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A Sabbath Summer

14 Jun

The good is the enemy of the best,” as the adage goes.  Some attribute it to Voltaire or Ben Franklin or even Shakespeare.

Seeking the best for me, I am taking a summer break from writing and reading on line.

I have NOT abandoned reading or thinking or journaling.  I’m choosing to give myself a gift. A most excellent gift.  A Sabbath rest or fast.

Risky, it feels, and sudden. But then again, maybe it is not so abrupt.  I turn 60 soon. For this entire past school year (I teach and my life is marked and bounded by a school calendar) I have pondered and traveled along deep and sometimes melancholy paths. Bouncing between two worlds:  the one beautiful, sad and fallen that I share with all of humanity, the other true, eternal and rich with promise that I enjoy with Christian brothers and sisters as a privileged child of God.

So I am going to read BOOKS and JOURNALS whose paper I can FEEL.  And walk, savoring this world that our good Father has created, tasting that the Lord is good.  And investing time talking with and listening to flesh and blood people.  I will cease rushing from God’s crowning creation to that slave master – my computer screen or iPhone.

Would you call that an addiction, to feel driven to get to the bottom of what feels like a perpetual To Do list?  Some of you know what I’m talking about – those self-curated email feeds, written by people to whom we are connected.  They and new posts on Facebook clamor to be read.  What if there is something I’ve never thought of before?  Or some news that changes my life?

And then there is that weekly goal I have assigned myself, to write posts for 2 different blogs, this one and Reflections on God’s Word .  Out of pride?  Probably. I know from Jeremiah 17:9 that my heart deceives me, daily.

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?

So this summer, I will journal, but for ME, not because I want to remember a nugget or way of thinking that YOU might appreciate.

However, fellow logical friend, please don’t stop thinking and reading and giving thanks to God.  May we be like the Bereans:

Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. Acts 17:11

May God bless you this summer as you ponder whatever is True, Noble, Right, Pure, Lovely, Admirable, Excellent and Praiseworthy. Phil 4:8

Maria

 

Can you be a Christian and not believe the Bible?

22 Feb

Did that question get your attention?  I hope so, because it is one I ponder often.

Why?  Run your eyes over some of these responses I’ve encountered when talking about God with friends and family:

  • I worship the God of the New Testament
  • The Bible was written by men
  • How can we trust what the Bible says?  It got corrupted through all the oral retellings passed down from one generation to another
  • The Bible represents primitive man’s best explanation at the time
  • Because of science, the Bible is obsolete
  • What applied then doesn’t fit society today
  • I don’t think Jesus really said that
  • That’s just Paul’s opinion
  • I attended divinity school and my professors taught us how the Bible actually came to be.  We are to take it metaphorically

Do you see why I am drawn to sort out what one must accept/adhere to in order to be a Christian?

How do we even begin to answer the question?

All adept Logical Joes and Janes start with clarifying terms.  So which terms need parsing and comparing to reality?

  • Christian
  • Believe
  • (the Bible is concrete and unequivocal)

The terms ‘Christian’ and ‘believe’ could potentially require a long time to arrive at a truth-reflecting definition.  (It’s not consensus we aim for, but accuracy and clarity of terms.)

For does it matter what the world calls a Christian?  Would any one disagree that many who self-identify as Christians are not in the least?  I don’t know if Hitler considered himself to be a follower of Christ, but atheists often trot him out as poster-boy of a supposed Christian who perpetrated untold evil.

More difficult to discern are those people who attend church, who do kind things, who serve humanity and choose to self-identify as Christian.  Here is the rub.  Can we tell from one’s outward behavior whether one is a Christian or not?

Turning to what it means ‘to believe‘, how is this concept often taken?

It can mean to agree, to follow, to espouse.  But isn’t our church replete with people who say they ‘believe’ the Bible?  Yet upon a fair assessment of their actions, temperaments and words, one wonders.  I do acknowledge that true Christians are always growing, with fits and starts, so we should be careful about judging.

Why am I even bothering with this analysis?  Because many people dear to me are on this spectrum of:

  • a sort of Christian
  • a sort of belief in the Bible

My husband and I were once members of that ‘sort of category’.  Although had you asked us to explain ourselves, we would have avowed without reservation that we were Christian. I do think we would have equivocated with the second question – Do you believe the Bible? For we had not READ the Bible.  We had read/heard bits and pieces of the Bible, for sure. But read it?  No, not in our Episcopal Church experiences growing up.

Now, having been given light to SEE and having acquired Biblical truth through Bible studies, evangelical pastors’ sermons, books, podcasts, church community, small groups and friendships with Christians, we can easily ‘catch’ the aroma of a true Christian.  They can be as distinct from me as you could imagine, yet we recognize each other as blood -bought brothers and sisters in Christ.  We talk the same language, cherish the same Jesus, marvel over God’s goodness, and enjoy boasting about His magnificence.

I’m curious to know what and how you define these two terms.  Please post a comment. And in a few weeks, I’ll summarize your responses as well as clarify and delimit those terms.  In the meantime, let us not stop praying for ‘heart-transplants’ in those whom we love, about whom we are not sure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Explore what the question even means and how we would go about setting up a discussion and then at the end invite readers to respond to the question I don’t have to answer it myself

Better not to shotgun a response

1 Feb

When you flush out a covey of quail, don’t shoot into the covey. Instead, pick out and select one bird to bring down!

flock-of-birds

Good advice from a quail-hunter.  And appropriate for addressing opposing views we encounter these days.

I absorbed this advice just recently and already it is making a difference.  One afternoon not too long ago, we indulged in our favorite after church past time, sharing lunch while reading the Sunday paper.  An op-ed piece about ‘women’s health issues’ had caught my eye and raised my dander.  The authors wrote, decrying the new administration’s goal of decreasing federal funds for Planned Parenthood. The way they framed their argument seemed to have one goal:  to arouse the ire of women by describing a presumed danger of losing access to existing health care.

The team of two local professors raised several points worthy of questioning and I wanted to tackle them all.  Fortunately for my intended audience, I took a walk and listened to radio host Greg Koukl from Stand to Reason explain a principle learned from his days as a boy hunting quail with his friends.

He explained that if you shoot directly into the covey, you’d waste your shot.  But if you aim for one bird, you have a better chance of actually bagging one.

His advice applied to our current contentious climate in America and shaped how I focused my letter to the editor later that afternoon.  Listening to Greg, I also saw in a flash why previous letters I had penned most likely exercised zero effect on readers.  Past letters have probably tanked due to a jumble of points, all poorly developed.

So what did I focus on in this most current letter?  A statistic mentioned in the paper’s essay. In a strategic move to minimize the arguments of the pro-life position, the authors stated that abortions account for only 3 % of all of Planned Parenthood’s services.

I smelled a fake statistic.

Sure enough when I went to factcheck.org I read how PP counts services.  Say a woman goes into a PP facility thinking she might be pregnant and wanting to discuss options.  In one visit, she might receive:

  • an initial screening consult
  • a blood test
  • a pee test
  • a pap smear
  • a referral to another provider for a different issue the consult uncovered

And if this woman does indeed choose to schedule an abortion, that second visit might include:

  • a information/procedural consult
  • an ultrasound
  • a further consult
  • an abortion
  • a post-procedure consult
  • 1 or 2 prescriptions for pain/possible infection
  • a prescription for contraception

So this hypothetical one gal might receive 12 different services and only 1 is an abortion.

Do you see how the quantity of abortions performed could be minimized when compared with the accompanying services?

Thanks to Greg Koukl’s advice preceding my letter attempt, I selected this one issue and worked to write as clearly and persuasively as possible pointing out the misleading accounting.  I don’t know if anyone will be persuaded, but clarifying my purpose and aiming at just one ‘quail’ focused me and guided my thoughts and word choice.

 

Narrowing my efforts also helped me articulate for myself what my ‘bone of contention’ is!  Whatever our views, it’s always worth the time to know what we believe and why!

Bears repeating: our presuppositions matter

28 Dec

A dear friend of mine dove into theological waters for the first time last week.  As a result, I understand more clearly her view on the veracity and usefulness of the Bible.

She belongs to the United Church of Christ.  One of their beliefs is essentially ‘no creeds’.

  • The UCC has no rigid formulation of doctrine or attachment to creeds or structures. Its overarching creed is love. UCC pastors and teachers are known for their commitment to excellence in theological preparation, interpretation of the scripture and justice advocacy.

I am not writing a post to attack this denomination, but to use what they write about themselves to illustrate several points regarding logical and clear thought.

A couple of conclusions one can draw from that paragraph:

  1. If there is no substantive content to a belief, then there is no foundation for saying something is true or false, right or wrong.
  2. If you advocate ‘love’, who is going to criticize you, especially if you are vague about what love means?  Seems attractive and safe, yes.  Nevertheless, meaningless.

Some questions I would ask:

  1. Just what DO you mean by ‘love’?  Whose definition are you using? Is ‘love’ allowing people to continue in self-destructive ways because they believe them to be right?  Is it ‘loving’ (in order to avoid saddening or offending someone) to withhold a diagnosis for a disease that is curable?
  2. If there is no doctrine, then how can one interpret the Scriptures?
  3. And on what basis can one’s interpretation of Scripture be judged ‘excellent’?

That’s a short response, having read what this denomination writes about itself at the macro level. At the micro or individual and personal level, here is what weighs on me concerning my friend.

If I am correct in presenting her viewpoint, she believes that certainty about what the Bible teaches is impossible and in fact ‘destructive’.

I passed some sleepless hours across three nights last week working out the implications of this view.  What I have been given by God, the light and faith to believe that the Bible is not only true but authoritative, is precious and incalculably beneficial to me.  Here are just a few of its gifts:

  • God’s promises are both a safe haven in scary times and a source of REAL, supernatural strength when I both feel and AM weak
  • His Word provides guidance and wisdom
  • I have assurance that I am personally known and loved by a good Father who created me and everything in the universe
  • There is a purpose to both my life and my suffering
  • I have an inheritance safely waiting for me that outweighs all suffering on this earth

So there you have it, some out-workings of presuppositions.  Beliefs really do matter.

So what is my advice to all of us?  Not only must we know what we believe, but WHY we hold those beliefs. And we must be willing to follow the ramifications and determine if we like where they lead.

Bonnes Pensées!  Happy thinking!

 

 

Meaningful definitions require boundaries

19 Oct

human-animal-stem-cell-research

Scientists at the National Institutes for Health apparently are talking about lifting a ban on research that would co-mingle human stem cells with animal embryos.

Human-Animal Embryo Stem Cell Research

Listening to a discussion about this back in August, the commentator who mentioned this new development posed the question:

  • What does it mean to be human?  If you have 99% human DNA and 1 % ‘other’, are you still considered human?

In other words, “How do we define the term, HUMAN?”

What came to mind was how TODAY, we seem to be playing fast and easy with definitions.

Two examples come to mind:

1a. Tolerance once referred to the restraining civil behavior between two or more people who held and articulated differing and/or contradictory beliefs and positions.  If you think about, one doesn’t tolerate what one find acceptable, one AGREES with it.  By definition, the ‘classic’ view of tolerance presupposes contrary views.

1b. Tolerance today seems to require that a ‘minority, despicable viewpoint’ be shut down, shamed and disbarred from the discussion table.

The term has remained the same, but the concept has changed.

2a. Marriage once referred to the legal union between one suitable (not a close relative) man and one suitable woman of appropriate age.

2b. Marriage today refers to a state-granted status that recognizes a two-person, gender-indifferent union with the same legal rights of a married biological male and female.  (A temporary quantity and constituent view – down the road who knows how many humans and what/who else might fit into this new definition!)

Logical friends, definitions matter!!!

These are but two current examples.

Think about other terms in the area of religion, for example:  God’s love, Faith in God or Prayer.  These ALSO seem to stand for a multiplicity of concepts.  So what exactly is the relationship between TERM and CONCEPT?

First of all, a concept is the immaterial idea of something one pictures, the image of which one holds in his head.  A concept can indicate something real or imagined like a tree or a unicorn. A term is the written or verbal name we give to that concept.

Terms can be confusing because the same term can refer to different concepts.  Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason teaches that before ANY discussion about a topic can ensue, two people must clarify and agree on the definition of terms used.  Conversational partners must know and state the concepts they have in mind when each employs a term.

So back to those religious terms I mentioned. Today, in Christianity, people seem to talk with ease and certitude about ‘the love of God’ or they announce: ‘I believe in God’ or ‘I pray’.  We cannot assume that they and we are picturing the same thing.  As the fox in Le Petit Prince says ‘Words are the source of misunderstandings.’

As the social climate across the literate world grows more fractured and sharp, logical and reasoning men and women CAN make a difference by gently asking the clarifying questions that will guide others to think about what they mean.

Who knows?   In bringing a concept to light, in employing the discipline of articulating WHAT WE MEAN, someone or even we ourselves might decide to modify what we believe. Not a bad result. For thinking is never wasted effort or time.

 

 

Truth as a dodge

27 Jul

I have no husband,” she replied. Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband.  John 4:17

Woman at the well

Jesus gives her credit.  The Samaritan woman is telling the truth, partially. She is not married, but she is living with a man who is not her husband.  And Jesus calls her bluff by revealing that he knows the real situation.

Politicians are masters at this ploy.  Their words FEEL like truth because there is in fact some truth among all their discourse.

So why is this important?  The heads up to be wary of one’s interlocutor’s replies or explanations reminds me to ask some questions as I evaluate what I am hearing (or reading for that matter!)

It goes without saying for good logical Joes and Janes that in every meaningful discussion the definition of terms needs to be established and agreed upon.  I am talking about additional considerations.

Pastor John Piper has taught me, via his sermons, to listen well by assessing the following:

  • What other words could have been chosen?  By saying X, what is he NOT saying?
  • What grounds her statement?  What is behind it?  What presuppositions precede it?

It could be that what is NOT said actually carries more significance than what is out in the open.  This is especially true in a country as divided by issues, as America seems to be. With an election ahead of us, why not practice with me in evaluating at a more deep and layered level what a speaker or writer might actually be intending.  More importantly, may we be care-filled about our words.  Words matter!

It depends on what ‘is’ is!

22 Jun

Bill Clinton We laughed at his disclaimer, but Bill Clinton had a point.  A naked word is clueless.  The first rule in logic is: Clarify your terms!

But what is a term? A word set in a context.  So, in one sense, Bill pointed out the obvious – ‘IS’ as a word takes on significance only in a context.

Take, for example, the unaccompanied word, ‘set’.  How can ‘set’ be employed?

  • a lamp, set upon a hill
  • a man, set out on a journey
  • my cat, set upon lapping some milk
  • a victim, set up by a Ponzi scheme
  • the book, set down on a table

Words and terms matter, dear friend. May we take time to use particular care to avoid confusion and communicate with accuracy and clarity.