Sunday, March 16, 2014

Proper Emphasis

I like to change.

Oh, not myself, certainly not. That would require too much effort.

No, what I do is glance around and tell myself how great the world would be if . . . someone . . .  changed.

You know who I mean. 

That guy at work who does everything except pull his weight. He brews the best coffee, and makes sure the water doesn't stagnate at the water fountain or cooler, bless him, but actually moving the paperwork and following up on the clients? Not so much. 

That girl who talks a little too loudly and thinks she knows everything. Some might confuse her with an intelligent, informed person, but we all know she really just wants to presume. 

The person who wants everything his way.

Yes. Those people need to change. Then the world - by which I mean MY world - would be the paradise I have always longed for it to be.

I read comforting verses from the Bible, too, making sure that SOMETHING MUST BE DONE! In someone else's heart. Because it says right there in Jeremiah 17.9, "The(ir) heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. Who can know it? Besides me, I mean, because it is totally obvious."

I also go to Psalm 139 to let people know that examination needs to take place. 

SEARCH me, O God, and KNOW my HEART, 
SEE if there is ANY WICKED WAY in me,

Amen, and amen. 

Get busy, you people.

Wait a second. What if we changed to emphasis to the personal pronouns? 

What would that sound like?

Search  M E , O God, and know  M Y  heart,
Try  M E , and know  M Y  thoughts,
See if there is any wicked way in  M E,
And lead  M E  in the way everlasting.

Hmmm . . . the verse seems to lose its allure that way.

However . . . seeing it that way, and living it, makes all the difference in the only person I can change directly. 

Curiously, seeing it that way, and living it, also increases exponentially my influence on the people who might need to make a few adjustments in their own characters.

Always start with the person in the mirror. 

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Ayn, Atlas and Adonai

Many people have tried to hang the "hypocrite" label on those who claim to be a Christian AND a fan of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged at the same time.  They point out that Ayn was an atheist, and her books leave no room for religion at all.  While this is undeniable, what is debatable is whether or not liking Atlas has to be an "all or nothing" prospect.

What attracts Christians to Atlas is its reflection of our beliefs about human nature in general.  It shows how people WILL act in certain situations.  Whether or not this is how they SHOULD act is another matter entirely.  This aspect cannot be overlooked or glossed over. The Bible tells us, whether by direct fiat or by implication, how we should respond in various situations, but people in general, even Christians, frequently do not follow the Biblical model.

My usual response to the critics uses the "Baby and Bathwater" argument, that there are aspects of Ayn's philosophy, Objectivism, that have value.  The other parts can be thrown out along with any other ideas that do not conform to the Biblical standard.

First, let us consider the faulty parts of her philosophy, i.e. the "bathwater."

1)  Extramarital sex.  A key component of Objectivism, "pursue whatever makes you happy," sounds eerily similar to the mantra of the 60s, "If it feels good, do it."  Rand paints Hank Reardon's affair with Dagny Taggart as a beautiful thing, contrasting it with the pathetic relationship he has with his wife.  Rather than encourage the reader to pursue and maintain fidelity, Rand instead offers the possibility of looking for love elsewhere.  Furthermore, Dagny, the protagonist, has no fewer than 3 affairs, and never marries any of the men. Ludicrously, her first lover is of Latin descent, but once their relationship ends, he has no feelings of jealousy toward either of the following lovers.  This strains credulity.

2)  Rejection of Religion.  To treat this subject thoroughly, I would have to bore you and me both with talk of "metaphysics" and "epistemology."  Suffice it to say that Rand considered religion as a crutch for the weak.  Also, since Objectivism holds that we can know reality only through the senses, the existence of God cannot proved, and therefore is not a valid option.  My response to this is that there are many things that we do not understand about our world and the universe, and therefore we should follow the only guidebook that makes sense of it all, the Bible.  It tells us where we came from (Creation), how things came to be the way they are (History), why we are here (Purpose), how we should live (Wisdom) and what is going to happen in the future (Prophecy).  To ignore all of this is to be foolish.

3)  Lack of concern for fellow man.  As the plot progresses, various people disappear.  They make the decision to stop producing, since in the end the government will just take it all away anyway.  They end up in a place called Galt's Gulch, named after the founder, John Galt.  There they bide their time until society falls apart, waiting for the day when they can once again form a society that will allow them to produce without being punished for it.  Up to this point, I guess I don't have any problem. After all, though we are commanded to treat servants (read "employees") well once we have hired them, even the Bible does not REQUIRE us to open businesses to employ people.  However, the producers in Atlas are so calloused that they do not step in to help even AFTER society breaks down and chaos reigns.  They just don't care.  This does not jive with the injunction to "Look after orphans and widows in their distress . . . " (James 1.27). As Christians, we are to be concerned with those who cannot - not WILL not - take care of themselves, such as the handicapped.  

4)  Worshipping money.  Hank Reardon, on a couple of occasions, donates money to a cause.  However, his motive seems to be more of getting the solicitor out of his office than one of altruism.  Doesn't God love a cheerful giver?

On the other hand, it would be a mistake to infer that making money is the only thing that the protagonists are interested in. This leads us to the "Baby" section.  What does Rand advocate that a Christian can agree with?

1)  Keep your word.  More than once, Hank Reardon severed ties with one of his suppliers or customers because they promised to deliver a product on a certain date but failed to do so, or said they would deal exclusively with him and then did business with the competition.  Hank's response was along the lines of "You are free to do business with whomever you choose, but if you break your word, it will not be with me."  This brings to mind Ecclesiastes 5.5, "It is better not to make a vow than to make one and not fulfill it."  This, of course, is true in every aspect of life, not just business.

2)  Work hard.  A verse that frequently gets overlooked by the socially conscious is the one that says "The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat."  (II Thess. 3.10)  Apparently, laziness has been a problem for at least 2,000 years.  Giving people free handouts will not change human behaviour.  It will amplify it.  People who get freebies become dependent, not independent.

Throughout Atlas, Rand profiles people who are worthy of respect.  Contrary to popular belief, not all of them are wealthy. In fact, few of them are.  There are many unnamed characters who put their best effort into their work, no matter how lowly the job is.  This contrasts sharply with what Rand calls the "moochers."  These are the people who do not pull their weight. Even some of the wealthy protagonists fall into this category, getting their money through government largesse rather than through a superior product.  

In summary, what Atlas Shrugged does is reveal the contrasts between two worldviews.  On one side is the producers, the ones who have the great ideas and find the people who will work hard to make those ideas a reality.  On the other is one I will euphemtistically call the "socially conscious," those who want to help people, all people, whether or not those people have the slightest interest in contributing to the society in which they live.  

Perhaps the clearest example of the failure of this second worldview is found in one section of Atlas.  Dagny is travelling on a train and begins a conversation with a fellow passenger.  He is a common worker, not a mover and shaker.  The conversation turns to something that happened in the factory where he used to work.  The managers told the employees they were going to implement a new system of rewards, requiring everyone to do their best and giving to everybody whatever they needed to live. Yes, a thinly veiled version of Communism.  The man explained that the first few months went all right, and production increased slightly.  This was mainly due to a few people who eagerly accepted the new system and were determined to make it work.

However, once those initial months passed, these "producers" began criticizing their coworkers who were not putting in the same effort.  The slackers were still getting just as much money and goods as the producers.  Obviously, this put a huge damper on the ones who were working hard, so they slacked off, as did production.  As things got worse, the company was forced to start rationing health care.  The culmination came when one employee's mother fell ill with a serious disease.  She was going to require a lot of medical care, the doctors said.  Everyone, including the man on the train, secretly hoped that the woman would just die, so the money could be used for people who had lesser maladies.

This is what Communism and its little brother, Socialism, does to people.  It makes them work less, produce less, and care less. You cannot change human nature on a grand scale using laws and regulations.  You cannot force them to take care of their neighbour.  Only God can do that, by changing hearts of individuals.  This message is preached thousands of times every week in churches around the world.  Ironically, Rand herself did not recognize this, and so wrote God out of her novels.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Pushers

We love that guy.  Actually, sometimes it's a woman. You know the one I mean.

The teacher.

The sensei.

The football coach.

Cheater.  Go back and watch those, or at least the last one.  I'll wait . . .

Who are those people?  The ones who get us to do more than we think we can do.

Yes, there are people who are self-starters, who have enough get up and go for themelves and you and I put together.  Those individuals generally become Olympic athletes, Nobel Prize-winning physicists, best-selling authors, and national leaders. The rest of us need a push.

It's not that we're lazy, exactly.  It's that no one ever pushed us beyond what we think our limits are.  We need someone who can see what we are capable of, and who will then help us accomplish it.

What do we think about those people who finally shove us out the door of our limits?  Ironically, we start off hating them. We want to play the sport, to be the one who scores the winning point, the one who goes the fastest, the highest, the strongest.  However, to do that, the coach makes us do crunchers, sprints, weights, in insufferable heat, and just when we're nearly out of gas, he makes us do it all over again.  But then, an amazing thing happens.  We discover we have the kick at the end of the race, the legs to make the run for the overtime goal, the steady hands that sink the freethrows - and we win the trophy.  THAT is the moment we grab the Gatorade and dump it all over the guy who made it happen.

Could I ask you, teenagers especially, to consider one of these people in your life, with whom you might be at odds?  Most of us have two kinds of parents - the "good" one, and the "bad" one.  The first one lets the child do more or less what he wants and tries to get along with the offspring.  The second is not nearly so accomodating.  He or she make strong demands and - shocking! - expects the child to carry them out.  They get angry, sometimes over insignificant matters.  If things are not done perfectly, they must be done all over again.

Sometimes this parent is the father, sometimes the mother.  It doesn't make any difference.  The point is why do they do this in the first place?  They do it because they want you to do your best, which is better than you think it is.  It is beyond your comfort level, outside your self-imposed "limits."  This parent - or whoever - also knows that doing your best brings immense personal satisfaction.

Maybe you don't need to pour ice cold sports drinks over them to show your appreciation for what they do for you.  But you could tone down your anger, your moodiness, your rebellion, and recognize their efforts for what they are - an attempt to make you the best you can be.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Material Christians

From time to time, it is important to evaluate the teaching that is given in our churches.  Many times, one pastor will quote another pastor, who got his idea from an author, who heard something from a philospher, and since it was connected to the Bible all the way through the process, it seems like it might be something the Bible teaches.  An idea that needs re-evalutating today is the Material Gospel, the idea that God blesses our righteousness through material blessing.

The following tirade comes from the pen of James:

     Listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you.  Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes.  Your gold and silver are corroded.  Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire.  You have hoarded wealth in the last days.  Look!  The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you.  The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.  You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence.  You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.  You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.

Can any correlations be made between Ancient Rome and the Modern West?

Gold and silver corroded?  Check.

Hoarded wealth in the last days?  Check.

Failed to pay wages?  Check.

Lived in luxury and self-indulgence?  Check.

Fattened selves?  Mega-check.

Please note: these observations do not come from Occupy.  They come from a card-carrying member of the Taxed Enough Already Party.  I have taken a look at what is bothering the Occupiers, and it is not a pretty picture.

Not many in the West would really consider themselves rich, because they do not have very much money in the bank. In fact, they owe money to the bank for their houses and businesses and cars and credit cards.  Why do they have all these bills?  Because they have laid up for themselves treasure where it doesn't belong. Meanwhile, actual poor people die of thirst in Africa, or submit to child labour in Asia, not out of direct oppression, but out of necessity, in order to earn a pittance so their familes can eat.

It is likely that James was referring to the rich individuals who were not paying their slaves a fair wage, if any at all.  There were almost certainly other abuses, which is beyond the scope of the current focus.  The point of this post is that Christians have fallen prey to the trap of materialism, in direct disobedience to the words James' older brother, who said, "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on Earth, where moths and vermin destroy and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in Heaven, where moths and vermin do NOT destoy, and where thieves do NOT break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

Do you think a poor person would feel comfortable if he came into your church with dirty clothes - not filthy, just smudged on the sleeve, with one knee a bit muddy and a ketchup stain near the belly button - and sat next to a businessman with a suit and tie, reading the Bible off his iPad?  The poor person might infer an unwritten code of peer pressure that says "If you were the person you were supposed to be, God would bless you materially." 

One rationalization we all use is that if we don't keep up appearances, people won't be attracted to the Gospel.  Isn't that feeding the idolatrous lifestyle?  Aren't we encouraging the laying up of moth-eaten treasures, instead of encouraging a relationship - how we love to use that word - with Christ?  James' older brother also said, "Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest."  Why are we weary and burdened, in need of rest?  Could it be because we have too much stuff, work overtime to pay the stuff we already have, and want just a little bit more stuff?  But why?  If stuff made us happy we should be ecstatic.  Are we?  Do I even need to ask?

Perhaps, just perhaps, God has tested us with stuff, and we have failed.  We have taken our freedom and made ourselves slaves to the idea that just a little more or the newest gadget will be enough.  The original purpose of governmnet was to control man when he couldn't do it himself. Recent efforts to control soft drink sizes in New York City have been pilloried by conservatives and Christians, who in part make the rule necessary, because they could not control their appetites.

Face it - we have a lot of stuff.  All of this stuff comes from somewhere.  A lot of it comes from poorer countries, who are having their resources taken from them.  Yes, I know, we pay them for it, we don't just up and haul it away.  But we pay them pennies for items that we sell for dollars at least, and sometimes hundreds or thousands of dollars.  It matters not that these resources are vast and nearly limitless.  It still requires time, money and manpower to harvest them.  Are we really doing the best we can by the people who do all the dirty work?  I have my doubts. It might be that what really sets the Lord off, more even than homosexuality, is Christians who do not recognize their materialism, which causes the poor to suffer. This problem is way more widespread than gay marriage is.

In I John 2.15,16 we read, "Do not love the world or anything in the world.  If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them.  For everyting in the world - the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life - comes not from the Father but from the world."  If Christians fall prey to the "I see it, I want it" line of thinking, can the world take us seriously when we say we profess to follow Christ?

What is the solution to all of this?  At the very least, maybe Christians in the West should take a good, hard look at what their philosophy is towards material possessions.  I will defend your every right to own every single, legal thing in your house.  The question is not whether or not we have the right to own stuff.  The question is whether the stuff has taken the place of our relationship with Jesus Christ.  Any remotely postitive answer reveals a level of idolatry that is harmful to the body of Christ.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

1984 For a New Generation

Judging by the reaction of the books and the first film of the trilogy, The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins, has been an unqualified success.  However, it has also caused a bit of debate, owing to its subject matter.  It is about our society in the distant future, at least 74 years hence.  What do the Games consist of?  Each of the twelve districts of North America is required to choose, by lottery, one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18.  These are sent to the Capitol, where they are placed in a stadium that has been transformed to look like a forest.  Once inside, the “tributes” must fight to the death.  The last one standing wins food for life, in a world where food is lacking for the vast majority, except in the Capitol.

The theme is rather heavy for the intended audience, being written primarily for teenagers. However, the author does not describe the violence in graphic detail, and at the same time the reader never loses the sense of anguish that the protagonists feel in the “game” – a world class euphemism if there ever was one.

Why is it the new 1984?  Sixty-three years ago, George Orwell published a book in which he revealed his idea of how the world might be in the aforementioned year.  It is easy to see that he was largely correct, failing mostly in choosing the timeframe.  In the end, it is a criticism of the world in which Orwell lived.  

It is this book that gave us the poorly named “Big Brother.”  This program is nothing more than a human zoo, full of argumentative, bad tempered people.  By the way, why do they call it a “reality show” when it has nothing to do with reality?  The participants are not allowed to do anything – read, use a computer, watch television, play games, listen to music, go to work, e.g. anything that a normal person would do.  With no other options, they fall into a pattern of gossip, argument, and shouting among themselves, until at least one breaks down in tears in the confession room or a bed or wherever, all so the spectators can spend an enjoyable evening in front of the television. I doubt that I am the only one who wonders:  How long it will be before someone is killed in the Big Brother house?

Maybe it is this question that gave birth to the Hunger Games.  I am not sure of the motives of the author, but we can speculate about them.  Instead of children, she could have put adults in the arena, as we see in a lot of action movies.  She could have made it so that the participants had to be knocked out instead of killed. However, I believe that she wanted to create a highly charged situation, to warn that this could be the future of mankind if we do not do something about it.  Maybe it will not be exactly like the book, nor with children, but is it so difficult to imagine a deadly reality show within the next 25 or 50 years, if that long?

Obviously it would not be the first time that a society enjoyed such a spectacle.  Ask any Christian during the Roman Empire, for example.  We would like to think that we have evolved beyond that as a society, but I am not sure that we have.

I am not one to burn or prohibit books.  For this reason I have not prevented anyone in my family to read it.  What I do want, once it has been read, is that the reader think about the repercussions, especially for a Christian.  Therefore, the question is:

What would a Christian do, once chosen to participate in the Hunger Games?  

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

1984 Para Una Nueva Generación

El libro Los Juegos del Hambre, de Suzanne Collins, ha sido un éxito total entre los libros y la primera película, pero también ha abierto cierta polémica entre los cristianos por su tema.  Se trata de una sociedad en un futuro lejano, por lo menos a 74 años del presente.  ¿En qué consisten los "juegos"?  Cada distrito de América del norte tiene que elegir un niño y una niña de entre 12 y 18 años y enviarles al capitolio donde les meten en un estadio convertido en bosque, con el propósito de matarse entre sí hasta que queda solo uno.  Este ganará comida de por vida para su familia en un mundo donde le falta a la vasta mayoría, excepto en el Capitolio.

El tema es algo fuerte para su audiencia, siendo dirigido a adolescentes.  Sin embargo, la autora evita describir la violencia en detalles gráficos, y a la vez no dejas de sentir la angustia que viven los participantes en el "juego" - un eufemismo de primera clase.

¿Por qué es el nuevo 1984?  Hace 63 años, George Orwell publicó un libro en el cual  reveló su idea de cómo sería el mundo en ese año.  Se nota que tenía mucha razón, y más y más cada día, solo falló en escoger el año.  En fin, fue una crítica del mundo en que vivía.  

Es este libro el que nos dio el título del mal nombrado "Gran Hermano".  Este programa, por lo menos en España, no es nada más que un zoo humano, lleno de fríkis y gente de mal humor.  Una pregunta:  ¿por qué se llama un "reality show" si no tiene nada que ver con la vida real?   Las participantes no pueden hacer nada - leer, usar ordenador, ver la tele, jugar, escuchar música, salir a trabajar, en fin, todo lo que hace una persona normal.  Entonces,  caen en la trampa de discutir y chillar entre sí, hasta que una se pone a llorar en la sala de confesiones o en su cama o donde se encuentre, todo para que los espectadores pasen una buena tarde delante de la tele.  Dudo mucho si soy el único que hace la pregunta, ¿cuánto tiempo pasará hasta que alguien mate a otra persona dentro de la casa?

Quizás es esta pregunta que dio luz a los Juegos.  No sé exactamente los motivos de la autora, pero podemos opinar sobre ellos.  En lugar de niños, podría haber puesto adultos en la arena, como vemos en muchas peliculas de kung fu. Podría haber hecho que tuvieran que dejar a los otros KO en lugar de matarlos.  Sin embargo, creo que quería poner una situación sumamente chocante, para avisar que este es el destino del hombre si no cambia su rumbo.  Vale, quizás no exactamente así, ni con niños, pero ¿es difícil imaginar un "reality" a muerte dentro de, si no 10 años, quizás 25?  50?

Claro, no sería la primera vez que una sociedad disfrutara de un espectáculo de este tipo.  Pregunta a cualquier cristiano durante la época de los romanos, por ejemplo.  Nos gustaría pensar que hemos evolucionado más allá de eso como sociedad.  Pero, no sé si es verdad.

No soy quien para quemar ni prohibir libros.  Por eso no he prohibido que nadie de mi familia lo lea.  Lo que sí quiero, una vez leído tal libro, es que se pongan a pensar en lo que significa, o que repercusiones tendría, sobre todo para un cristiano.  Así que la pregunta para los que han leído y/o visto la película es: 

¿Que haría un cristiano una vez llamado a participar en los Juegos del Hambre?

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Life Jesus Called Us To

As one who claims to follow Jesus, I have begun to rethink my position and attitude towards various aspects of my worldview. Many are aware of my opinions regarding Occupy Wall Street and the TEA Party, in which I may have unwittingly given the impression that I am all in favour of everything the rich do. Perhaps even subconsciously, I WAS in favour. I know all the arguments, for example, of why we can't pay sweat-shop employees - to use a generous term - the same wages we pay American or European workers. Have I become a shill for the rich? Regrettably, I think I have.

I have been reading and rereading James a lot lately. One thing that really stands out is the amount of text he uses to address rich people. To wit:

Chapter 1.10-11:
But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business.

Chapter 2.6:
. . . Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court?

And the pièce de résistance, Chapter 5.1-6:
Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.

This is not a screed from a crazy, ranting Occupier. It was written a couple thousand years ago, by an apostle. Not your average, run-of-the-mill apostle, either. It was written by the brother of the Lord Jesus Christ.

This same Jesus called us to a life of . . . what? Prosperity? Health? Good times? Problem-free living? Is that your experience? It might be more than we think. In the U.S., people who are considered "poor" have a tendency to be overweight, and have televisions, air conditioning, video games and mobile phones. Some have jacuzzis. Compare that with the average European, many of whom do not have dryers. Even the Europeans, however, are running circles around the citizens of Asia, Africa and South America.

So what did Jesus call us to? In Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." Deny oneself? Take up a cross? What does THAT mean? It certainly doesn't sound like the prosperity gospel that some preach. It also doesn't sound like an excuse to acquire every gizmo and luxury that we can afford, or put on the charge card.

Please don't misunderstand me. I am not saying that we need to live in grass huts with no electricity. There is something to be said for the fact that many Christians have more funds at their disposal than others, because they don't blow it on alcohol, tobacco and drugs. On the other hand, maybe those funds could be used for a ministry where basic necessities are lacking. All it would take is for us to pause before grabbing the thing that is appealing to us, and remember the admonition in I John 2.16, "For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world."  Then, if we decide that the item in question is not what we might call "imperative," we could make a mental note as to the price of the item, and send that amount to a needy ministry instead.

Wouldn't that make a magnificent change, if amplified about a million times a year?  


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