Thursday, June 8, 2017

None of This Is Easy

Why are the nations so angry?
    Why do they waste their time with futile plans?
The kings of the earth prepare for battle;
    the rulers plot together
against the Lord
    and against his anointed one.
Psalm 2:1, 2

“It has been clear for a while that the world is at an inflection point.” - Former American President, Barack Obama, June 6, 2017 at the Montreal Board of Trade.

It is easy to suggest that our world has seen a rise of angry nations and angry people. Three recent attacks in the United Kingdom (Westminster, Manchester, and London Bridge) have many politicians, community leaders, and religious leaders, around the world asking questions about how we stop such appalling assaults. Many are speaking out in political forums, press releases, and social media, seeking to bring calm and suggest ways to end the blood-shed.

Into this atmosphere came the strong voice of Former American President, Barack Obama as he spoke to the Montreal Board of Trade on June 6 of this year. (I will refer to Mr. Obama as President Obama to show respect for his previous significant role.) Much of what he said had also been said in an address to an audience in Chicago at the end of his presidency on January 11, 2017. Both speeches were reminders of the fact that President Obama is an inspiring orator.

In his speech in Montreal, President Obama repeated his belief that the world is at a significant “inflection point.” He referred to the rapid rate of globalisation, the speed of technological change, and the nature of world politics as evidence that “for some time” it has been clear that this is true. He joined other world leaders in expressing condolences to the people of London and the United Kingdom as they mourned with those affected by the latest terrorist attack on, and near, London Bridge.

The former president then moved to the heart of his message. He stated that these actions on the world stage can cause nations to retreat into isolation and nationalism as they seek certainty and control. In a world that is highly connected through social media, it is possible to surround ourselves with people who look like us, people who share our political outlook, and people who will never challenge our assumptions. We retreat into bubbles within neighbourhoods, university and college campuses, places of worship, and social media feeds, seeking certainty, agreement, and control of our corner of the world. President Obama believes that such isolation is unhealthy for the proper development of democracy. In Montreal, he stated that, “If democracies begin to doubt themselves and we violate our principles because of fear and uncertainty then we can’t expect the progress that is just now starting to take control around the world.” He believes that we have been at such inflection points before and that we must continue to uphold the principles of democracy and justice in a tainted world. He encouraged his audience to “do more to bridge the gap between rich and poor nations.”

He then said one of the most significant things any politician could say at this time of global unrest.  President Obama stated, “We’re in an environment where we are only accepting information that fits our opinions rather than basing our opinions off the facts we receive, and evidence and reason and logic…” That hits all of us hard. I know I have that tendency, and I suspect that you are not immune to the tendency as well. How many times do I find myself scouring the internet for information, opinion, and interpretation that supports my views? How much time do I spend listening to the opinions of others compared with the time I spend shoring up my position? How much do I smile when a view different from my own gets reduced by public opinion or sustainable facts? How much do I seek to avoid ideas that go against my “well-founded” views of the world? As President Obama said in his Chicago address, “None of this is easy.”

I wonder if we can’t all become better scientists, theologians, and philosophers. These three branches of knowledge seek to find truth. They observe the world, make hypotheses, create ways of testing the hypotheses, analyze the data, draw conclusions, make statements, listen to critiques of the work, and repeat the process. What if every one of us made fearless inquiry of the world around us? Mark Noll and others have pointed to the “anti-intellectualism of the evangelical mind.” The words of President Obama seem to point toward an “anti-intellectualism of the social media mind.” I believe we can turn the tide of anti-intellectualism by genuinely seeking truth in all its forms through systematic inquiry.

“None of this is easy.” Even as I quote this powerful speech given to the Montreal Board of Trade, I am aware of whole sections of the speech with which I have not interacted. In the convincing philosophies of men like President Obama, I will still struggle with portions of the message. Perhaps it is those sections I most need to hear.

Last night, a small group of church members and myself were led through the practice of Lectio Divina as we read Psalm 2. It is an appropriate Psalm for these times. One person drew my attention to the last line of the Psalm, “But what joy for all who take refuge in him!” The “him” in this sentence refers to “God’s royal son,” and is an alternative to placing our trust in “the nations.” These words remind us that there is a person in whom we can place our trust. Will we trust in the nations, political leaders, news media outlets, or social media stars? Or will we seek to use our minds to fearlessly inquire into the nature of this royal son of God? Will we make intentional inquiry into the creator of the universe? Using my intellect means using all my intellect for all the inquiries of life. What joy awaits those who take refuge in truth. May the royal son of God give us refuge as we seek the truth.

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