Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Follow-Up to Passing Judgement

The love of those things that are outside Christianity keeps me outside the church. 
- Simone Weil as quoted in Duncan, David James. The Brothers K. New York: Random House, Inc., 2005.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Passing Judgement

I often cringe when people suggest that we should all stop "judging." Sometimes my cringe is because I feel bad for the person who feels that others are passing judgement on their actions. Sometimes I cringe because I feel that the person is seeking to justify actions that are certainly not worthy of praise. Sometimes I cringe because I simply do not know what to do with the emotions I feel when someone hurts someone else. If I judge that someone has made a judgement upon someone, do I have enough knowledge to know why that person has made the judgement? If I condemn the judgement, am I also guilty of judgement? Sometimes my cringe is because I sense that people are continuing to hurt others with words meant to correct a fault.

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Romans 2:1

This passage tells us to treat others with the respect with which we would want to be treated. It is a recognition that we will see the sin in others' lives but may not recognize the same type of sin in our own life. For example, I may see the lifestyles of those who earn large salaries and judge that they are living excessively and that they should live their lives differently. I may judge that they have succumbed to the sin of greed. I may not see that I have chosen a lifestyle in which I use more resources than I need and that others may see my lifestyle as excessive when compared to theirs. An appropriate reaction would be for me to live with generosity and model a lifestyle in which I seek to use wisely the resources that have been entrusted to me. I can also pray that others might wisely use the resources with which they have been entrusted whether those resources be small or large.

I may look on the sexual lifestyles of others and recognize sin without seeing the sinfulness and brokenness of my own sexuality. As Robert Burns wrote, "O wad some Pow'r the giftie gie us To see oursels as ithers see us!"1 Might we begin to see, not only the sin of others, for we all know that there is sin in our world, but, might we also see ourselves as others see us.

Might we see that we too are broken and in need of rescue from ourselves. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, "By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are."2 If I choose to do so, I can pray for others who sin against God and against people and ask God to be gracious toward us all. Might we seek to see ourselves as God sees us.

1 From "To A Louse, On Seeing One on a Lady's Bonnet at Church," a 1786 Scots language poem by Robert Burns. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/To_a_Louse
2 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship; http://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/2723088-nachfolge

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Seeing Stars and Seeing God

These words found in Romans 1:20-23 are worth meditating upon.
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

The passage counsels that God's eternal power and divine nature can be clearly seen in what has been made. So, how do we understand the many people who see all that has been created and suggest that it simply came to be out of nothing. Take for example the newborn star, Herbig-Haro 46/471 which has only recently been detected.2 Since light from this star takes approximately 1400 years to arrive on earth, astronomers are now observing events that occurred around 600 AD. The enormity of the distances and the incredible explosive power of a star coming into existence inspires awe. Yet, to whom or what will we ascribe this power and awe? Is this evidence of God's eternal power and divine nature or simply the universe continuing its birthing process? Will we recognize an eternal God or postulate an eternal universe? Which is the more likely to be eternal, matter or God?

These are legitimate questions and it is necessary to ponder upon them to come up with answers that satisfy. I think upon these questions to ensure that I continue to agree with previous conclusions. I must also consider my motives for looking in one direction or the other as I answer such questions. Why would I rather believe in an eternal and impersonal universe than an eternal and personal God? What difficult consequences might I be seeking to avoid? Given the nature of the universe, which is more likely to be eternal, matter or God? Indeed, it would seem that God would be just the kind of being that one would expect to be eternal. Yet each of us must meditate upon these things for we have been given the ability and the freedom to come to conclusions on this ourselves. Others will come to different conclusions but I must meditate, reflect, and draw conclusions that will then influence the way I live. For my part, I have found that I can agree with C. S. Lewis when he said, "I felt in my bones that this universe does not explain itself."3

1 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herbig%E2%80%93Haro_object
2 This research was presented in a paper entitled "ALMA Observations of the HH 46/47 Molecular Outflow" by H├ęctor Arce et al, to appear in the Astrophysical Journal; http://www.almaobservatory.org/en/press-room/press-releases/632-alma-takes-close-look-at-drama-of-starbirth
3 http://www.peterkreeft.com/topics/first-cause.htm

Sunday, August 18, 2013

No Man is an Island

"No man is an island," wrote John Donne in 1624. His poem by the same name suggests that the things that each of us do affect others around us. We are all part of the community of humankind and what I do has an effect on the whole. I thought of this the other day as I went for a run. I was continuing to train for a competition that, because of life circumstances, I could no longer fit into my schedule. One part of my brain said, "Why should I run today? There is no race in your near future." Yet another part of my brain reminded me that I run not just for myself. I run to stay healthy so that I might be around for more time to take care of the needs of my wife and family. I run to inspire others to stay fit and healthy. I even run to affect the overall fitness level of my country. When statistics are run on how many people are physically active in Canada, I want to be one of the people that brings up the national average.

The same is true of other aspects of our lives. The decisions I make and the good or evil I choose to do affects others. There are extreme examples. If I choose to drink alcohol and drive there is a good chance that I might seriously injure or kill someone with my car. But there are less extreme examples as well. If I consider it my right to pursue my own selfish direction in life and not work at my relationship with my wife it affects my wife, my children, my friendships, and society as a whole. Every person who walks away from marriage and divorces their spouse adds to the statistics of divorce and makes it that much easier for others to believe that it is normal, natural, and okay. So each of us can recognize that we have an effect on the whole of our society.

The good that we can do also inspires others. When a person takes a week or two of their holidays to go to Haiti or Cuba or Uganda to help with a water project, serve the poor, or build a school, others are inspired to do the same. When we volunteer on a local school committee, community association, strata board, or flood relief effort, we challenge others to consider their part in serving others. Together we make a difference.

How do I want my life to be remembered by those who follow? What am I doing right now that is an inspiration or a distraction to others? We are all connected. No man or woman is an island.

'No Man is an Island'
No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man's death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.1

1 MEDITATION XVII; Devotions upon Emergent Occasions; John Donne; http://web.cs.dal.ca/~johnston/poetry/island.html

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Wide Eyed

I have often been intrigued by the words of the song "Wide Eyed" sung by Nicole Nordeman.  The lyrics and the melody are beautiful; yet I have often found it difficult to understand what the song writers are trying to say. The lyrics are written below and there is a link you can click to listen to Nicole Nordeman's performance of the song while you read the lyrics.

Wide Eyed
Performed by Nicole Nordeman on her 1998 album, Wide Eyed
(Written by Derald Daugherty and Steve Hindalong; © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.)

When I met him on a sidewalk
He was preaching to a mailbox
Down on 16th Avenue
And he told me he was Jesus
Sent from Jupiter to free us
With a bottle of tequila and one shoe
He raged about repentance
He finished every sentence
With a promise that the end was close at hand
I didn't even try to understand

He left me wide eyed in disbelief and disillusion
I was tongue tied, drawn by my conclusions
So I turned and walked away
And laughed at what he had to say
Then casually dismissed him as a fraud
I forgot he was created in the image of my God

When I met her in a bookstore
She was browsing on the first floor
Through a yoga magazine
And she told me in her past life
She was some plantation slave's wife
She had to figure out what that might mean
She believes the healing powers of her crystals
Can bring balance and new purpose to her life
Sounds nice

She left me wide eyed in disbelief and disillusion
I was tongue tied, drawn by my conclusions
So I turned and walked away
And laughed at what she had to say
Then casually dismissed her as a fraud
I forgot she was created in the image of my God

Not so long ago, a man from Galilee
Fed thousands with His bread and His theology
And the truth He spoke, quickly became the joke of educated
Self-inflated Pharisees like me

And they were wide eyed in disbelief and disillusion
They were tongue tied, drawn by their conclusions
Would I have turned and walked away
And laughed at what He had to say
And casually dismissed Him as a fraud
Unaware that I was staring at the image of my God

The first verse speaks of a person we might find on any inner city street corner: he seems to be delusional and lost in his addiction to alcohol. He is so incredible and his claims so outlandish that we miss the value of the person underneath the addiction; yet, just like me, he has a mother and was once someone's little boy. He was created in the imago dei and, like a coin, still retains the image of God stamped upon him no matter how worn and damaged the coin may be. He has something to teach us even as we look at the wreckage of his life and wonder what we could do to help him.

The second person met in the song is a woman in a bookstore who is searching for answers in her life. The singer of the song wishes her well in her search but seems to not engage her in a conversation that might direct her to the image of God in which she was created. The singer has a preconceived notion that this woman would not be interested; but this does not change the fact that the woman in the bookstore also has the image indelibly stamped upon her whether or not she attends to it.

The singer begins to wonder what her response to Jesus might have been had she lived in the time when he walked and spoke in Galilee. Would she have been too well-educated to accept the teachings of this local carpenter's son who fed people with bread and fish and theology? Would she have casually dismissed him as a fraud and missed the fact that he was the very image of our God?

The song reminds me that I want to be aware of the people who cross my path and what I can learn from my interactions with them. I want to look for any glimmer of the imago dei in those I meet. I want to be wide-eyed and aware, looking for opportunities to speak words of truth and right theology based upon the teachings of Jesus of Galilee and trust that his words will be sufficient for all of our lives.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Follow-up to Gifts For A King

I have shared these lyrics on this site before. They are still a suitable follow-up to yesterday's topic.

How Many Kings
(Written by Marc Martel and Jason Germain; 2006 Centricity Music Publishing/Germain and Martel Music Publishing/ASCAP)
(Listen here while reading the lyrics.)

Follow the star to a place unexpected
Would you believe after all we’ve projected
A child in a manger
Lowly and small, the weakest of all
Unlikeliness hero, wrapped in his mothers shawl
Just a child
Is this who we’ve waited for? Cuz

How many kings, stepped down from their thrones?
How many lords have abandoned their homes?
How many greats have become the least for me?
How many Gods have poured out their hearts
To romance a world that has torn all apart?
How many fathers gave up their sons for me?

Bringing our gifts for the newborn savior
All that we have whether costly or meek
Because we believe
Gold for his honor and frankincense for his pleasure
And myrrh for the cross he’ll suffer
Do you believe, is this who we’ve waited for?
It’s who we’ve waited for

How many kings, stepped down from their thrones?
How many lords have abandoned their homes?
How many greats have become the least for me?
How many Gods have poured out their hearts
To romance a world that has torn all apart?
How many fathers gave up their sons for me?
Only one did that for me

All for me, All for you
All for me, All for you

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Gifts to a King

When you are king of Israel you dare not make casual comments or hint that you would like something. King David learned this and we can read about it in Second Samuel.1 It was a warm fall day and David said something like, "You know what would taste good right now? Some water from the well near the gate of Bethlehem. Do you remember how good that water tastes? Oh, if only someone would go and get me a drink from there." Right away, three of his closest and strongest warriors jumped up and broke through the enemy line to get some water from that well and carry it back for their King. But David would not drink the delicious water. Instead he poured it out on the ground and said that it was "the blood of men who risked their lives for him." David did not accept what was offered to him because it was purchased at great cost to others and no cost to him.

Later, someone else offered him something for free that he wished to purchase.2 He wanted to make an offering to God on an altar; and he needed some land, stones, wood, and animals for this offering. He traveled to a piece of land owned by Araunah, the Jebusite. But before he could ask to buy the land and other necessary items, Araunah asked what he needed and offered to give it to him instead. David's answer is firm, " No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing."

There are a few important principles in this historical account. First, we can deduce that it is important to fairly assess what things cost. A jug of water may appear to cost very little but, when we consider the expense of getting that jug of water and the danger involved, we realize that it is costly indeed. The same may be true of what people offer to God today. When we see another's sacrifice, can we really see all that went into that gift?

Similarly, we must be certain of the cost of what we are turning over to God. Did that gift truly take sacrifice on our part or is it more of a re-gifting of someone else's offering? If an offering made to God cost us nothing it is not really our gift to God. Many of the gifts we give may be given out of our surplus and are certainly not worthy of being called a sacrifice.

Lastly, we see that God does not ask anything of us that he has not already done. If he asks us to make a sacrifice or give an offering, it is because he has already given his own son to die for every man, woman, and child on the planet. He offers to us life; and that life in him is costly for it was bought at great expense to him.


1 During harvest time, three of the thirty chief warriors came down to David at the cave of Adullam, while a band of Philistines was encamped in the Valley of Rephaim. At that time David was in the stronghold, and the Philistine garrison was at Bethlehem.  David longed for water and said, “Oh, that someone would get me a drink of water from the well near the gate of Bethlehem!”  So the three mighty warriors broke through the Philistine lines, drew water from the well near the gate of Bethlehem and carried it back to David. But he refused to drink it; instead, he poured it out before the Lord. “Far be it from me, Lord, to do this!” he said. “Is it not the blood of men who went at the risk of their lives?” And David would not drink it.
2 Samuel 23:13-17

2 On that day Gad went to David and said to him, “Go up and build an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.” So David went up, as the Lord had commanded through Gad. 20 When Araunah looked and saw the king and his officials coming toward him, he went out and bowed down before the king with his face to the ground.
Araunah said, “Why has my lord the king come to his servant?”
“To buy your threshing floor,” David answered, “so I can build an altar to the Lord, that the plague on the people may be stopped.”
Araunah said to David, “Let my lord the king take whatever he wishes and offer it up. Here are oxen for the burnt offering, and here are threshing sledges and ox yokes for the wood. Your Majesty, Araunah gives all this to the king.” Araunah also said to him, “May the Lord your God accept you.”
But the king replied to Araunah, “No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.”
So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen and paid fifty shekels of silver for them. David built an altar to the Lord there and sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. Then the Lord answered his prayer in behalf of the land, and the plague on Israel was stopped.
2 Samuel 24:13-25

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Loving Truth

In 1999 I worked in a genetics lab in Calgary using the latest molecular DNA techniques to diagnose genetic disorders in the families that came into our clinics and other clinics across the country. Families relied on us and used the information we generated to make decisions about their own health and the health of their children. The techniques we used were developed in our lab using previously determined methods and we had a great deal of trust in the system. We were always aware of the possibility of building our systems upon inaccuracies of others but with peer reviewed papers and a healthy degree of checking each others work we generated data that was suitable for the needs of our patients.

In 1999 we were also very much aware of computer programs built upon other programs. Our lab data-base and our DNA analysis systems were built using other people's code and we did not always know the type of system previous programmers had used for labeling the dates on files. As the new millennium loomed before us we were concerned that someone might have used a calendar system that could not deal with the year 2000. Some systems would click over from 1999 to 2000 by going from 99 to 00 and programs might see this as an invalid date. This of course was the essence of the Y2K concerns of the late 1990s. Much time, energy, and money was expended on this issue to confirm that our databases, timers, and machines would survive into the new century.

Both the lab systems and the computer systems illustrate a problem that has implications for our scientific, philosophic, and theological systems. Any work we do presently is necessarily built upon the work of others and shares assumptions that we may not even comprehend as we build our work.

Blaise Pascal, the French mathematician, physicist, and philosopher looked into the philosophy of scientific discovery and found that the conclusions of one person were always dependent upon previous axioms;1 and that no one was able to completely investigate all previous assumptions, inferences, and "self-evident" truths. He concluded that, “Truth is so obscure in these times, and falsehood so established, that, unless we love the truth, we cannot know it.”2 Those are good words for all of us. Do we love truth enough to pursue it wherever it may take us? When we find truth in conflict with our previous beliefs can we examine how this truth may be incorrect because of a wrong assumption? Or, can we recognize that our previous belief may need some adjustment? Is my understanding of science or theology narrow and short-sighted because of flawed axioms built into my system of beliefs? What if we could all desire to love truth and live by it? What if it became natural to speak truth and seek it in all aspects of our lives? May our hearts long for and love all truth.

1 An axiom is 1: a maxim widely accepted on its intrinsic merit; 2: a statement accepted as true as the basis for argument or inference; or 3: an established rule or principle or a self-evident truth. – Merriam-Webster; http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/axiom

2 Blaise Pascal (1623-1662, Thoughts, http://www.bartleby.com/48/1/14.html