The link is here: The Redemptive Angle.
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I've been inactive for a few weeks as I work out launching a new version of this blog. I'll be leaving the google platform and entering into my own new world. But before that happens, I may post here and there. I just wanted to keep you updated as to that status. The new site is very close to ready.
I just want you to know that I hope you'll continue to read and share what you read here as well.
Grace and peace,
Some friends of mine and I have been spending some time with a refugee family from Iraq, new to the U.S. for about 2 months now (I've spoken of this family before on this blog). on Sunday, they had 4 of us over to their house for lunch, and they wanted to take us on a picnic, Iraqi-food style. This family has a husband and wife plus 6 young and energetic daughters, so going anywhere isn't a simple task. As such, we decided we'd walk to the park a few blocks from their home.
But before we went to the park, we got to spend some time with the mom and eldest daughter. In all our communication problems (they don't speak much English), we were able to discern some of the horror stories they saw and heard while living in Baghdad. It was an eery and sobering experience to hear of the things they saw in Baghdad at the height of the war there. I never realized how international affairs really shape people on the ground. I never thought I'd create a friendship with those who knew those atrocities firsthand.
Once some other family members got ready, though, we headed off to the park. We spent hours there eating delicious food, kicking soccer balls, throwing frisbees, and watching the girls ride their bikes. These girls are so full of life one would have to be on death's doorstep not to be enlived along with them. It was a true joy and a delightful afternoon.
Eventually time came for parting as everyone grew tired. I said my goodbyes and walked off to my car. And when I got to my car, I realized my iPod was missing. I knew I had listened to music on the way to their house so I thought I had just misplaced it in a bag or it had fallen below a seat or something. But after ten solid minutes of searching my car, I came to the conclusion that my iPod was gone and likely stolen. I also remembered a very brief time when my car was unattended and I might not have locked it.
Though I was frustrated with myself for not being certain about the car being locked, I was never too angry. Do I think stealing is wrong? Absolutely. Your reading the words of a guy who gave lectures to his friends in high school about the wrongs of illegally downloaded music. But I never got angry. For some reason I couldn't.
My outgoing senior pastor (he's leaving for a new post and I wish him well) always commends to those he leads to read prayer requests of the persecuted Christian church worldwide (here or here). He suggests that American Christians practice this discipline first so that we can be mindful in prayer for Christians all over the world. Second, truly caring about persecuted Christians sometimes diminishes the petty difficulties in life.
And in that vein, that was the disposition of my heart yesterday. I did not consciously think, "I will not get angry." I just wasn't. I had just spent hours with a family who experienced unimaginable horrors (there are many stories I could share but choose not to for anonymity's sake; believe me, they are tough stories). My picture of suffering was incredibly limited when compared to theirs.
Perhaps this is why Jesus remarks:
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Mt. 5:10
I'm certainly not suggesting that I am righteous, nor am I suggesting that my friend's were persecuted because of righteousness. What I am suggesting is that experiencing, knowing, and caring for those in real persecution allows one to be more receptive to the character of Jesus. And this is a worthy pursuit in life.
One of my favorite TV personalities is Andy Rooney on 60 Minutes, mainly because he always has an interesting take on an aspect of culture that befits his curmudgeonly personality. He develops a popular view of human desire this week that I thought was worth responding to.
Rooney misses the same point on desire that I referenced with Tiger Woods last week. Desire isn't bad. Bad desire is bad. Selfish desire is bad. Unquenchable desire is bad. And these are the things that Rooney is talking about. A world with no desire, or with a desire-reduction pill, is a sad world not worthy of the beauty and deep emotion this world offers through its Creator.
On the other hand, Rooney's words are an apt rebuke of our culture, and indeed human nature, which is constantly craving deeper lusts. The very nature of sin draws us all in to be addicts, never having enough of whatever fix we need: ambition, fame, power, sex, or food. We are indeed living in a dark world that cries out for a solution.
Just not Rooney's solution. We are in need of something worth desiring. We are in need of an object of our desire that won't ask for unfulfilled desires. We are in need of an object of our desire that actually fills our desires, and then some. We are in need of a person, the only person or thing that can, rightly change our desires and give us good ones.
We are in need of Jesus.
Deep Church by Jim Belcher- This book is essentially a philosophy of Christian ministry for a local church that listens to the popular criticisms on current Church methodology but still seeks to maintain a deep orthodoxy. It's one of the best books I've read on the subject, and it articulates a view of my own profession that I align with most closely, more than any other book I've read.
Capitalism and Freedom by Milton Friedman- The main thesis of this classic of the last 40 years is that capitalism creates more contexts for freedom- religious, economic, political- than does any other form of economy. Friedman essentially argues that a full-on socialistic democracy is a contradiction in terms. While much of the 20th century proves that empirically, Friedman makes compelling economic arguments.
The Complete Stories of Flannery O'Conner- I'm a southerner. One of my favorite books is To Kill a Mockingbird, which without question is also my favorite movie. There's something about reading southern novelists of the early 20th century that resonates with the places I'm from and my own extended family, which also haunts a large part of who I am. Where others deal analytically with the content of O'Conner or Faulkner, I very much feel what they write in an existential way. I'm loving my journey through O'Conner.
The Christ of the Covenants by O. Palmer Robertson- If one accepts the historicity and infallibility of the Old and New Testaments as inspired Scripture of God, then the inevitable question of the unity of the Scripture arises. While many people have many different views on how the Scripture is unified, I'm entering a historic Christian tradition that accepts a view of the unity of Scripture called Covenant Theology. From what I've heard, Robertson's treatment on this subject is some of the best. I'm about halfway through and am soaking it up.
So happy reading to you. My exhortation is to always be reading something you love, something that challenges you, and something old. Read fiction and non-fiction. Plum the depths of your religious or spiritual tradition. Read books that encourage you. And read books that have influenced the intellectual greats through the ages. I'm still very much a learner in this process and have so much more to read in the years to come.
Given Tiger's indiscretions and public scrutiny, much of the commentary focused on Tiger even though he never led the tournament yesterday or at any point (he finished tied for 4th). Tiger started horribly yesterday, bogeying three of the first five holes (for non-golf lovers- he lost three strokes to par= the standard score). Tiger wasn't throwing his usual tantrums or lighting up the curse words early on, which is typical of him when he plays poorly. Also, though, when Tiger turned it around and started playing great, he wasn't fist-pumping and revving up the crowd either.
Why? Well, Tiger has talked about returning to his family roots of Buddhism so he can "center" himself on the golf course: not get too high or too low. In Buddhism, emotion and desire are bad and ultimately things to gain higher enlightment over. But the commentators didn't like that. One of them remarked, "Tiger without emotion is like Superman with kryptonite. He can't feed off his own energy, which he's so used to." (That's a rough paraphrase).
And the commentator hit on a Christian truth without knowing it. The Buddha, in his quest for the alleviation of suffering, mistakenly linked good and bad desires together, thus trying to achieve nirvana over all desire (since desire is the source of much suffering). But in Christianity, good desire is good, and bad desire is bad. And there are oh so many good things in this world to desire and appreciate: the beauty of azaleas in the spring in Augusta, enrapturing music that leads you to truly experience beauty, and even excellence in one's craft.
Lying behind it all is One who gives the desire and grants the possibility that those desires can be fulfilled. He also works against all the evil desires of the world to ultimately bring justice to it all.
That's comforting to me, and I hope it will be to Tiger Woods someday too.
When I was in graduate school a common question I got asked is if I'd return to Tennessee once I graduated. "Not necessarily. Don't know where the whims or plans of life will take me." I'm a planner, sure. But I wanted to be open to where I thought God wanted me. It seemed the reason that many people asked me this was because it was their own plan for their own life.
Mid-westerners wanted to go back to the corn fields and winds of the plain and farm states. Southerners wanted to go back to the hospitality and Bible-beltishness of the glorious South. Californians wanted to go back to the high-energy and diversity of the far west. Texans had their own weird Texas pride that I will never understand.
But then there were also tranplants- people that have always wanted to live and really live in Colorado. To them, the mountains would always be home no matter where they're from. And they wanted to stay here.
And lastly, there's those select transient few that are never really satisfied where they are because there are new and exciting adventures to be had. Colorado and mountains are great, but so are beaches and warm weather. Small towns offer a quaint charm but big cities also offer entertainment and non-stop excitement. There's always something new to experience that seems so elusive.
And no matter our disposition towards home we're still all seeking it. Home could be found in rest or excitement or both, but no matter who we are we are seeking home. We long for a nostalgia that's not entirely possible, or we long for an experience that cannot really be had. C.S Lewis, the classic Christian apologist, had this to say about our predicament:
"If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world."
Those longings for home are real and they really point to something. Real home is found in Jesus Christ and his ultimate home in a new heaven and new earth, where all evils and sorrows cease forever. Justice will be had and evil dealt with (Revelation 21-22). Only perfect good will remain. And our longing for nostalgia will be realized. Our thirst for ever-increasing excitement will finally be quenched.
We will be home. Finally.
Perfect example: I have many friends who voted for Obama, even though they were conservative, because Obama postured towards moderates and they wanted to appear sensible, especially since the young adult trend was to view Republicans as non-centrist. Of course, the great irony in the 2008 election was that Obama was promoting a statist agenda openly (posturing be damned), and McCain had a 20 year voting record of centrism (which is why many Republicans didn't favor him).
Another example: Confused "conservatives" and "Republicans" favoring the healthcare bill that recently passed because "something had to be done." If they were true conservatives, however, they would have always favored less government control than more. And to a conservative, the status quo, while not a good option, is a better option than the bill just passed. So, news flash: if you agreed, by and large, with the bill that just passed, you are a liberal. And, by the terms laid out in the bill itself, it doesn't leave much room for you to be a moderate, either.
The wrong kind of sensibility, then, is to be on board with whatever any candidate says or promotes. I don't think it's ever wise to be overly enthusiastic about any one candidate (please see the entire history in 1 and 2 Kings- no ruler is perfect). The right kind of sensibility is to stand by your convictions.
It's much more sensible to know your political convictions, stand by them, and compromise on whom you have to vote for than to compromise your political convictions, and stand by an office-holder who is imperfect and promotes views that would not and could not align wholly with your own. Or, as a friend of mine put it: "Are you compromising principle to vote for the candidate or are you compromising the candidate to maintain (as much as possible) the principle? I suggest we do the latter.
The core of that argument is this: when the government has a stake in the costs of any industry, it must seek to control the costs of that industry. When the government has a stake in the cost of healthcare, it has a role in reducing the amount of costs it incurs upon itself. And when it does this, it is performing an evil function by playing god with people's health.
Facts: Medicaid (government-run health insurance for the poor) will increase by 1/3, effectively adding 15 million new people to the government insurance entitlement tab. The federal government will fund 100% of the new recipients of Medicaid until 2016. Medicare (government-run health insurance for the elderly) spending cuts decrease by $500 billion over the next decade.
Because the government has a stake in the cost of healthcare, this bill entrenches the idea that the poor are more valuable than the elderly. Though the plan will cost the government billions of dollars over the next few years, the bill still attempted some accounting measures and cost-cutting manuevers to help the bill be more passable. And Medicare funding got cut. All these old people are a drain on the system, you see.
Now I'm not trying to make an argument about the pros and cons of Medicare or Medicaid, on the face of it. I'm merely trying to point out the evils of utilitarian philosophy, which is the core of American liberalism. The utilitarian idea is that we must maximize the good for the most amount of people, which sounds nice, but is off at its core. By trying to evaluate the collective good, we must acknowledge that somebody has to be the decision-maker on who the most amount of people are and what that arbitrary good is. This, undoubtedly, is a precarious situation.
On the other hand, if one's fundamental commitment was that every human individual was special in his or her own right and worth keeping alive, then the role of government would be vastly different. But because the government has a stake in the costs, they are currently rationing the elderly out of the system. Furthermore, they provide financing for the elimination of the unborn. These are not slippery slope arguments. They are actually happening.
As an example, don't believe the rhetoric you hear about the Hyde amendment and Obama's executive order last week. Federal money is already used at home and abroad for abortion. All that's required is a simple accounting measure. Unless the sole operation of an organization is abortion, they can qualify for federal money under any number of federal programs. Planned parenthood, for instance, received money from the stimilus package last year. But because PP does other things besides abortions, they can be funded under this technicality. How was funding Planned Parenthood a part of stimilus money? "It reduces costs," justified Nancy Pelosi (see here). Yes, when you have less people and make it available for them to be killed, it does cost the government less in healthcare. Evil thinking. Evil action by the government.
And while capitalism cannot and can never be an unqualified good, it has always created more contexts for religious and life-existence freedom than has socialistic-trending governments. My argument is not that capitalism is better because it works (though that is true). My argument is that command economies- or commanded sectors of the economy like the US increasingly has with healthcare- mean that less freedom is possible.
When the government has a stake in the cost of the health of its constituents, it has a stake in limiting the amount of service that different people get. This is not a power the government should have, and it makes the trend of American liberalism, and the trend of the government's scope into healthcare, a very evil trend. Yes, I said evil.
On the third time I went to his house, I was there to teach him how to use the Denver bus system, which is ironic because I had to learn how to use the bus system first in order to do so. What does a white suburban with his own car have to learn about public transportation, after all? To learn, naturally, I went to the internet and read all about it. My Iraqi friend doesn't have a computer or the ability to speak English, so he was at a little disadvantage you might say in learning the bus system.
I showed up with pen and paper in hand, so as to progress in some kind of conversation since I know no other language than English. His wife had an Arabic-English dictionary, so between the two of us we got along fine. In the course of that conversation, I realized he already knew how to use the bus. He showed me his bus pass and knew where to get on and off the bus for various stops, including his English classes and the grocery store. My friend is incredibly smart and resilient, and so I have much to learn from him.
As we were talking, my friend, whom I had only met twice before, tried to say something very interesting. "Day-veed, I live you."
"Again?" I ask. "I live you," he says. I look at him with a confused face. He then proceeds to retreat into his mind, trying to recall what he is really trying to say. Then he hurries his hands back and forth in a waving manner, as if to say he is going to try to say it again. Then the lightbulb goes off on his face.
"I love you."
Then a lightbulb went off in my soul. And he shook my hand vigorously and hugged me from across the table. In that instant, my new friend was communicating his most powerful need.
For all the talk of social action in politics and non-profits - alleviating poverty, health care for all, housing for the homeless- my friend's greatest expressed need was for human affection and the longing for friendship in a strange land. My friend communicated something quite profound about human experience as well. Humans are capable of deep goodness and love and longing for pure things. Christianity explains this by saying that all of humanity is made in God's image (Gen. 1, Col. 3:10-11). And yet, something is also off about us.
My friend's greatest expressed need was for friendship, but his greatest actual need is for reconciliation and restoration in a relationship with the Creator God. And because all humans are off, because all of us are broken (Christians call this "sin"), we need God to breach the gap of our estranged relationship and give us his version of that restoration (Christians call this imputed "righteousness"). So humans are both beautiful and deprave. Blaise Pascal, Christian philosopher of generations ago, referred to the paradox of humanity as "deposed royalty."
So while my friend demonstrated strong and meaningful emotions, he has a deeper need still. And for that matter, so do I.