The Falseness of Dichotomies

I took a break from this blog for a while.  Seemed like everyone needed a cooling off period after the election.  I had a lot to say, but am trying to practice a very unnatural behavior for me–listening more, and telling less.  So I’ve been working a lot in the past month or so on listening (or more accurately, observing–engaging all of my perceptions to try to better understand).  One of the most significant observations I’ve made involves dichotomies.  I’ve been considering writing about this topic for weeks, but hadn’t fully formed the idea, so I kept observing, with the intent of developing a complete understanding of the idea, and the key learnings from the idea, which I would then inscribe in the electrons so that all could share in this well-packaged lesson.  Unfortunately, the writing style and underlying thought patterns of my 9th grade English teacher (thesis statement, three main points, each with three to four neatly packaged sub-points, all proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that the thesis is true and fully described) just can’t seem to encapsulate the many branches, inconsistencies, dependencies, and variation of the idea rolling around in my head.  So, I’m giving up on neat packaging, and instead I’m going to embark on a thought-journey.  This will transpire across multiple posts–don’t know how many, how frequently, or, unfortunately the exact course it’s going to take.

Lest you think you’ve stumbled onto the digital footprints of a meandering fool, wandering aimlessly with no purpose or destination, I do have an objective for this journey.  I intend, when I’m done, to be better at  loving mankind (and thereby loving God).  I am going to continue to follow the compass that God gave me when I started this blog–the two quotes at the top of the page:  “Seek first the Kingdom of God, and his righteousness” and “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

Before I digress even further off course, let’s get to the topic at hand:  Dichotomy.  Dictionary.com defines the word as:

  1. division into two parts, kinds, etc.; subdivision into halves or pairs, or
  2. division into two mutually exclusive, opposed, or contradictory groups: a dichotomy between thought and action.

That same website goes further to cite the entry from Britannica.com (who knew Britannica still existed?):

(from Greek dicha, “apart,” and tomos, “cutting”), a form of logical division consisting of the separation of a class into two subclasses, one of which has and the other has not a certain quality or attribute…. On the principle of contradiction this division is both exhaustive and exclusive; there can be no overlapping, and no members of the original genus or the lower groups are omitted. This method of classification, though formally accurate, has slight value in the exact sciences, partly because at every step one of the two groups is merely negatively characterized and is usually an artificial, motley class.

So where am I going with all this?  There is a strong tendency in human thought, particularly Western human thought (as opposed to Eastern thought–a dichotomy in and of itself, pointed out here as an example) to classify and characterize everything in an attempt to better understand it. (If you want to dig deeper, do some research into the closely related concept of binary opposition.  If you want to go really deep, I highly recommend the book Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman).  If you don’t want to do a lot of research, I’ll summarize (and somewhat overgeneralize) to say that we tend to be very efficient in processing the infinite amount of information we are constantly exposed to.  Our nature is to quickly analyze a thought, event, or person, and quickly classify them into a category, or series of categories.  Generally, these categories are mutually exclusive, which further enables us to place value judgments on the thought, event, or person.  In many situations, this is a useful process–back to the very basic friend/foe survival instincts.

What’s the problem?  While useful at the basic level of information processing, it can become dangerous when it precludes higher levels of thinking.  All of us witnessed examples of this (most likely externally and internally) during the recent US election cycle.  Red/blue, liberal/conservative, right/wrong…  the extreme occurred when red/blue became viewed as black/white; as polar opposites, rather than variations in a spectrum.

To avoid turning this into a political thread, let’s look at another potentially divisive issue in current events.  The news has been filled in recent weeks with brutal, unexplainable death.  Whether it’s the Samantha Koenig abduction/killing here in Alaska, the Jessica Ridgeway abduction and murder in Colorado, the Jovan Belcher murder/suicide in Kansas City, or this week’s brutal killing of innocent children in Connecticut, our universal reaction is to classify the perpetrator as evil, and to look for an easy explanation which will allow us to place the event and the perpetrator in a neat category so we can process the situation and move on.  Guns? Violent video games?  Poor parenting?  See, if we can place the cause in a nice, neat category, we can then either eliminate it, avoid it, or at least judge it.

I’m probably the most judgmental person I know.  I classify people all day long, starting with the commute to work each morning.  When I am not vigilant about my overwhelming tendency to make binary decisions, I can quickly categorize everyone I encounter throughout the day as incompetent, self-serving idiots, who are terrible drivers.  But, when I get to know those people, I find out that they’re not so easily characterized.

I’m going to close today’s post with an example from the headlines.  Jovan Belcher was a football player for my favorite sports team in the entire world, the Kansas City Chiefs.  Most of you had never heard of him until two weeks ago, when he made national news by shooting and killing his girlfriend and mother of his 3 month old daughter, then driving to the Chiefs practice facility, and in front of team leadership, pointing his gun at his own head and taking his life.  Many were quick to categorize Belcher:  murderer.  Evil.  Monster.  Some went so far as to pronounce that his suicide was a good thing.

I didn’t know Jovan, but I knew of him.  He had a great story.  Undrafted, worked his way up to starter.  Set the example on the field and at practice for his dedication and work ethic, his passion.  None of that excuses what he did.  But if you read much more than the headlines following that tragic event two weeks ago, you found that his teammates, many of whom were close not only to Jovan, but also to his girlfriend, were torn.  They couldn’t classify him as an evil monster.  They knew him.  They went so far as to say that they had no indication that he was capable of such brutality.  When it became personal, it wasn’t easy to categorize the man.

I’m going to stop here for today, with a request:  be aware this coming week to the dichotomies you use to make judgments and decisions.  How many of them are legitimate?  How many are oversimplifications?

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Christianity and Presidential Politics

If you look back at the history of this blog, political issues seem to give me something to write about.  The thing is, the more I see of political discourse today, the less interested I am in participating (this from a guy with a Bachelors in Economics, a minor in Political Science, and a penchant to argue about anything).  I’ve resisted the urge so far to comment, pontificate, or otherwise engage in the acrid cesspool of 2012 American political discourse.  If you know me at all, you should admire my restraint, because I’ve seen the gamut of name-calling, stereotyping, and general human-bashing, and at times been the victim of it, from both sides of the political battlefield (it’s no longer a spectrum–it’s two fairly neatly polarized ideologies, with little tolerance for moderation, let alone differing opinion).

So why don’t I just keep my thoughts to myself, and not add to the cacophony?  Several reasons:

  • What’s getting represented as “Christian thought” in the debate doesn’t align with my understanding of Christ’s teachings.
  • I believe when we personalize the beliefs we’re discussing, applying them to real individuals that we actually know, we have the greatest chance of considering a differing viewpoint as something more than the misinformed understanding of a bumbling idiot, or the evil scheme of a mastermind intent on ruining the world.  I’m hoping that those who know me can look past our disagreements (and I’ll bet that not one of you will agree with me on every point) and consider the validity of the thought, and more importantly the person who had the thought, even if you choose not to adopt it.
  • I believe that the biggest threat to our nation today is not Iran, Al Qaeda, the budget deficit, abortion, health care reform, big business, illegal immigration, or the restriction or proliferation of guns.  It’s the de-humanizing and depersonalization of our fellow man.  By withdrawing from the debate, as much as I would prefer to do so, I am abdicating the fight against this threat.  And that’s not my way.

Christians in America today have lost our focus, and in the process of trying to “reclaim” America for God, we’ve given away our credibility in our culture.  We are mocked for our lack of compassion, lack of intellect, and lack of moral values.  Jesus healed the sick…we rail against government-funded health care for our poor (more commonly referred to as the welfare bums), yet offer no solutions of our own.  Our nation is hungry for hope and change, yet we offer them nothing more than stifling restrictions and government intervention.  Jesus didn’t give us a set of rules, he gave us a change of our very heart.  The rules method didn’t work out so well in overcoming man’s evil nature in Jesus’ day, why should we think that outlawing abortion, gay marriage, etc, will induce Godly values 2000 years later?  Our morality is totally inconsistent:  We mourn the death of millions of unborn children, yet advocate for the death penalty and dehumanize birthed humans who don’t ascribe to our religious or political beliefs.  Most frighteningly, we tell the world that Jesus is the only hope for mankind, yet wring our hands and proclaim our doom at the prospect of a nation ruled by a political candidate whom we don’t agree with.

Before all of my Christian acquaintances de-friend me, let me say that I’m first and foremost accusing myself.  I was the worst offender in almost all of these areas not all that long ago.  Those are stories for another day, but I can assure you that in my past, I could out-Conservative just about any one of you reading this, no matter how far right you are.  But God has taken me on a journey where he keeps confronting me with Jesus’s teachings contrasted with my attitudes and actions, and then gently asks me, “Which will it be?  You can’t serve both.  Is Jesus Lord of your life, or are you?  If Jesus is your savior, then Mitt Romney (or Barack Obama) can’t be.”

So where is God in presidential politics?  I honestly don’t know.  And it really doesn’t matter.  No president is going to win America for God.  Billy Graham couldn’t have won America for God if he was president.  And if the Christians in our country today keep thinking we’re going to transform this nation through politics, we are going to fail our God.  Because if you believe the Bible you read, God “deposes kings and raises up others“, not us.  Depending on your exegesis of that passage and  your particular theological bent, you can interpret it to mean that God picks every political leader, or that he chooses at times to intervene to empower or depose particular leaders.  Regardless of your interpretation, I don’t think political campaigns are where God wants us focused.

While it’s true that the concept of democratic election of leaders wasn’t relevant in Jesus’ time, I see nothing in his teaching that should lead us to focus on political solutions to our nation’s problems.  Jesus’ world was rife with many of the same cultural issues we face in America today.  He didn’t solve them by political action (much to his followers’ chagrin).  He transformed hearts with the love of God, manifest in the real, practical outworking of that love, impacting the lives of those around him.

Voting in the election of our next President is a foundational attribute of the nation that I dedicated most of my adult life to serving, and it’s my civic duty.  I don’t take it lightly, and haven’t missed an opportunity to cast my vote in any election since I voted for Uncle Ronnie’s re-election (man, I miss that guy!).  But my hope is not in politics, and my energies aren’t there either.  My spiritual commission is to make disciples (committed followers of Jesus), teaching them (meaning all I have influence with) to practice the things Jesus taught.  He didn’t teach political activism, he taught us to love God and love our fellow man (all of them, even the heathen Muslims).  And we demonstrate that love not by imposing legalized morals on them, but by walking out God’s love in front of them, and manifesting it to them, in such a compelling way that they can’t resist his love.

Me loving God and my neighbor won’t change the world, but it will change my neighbor.  And if each of us were to love our neighbor, and they did the same, pretty soon, God’s love would spread across this nation, and that would change the world.

The Absurdity of the Cross

A few days ago I asked for readers to tell me what’s wrong with Christianity, from a perspective of those who don’t follow Christ.  Based on the absence of any response, I’ve come to the conclusion that either I don’t have any readers who don’t follow Christ, or there’s nothing wrong with Christianity in the eyes of those who choose not to follow him (which leads me to believe that the problem contributing to the decline of the Christian faith in the US might lie, not with the belief system, but rather with those who profess the belief system–but that’s for another day).  Since no one else seems to see anything “wrong” with Christianity, let me point out something absurd about Christianity, in honor of Easter.

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written:   “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;    the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”  1 Corinthians 1:18-31

Webster’s defines “absurdity” as either incongruous or meaningless; both of these definitions hold the idea that the absurd is irrational or does not align with human understanding.

Face it, it’s absurd to believe that

  • God took the form of man,
  •  walked the earth (that he created),
  • allowed the mankind (that he created) to arrest him, try him, impose the death penalty on him,
  • and then, through a total violation of all human experience, the God-Man rose from the dead,

But in that absurdity the objective mind can find the very reason for the absurdity–by definition absurdity means it doesn’t make sense to the human mind.  Many throughout history have made the mistake of assuming that something incongruous or nonsensical to the human mind is therefore not possible.  To one of Copernicus’ contemporaries, the idea of a rocket was nonsensical, let alone a man walking on the moon.  However, that absurdity did not mean it was impossible, just that it was beyond man’s comprehension.

The historical evidence for the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is strong; in fact, denial of the evidence in the face of that evidence is absurd–it defies human reason; unless that denial starts with a presupposed notion that because an event or concept does not align with the individual’s understanding it is therefore impossible.  This rationalistic approach is the basis for most attempts to explain away the historical evidence for Jesus’ resurrection–“to believe that the Messiah (God’s appointed savior who was to restore the world to the way He intended) was crucified, then raised from the dead defies logic, reason, and all the knowledge and experience of mankind!”  Apply that same logic to claim that the entire Apollo program was a hoax, and most everyone will agree  you’re a kook.

Is the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus absurd?  Absolutely!  It flies in the face of all human reason, precisely because it’s not of human reason!

  • God created man, and out of love gave man the freedom to choose to love God, which by definition means he also gave man the freedom to choose not to love God.  What rational man would do that???
  • Man chose to love himself (ok, that certainly fits within our understanding)–he didn’t want to love God, he wanted to be God
  • God loved anyway, and chose to restore man’s ability to exist in relationship with Him
  • God didn’t force us to accept his Son and the restoration that He provided.  He gives us the choice again.

YHWH, I honor you and surrender my life to you.  No god created from human reasoning would subject himself to the humiliation of being made human; of suffering and resisting temptation, of verbal and physical abuse at the hands of his creation (corrupted).  No king, let alone a mythological ruler, would look at humanity in all its selfish debasement, not in wrath, but in sacrificial love.  No ruler would weep in anguish in the garden, knowing that those appointed to minister to him were coming instead to take him captive to impose the death penalty on him, in the most heinous form the corrupt mind of man could devise.

Yet you did.  And even after you proved yourself to be God, raising Jesus to life on the third day, you did not destroy us nor imprison us.  These would be the actions of a victorious king who had defeated his captors.  Instead, you not only provided a means to set us free from the bondage of selfishness that we freely submitted to, you have given us a purpose and an authority in your Kingdom, once we step into the freedom you offer. 

Continue to be merciful to me Lord, for the selfishness of my human nature is powerful, alluring, and in its familiarity, it’s even comforting, despite it’s toxicity.  Only through the power of your Spirit could Jesus withstand the temptation, and only through that same Spirit that you freely give can I withstand. 

I’m thankful, particularly today, that you are not limited by the bounds of human reasoning.  Thank you for the absurdity of the Cross.

What’s wrong with Christianity? No, this is not a Rhetorical Question!

I’ve got lots of friends on Facebook (ok, 108 seems like a lot to me), who hold many different spiritual perspectives, so I’m asking the question:  What is wrong with Christianity?  And yes, I really, truly am looking for responses!

What do I mean?  I’ve just spent the past 90 minutes reading several different Christian leadership blogs that posit different perspectives on why people are rejecting Christianity in our nation.  This is a real phenomenon, and Christian leaders are concerned about it, but can’t agree on why people are rejecting it.  The arguments span the entire spectrum, and I’m at a loss for legitimate answers (I’m sure the problem is complex enough that there’s more than one reason).  While our culture is more spiritual than it has been in generations, fewer and fewer people in the US are Christian, or claim to follow the teachings of Jesus.

Here’s my very sincere request:  In the spirit of the quote at the top of this page, I really want to understand.  I’m not asking to start a debate, or to try to start a dialog so I can proselytize.  No tricks, no traps, honest.  I really want to know:  What is it about Christianity that turns you away (assuming you’re not actively following Christ)?  I sincerely ask, because I desperately want to understand, and I just don’t get it.  I’m admittedly late to the party (as a follower of Christ), but I’ve studied Christianity, and it makes sense to me.  I don’t understand why it doesn’t to others.  And I’d really appreciate it if you’d help me understand.  So please, take a minute or two to comment.  You can either reply to the blog (anonymously if you’d like), or as a comment on the Facebook thread, or even in a PM to me on Facebook.  But I’d really appreciate some feedback.

Thanks!

 

Pastors say some dumb things…

Just read a tweet by a pastor that I follow, that says “journalistic integrity is an oxymoron.”  As the father of a son of the highest integrity, who’s also a journalist, this kind of statement gets my back up.  Painting an entire profession with this broad of a brush is just plain foolish… like saying “professional athletes have no integrity” or “pastors have no integrity.”Here’s the problem, for any of you pastors who might be reading this:  This is not the first time I’ve heard a pastor slam journalists in their public statements (whether from the pulpit, or through written means).  Problem is, some of you don’t realize you’ve got journalists in your audience.  How welcome are you going to feel belonging to a “family” where the leaders denigrate your profession?

Wouldn’t it be better if we had even more Christian journalists (there’s already a bunch of them–surprised?)?  How crazy would that be?  But if you keep slamming journalists from your pulpit, your youth that are listening are either going to choose another career field because you’ve turned them off, or their going to choose that career field, and leave their church behind, so they don’t have to hear pastors (and other church leaders) bash their chosen profession.

Guess what?  Pretty much any profession out there today has an integrity problem.  The problem’s not in the profession, it’s in our world.  The WORLD has an integrity problem!  So, why don’t you start preaching about integrity, instead of railing against a stereotype?

Adopt a stance of MISSION vs. ADMONITION

In this article, John Dickson provides an insightful approach to the ongoing discussion of how Christians can have a meaningful impact in the world around us.  The Church in Secular Culture | Leadership Journal.

He describes the “admonition paradigm” as churches and Christians speaking “with a sense of entitlement… You’ll want to strike back.  And people will think you’re arrogant.  Quite right, probably.”

We can’t go back to the good old days, whatever we believe them to be.  We’ve got to live in the culture we’re in, even if that’s a “post-Christian” culture.  If we’re truly living Christ-like lives, that shouldn’t be a problem.  The disciples didn’t have 200, or 2000 years of Christian influence to rely upon in their efforts to advance the Kingdom, so why should we?

Ed Stetzer – Rick Warren Interview on Muslims, Evangelism & Missions (Responding to Recent News Reports)

Ed Stetzer – Rick Warren Interview on Muslims, Evangelism & Missions (Responding to Recent News Reports).

Good read.  Lots of noise again about Rick Warren and his allegedly compromising his Christian beliefs.

I really like some of the statements about people failing to check the facts, but my favorite quote is this one:

Our culture has accepted two huge lies: The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear them or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.

I missed the original hoopla, but I believe the negative response falls into the category of a failure to “Seek 1st to understand…”

Why are we all in such a hurry to judge, that we don’t first take the time to gather enough evidence to understand what happened?