Some Sunday Night Karl Barth

This Advent I’ve been reading Karl Barth’s collection of talks, The Word of God and the Word of Man. It’s his earlier material, and some of it even dates to his time as a young pastor, before he was a well-known theologian.

I’m currently in chapter 5, “The Problem of Ethics Today,” and there are some passages in there that are pure gold. I thought I would share a few of my favorite quotes.Karl Barth

” The meaning of our situation is that God does not leave us and that we cannot leave God. It is because God himself and God alone lends our Life its possibility that it becomes so impossible for us to live. It is because God says Yes to us that the No of existence here is so fundamental and inescapable…It is because the deathless life of God is our true portion that the necessity of death reminds us so inexorably of the sinful narrowness of our will to live. Through our doom we see therefore what is beyond our doom, God’s love; through our awareness of sin, forgiveness; through death and the end of all things, the beginning of a new and primary life. It is when man is most remote from God that God in his mercy seeks out and finds him” (p.98-99).

This is Barth doing dialectical theology. That is, God’s Word of grace to human beings is always something that comes from outside. We do not have the ability to work our way to it, but must simply receive it. This grace, this divine YES to us, comes to us in the midst of our fallen state which brings  judgment (the divine NO). Barth is here offering a re-working of some classical Reformed Christian ideas. He draws heavily from Paul, Luther, and Calvin. This may not seem all that radical to American evangelicals, but Barth was butting heads against the established European liberal Protestantism with its visions of ultimate human progress.

“Man’s will is and remains unfree: he lives and will live to the end of his days under the annihilating effect of the fall; his goals from the least to the highest will be of a different kind from the final goal, his conduct will be evil, and his achievement not only incomplete but perverted” (p.99).

This is Barth re-stating the Reformed doctrine of Total Depravity. That’s the idea that sin has affected humankind and its attendant structures to the effect that even our best moral works and efforts falls short of God’s original intention for us. In Barth’s context, Switzerland 1922, Europe was reeling from the disillusionment World War I caused from the idea that Christian civilization would advance into a glorious future due to technology and progress. They had just seen that technology and progress nearly kill off an entire generation of young men.

“In this world there is no salvation and no certainty apart from the unique forgiveness of God, by which the sin of the pious and the not pious, the sin discoverable in all life relations, the sin underlying the whole system of human ends, is covered” (p.100).

“Faith and revelation expressly deny that there is any way from man to God and to God’s grace, love, and life. Both words indicate that the only way between God and many is that which leads from God to man. Between these words–and this is the inner kernel of the theology of Paul and the Reformation–there are two other words: Jesus Christ” (P.105).

Solution is certain because salvation is certain, the salvation of man, the redemption of the body, of the creature, of the lost and imprisoned creation of God. Salvation is certain because the new man is present from above, bringing the new heaven and the new earth, the kingdom of God” (p.105).

If the above won’t preach, I don’t know what will.

This sort of writing is what makes me love Barth. He is incredibly realistic about the fallen human condition and incredibly hopeful regarding the reach of God’s grace.

 

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My Ten Favorite Theologians

On one of the blogs I follow, the author put up a post on his top ten theologians who have influenced him the most. I thought that was pretty cool and interesting, so I decided I would do the same.

These ten theologians have each been a really big influence on how I think about God, life, the Bible, and ethics. This list definitely is not exhaustive and they are not rank-ordered in any sense, except for the first two, I would say.

So here they are. I’ve given their name, hyperlinked to learn more about them, and a single sentence (or two!) on why they are so influential to me. Hopefully, if you are looking for some new theological thinking, you can find it from some of these masters.

  1. Karl Barth. Barth has been my favorite theologian for a long time because he has helped guide my theological ship, so to speak, between the shallows of theological liberalism and the rocks of fundamentalism. He also reminds me over and over that the subject of all theology is the God who reveals himself to us in Jesus, and that this God is beyond our control.
  2. Martin Luther. Most know him as the one who sparked the Protestant Reformation (for better or worse!), but I love him because his discovery of the radical nature of grace was born out of his own existential struggle with his own guilt before God (his anfechtungen, as he called it in his native German). His idea that we are simul justus et peccator, simultaneously sinner and saint is a very psychologically and spiritually useful truth to live by.
  3. Wolfhart Pannenberg. Pannenberg was a theological genius who was a master of nearly everything he set his mind to (legend has it he would read 500 pages a day!). He offers a corrective to some of the places where Barth is weak, such as reminding us that God reveals himself in history and that the resurrection of Jesus is a taste of the future that broke into the present.
  4. Lewis Smedes. He was an ethics professor at Fuller seminary who retired way before my time. His books are extremely practical and masterfully blend compassion and realism.
  5. Rene Girard. Even though he was technically not a theologian, much of his work is theological. He introduced me to the idea of “mimetic theory” and scapegoating. His theory of the atonement is one of the big ones in theological discussion today.
  6. N.T. Wright. His work on Paul is groundbreaking. His work on Jesus is great. He’s scholarly and pastoral at the same time. Need I say more?
  7. David Fitch. His books on the church and mission have been very influential on me. I also really enjoy the podcast he co-hosts, talking about theology, missional Christianity, ethics, and things of that nature.
  8. Stanley Hauerwas. He’s helped me refine much of my thinking about how the church is called to be an alternative to the systems of the world. While I no longer share his extreme pacifist convictions, he makes a great mental dialogue partner, challenging me to ask myself whether I am more of an American or more of a Christian.
  9. Dietrich Bonhoeffer. His works on ethics, discipleship, and “religionless Christianity in a world come of age” continually inspire me. Every time I return to Bonhoeffer, I’m both inspired and challenged by his courage.
  10. Eugene Peterson. I wrote earlier about his impact on me HERE. My list wouldn’t be complete without him.

There’s a lot of other theologians I could mention, but these are my top ten. If you enjoy theology, who would some of yours be, and why?

What I’m up To, What I’m Hoping For

I’ve been pretty quiet on the blog for the last month due to the fact that my wife and I have been incredibly busy moving to a new town and remodeling our new house. We have literally been working on the house for eight hours every day for the last month. After a full day of remodeling and then taking care of the other daily responsibilities, I haven’t had a lot of energy for blogging.

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I have had some free time over the last day or two, so I wanted to give a bit of an update on where I am, what I’m up to, and what I’m hoping for in the future. We’ve made a big change in our lives with this move, and I wanted to share some of the “why” for it.

First, the Silicon Valley commuting life was killing me. Last summer (2018), I was working at the church in Menlo Park and living in San Jose. I was driving about 56 miles a day through heavy traffic just  to get to work and back home. It was not uncommon for me to be spending three to four hours a day sitting in my car on the 280 freeway. In addition, my Nissan Xterra only gets 18 miles per gallon and gas was about $3.30 a gallon. It was clear to me that the commuting aspect of my life was not sustainable in the long term if I wanted to stay sane.

Second, we also both just wanted to get out of the craziness of the Bay Area sooner rather than later. While there are many great things about that region of California, the pace, cost, and crowds were really starting to grind on us. I was never all that fond of it, to begin with.

As all of this was going on this summer, I began to consider more seriously the possibilities that a “bi-vocational” life might offer. That is, I would leave my paid position at the church, find a new job in a place I love, and settle in to be part of the community and do ministry there. Rather than sit around and wait for the “perfect” church job to show up somewhere, we decided we would go where we would like to live and find ways to do ministry there.

As I was considering this change, I read a great book called Bi-Vo: A Modern-Day Guide for Bi-vocational Saints by Hugh Halter to help me formulate a vision and plan for this new chapter of my life. I also took a lot of inspiration from other bi-vocational pastors such as David Fitch, who reminds me that “it’s not two jobs, it’s one life” for the Kingdom. These, and other resources on the bi-vocational life have helped me consider some more creative visions for what life and ministry could look like for me in the future.

As we looked for opportunities in places we would like to live, Chelsae ended up finding a job in Minden, NV, a beautiful community on the eastern edge of the Sierra Nevada. We bought a house and we are settling down in our new community. My plan is to start working a job, serving a church, continuing to write, and teach whenever I can. I really love the Carson Valley, and I believe that loving the place where you are is important for doing ministry.

There’s a lot of unanswered questions about what this all will look like and where it will go, but I’m pretty excited to find out.

 

The Death of “The Pastor”

About a week ago, I saw that one of my favorite spiritual and theological authors had passed away. Christianity Today reported that Eugene Peterson died at the age of 85 after entering hospice a week earlier. While the news of his death was not a surprise to me, I was saddened, as he was someone whom I hoped to meet somehow one day before he passed. Now, I’ll just have to wait until the resurrection.

I didn’t come to love Eugene Peterson’s writing until a couple years ago. Prior to that, I had vaguely known who he was as the man who wrote The Message, the well-known paraphrase of the entire Bible. I had read bits and pieces of The Message here and there and sometimes found it to be a helpful interpretation of certain biblical passages. Other times as I explored that paraphrase, I found it to be a bit awkward and was unimpressed. I never felt compelled to buy a copy of The Message for myself.

When I was at Fuller, however, I took a class on spiritual formation and vocation where we were assigned to read his book The Contemplative Pastor, and I was hooked on his writing.  The Message is an impressive work, but his writings on the spiritual life and the vocation of “pastor” have left the deepest mark on me. Since that first class, I’ve been consistently reading his books, which are many.

One of the things I love the most about his writing is how masterfully he blends exegesis of Scripture with practical insight for living the life of a Christian. Unfortunately, many Christian authors who attempt to write a “biblical” perspective on anything exegete the Bible as if it is a legal document giving us a step by step process. Or, they pull random verses out of context and use them as sound bites from God, which happen to support their argument.

Peterson didn’t treat the Bible as a wooden legal text or as God’s Twitter account, but had the rare gift of pulling readers into the stories of the Bible, helping them to see how the God of the prophets and the New Testament is still at work in our churches and communities. Peterson, himself a great reader of novels, was able to present the Bible in a way that was informed by the best scholarship, but was also actually interesting.

His writings on the pastoral life, specifically, and the spiritual life, more generally, did a lot to give me a vision for my own life and ministry. He was not a fan of megachurches and the branding, marketing, and corporate strategies that they require, by necessity. Reading him, I was consistently reminded that our faith is not a product to be mass produced and marketed in the manner of Wal-Mart or McDonalds, but is a gift from God that must be taken with the utmost seriousness.

He was not anti-evangelism or against getting the faith to great numbers of people in ways that are understandable –the existence of The Message is glaring proof of that! Rather, he cautioned against becoming more concerned with being “relevant” over faithful. Peterson reminds us that the pastor’s job isn’t to be the CEO of a Christian corporation, but is to  teach the Bible, to offer spiritual direction, and walk with people through the joys and difficulties of life while pointing them to the reality of God’s grace in their lives. That’s not an original idea for the vocation of pastor, but an ancient one that our American, evangelical Christianity needs to recover, in many places.

One other thing I appreciated about him was his rural, western roots. He grew up in a small town in Montana, which he eventually retired back to. He regularly drew on his love for the land and the people in his writing. Being from a small, rural town myself, I resonate with his love for the place he came from.

So, for someone who has never read any of Eugene Peterson’s books, where is a good place to start? While I haven’t read all of his books yet, the three I would recommend to start with are:

  1. The Pastor: A Memoir This is his beautifully written, engaging memoir. If you want to get a glimpse of his life and thought, that’s a little “lighter” reading, this is a good place to start.
  2. The Jesus Way: A Conversation on the Ways that Jesus is the Way. This book examines the lives of a few Old Testament figures and how Christ is seen in them and how they point to Jesus in their successes and failures.
  3. Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work. This is a book on how to do the work of ministry in a way that’s biblical and relational. It’s a great alternative to the corporate-leadership trend that has reigned in American churches for the last few decades.

Finally, here is a video of him describing what he looks for in good preaching. This gives you a good insight into how he thinks. I couldn’t agree more with him on this!

 

 

 

Sam Harris, Jordan Peterson, and Biblical Inspiration

A few months ago, Jordan Peterson had a series of dialogues/debates with atheist philosopher Sam Harris on religion, facts, and values. The videos are quite long and the content is pretty dense, at times, but it’s fascinating to tune on a conversation between these two highly intelligent men as they discuss the most important aspects of human existence.

Neither of them are religious in the sense of personal commitment to an established, institutional tradition, but they are doing theology. Harris is an atheist who is one of today’s most harshest public critics of religion. Peterson is not religious in the traditional sense, but advocates for religion’s utility in understanding and guiding human life. Christianity, for him, is especially useful for this, though by his own admission he doesn’t attend church. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, when Peterson says “God,” he means the thing at the top of our hierarchy of values. Yet, here they are, talking about God, what that word may or may not mean, and how our beliefs about God affect the sort of world we make. It’s basic theology in its purest sense.

Yet, when I watched the debate, I couldn’t help but wish that they had a professional theologian or practicing Christian philosopher in the discussion with them. Neither of the men are ignorant of “street-level” Christian theology, but there were a number of points that they made and assumptions they operated under, that I took issue with as someone who has had a formal theological education.

The biggest one was Sam’s (mis)understanding of Biblical revelation and inspiration. Throughout the debate he constantly dismisses the Bible’s value because it does not fit his criteria of perfection. His understanding of how Christianity treats the Bible is limited to that of the most rigid and naive fundamentalist. That is, Sam’s dismissal of the Bible is because it does not bear the marks of what one would expect of a text that was “dictated” to the authors by an “omniscient being.”

Listen to Sam and Peterson’s back and forth on the nature of the Bible’s inspiration in the video below. It starts at 1:08:34 and the conversation ends at about 1:15:00.

 

At 1:12:10, I laugh because Harris says, “When you read the Bible, you can turn every page of that book, and you will not find evidence of omniscience.” The reason this is so funny is because only a very small (and misguided) portion of Christians would ever claim that the Bible displays “evidence of omniscience.” Harris is basically attacking a straw man.

What do I mean by that?

Harris assumes that the ground of Christian faith is the book we call the Bible, which was allegedly dictated by God to reveal a comprehensive theory of everything. For Harris, if the Bible gets one detail wrong, or doesn’t conform to the the scientific era standards of accuracy on every detail, then you might as well throw the whole thing out and abandon faith.

Well, if my faith rested on that standard, then I would have to give it up, too. The reality, however, is that the ground of Christian faith has never been on the Bible’s accuracy on every scientific and historical detail as determined by our modern standards. The ground of Christian faith from day one has been the historical person of Jesus and the fact that his disciples saw him and experienced him after he was crucified. Even if one does not believe that Jesus was resurrected bodily, there is no other explanation for the rise of Christianity out of 1st century Judaism than that his disciples, at the very least, believed he was.

The resurrection was reported as an event in history that revolutionized the disciples understanding of who God was and their own identity as Jews. The New Testament writings, from the gospels to the epistles and Revelation, do not claim to be newly revealed knowledge from God, but are responses to the resurrected Christ. If you don’t have a resurrection, you don’t have Christianity, and you don’t have a New Testament.

The books that make up our New Testament became part of the Bible, that is, were canonized, because they were recognized by the church as faithfully and accurately testifying to what the apostles had taught about Jesus. Their value as inspired by the Spirit, and thus as revelation, is based on the fact that they faithfully point and instruct people in the way of Jesus, God’s ultimate and final revelation (Hebrews 1:1-2). Similarly, the Old Testament functioned to the people of Israel as testimony and reflection on God’s action in history, calling Abraham and later the people of Israel out of Egypt so that he could make a covenant with them.

Scripture, then, is not meant to be judged on how well it conforms to modern standards of science, but in how it points us to Jesus.  Even Christians who use the language of “inerrancy” for the Bible, generally will qualify what they mean by that. They don’t mean “dictation,” and they generally will emphasize that God’s inspiration of Scripture was accommodated to some extent to the understandings of the biblical authors. I’ve written a little more about this here and hereWhen one loses sight of this fact and tries to make Scripture do something it is not intended to do, then of course it will fail.

Harris attacks a version of inspiration that very few educated Christians actually hold.  It’s really a straw-man he’s attacking, and that’s an easier target, of course. Peterson, unfortunately, lacks the theological precision to point this out to Sam. I think if they could have added a theologically trained person to the panel, the discussion would have been even better. Someone would have been able to call out some of the basic theological misunderstandings, at least.

 

 

More Thoughts on Social Media and the Anxiety of Meaninglessness

As a follow up to my previous post, I decided I would elaborate more on how social media both reveals and attempts to confront the anxiety of meaninglessness. I think this is displayed most clearly in the way people use social media to promote their ideology (typically political or religious) and to mock and ridicule those of others. This is important to consider because much of the increasingly intense levels of polarization in our culture today get played out on, and exacerbated by, social media.  I contend that the drive to do this on social media is a response to the anxiety of meaninglessness that comes from encountering challenges to one’s dearly held worldview. worldview

First, let’s review Paul Tillich’s definition of the anxiety of meaninglessness. He explains it this way:

“The anxiety of emptiness is aroused by the threat of non-being to the special contents of the spiritual life. A belief breaks down through external events or inner processes: one is cut off from creative participation in a sphere of culture, one feels frustrated about something which one had previously affirmed, one is driven from devotion to one object to devotion to another and again on to another, because the meaning of each of them vanishes and the creative eros is transformed into indifference or aversion. Everything is tried and nothing satisfies” (The Courage to Be, 47-48).

Everyone has a framework for how they view the world. It explains to them how the world is, what is wrong with it, and has an idea of how it should be. Not everyone has a  sophisticated worldview, or would even be capable of articulating it well, but everyone needs to have one that they believe to be correct in order for them to make sense of the world and act within it.

Religious systems give us the reasons why things are the way they are and also give us a vision of purpose; where we are going and how to get there. Political systems give us a way of managing our lives in the day to day. The way it plays out most of the time is that religion gives one hope for the future, and the political gives one tools for right now.

Here’s a simple way to understand it. In Christianity, it is universally agreed that the future hope for Christians involves a new heavens and earth where violence and death don’t happen. It is an evil that will no longer exist. In the present, however, the world is full of violence, so Christians have to decide how they are going to respond to it, in the meantime. It leads to a number of difficult questions: should Christians be pacifists or should they participate in violence when necessary? Who decides when it is necessary? What are the hard and fast “rules” for participating in violence, and what are the exceptions?

How someone answers these sorts of questions informs how they believe society should be organized. If it’s agreed that violence is bad and we want a world that is less violent, we have to find a way to manage ourselves in a way that makes violence less likely. These are political questions because they involve managing the wider community so that it acts closer to the way it should.

Our religious and political worldviews guard us against anxiety because they help us interpret and simplify the surrounding chaos and complexity. That’s why people often get so riled up when their religious or political worldview is challenged or mocked. The worldview provides a shield, in a sense, from the unknown and the dangerous. When it’s attacked, we are forced to look at its weaknesses and come face to face with the possibility that we are wrong on the deepest levels. To be wrong on this level means we have to re-evaluate how we interpret the world, and that takes a lot of work. It also forces us to remember how finite we are, which corresponds to our anxiety of death.

The easiest way to combat this anxiety is to surround ourselves with like-minded people and consume information that supports what we already think we know. That explains the appeal of obviously partisan news outlets such as Fox or MSNBC. They appeal to people with a certain worldview and the way news is reported and spun aims to support the worldview of the viewers.

On social media, we find ourselves simultaneously encountering hundreds of people at once who hold to a number of different worldviews. While in “real life,” we can only have conversations with one or two people at a time on very limited subjects at once, social media removes these constraints. All it takes is one person to share an opinion that has the potential to challenge hundreds of friends’ worldviews all at once. Arguments in the “reply” section ensue and then friends start sharing content supporting their own worldviews on their social media. To bolster confidence in one’s own cause, people share memes that mock and ridicule their friends’ worldview, because that is the easiest line of attack.

The reason this get out of control like this and becomes so nasty is that it forces us to confront the anxiety of meaninglessness. It’s a spiritual crisis because we are exposed to the fragility of our own thinking and our limits of knowing become apparent. We see that our “friends” are challenging the things that are most sacred or meaningful to us. We are faced with the prospect that we might be fools. That is the threat of non-being.

So, is the answer to this not to share anything that could possibly be controversial or offensive on social media? I don’t think the answer is a simple yes or no, but we need to be thoughtful about what and how we share. We cannot take responsibility for other people’s anxiety, but we can be responsible in how we interact with people, even online.

Confronting new ideas and the anxiety of meaninglessness can be an opportunity for growth. That’s essentially what happens when we learn. However, we generally don’t learn through mocking, ridicule, and heated arguments that are about “winning” against an opponent. We learn through thoughtful relationships with other people where we share our ideas and challenge one another, but with an implicit understanding that the relationship is solid.

Social media can be a great place to explore ideas together, but it is also very impersonal and it limited in terms of what we can say. I think before sharing something or getting involved in an argument, we should ask ourselves whether we are genuinely interested in engaging with the ideas and potentially changing our own mind, or if we are only reacting to the anxiety of meaninglessness.

 

 

 

Social Media, Anxiety, and The Courage to Be

Over the last couple weeks, I’ve been re-reading The Courage to Be (TCTB), by the 20th century philosopher/theologian Paul Tillich. It’s a classic piece of Existentialist philosophy/theology about the human search for the courage to live fully, in spite of the threats to one’s own existence. Tillich calls this threat “non-being,” which takes three main forms of anxiety:smartphone

  1. The anxiety of death. This is the universal, and uniquely human, awareness that we are all going to die one day and if we are psychologically healthy people, we try to postpone that event as long as possible.
  2. The anxiety of meaninglessness. This is the sense of despair that occurs when the thing that makes our lives orderly and coherent is rocked and we are forced to re-evaluate what we have built our lives on.
  3. The anxiety of guilt/condemnation. This is the anxiety that comes from knowing that we are not as good as we could or should be. In Christian terms, it’s awareness of our sinfulness and estrangement from God.

When Tillich talks about these three types of anxiety, he isn’t talking about anxiety in a clinical/medical sense. These anxieties are just part of what it means to be a conscious human being. Clinical/medical anxiety, according to Tillich, is a manifestation of these deeper, existential anxieties that are common to everyone.

As I’ve been reading this, I’ve been thinking about the ways these forms of anxiety manifest themselves in relation to our lives on social media. Tillich’s book was published in the 1950s, long before the dramatic changes in connection that the internet brought us. The world was changing rapidly then, and there were plenty of reasons to be anxious, but many of us today likely look back at that decade as a slower, simpler time, comparatively. Earlier this year, research showed that millennials are “the most anxious generation,” and this is in spite of the fact that the world is getting safer, overall. Many people suspect social media and the internet play a large role in this phenomenon.

Now, I’m not anti-social media at all. I’m on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and I blog. However, I recently decided to delete my Twitter and Facebook apps from my phone to decrease the amount of time I spend on social media. I’ve also been making a conscious decision to not use my phone for searching the internet in my downtime. In the three weeks or so that I have been doing this, I have found that I’ve felt less stressed and had an overall much-improved mood. That’s anecdotal evidence, but it seems to be having positive effects on me.

But I’ve been thinking, because social media is a form of human communication and culture, it will naturally be a place where our anxieties are manifested and, in response, confronted. I’ve noticed social media handles our three levels of anxiety in the following ways:

  1. Anxiety of death is manifest and confronted in the way social media tends to highlight the best of an individual’s life. Even before social media, our culture has done a good job of separating the reality of death from our daily lives. Most of us won’t even ever kill our own food. The ability to immerse ourselves in constant distraction is away of fending off the anxiety of mortality, and social media does it well. Also, when we die, some social media allows us to basically continue existing eternally online, so to speak. This is evident in Facebook’s legacy feature.
  2. The anxiety of meaninglessness often is manifest and confronted in the intense political and ideological battling that occurs in those platforms. It was traditionally good manners not to indiscriminately discuss politics or religion in public because challenging another person’s entire worldview leads to the anxiety of meaninglessness. However, on social media, one is able to ridicule and attack the worldview of hundreds of one’s closest friends with one click. One shares a post declaring a certain ideological viewpoint as absolute, his or her friend gets offended because their worldview is being challenged (and sometimes mocked), and so they respond with a post of their own, and then a war between friends begins. The battles over fake news on social media highlight how little the media can be trusted to be truthful, and so we cocoon ourselves into ideological echo chambers with our own versions of truth and news that sustains our worldview.
  3. The anxiety of guilt and condemnation occurs and is confronted when we are faced with an awareness of how poorly our lives measure up to those we follow, and in response try to cultivate the appearance that our lives are better than they are. In a sense this is a very religious phenomenon. Just as human beings are confronted with their own shortcomings/sinfulness when they encounter the divine, social media often creates an ideal for what our lives should look like and be, but which is unattainable, in reality, for most of us.

These anxieties are real for everyone and must be confronted by everyone with “the courage to be” as Tillich calls it, whether one is on social media or not. The question I’ve been considering is how much of a role does social media play in highlighting and attempting to combat our deepest human anxiety? From what I can tell, quite a bit. The answer to it isn’t necessarily for everyone to abstain completely from social media. I think we first need to just be aware of this dynamic at work inside of us. That will help us to start figuring out how to put limits around our social media usage, so that we can begin to do the work of attending to these anxieties that are already there.

Thoughts? Pushback?

 

Memories from Seventeen Years Ago

This morning on my drive to work, I was thinking about how weird it feels that it has 9 11been seventeen years since the September 11th terror attacks. I imagine many other people were doing the same thing. The sense of “weirdness” stems from the fact that  events like that have a way of staying remarkably fresh in your memory, even when almost twenty years have passed.

We’re told every year on the anniversary to “never forget” and to “remember” September 11, 2001. That’s well and good, but I wonder how many people actually could forget. I was almost 11 at the time and I remember it very vividly. In fact, I would say that is the one day that I remember most of the details from my childhood.

I remember seeing the news footage, of course. The footage of the planes crashing, the towers collapsing, the pentagon smoking, the wreckage of Flight 93,and President Bush’s address to the nation.

I remember spending most of the morning at an impromptu prayer meeting my mom went to, and the conversations I had with my friends.

I remember that afternoon my mom assigning my sister and I to write down where we were and what we were thinking on that day, but I have no idea where it went. I would like to read what I wrote.

I remember going to my sister’s soccer practice that afternoon and hanging out on the park playground.

I remember wondering if the world was going to end that night. I thought maybe Jesus would come back that day.

I remember in the following days hearing for the first time names and words like, Al Qaeda, Jihad, Osama Bin Laden, the Taliban, and Afghanistan. As I saw the news footage of the first bombs dropping, I thought this war would be over in a couple years. I knew from my own fascination with history that most American wars lasted about 4-5 years, excluding Vietnam. Seventeen years later, U.S. forces are still in Afghanistan, making this the longest war we have ever fought.

I remember almost every cover of Newsweek that came in the mail for the following three months. That’s when I really started reading the news. I was fascinated by what was going on and had a sense that the world had permanently changed. It’s sounds cliche, but I did think that, even at 11. But maybe I’m just weird.

When I was in college, ten years into the War on Terror, I took a class on religion and violence and read a book on religiously-motivated terrorism called Terror in the Mind of God by Mark Jeurgensmeyer. In that book, I learned that terrorism is effective because it is a form of theater. The power of a terrorist act is the spectacle it creates. It’s random, it indiscriminately  targets innocent people, and it aims to send a message by strategically attacking targets that stand for something. The aim of terrorism is partly to create memories that can never be forgotten.

In that sense, the September 11th attacks were pretty effective. While Al Qaeda might be mostly destroyed and Bin Laden has been dead for almost seven years, the memories of the day itself stay fresh in our consciousness and likely will for the rest of our lives. Is it possible to forget? I don’t think so.

 

 

The Ministry of Reconciliation–A Preview for this Sunday’s Sermon

I’m trying something new this week. I’m going to be preaching this weekend at Christ Fellowship in Hollister, CA and I put together a little preview of my sermon for this Sunday. I would appreciate any feedback or thoughts on my content.

The sermon is on 2 Corinthians 5: 11-21. I’ve copied the text of the Scripture below the video.

 

11 Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we try to persuade others; but we ourselves are well known to God, and I hope that we are also well known to your consciences. 12 We are not commending ourselves to you again, but giving you an opportunity to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast in outward appearance and not in the heart. 13 For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. 14 For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. 15 And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.

16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view;[a] even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view,[b]we know him no longer in that way. 17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself,[c] not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

 

Your thoughts and feedback is appreciated!

“Stop Saying Things that Make You Feel Weak”–An Ongoing Experiment

One of the most personally helpful ideas I’ve come across as I’ve been listening to Jordan Peterson’s lectures and reading his work that you shouldn’t say anything that makes you feel weak. He explains what he means in the short video below:

We all know that feeling of saying something that makes us “feel weak” because we really know that we are lying to ourselves. We know what we are saying does not align with how we truly see the situation, but we say the words we are expected to say for the sake of keeping the peace, being accepted by our peers, or out of fear of facing the truth of what we really think.

For example…

We pretend to approve of a decision made in our workplace for fear of the consequences of saying that we disapprove.

We tell people we are praying for them, when really we are not.

We tell people how much we appreciate/love/like them, not because we genuinely do, but because we want them to like us more.

We discuss difficult issues and speak using cliches, slogans, or buzzwords that we cannot articulate what they mean (e.g. social justice, diversity, equity, inclusion, patriotism, nonviolence, just war). We simply use these words because our peers expect us to, if we are to stay morally acceptable, in their eyes.

We pretend to like something (sports, certain food, types of music) to win the approval of others.

We pretend to hold certain convictions about our faith in order not to upset certain people who would think us suspect if they knew what we really thought.

I could come up with others. The point is, we all know when we say something that we do not really believe. We feel that tug in our chest when we say it, and we find ourselves later thinking about what we should have said, or what we would have liked to say.

On the other side, we also tend to know when we say something that we truly believe. Things feel like they fit into place. They feel solid. Even if we find out we are wrong, and change our minds, the fact that we spoke what we formerly believed to be true, lends itself to cultivating a life of authenticity. It frees us up, I think, to take ourselves less seriously and be more open minded to truth.

Since I came across this idea a few months ago, I’ve tried to implement it, myself. I’ve tried to note when I say something that I am simply expected to say by others, and if I don’t truly believe or buy into it, I won’t say it. I’ve made an effort to replace what is expected of me with what I truly think.

As someone who is pretty easy-going and non-confrontational, by nature, this can be kind of a scary experiment. It’s so much easier to just say what’s expected of me and go along to get along. It risks putting you as an outsider.

I have found that not saying things that make me feel weak, though scary at first, is actually a much better way to live. It boosts one’s confidence, makes one more relaxed, and makes conversation much more interesting. I would recommend everyone try it.

If, as Jesus said in Matthew 12:36, that every person will have to give an account of “every empty word” they have spoken, it only makes sense that we should try our best to only say the things we think are true. We won’t do it perfectly, of course, and we won’t always say things that are true. But, if we pursue only saying what we believe is true, we will be further along on the path to discovering further truth.