Monday, June 29, 2015

Wanting the Fruit While Severing The Root

Contemporary America is attempting something amazing: the creation of an autonomous free floating value matrix, which can be traced directly back to Christianity, while simultaneously severing the taproot which provides said values. 

I posted this on Facebook - it elicited a very lengthy and eloquent response from my childhood friend, Andy Tait. You can read it on my Facebook page. Andy says that "the modern west began when ties to Christianity began to fray". He gives a lengthy explanation of a variety of advances that have taken place as church and state began to separate.

This has been of particular interest to me over the past 5 years. I have been studying a lot of the cultural changes happening in the West. The person who has helped me the most is Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor. He has written with the greatest insight and comprehension on the pivot, the West has taken from theism to secularity. See A Secular Age, Sources of Self and The Malaise of Modernity.

Andy gives very specific examples of human progress when severed by religion. But, what I want to address is the basic beliefs that the majority of people in the West carry within them subconsciously.

Here are just a couple:

1. Human Rights - the majority of people in the West believe in fundamental universal rights - right to education, food, clothing, shelter, security, etc. But, this belief is indefensible from a strictly atheistic, scientific worldview. Why would random products of time+chance+matter have rights to anything? Who gets to decide? The Christian worldview teaches that all human beings are created with inherent dignity as a result of being the conscious creation by God. Creatures that in fact reflect back the image of God.

2. Importance of Relationships - Every thinking person is cognizant that meaning in life is constructed primarily through the relationships of intimacy and love we have with others. Again - why is this so? If we are random acts of blind evolution - why in the world world does love become the ultimate good? Wouldn't it be power or brute survival? The Christian worldview teaches that Ultimate Reality is a triune community of relationships - Father, Son and Holy Spirit - the Trinity. Out of this flows the primal desire for connection with others in relationship and community. It is hard wired in every human being.

There are a myriad of other trajectories that trace back to the Christian worldview: 
-Material world is good and important - which gave rise to physical science
-forward trajectory of history (history is not just cyclical or fated)
-human beings as free moral agents
-holistic understanding of human beings - human beings have interlocked systems - mind, emotion, physical - no longer Greek or Gnostic views of human body
-both political and legal systems can be traced back to the Magna Carta - it is inconceivable to envision England and America emerging into what they were without that primal document.

Western culture is living off the fruits of the Christian Worldview - but due to hyper-individualism, the belief in science and technology as savior, rampant relativism and a diluted Christian faith, she is jettisoning her roots. In place of the Christian world view, we are constructed a multi-faceted, dynamic secular narrative.

Time will tell how this will play out.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Seeds in Charleston

Other seed fell on good soil. 
It came up, grew and produced a crop, 
some multiplying thirty, 
some sixty,
some a hundred times.

On Wednesday June 17, Dylan Roof went to a Bible Study at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston South Carolina. An hour into the study he pulled out a gun and shot and killed 9 of the people in the study, including the pastor, Rev. Clementa Pinckney.

The passage they were studying was the parable of the sower found in Mark 4. In this parable, Jesus teaches how the Word of God is like seed sown on a variety of soils. 
Some seed missed the soil, hit the path only to be eaten up by birds. 
Some fell on rocky soil and had no chance to set down roots. The sun burned them up. Some seed fell among thorns - the thorns killed the seed.

But other seed....
That seed fell on good soil - that seed did not die.
It came up
It grew.
It produced far beyond its humble beginnings.

The men and women felled by Roof's gun are like that seed. The reason I can say that is because EVER SINGLE family member of the 9 killed offered forgiveness to Dylan Roof. Forgiveness was extended a mere 2 days after the killings during Roof's initial hearing.

Good soil, seed coming up, growing, producing a hundred fold.

Roof meant to cause a new civil war. He picked the wrong tactic. Every time the church is pushed down, she finds a way of rising again because she follows a God who knows how to get out of graves.

I watched a video of the sermon given today at that same church. The preacher said by opening their doors today, they have sent a message to every demon on earth and in hell that evil does not win. The reason those families could offer forgiveness is because on this Father's Day, they chose to bear their Father's image.

The Bible study did not end with those 9 dead people. it continued on. The killer was even invited back through the vehicle of forgiveness.

The seed keeps growing.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Let The Teachers, Teach

Last week, Felicia and I attended an orientation evening at the middle school that Adam will be attending next year. It's one of those nights where the staff and administrators do their best to assure you that your kids will learn something and not grow disillusioned or bitter in the process.

There are a certain type of parent who for some reason feel that they know more about kids education than the actual child educators who have both the training and experience to actually know what they are doing.

Despite, the fact that these qualified men and women are there to present to us some of the plans they have for our kids education, these spritely parents feel compelled to pop up and pontificate on their personal philosophies of education.

Most of these theories seem to be based on daydreams they have while dozing in their recliners while netflix plays in the background. Or (worse), they are a hodge podge of theories culled from day time talk shows and poorly written blog posts.

One energetic mom even stood up to address the crowd about what makes for a healthy lunch.

So here's my plea:

I don't argue with my dr. with the meds he prescribes.
I don't argue with my mechanic about what type of oil to use in my car.

And I don't feel compelled to prove and pontificate with my kids teachers on my personal theory of education.

Let the teachers teach - and once in awhile thank them, instead of trying to correct them.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

You Can Take A Trip Down Memory Lane (But You Can't Live There)

Adam and I - Wildwood School

A couple of weeks ago, Adam and I went to Saskatchewan Canada for 6 days. A lot of my early formative years took place in Saskatchewan. After shuttling around from India-Vancouver-Toronto-Regina, my parents settled on Saskatoon Saskatchewan as the city to raise their family in. My father took a position as a neonatologist - one of the first in the province of Saskatchewan.

We moved into a new developing neighborhood called "Wildwood". I was the in first Grade 3 class to attend Wildwood Elementary School. In between Wildwood, I attended an inner city school called Caswell. Castle had an "Ac-Tel" program, designed for academically gifted children. Somehow I made the cut. After elementary school, I went to Aden Bowman High School - made famous because Joni Mitchell went there. After high school, I skipped University and attended a denominational bible school with the unfortunately generic name of "Canadian Bible College".

So, it was quite interesting to take Adam along with me to re-visit some of these places together. I showed him the house I grew up in, my schools and places I used to hang out. I was surprised that I wasn't very emotional. I remember a few years ago going back and getting choked up seeing all those familiar streets and scenes - this time, not so much. I also showed him the church our family attended - Avalon Alliance Church.

I think it is important to look back, look around and remember. Right now, I am reading the book of Deuteronomy in the Old Testament. It is essentially a book about looking back and remembering. We are products of our past. And it is important to understand and reflect on those things that have formed us.

But, the past is past. It shaped us. But, God gives us immense power to re-shape our life path. I grew up in Saskatoon Saskatchewan but have now ended up living in Ithaca New York. My Dad grew up in India and ended up on the Canadian prairie. Few things are fixed in life. I am grateful God gives us such freedom to carve out the lives we choose, within his ultimate sovereign plan. I also look forward to where my kids will end up.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Leaving the Mortal Behind

A friend of mine is dying. He has lung cancer. I will not see him before he dies because he lives in another country.
He recently posted his final Facebook post. He is too sick to receive visitors anymore.  I was trying to think of what I could write in the comments. I looked up 2 Corinthians 5 which talks a lot about looking forward to a new home in heaven. And then this in v.4:

For while we are still in this tent, we groan under our burden, because we wish not to be unclothed but to be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life

What is mortal may be swallowed up by life.
Mortality is not life - it is not all of life. Real life is coming. It is around the corner. Death is the door into real life.
Mortal life ends, so that real life can begin.

When my friend sheds this mortal coil, he enters into the reality of which this life is such a faint shadow. What we consider our greatest earthly joy or achievement will be unrecognizable from the heights of heaven. That is why Christian funerals are a mixture of sad goodbye and hopeful anticipation.

This Christian hope is grounded in historical fact. When Jesus rose from the dead, he gave us a vision of the future. Jesus really rose from the dead which means that what is mortal in us will one day be swallowed up by life.

For my friend, what I write will become first hand experience, not mere thought or belief. And for that I am both happy and sad.

Friday, April 03, 2015

From the Cross to Paradise

Jesus did not die alone. There were at least 2 others crucified with him. Two thieves. One on either side.
The social and emotional context surrounding him was painful.
The crowds, the guards, the rulers and even one of the thieves kept mocking him:
"Come down from the cross, if you are who you say you are."

The death of Jesus was the ultimate vindication of the crowd - he wasn't who he said he was.
We were right - he was a fraud.
They all mocked .... except.

Except for one of the thieves.

He rebukes the other thief:

"Don't you fear God, since we are under the same sentence. We are being punished justly. But this man has done nothing wrong."

Amid the din of rebuke, sarcasm and ridicule came the voice of truth from a ragged dying shell of a human propped up on that Roman gibbet.

The thief understood the human condition - "we are being punished justly." He understood that he was getting what he deserved. And he looked at Jesus and realized there was no way that Jesus deserved to die in the same way.

Jesus was dying unjustly - an innocent man.

And then the thief turns to Jesus and says:

"Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."

Jesus  - remember me.
Don't forget me.
I am dying, I am suffering. I am crying.
But, don't forget me.

Everyone else has written me off, but please Jesus, remember me.

The thief also knew that the cross was not the end of Jesus' story. Somehow, he knew that Jesus was building a kingdom and the thief wanted to be part of it.
Take me with you! I want to be part of your kingdom!

And he gets his prayer.

Jesus says, "Truly, I tell you - today you will be with me in paradise."

From the cross to paradise. The journey happens via the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ.

And the thief made the trip.

Friday, March 20, 2015

#racetogether and other bad ideas

Starbucks has embarked on a campaign. But, it is not a campaign to get people to drink more coffee. No, they want to get people talking. That is a good thing. People should talk.
What should we talk about in a coffee shop? Movies? Music? Clothes? The Freudian postulate that our thoughts are merely high functioning nero-physiological reactions to external stimuli?

Nope. Let's talk about race. Starbucks has instructed their lovely baristas to scrawl Race Together across your Venti Latte, along with your name and what kind of elixir you have ordered them to make for you.

So, at a time when racial tensions are at a zenith of touchiness, Starbucks thinks its a good idea to have those two words slide toward you, followed by the cheery announcement of "Santosh, your chai tea is on the bar!"

I am befuddled as to what I should do then. Am I actually supposed to engage my barista? Why would I? What would I say? How on earth would I be able to explain how the contemporary prison industrial system is in fact the new Jim Crow? Or that we live in 2 Americas - one white and one black. And that those of us who are neither, sit on the sidelines helplessly watching each side yell back and forth until hoarse.
Also - how can I talk to them, when they are always so busy? Even when there are no customers ordering or in line, I have never seen a Starbucks employee just hanging around. They always have something to do.

So, why am I blogging about this? Because race relations is a serious issue and 2 words scrawled across a paper cup by a black sharpie seems to cheapen the dialogue. But, this plan seems to be a part of larger trend in American society.

This trend is seen in how information is exchanged. The nightly news is the worst example of this. Massive stories are siphoned down into a 70 second "report". The ability to think longer and deeper seems to be fading. I like watching PBS and BBC news. There are a few American news shows that take the advantage of going a little deeper - 60 Minutes seems to be the best example.

#racetogether, yeah - but #thinkdeeper too.