CategoryRants

I get a little riled up occasionally, and then I think about why I am angry. I will continue thinking long after I should have let it go. One great way of getting beyond the issue is to write about it.

Truth is a Fad

On a recent trip to downtown Vancouver, my wife and I popped into Christ Church Cathedral on the corner of Georgia and Burrard.  I find it hard to resist a cathedral and always try the doors to see if I can get a look inside.  The door was unlocked and a pleasant woman offered to answer our questions.  I asked about the beautiful interior and she was delighted to tell us about the recent renovations.  There was even a photo album.

The original church was filled with local cedar, but in a previous renovation, the original wood had been covered.  The red cedar ceiling had been covered by fiber-board.  It was the same story with the floor.  With this new renovation, the foul fiber-board and hideous carpeting had been removed and the original red and yellow cedar, covered up for decades is once again gracing parishioners and visitors with its beauty.

Why had the natural wood of the ceiling and floor been covered in the previous renovation?  It seems preposterous that anyone could think that fiber-board and carpeting were an improvement on the natural cedar, but they apparently did.

Changing Fashions, Changing Ideas

This got me thinking about change, more specifically, changing tastes.  It’s a truism that fashions change, but they don’t just change; they change radically–what is all the rage in one time, is hideous and vile in another age.  This is true whether we are talking about clothing, church interiors or ideas.

The second truism is that we are completely aware of the first truism.  We are somehow convinced that the way we think at the present moment is, at long last, the end of changing “truth”–with today’s thinking, we have arrived.

Previous generations had it wrong, but we have figured it out.  As dumb as it seems now, there was a time when it was generally thought that wood ought to be covered by synthetic materials, and in fifty years the congregation will likely vote to cover the wood with synthetic polar bear fur.  So goes fashion.  So also go our ideas.

The Fashion of Truth

I look at some of the ideas that are spreading throughout culture, replacing the old ones, and I think they are beautiful changes.  Others are more like ghastly fiberboard and anemic pink carpeting obscuring beautiful red and yellow cedar.   And we take these new ways of thinking as absolute truth.  Consequently, in our conversations and disagreements, we condemn those with whom we disagree as bigots and freaks and ogres.  Given that our most recent truth is just a phase, perhaps we ought to be a little less certain about everything–a little less venomous.

In our conversations and disagreements, we must remember that the way we think today, is a fad. Consequently, we ought to be a little less certain about everything--a little less venomous.Click To Tweet

Doomed to Relativism?

I believe that there is something under the intellectual fads and whims of our culture that never changes.  Core ideas like courage is better than cowardice and it’s evil to harm a child for one’s own pleasure and the ocean is sublime.

Just because it’s new and in fashion, doesn’t mean it’s objectively true.  I say objectively because, although I’m not entirely sure which ideas are cedar and which are fiber-board, I firmly believe that there is an objective truth.  We will continue down our slide of subjectivism for a time, we will continue to believe that we create our own reality, but I hope at some point we will look back and wonder what the heck we were thinking.  And rip up the pasty carpet to expose the rich wood beneath.

We will continue down our slide of subjectivism for a time, but at some point, we will look back and wonder what the heck we were thinking.Click To Tweet

Are students prepared for university?

 

Wokandapix / Pixabay

Education has changed.  I’m teaching differently.  Student’s are learning differently.

How well do the new approaches to learning and teaching prepare students for university?

Back in the Day

When I first started teaching Literature 12 there were provincial exams.  These were content focussed.  One of the purposes of the exam was to ensure students were prepared for the rigors of university.  There was a prescribed reading list of over 40 literary works from the literary canon extending from Beowulf to a poem by Margaret Atwood.  Students were also required to understand over 100 literary terms and devices.  Back in those days, I did a lot of talking and students took copious notes.

Given that the exam scores would be used to rank students against other students, schools against other schools, teachers against other teachers, exam performance mattered a great deal on many levels.

So we worked very hard on exam preparation.  Students created very detailed study sheets on each of the literary works on the prescribed reading list.  These were collated into large packets and students spent hours reviewing this material.  At the end of the process, they knew a lot, and my students generally did very well on the Provincial English Literature exam.

“Nowadays”

I still teach Lit 12, but I do so very differently.  My class looks much more like a graduate seminar than a lecture hall.  Students discuss and unpack the literary works, rather than listen to me tell them what they would notice if they were as smart as I was.

Through this dialogue, students analyze, synthesize, evaluate, propose, inquire, challenge, concede, admire and they connect the ideas they encounter to life and society.  After we talk, we write.  They use their laptops for this task.  Sometimes they journal, other times they write an academic essay or a personal narrative; we mix it up.

My assessment has changed as well.  We no longer end the year with an exam.  We end the year with presentations–students explore a topic of their choice making connections literature, often beyond the material we worked over the course of the semester.

Are students today as knowledgeable as in the days of yore?

Last year, I dusted off an old provincial exam, one of the same exams for which I used to work so hard to prepare my students.  We didn’t review the material in class–students didn’t create review sheets for each other, and they didn’t study for it.  I passed it out one day and they wrote it.

I used to mark the Literature 12 exam, so the marks students got on this test were valid.  I was surprised that their scores were significantly higher than those of students of similar ability from 2 decades ago.  I realize this observation is anecdotal and does not meet the standards of a proper study, but I am convinced of the results.

My students know the literature better now than they did when learning was primarily focussed on content rather than projects and discussions.  With the new approach to learning, students are performing better on exams designed to measure university preparedness.

The beauty is, they don’t just know the content–they have a much broader and deeper understanding of the literature than they used to.   They can talk about it and bring it into dialogue with other artistic expressions and with life and society.  They are better readers and thinkers and moviegoers.  Almost all are reporting great success in university classes.

But not all reports are positive.  One of my students excitedly entered her Literature course at the local university this fall and dropped it after only a few classes.  It was clear to her that, in this particular university class, the study of her favourite high school subject would primarily involve transferring what she heard in a lecture onto an exam paper at the end of the term.  There is no doubt in my mind that she could have passed this course with an A.  Many of my less gifted students frequently do.

Do modern instructional techniques prepare students for university?

My little experiments show that if students are expected to know the material well, then they are well prepared for university.  If their university courses will expect them to be able to analyze and synthesize information and concepts, they are ready.  If they are expected to evaluate ideas; to challenge assumptions and be able to recognize a strong argument and concede, they are ready.  If they are expected to communicate clearly and effectively, both verbally and in various written forms, they are ready and very well prepared for university.

If, on the other hand, they are expected to passively listen to a professor talk for hours, collecting information and transfer this information onto an examination paper at the end of the term, then perhaps my students are ill-prepared for university.

Does anyone really want me to change my approach to teaching literature?

If students are expected to passively listen to a professor talk for hours, collecting information that will be transferred onto an examination paper, then students are ill-prepared for university.Click To Tweet

Why Tolkien?

A few pastors from my church are very wise and godly men; they are literate and literary, discerning and spiritually intuitive–then we have those who hosted this past week’s Extra Podcast.

I can forgive their derision of Star Wars fandom and can the ridiculous claim that Episodes I-III are terrible–evidenced by writing like this.  But I cannot tolerate groundless ridicule of Tolkien.

Mocking those who know the difference between a dwarf and an elf is like mocking someone for reading a book without pictures.

This segment of the podcast was a celebration of ignorance.  The host who has read the most Tolkien, couldn’t get past the middle of The Two Towers.  And derides those who are able to read beyond chapter six of the Silmarillion.  He went on to characterize The Fellowship of the Ring as “one of one of the most boring reads you will ever have in your life.”  This is the sort of reaction we usually get from people who think Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2012) was a good movie.  I can only surmise that this host equates reading with the recognition of words on the page.

Did the other host really suggest that Tolkien was a troll?  Motivated only by testing the limits of his future fans’ ability to digest his “drivel”?  In a pathetic attempt at concession, it was acknowledged that some might appreciate Tolkien for his “cultural impact” or his membership in a “Christiany” group called “The Foundlings.”  Allowing that some might appreciate Tolkien’s work because there is “all sorts of biblical imagery,” this host may fail to realize that simple imagery, biblical or otherwise, does little to recommend a literary work, and hardly goes further than lexical comprehension.

Then, the bombastic leader of this triumvirate then asked why so many people who love J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis, anathematize J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter Series.

Here’s my answer:  To do so is indefensible.

[tweetshare tweet=”Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings counter our cultural individualism.” username=”Dryb0nz”]

Both the Harry Potter Series and The Lord of the Rings trilogy are in the same genre, both ought to be read for the same reasons.

In both stories, the protagonists are collaborative and interdependent.  Harry Potter often contributes to victory over evil, but no more than Hermione, Ron, and any number of secondary characters who step up and do their part.  In the climax of the final book, Harry does very little except willingly lay down his life for his friends.  Neville Longbotton, it might be argued, does as much to defeat evil as the eponymous hero of the Harry Potter series.   In Tolkien’s fictive world, one of the main characteristics of the Good is its movement toward fellowship, and that of Evil, toward fragmentation.  The examples are plentiful.  The fellowship begins with the hobbits, including a Baggins, a Took and a Brandybuck.  Hobbits usually stick with their own; not their own species, but their own family group.  But the mixing has only just begun.  When the Fellowship of the Ring is created it includes, not only three types of hobbits, but a wizard, two men, an elf and a dwarf.  Perhaps podcast hosts don’t know the difference, but the dwarves and elves certainly do–and they don’t like each other at all.  Yet, in the context of The Fellowship, they become fast friends.  Difference is celebrated and the fellowship enjoined.  The mock-fellowship of the Ringwraiths is a fellowship of sameness a loss of individual identity.  Further, the forces of evil fragment.  The Sauron has become a disembodied eye, and the emblem of Saruman is the white hand.  Exposure to the Ring, the embodiment of evil, has separated Smeagol from himself–he has two identities, the other being Gollum. Is not this imaginative encounter with biblical truth at least as effective as a rational understanding?  One of the reasons Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings ought to be read is that it counters our cultural individualism.  I think this is a big deal.  We need to counter the cultural narratives with which they are bombarded that proclaim the autonomous individual as the solution to every antagonist.  In the case of individualism, these stories are countercultural in the same sense and direction that the church is, or ought to be.

Escape FROM Reality

It is important to counter individualism, but even more vital to challenge the materialism that so dominates our culture.  Those under the spell of materialism slander these stories as being an “escape from reality.”  Tolkien was familiar with the argument that escape through fantasy literature is harmful.  His response to this charge is found in his essay “On Fairy Stories.” He accepts the term “escape,” but he says it is not an escape from reality, but an escape to reality.  His argument is that we misunderstand reality, and in so doing, misunderstand the nature of escape.  Materialists will certainly be threatened by fantasy literature, but those who believe in an “enchanted” reality, as do Christians, ought to embrace it.  Those who feel compelled to mock Tolkien and authors like him, ought to take an honest look at their attitude to determine if they are possibly walking too deeply into materialist territory.  If so, one of the best ways to recover enchantment and to escape materialism is to read the very books you mock.

Escape TO Reality

G. K. Chesterton reminds us that there is no such a thing as an ordinary thing.  In a faerie story, we encounter a golden apple and this brings back to us the “forgotten moment,” and the ensuing thrill, when we first discovered that they were green.  We come to see the creation, not as slavishly following a deterministic law, but joyfully producing green apples again and again, like a child who wants to be thrown into the air one more time.  “Again . . . again . . . again.”  It is not law, but “magic” that we find in creation.  There is no wonder associated with law, but there always is with magic.  It is because they ought to invoke our sense of wonder, that Chesterton can claim “[a] tree grows fruit because it is a magic tree.  Water flows downhill because it is bewitched.”

[tweetshare tweet=”Tolkien and Rowling’s books present an enchanted world and can help to re-enchant the world we live in. ” username=”Dryb0nz”]So, Modern individualism and materialism are countered by Tolkien and Rowling.  Tolkien also challenges modernism’s Myth of Progress.  Out culture believes that we are progressing.  Humanity is getting better and better.  We have the mistaken idea that just as our technology, transportation, communication and medical advances are proof of this progress.  These are indicators of certain kinds of progress, but just watching the evening news tells us that we are not making progress in some very important ways.   In many respects, we are little different than when we lived in caves.  We still lie, cheat, steal and kill.  Tolkien’s world is an ancient world, and the men and women of ages past were better than we are today.  If you read the Silmarillion, you learn of the great ancient race of men and women called the Numenorians, superior to modern men in every way.  But they were proud, and this resulted in their downfall.  This is the pattern of human beings–we can make and do some awesome things, but we never change morally–we always fall.

These are just the beginnings of a thousand reasons why, when asked, “What book would you want with you if you were stuck on a desert island, and you’re not allowed to say The Bible?” I would say, without hesitation, The Lord of the Rings.

We don’t get people to be less individualistic, less materialistic, less confident in progress, by telling them to stop being that way.  In order to affect change, people need to be convinced at a level deeper than reason, deeper than emotion, deeper even than belief (where things like “worldview” live).  We need to live out of a different story, and a transformed imagination.  We have the Bible, we also have experience and tradition, but it is a foolish thing to read these with reason alone.  Lewis would probably say that to look at these imaginatively is at least as important as exploring them rationally.

Let’s talk Glorfindal–apparently deserving of ridicule by one of our would-be, spiritual leaders.  Contrary to representation on the podcast, Glorfindal finds Frodo and his companions and rushes then along to Rivendell, taking breaks only for the exhausted hobbits.  When they are set upon by Black Riders, Glorfindal sets Frodo aback his horse for a mad dash to Rivendell.  When the Ford of Bruinen separates the exhausted Frodo, the Ringwraiths attempt to lure Frodo back to them.  Frodo musters his last bit of strength and says, “You shall have neither the ring nor me.”  Here we have, perhaps, the weakest representative of the forces of good, standing before nine of the top ten representatives of evil in Middle Earth.  And he defies them.  He defies them with confidence even though he has no clue that the river has been enchanted.  For all he knows, they can walk through it as easily as he did, but he defies evil anyway.  It’s not in his own power that Frodo is confident.  The Ringwraiths have never read Romans.  This is an inconsequential event in the story, yet, because of Tolkien’s genius, we can see such profound theology behind almost every act, or under every mushroom.

It seems to me, Tolkien’s work should be regularly referred to in sermons as we educate, not only the mind but also the imagination.  And the Silmarillion ought to be one of the central resources for all Master’s of Divinity degrees.

[tweetshare tweet=”The Silmarillion ought to be one of the central resources for all Master’s of Divinity degrees.” username=”Dryb0nz”]Lest my readers misunderstand, this blog was written knowing full well that the hosts of the Extra Podcast were probably not serious in their ridicule of Tolkien or his admirers.  However, if there is even the tiniest piece of sincerity in their critique of Tolkien, or in that of their listeners, I submit this rebuttal. And I recommend From Homer To Harry Potter: A Handbook on Myth and Fantasy (see link below) for further reading on this subject.

 

I couldn’t lose this one.

https://trentdejong.com/i-couldnt-lose-this-one/
Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

We are not addicted!

“We are not ADDICTED!” My students were upset. They didn’t like the tone of the article we just read. It was about the effects of continuous access to the internet and social media. For the author, the effects were mostly negative, especially on young people.  When I said that the author might be right. That they were blind to how social media is programming them–I think I may have used the word “addiction”–they were indignant.

They wrote off the author and their teacher as being part of the older generation that didn’t understand the technology–we were, consequently, blind to the vast benefits of the internet and social media.

My Social Media Feeds

A few days later I read an article that popped up on Facebook called, ‘Our minds can be hijacked’: the tech insiders who fear a smartphone dystopia.  In it Paul Lewis tells us that the people responsible for making Google, Twitter and Facebook so addictive are disconnecting themselves and their families from the internet.  They are, apparently, even more concerned about the negative effects than I am. 

Another article came across my desk through Twitter: “How a half-educated tech elite delivered us into chaos.”  Here John Naughton argues that tech leaders know a lot about science, technology, engineering and math, but very little about the Humanities–and had they received a whole education–studied some Literature, History and Philosophy–they wouldn’t be surprised that their inventions have not taken us to the bright future they anticipated.  They thought they were providing a beautiful link between producers and consumers for the benefit of all.  Instead, we have ended up with “fake news and the weaponisation of social media.”

On my Facebook again, I came across the New York Times video called “How China is changing your internet.”  It warns of an Orwellian future if we allow internet giants to go the way of China’s “Super Apps.”  Since we have been reading Orwell, I thought I’d show this video in class.

Either Way, I Win

Perhaps I am too hard on the internet and social media.  Perhaps I have been reading too many articles bashing these sacred cows, and not enough material from the other side.  But if I am, it’s because the algorithms that run the social media platforms have are feeding me a steady diet from only one side of the argument.  These constitute and reinforce my views and biases–they begin to shape my thinking.

Either my negative view of the internet and social media is accurate, or my inaccurate negative view has been shaped by the internet and social media.

Either way, I win.

I Invented Twitter in 1990

Most people think Twitter began in 2006, but a form of it existed in my grade 7 classroom long before that.  I didn’t call it Twitter, I called it “Notion Notes.”

Early in my career, I was a grade seven teacher.  Besides having fun learning all that Science and English, we also did fun things for their own sake.  The kids loved it and so did I.

In it’s simplest form, a Notion Note is when students each write something on a little piece of paper, small enough it could hold more than 144 characters, and then I would read them out loud one by one.

The idea was that the students would play with words and ideas and there’d be some benefit from instant “publication.”  Very quickly a whole bunch of rituals grew around this simple activity.

  • The paper must be newsprint, symbolizing the temporality of notions.
  • When a Notion Note had been created it must be folded once and held up between the middle and fore fingers until it was collected.
  • They were read from a seated position.
  • After each notion was read, it was torn four times and sprinkled from aloft into the large garbage can, again symbolizing the temporality of a notion.
  • Once a Notion Note was turned in, it belonged to the community rather than the author–one couldn’t publically state, “That one’s mine.”
  • If a Notion caught my fancy through originality, profundity, sincerity or wit, it was deemed a “Classic” and placed ceremoniously into my breast pocket.  This is obviously correlative to the “favouriting” of Tweets.
  • At the end of the year, I would type up and post all of the classic notion notes of the year, and celebrate them.  This is obviously pretty much the same thing as “re-tweeting.”

Students got into this.  It became the goal to either get a laugh from their classmates or to get their notion note into that breast pocket and make the Classic list.  They began to have a notion note page in their binder where they’d write down possible submissions.  If they came across a quote while reading, they’d write it down.  A funny idea or humourous question they had in response to something in Social Studies got written down too.  Students also used Notion Notes as a way of disseminating famous quotes.

Notion Notes would sometimes talk directly to me, or interact with a Notion Note from the previous week.  Sometimes they’d begin to develop themes over several weeks. These are like the reply option in Twitter.

Here are some classics from 1993:

I think zits are those little bugs that crawl in your underwear at night.

This pen doesn’t work.

If pencils had erasers on both ends, we’d get better grades.

Count to 5 . . . You are not 5 seconds older.

What’s the difference between a duck?  Both of it’s legs are the same.

Author Unknown must be very talented.

Nobody notices what I do, until I don’t do it.

As the fish swims through the sea,/The bird swoops down and goes tweet.

There it was.  The first tweet, staring me right in the face.

Too bad I was too short sighted to convert Notion Notes into an app–the problem was, no one knew about apps in 1990, and I missed my chance.

“I think” versus “I feel”

untitledI’ve noticed my students using “I feel” when expressing an opinion–they always used to say “I think.”

I’m a big fan of discussion in my classes–the kind where students read and annotate an article or paper, one that is difficult, but accessible with effort.  Then they discuss the article, from the structure of its argument to its implications for living.

Since I don’t participate in these discussions, we hear a lot of student voices.

It was three years ago that I first heard a student say, “I feel” when expressing their opinion.  I found it jarring–I still do and I don’t like it.

When researching this topic, I found several articles that make the distinction between “I think” and “I feel.” They say the determining factor for which you use is its persuasiveness.  Use “I feel” when speaking to people who are more emotionally oriented and “I think” with those who are more cognitive.  They claim that if your audience is primarily male, go with “I think”; “I feel” resonates more with women.

Perhaps I am naïve, but I am horrified by this instrumental approach to language.

“I think” expresses something different than “I feel.”  And neither is the same as “I believe.”

“I think” means that you are expressing an opinion for which you think there are rational grounds.

  • I think “Arrival” is a profound and beautiful film.
  • I think that “I feel” is over-used.
  • I think ones Facebook feed is a very bad place to get ones news.

“I feel” doesn’t really have anything to do with opinions–you don’t feel opinions.  “I feel” is about senses or emotions, intuitions or perceptions.

  • I feel cold.
  • You said “Fine,” but I feel like there is something wrong.
  • I feel uncomfortable being alone in the elevator with that man.
  • I feel good about the Seahawks’ chances in game against Philadelphia this afternoon.

“I believe” has to do with convictions–“I believe” often involves a great deal of rational thought, but there is acknowledgement that support for your position cannot be reduced to logic.

  • I believe that gratitude ought to be in the list of heavenly virtues.
  • I believe everyone ought to plant daffodils and tulips in November as a ritual of hope.
  • I believe zombies narratives have a prophetic role in our culture.

Feelings are a lot more important than they used to be.

Trust your feelings, Luke.

This sentiment is axiomatic in our culture.  People believe that if they have strong feelings about something then it must be true or valid.

I don’t think they believe it yet, but the primacy of feelings is seeping into the way my students express themselves in classroom discussions.

Feelings are important, but they aren’t the same thing as thoughts.

I think when you think something you should say, “I think” whether or not it’s more persuasive.

Bad Theology in the “New” Doxology?

Praise 1New doesn’t necessarily mean improved.

This is certainly the case for “The New Doxology” by Gateway Worship.

The first verse of the new one is the same as that of the old one, but they’ve added a chorus.

This recent fad of taking some of the greatest hymns of the Christian faith and adding a little ditty of a chorus, presumably, to make it more palatable to a contemporary audience, is not bad in itself (unless, of course, as the cynic in me wonders, it’s just a cash grab–to produce a popular song without having to go through the trouble of writing one).  We like to sing choruses these days, so it’s fine to write one for the ol’ classics.

But at least make it a good one!  By “good” I mean that it ought well crafted poetically and it should be Biblical.

This is where “The New Doxology” misses the mark.  It has us singing bad, or at least weak, theology.

The original song, published in 1709 by Thomas Ken, emphasizes the extent of the praise that the Triune God deserves as the source of all blessings.  It is a call for all “creatures . . . below” to praise him.  Importantly, “creatures” doesn’t mean animals, but all things that were created.  “Creatures here below” is the entire physical creation–which he called “very good.”   The inclusion of the “heavenly hosts” in the injunction emphasizes that there is nothing that is not called to praise him who made it.  The scope of this particular line is cosmic.

With man’s sin, everything fell, so the Fall is cosmic too.  But God set into motion his plan to redeem everything–a Cosmic Redemption.  Jesus said as much in Matthew 19:28, where he speaks of the “the renewal of all things.”  In Colossians, Paul says that God will “reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven” (1:20).  We see the consummation of this Biblical theme in Revelation 21:1, with the coming of the new heaven and the new earth.  Genesis to Revelation point to a Cosmic Redemption–not just of human souls, but human bodies as well; not just of humans but of trees and mountains as well.

All this is packed into the old doxology.  But to make the new doxology we’ve added this:

Praise God, praise God, praise God, Who saved my soul
Praise God, praise God, praise God from Whom all blessings flow

In the light of the original hymn, which talks of creation in it’s broadest possible sense, the new chorus speaks of redemption in it’s most limited sense–God is the saviour of a single soul.  If it was a single believer, perhaps we could argue that, as we move from verse to chorus, we move from cosmic to individual.  That’d be kind of cool, but this chorus is not talking about a whole believer, but a piece of him.  The cosmic nature of God’s redemption has been reduced to a single human soul, simply so that we could use it as a rhyme for the word “flow.”

Christ Tomlin is up to much the same thing.  He added a ditty to one of the greatest (and most popular) hymns of the faith, Amazing Grace.  Besides the new bridge showing a complete lack of understanding of how metaphors are supposed to work (the line, “And like a flood His mercy reigns” is a mixed metaphor; floods don’t reign, kings do), he brought back the sixth verse of the song, which had been dropped from hymnals, presumably because of its theology.

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow
The sun forbear to shine
But God, Who called me here below
Will be forever mine

Here again salvation is brought to the level of the individual; the rest of creation will “dissolve” and “forebear” to do what it was created to do.  It seems to me, if God is only able to redeem human souls from all that he made and called “very good,” the devil will have won and “all creatures here below” can give up their praising, for they are all doomed.

The idea that God saves only human souls to live with him in a spiritual heaven is contradicted by the Bible.  So where does this idea come from if not in the Bible?  Plato.  Plato believed that the physical world was distinct from and inferior to the rational world of Ideas.  When Christianity interacted with Greek culture, the ideas of Plato became Christianized.  The world of Ideals sounded a lot like heaven and we accepted the idea that physical and spiritual things are separate, and we took on the idea that the physical world is evil.  These are Greek ideas, not Biblical ones.

To sing of “The God who saved my soul” we are in danger of reducing God to a mere saver of souls.  Are we perpetuating the pagan idea that material things are not “good.” If so, we are reducing God’s concern, and consequently ours, from all things to just some things.

It was my impression, from listening to many sermons and podcasts of several different denominations, that the reductive “souls only” redemption was fading out.  After all, we no longer sing the old hymns that promulgated the idea.  But we’ve got song writers stepping in to mess up the theology of a new generation of Christians.

If the good folks at Gateway actually believe that Christ redemption is for individual human souls then my critique still stands for the chorus still contradicts the verse.  For those congregations that believe in a cosmic redemption, please, let’s just use the “old” doxology, or write a chorus that represents the greatest of all blessings–Redemption–in its cosmic scope.

For more on this vision of holistic salvation:

 

Christians Can’t Simply Be Conservative

Just the other day, I was listening to a pastor casually commenting on social issues, and underlying all his comments was the foundational belief that being Christian goes hand in hand with being conservative.

I have been uncomfortable with this attitude since I was in high school and have been arguing that on some issues, Christians ought to find themselves agreeing with the liberal positions.    I was recently introduced to the work of Dr. Barry Johnson.   I think he has provided me a way of communicating the dangers of believing that to be Christian is to be conservative or, if you want, Republican.

Johnson says that there are two basic kinds of arguments we find ourselves in.

There’s the kind where either you are right or you are wrong.  Let’s call these either/or disagreements.  In these instances, the purpose of the argument is to establish who is right and who is wrong. Theoretically, these arguments are resolved once the truth is established.

Sometimes we get into arguments where there isn’t a right or wrong answer–both/and disagreements.

For instance:

  • Is social media good or is social media bad?
  • Shall we save or shall we spend?
  • Is it better to development or  to preservation?
  • Action or Reflection
  • “You are either with me, or against me!”
  • Ford or Chevy
  • Liberal or Conservative

It is vitally important that people understand which sort of discussion they are in. When you think you are in an either/or argument, but it’s really a both/and disagreement, you are essentially arguing that inhaling is better than exhaling.

If there is no right answer and people are really passionate about their position, how can we possibly navigate through this minefield?

Barry Johnson has come up with a useful tool he calls it Polarity Management.

Let me use the question, Liberal or Conservative? to illustrate how it works.

I know many people will disagree with me here, but this question has no clear right or wrong answer.  It is a both/and discussion that many have made into an either/or argument.  I’ve placed the Christian view of this question, as I see it, into Johnson’s Polarity Management model.

polariz1The questions we want to address with the model is, “Liberal or Conservative? How can Christians best be the salt of the world?”  So in Johnson’s model we put the two neutral terms on the wings.  Christ told us to be salt in the world; he told us that we are to season, preserve and heal the world.  He also said that if we aren’t salt, we would be cast before swine.  Serious stuff.  On the model I have placed where we are headed, the “Higher Purpose” above and at the bottom, the “Deeper Fear,” or what lies in the opposite direction of the higher purpose.  All Christians, both liberal and conservative, have the same higher purpose and the same deeper fear.

The boxes just above the neutral terms describe the positive side of both options respectively.  On the liberal side we have collective responsibility and individual rights.  These are good things.  When Jesus calls us to be salt, he means that we must do what the law and the prophets have always told us to do: take care of the vulnerable.  In Biblical times, this was the stranger, the widow and the orphan.  If you translate this into contemporary terms it means we take care of the immigrant, the refugee, and the poor, for they are the vulnerable in our society.  This collective responsibility is a Biblical injunction, and if we don’t do it we are in danger of being cast before swine.  The reason we take care of the vulnerable is because of the Biblical view of humanity–everyone bears the Image of God.  The poor and the refugee are dear to God.  The liberal principle for the protection of individual rights comes right out of image bearing as well, so all Christians ought to be very interested in the protection of individual rights.  These liberal principles are, then, biblical; they advocates loving one’s neighbour.  The liberal position also takes into account the Fallenness of humanity; they predict we will naturally be selfish and so advocate the use of government to ensure that our neighbours are loved.

Conservative ideals are also aimed toward saltiness.  Biblically, human freedom and individual responsibility are probably as foundational as bearing God’s image.  These conservative principles are also based on true understanding of the human condition, we are good, but fallen.

[tweetshare tweet=”Both liberal and conservative ideals are rooted in biblical principles.” username=”Dryb0nz”]

The lower boxes illustrate the “downside” of over-focusing on one pole to the neglect of the other.  If we neglect the good that we find in the conservative position we may end up in a bad place–as conservatives are very willing to point out.  But if we neglect the liberal ideals we, as Christians, will also lose our saltiness and end up in the eternal pig pen.

What we have, both in the culture at large and in the church, are people on both side of the political spectrum treating the argument as an either/or.  They fail to realize that their political opponents have an equally valid, alternate view of reality. They accept the principle that if I am right, the one who disagrees with me is necessarily wrong.

[tweetshare tweet=”Both liberals and conservatives accept the fallacy that if I am right, the one who disagrees with me is necessarily wrong. ” username=”Dryb0nz”]

Consequently, there is disunity in the church.  The first step to unity would involve understanding the legitimacy of the opponents position, but this is impossible when one is locked in the polarity paradigm.  So they resist.

Both sides have an equally valid, alternate view of reality.

In a true either/or argument, clarity is an asset–once things are clear, we will be in agreement.  In a both/and argument, simply communicating your position clearly will not result in your opponent changing their mind because it will be clearer to them that you are missing what’s right in front of you–their reality–and they are not wrong.

For Christians to be salt and light in the political sphere, they will have to abandon rigid adherence to just one side of the political spectrum.  They will have to see that there are two legitimate–biblical–realities at play here.  The conservative Christians need to adhere to the positives of conservatism, but they also need to respond with grace and generousity toward the liberal reality, even the negatives, for by doing so, they may also gain the benefits of that position.  In possession of the strengths of both sides, the Christian impact on the world is potentially far saltier than we currently are.

Poop Packages

Dog Poop bagged

Am I missing something, or are people complete idiots?

We have decided that we don’t want to have dog poop all over our community.  To this end we expect pet owners to bag the feces of their beloved canine, and dispose of it in a convenient garbage can.  If there is no readily available waste receptacle, we expect it to be packed home and disposed of it there.  Fine.

But not every seems to understand all aspects of this complex  procedure.

There seems to be a number of dog walkers who struggle with the important steps beyond the first.

I go walking up my local trail almost everyday and regularly find neatly packaged bags of dog poop protected from the elements in bright white or neon blue baggies.  I don’t understand.  Why don’t the pet owners move on to step 2.

If the stuff was just left, unpackaged, beside the trail, the rain, sun and snails would erase it from memory.  But inside its protective case, this doggie dump can sit like a monument for months commemorating the site of this momentous movement of digested kibble for the devout pilgrims who pass it on the trail.

I suggest that this dog poop ritual is an all or nothing kind of thing.  Either go through the entire procedure and take the bag home with you, or don’t even start down the road of courtesy–just knock the stuff off the trail with a readily available stick and let nature take its course.

YOLO: The Wisdom and the Folly

szanyierika97 / Pixabay

“YOLO” — You may have heard a young person say this just before they do something stupid, or as an explanation as to why they did something stupid. It means “You Only Live Once.”

It suggests we ought to live for the present, as opposed to think too much about the future.

The Wisdom of YOLO

On the surface, there is some wisdom in this. Focusing too much on the future is foolish.

I know I think too much about the future. I think about the airplane crashing. I think about my future health. I think about next year’s writing projects and potential speaking engagements. I think about retirement. I don’t think I am alone in my obsession with the future.

Our obsession with the future plays right into the hands of the demonic powers–this is C. S. Lewis’ view articulated in The Screwtape Letters. Senior tempter, Screwtape, says that God wants us “to attend chiefly to two things, to eternity itself, and to that point of time which [we] call the Present.” The devils purpose, then, is to get us “away from the eternal, and from the Present.” They do this by making us ” live in the Future, because thinking about the Future “inflames hope and fear.”

By thinking about the future we are focused on “unrealities.” I can simultaneously worry about never marrying (being alone for the rest of my life) and about marrying the wrong person (being miserable for the rest of my life).  That both of these would occur is impossible, still I manage to fear both.

And one lifetime is not enough to encompass all that I have ever hoped for. I will not get one of those $20,000 grand pianos that play all by themselves. I won’t live in New York City and write books. Won’t get PhDs in history, philosophy and literature. I won’t work as an author/artist in Brittany. With all its hopes and fears, the future is filled with unrealities, and to live in the future is to live outside of reality.

We [says Screwtape] want a man hag-ridden by the Future . . . We want a whole race perpetually in pursuit of the rainbow’s end, never honest, nor kind, nor happy now, but always using as mere fuel wherewith to heap the altar of the future every real gift which is offered them in the Present.

[tweetshareinline tweet=”The YOLO mantra correctly breaks us away from obsessing on the future, and turning toward the present.” username=”Dryb0nz”]Coffee can only be enjoyed in the present.

A good book can only be enjoyed in the present.

A friend can only be enjoyed in the present.

A lover can only be enjoyed in the present.

We can only be kind in the present.

We can only be happy in the present.

We can only be honest in the present.

The Foolishness of YOLO

But if you dig a little deeper into the YOLO philosophy, you will find it empty.

Lewis says that the Present is the most real component of time, and it is “the point at which time touches eternity”; it is “all lit up with eternal rays.”

The YOLO philosophy says that the present is important, but not because “it is all lit up with eternal rays,” but because it is all there is.  This life is all there is. When it is over, there is nothing. So if you don’t do it now, you will never do it. There is no eternity, so have fun while you can. Live for pleasure; live for the present.

Christianity asserts that every individual human being is going to live for ever, and this must be either true or false. Now there are a good many things which would not be worth bothering about if I were going to live only seventy years, but which I had better bother about very seriously if I am going to live for ever. –Mere Christianity

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