Tag Archive: love


Tragedy and Responsibility: The Subpoena of Fate

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image by Vox Efx

Faced with recent events, we may easily understand the pangs of compassion, concern, and confusion that are felt within the wake of such tragedies that befall mankind. News reporters speak of the urgency and fear felt by those closest to the situations. Televisions and computer monitors, like the panes of glass in a window, are all that seem to separate us from the victims of tragedy. The 1960’s futurist, Marshall McLuhan, termed this “the global village,” the inevitable culmination of connection technology that would cause mankind to bear witness to all the going-ons of the planet.

It is at times like these, we unconsciously become aware of the unspoken truth: Once we have seen, we feel responsibility for the triumph of Truth in the matter. We do not celebrate the men and women who have ignored the horrors that passed in front of them, knowing them to be wrong and refusing to act through sheer lack of courage. This generation knows this truth far and above others through sheer connectedness. Human crisis and violation of rights meet underground masses when not addressed by public media. We do not truly hear the cries or see the pain of those in Haiti, Indonesia, Darfur, Uganda, Rwanda, or China. Yet, when we hear of the events in these areas, we are driven to act, or, rather, feel some guilt for not acting on the compassion we feel. Do we sacrifice as much as we can? Do we truly conceive of the gravity of the situation? With contorted and confused souls we sit, digitally watching from afar, trying to grapple with the suddenly juxtaposed emotions of helplessness and responsibility.

For thousands of years, mankind has cared only for those he could see, those he could provide for, or those he had direct contact with. Are our minds capable of understanding the sheer gravity of global depravity and ungoverned, natural tragedy? These victims are not part of my community. They are not one of my own. We might think, “if this were but a man who came to my door, a neighbor who needed taking in, I could do something.” But as fellow members of the human race, their pain resides in the collective subconscious of all who witness it. Whether McLuhan foresaw or understood the near unbearable weight of responsibility that comes with this act of global witnessing, I do not know. What I do know is that, a few times a year, we stare into the eyes of a refugee, a sick child, a displaced citizen, a victim, a person who has lost a son, a mother, their home, their livelihood, and we are called upon to respond.

If there is but one thing our primitive minds unceasingly ask and yet fail to grasp, it is the question of “Why?” Why did this happen? Why was this allowed? Why do people act this way? Why was I here instead of there? Why not me? We develop mythos. We try to explain. But stories and logic cannot free us from the cold, harsh grip of responsibility one feels when he asks these questions or the momentary guilt we feel when we turn down an opportunity to give. Christopher Hitchens, for all the things he might say that I would find disagreeable, recently said this of tragedy and response: “It isn’t my idea that these capricious catastrophes strike the just and the unjust with such regularity, or that they are soothingly explained away by the pseudo-compassionate. Of all the great cosmic questions, WTF still strikes me as one of the most pressing, relevant, and ultimately humane.”

It is coincidence that, a few weeks before this, I would write on laziness as a refusal to act with responsibility towards the well-being of those who bear responsibility for your own. In a recent conversation with a coworker, we discussed the nature of global responsibility. What requires me to act besides image-induced guilt and emotional response? I might submit, in harsh, reasonable fact, you bear no responsibility for those outside your immediate and tangible control. However, we do not look through the annals of human history to make note of those who did what was required of them, but we define as heroes those who did what was needed when Fate handed them a subpoena.

Bio: Josiah is a graduate of North Central University in Minneapolis, MN. His thirst for knowledge is only surpassed by his thirst for coffee. Thus, much free time is spent in the quest for the next fix.

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Today, as I walked along Bondi Beach in Australia, as is typical, my mind was elsewhere. Why it would be elsewhere when I’m in such a somewhere as Australia? One may never know. At any rate, it was questioning the reaction of the Church to the skeptics and doubters among us. For many, the approach is evangelization; “tell them the message/answers and then it’s theirs to choose whether they believe.” This might seem alright at first glance (something I would debate), but especially when the message is known and understood by the hearer, due to being raised in its context or having the proximity of culture, is it helpful to patronize the listener by approaching their question as though the answer traditionally given is new, fresh divine revelation? Thus, I thought to myself, “What are ways the Church can better dialogue with the doubter?”

–          Do not do anything without proximity of relationship

This is something that should be a given for any Christian as it is. I believe the Church has gotten off base and addresses issues rather than people. The fact of the matter is, people should be our issue. In other words, for the extreme evangelical, a soul is not an object to be possessed, it is a spirit encased in humanity’s shell. Thus, one should not approach it as something to be won or changed.

If someone you know expresses doubt, congratulations, you know them. There’s step #1 toward…something. (There is no guarantee that these will help “change skeptics into believers” simply that it will help you dialogue.) If it’s someone you don’t know, but they’re in your church or study group or whatever, don’t do anything regarding questioning. In fact, clear your head of change agenda. Your entire goal should be to understand them as a person and where they’re coming from. One must know a person’s perspective before you can approach their thoughts.

Before you go checking this off the list of steps, if you realize you have a desire to check it off, start over again. You’re treating it like an achievement rather than a person.

–          Listen and Contemplate rather than Answer

Hand in hand with proximity of relationship is listening. If your entire focus is refuting their questions, debating, or simply asking questions in a “betcha never thought of this” fashion, you’ll quickly lose the opportunity to hear; especially if you use the question asking method. If it were a genuine question you were asking, research it yourself. Just because I believe something different, doesn’t mean I know how to answer every question about it.

Do not make listening to their questioning your first priority. If you desire to invoke patronization and make it seem as though you do not care, then you can ask first thing. But if you desire to care, care about someone as more than their problems, issues, and things you don’t agree with. People are more than the sum of their thoughts.

If you think you’ve listened because you know they’re questioning and you know what they’ve brought up publicly, you haven’t listened. You’ve been aware. Listening is personal. Ask them what they’re thinking about. Ask them what they’re questioning. Ask them what they’re dealing with. If it’s confusion, it may pour out in desperation to voice it. If it’s in anger, prepare to deal with aggressive confrontation.

–          Approach questions with humility

Too often the Church believes it can answer a question straight away. Yet, if one truly examines many questions, it comes back to faith in one thing or another. Yet, when deconstructed, it does not guarantee it can be rebuilt exactly as you see it. Ultimately, there is often a statement of “I don’t know” needed when you legitimately don’t know. With the amount of material out there, one can accrue many ideas on the same thing. We must learn to address the fog in the room for what it is: non-corporeal and immaterial.

If we are truly honest with ourselves, we all quickly understand we prefer one belief over another for varying reasons. As such, we have varying beliefs. If you could prove your belief 100%, it would be unquestionably the standard model and idea that everyone accepted. It also would, by definition, eliminate itself as belief in a transcendent God. If there were a way to perfectly determine some aspect of God, you set Him in stone, effectively creating for yourself an ideological idol.

–          Do not discourage questioning (perhaps even encourage it)

It seems the Church’s response to questions and doubt is often to encourage a cutting off of thoughts. There is no criticality to this way of thinking. One never grows stronger, he simply does not acknowledge his weakness. If ideas that contradict are cut off, change will never occur. If we never examine a different perspective, we never truly know what others perceive. We never understand how to communicate better.

Perhaps we should even encourage questioning. What might result is a church of people who have thought through what they believe rather than simply being told. They might find that their understanding increases and the Church’s ability to communicate in greater detail grows. However, this again comes back to humility. Can we humbly stand before our doctrines and beliefs and admit the truth when we don’t know? It is a check and balance to belief and teaching. The more people are taught to question, the less you see a weak idea lasting against the litmus of the congregation.

–          Do not treat the skeptic as a second-class “believer”

When I initially revealed myself publicly as a skeptic, I had people who knew me telling me I had no faith and, consequentially, I would be damned for it. I believe that we fear doubt because of its undermining of guarantees. We look to Christianity to guarantee us a place in heaven and a guarantee of the eternal upper hand. If we question this at all, we question our reason for belief. And if we question our reason for belief, why should we believe?

The other side of the coin when it came to my public revelation was from people who knew me better. These people had seen me working through questions and seen the way I acted in spite of them. These people felt that it showed a stronger faith for being able to trust although lacking an experience of seeing. Sure, my questioning was evident in cynicism and skepticism, but I was willing to continue following even though I wasn’t sure I truly agreed fully with everything being said.

Two people can better dialogue when there is no patronization. If you believe you have the upper hand when speaking with a doubter because you “believe fully”, step back and equalize yourself. It is a humble dialogue, not a sales pitch or debate.

The Factor of the Other

Understand that some do not want to dialogue. Many skeptics and doubters are fine with the place they are at. They are as convinced of their unbelief as many are of their belief. In this, one must trust that only God can give God. It is simply up to us to be His vessels. Do right. Serve others. Submit rather than overpower.

****

If being right is what you desire, be religious. If you desire to subvert the question, walk humbly in faith towards what we are incapable of seeing or understanding.

The Church I Would Lead

This post has been in the mental oven so long I pray it isn’t burnt.

For starters, I need to clarify some things. When I first mentioned writing this to people, I described the reason I didn’t want to be a traditional format pastor as “I’m just not a normal church lover.” This statement incurs a lot of assumptions on the part of the listener. First, the listener assumes I am your standard breed of cynical 20-something with no hope for the Christian church and holds Rob Bell, Shane Claiborne, Brian McLaren, Donald Miller, etc. on a pedestal of “I-read-my-religious-grudges-into-their-works.” However, this is not true. I don’t even believe these men are absolutely dissatisfied with the church. (Ok, the jury might be out on Claiborne…) Anyways, Bell is a pastor, McLaren a theologian, Miller a church-goer, etc. These men are involved with the church as it is. I do not believe they are for tearing the system apart. Sure, they are visionaries and they might remodel it some, but not dismantle it. In the same way, I have hope that the church, as is, can accomplish good and reach people.

However, I am not the person to lead that church. I see too much pressure on the standard model’s pastor. I perceive too much focus on the homiletic event of Sunday morning (or Saturday night, Thursday night, etc.) than on the hermeneutically infused life of the believer the other days. This church can continue, and I have hope that it succeeds.

What is the standard model?

A church/group that meets for a specified service at a specified time. This “service” is a gathering filled with musical worship and a presentation of a message on a Biblical text. It is intended to be a communal gathering, but yet, whether consciously or unconsciously, becomes a individualized spiritual recharging to be carried over into the next week until the next service. It is a non-profit organization rather than a community of believers. It has a CEO who runs it like a business model, serving the wares that result in customers, rather than as an icon of the Son seeking to reconnect with His family.

What would this non-traditional model look like?

First, I understand the reason behind the single service model. Yet, I desire to break the event-oriented mold. The church has become a fixed destination where things happen, not a thing that happens at any destination. If I ever were to have a “normal” service, it would not be for a while. My first focus would be on getting people together to serve others. Whether that be a neighbour who is moving, a house that needs remodeled, driveways that need shoveling, volunteers for a community event, serving the homeless, etc. There would be a focus on doing something for others first, rather than coming together for our individualized recharge. After this is finished, then I would convene for discussion. This might look like discussion about why we did what we did with a look at the words of Jesus or a discussion about what we learned/experienced in doing this. It is focused on “worship in action” with the idea that a friend of this community would be more incited to act outside the gathering if they were doing so and encouraged to inside. It is an experiential understanding of and instruction in the Love that is the center of our message.

Eucharist would be a vital part of this community. Understanding that it is this commonality of belief that makes it communal. We take it understanding the forgiveness of ourselves and to remind us to forgive others. No one is beyond forgiveness. It is understood this is a difficult process, and that it is just that, a process. We will not be blinded by the justification of our own action forgetting that every man is capable of great evil and great good.

Listening would be central to the actions of this community. Rather than shaping the world into our own idyllic image (different for every man), we will seek to shape it into our common understanding of Christ’s kingdom image. Yet, this is a shaping that is not out of totalitarian unification, but subversion of culture. By showing a better way in action rather than teaching it in words.

This community’s leadership would arise from the commonality. It would not simply be me in an appointed position through privilege of initiation. Obviously, someone must initiate, organize, and take point on some things, but the group would be listened to for their contribution to leadership. Therefore, my leadership becomes more “leadership” with a guiding hand understanding the mission and goal of the community.

This church focuses on communicating spiritual truth even to those with an enlightened knowledge of it in more ways than simply verbal instruction and exhortation. Rather, it focuses on creating gaps to be filled by understanding through creative exercises and experiences.

This church seeks to entertain questions and the skeptics who ask them. It is through a hope that action reveals more truth than agreement.

We hope to instill hope in those whom we serve. We believe in faith that is questionable and not fully comprehensible, but challenges us to live better and to believe in something greater than ourselves; in Ultimate Good. We desire to Love others by continually challenging our capacity to Love the “undeserving” and those tread upon when the quest for Morality becomes a march without care or forgiveness for the mistaken and failed.

This community would have accountability and friendship at its core above merely having people in attendance. It seeks to engage multiple areas of culture and expression. This community would be a place for those who enjoy the standard model as well as a place for those who are disenchanted and disenfranchised.

It is a community that is difficult. It is a community that is challenging. It is a community without traditional frontman leadership. It is the community I would “lead”.

The Origins of Evil

Here’s a thought experiment. Not a declaration of doctrine or belief. Just a plain, ordinary thought.

“Where does evil come from?”

This is not a question about “where God is when evil strikes”, but it is a question of origins. Where did evil come from? If God is an all-Good God who created all that is Not-God, did He create Evil?

For many, this question is met with a direct answer of “no, God does no Evil and made everything Good.” Now, there is the argument that everything Evil is simply the absence of Good. However, where does this absence originate?

One could propose the idea that God created this absence, this Evil. Now, you might say this is impossible because this makes God malevolent if He is the originator of Evil. If He is the source of all the pain and destruction in this world, then, yes, He is. But we know He is not malevolent and is diametrically opposed to Evil, so how might He be the originator of Evil?

In order to understand further logic, let us consider the purpose of Evil. There are many verses on this, but one I will highlight is in John 9. This is the story of one of the blind men Christ heals. The disciples are debating why the man was blind. They say, “Who sinned, this man or his parents?” To which Christ responds, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.”

God is in the work of changing the perception of Evil into Good or infusing Good into Evil. If Evil is the absence of Good, then God is in the work of entering the void and manifesting Himself. If there were no Evil, we might never know the true fullness of God’s manifestation. Like salt on a grapefruit, the addition of a little Evil brings about a fuller contrast and fuller understanding of the beauty and goodness of Good.

So, in a sense, the creation of Evil as a nihility of Himself is not necessarily Evil in itself. If God did the act of creation in order to more fully express Himself (as God is not needy for our worship, but in a constant expression of adoration toward that most worthy of adoration; Himself), then it is a better, fuller, and more beautiful creative expression if it is given something to express. If Love is not full without Choice, then without this void of Good, Good is not truly known in its truest nature.

How does this make God un-malevolent? He is still the source of all pain, destruction, chaos, and contempt in the world. However, God did not make anyone Evil, He simply allowed Evil to exist. He risked removing Himself with hope that His creations might fully express Him as the Full Goodness. However, there also exists the choice of the Less Than; less than full, less than Good.

If God did not make anyone Evil, but simply allowed the existence of Evil, He is not the direct source and simply the originator. The direct source of Evil is the one who chooses it; the one who seeks out the Less Than over the Full Goodness. God’s act of creation was to more fully express Himself. If this full expression demands a choice, He charges His creation with that choice. Eradicate the darkness. “Fully express me in the void of me you see around you, this is what I delight in.”

“…learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.”

Isaiah 1:17

“…but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness,  justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,”

Jeremiah 9:24

It is a perfect and Good risk to take for the fuller expression. He does not control the choice, but with every poor choice, a greater expression of Good is made possible.

**Please note: This is not perfectly thought out. It is simply what I have been dying to write for a while now. It is an imperfect summary of where I stand spiritually as of late.

For the past year or so, I will admit, my faith has struggled. It has faced challenges and logical puzzles and the constant process of thesis-antithesis-synthesis. I have grown to understand more about the world in which I live through constant research. This study of reason brings me to these constant intersections where I must question whether my faith really contains the answers. I question whether I’m believing in vain in a God with no physical evidence of existence and no absolute psychological need for belief other than a quest for purpose; a purpose which, if all else fails, is a meaningless illusion based on a primitive pursuit of understanding. Most arguments for the existence of God are not hard to refute with a given understanding of psychology, sociology, and biology. Yet, I still believe.

I admit, the idea of faith became difficult when I began to study and reason. It was easier before I started college. Before I understood there were multiple perspectives on things. Before I understood the world was less black and white than I had believed it to be. Had I experienced this outside a Christian context, I am unsure if I would be where I am today. I do not believe I was or am strong enough to make it without any support to return to. The temptation to abandon faith exists quite often in my life.

Yes, I am not sure about the existence of God. I don’t believe I will ever be sure. Yet there is one thing I hope in, and it is this that continues my belief. I place my trust in Christ because I cannot refute his teachings. His teachings call out to everything inside me and challenge me to what I know is a better and greater good than I can know on my own instinct. His teachings are commended by those around the world and of any faith. They are the greatest good. Yet, paired with these teachings come claims of being God himself and commands about right relationship with the Father. If I can believe his teachings, might I have to believe these too? Technically one could argue for the mythological development of these claims being written in by the Gospel writers rather than actually spoken by Jesus himself. The Gospels were not written as histories, but narrative communications of the good news of Christ with specific intention and message. However, those same writers died for what they wrote, and died professing what they wrote. These men were changed by what they experienced. And so it is in these that I can trust and through this trust in Christ. He is the tangible evidence on which my faith is founded.

However, even if Christ fails me, and if there is no God, I will die following him. Because his way of living is so right, I will strive to live like it. And if I reach the end of my life, and there is no ultimate meaning, I will not mind because I will have lived. I will have sacrificed. I will have served and brough worth to my existence. I do not know if there is a God. I do not believe there will ever be discovered concrete evidence. There is plenty of logic that contradicts the idea of believing in a Being which cannot be seen or measured, yet if this makes me a better person by believing it, I will. I will seek to love. I will seek to care. I will seek to serve. And I will seek to bring this satisfaction to others.

I do not follow simply for hope to escape punishment from God if I don’t. I do not follow simply because I was taught this. I do not follow simply because it makes me feel good. I follow because it matches the cries of my soul to do what is right. I follow because it is the ultimate good.

I strive to find answers with my insatiable thirst for knowledge while renouncing ignorance. I strive to work out how this world can mesh with this idea of ultimate good and purpose. I strive to overcome this battle of reason and faith while giving up on neither. I strive to emulate Christ with my life knowing I am imperfect. I strive to live, to dream, and to pursue the best for the community I live in, the dignity of others, and the satisfaction found in this.

One might ask if there is any hope in this way of living? If by “hope” one means “a given understanding that it will all be over and perfection awaits” then my answer would be no. If by “hope” one means “a desire to believe that something exists beyond this life” then yes. My hope is placed in the idea that Christ was right. My hope is that lives can be changed for the better.

Christ is the door for my faith. Through him I accept the multitude of teachings about the God he claimed to be. But I strive to integrate those into my life. I understand right and wrong. However, I approach others from underneath. It is through relationship that lives are changed, not simple interaction. I desire to become a servant to those I meet.

I am Jekyll and Hyde. I am Skeptic and Believer.

To be sin for us

2 Corinthians 5:21

The Way I See It.

[This is an older post I wrote in January of 2007. Yet I felt it should be dug out of the archives and republished here]

“The genius of the American system is not freedom; the genius of the American system is checks and balances. Nobody gets all the power, everybody is watching everybody else. It is as if the founding fathers knew, intrinsically, that the soul of man, unwatched, is perverse.” -Donald Miller Blue Like Jazz (emphasis added)

Today I was reading on Wikipedia about the Holocaust and stumbled across an image that left a repugnant and ill feeling resting in my gut. It was an image of the emaciated, slaughtered, and stacked bodies of human beings. It was horrifying. The knowledge that this was not done by a freak accident or a disaster of natural origin, but was carried out as a purposeful act of one human against another left me discomforted. I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about humanity at its core lately and cannot grasp the length of the long, dark, and lonely path of depravity which would lead someone to do acts such as these. Even as a mere puppet of a regime, a soldier, a nazi, what propaganda could rend the soul into such a twisted, unrecognizable shadow of its former self? I think it becomes easy for us to seperate ourselves, and that is essentially what Donald Miller talks about in this chapter of his book. We are all capable of the evil we see; that which we find sickening and repulsive. You need merely throw an unexpected, negative, serious turn of events in the path of someone or a group of people in order to watch fear corrode the essence of humanity; each man seeking the protection of him and those close to him, but no one else. You needn’t look far; examples rest in the incidents surrounding the War of the Worlds radio broadcast in the early half of the last century and span time and space up through black friday, 9/11, and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Man seeks the best he can provide for himself and those dearest to him. It is a basic right of man to do so.

This is what I perceive to be the problem in the socialist form. It does not create care, it merely seeks an end to satisfy needs temporarily. The saying goes, “Give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day, teach a man to fish, he’ll eat for the rest of his life.” And in a way the same goes for wages. If you tax a man’s wages to supply for others, you get a limited supply and yes, it solves the issue, but if you teach a man to care, he can change the world. A man who cares, freely gives. Instead of taking it from him, you allow him the opportunity to do the right thing. To grasp a piece of his humanity. Just as Christ’s teachings in the sermon on the mount about non-retaliatory action is not about being passive, but is about doing the unexpected extreme and bring about a realization of the carnal act. This realization allows the other to grasp a piece of his own redeemed humanity. (Do not think I’m saying the redemption is a consequence of action, it is a realization, a thought process, a lens and is still vitally different from a “fully realized” Christian redemption) No matter what we do, man will never be satisfied. The greed and lust for more will never be quenched in an unredeemed world. What are we doing to bring about a change of mind. This is not a political issue, well, it is, and do what you feel is right, but what I’m trying to say is that this is something that needs to be taught about, not merely legislated. To think that legislation cures anything in any situation is like believing that running only water over your hands gets them as clean as soap.

I look at the war in Iraq with mixed feelings. The one thing I support is that there is no longer a depraved, mass murderer in power over these people. We protest and talk of the innocent families in Iraq that are suffering under our liberation attempts and it is easy to feel angered at the American system and force…why did we not care before our tanks rolled in? We let the ticker tape headline scroll by without taking action, without protesting, we were mildly disgusted, but it was not happening to us. Is it sad that the motivator for us to dethrone the twisted human was our own safety?

Care and compassion. Fundamental elements of humanity.

Philippians 2:1-4 “1If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

Romans 13:8,10 “Owe nothing to anyone—except for your obligation to love one another. If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law…Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God’s law.”

And lastly, one final reminder that haunts me for some unknown reason:
Matthew 5:43-45 “”You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”

Alright, I hope I didn’t spark a political tirade. I don’t know how logically my thought process flows from one to the next at 2 am. I am just a naive college student still forming a viewpoint on the world.

This is the way I see it.