I concluded my preparatory reading this morning was that  in the interpretation above, both the real and true Church of God, the bride of Christ who has been made pure, as well as the great harlot drunk on the wine of her many sins are in the wilderness.  Contextually, the Church is there because God has prepared a place of refuge for her there (12:6, 14).  We presume that the harlot is there in order to waylay those in the Church or those who might seek her.  She is there to seduce and misdirect whatever of God’s faithful she might, and to ensure that those currently outside of the fold of faith are unable (or at least unlikely) to reach it.  The harlot is attired in all the wealth and accoutrements and esteem so valued by the world.  It could only be by the very grace of God that someone was not fooled into following her instead of searching out the  bride of the Lamb clothed in fine but comparatively simple (and pure!) linen (19:8).

I side with those who interpret the woman to be the embodiment of the second beast (Revelation 13).  She is the lure of false religion as well as false teaching within the Church itself, leading to apostasy and rejection of true faith in Jesus Christ and knowledge of God as self-disclosed by God in his Word.  Which means you have the True Church as well as the False Church both out in the wilderness together.  Both contending with one another.  Both arguing for the truth of their identity and position and teachings.  One of them faithful and pure, the other terribly, eternally wrong.

If such is the case, then I would think it prudent for those claiming to be followers of Christ today to have a certain amount of humility and caution as they engage with one another.  Particularly I’m thinking of the current, codified version of an ongoing argument among Christians.   And I would particularly think that those whose major argument is for some sort of new divine revelation that directly contradicts thousands of years of theological understanding and interpretation would be just a tad wary that perhaps their arguments aren’t nearly as divinely inspired as they believe.  That perhaps they are being led astray into a false teaching intended ultimately to wrench them from Jesus himself.

This is not to say that longevity is to be equated with truth.  But within the Scriptural context, there is the clear warning against faithfulness that over time turns to unfaithfulness.  The bride or unmarried young woman who becomes the whore.  The danger is always that we are being led away by our own ideas and passions, which are not really ours but rather are the promptings of our ancient enemy, the Accuser.  I put a great deal more stock in the long-held interpretations and teachings of the Church over and against whatever spirit of the age might be popular.  It isn’t that the Church is never wrong, but it seems that the odds are better of her being right in the totality of her history and teaching than of me being right by coming up with some new interpretation or application.  Especially if it directly contradicts not just the teaching of the Church but the fairly clear Word of God itself.

We’re in the wilderness, that much is clear.  So we should be extra careful of the company we keep, so to speak.  One of the people we’ll meet in the wilderness is going to lead us to death, and the other to life.  One is going to seem obviously the right choice because of her wealth and power, as opposed to the persecuted and scorned condition of the other.  If our theological stance places us on the side of the spirit of the age and those self-entrusted with directing our ideas and values, perhaps we need to be very, very skeptical and nervous that we’re not in the right camp.  It isn’t that we haven’t been warned that it’s going to be confusing.  But it also isn’t that we haven’t been assured that the truth is available (Revelation 14:6-7).

Codifying Arguments

August 30, 2017

Media is starting to be abuzz as conservative and liberal Christians square off against one another – predictably – over issues of sexuality and gender.  The Nashville Statement was released this week (I presume), as a statement of traditional, conservative Biblical understandings of gender and sexuality and marriage.  In response, The Denver Statement was crafted by a congregation led by ELCA pastor and media sensation Nadia Bolz-Weber.

First off, I question the value of these sorts of statements.  I’d far rather sit down with someone and talk with them about these things instead of just directing them to a website proclamation.  Then again, I’m blessed to be part of a confessional church body.  I don’t have to figure out how to articulate every nuance of theology personally because I’m part of a larger church body that works on this corporately.  Not perfectly, to be sure, but certainly an advantage.  For pastors and congregations without that benefit, I suppose proclamations of this sort become a kind of creedal formulation.

First off, I’m struck by core differences between the two statements.  The Nashville statement appears to be trying to repeat what people see the Bible saying.  The Denver Statement seems to be asserting what people are saying, but not necessarily the Bible.  For instance The Denver Statement claims that “The pathway to full and lasting joy through God’s good design for God’s creatures is clearly inclusive of a variety of identities…”  What does clearly inclusive mean?  How is it clearly inclusive, and on what basis?

I’m struck once again by the means by which media and activists strive to paint the various stripes of sexual and gender expression as roughly equal to heterosexuality.  The Denver Statement talks about those who “happen” to be traditionally heterosexual.  However by all accounts, the vast majority of the human population just “happens” to be heterosexual and more or less unconfused by issue of sexual and gender identity.  We’re talking about a very small percentage of people – well under 5% by most accounts.  It’s not just a matter of happening  to be traditionally oriented in terms of sex and gender identity.  It would be far more accurate to speak of the very small group of people who happen to not feel this way for any number of reasons.  And to question whether the assumptions this group has embraced might not be more prone to flawed thinking than the traditional viewpoints.

The Denver Statement denies the Biblical notion of holy sexuality, but on what basis?  Is our personal preference to be the basis for rejection of Scripture (and obviously I’m talking about Christians – I don’t expect non-Christians to accept the Bible as true!)?  Is my personal experience or preference the grounds for rejecting Biblical teaching and insisting on a justification of my experience or preference?  If I gather together with a few other people who share my experience or preference, does that make them any more valid in terms of Biblical revisionism?  Even within my own church polity, the dangers of like-minded people banding together to push their own ideas is always something to be on the watch for!

I think The Nashville Statement does a good job of trying to convey a love for all people without condoning the ideas and practices of all people.  Of course, in a post-rational culture, people aren’t going to be able to discern between the two.  Either you like me and therefore agree with me, or you don’t like me and disagree with me.

I’m all for Bolz-Weber’s insistence on taking the Gospel to those the larger Church is less inclined to reach out to.  I recognize doing so requires some unorthodox approaches.  The trick is always to know what is negotiable and what is not.  What is the Gospel and what isn’t?  How can God’s non-negotiable Word and love be communicated to people without simply deciding that ideas and thoughts and actions and words that contradict God’s Word must be acceptable.  It’s a dangerous tightrope to walk, and it’s one I’m not entirely unfamiliar with.   And it’s a tightrope Bolz-Weber herself seems to recognize, as this sermon from 2015 seems to indicate (follow the link and then click on the sermon entitled A Sermon on the Matrix, the Gospel, and the US Congress).  If politics can experience a repentance, a turning away from sin, why not sexuality and gender?  And why not assume that God the Holy Spirit can and will grant healing and grace and peace in such a decision?

Statements  don’t accomplish this.  Conversations do.  More accurately, the Word of God accomplishes this.  Even when we don’t expect it or don’t even want it.  That’s the glory and grace and power of God at work.

 

More Misjudging Nature?

August 29, 2017

Last week I wrote about how science interprets animal behavior through the lens of natural selection.  Every behavior must somehow fit into this very limited understanding of our world, thereby excluding any other explanations.  Scientists struggle to make sense of things like altruism in humans, looking for evolutionary causes rather than the possibility that we actually are altruistic at times.  And if humans can’t be allowed to actually be altruistic because it has no reliable natural selection explanation, then animals certainly can’t be credited with such complicated motivations.

We are accustomed to assuming that scientists are right, and that animals have no such emotions or motivations, and rather are more strictly and simply motivated by survival instincts that have needed to become masked and made more complicated in human beings alone – for no readily explainable reason.

So this video of two hippos driving off a crocodile about to drown a wildebeest, must have natural selection explanations.  The hippos couldn’t possibly have just decided to save the wildebeest.

The explanations in the article hold the natural selection line by denying any possible altruistic motives.  The croc was too close to the hippos is the first hypothesis, which triggers their aggressiveness.  But it’s clear in the video that this is not the case.  The hippos close on the crocodile from far more than two meters.  The second theory, that the splashing triggered their territorial urges, also seems unlikely.  Most of the splashing occurred earlier, and the hippos were nowhere to be seen.  What size is the territory that a hippo stakes out?  Do two hippos stake out the same territory and work together within it?  If they are sub-dominant males, are they acting on behalf of the dominant male?  Isn’t that his job?  And if they share the watering hole anyways, why would territory need to be staked out if the basic relationship between the two species is live and let live?

Of course, there are lots of questions for the altruistic explanation that are just as slippery to answer.  Why save this wildebeest and not every wildebeest?  But I don’t think the behavior of two individuals in a singular situation need dictate a policy of sorts among hippos.

I don’t intend to (or even wish to!) completely undermine and dismiss all scientific observations.  But it seems to me that the lens of natural selection forces scientists down a very narrow path when interpreting animal behavior.  Maybe it’s helpful to just admit that they are more complicated than we often give them credit for, something that ultimately makes creation that much more amazing.