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    Archive for October, 2008

    From Love To Righteousness

    “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ-to the glory and praise of God.”
    Philippians 1:9-11

    Last time, I wrote about how we need God because making decisions of morality are difficult. Even in our deepest musings of philosophy and our most committed expressions of paternal love, there is a tendency to get it all wrong. Though the parable I wrote last time was a little tongue-in-cheek, moral decisions so often seem to come down to choosing between bad and even worse.

    More often than not, taking the easy way out or even “doing the right thing” ends up really hurting others on some level. I think Paul was conscious of this tension because of what he wrote to the church in Philippi. Because of the difficulty in doing the right thing, he writes that he wants the Philippians to grow in their knowledge of love.

    The key is that the fruit of righteousness comes through Jesus. His “morality” was focused on serving others, and his message was one of humility and detachment from the things of this world. Without this focus on humility and selflessness, there is a tendency for philosophies to consider the needs of self far above the needs of others, and to focus on maximizing utility, which is accurately interchanged with pleasure. Love requires not only effort and sacrifice, but also meditation on how it should be expressed, in light of what God says is true about people and the rest of His creation.

    What To Do?

    First, a parable.

    There was once an inquisitive babysitter who was working at a young couple’s house one evening. A few hours after the little girl’s parents left, the girl came up to the babysitter and asked a strange question: “Can I have a stick of butter to eat?” Naturally, the babysitter was confused, and told the girl that she could not have one. The poor child was disappointed, and ran away pouting. The babysitter was almost sad enough to change her mind and let the girl have one, but she decided the girl’s parents would not be happy. When the parents came back that evening, the inquisitive babysitter told them of the strange question. The parents told her that the little girl was in fact allowed to eat sticks of butter. They explained that the little girl very much enjoyed them, and that they could not help but give their precious child what she wanted.

    Last week, before break, I wrote about a conversation with a friend. The conversation brought up the following question: Why do we need God to tell us what is right and wrong, when He gave us perfectly good minds to figure that out on our own? My answer, which I did not give in the last post, is that we are very often not capable of making these decisions of morality on our own. I think we can all recall times when we were trying to do the right, loving thing, and it ended up hurting someone. If you can’t, you probably aren’t thinking hard enough. This is the cause of a wide variety of things, from why people stay in abusive, enabling relationships, to parents doing the wrong things for their children because they think it will make them happy. More on this next post.

    Why Right and Wrong?

    I had an interesting conversation with a friend recently. He is in the introductory ethics class here at Mines, and the class has apparently been looking at the philosophy of God and religion. One part of our conversation that has stuck with me was the relationship between God and morality.

    The argument is that there are two possibilities: either things are wrong because God said they are wrong; or things are wrong because they are wrong (harmful, unutilitarian, ect.), and God has told us they are wrong.

    I’m a fan of the latter simply because I’m really really not a fan of the former. I don’t think God has told us to do things simply because He wants to be in charge and in control. We wouldn’t have free will if that is what He really wanted.

    The alternative, that God tells us to do things because He doesn’t want us to harm each other and ourselves, has its own problematic implications. Why do we need God at all if we could figure out what is right and wrong all by ourselves? What do we gain by sitting and listening to a sermon, when we could just as easily gain the same benefit from sitting in an ethics class?

    I’m starting a new series, this time on why I would bother to be a Christian. I hope you enjoyed the last series on community, and I might write one more on that before getting into this new series, if anything new comes to mind during break. Enjoy your time off!

    Community, Part Three

    “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ.”
    1 Cor 12:12

    Most of my posts about Christian community have been on perspective, and it turns out this one is no different.

    Before I begin, I want to give an important disclaimer. I think the Christian ministries at this school are great, but they leave a few things to be desired. Specifically, if you spend too much time in the Christian ministries at this school, you could end up thinking that Christians everywhere are white, mostly male, right-brained, young adults. Worse yet, you could only be influenced by the limited perspective that the members and student leaders of these organizations can lend. There is much variety in the members of ministries at this school, if only because people are different. However, in the scope of the world Christian movement, in terms of age, ethnicity, and background, Christians at Mines represent a very, very narrow sampling of the body of Christ. At the best, this can lead to a lack of perspective on what a Christian is and can be. At the worst, it can lead to a lack of experienced spiritual authority in how decisions are made and ministries are run.

    Personally, I believe that involvement in a church that has a wide variety of people* is the best way to get the kind of experience spiritual guidance that is critical to our stage in life.

    *i.e. not the Mill or Merge. That is going to irk some people, I can already tell.

    Community, Part Two

    “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”
    James 5:16

    Being a Christian does not mean having everything figured out. God’s prescription for many of our ailments is community, and I’ve already written about the function of community that is like a mirror, using others to let us see how mixed up, broken, and just plain ugly we can be. Another important aspect of healthy community is its reaction to brokenness.

    James wrote in his letter to all Christians that confession and prayer with others is a solution to sickness and sinfulness. This idea is pretty terrifying if you really consider applying it. The things that really need healing are those things that are most shameful. Confessing things like addiction, anger, and unforgiveness to another human is a scary thing, but these are also the things that need prayer and outside help to get through.

    I think it’s pretty devious that leaving these things untreated causes them to become more shameful as they get worse, only making it harder to confess as the need for confession becomes more desperate. The only way to break this cycle is to trust God that it really can be good and safe to process your deep issues with other believers. My hope is that Christian communities are growing where it is safe to go deep with others.

    Community, Part One

    “The LORD God said, “It is not good for man to be alone…”
    Genesis 2:18

    Today’s post is a continuation of Monday’s, so read that first if you haven’t yet.

    Two summers ago, I was on a short missions trip to Santiago, Chile. I learned plenty of Spanish (which is very rusty by now), but I learned a lot more about their culture. While I could do without the overflowing affection and making out everywhere (you would have to see it to believe it), there was a very interesting contrast between their lifestyle in college and ours.

    Young men and women in Chile would usually stay with their parents throughout all of college and sometimes even later, and things like dorms and apartments with roommates are unheard of. We mentioned to one woman that we all lived alone or away from home, and her reaction was “Que horror!” (How horrible!) She then told us that the only day her daughter would be alone would be on her wedding day.

    The reason why college is such a good time to “find yourself” or “figure out who you are” is because you are free of almost all outside responsibilities and expectations. Your one duty to parents might only be to send home decent grades, and you have no family or children to support. This is surely appealing to many, but I have been through enough of life to have a healthy distrust of myself and my motives. If you are really good at insulating yourself from authority, you can grow and develop without influences from God or those who have gone before you. If you are really good at avoiding responsibility, you can live without apparent consequences to others. Again, this may seem appealing, but at the end of the day, it is hard to unlearn bad habits and realize what you have lost from denying the consequences of your actions. I believe that God’s solution, regardless of the stage in life, is community, and I will focus on that next time.