hard topics (and the tongue)

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4

Politics and religion can be quite dicey topics fraught with potential fallout for relationships. The heat can be turned up pretty high when topics surrounding either are being discussed. Discussion and conversation is soon lost into heated argument, if we’re not careful. Perhaps it’s better to avoid such altogether. Probably one of the most helpful attitudes is to acknowledge how much we don’t know, rather than what we think we know.

In Paul’s small but great letter to the Philippians, we find an apt exhortation near its end which can help us in this. First of all, referring to values that were esteemed in the culture of that day, Paul directs the church and by extension us, to ponder what is true, good, beautiful, and praiseworthy. And then he reminds them to live as he did in following Christ. When you consider the letter of Philippians alone, that is indeed a tall order. But one within our grasp to grow into in Christ.

Back to difficult, controversial issues. It might be best to avoid them altogether when we know we might differ with a fellow believer on this or that. It can be good to discuss differences, provided there is a listening ear and openness to learn on both sides. And to those who are not believers, we should major on simply loving, and sharing the good news in Jesus.

Above all, we need to inculcate love between us, especially when what could divide us is simply a few words away. And we can’t take that for granted with anyone. If we do touch on the difficult issues, we need to be quick to draw back and make room for the other person, and their viewpoint. Out of love for them, and for the Lord. All of this in and through Jesus.

some thoughts on Veterans Day (United States)

I agree with the point N. T. Wright makes, that God wants order in this world, and uses nation-states, or governments to maintain it. We live in a world in which anarchy would likely prevail if there were no authorities in place as we read of in Romans 13. Of course those authorities are answerable to God. With reference to force, they seem to be put in place to stop evildoers. Something akin to police work.

I also believe that a follower of Jesus is never to kill under any circumstances. I know that since Augustine and through Constantine, this has become a minority view. The “just war” tradition holds sway, even though that edifice is tottering. Many Christian scholars argue that “just war” as defined by Augustine and others is not possible today. And nations, including the United States, seem clearly to operate at least in significant measure on a different basis than that.

I have to admit that while I hold firmly to pacifist Christianity (or, Christian pacifism) as part and parcel of following Jesus, I also can’t put that together very well with the first principle mentioned in this post, namely the need for authorities to exist in a police-oriented kind of way, to restrain evildoers. And some of my favorite people, themselves followers of Jesus, serve either as police officers or in the military.

Today, on Veterans Day, I want to thank all veterans for serving in harm’s way, for their country and for the good of the world. Thank you for the sacrifices you have made in the name of justice and peace. Our prayers are with you during your active service, as well as during your life afterward. And for your families.

As we pray the prayer our Lord taught his disciples to pray:

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one,
for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

the blogging culture

In Lois Tverberg’s new book, Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus: How the Jewish Words of Jesus Can Change Your Life, which I look forward (with some fear and trembling as I always do when doing this) to reviewing, she mentions how both the Jews along with Christians are known for vigorous debate among themselves, among the faithful. Hopefully the “friendly fire” doesn’t take out people along the way.

I have blogged since around 2004, having my own blog since late 2005. During that time we’ve seen vigorous and sometimes vociferous bordering or crossing the line into incivility, or lack of Christian love. Oftentimes people are talking past each other. We aren’t listening well to each other, but just trying to get our point across. I’m sure I’ve been more or less guilty of that many times.

On the other hand, Lois Tverberg casts this debate in a positive frame. The faith and how we work it out in life is taken so seriously, that we want to discuss it among ourselves. In that discussion there often is disagreement. Maybe the motivation isn’t always what it ought to be. I have sometimes wanted to escape it, something I was a part of. But much can be gained in this practice, if we learn to listen well to each other. Listening should be our priority. And then maybe sharing our own perspective, or view on a matter.

Some discussions can be quite divisive as we know. That seems all the more so today, though it has likely always been the case. It’s partly the fact that we can now debate across the world or far apart at a moment’s notice.

The past year or so I’ve withdrawn from wanting to get into vigorous debate. A big part of that is that I simply don’t have the resources or time to pursue subjects in depth enough so that I really am able to engage well in any debate, or even discussion. On certain casual contexts of simply sharing our faith and what that means to us, I feel more at home. I frankly don’t care to enter into debates on origins (especially hot now) or end times. And if I do enter into a disputed matter I want to tread softly and while voicing my view, not do so as if it’s the last word. Or as if I am right on everything with nothing either wrong or to be refined. I much prefer to share with others in a way in which we can learn from each other within the wide scope and spacious landscape of the faith.

All that said, I appreciate the good that can be done in such debating if we learn to listen well to each other, and try to understand the other, opposing position well, without casting judgments on it so as to set it aside. At least we should learn to appreciate the other and their position in a matter. We should try to understand why they think as they do. And what we can learn from them in the exchange.

Above all in this, we seek together to better understand God’s revelation and will made known in Jesus. And we do so wanting to reflect well that revelation and indeed live in God’s will, what God wants. If we do that blogging can move from a near curse to indeed being a blessing. Helping us to be a blessing to the world in and through Jesus.

conversation

In this day of sound bytes, diatribes and talk radio it seems like real conversation has become a lost art. Or at least rare, to be all the more appreciated wherever it is found.

Yesterday I was having a conversation with my sister, in part on conversations. She was noting how in our family we always tended toward monologues, often interrupting each other to get a point across. She mentioned how often this not only rude, but a matter of pride. And we talked a bit about the importance of really listening, and letting the other get the last word, as well as seeking to avoid monologues and talking too long when we are speaking.

I suppose there are few things I enjoy more than a good conversation. Where real discussion is taking place perhaps over matters in which the conversation partners disagree. Where neither has to hold their ground or take it to get their point across, but each has their turn. And where genuine understanding of the other’s viewpoint is taken seriously, even if serious disagreement remains.

This shows respect for each other. And also a willingness to learn from someone who differs. Even if in the end neither side has moved at all, at least one can understand better where the other is coming from.

I think Jesus at table fellowship with all kinds of people in his day, would certainly want to have conversation. We at least see hints of this in various encounters he had in which he often would ask questions and tell a story. Instead of shutting down exchanges, his style would seem to promote conversation. But the kind of conversation which would lead to a faith in God, committed to a walk with God which would include the word of God and prayer. Again a kind of conversation which in part can and should include intimate exchanges, as well as exchanges about all manner of things.

Let us thank God for the gift of conversation. May we be learning it well in engaging in it in a listening way with others, and with God.

mutual respect

Something which I think is sometimes, or even oftentimes missing in the blog world even among Christians, especially on the more academic blogs is mutual respect. I will say that the tone on the blogs I frequent is quite good. And by nature these blogs are discussion oriented over difficult subjects, or subjects in which there is disagreement among Christians. I value such discussions and believe they need to be carried on. And even promoted in churches. But not under what is too often the current day lack of mutual respect which seems to have run rampant through our culture.

What we think is of vital importance, learning to think well, and learning to think critically so that we better understand what someone is saying so that we can ask probing questions. What is crucial is the spirit with which we approach all of this. If it it one lacking mutual respect and love, than it is lacking period, and will end up doing more harm to the participants than good. Without love all the knowledge in the world is worthless in God’s eyes. Only with love is knowledge properly understood. Love is willing to make mistakes and acknowledge such. Not that we want to, but we will be wrong at times, a part of our human condition both through creation and the fall. And we know only in part, and will be ever learning from the Triune God, even through eternity. But we do so in love, in the love of the Trinity and of Jesus and the cross.

What is more important: that I was “right”, or that I acted in love or failed to do so? Do we act (which includes speaking) out of love, or not? If so that means we will respect the other, even if they don’t seem to respect us. Which means we will let them say what they will, and have the last word, or speak our word with sincere humility, and be quick to acknowledge where we may be wrong, and they right. Of course many conversations will involve people contributing good that otherwise would be missing, so that the participation together is enriching. So that it’s more a question of building on what each other is saying. But there will be issues and subjects on which there will be disagreement. How well we handle such speaks volumes on the values we hold in life. Is it most important to be right, or to help each other in the way of the Lord? Not that we don’t want to speak words of truth and do so well. But to do it well it must be done in the love of the Lord. The truth as it is in Jesus is full of grace, and leads us in faith to follow him.