Wednesday, November 8

What I learned from David Blaine

I don't know if you are familiar with David Blaine or not, he is a magician, seems to be a pretty weird dude in some ways. Not just normal sleight of hand magic, but Houdini type showmanship. He does stuff like:
  • spent a week buried in a plexiglass coffin [no food, just water] under a clear tank full of water so people could look down and see him
  • stood on a 100 ft. tall, 22 inch diameter tower for 36 hours,
  • spent 63 hours encased in a transparent block of ice
Anyway, I watched a documentary on him and one of his stunts was to live in a glass box, suspended by a crane next to the Thames River in London, fasting, for 44 days. In the interview, he talks about doing absolutely nothing for 44 days, not even eating. He said that [paraphrased] your values change, what you value changes, your priorities are re-arranged. That wasn't too surprising, however, what he said next I found very thought provoking. He said that as soon as he was out of that box, his values and priorities began to revert to what they had been before, and now, he finds it very difficult to even remember what his thoughts were during that time, so much so that he is thankful he wrote them down.

Anyway, I thought that was interesting, and wanted to share it with you. I think sometimes we [I] get this unrealistic fantasy of what it is like to live in that 'other dimension'. To make the jump to never-never land, where I'm all spiritual all the time, my priorities are right all the time...but it just hasn't happened yet. Oh, there have been times, times of acute personal failure, or intense times of prayer and fasting where I see more as I am seen, but those times just don't seem to last very long for me.

Probably the most consistent time I have like that is weekly communion, where I spend a few minutes in honest, no-holds-barred self-examination in the light of the sacrifice of Christ. [Sidenote: If you only commune at Easter, Christmas, or maybe quarterly, you are missing such a powerful time of weekly connection with Christ...I know the argument, but arguments aside, no it doesn't get 'old' or 'routine' to me any more than it gets old to swap sincere I love you's with my wife...but I digress...]

To me it is similar to bouncing on a trampoline and seeing into a neighbor's yard each time I bounce up, but then having the view blocked by the privacy fence each time I come down. It looks like the people there are always having fun, in a beautiful yard...why can't we be like that, no weeds, no arguments, no selfish passive - aggressive comments, no stress.  Unfortunately, I don't live at the apex of the bounce, I live on the ground.  The ground where I see the weeds, the tools that weren't put up, the playhouse that needs the door repaired, the limbs that were trimmed but somehow haven't made it into the trailer, the bricks left over from the garden infinitum.

It would be nice to live at the apex of the bounce, but reality isn't like that.  That is only a temporary, even momentary, transient state.  In fact, it might even be viewed as an imaginary state.  Not that the bounce doesn't happen, and not that what we see isn't real, but that everything we imagine about the bounce view isn't accurate.

I really try, sometimes more than others, but most of the time, I really do try to live on that higher plane.  I guess I like trampolines more than some, but try as I might, it is just that for me, a spiritual trampoline.  I see me as I might be, as I could be, as I aspire to be, and during those times it's almost like I have a new set of eyes, a new light shines on old things. But then, just like David Blaine leaving the box, I land back down here were I live and those glimpses of something greater begin to fade.

If there was ever anyone whom I believe to have lived on that ethereal plane it was the Apostle Paul. And do you know what he said about this subject? Listen up...

Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. - Phil.3:12-14

He was not discouraged by those moments and their fade, he understood that those glimpses were what we are living to attain.  Paul always was "reaching forward to those things which are ahead", and how did he say he did that?

But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified. - 1 Cor.9:27
Paul was so committed/convinced that he once said "Woe unto me if I preach not the gospel".  Interestingly, when Paul gave his testimony, what he always told was about the time he met Christ.  He didn't spend a lot of time talking about his own life, not that he never mentioned it (See Romans 7 where he talks in detail about the same thing I speak of in this post), however, when he told his testimony to unbelievers, it was all about Jesus, when they met, what Christ told him, why he was given mercy.  What do you talk to unbelievers about?  Do you ever share your testimony?  It's really powerful you know...and just as it's powerful for people to hear how you met and chose to follow Christ, it's helpful to fellow Christians for you not to pretend you get it right all the time, that you never doubt, that you never slack, but that you always get back up and head toward finish line.

So what about you?  Are you "pressing on the upward way"?

Wednesday, October 18

Let's argue about morality

"When a wealthy Beverly Hills couple was murdered in cold blood while watching TV in their living room, America was shocked... but it was only the beginning of the tragic story. When it was revealed that the culprits were their two beloved sons, a media circus and national obsession were born. This eight-episode drama series explores the dark secrets and untold revelations about the family, the murder and the real-life trial that captured the country's imagination for nearly a decade. After all, everyone knows who did it, but one question still remains... why."

Above is the TV series teaser for one of the most popular shows on today.  The story of Lyle and Erik Menendez, who brutally killed their parents. The evidence is plain, they committed the murders; no one denies it. So, why does their guilt produce so much debate? Edie Falco, who plays defense attorney Leslie Abramson, in commenting on the case said
“She took the unpopular position that these people that she is representing — on some level, regardless of what they are accused of — are human ... People don’t like to live in that grey area. There are good people and bad people, and I think she was trying to let people imagine that maybe you don’t always know which is which all the time.”

Defense Attorney Abramson argued passionately that these young men endured a horrific childhood of abuse, and because of that, the murder was done from a kind of insanity that excuses them from first-degree murder charges. What has my interest in this post though, is that BOTH sides argued the same basic premise: evil was committed. 

The prosecution, using a common sense approach, said the brutal murder committed was evil, the defense appealing to the empathy of a society [and jury] that detests child abuse, said basically [my paraphrase] yes, it was evil, but what was done
to them was evil to the degree that it drove them to commit their evil.

This was not a matter of arbitrary human laws, "he didn't have a current insurance card with him" type of thing, it was much deeper than that. It was a clear matter of “right and wrong” [or I might even say "wrong and wrong"] — a sense that is universal and distinctive to humanity.

In every culture, on every continent and island, people recognize that some things are wrong.  And although they may differ on what they prohibit, every society condemns something as wrong/evil.  This point has been well understood and written about by others, for instance C.S. Lewis wrote:
"Think of a country where people were admired for running away in battle, or where a man felt proud of double-crossing all the people who had been kindest to him. You might just as well try to imagine a country where two and two made five. Men have differed as regards what people you ought to be unselfish to—whether it was only your own family, or your fellow countrymen, or everyone. But they have always agreed that you ought not to put yourself first. Selfishness has never been admired". 
This is not just an academic matter either.  Everyone, including you and me, believe something is wrong.  We are imprinted with this moral sense that we did not create, it just is, and it is in all of us. Interestingly to our thought, there very fact that we would/could argue over morality proves that morality exists, that it isn't just some theoretical construct, because everyone, and I mean EVERYONE believes something is immoral.  An adulterer doesn't want you committing adultery with his wife, even a head-hunter doesn't want his head hunted.

There is no satisfactory materialistic, or biological explanation for it — Morality just doesn't come from random chemical reactions. But it comes from, where does it come from?  If nothing exists but energy and matter, how do you explain this moral sense that we all have?  Animals don't have it, plants don't have it, chemicals don't have it, rocks and water don't have it, only humans... Once again, I am struck with the sense that the most reasonable explanation is that of a personal God who created humans in His own image, giving us moral sensitivity.  Do you believe what the Menendez boys did to their parents was evil?  Do you believe what their parents allegedly did to them was evil?  You do?  Why?

Monday, October 2

Pride and Faith

For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence. [1 Corinthians 1:26-29]
 I have met some people who reject Christianity because they assert that it is 'anti-intellectual'; that it diminishes the value of intelligent thought and appeals to emotion.  These charges are, regardless of how sincerely held, false charges.  It is true that there are cults [some of which claim to be Christian] which are intolerant of independent, intelligent thought, however serious students of the Bible recognize that this is not Christianity in a biblical sense.

 Actually, quite the opposite. Christianity as presented in the
Bible calls on us to think, to examine evidence, to weigh that evidence and come to a reasoned and reasonable conclusion about Jesus and His claims.  If we find them to be true [and I have], we are called and expected to respond appropriately, by wholeheartedly accepting Christ, or if we find them to be false, by as equally wholeheartedly rejecting him.  But the requirement to use your mind does not stop there, for after you become a Christian, you are obligated by scripture to "Prove all things and hold fast to that which is good" [1 Thessalonians 5:21].

Christianity challenges us to carefully consider the most serious and far reaching questions which can confront us. Questions such as: What is man? What is God? What is the origin and destiny of man? What is the true way of life? What is morality?  Christ calls us
to think about the meaning of life, a question to which atheism has no answer.  What greater challenge is there to the intellect of man than to think on the meaning of life? How insignificant are all other questions as long as this question remains answered.  You can go through your life as a balloon, bouncing thoughtlessly and aimlessly from air current to impact, or as an arrow with direction, purpose and destination, and I tell you that one way to live is infinitely better than the other.. 
No one who has thought carefully can believe that it is equally good to live as a balloon as to live as an arrow, and yet, many unbelievers are afraid to think seriously about these most important of all subjects. It may be because serious thought in the matter would lead them to abandon cherished views or practices. It may be because they are afraid of the tidal wave of disillusionment and futility which would sweep over their lives if they really faced their own doctrine that life is utterly and completely meaningless and purposeless.  But is that really superior to a system, Christianity, which is always encouraging you to examine, to think on and decide about these great challenging questions of life?  Does that seem anti-intellectual to you?  Me either.

In fact, I would argue that it is the Christian who has the greatest freedom in thought [and consequently intellectual integrity].  I can think deeply and rationally on Biology, Mathematics, Prayer, Morality, Death, or any of a million other topics. 
Yet if I was restrained by the presuppositions of materialism, that only the material world, discernible by our senses exists, my mind would be shackled, bound, and not free to intellectually consider why a mother loves her baby.  Yet as a Christian, I am free to ask if there is a soul, or why people have a personality and I am free to follow the evidence wherever it leads, even if that is to something more than a random set of biochemical reactions.

These critics of Christianity maintain that Christians are the ones who are afraid to think, when they themselves are often afraid to think long and seriously on the most vital of all questions, those that relate to meaning and purpose in life.

There is one area where Christianity does fetter thought, that is in the area of evil.  According to Christianity, we should not use our minds to think thoughts of lust, greed, hate or wickedness.  Yet if thought is merely a random set of biochemical reactions, there is no point to trying not to think about committing heinous acts of cruelty.  Actually, those things would not stand the test of intellectual greatness anyway would they?  I mean, would anyone argue that because Christianity tells us not to think on evil that it is chaining our minds and as such is anti-intellectual?  Surely not.  This is not to say that unbelievers always think on evil, nor to deny that Christians sometimes do think on evil, but it is to say that Christianity, as a system, encourages fair, thoughtful examination of all matters that are good and beneficial while at the same time, forbidding us to focus our minds on evil that harms.
Reason is a divine reality: and God who purposed, disposed and ordered nothing without reason, wills that all things should be treated and considered with reason [Tertullian, de poenitentia, pg. 1
 Secular research [science] is very much like fire, a useful and valuable servant, but a
harsh and destructive master. As a servant, it has been called upon to cure disease, increase comfort, and explain mysteries, but as a master, it allows for no other pursuit.  It's servants are not free to examine for themselves matters that cannot be settled by the scientific method, no other option is allowed a place at the table, even for consideration.  That, is anti-intellectual.

The attitude that Christianity is anti-intellectual is often simply a reaction of pride to the blow which is dealt to it by Christianity.  The majority of us feel, at most times, thoroughly capable of directing our own steps.  To acknowledge that I am not only morally weak, but also intellectually weak so as to need revelation from God to make good choices and attain the true purpose of life is abhorrent to this feeling of self-sufficiency.  In retaliation against this great insult, pride seeks to classify Christianity as 'anti-intellectual' and thereby dismiss it's claims.

Pride is insidious because it hides in plain sight by passing as confidence, commitment
to excellence, and drive.  We all want to be competent, to be loved, recognized and appreciated, yet when we receive those things, it not only encourages us, it also feeds our pride, our sense that we are recognized and appreciated because we are in some way superior to those around us.  

Pride is at its worst when we feel intellectually superior to those around us, and it is exactly here that it derails us.  If we look at those around us who accept Christianity, and we feel intellectually superior to them, we may dismiss what they believe as being less intelligent and therefore unworthy of serious consideration.  When we do that, it is a small step to feel justified in dismissing it altogether as unintelligible babble from the uneducated masses.  That tendency is greatly exacerbated if, when looking at those around us, we conclude that the more intelligent reject Christianity.  That has the effect of both the carrot and the stick.  We consider ourselves above the uneducated Christians, and on an intellectual par with the educated infidels.  This error is common enough to be referenced in Max Ehrmann's 1927 poem Desiderata:
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.
Christianity, however, is not anti-intellectual.  It actually gives to our intellect the answers to those vital questions that cannot be answered with a test-tube.  It is a motivation, not an obstruction, to real thought.  Pride is not an easily conquered foe, and when faced with the very real possibility that serious, unbiased investigation will, in the end, require submission and humility, it will often settle for a middle ground between faith and unbelief.  It will take an uneasy truce, a non-inquiring acquiescence to doubt, one that says "We cannot know for certainty, because both sides have made points, therefore we shall remain in doubt".  This diversion allows pride to escape unscathed by the demands of the gospel, while feeling 'above the fray' so the speak.
So, do you consider yourself the smartest guy/gal in the room?  Watch out!