Archive for the ‘Philosophy and Engagement’ Category

There’s no script for how to respond to an event like the murder of 27 people, including 20 6-7 year olds.  And if any of us think we are going to come up with something that will fix or explain what happened in Newtown, Connecticut on Friday or if you think I’m going to provide either of those in this blog, we might just as well stop before we begin.

And yet, through the tears, the yelling, the disoriented silence, and maybe even the fear, we don’t have much choice but to go on living in a world where adults and children are killed.  And not only that, but for Christians who follow the liturgical year, last Sunday was the 3rd Sunday of Advent, traditionally the Sunday of “Joy.”  At first thought, it almost seemed cruel to me as I read the news last Friday and then went back to preparing for Sunday morning.  This tragedy seems maddeningly out-of-place at anytime, but especially in the holiday season, especially in the Advent week of Joy.

I don’t have any words that will fix or explain anything this morning, but I will simply draw on one observation from one of the many articles I read over the last couple days concerning the shooting.  What happened on Friday is, in fact, as intimately connected to the Christmas story as anything else we do during this season.  We need only read a few verses past Jesus’ birth before we arrive at the story of another massacre of children intended to stifle the work of God.

As Christians, we might be horrified by Friday’s events, or saddened, or angered, or moved with compassion, or even moved to take some sort of action.  But we should not be surprised.  No matter how much we try to shield ourselves from this reality, evil is an active and pervasive reality in the world in which we live.  And that is not to make any judgments on Adam Lanza.  We don’t know him.  But we can say that what happened in Newtown was evil.  It was unjust.  It was not what God desires for the world.  And we should feel angry and sad.

God did not become flesh in spite of things like this, but because of them.  And God did not avoid things like this, but marched directly into them.  The Bible tells us that God did this because Love is greater than evil, and it is when evil is at its worst that Love shows itself most strong.  This is the Story of Jesus.  It is not G-rated or warm and fuzzy.  It is radical; it is hard; and it is sometimes hard to believe.

On Friday, I thought to myself, “It’s tough to face God in this moment for me.  I can only imagine how difficult it might be for some of the children’s and teachers’ families.”  How could God allow such a thing?  How can we say that God is King when things like this happen in the world he is supposedly ruling over?

But what is the alternative?  We might not understand or even like or agree with how God chooses to be King sometimes.  And yet, where else can we go?  Where else can we possibly find hope that there might be some sort of comfort or redemption or justice?  Apart from God, what other grounds do we have to call this act evil?  And how else do we explain the conviction in our hearts that says, ”This is wrong.  And Someone should make it right”?

I do think this is a time where we need to talk about gun control because legislation might help.  Maybe it’s a time to look at security in our schools, though most schools already have measures in place.  But our best efforts at legislation and self-protection will not prevent evil.  Though we yearn to be in control, and we think that we can prevent evil, we cannot.  It will happen.  Neither passing laws nor increasing security nor keeping our kids home from school will allow us to avoid evil and its effects.  As Christians, it is our calling to, like Jesus, march boldly into the face of evil bearing God’s greater Love, no matter what the cost to us.  To weep with those who weep when evil strikes in our neighborhoods.  To step out of our comfort zones and befriend and to love outcasts like Adam Lanza even when they might be the hardest to love.  To make it a priority to know our neighbors, to be aware of their struggles, and to be willing to step in and bear their burdens before it turns into something like this.  Whatever it takes, to march into the heart of evil and pain and brokenness, bearing the love of Christ in places where it is most desperately needed.

In our congregation, we went ahead and gathered around the Advent Wreath on Sunday and lit our Advent Candle of Joy (after I spoke mostly these same words).  It was not an effort to pretend that everything is ok, nor to suggest that Christians should always feel joyful.  We lit the Joy Candle as a sign of our conviction that Love has taken evil’s best shot on the Cross of Jesus Christ, and has risen victoriously.  We lit the Joy Candle to help us cling to the promise that it is in the deepest darkness that God’s light shines forth.  We lit the Joy Candle as a defiant prayer that the long-expected Jesus has come and will come to release us from our fears and sins, that this Jesus is our Strength and Consolation and Hope.  And that regardless of what hands sin and evil deal us, our longing hearts will find Joy.

 

There are plenty of other helpful articles and blogs on this topic and some not-so-helpful.  Here are a few that I would recommend:

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2012/december-web-only/on-death-and-life-of-innocent-children.html

http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/god-kept-out

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-emily-c-heath/dealing-with-grief-five-t_b_2303910.html

 

Big news in the science world this week: researchers at CERN can confirm the discovery of a “Higgs-boson-like” particle (aka the “God Particle”).  Now–though I did get an ‘A’ in Honors Physics sophomore year of high school–I’m certainly no physicist.  So I’ll let others explain what exactly this discovery is all about.  I also can’t say that I really grasp the gravity of the discovery; it’s still a bit beyond me.  But one of the things about the story that moved me was the image of the tears-of-joy-filled Peter Higgs, who hypothesized the existence of such a particle way back in 1964.  Just think of all the years of study, all the researchers, all the effort, and all the money (the Large Hadron Collider [LHC]–the device necessary to make such a discovery–cost about $10billion!) that built to this point.

As I read the story of the discovery and learned a bit more, I engaged in one of my favorite activities: pondering in God’s Presence.  It’s a kind of “active wondering” that seeks a “God’s-eye-view” of a certain event or topic.  More dryly, it might be called “theological reflection.”  Anyway, I thought I’d share some of these ponderings on this recent discovery.

At first, some of my thoughts were more narrow (and perhaps a bit cynical).  For instance: Were the exorbitant costs (again, $10billion for the LHC alone, plus all the researchers, physicists, facilities, etc.) really worth such a discovery or are there better uses for the money?  In addition, I sometimes feel as though the scientific community (or, better, the media on behalf of the scientific community) oversteps its place with such announcements.  Science will not make this world a better place (at least in the sense of making people more loving, just, compassionate, faithful, etc.).  Technology (even knowledge) is just as likely to bring harm as it is to bring good, and I wish more people would heed this theological warning.

But then God opened up my musings a bit.  I got to thinking about the New Creation.  You see, most people think of the afterlife in terms of “heaven,” some place rather divorced from the physical world in which we currently live, where a bunch of transparent souls float around and play harps (forgive my sarcasm).  Thanks to people like NT Wright (for one), however, many Christians are being presented with the more biblical picture of New Creation, where all those “in Christ” will live and reign, work and commune with Resurrection (physical) bodies in the presence of God forever and ever, Amen.

And that brought me back to scientific discovery.  It’s so common for Christians to say things like, “I can’t wait for heaven so God will answer all my questions.”  Perhaps this comes from 1 Corinthians 13:12, where Paul writes, “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”  We might presume this to mean that we will be all-knowing when we get to heaven.  But I would suggest that the context is more about relational knowledge than scientific knowledge.  Paul, I’m educatedly guessing, is concerned about us knowing God relationally more than knowing a bunch of facts scientifically.

So, I got to thinking: maybe scientific inquiry and discovery is one of those New Creation occupations that we might be participating in.  You see, as a pastor, I am only temporarily employed.  In the New Creation, my profession will be irrelevant.  We won’t need people to teach us about God and call us into deeper relationship with our Creator and Redeemer.  There were no need for pastors in Eden, and there won’t be in the New Creation as far as I can tell.

But the New Creation isn’t just like some eternal retirement either.  We will work, just as there was work in Eden.  Don’t worry: it will be good, fulfilling, joy-filled, communal, edifying work, to be sure.  Things like agriculture, cooking, construction, art, music, etc. all seem to me like work that will carry over into the New Creation…and, as I was pondering today, perhaps the work of scientists.  I don’t have any reason to believe that God will just give us all the answers.  Why wouldn’t God allow us to continue in the exciting and marvelous process of discovering just how his Creation works, exploring new ways to apply the creation in creative ways (with no more danger of bringing harm rather than good)?  Doesn’t that seem like a joyful occupation? Going deeper and deeper into the intricacies of God’s creation, every new level adding another level to our praise and wonder towards our Creator!

More and more Christians and scientists are getting fed up with the idea that science and faith are somehow mutually exclusive.  How does understanding better how our world works give us any less reason for praise and wonder?  I think both scientists and Christians need to ask this question.*  The Bible is not some lame science book that simply says “God did it” to all of our questions about how the world works.  Rather, the Bible is a Story about God bringing wayward humans back home where we belong: in loving, worshipping, joyful relationship with our Creator and Redeemer.  So in the New Creation, when we come to God with all scientific queries, perhaps God will assure us of his unending love for us and–like most good teachers–send us back into the world to experience the joy of exploration and discovery for ourselves.  All the while knowing that we will return from those experiences singing his praises with even more wonder and joy.

*The discovery of the “God Particle” has really nothing to do with replacing or disproving God as the Creator.  Most scientists don’t even like the nickname.  The fault for the false competition of faith vs. science, in my opinion, lies on both sides.

http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2012/07/06/faqs-god-and-the-god-particle/

http://associatedluke.blogspot.com/2012/02/4-ways-of-relating-science-and-religion.html

http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2012/jul/5/higgs-boson-discovery-raises-new-questions/

http://selectingstones.com/2012/07/03/the-higgs-boson-or-the-god-particle-why-all-this-theology-amidst-science/

http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/vatican-astronomer-god-particle-is-exciting-but-has-no-theological-bearing/

I know you’ve all been sitting at your computers for the last 3 weeks just wondering, “When is Pastor Jon going to post a new blog?!”  Well, in those 3 weeks, I’ve been doing a couple things: 1) Pondering whether or not tongue-in-cheek comes through in blogging, and 2) Spending a week in Tampa, FLA with other young clergy participating in a training program.  This was the first of four trips to Tampa I will undertake over the next four years for training in different aspects of pastoral leadership.  The basis for this first week was “Family Systems Theory” (FST), a way of understanding human behavior developed by Murray Bowen.  In essence, the idea is that we are not best understood as isolated individuals, but as parts of the various systems in which we function (ie. family, workplace, faith community).  After a week of being immersed in this theory, I’ve got a lot of stuff packed into my brain that I’m still processing through.  But rather than talk about FST, I want to spend this blog talking about the processing…process called “Integration.”  Integration is an idea that I believe is essential to the Christian call to live “in the world, but not of the world.”

You see, Murray Bowen was not a Christian (as far as I know), whose theory was not intentionally connected to Christianity in any way.  One of the questions I kept asking and discussing with my colleagues in Tampa was, “How does (or doesn’t) this fit with the Gospel, with the call of the Church, and with our call as pastors?”   In our culture–more than any other culture in history, dare I say–we are confronted with all kinds of information, theories, and ideas.  We are constantly filtering all of this input into what seems true and what doesn’t.  This filtering is done both consciously and subconsciously.  We are deciding what should be “integrated” into our worldviews and lives and what should be discarded or even actively opposed.  As humans, we cannot avoid this process of integration and rejection.  There are things that are true (accurate to reality) or helpful to our goals and things that are false (inaccurate) and unhelpful.

As I said in my introductory first blog post, “The purpose of this blog is based on a very simple assumption: Christians are called to think differently about life.”  There are things that we must say “Yes” to and things we must say “No” to in life.  Naturally, we fall back on making these decisions thoughtlessly, just going with flow of our bodily impulses or the culture around us.  But as Christians, we are commanded, “Do not conform any longer to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”  Thus, we are called to engage the Integration process thoughtfully, comparing whatever new information we are presented with to what we believe already and to reality.  The goal of Integration is that we would be, well, integrated.  By that I mean that we are not saying “Yes” to ideas or beliefs that utterly contradict each other (contradiction is different from mystery and paradox) and that our beliefs and behaviors seem to fit with each other.  The letter of 1 John is a great example of a call to integration: “We love because he first loved us [integrated].  Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen [disintegrated]. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister [integrated].”

Integration is a word I actually learned while in seminary with my wife, who is a counselor.  For students to become licensed, they had to learn–as students in any psychology grad school–theories from Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, Carl Rogers, and B.F. Skinner.  But as a Christian seminary, psychology students also had to take a course called “Integration.”  Every theory–especially in psychology–makes assumptions about the nature of human beings, the role of God, methods of healing, and what is ultimately best for people.  These assumptions are going to be very different for a Christian than for someone (like Freud) who is clearly opposed or indifferent to Christianity.  The integration question in this context is, “What insights did Sigmund Freud have that fit my understanding of reality, what of his theories do not, and what insights might actually seem true enough to replace some of my existing beliefs?”

As I mentioned in my post on Harry Potter, it is far easier to wholly accept or reject someone’s ideas.  It is more difficult to engage the process of Integration–more difficult, but also more Christian (in my opinion).   So briefly, here are some principles I employ when I am engaged in the mental process of Integration.

  1. Humility and Honesty.  To engage the Integration process, I have to acknowledge that I don’t know it all.  I also have to be able let the new information challenge my assumptions and beliefs.  A number of times, I have received a new bit of information that has challenged what I “know” about the Gospel and the Bible, only to go back to the Scriptures and have them opened up in a new way.  Not many of us would say, “I’ve got it all figured out,” yet many of us live in a way that says, “Don’t you dare challenge my beliefs and assumptions!”  Jesus faced the most opposition from people who would not let their understandings of God and faith be challenged, even by…well…God himself.
  2. General and Special Revelation.  These doctrines have been quite enlightening to me.  Basically, they indicate that even though someone might not be engaging Jesus and the Scriptures in faith (special revelation), that doesn’t mean that they have no way of discovering truth.  God has given all humans access to some level of truth through the creation, interactions with people, and life experiences (general revelation).  In other words, we should not be surprised if Sigmund Freud or the Buddha or Stephen Hawking or John Lennon are actually making true insights into the world.  As the saying goes, “All truth is God’s truth.”  Of course we are going to find true insights in other religions because they are living in the same world, learning from trial and error like everyone else.  Of course people who look closely at humanity and the natural world are going to gain true insights.  As Christians, we can learn from some of these basic insights, while also knowing that God has chosen to reveal himself in a more full and relational (special) way in the Scriptures and in Jesus.  Integration allows people–even people who may not know or love God at all–to help us check our blindspots and drive us back to God in our search for love, truth, and wisdom.
  3. Seeing the problem vs. Having a solution.  This is a big one for me.  I am constantly awed at how insightful non-Christians can be into the human condition.  The best and most honest comedians, poets, musicians, and journalists are intimately aware of–in Christian terms–human sin and cosmic brokenness.  They are intimately aware of our deep needs and our quest for hope.  To put it more simply: they are intimately aware that something is wrong.  A couple years ago, I read Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead.  There is much I find appalling in Rand’s philosophy of how things should be, but there is much I find prophetic in Rand’s perception of our human and societal condition.  I believe Jesus and his Gospel work are God’s solution to the problem.  Yet, while I am left unsatisfied with the ways the Buddha or Ayn Rand or Sigmund Freud would seek to solve our problems, I think we can gain some insight from them into the problems that need to be solved.

It is easy to hate and reject information that makes us think or challenges our assumptions.  But such knee-jerk reactions keep us 1) from the general revelation insights we might learn from others, 2) from developing a spirit of humility and openness, and 3) from being able to connect and interact meaningfully with anyone who is not “like us.”  Integration can be a rigorous process.  But it is one that is essential if we are going to live in this world in a meaningful way while also being transformed by God’s Spirit.  This is just some introduction to the idea of Integration.  I hope you can see the process at work in some of my other blog posts and maybe you can even practice applying it when you read, see, or hear some new bit of information.  Don’t hate, Integrate!