October 2017 Streams of Thought
My last two or three articles have focused on our turbulent social,
moral, historical, and cultural setting. Some Christians find it scary,
others see opportunities for outreach. Some want to ignore it and hope it goes away. The Church has experienced turbulent times before; after all--it lives in a crazy, messy, sometimes violent world.
Christians throughout history have weathered violent social, moral, historical, and cultural storms. Psalm 2 says nations "conspire and plot" against the "LORD and His anointed"; the immediate context speaks of Israel's enemies arrayed against its king and, ultimately, against God who enthrones the king.
There are echoes of this in the modern political situation Israel faces; the psalm can be widened to include God's people in general. There are people who strongly
dislike (even hate)
God and His people. In addition to this, natural forces (hurricanes,
tornadoes, floods, fires) cause turmoil without regard to who is in the way.
Sometimes Christians get caught in the crossfire of human conflict, whatever form it might take. Christian theology traces this to
Genesis 3 where human sin caused a seismic shift that makes even
creation groan in despair (Romans 8:18-25). The promise of a "new
heaven and earth" (Revelation 21:1-5) relays hope for a future devoid of violence, death, despair, and pain.
But in the meantime we are left with a crazy, messy world. We believe God calls us to trust Him no matter what, but we're often accused of an escapist mentality by enemies of the faith. But the real hope is more than that; the Biblical record says God is present in the entire story; even when it seems He's absent, He's still there (Psalm 22). We're never out of His care or sight (Deuteronomy 31:6, Hebrews 13:5); Jesus said "I am with you forever, even to the end of the age/world" (Matthew 28:20).
Whatever might happen in this crazy world, there is above everything a God who cares.
Grace and peace,
September 2017 Streams of Thought
The recent case of Charlie Gard, a British infant who died from a rare condition, caused considerable controversy. Doctors in the U.S. offered to treat him with an experimental procedure and the Vatican offered their private hospital. But a British court ignored his parents' wishes and upheld doctors' decisions to end care and prevent treatments. The case highlighted differences in U.S. and European law.
In the U.S. patients have the right to seek other opinions or treatments--doctors cannot legally deny treatment. We'll never know if the treatment would have worked, but the case highlights the increasingly utilitarian view of Western culture that sees people as disposable and courts as all-knowing.
The question before us is: What will the Church do to confront these frightening trends?
Grace and Peace,
August 2017 Streams of Thought
I took a class in Bible College called "Critical Thinking;" it wasn't about being critical in the negative sense, but about listening to other views and testing them from a Christian viewpoint. Similar courses used to be required in mainstream colleges to encourage young people to understand other views so they were well-rounded and informed. They might disagree but at least they could talk about them.
Not anymore. Instead there's a lot of one-sided thinking--much of it opposed to anyone who questions the reigning orthodoxy of secular higher education (from religious or philosophical viewpoints).
One of the disturbing trends related to this is the increase in colleges banning Christians from meeting, publishing hard copy or internet resources, and simply expressing viewpoints opposed to mainstream academic thought.
One result of expressing views contrary to secular orthodoxy on any topic is that people's heads "explode" as New York Times writer Bret Stephens discovered. He wrote an article, based on the latest scientific research, that said mathematical climate change projections at any given time are expressed as probabilities. In any other words no one can accurately predict what will happen. All Stephens did was point this out and there was an epidemic of "exploding heads."
Or consider the violent reactions on some campuses to certain speakers and/or election results. One of the wonderful things about a free democracy is supposed to be the freedom to disagree, hopefully in a civil manner. But the new trend is to shout down, bully, or silence those who hold opposing views. As Christians we must "test the spirits to see if they come from God" (I John 4:1-6) and "speak the truth in love" (Ephesians 4:15). In other words, with God's help, we must think critically.
There are ideas and actions, from a Christian viewpoint, that are harmful to peoples' lives and well-being. The Church, Rev. Martin Luther King once said, is not the master or servant of the state but its conscience. We must oppose things that are contrary to Biblical ideas and speak out when necessary and in an appropriate way. Even if people's heads "explode" and/or they need a "safe place" away from our viewpoint.
Grace and Peace,
July 2017 Streams of Thought
Does it often seem "civil discourse" is anything but civil? This is particularly true if you dare oppose the reigning secular orthodoxy on certain issues; the responses on Twitter, Facebook, or other social media outlets range from insulting to profane.
One of the ironies is the intolerable language of those who claim to be "tolerant." Reasoned responses are dismissed with words like "idiot" or insults aimed at one's politics, faith, or family of origin. But even commenting on relatively mundane issues can lead to mean-spirited vilification.
Granted public discourse hasn't always been civil; the media of
bygone eras (18th Century op-ed cartoons are a good example) reveal some toxic rhetoric and images. But in modern times (for example the town meetings of American democracy) public discussion was expected to be civil even if it got heated.
There are various reasons for the uptick in uncivil discourse (another topic in itself); one is the relative anonymity of the Internet seems to give people the impetus to say whatever they want no matter how venomous.
And sadly Christians get caught up in it as well. But many people of faith (or no faith) try to bring civility to the public square. Proverbs 15:1 says "A gentle answer turns away anger." There will always be those who are angry no matter what anyone says or does but most people respect those who try to keep controversial conversations civil.
Are there times when firm language is needed? Yes and it can be done in a way that avoids insults or inflammatory words. I wonder
if more "gentle answers" to the questions, concerns, and frustrations of our culture would alleviate or at least balance some of the venom that passes for "civil" discourse.
Grace and Peace, Pastor Brian
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