January 25, 2020

The IM Saturday Monks Brunch: January 25, 2020 — Profound Thoughts Edition

Moon Over the Heartland (2020)

The IM Saturday Monks Brunch: January 25, 2020
Profound Thoughts Edition

Before we pass on a few profound (and not-so profound) thoughts over the Brunch table today, allow me to share a link to a truly profound conversation between “eco-theologian” Michael Dowd and our own Damaris Zehner. Dowd blogs at Post-doom and you can find his interview with Damaris on YouTube HERE or by clicking on the image below. You’ll get a great overview of Damaris’s career and background, and the kind of life she is most interested in practicing and writing about. You can follow her observations and reflections regularly at Integrity of Life. And we will keep the link to the Post-doom interview up on the IM Bulletin Board so that you can continue to access it easily.

Here are a few of Damaris’s profound thoughts that she expresses in the interview:

Mostly, we live daily. Nonetheless, what a good culture would do is to set up our daily lives with the future in mind. So, whether we’re thinking about it or not, whether we are aiming for something specific or not, we are living in such a way that there is something in the future for our children, grandchildren, and for all life on earth.

And if I were to choose a single Bible verse that I think works both spiritually and practically to every audience, it’s Micah 6:8, which is “love justice, do mercy, and walk humbly with your God.” And I really think that that covers it — whether we are talking about how we handle the environment and other species, how we deal with the economy, how we deal with other people, and how we prepare for the future. If we’re living humbly now, we won’t use up what other people will need in the future. If we’re thinking of justice and mercy, we will be considering the whole world around us.

If we are doing that, it goes back to what you were talking about, which is the sense of gratitude. When we’re not front and center, grabbing and shoving out of fear, then we can just sit back and go, “This is a nice world. We like it here. Let’s stay.”

Never again…

This week marked the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. Here are some poignant thoughts expressed about remembering the Holocaust.

But one thing I took from this was a big fear I’ve now got about people of absolute faith. I always thought faith of itself was – could only be a positive thing. Everyone talks about the importance of having faith. Well, these guys had faith, absolute faith. And there’s one really desperately upsetting…ideologically, there’s one desperately particularly upsetting moment where – in the book – where I talk about how Himmler and Hoss most admired, as prisoners, Jehovah’s Witnesses. They pointed to them and said, see that faith? That’s the kind of faith we need in our führer – absolute, unshakable faith. (from an interview with Laurence Rees, Auschwitz: A New History)

Today, you have a young generation of Germans. And I do not believe in collective guilt. So I have absolutely no problem with the young Germans. I even feel sorry for the young Germans because to be maybe sons or daughters of killers is different than to be sons and daughters of the victims. And I felt sorry for them. I still do. (from an interview with Elie Wiesel)

Our age is a different age. The words are not the same, the perpetrators are not the same perpetrators but it is the same evil, and there remains only one answer: Never again. (President Frank-Walter Steinmeier of Germany)

• • •

A few profound, curmudgeonly thoughts…

• • •

Institutional dereliction…

The always intriguing Mockingbird blog takes note of several recent observations about “the increasingly tenuous relationship between individuals and institutions.” One of the best articles cited is How Did Americans Lose Faith in Everything?  by Yuval Levin. Here are some of his poignant thoughts:

But what we are missing is not simply greater connectedness but a structure of social life: a way to give shape, purpose, concrete meaning and identity to the things we do together. If American life is a big open space, it is not a space filled with individuals. It is a space filled with these structures of social life — with institutions. And if we are too often failing to foster belonging, legitimacy and trust, what we are confronting is a failure of institutions.

…We trust political institutions when they undertake a solemn obligation to the public interest and shape the people who populate them to do the same. We trust a business because it promises quality and reliability and rewards its workers when they deliver those. We trust a profession because it imposes standards and rules on its members intended to make them worthy of confidence. We trust the military because it values courage, honor and duty in carrying out the defense of the nation and forms human beings who do, too.

What stands out about our era in particular is a distinct kind of institutional dereliction — a failure even to attempt to form trustworthy people, and a tendency to think of institutions not as molds of character and behavior but as platforms for performance and prominence.

• • •

And then there’s this…

• • •

Some profoundly eye-catching headlines…

CNN Unveils New Format Where Hosts Just Watch Fox News and Yell at It

Trump Lifts Obama-Era Protections Trapping Gangthor The Malevolent In Tomb Deep Within Murky Depths Of Pacific Ocean

God Is About to Release an Impartation Over You (huh?)

Mennonite Family Adopts “Baby Yoder”

Is Beth Moore Behind the Baseball Cheating Scandal?

• • •

Jim Lehrer’s Rules of Journalism

May he rest in peace and his tribe be restored a hundred-fold

• • •

On my winter playlist…

Culture Wars Update: Why I Am Not a Culture Warrior

Note from CM: I wrote this post in 2009. I thought I would re-run it today in its original form and ask for input on how you see that things may or may not have changed.

One sentence from the original post that I know is most certainly obsolete is found right in the beginning: “This involvement [of evangelicalism with politics] had its high water mark in the presidency of George W. Bush and the Republican domination of Congress.” From where I sit, it looks like the water is still rising.

Along with this piece, you might want to read Scot McKnight’s post that is linked on the IM Bulletin Board: Christianity Tomorrow. Scot maintains that the Christian church in many of its expressions (not just evangelicalism) has fallen into “Locke’s trap” and has increasingly adopted the “secular eschatology and soteriology” of “statism” — though few would admit to this. Statism “is a belief that solutions to our biggest problems are found in the state and the Christian’s responsibility from the Left or the Right is to get involved and acquire political power.”

A WORD: This is not a post about President Trump and I do not want the discussion to devolve into rants about him or the current administration, its policies, the current impeachment trial, etc. Stay on topic — comments will be strictly moderated and I will not feel the need to defend myself in doing so.

• • •

Why I Am Not a Culture Warrior

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: When it comes to the culture wars, I am a conscientious objector.

Since the 1970’s evangelicalism in America has taken to getting involved in public cultural activism and the political sphere with unprecedented vigor. Evangelicals have followed the voices of religious leaders like Francis Schaeffer, Jerry Falwell, D. James Kennedy, and James Dobson to raise their voices in the public debate about such issues as abortion, the erosion of personal morality (as they see it) especially as portrayed in the entertainment media, and the gay rights movement. In the process, evangelical Christianity became so connected to the conservative wing of the Republican party that at times the two seemed indistinguishable. This involvement had its high water mark in the presidency of George W. Bush and the Republican domination of Congress.

As a result of this evangelical embrace of a culture war approach to their mission in the world, churches, pastors, and individual Christians have been swept up into having to choose sides on many complex issues and to adopt a “Christ against culture” mentality. This has coincided with the development of an entire Christian subculture, which in my view has isolated believers from their neighbors and genuine redemptive interaction with the world.

Thus, evangelicals find themselves in the equivalent of spiritual trench warfare. We are dug in to our positions, separated from our “enemies,” seeing things only from one perspective, and having no real contact with those on the other side except to bombard them relentlessly. Doesn’t sound like a Great Commission lifestyle to me!

As Michael Spencer observes on his Internet Monk blog:

Every day I listen to and read Christians whose consideration of other persons is on the basis of politics and cultural conflict. Not the Gospel. Their anger and frustration dominates, not the Gospel.

Frankly, I don’t want any part of that approach. And so I’ve decided to conscientiously object to that path of life and “ministry.”

Here are some of the reasons I’ve gone AWOL…

(1) The culture war approach assumes the position that America is somehow different than other nations in our manifest destiny, a “Christian” land that must be “saved” and “brought back” to its Christian “roots.”

In the minds of those who assume this, there is an idea of some kind of vague Eden that once existed in our nation when people all went to church, lived moral lives, and the government supported the teachings of Christ. ‘Twas never so.

(2) The culture war approach holds that the media is the arena in which we should fight our battles, that it accurately represents the reality of the situation on the ground, and that therefore we must make our voice be heard through the media in order to win peoples’ hearts and minds.

The simple fact is that most people listen to media that confirm their beliefs, not challenge them. You won’t find the conservatives lining up to see the latest Michael Moore or Bill Maher film. Nor will you pass many liberals listening to Rush in their cars or catch them watching Fox News at night. Culture warriors generally preach to the choir.

But that’s not the only problem. By moving to a media-driven strategy, Christians have become conditioned to seek the spectacular and forsake the down-to-earth path our Savior teaches us to take–the small, seemingly insignificant, seed-planting approaches of loving our neighbors in the context of real daily life. That is the mystery of how the Kingdom comes and how the world is changed.

(3) The culture war approach relies on political machinery as a primary weapon to restore “righteousness” to the land.

This means we have allowed the world to choose the arena, the weapons, the rules, the referees, and the definitions of what it means to “win” or “lose” in the conflict. In addition, it makes Christians vulnerable to the temptations of power, which are among the least understood among us.

(4) The culture war approach teaches us to fear, dislike, oppose, and look down on our neighbors rather than lay down our lives for them in sacrificial love.

It pits us “against” them, when the Incarnation teaches us to be “with” them.

(5) The culture war approach leads to Christians unwisely choosing our battles and showing a misleading face to the world.

Must a person have “correct” political or cultural opinions before he can come to faith in Christ? The simple Good News of Jesus and his gracious salvation can become so mixed with righteous “positions” that the Gospel itself gets distorted.

IMHO, the culture war approach has a lot more in common with the way the Pharisees lived out the religious life and ministry than it does with our Lord Jesus Christ and his Apostles.

Review of “Love and Quasars: An Astrophysicist Reconciles Faith and Science” by Paul Wallace, Part 11.

Review of “Love and Quasars: An Astrophysicist Reconciles Faith and Science” by Paul Wallace, Part 11.

The final Chapter 13 is entitled, Why I Came Back: Love Embraces the Cosmos.  As he noted in earlier chapters, despite the conservative evangelical background he was raised in, by the time he left home for college, Wallace’s childhood faith was gone.  At college he found little to draw him back.  He adopted the whole “rebel” outlook including long hair, old army coats, and worn-out Chuck Taylors plus attitude.  He recounts conversations with Baptist students trying to convert him and responding with the argumentative, smart-alecky, atheist attitude.  This continued until his senior year, when he met Elizabeth, his future wife-to-be.  He says:

This went on until September of my senior year.  That’s when I met Elizabeth, a Christian I couldn’t argue with.  I don’t mean she had all the answers or was a skilled debater. She just didn’t argue.  She had no interest in it.  And it didn’t matter how she dressed or what her theology was, because on the day I met her… she looked at me and didn’t see a conversion project or a physics major or a freaky rock musician.  I felt like she saw me beneath all that, and she had no agenda.  This immediately shut down the rather prominent smart-ass component of my persona, which was unpleasant… But we got along so well.  We talked for hours, night after night, with zero effort.  It was the first time I had ever dated someone and not gotten all locked up by nerves and self-consciousness.  But the faith thing held us back.  She had it and I didn’t, and that mattered to both of us.

Over the next six months, she stood still as I skittered toward her and away from her like a nervous squirrel.  It caused her some pain, but she held out.  In the level gaze of her love, I eventually calmed down, began to pray with her, and months later, attended church with her.  Within two years of meeting, we were joined in Christian marriage… So it was love, not science or an argument, that brought me back and opened up my world.

I’m having an extremely tough time not being cynical here.  Wallace is trying to say that Elizabeth’s agape’ is what drew him back.  However, it seems likely to me that storge’, philia, and even eros were equally involved.  Not to mention the strong cultural identity that he was raised in.  It’s hard not to imagine that if he were raised Hindu and she were a Hindu beauty, that it would be Hinduism he would be returning to, or Muslim and a Muslim beauty… you get the idea.  Still – it is Wallace’s story – and he has to tell it as it occurred to him.

Wallace’s larger point – that scientific knowledge is not opposed to Christian faith – is still being made.  After all 1 Corinthians 8:1, “But knowledge puffs up while love builds up” is still true.  He says:

Love and reason work together like faith and science.  And in the same way that faith must contain all science, love must encompass all reason and knowledge and sound argument.  Love puts these tools in their proper context and sets them to their rightful task of building a better and more just and more beautiful world.

Search the cosmos, and you will find no bottom and no boundaries, but faith can contain it still.  God does not explain the world the way gravity or evolution does, and faith does not compete with science.  God is not a theory of everything.  God does not close the door on our not-knowing but throws it open and invites us to experience the joy of knowing and to deepen the great mystery of not knowing.

God is not knowledge but love, a love embracing all-knowing and all not-knowing, a love in which fear – of the unknown, of our own questions, even of death – has no place.  And we are perhaps the strangest of all things: walking talking assemblies of atoms that have found ourselves in an infinite and evolving universe that somehow makes no sense and carries no meaning and offers no hope outside the great and shining reality we call love.

Well said, Paul, well said.

Another Look: Richard

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A blast from my so-called “biblical” past

The other day I had a reminder of my past evangelical life and the way I used to think and teach. Watching an online sermon from a local conservative evangelical Bible-teaching church with which I am very familiar, I was struck … [Continue reading...]

Review of “Love and Quasars: An Astrophysicist Reconciles Faith and Science” by Paul Wallace, Part 10.

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